Canal du Centre

Canal du Centre

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Canal de Roanne à Digoin

About 2 pm on Saturday afternoon we made the turn from the Canal Lateral a la Loire onto the Canal de Roanne à Digoin. Basically a continuation of the Lateral, it follows the gently (usually) flowing Loire River 55 k and 10 locks to the city of Roanne and it’s very large and busy boat basin. The canal first opened in 1838 and the locks were enlarged and improved between 1895 and 1903. During that time the canal was a very busy commercial waterway but by the mid 1970’s the traffic had fallen to a small fraction of earlier business and it was in danger of abandonment. Luckily, in 1982 an association was formed among city officials from Roanne and the regional departments and today we have a very busy, pleasant navigation with two very long pounds (the space between locks) and beautiful scenery. And after completing Lock #7, the 7.2 meter deep Bourg-le-Compte, we’ve done the three deepest locks on the French canals, the other two being the 16 meter Rèchicourt lock on the Canal Rhone au Rhine and the lock from the Saone to the Canal du Centre, the 10.8 meter Crissey lock.

The hireboaters in the lock with us marvel at how high up we’re going to go as the lockkeeper cranks the door shut.

The first night saw us at a very nice rural halte nautic where just about “wine time” a small hireboat went by with the female crew in the bow pointing at the “California Republic” Bear flag we fly from the bow. A few minutes later the boat had returned and we met Philippe, a longtime sailor, and his wife Michele, who was on her first inland boating expedition. Philippe was born in the French Alps but spent the last 30-odd years in northern California. Michelle was originally from northern California but they have relocated to Burgundy so she could pursue a wine tour/tasting business. They are thinking about buying a barge. We did everything we could think of to convince them this was a great idea. Wine was drunk, good conversation was had and we promised to try to attend Michelle’s birthday party in Meursault at the end of July.

Sunday found us tied up in the not very attractive port at Chambilly, mostly because the chart guide said a nearby village, Marcigny, had a “lively” market on Monday. Since we were tied up by about 2 we decided to investigate the setting. Marcigny is also the on a voie vert, this time another old rail line that has been converted to cycling/walking trail.

Monday morning we decided we’d just push on rather than take in the market. Oops! When we called the lockkeeper to tell her we were ready to go it turned out that due to short staffing (she had to handle 4 locks by herself and there were several other boats moving) we wouldn’t be able to get underway until after lunch. Off to the market we went and we’re glad we did.
What a zoo! The market square was filled with stalls and then they spilled out into the narrow village streets. Bottlenecks everywhere! In addition, since there are lots of extra people in town, the cafes that surround the market square set out extra tables to accommodate the big crowds. Not much room for pedestrians. Helped along by the fact that it was a long holiday weekend (Pentacost) thousands of people were attending. And like the Louhans market we attended in 2011, it wasn’t just your regular veggies, clothes, handbags, trinkets and gletch, there were all kinds of live animals; chickens, quail, ducks, rabbits and goats, hawkers trying to get you to buy the latest, greatest vegetable peeler or pot and pan. It was a blast. And we bought some great cheese.

Not sure if this chicken is going in the box for eggs or dinner.

A real looker, this one!

And for you, quail only 4 euros each!

A little before 1 pm we were underway. After 3 quick locks we had 2 1/2 hours travel to the next set of 2 locks.

This is a bridge for a small river over the canal as it makes it’s way to the Loire. 

 About 6 pm we drove stakes into the bank and settled in for the night. Next morning, after about an hour underway we entered the last lock before the port of Roanne about 10:30. We checked in with the Port Captain and by 11:15 we were secure in our spot for the next few days. We planned to rent a car for a couple of days for some touring and we had some old friends to catch up with.

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