Canal du Centre

Canal du Centre

Friday, August 31, 2018

We Worship St. Cochon, July 27-30

Just before we left Clamecy, Carmen had told us that there was supposed to be a big fete in Lucy-sur-Yonne for the weekend. We’re always up for a party so, despite the delayed start caused by the morning bike ride, we had just 5k to travel and we were tied up in Lucy by 11:30. Just across the path from the moorings was a huge field of sunflowers with their faces turned to the sun.

We didn’t see any evidence of preparations for a big party but there was a great swimming beach in the park just up the canal so we went for a dip after lunch. When some locals joined us a little later in the day we asked about the party and were assured there would be one, just not until Sunday.
Saturday afternoon we use the opportunity to ride the bikes to Chatel Censoir, just 6 k up the canal. We had overnighted there in 2009 and we got a chance to revisit many of the sites we’d seen then. Plus there was an open boulangerie and a cafe where we could stop for a little liquid refreshment.

When we returned to the boat we started to see some activity in the park, with trailer after trailer piled with tables and benches heading across the bridge from the village, as well as several filled with firewood. Carmen and Louis also turned up to join in the fun. It turned out we were to take part in the Fete du Saint Cochon, the worship of the roasted pig.

Saturday night there was much merryment; singing and chanting in the park as preparations were made for the next day’s feast. Sunday would be a busy day.
Along with the food and entertainment there was a giant vide grenier (literally “empty garage/attic”) as people from all over emptied out their storage places and tried to entice buyers.

But the major event was the pig roast. It turned out they roasted eight pigs for lunch and another 5 for the evening meal.

The makings of the fire.

The tables are set.

Here’s lunch! People come from miles around the last Sunday in July.

With frites, of course!

We used the afternoon break to cycle out to the Chateau Faulin, missing the hunting dog demonstration, complete with horns. The current owners of the estate purchased it in the 1960’s because “they like the old stones.” Their son, who spends significant time in the US,  has established a Museum of the Middle Ages and, as we were the only people there for the 3 o’clock tour, we got the English version.

We headed back over to the fete in the evening but we didn’t need a meal. The bar was a major attraction, however, and while hanging out with Carmen and Louis we met a couple from Australia that were renting a house in the village for a month. They were off in the next couple of days for a month’s stay in southern France before returning to the southern hemisphere. There was a candlelight procession major fireworks show around 10:30 and a dj payed well into the night but after a little dancing, we headed back to the boat. We were just far enough away that the music was not too loud.
Monday morning we dragged ourselves away from the moorings and headed further north on the canal.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Surgy and the Roches de Basseville, July 26, 27

After leaving Clamecy on Thursday, our plan was to spend the next night in the town of Coulange. We had stopped for lunch there during 2009 and noted that it was a “nice place.”
We arrived around noon to discover that it was no longer a “nice place.” A looked-like-it-was-abandoned hireboat base now took up most of the moorings and an ad hoc campsite was also very close. We had passed a nice spot with picnic tables and large shade trees just a couple of kilometers back so after about five minutes of deliberation we threw off our lines and headed back through the lifting bridge to the halte at Pousseaux, just 20 minutes away. There was a hireboat already there but there was plenty of room and they were only stopping for lunch. We had the place to ourselves after they left, lazing in the shade. We also found a great swimming hole underneath a nearby railroad bridge and were entertained by the “yoots” jumping from it into the cool river water.
It was still very hot and it was only later we read that the prolonged heat wave we were experiencing was Europe-wide, with effects ranging from unusual forest fires in Sweden to cancelled river cruises on the Rhine due to lack of water.

We had passed an interesting rock formation just a couple of kilometers before the halte and our chart showed the Roches de Basseville so Friday morning before we left we lifted the bikes off the boat and went for a little ride while it was still cool.
We passed through the village of Surgy with it’s beautiful town hall/multipurpose municipal building and on to the rocks.

There are several of these rock formations along the Yonne River where the water had cut through the surrounding limestone. In this case there is a short path that takes you around the base, up to the top of the rocks and back down to the parking area. It only took a half hour to walk it.

Part of the Grand Falaise (faiaise is cliff in French).

We like this caution sign at the top.

After a quick stop at the boulangerie in Surgy for our daily bread, we headed back to the boat, setting off back down the canal for our next stop, Lucy-sur-Yonne. We had heard rumors of a fete in the village on the weekend and we didn’t want to miss it.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Clamecy, July 22-25

When we traveled the Nivernais Canal in 2009 we spent two days in Clamecy. We planned on at least that this time. It was going to be very hot and the river is very close by (in fact, right north of town the canal joins the river for a stretch), and, according to the information we had, there was a swimming beach on the river very nearby. We arrived Sunday just before noon.
One of the advantages of staying several days in a place is that, with the constant turnover of boats, you can scope out the mooring places and move to a better one when it opens up. When we first arrived, the spot we moored up in had some shade in the late afternoon but not much. Luckily for us, the next morning the boat that was in the “primo” spot moved on so we were able to grab it. An overhanging tree provided shade beginning about noon. Overhanging tree did mean that sap had to be washed off the boat every morning but that was a small price to pay with daytime temps hitting the mid 90’s.

Clamecy was the headquarters of “flottage” beginning in the mid 1500’s. Logs from the Morvan forests were floated down streams and rivers to be gathered up into large rafts to be further floated down the rivers Yonne and Seine to supply the fireplaces of Paris. Clamecy was the major assembly point. By the early 1800’s the traffic reached it’s high point then gradually declined until the 1920’s, when it ended.
The town is very attractive, with narrow twisting streets and large numbers of picturesque half-timbered buildings.

And the required old church looming above the town. The construction of the The Collegiate Church of Saint-Martin took over 400 years, from the end of the 12th century until the 16th century.

Just across the canal and the river is the Notre-Dame-de-Bethléem church, built in 1926 and is the second church in France constructed entirely of concrete. It was built to commemorate Reynier, the 9th Bishop of Bethlehem in Palestine who sought refuge in Clamecy in 1223 and founded le petit évêché de Bethléem-les-Clamecy (the small bishopric of Bethlehem in Clamecy.

We spent our mornings doing the scenic walking tours provided by the tourist office and our afternoons at the swimming hole on the river. We were very glad for the cool water!
There was also a pretty active social scene. We met the owners of Hibou, Guy and Jane, and reconnected with David and Irene on Kleine Beer. We also met Carmen and her son Louis for the first time. Carmen, Dutch born but British educated and now living in Australia, and her husband had purchased an ex-hireboat, Beauregard, but he was unable to join her for a couple of months. In the meantime, She had her son’s help for a couple of weeks and then she would be on her own. Very adventurous! We would be stopping in many of the same places for the next few weeks.
We also had a great time watching the show as the hireboats milled around getting in and out in the morning and late afternoon and hotel barges moving through. The port was a pretty busy place.
Unfortunately, the water supply to the port bathrooms had sprung a leak so the taps on one side of the port had to be shut off. That left only one water tap on the other side of the port available for filling the tank. We wanted to top off before we left so our departure Thursday morning was delayed while we waited for a spot close enough for our hose to reach. Despite the delay we were able to set off about 9:30, again headed north on the canal.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Villiers-sur-Yonne, July 20-21

Since we were so early stopping near Tannay, we decided we would bike up (and I mean up!) to the village, as we heard they had reestablished vineyards that had been decimated by disease. The climb was tough, a steady 1.5 k up a steep hill. When we got to the top we discovered that the cave mentioned in our guidebook was not open. Neither was the small grocery. The boulangerie had a sign on the door that said they would reopen at 4 if they still had any bread. Since it was about 3:45, we decided to wait around. About 10 after a woman walked by, saw us waiting and said they might open at 5 so we gave up. We had seen someone walking with a full grocery bag, however, so we backtracked up the hill and found a small supermarket. Besides the usual supplies, they had a few bottles of the local wine. We bought a couple and headed back down to the boat, the bike pedals untouched all the way.
Friday morning we were off.

We had been told that there was a nice small halte in the village of Villiers-sur-Yonne, complete with free water and electricity and a nice beach. It was just 10 k down the canal from our stop near Tannay so we planned to make it (another) short day. Before noon we were tied up just across from the village. As advertised, there was room for three or four boats and a couple of electric plugs, a water tap and easy access to the Yonne River.

Villiers-sur-Yonne across from the moorings

The beach

Making use of the afternoon, we cycled the 4 k over the hill to the small village of Dornecy. It must have been very prosperous because it featured two wash houses and still contains many fine buildings.

We knew there wouldn’t be much in such a small village as Villiers and that was confirmed, but when we wandered over there was a small box truck unloading a beer tap in the square in front of the small town hall. It turns out there would be a fete that evening, with the usual music, food and drink.
That box truck turned out to be a “fete in a box.” They unloaded the tap, a few kegs of beer and boxes of wine, then pulled it to the other side of the square, opened up the side and it became the stage, complete with sound system. Luckily for us in this case, the band, a guitarist, a stand up bassist and drummer playing old time rock and roll, were not bad and the volume was kept reasonable. We had a couple glasses of wine with a Belgian couple that had pulled up on a very old barge and enjoyed the show.

Saturday we did boat chores and did a little bike riding along the canal. Sunday morning we were off the 9 k to Clamecy, the next larger town on the canal.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

It’s Not All Fun and Wine, July 16-20

Chitry-les-Mines was the site of 2009’s “Morvanstock,” a Dutch camping clubs rally and “talent” show in a nearby campground that was disrupted by a huge thunderstorm. No such activity this year. We planned a stop because utilities are available (laundry must be done) and the nearby town of Corbigny has a supermarket. We needed to restock.
And it’s not all wine in Burgundy. As you’ll see below, hay is a big product along with wheat, sunflowers and corn (the latter two for their oil).
There is also livestock. These critters joined us at one lock on Monday, keeping the grass under control.

It’s a 3 k ride on a moderately busy road, first a pretty good uphill and then down, to get to Corbigny from the moorings at Chitry. We set off Tuesday morning and got most of the way up the hill when there was a loud “pheeew!” and the tube in Cathy Jo’s back tire, the one difficult to remove and replace, blew out. We had another tube but it was back on the boat. Cathy Jo walked the bike on to find a place where we could get off the road while I cycled back to the boat to get the replacement tube. Tube replaced, we did a little sightseeing in town, visited the tourist office and made our way to the supermarket.

The church in Corbigny.

I just missed the picture of this hay wagon navigating a very narrow one-way street
but you get the idea.

In the afternoon, after a lunch at the marina’s buvette, the required rest after such a meal, and since it wasn’t too hot, we decided to cycle along the canal towpath to see what was ahead. About 2 k down the path, “pheeew!” and Cathy Jo’s rear tire blew AGAIN! While she walked the bike back to the boat, I cycled back to Corbigny to see if I could find another tube.
Usually the supermarkets and bricos (small hardware stores) have a bicycle section with some tubes. I visited both and there was nothing bicycle related to be found. Returning to the font of all knowledge, the tourist office, I asked the helpful young woman there if there was a bicycle shop in town. There was indeed so I picked up two tubes, just in case. Returning to the boat, Cathy Jo had removed the back tire and discovered the source of the problem: the tire was worn out, exposing the tube. By now it was too late to return to the cycle shop for a new tire; that would have to wait until tomorrow.
Luckily, there is a small bus that runs every couple of hours from Chitry to Corbigny. For €2 each we caught the Wednesday 10 am bus into town and the bike shop. A new tire in hand, we walked back to the boat and replaced the back tire. Since by now it was close to the lunch closure, we stayed put until about 12:45 and then headed off for the 3 k to Marigny-sur Yonne.
There wasn’t anything at Marigny, just an old hireboat base that had been converted into a small workshop and mooring run by an Englishman, Steve James. We did meet Irene and Richard on the small dutch barge Kleine Beer. As happens on the canals, we would see them several times over the next few days.
One feature of the canal on this side of the summit is lifting bridges that must be opened (and closed) by the boat crew. In 2009 they were all operated by a hand crank but they are now electrified and controlled by a push button. Much more user friendly!

Cathy Jo operates a bridge in 2009.

It was again (still!) very warm so rather than pull into the moorings at Tannay, we found a nicely shaded bank just before town for our Thursday stop, putting out stakes just after noon.
Tomorrow we would be off to our next stop at Villers-sur-Yonne.

At the Top and Down, July 12-16

The weather forecast said it was going to be pretty warm for the next few days; around 90 F. When you’re living in a steel box you do whatever you can to keep cool. Luckily, even though there’s no shade to be had along the dike by the lake at Baye, there is a very nice swimming beach nearby and we would spend our afternoons there. It was still cooling off at night so sleeping was no problem and the morning’s were nice so we were able to get in some bike riding around the shore and to a nearby village, Bazolles, where there was a boulangerie. 
We arrived Thursday afternoon a little after 3 and settled in, putting up our “defense;” window reflectors and strategically positioned old bedsheets to keep the sun off the boat.

The Nivernais Canal enters from the bottom and we were moored along the wall between the canal and the lake.
The swimming beach is up at the top beyond the small marina and the canal enters the summit tunnels
on the right side about halfway down the picture after a right turn at the marina.

Sunset over the lake.

After a couple of days we were ready to press on despite the heat so Sunday morning we pushed off and entered the first of the three tunnels.
It’s about 3 k from the beginning of the trench containing the tunnels to the end with not much room to maneuver. The summit pound was opened in 1841 and it shows it. Sections of the bank, already pretty close, have collapsed into the canal making a tight squeeze.

After about 50 minutes of white knuckle driving we entered the first lock in the Sardy flight; 16 locks in 5 k but now we were headed down making locking much easier. When we stopped at the bottom of the flight in 2009 there was just a bank with some bollards but now the halte is a new, long cement quay with properly spaced bollards for tying up. Our friends John and Jo on Summertime pulled in a little later, having left Baye just after we did.
We celebrated our accomplishment with an ice cream from the nearby small temporary tourist office. We remarked on how quiet the canal was; we’d seen very little traffic. As a matter of fact, earlier we had worried about tackling the canal in July and August, fearing it would be very crowded, but the tourist office lady confirmed it; things were pretty slow. She also confirmed that there was nowhere nearby we could watch the World Cup Final between France and Croatia that evening. There was a bar with a tv in a nearby village but it was too far away. Luckily, there was a couple with a camping car (a small RV) parked at the moorings. I saw their satellite dish on the roof and the two of them peering in the open door. When I wandered over to see what they could possibly be watching (wink, wink!) they invited me to watch the second half. Their English was as bad as my French but victory needs no translation. We did hear a single honking horn to celebrate off in the distance.
Monday morning we continued on our way to our next stop at Chitry-les-Mines.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

To the Top, July 10-12

We reluctantly left Fleury and it’s great swimming hole and headed north on the canal. Châtillon en Bazois was only about 12 k away and it would take us until about 2 pm (with the obligatory 1 hour lunch stop) and 6 locks to get there.
When we visited in 2009 we were able to get a tour of the inside of the imposing chateau but the tours don’t start until the middle of July so we’d miss it this time. The same gardener was still there, just a little grayer. And instead of trying to blow away gophers with a shotgun he was cleaning out and refilling the water features of the impressive gardens.

The chateau from the canal.

Wednesday we just wandered about the village, doing a little grocery shopping and strolling along the canal in the direction we’d be heading on Thursday. Thursday night was also the next match in the knockout round of the World Cup; France vs. Belgium. France’s victory was met with much less fanfare than the victory over Argentina when we were in Montceau. We heard a few car horns in the distance but there was no parade around the moorings.
Thursday morning we were off on the last bit of up locks to the summit pound of the canal and the lakes at Baye, 14 locks in 15 k. 
There are three “stairstep” locks in this section of canal; two with two locks and one with three. That means the boat exits one lock directly into the next. It’s quite impressive when going up as the lockkeeper releases the water through the top lock until the one you are in is filled, you move the boat to the next, the doors close behind you and the process is repeated. It’s like a big waterfall coming right at you.

Water fills the bottom lock of the Chavance stairstep.

By 3:30 we were tied up along the wall at Baye in the summit pound. It was going to be very warm for the next several days and the idea of being next to the lake with it’s swimming beach was very attractive. 
After the three tunnels when we left the lakes we’d be going down for quite awhile, all the way to the Seine. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Fleury, July 8 and 9

Two years ago on our way up the Canal Lateral a la Loire we stopped for lunch in a lock, not something that is usually allowed. It turned out the lock keeper and her husband rented the old lock house and her husband had spent quite a bit of time in the US. We got to talking and it turned out that during his travels he had been to a very small town in northern New Mexico that we had visited on one of our road trips, Pie Town. The lock is forever marked on our chart as “Mr. Pie Town.”
When we pulled into lock #10, Rosiére, earlier in the month, who should be there to help operate it but Mssr. Pie Town. During our chat we mentioned that we’d be heading up the Nivernais and he told us to make sure we stopped at Fleury.

Sunday morning, after a brutal two hours of travel and three locks, by 11 am we were tied up in the village and it was everything we were told. A section of the river was dammed to make a nice swimming beach right next to the canal and there was a little cafe just across the bridge. Being Sunday, we thought lunch was in order so off to the cafe we went. Grabbing a table on the terrace, we asked for the menu and were informed that today’s lunch was a cured ham and melon salad followed by a ham omelette; along with a half liter of rosé, good simple food. After the meal, a homemade apple crumble for dessert and coffee, we waddled back to the boat for a rest and digestion. Then, off to the beach!
The weather was starting to warm up and so the swimming was a real pleasure. 

Not many people in the water now but it was very busy later.

Kids are gonna do what kids do; jump off the bridge.

Monday before it warmed up we cycled a few kilometers up the canal to scout ahead then on the way back climbed the hill to the village of Biches. We found a U-pick vegetable farm but it’s still a little early for the good tomatoes. We did pick up a few things. 

This is not from some hip hop song. We’re leaving the village.

We filled out the day with more swimming and a few chores but mostly just relaxing and enjoying a beautiful spot .
Tuesday morning it was off to our next stop, Châtillon en Bazois.