Saturday July 15. We departed La Ferté-sous-Jouarre at 8am. It was a pleasant day for cruising, warm but not too hot. We had a couple of locks that weren’t working, the first one of the day and the last. Both had VNF staff in to operate them manually so we didn’t have to wait long, arriving at Chateau Thierry at 1pm.
Chateau Thierry was much nicer now that the carnival had packed up and gone to their next venue. We found, quite by chance on a walk up to the fortress site, a medieval fair with sword fighting, displays of rope making, carving and lots of stalls, everyone dressed in medieval costume. I love it when you stumble across something fun like that. Unexpectedly.
I found the history of the area very interesting. The site of the chateau of Chateau Thierry, 2.6 hectares, had slow beginnings. In the 4th century it was first a fortified habitat on the natural spur of this part of the Marne. In the 9th-10th century the Counts of Vermandois had a castle erected out of wood and stone. Thibault II, count of Champagne, extending the fortifications again in the 12th century by adding a new outer bailey of stone. Thibault IV continued the work in the 13th century. By then there were 17 towers and two doors, one to the south and the other to the east.
More innovations continued when Chateau Thierry entered the royal domain in 1285 with King Philippe IV ‘Le Bel’, nicknamed as such for his apparent good looks, adding in great kitchens to the seigniorial home. The 15th-16th centuries saw dry ditches dug and a double bridge added. By then it was a residential palace. Blanche d’Artois, Antoine the Great Bastard of Bourgogne (quite a title), François d’Orleans and cardinal Richelieu all added civilian and religious buildings.
However it was destroyed for the most part in the 18th century, presumably during the French Revolution, turning back into its former military function and became a citadel for Napoleon’s troops. By the middle of the 19th century the fortification was turned into woodland park, although in 1918 a mounting for the infamous Paris Gun was found near the castle grounds, the gun apparently having been moved elsewhere.
So there it is. The rise and fall of a Chateau. Left standing are parts of the old wall and the Saint-Pierre and Saint-Jean Gates. It’s an interesting place to visit.
Sunday July 16th. Leaving Chateau Thierry at 8am we were hoping to find a space on the small quays at either Damery or Cumières but after a long day’s cruising we found they were both full. It was disappointing but we decided to risk carrying on up to Epernay in the hopes of finding a spot. The river to Epernay is a five kilometre one way branch of the Marne and luckily there was a perfect Silver Fern sized gap. Hurrah! After seven hours and 55kms we were very happy to settle down for a three day stay.
In the early evening we walked into the town (it’s a long walk) to the Champagne Tasting Bar CComm to sample six champagnes from small producers. My favourite was a 100% Pinot noir. Delicious.
Monday July 16th. We took a taxi up to Hautvilliers to show Georgie around one of our favourite villages. It is the birthplace of Dom Perignon (1639-1715) who ‘discovered’ the following, as a cellier at the Abbey. He founded the major elements of making Champagne wine:
1. The gathering of grapes of different origins to make a vintage
2. The quick and fragmented pressing of the grape
3. The use of bottles made of thick glass to preserve the wine and maintain the bubbles
4. The use of a cork wrapped in a seal bearing the arms of the Abbey
5. A cellar dug in the chalk so as to assure the ageing of the wine at a constant temperature.
Clever old him. I bet there were a few injuries before item 3 came into play.
The Abbey at Hautvilliers was founded in the late VIIth century by St Nivard, Rheims’s bishop, apparently inspired in a dream by the ‘dove of the devine spirit’. Voilà.
We stopped for lunch at the Cafe in the square which was very good,especially the frites, and later on took a taxi back to Epernay.
Tuesday July 17th Georgie did the cave tours at Moët et Chandon and Mercier and enjoyed them as much as we did last month. It was a stiflingly hot day, mid 30s and we all had swims at some point to cool off. Later on we had drinks on the Aussie boat, Le Piglet, with Melbournians Peter and Amanda.
Wednesday July 19th Georgie headed off on the train to Paris and on to Barcelona while we cruised back onto the canal Lateral à la Marne to Mareuil-sur-Ay. It was a cool day, in total contrast to the last few days and I was very happy about that. Love the cooler temperatures. We really like Mareuil, it has finger pontoons, power and water (€22 for three days) and an excellent boulangerie.
Thursday July 20th We woke this morning to hear our very good friend, and Best Man at our wedding, Mike Williams passed away this morning after a long illness. Although it was expected it still hits hard. He was a good guy and will be sadly missed. We drank a toast to him with a good red wine. I’m sure he would approve. I could almost hear him say, “Just get on with it”.
Friday July 21st. Today we did all our washing (have I mentioned how great it is to have our on-board washing machine?). The sheets dried in about half an hour. It’s another warm one but not outrageously so which is nice. We discovered a taste delight at the boulangerie/pâtisserie. La ficelle is a smaller thinner type of baguette and ours was filled with bacon and cheese. Yum. Maybe we’ve been in a baguette ‘traditional’ rut! 😳
Tomorrow we plan to turn off the Canal Lateral à la Marne at Condé-sur-Marne and head north again along the Canal de l’Aisne à la Marne to Sillery where hopefully we will find a mooring from which we can visit Reims by bus. It will be a very long day, 39 kms, 13 locks and the 2.3km tunnel de Billy.
This week in numbers:
La Ferté-sous-Jouarre to Chateau Thierry
Engine hours: 4.8
Chateau Thierry to Epernay
Engine hours: 6.7
Epernay to Mareuil-sur-Ay
Engine hours: 1.8
This seasons totals, after 2 months:
Engine hours: 118.7