This travelogue is a sequel to Faring to France on a Shoe and is an account of Val Poore’s further cruising adventures with her partner, Koos, on their Dutch Barge, Hennie Ha, aka the Shoe. Once again, Val and Koos set off for a summer of ‘faring’, the word they use to describe travelling by barge as distinguished from cruising and sailing. It is, after all, a very different experience to meander along the canals at a snail’s pace and enjoy the waterside scenery, towns and encounters with local people. These are adventures of a gentle kind that take them along the lovely waterways of Belgium, through numerous locks of various shapes and sizes, and into France through a very beautiful back door.
I was lucky enough to win a digital copy of this book in a competition run by the Facebook group We Love Memoirs. Thank you very much to the author, Val and the group administrators! My review is honest and the opinions are my own.
Faring Forth Again on the Shoe is the story of a trip along the canals of Belgium made by the author, Valerie Poore and her partner, Koos in their Dutch house barge, the Hennie Ha, which is shaped like a clog and affectionately known by them as the ‘Shoe’.
The trip follows a route on these waterways:
The Dender – The Flemish Section
The Dender – The Walloon Section
The Canal du Centre
The Brussels-Charleroi Canal
The Sambre Thuin France
Return to Belgium
Ronquières, Brussels and beyond
I have never been on a barge but have often gazed wistfully at them when in Amsterdam and Bruges – there is something very romantic about the idea of living aboard one of these floating homes! However, in reality I do not think I would be able to live with the insecurity and vulnerability involved with life on a barge. At one point, when moored by a run down part of a city, and almost boarded by a local at night, Val tells us:
“It’s not unheard of for local youths to untie a boat leaving the sleeping occupants drifting in midstream, especially in these urban moorings.”
The down-to-earth descriptions of (lack of) showering facilities and the sheer physical labour involved with maintaining the barge would also put me off this lifestyle! Val herself had never been on a barge until her forties but has embraced the hard work and physical challenges involved and her love for this unconventional lifestyle shines through her warm descriptions of events which take place on their journey.
The book is peppered with historical information and local tall tales – I particularly enjoyed the amusing origin story for how the locals of Ninove became known as wortels, or carrots when they forgot to lock their city gates properly and used a carrot instead!
Val’s goal is to make it to the historic landmark of the ‘Great Lift’ at Strépy and travel up it – an impressive 73 metre rise for the barge:
We’re sitting in a huge bath suspended in mid-air, and the only thing between us and eternity is a collection of steel cables.
The added maps and accompanying photo website help to bring alive the journey and there is even a recipe for a one pot meal included in the book, which sounds delicious.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time traveling through Belgium on the Shoe, even if it was only a virtual trip, brought to life by the vivid travelogue-style descriptions of passing countryside and local towns!
About the Author
Val Poore was born in London, grew up in Dorset and then moved to South Africa in 1981 where she lived for nearly twenty years. However, she decided to move back to Europe permanently in 2001. Her intention was to live in France, but love and life had other plans and she ended up buying a traditional barge and staying in the Netherlands. She is now a Dutch citizen as well.
Val has written eight memoirs and two novels. She writes under her full name, Valerie, and these days shares her time between her barge in Rotterdam and a cottage in the country. She teaches for a living, has two very grown up daughters (both in the Netherlands) and lives with her Dutch partner. One day, she hopes she and her partner can take her barge and exchange teaching for a life of gentle cruising along the canals in northern France, or Poland, or Germany or wherever the waterways take them.