Thursday, 12 July 2012

Canal days

May 28th .  We were now in a narrow valley in the hills, and I saw from the map that the canal appeared to swing sharply round at what was marked on the map as a 'Plan Incline'.  Not knowing what this was, I decided to take a short cut and we ended up negotiating an almost vertical wooded hillside shown to the right on the photo below; but while I climbed the flight of steps, Zorbee had to scramble up the slope beside me...
This sudden change in height of the canal should have alerted me that the Plan Incline was something out of the ordinary, but it was only later that I learnt to my chagrin what I had missed.  Traversing the Vosges mountains presented a huge challenge for the canal builders, and originally a long flight of seventeen locks were constructed to ascend the eastern slope. But in 1969 they were replaced by the Plan Incline St Louis-Arzwiller, a system in which a caisson or waterfilled container carrying the canal boats is lifted up or lowered down an incline using counterbalancing weights.  What I missed...
...I came out on the canal path somewhere near the top of the photo.Although I was gutted not to have made the short detour to see it, at least one can now refer to Youtube to see how it works and in action.

But the canal engineers' problems were not over, and near Arzviller we encountered this..
...a tunnel through the hill.  Much to his relief I am sure, Zorbee and I were forced to find an alternative route over the top.
The Holcim cement factory at Heming - its canal side location enables transport of the finished product by barge..
An idyllic evening for a pre-prandial at our overnight stop by the canal near Bataville ......
Early morning mist near Moussey the next day  ..
Most of the locks are automatically operated, and the post in the photo below contains a remote control receptor which responds to the telecommande remote control supplied to every boat travelling on the canal.  This warns the lock system that a boat is approaching, and an amber light flashes to indicate recognition. ..
My one concern while riding along the tow path was the fear that Zorbee might fall in by accident, for example if he spooked.  The sheer sides seemed to offer no exit points where a horse might easily scramble out.  I wondered what happened in the old days when barges were towed along the canal by horses or mules - did they really never fall in?   So I was quite glad to reach a section of the canal where the banks seemed quite degraded and vegetation reached right down to the water's edge. 
According to the sign below exhorting people not to mow, cut or trample vegetation, it is environmental policy along this rather beautiful stretch of the canal to encourage vegetation growth as a means of protecting and stabilising the banks.
Canal voyagers and fellow Brits Michael and Linda Nagle and friends Stephen and Susan Buckley who invited me aboard their launch Blue Dream at Einville-au-Jard for afternoon tea..
A gloomy camp spot by a coal tip at Varangeville...

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