A great stop-off and only a couple of hundred km from the channel now and we visited the Strépy-Thieu boat lift. Doesn’t sound that exciting, right? Wrong! This enormous twin lift, completed in the 1980’s raises huge canal boats (and we are talking up to 100 m long and 12 m wide) 70 meters between the upper and lower canals. For a decade or so it held the world record for the highest boat lift. It’s bloody huge.
We’ve seen many of the big canal boats around europe – the standard dates back to the 1950s when a new 1350 ton standard was devised. It’s extended from there right up to 280 m long by 35 m wide. So if you ever wondered why Europe can still make canals commercially viable and in the UK it’s cheaper to move boats by road, never mind bulk goods, there’s your answer: infrastructure investment and scale!
The lift replaced a series of four lifts built in the 1900’s. The old lifts are still in situ and are a UNESCO world heritage site.
Anyway, it was a wonderful 25 km cycle around the old and new lifts. Parking here is pretty idyllic – it’s free as in speech and beer and is on the banks of the canal. It would have been an awesome drone shot of the mothership, the canal and the lift, but in Belgium, unless you have taken and exam and have a registered drone, you have a 10 m height limit and must be over private ground. So it was not to be…
We could not carry on with our Italian adventure without fitting in at least one hilltop town. Civita di Bagnoregio was a great fit because it’s only 15km off the motorway and there is a camping Aire nearby.
It was odd to be back on the road again after nearly a month in Rome, but also it felt good to be on the move. We were off and out early doors (for us that is) at 9:30 and arrived at the camping aire at about Midday.
We unstowed the bikes and then it was off like the clappers down the hill to the town at Bagnoregio – park the bikes and then a 3KM slog back uphill into the old town proper of Civita. It’s a 5€ entrance fee to the town and then a walk across a long, steep – and today at least – very windy- footbridge to the town.
It’s really two towns – Banoregio at the bottom of the hill and Civita at the top. The old town is over 2500 years old. It’s gradually been getting smaller – literally – as it is built on a tall sandstone cliff which sits on clay and soft tufa. An earthquake at the end of the 17th century accelerated the demise of the town.
Sad to note that the town has a population less than 10 in the winter. Most of the houses are owned by rich families that only come to visit in the summer.
We’ll tell you about our month in Rome some other time – but for now back on the Road – Florence is next on the list.