Saint Quentin 

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Built in the 18th century the canal Saint Quentin has two underground tunnels. Skippers in the early days were so afraid of the tunnels that initially they were bribed to traverse them.

I should have received a bribe out of Austin when he talked me into doing the Saint Quentin Canal, and I might still think of suing him for stress and suffering!

The first tunnel, you have to know, is 5670m long and due to the lack of ventilation, boats are pulled along by a chain driven tug at the 'dizzy speed' of 3kph. Usually a whole row of boats, motors turned off, are tied to each other and then pulled along by the tug. You just pray that everyone stays in line. The scrapes on the walls proof otherwise.


But first we stopped at Cambrai where things were in full preparation for the annual summer festivity. The town squares were filled with fairground stalls, carousels and music stages. We did our usual exploration walk and sought refuge from the activities in the church St. Géry. There we admired the amazing Rubens painting  “The Entombment of Christ”. It has hung in this church unprotected since the early 18th century and is astonishingly well preserved . 



Leaving Cambrai the canal climbs through 17 automated locks to the summit. We managed to get through all of them by 3pm and were straight away booked in for the 5pm tug through the tunnel. Grrrr!!!

On the left is me before the tunnel:

To our relief there were no other boats at the start, and so we were roped to the tug and had an easy ride all the way through. My fears soon turned into boredom as the chain tug clanged and rattled in front of us for the 1hr and 45 minutes it takes to the other end. 

Little did I know that the scary part was still in front of me.

When reaching the second tunnel the light was red although no boat came through the 1098m tunnel while we waited. As it was 7pm by this time we thought that the thoroughfare might be closed for the day. So we tied up on the bank, had safe arrival drinks and a quick dinner of 

spaghetti á la Susi.

It was close to 9.30pm, the sun had almost set, when Austin noticed that the light at the tunnel had turned green. Before I could persuade Austin of the foolishness, leaving in the almost dark with his Gin pickled brain, he had started the motor and off we went. I could only arm myself with a torch and a barge pole and hope for the best. To Austin’s defence I have to say that he steered us through the tunnel perfectly, but it was dark when we emerged. So we edged forwards torches swiping the sides of the canal to find the mooring shown in our map. 

And we did! Of course Austin "knew all along that it would be fine"!!!

In the morning it was raining heavily, but by lunchtime it eased up, so we  continued the short trip to the town Saint Quentin. The Port de Plaisance of Saint Quentin has some visitor spots and the resident locals were very friendly, including some young cygnets that came out to welcome us. There is water and electricity, and for a short stay nobody bothers to charge. 

The central square of town is turned into a beach each summer, ready with plunge pool, lighthouse, and all sorts of water and sand activities for children.

We learned that sadly this town, like many other places in France, suffers from unemployment. I guess the recent events haven’t helped the tourism here either.




© Austin Robinson 2019