Monday, February 13, 2006

Religious Race on the banks of the Sambre

Just upstream of Charleroi on the Sambre in Belgium lies an old riverside port called Marchienne-au-Pont. Apart from a medieval castle it boasts not only an underground railway station -they live beyond their means in this poor region- but also a floating church, with stained glass portholes and all. This dates back to the time when transport on the river was essential for the prosperity of the region, and a dedicated church came in handy for the barge people, who lived aboard.

The religious tradition is kept alive, largely by the members of a yacht club upstream. Every year on the last Sunday in September they celebrate the Pardon de la Batellerie, pardoning of the skippers.
This is a colourfoul event. The members of several yacht clubs attend mass, enjoy being pardoned and having a good glass, put on a parade of pleasure craft with amateur sailors standing to attention, while the locals try to get rid of old stuff at a quayside flea market.
The parade is only one of the highlights. Another one, quite exciting, is the... Duck Race!

Here they are, all dressed up in their individually designed and numbered racing colours, concentrating on the important race to come.
Alas, their span of attention lasts only until halfway the race. The duck in the lead discovers something edible beside the track and subsequently all other participants are side-tracked.Could this be sabotage? There is betting money at stake, you know.

The finish-line is the dotted line between the orange cones, and that is what they reach in the end.

Click on the Multimap image to see Marchienne-au-Pont on the map. Scrolling westwards takes you to Maubeuge. Multimap fails to show you clearly where the locks are. There is one every few kilometres.The rise and fall is very gradual. maybe 2 - 2,5 metres / 6 - 8 ft per lock. This stretch of the river is canalized, meaning no parallel canal has been dug. Closer to the source things change. How to overcome a watershed from one navigable river to the other will be the subject of a soon to be published piece, so keep watching this space.
Photos Koos Fernhout


Anne-Marie said...

The ducks are too precious. Thanks for sharing a bit about a wonderful day and tradition.


Janet said...

Koos, you make me want to go and see this for myself... sounds like a grand day out, ducks with little jackets on! compulsory!

Mary Beth said...

Hi Koos,

A floating church sounds so interesting. Since it's already on a river, I guess it would make baptizing people pretty convenient. :)

I love the ducks! I guess gamblers should take into consideration the thoughts and fickle behaviour of our feathered friends. We have 'duck' races here to win money, but it's a bunch of yellow fake ducks thrown into the river and whichever duck floats through the finish line first makes the person who's name is underneath it win the prize. Not exactly the same excitement as real ducks! :)

Dale said...

Dear Koos

You are such a wealth of knowledge about different areas!
Your posts are very interesting &, when I make it to Europe some day, I will have all these sights on my list to see!
I love the idea of a floating church - it only makes sense.

We have our own duck race here, but we use numbered "rubber duckies"...
They all get let go at the top of a whitewater creek & the first to reach the main river (approx 5 km) is the winner.
You can bet there's money on them, but most goes to charity, as it's a fund-raising event!

Take care & you don't have to pass your regards to Val, because I can do that myself now!

Happy late Valentine's Day.
Did you & Val do anything special?


PTfan said...

Oh goodness, the ducks are adorable!!! Koos....amazing. A duck race. I have never heard of a duck race. Ha. You made my morning. Good day to you.

A floating church. Well, there's a need, so why not. Pretty cool.

I am that I am said...

Hi Koos,

ik ben terry uit Utrecht, of, ik woon in Utrecht, kom uit West londen, zelfde plaats als Pete, in ealing. Ik vond jouw klok grappig oook, lachen, dan vragen mensen niet meer of je weet hoe laat het is want het is duidelijk voor ze te zien dat je wel de tijd bij je hebt.


Koos F said...

Anne-Marie, janet, Mary Beth, Dale, PTFan and Terry

I am very, very happy with these comments. They, in turn, make my day, if not a series of days.
Wish I had spent more time in that place, it has such a Fellini film like quality.


Koos F said...

Although I think you won't read this I would just like to say that you will go there my dear, you will. You will take your beautiful Belgian barge back to her roots, and if you allow I will be happy to be a guide for you and Bruce part of the way.