September 2006 Castets-en-Dorthe

John's new bike and his second ride out of here

Tour de France who knows next.

We spent some time in Tonneins cycling the 6km from our Villeton moorings for a coffee or bread or a walk along the river. John decided this was a good place to buy a new road cycle, much help being measured and fitted for his bike - what fun John had getting used to his new shoes and cleats, few grazed knees & elbows at first. John's built up his cycle rides and over this month has cycled over 500km most enjoyed too.

Tonneins Village on the river Garonne great views.

John has enjoyed endless hours of wonderful cycling through small villages up and down hills here in the Aquitaine gaining his fitness back. I seem to have cycled less as the cycling paths along the end of the canal have sadly disappeared. I got lost on the roads so am a little wary now from wandering off.

The Plane trees and the pests... boat owners shout look at the mess of my boat.

The plane trees (good for shade) are infested with a flying insect called "le tigre du platane" (so we were told). They drop from the trees & cover our boat & car, you, your food, drinks. If you don't hose your boat down next morning (hose ban here) then the heat helps to seal in a brown stain which causes damage to your paint work. Oh dear what a mess, our roof looks like it has rusted. The only thing that can shift this horrible brown stain is a mild solution of spray bleach & much hard work scrubbing, who wants to harm the fish! John feels a paint job coming on in the spring. Bergerac have just treated 365 of their tree's... will they treat the 4.000 on the canal system? Not sure if it's the sap that's worse or the white bugs... the tree's are just beginning to change colour, autumn is setting in... but it's still very warm here, much rain often at night too.

Agen three day plum festival plums being sorted & checked ready to bake in oven.

We drove to Agen to explore this city and it's plum festival some truly good bands playing. We stopped to have lunch and low and behold friends James & Jean were walking past. We spent the day together exploring and trying lots of different produce as you do. We all came away with kilo's of free plums and prunes. A lot of prunes & plums were given away over the three days. It was interesting watching the process of how they baked the plums for 23 hours to make the best prunes. It was a good atmosphere here.

Back in Meilhan we met Chris & Jane who are into property development, boats and camper vans. We spent 3 days sharing BBQ food, shopping & site seeing from Meilhan, enjoyed discussing property. They ordered a new cobb BBQ on e-bay after tasting food cooked on our cobb and then setting the pontoon on fire with their BBQ - hence they needed a new one good price too.

Castets-en-Dorthe Canal de Garonne

We have now reached Castets-en-Dorthe, end of the Canal de Garonne... tidal river beyond here.

Canal de Garonne is 193 km from Toulouse with 53 locks... In one year we have traveled from the Mediterranean coast to Atlantic coast and cruised the river Baise - sadly the river Lot is still closed from lack of water

We have made it we survived the heat too, the Moet did not melt as I thought - we almost did at times! We have decided not to venture onto the tidal River Garonne which would take us into Bordeaux... play safe we thought all those mud banks...we drove in by car and really enjoyed exploring the city of Bordeaux by foot, miles & miles we walked taking in all the sites.

John checking out the moorings in Bordeaux town center. Army demonstration old & new together.

We enjoyed a ride on the tram no one paid for the journey not sure why... a good day out here even in the rain it was on & off all day, but still so warm. Much work in progress along the river side, it is a nice city to visit and we would have liked more time here. We also spent time this month in the town of Marmande capital of agricultural in this area it's devoted to fruits and veg, tasted much fruit from the tree's around here.

My friend Sue almost slipped and fell into the Canal de Garonne as we set off for Fontet

Friends Sue & Matt flew into Bordeaux and drove 45mins to meet us in Castes-en-Dorthe. Sue & Matt had a home built in the village of Retaud South West France, hopefully they will be putting the finishing touches to their property this week, after many struggles this year.

We helped them celebrate their first wedding anniversary (see Sept 05 French wedding) we had bubbly & meal out. We enjoyed special time together sitting & walking in the sunshine oh boy it was so hot. We enjoyed a peaceful cruise the following day to Fontet we had lunch and returned to Castes, where a music fete was going on next to the harbour, it was a good family evening here,

Land for sale at side of canal... with veg and vines growing and plenty of fruit trees

On our cruise back to Castes-en-Dorthe we stopped at a notice of land for sale. We began by asking neighbours about the land and who owned it. A farmer named Rene we found owned part of the land, he invited the four of us into his home for a drink. We enjoyed the wine he had produced from his vines - you can buy some of these vines for your garden too he tells us. We were given the detail's of the land to be included. He and his wife Elsa offered to come visit the mayor's office with us, to enquire about permission to build a home on this plot. We are not sure if this is the right location for us, also the price is high for this area. We could moor Moet at the bottom of the garden and build ourselves a bungalow!

Children happy helping dad with the hand picking of these grapes and the new machinery now used.

We visited the small town of Saint-Emilion which nestles comfortably on it's high, limestone plateau, with it's wonderful warm terracotta roofs, which I love, so contrasting with the greens and browns of the priceless (so I am told) vines. We took in the harvesting of these grand cru grapes more with camera than hands on picking them only to taste of course.

John & I visited the small castle of Saint-Emilion, we climbed all the steps for some wonderful views then visited the winery school after lunch... the smell testing was with good results for me, 11 out of 12 right. Sadly we missed out on the English lesson's of wine tasting and what to look out for when testing wine... but we enjoyed testing some good wine just for pleasure of the drinking.

King John in his Chateau at Nerac and smelling test in Saint-Emilion wine school.

We are house hunting in this area and have enjoyed much help from many people who offer their time and help. We have visited many of your homes and come away with lots of good advice and help, thanks for all the kind invites and nice times we shared. Enjoyed retuning to Nerac many times over the summer months we seem drawn to this place time & time again. The property below was just outside Nerac.

One of our house hunting visits I loved this house but just too much work, time & money needed.

We met up with John & Fiona through friends James & Jean. They recommend we look in Nerac for property (we thought it was far too expensive). We spent a day the four of us exploring property with an agent in Nerac and enjoyed a nice French two hour lunch overlooking the port. Lovely day out we had.

If I won the lottery I would buy the house above and spend years turning it into a dream or could it be a nightmare John said! It's the barn I have in my head for converting and it has the famous pigeon-house style of this region.

John & Fiona settled in France after selling their home built it themselves in Scotland, giving up teaching and moving with their daughters Kirsty & Morgan four years ago. They run a BB in Fourques, and will help people house hunting or just exploring this area. English or French lesson's also can be included I am sure. John helps people restore property and can do most jobs himself.

Some properties for sale in Lot Garonne area... much work rebuilding or starting again.

We continue to learn and explore this idea of owning a property in France, enjoying our journey of discovery, is all the more fun with the people we meet along the way. One question not answered yet is do we want a country home or a village property, or stay on the canal it's the longest village in the world with people we know in every port. The fete's from May to Oct are all wonderful you can find something going on every day if you wish to join in or explore - we would be happy to do this area all over again next year so much to see & do. We have fallen in love with Lot-et-Garonne area and it's people living here and the food we love too.

Village's of Villeton & Fontet we enjoyed time in this month.

French countryside is so vast with much property & land for sale wonderful villages tucked away in the valleys & hill's. Sadly we heard stories of people being over charged for work also overcharged for their property in this area in an internet scam. We are certainly not being over charged at some of the moorings like Villeton our stay was free, though if you moored in Caumont most expensive electric here, two euro's for one hour, needless to say that key is always empty sad really, they spent so much putting in a good mooring for boats & camper van's.

All hands on deck in Thouars-sur-Garonne - John enjoys giving Andy a helping hand for a day.

We met Andy and Barbara through their friends Pam & David (see August page). Andy & Barbara had enjoyed reading our web site back home in Ireland and decided to get in touch with us by e-mail.

They visited us on the Moet and invited us to lunch the following day. Their holiday home is in the village of Thouars-sur-Garonne, only a few minutes away from where we were moored at Buzet, we spent a wonderful day together. John offered to help Andy to lay some decking (big job) around the swimming pool the following day, John thoroughly enjoyed his day working alongside Andy. Barbara & I visited Nerac for a spot of house hunting, but all the estate agents are closed Mondays. A good day was had by all.

BBQ in Moissac Port how nice to still sit out, later it rained and we all had to run for cover.

We enjoyed a good cruise calling at some different ports on our return journey to Moissac Port the weather is changeable, still mostly sunny & hot. On our arrival we met up with Sheila off Chatelaine also Jan & John from Blackbird fly, we are all heading for Carcassonne were we will be mooring together for the winter. Enjoyed much time catching up with each other and the events of the summer.

Iain & Kaz who manage the port asked for help in bringing two of their hire boats back to Moissac after an accident in a lock at Malause, no shortage of volunteers to crew the boats as we all offer to help out. Iain promised it would be fun, Kaz made us all thunderbird badges for our trip. Two teams of four on each boat.

We all had fun trying to steer the boats especially since John & I have only ever used a tiller on the canals. I took the helm for two minutes, soon gave up after zig-zagging across the canal in front of Jan & John traveling behind us. John managed a lot better than I did Mike called John away to sort out the gas for our cups of tea, most important we thought, Sheila was left in charge of the helm and did a good job too.

Damaged lock gate was soon repaired by VNF and the canal re-opened following morning.

These photos show the damage and how the boat was lifted up by a crane within hours. This boat took the gate from it's hinges, after a rope snapped in the lock and the bow of boat went crashing into the lock gate the boat wedged its self hard. Thankfully no one was hurt in the accident, two boats in the lock at the time - we met the passenger's traveling on both the boats involved, they were in a state of shock, but happily went out for a meal together to discuss the events of the last day of their holiday. Both couples were well looked after by Kaz & Iain who did a wonderful job sorting every thing out.

Thunderbird team to the rescue no matter what the weather, John taking the wheel from Sheila.

We all arrived back into Moissac port in one piece. I thought it was a change handling a different boat and a new experience.

Once again September has been a busy & eventful month we look forward to meeting up with friends Ursula & Mike in Toulouse next month, and our journey back to Carcassonne for the winter.