Anjodi, cruising along the Canal du Midi, painting by Stanley Rose


welcome to the April edition of the lock-keeper.

It only seems five minutes since the last clients left us at the end of October and we started on our annual round of winter refit work, keeping our barges in top condition for the long season which has now started.

It dawned on me a few days ago that our team face quite an ongoing challenge to maintain and upgrade our fleet. I calculated; we have 13 hotel barges cruising 7 countries, with 42 crew speaking 6 languages on board 1283 feet of hotel barges, with 8 jakuzzis, 2 sauna's, 58 bathrooms, 58 cabins and 15 mini-van's, for a total of 116 lucky passengers cruising 23,400 very slow miles at the rate of 60 miles per barge, per week this season!

Not forgetting Impressionniste's autumn 6 week trans-europe cruise which covers 1000 miles, 7 rivers and 6 canals in 4 countries, covering 8 wine regions, through 362 locks..!

Recently, we have also been rushed off our feet with bookings. It seems France is back! Scotland is a hot destination and Italy is romancing her way into hotel barging with true Italian bravado! The team in the office, Amanda, Isabelle, Debbie, Bobbie and Mike have had plenty to do, and by the way the planning chart looks for 2005, 2006 and even 2007, it seems their combined efforts are really paying off.

That said, there is still a chance of space even for whole boat charters, so please
contact us now to book!

In this month's lock-keeper, we have a new story on Belle Epoque, some new Winter cruises, information on various Feasts & Festivals around Europe, our new Scottish Highlander cruise competition and last month's Shannon Princess cruise winner.

I look forward to hearing from you, and seeing you at our website, where you can find out all about GoBarging and keep up to date with the latest news as it breaks....

please read on and welcome aboard,

best regards,

Derek Banks, Chairman

Derek Banks - Chairman and Barge skipper

in this issue:

Wining, Dining and Doing

Winter cruises

Feasts & Festivals

March cruise winner

Win a cruise


back issues:

july 04

august 04

september 04

october 04

november 04

december 04

january 05

february 05

march 05

(please note that past competitions are now closed)

visit our website

Wining, Dining and Doing, aboard La Belle Epoque
with Cork Millner

"We're going to have to sink her!" Darren, the barge pilot, called back to Captain Nick Jones, who, hands grasped around the huge steering wheel, nodded stoically.

I turned to my blonde companion, Catherine, clicked my wineglass on the rim of her glass, and said in my fractured French accent, "Pas de probleme."

She sipped from the wine, and questioned, "No problem?". "Even if the barge sinks in the canal, it'll hit bottom in two feet."

"Hardly the Titanic," replied one of the passengers, a stodgy older man with a gin and tonic in his hand.

The other 8 passengers appeared non-plussed, even though we could see that the wooden banister of La Belle Epoque's sun deck was not going to clear the low stone bridge looming ahead of us. This wasn't the first bridge we had passed under on the six-day cruise down the Nivernais Canal in Burgundy, France. We had learned to duck as a bridge passed overhead.

"They're not really going to sink us?" the stodgy man's wife asked. Overhearing, Pilot Dareen, a tall tousle-haired young man, said, "Nope, just add ballast. We'll suck in a little water and slip under the bridge. You remember the heavy rains we had last night? The canal wasn't properly drained" - he pointed to water streaming over a sluice dam - "no-one opened the water gates. We need to add weight."

I whispered an aside to Catherine: "With all the food our fellow passengers have consumed the last 5 days, I'd think that would be ballast enough."

A half-hour later, La Belle Epoque skimmed under the bridge, only the roof of the main salon scraping off a bit of paint. At the last second, Captain Nick yanked off the huge steering wheel, let the barge drift through, then quickly attached the wheel as we emerged into the light. I toasted the feat with my glass of Chablis from the Burgundy region of wine we were sailing through.
La Belle Epoque cruising the Nivernais canal in Burgundy

A Gourmet's Paradise

We had started our trip in Paris where we were picked up and driven to La Belle Epoque. After a welcome-aboard glass of Champagne, we settled into a life aboard a barge. "Barge" is the right word when one understands that these vessels were once used to haul coal, wood and produce along the canal.

By the 1970s, the canals of Europe were no longer able to meet the demands of modern transportation and their usefulness as commercial waterways came to an end. The barges were sold and recreated as restaurants, nightclubs, floating homes for boatmen and luxury passenger boats. The 129 foot long La Belle Epoque was built in 1930 and refurbished and converted into a hotel barge in 1955. She can accommodate twelve passengers and has six comfortable cabins, all with private baths.

Aboard were two Australian couples whose exuberance was infectious, an outgoing American businessman and his wife and a retired physician and his wife, plus one older, single man. Catherine and I made eleven.

"Almost one hundred percent of our guests are English speaking," Captain Nick, who is English himself, told me. We were attended to by a crew of five, the captain, pilot, a chef (a French-man by the name of Philippe who spoke perfect English), and two charming hostesses, Jilianna and Trudi. The hostesses set our family-style table for each meal and introduced the wines and cheeses that were served.

Different vintages of Pinot Noir and Chablis, all from the local area, were served with lunch and dinner each day. Breakfast was served buffet style, with omelettes and Champagne on call. While eating we could watch the scenic panorama of the countryside pass by the window.

[Click on any picture to visit the Belle Epoque photo gallery].

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Wining, Dining and Doing, aboard La Belle Epoque

Dinner consisted of four courses: appetizer (entrée); main serving (plat principal); a cheese (fromage) platter, then dessert. One day's menu had this appetizer: Tartare of Salmon, capers and dill, topped with a fresh quali's egg, then the main course of Cumin Grilled Saddle of Lamb with Caviar of Aubergines, followed by Dark Chocolate Souffle for dessert. And, of course, there was the cheese platter, three different local cheeses for each meal. I remembered a quote from former French President Charles de Gaulle: "How is it possible to govern a country which produces more than 370 different cheeses?"

The food, wine and cocktails were included in the cruising package. There was no gift shop aboard, so there was no way to spend money aboard La Belle Epoque. Captain Nick joked, "Credit companies get nervous when the ladies aboard don't use their cards."

In the salon, with its comfortable, semi-circular lounges, we soon discovered the serve-yourself bar, which offered a variety of Scotch, gin, vodka and dessert drinks. Everyone settled in for "Happy Hour" before dinner.

Tours off the barge were also included in the trip. The first day offered a tour of a duck farm where ducks were force-fed for foie gras. (Catherine is a vegetarian so we stayed aboard.) Upon returning, one of the Aussies, after consuming the evening's sumptuous dinner, noted "The way they're feeding us aboard this barge, we could offer ourselves to the duck farm."
La Belle Epoque cruising the Nivernais canal in Burgundy

La Joie de Vivre

One of the joys of being aboard is doing - nothing. One can stroll on the pathway alongside the barge from lock to lock (a distance of a mile or two), ride a bicycle into the small villages, or just sit in a lounge chair on the sun deck and watch sleepy villages pass by while swans and families of ducks paddle alongside the barge waiting for a nibble of bread.

The sun coming through the trees that line the canal (originally planted to provide shade for the mules that hauled the barges) gives the impression of floating and fleeting light.

"Looks like a canvas rendered by a painter, perhaps Renoir," I said as the sun warmed my face. "Idyllic," Catherine added with a sigh. "Sweet serenity," I agreed.

At each lock we passed through, the lockkeeper bid us, "Bonjour." Then cranked the handles that would close and open the gate mechanisms to flush the water from the lock to lower the barge five or six feet to the next level of the canal. As we departed the lock, the lockkeeper would then wave, "Au revoir." And in this manner, La Belle Epoque transported us through the French countryside.

[Click on any picture to visit the Belle Epoque photo gallery].

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Go Barging in Winter 2005/2006

As the crocuses are popping their heads up in the gardens of our Thames-side office here at Go Barging, we are already starting to plan ahead for the coming Winter's calendar of events. Here are a few ideas to help you sail through Winter with Go Barging, in England, Ireland, Scotland, France and Italy! Who says you have to go into hibernation just because the temperatures drop a little !

The transitional months between winter and spring are a wonderful time to be in Europe, with many traditional activities and festivities, pageantry and colour. From October onwards, folk are already preparing for the festive season and what more novel way of spending it than on board the Magna Carta as she makes her celebratory Christmas and New Year cruise from Hampton Court upstream to Henley-on-Thames.

Start as you mean to go on with a glass of Champagne in your hand as you sail past Hampton Court palace, famous for its associations with King Henry 8th (who was always one for a party), then hop off onto dry land for a couple of hours in a good old English pub.

A little further upstream and you come upon Windsor Castle, home to the Royal Family for 900 years. Maybe you'd like to do a bit of shopping in the charming town of Windsor or go across the bridge and lose yourself amongst Eton's myriad of antique shops or buy a tail-coat from one of the Eton College outfitters! Henley on Thames, home to the famous Royal Regatta, is where we enjoy local New Year celebrations. A glorious part of the Thames in anyone's book!

In the UK, following the Christmas and New Year festivities, we are still in party mood, as from December to the end of January, we go to "pantomimes". This is where old stories and fairy tales are jazzed up for stage with spectacular and crazy costumes throughout the country, from village halls to high capacity audiences.
GoBarging Winter cruises In Scotland and other parts of the UK, "Burns Night" celebrations on January 25th honour the famous Scottish poet Robert Burns and "haggis, neeps and tatties" are eaten nationwide.

Scottish Highlander is a great base from which to enjoy the glories of Burns Night and the Scottish crew will be sure to spin you a few yarns about the haggis!

In February, another tradition in the UK is to make pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. Many households also get involved in pancake tossing races. Pancakes were originally made to use up eggs which couldn't be eaten during Lent.

The most famous race in England is at Olney, Buckinghamshire. People have been pancake-racing here for over 500 years. The participants must be local women but in addition, they must be wearing a skirt, apron and head covering and have to run through town over 415 yards tossing a pancake.

Olney is only a stone's throw from Magna Carta's route and many a pancake has been tossed and caught by your master chef!

The Thames west of London is the place to be if you want to see the Head of the River race or the internationally famous Oxford vs Cambridge university boat race.

The Head of the River race is for boats and rowers of all aptitudes, from historical ferry boats to swift skiffs. Although competition is strong, it's fun to watch and a marvellously sociable and colourful event for all participants and spectators.

The Oxford vs Cambridge boat race on the other hand is the Clash of the Titans, where winning the annual title is serious business and commands world-wide attention!

The Magna Carta is the perfect base from which to get to any of these races! (She doesn't participate as she's a stately and elegant lady).

GoBarging in Winter - continued

Much further south, in Italy, Shrove Tuesday is celebrated countrywide in the form of "Carnevale" - but in Venice this is no ordinary carnival - no noisy parades through town and no grotesque masks representing politicians, celebrities and clowns - it is a very elegant affair with visitors from all over the world coming to "exhibit" themselves anonymously dressed in flowing robes and elaborate masks representing the faces of the characters of "Commedia dell'Arte" - Punchinello and Punchinella, Scaramouch and Scarapino.

The masked revellers pose on bridges and in other photogenic places, while people admire and photograph them, then move onto another spot where they do the same again!

Other events such as concerts, art exhibitions and theatrical performances enhance the experience. With the summer crowds still on the horizon, Venice is a much easier place to explore and the weather is warm and pleasant with a fresh breeze on the air.

La Dolce Vita is a wonderful base from which to enjoy Carnevale.

Another idea for a March holiday (perhaps an idea for those of our international readers with Irish roots) is a visit to southern Ireland for a cruise on the Shannon Princess II to coincide with the celebrations for St Patrick's Day on 17th March.

Throughout Ireland families congregate together to celebrate the feast day of their Patron Saint in parades, carnival and parties. Many a pint of Guinness is downed, followed by hearty singing, vigorous dancing and the sound of joyous music.

Enhance your cruise by a day's golfing, fishing, horse-trecking or watersports or spend a rejuvenating day at a spa centre or exploring Irish cultural arts and crafts.
GoBarging Winter cruises Throughout the whole of the Winter, the Anjodi in southern France is eager to take you on a voyage of discovery through the castles of the Cathars.

For fans of the book "The Da Vinci Code" the Anjodi is an ideal base from which to investigate first-hand the book's links with the Cathars and to soak up the countryside and atmosphere of this mystical place.

To complement the Cathar theme, we also visit cultural sites of a different nature, such as the local wineries - not forgetting doing a bit of wine tasting to accompany the gourmet food on board the Anjodi!

So if you are looking for something different to do during the winter months, look no further than Go Barging!

Scottish Highlander Winter Breaks:
6 -8 passenger charter - 5 days, 4 nights - from $13,000
6 -8 passenger charter - 4 days, 3 nights - from $ 11,000

Magna Carta Winter Breaks:
6 -8 passenger charter - 5 days, 4 nights - from $14,500
6 -8 passenger charter - 4 days, 3 nights - from $12,000

La Dolce Vita Winter Breaks:
5 days, 4 nights = $1,665 per person
4 days, 3 nights = $1,305 per person

Shannon Princess II Winter Breaks:
6-10 passenger charter - 5 days, 4 nights - prices from $13,000
6-10 passenger charter - 4 days, 3 nights - prices from $11,000

Anjodi Winter Breaks:
6-8 passenger charter - 5 days, 4 nights - prices from $13,500

Contact us for more information on our Winter cruise breaks

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Feasts and Festivals!

This time of the year is a time of much eating and drinking throughout Europe - it seems as if everyone has woken from their winter reverie and all of a sudden they are bouncing about looking for things to celebrate! Well, it's time to celebrate the arrival of Spring, isn't it!

In Italy, preparations are afoot for a whole spate of festivals and regattas, the first of which is "La Sensa" which is known by many Venetians as "the Festival of the Sea", although historically, this festival originated as a means by which the Doge of Venice could demonstrate the dominance in the gulf of "La Serenissima" or "The Most Serene Venetian Republic" to his neighbours and contemporaries. He embarked on a magnificent ship called the Bucintoro and sailed to the mouth of the San Nicolo port. There he threw a gold ring into the sea which symbolized the marriage of Venice with the sea. And of course, Venice's fortunes have always been inextricably intertwined with the sea.

The Sensa festival grew into an international bazaar - it was bound to happen as Venice was one of the great world international import/export trade centres. We can't forget that Marco Polo sailed out of Venice to explore the Far East - it is said that his sailors brought back with them the recipe for spaghetti! (Some say that a Mr Spaghetti from his crew obtained the recipe from a Chinese courtesan!) Merchants sailed in and out of Venice with merchandise and news from all parts of the world - new materials, spices and produce brought about new fashions, recipes, medicines, art and architectural styles which spread from there throughout the rest of Europe. For example, had it not been for the Italian ships bringing back Chinese pottery, the Dutch potters in Delft would not have become as rich as they did! Imagine life without the Chinese takeaway!

Today, the Sensa festival is not as explosive as in the past, but the Venetians still celebrate the importance of their association with the sea by the repetition of the ring ceremony by the Mayor of Venice. And to finish off the day, Italians like to get out their cookery books and make some traditional festival specialities.

Another Italian festival in May is the Vogalonga, which we told you about in
January's Lock-keeper. There are still cabins available from 14th to 21st May which coincide with this very colourful pageant.

The rowing season in Venice has already begun - in the Venetian lagoon every year, there are more than 120 regattas! The regattas typically take the form of rowing races, with the participants rowing one-oared gondolas up to six-oared "caorlines" on various waterways within the Venetian lagoon. You can imagine that the locals are quite fit! Some of the regattas originated in the 14th century and participants are very proud to be part of such a long-standing tradition. The Mestre Regatta opens the rowing season, fairly swiftly followed by the St Erasmus Regatta which is reserved for women only who race in two-oared "mascareta" boats around the town of Fusina. And many a pound of macaroni is bound to be consumed thereafter!

The Saints John and Paul Regatta is open to young people under 25 who are tested out in one-oared gondolas. This one starts at the island of Murano, which is one of the stops on the itinerary of La Dolce Vita. Murano has become famous over the years as a glass-making centre and not only do they manufacture beautiful chandeliers, but amazing jewellery creations.

There are many other regattas besides, but just to be in Venice during these times is very exciting, and to have the possibility of a ring-side seat on our barge La Dolce Vita (which means, The Sweet Life) is a unique opportunity.

In another part of Europe, in the wilds of bonnie Scotland, the Highland Games & gatherings season starts very soon, at the end of May - there's still time to book onto the Scottish Highlander at the beginning of June if you would like to take a cruise to coincide with these spectacular gatherings! The games last from the end of May to the middle of September every year and attract crowds from hundreds to thousands. The largest Highland Games attract around ten thousand people.

Traditionally, all highland games focus on heavyweight events, highland dancing, bag-pipe competitions and concerts, athletic and cycling events. Tug-of-war, tossing the caber and throwing the hammer are possibly the ones which spring to mind most readily when thinking of the Highland Games, although it's not all brute force and red hair flying everywhere - you'll see the Highland Fling and the sword-dancing attract just as much ferocious competiton!

Of course, any time on board the Scottish Highlander is a good time, but an added bonus on the trip, if you are seeking a glimpse into the Scottish traditions, is a visit by a bagpiper on board, with music to accompany your wee dram of Whisky!

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March cruise competition winner

Shannon Princess Our March cruise competition offered a Shannon Princess cruise for two. Find out who's won, visit our
March cruise winner's page.

April cruise competition

Scottish Highlander on the Caledonian Canal This month, we feature the Scottish Highlander. We have a competition to win a marvellous cruise for two in 2005, so as usual, visit our
competition page, read the instructions, enter, and you could be the lucky winner.


We are pleased to announce that you can now easily
check availability for your cruise dates online - tell us when you want to travel and we'll reply within 24 hours with options.

We also have a new barging video online which gives you a real flavour of life on the European Waterways.

Why not combine the delights of Scotland with the south of France or Venice ?. We are sometimes asked if consequetive weeks can be booked on our barges, Answer - yes of course - just have a look through the website, send us an email or call and we will have all the barge routes and availability information ready quickly.

If you have any suggestions, feedback or barging stories to tell us, then please e-mail us. We'll be glad to hear from you and share your inputs in the lock-keeper.

Why not email this edition on to a friend, and let them share the fun. New subscribers can sign-up here, and are very welcome. More people are joining every day, so let's keep building a great Barging community..!

That"s about it for this 22nd edition of the Lockkeeper, and hopefully the above articles have whet your appetite for that well-earned luxury cruise..!

Please visit barge cruises and have a look around, or follow the individual links above.

The next edition of the lock-keeper will be out in May, 2005, so we'll see you then.

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