Between St-Quentin and our next major destination city Reims there are no major cities. The waterways are rural and quiet. The villages are small. Along the way we stopped for nights near three towns, Chauny, Pinon, and Bourg-et-Comin, and also spent a night in the “middle of nowhere” just past the Gaudart Ecluse.
Of the moorings, Chauny was the most difficult place to find a spot for the night. Caught between locks at the end day we were forced to find the best spot we could. Bollards were infrequent and we ended up mid-pound between the two locks. To moor we tied to a fixed bollard midship and used our Spirafix ground anchors to hold the bow and stern. On canals we are allowed to tie up pretty much anywhere where there is not a sign prohibiting mooring. This spot definitely fit the definition of “anywhere”.
In reality our spot for the night was perfectly reasonable. It was quite and there was grass and smells for our dog Gigi to enjoy. Inside the cocoon of Wanderlust we could have been anywhere. But it turned out that the waterway segment we were on, a short stretch of the Canal de St.-Quentin between the Canal de la Sambre à l’Oise and the Canal de l’Oise à l’Aisne, is busy. The next morning, as soon as the locks opened, a stream of trente-huit commercial barges churned past. When we were ready to leave our mooring, we waited several minutes at the side until a slot opened in the commercial traffic flow. The commercials have priority in the locks. If we didn’t wait for a gap at the bank we’d wait a short ways ahead at the lock.
The Canal de St.-Quentin has parallel locks but by and large only one of the pair is used. This stretch is an exception. At the first lock we went through side-by-side with a Freycinet-gauge barge in the parallel lock having seen two go through together before we arrived and two more charging up the canal behind us. On the far side of the lock there were multiple barges waiting to come through. In many places it has seemed that commercial traffic on the older Freycinet waterways has all but disappeared. Apparently we had found a stretch of waterway that is still heavily used for moving cargo.
The barge traffic mostly disappeared once we turned off onto the Canal de l’Oise à l’Aisne. That’s a good thing. At many points this canal is overgrown and narrow. It often seems more like a river than a canal. In places the channel is narrow enough that passing a large barge heading in the opposite direction would be very tricky.
Near the few villages the vegetation has usually been trimmed back from the canal edges. It was this way near the commune of Pinon where we spent two nights at the unserviced mooring. We hadn’t planned on two nights in Pinon. But the spot was nice so we stayed over. For us a detailed travel itinerary when we are cruising in Wanderlust is pointless. There are too many variables. We stay longer when it is pleasant or when we are tired. Every day starts with a decision whether to cruise on or stay another day.
Continuing past Pinon there was another slow tunnel, Souterrain de Braye, before we reached our next stop at Bourg-et-Comin. Bourg-et-Comin is at the intersection of the Canal de l’Oise à l’Aisne and Canal lateral à l’Aisne. Towns at the intersection of waterways are natural layover spots.
The next morning we departed Bourg-et-Comin and moved on a 19 km lock-free segment of the Canal lateral à l’Aisne until we reached the junction with the Canal de l’Aisne à la Marne. As the name suggests, the Canal de l’Aisne à la Marne heads from the Aisne to Marne river valleys. Along the way the canal runs through the historic city of Reims.
The character of the waterway changed as we moved onto the Canal de l’Aisne à la Marne. We were now traveling through well-tended farmland with an excellent well-used paved bike path alongside. The bank-side vegetation, where it existed, had been trimmed back. And the canal itself, completed in 1866 and rebuilt after being entirely destroyed during World War I, is in fine shape. On the approach to Reims and Champagne country, we were on a destination canal. There were no big cargo-carrying barges. The only commercial traffic we saw was the well-maintained hotel barge C’est La Vie.
Just past the Gaudart Ecluse we used a stake midship and two widely spaced bollards to tie up for the night. Though remote, this was a particularly pleasant spot to stay. Indeed, it is the type of place where we’d wake the next mooring and decide to stay. But this time we couldn’t. Friends were coming to meet us in Reims just up the canal. We had to move on. Sometimes even barge travelers need to be responsible.
It is 133 km with 36 locks between Saint Quentin and Reims: 10 locks and 35 km to Chauny, 7 locks and 32 km to Pinon, 9 locks and 22 km to Bourg-et-Comin, and 5 locks and 26 km to the Gaudart Ecluse. We traveled the Canal de St-Quentin, Canal de l’Oise à l’Aisne, Canal lateral à l’Aisne, and the Canal de l’Aisne à la Marne.