Canal du Centre

Canal du Centre

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Arras and Return

In the 16th century, and edict by the king forbade “building within the town of Arras unless the walls are of stone and brick, and with no overhang over the streets.” 
The result is 155 facades of Flemish Baroque style, the narrow-fronted houses giving traders an on-street position in the several squares. Destroyed during WW I, the town was rebuilt to look exactly as it had before, resulting in “one of the most architecturally striking towns in northern France”, according to one of our guidebooks.
One of our first stops was the tourist office which provided us with a guided tour of the “boves”, limestone quarries directly under the main part of town. Begun in the 10th century, they provided much of the building material for the city and it’s surroundings early development. As the city grew, however, concerns about undermining it caused the mining activity to stop but the shafts continued to be used for storage of grain, other stores and wine. During WW I, the caves were used by soldiers hiding from German bombardments and as a staging point for a surprise attack on the Germans by Allied troops, mostly from New Zealand.
Before the trip underground, it was up in the air, an elevator ride and 40 steps to the top of the 55 meter tall belfry for a panoramic view of Arras.

And a view of the Grand Place with its Flemish Baroque facades.

A summertime feature of many French towns is the plage, or beach, created to give the kids (and adults) some entertainment.
Arras plage was in the main square, sand and all!

The Cathedral and Saint-Vaast Abbey. Founded in the 7th century, the two buildings were completed in the 18th century.

Sunday was bike ride day, with a trip to yet another Vauban citadelle, this one built between 1668 and 1672. Some of it is still used by the military but most had been turned into a vast park. Parts of the old moats and walls still exist, including this entrance bridge and tunnel over the moat and through the walls.

Monday morning we were off, following the two French boats. Everyone managed to navigate the first lock with no problems but, of course, the second was again inoperative and we all had to wait.
When the VNF arrived, Tango went first and we followed with Phoenix; a tight fit as they are 20 meters, we are 16 and the lock is only 38 meters long. We stopped again at Biache-Saint-Vaast, but the other two boats carried on. There was already one boat staying at Saint Vast. All spring and summer we had been communicating by email with Nigel and Margaret Crompton. From Manchester, England, their dutch cruiser type boat had wintered in Leopoldsburg, just down the canal from Blauvwe Kei in Belgium. They had started out after we left BK and we’d passed them as we were heading back down the Dender River and they were heading up. We passed them again as we were leaving Brugge and they were just getting there. Finally we were in the same place at the same time and we had a wonderful dinner swapping “sea” stories.

We had thought to spend a couple more days at Biache and maybe get some painting done but we had been having a little trouble with the propellor shaft; the grease was leaking out and the water was leaking in. We weren’t going to sink, but it was something that needed attention.
As it happens, there is a real barge shipyard, Chantier Despinoy, right where the canal to Arras leaves the mainline canal. We thought it would be a good idea to stop in for a look see as such facilities are few and far between in France. We figured we should be there Tuesday afternoon. Since Friday was Bastille Day nothing would get done then and we thought, it being France, maybe Thursday, too, so we didn’t want to dawdle. 
A VNF person followed us through the locks Tuesday morning making sure all was well and right about noon we pulled into the shipyard and hiked up to the office. 
Thus began our shipyard adventure.

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