Monday, 19 October 2009

Its Boating, Jim: But Not As We Know It!

From Bedarieux we took the train to Sete, a Mediterranean sea port that is also the junction of two canals, the "Canal du Rhone a Sete" running eastwards across the marshland of the Camargue to Beaucaire and the perhaps better known Canal du Midi that heads off in a westerly direction to Toulouse and forms part of a route between the Med and the Atlantic that is still used by sea going yachts wishing to avoid the coastal route around Spain and Portugal.

The town centre is built around a network of inland waterways that connect the two through routes to each other and to the fishing and commercial ports. You can't miss the canals in Sete, especially if you arrive by train when you will find that the main road into town is over a swing bridge that has to be opened for anything larger than a small cruiser and which causes massive congestion when it is swung. It could also cause the unwary to miss their trains, were it not for the fact that the main line through Sete also crosses the canal, this time by a lift bridge, so trains are subject to as much delay as are their passengers!
In the photo, taken from the bridge that joins the station to the town centre, the railway bridge and the bridge on the by-pass have been lifted to allow the blue-and-white passenger boat to pass.

The Canal du Midi doesn't actually reach Sete. Instead it terminates on the western shore of the Etang du Thau, an inland lake separated from the sea by a narrow strip of land. The next photo shows the western end of the canal, with the large white boat on the left heading out into the Etang.

Sete can just be seen at the foot of the hill in the distance. It looks, and is, a long way but small boats, including hire craft, regularly make the crossing as indeed I did in 1972 on a small "noddy boat" of the type still common on our own canals.

If you hire a boat on the Canal du Midi these days, its likely to be one of these - seen here in the harbour at Marseillan, which offers a staging post for boats off the canal waiting to cross the Etang to Sete if the weather is unsuitable.

These boats are known as "penichettes" and are loosely modelled on the cargo-carrying "peniches" which operate on the smaller French canals - although that's "loosely modelled" in the same way that an English hire boat is loosely modelled on a large Woolwich! Just to show that these tiny craft - often in inexperienced hands - do venture across the Etang here is a picture of one entering the harbour at Marseillan:

But this wasn't a boating holiday and contrary to the impression I've probably given we didn't spend all our time seeking out obscure items of waterway interest. Just to prove it here are two photos of the street market in Sete which, like most French towns, seems to have preserved its markets and small shops much better than we have. Amongst a host of high-quality food stalls we just had to pick out:

"The Cheese man who didn't say "Cheese"......

........and this purveyor of high-quality local wine!

1 comment:

An English Shepherd said...

The Cheese man who didn't say "Cheese"......

Very funny picture :-)