Friday,18 May

Arrived at Charles de Gaulle at 06.05 and after a couple of train connections reached cold and rainy Cambrai. Checked into a matchbox sized hotel room and thought the whole plan was a huge mistake.

A short sleep later we joined Di and Tam Murrell on their barge ‘Friesland’ for a drink, followed by dinner at a nearby restaurant where we had the best bouillabaisse style dish ever, overflowing with langoustine, moules and fish in a seafoody tomato broth. The world was a better place.



Day One of training saw Alan at the helm under Tam’s watchful eye and almost immediately we approached our first lock. I was marched for’ard by Di and instructed to throw the bow line around a bollard when the boat was fully into the lock. Of course I missed several times and had my throwing style and posture roundly criticised. Later we swapped roles and continued to make mistakes for the rest of the day. After five terrifying locks and an encounter with a 100 tonnne commercial barge we moored for lunch before turning back towards Cambrai and confronting the five locks all over again. It was exhausting but eventually there were moments when I started to enjoy the slow movement along the canal and the unfolding landscape.


Sunday 20 May

Day Two was slightly less intense. We started with a lecture about boating theory before reversing out of the port and setting off upstream for more steering and line throwing practice. No commercial barges this time, but dozens of ducks, kayakers and people fishing along the bank.

Our lunches were delicious – salades composees, followed by fruit tart or strawberries and creme fraiche. It turned out that Di is a very good cook and has set up a web site about barging and food which you can find at


Finally we sat the test on rules and regulations governing boating on inland waterways in Europe. Alan did really well and I just scraped through – had trouble remembering things like the lights being shown at night by vessels engaged in minesweeping. Enough said. At least we’re both qualified!


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