Canal du Centre

Canal du Centre

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Back to Fleury, Aug. 13-14

 Back we went through the curvy bits, arriving in Chatillon after about 15 k and 14 locks, early enough to visit the boulangerie, the butcher and the store featuring produits locaux for some honey and confiture de mirabelles to go on our morning bread.

Saturday morning it was a little less that three hours to Fleury, meaning we could be there before the lunch lock closure and have plenty of time for swimming. It was still pretty warm so this time we found some shade and staked to the bank above the lock. Then we watched the local youths do what local youths do all over the world when there’s a bridge over the swimming hole.

There will be jumping! 

No jumping for us but we did enjoy some swimming.

I mentioned in the last post about biking around. The French love to cycle. The bicycle is, after all, a French invention. In the early 1860’s, Pierre Michaux of Bar-le-Duc was repairing a draisienne, a sort of bicycle without pedals, when he decided to add a crank and, voilá, the bicycle was born.

When the Nivernais Canal was built in the 1880’s, the motive power for the barges was horses, oxen or, in some cases, people. That meant there had to be a path alongside the canal for the movers to walk on. Then barges got engines, freight moved to trucks and the commercial barge traffic declined. Pleasure boating became the primary use of the smaller canals and those tow paths were turned into paved bike paths. The EU is continuing to develop long distance connected paths. Parts of the canals we’ve been on this year are portions of the Scandiberique network; Scandinavia to Spain. Other crisscross France and there is La Loire à Vélo, a bike path that follows the Loire River 900 k from near Nevers to the Atlantic Ocean. The cycling on the Nivernais is epic! Since the path follows the canal it is basically flat and we see many cyclists; day trippers, people enjoying a couple hours on two wheels and many cyclists with all their gear, using some of the many bike-in campgrounds along the canal.

On the path.

We saw one family with a gear trailer, a child on a bike, one on a bike attached to the rear wheel of one of the adults being towed, and a child carrier on the back of the other adult bike.

Sunday morning the weather broke and the clouds and wind rolled in. It was off for the 23 k to Cercy-la-Tour.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

At Baye, Aug. 10-13

 Up at the top of the Nivernais Canal is the lake that feeds the summit pounds. It provides all the water to operate the locks until the canal reaches the Yonne River on the north side and the Aron on the south. Separating the canal from the lake is a large dike. (We were here in 2018. I wrote about it here.) There are several mooring points on the wall making it a great stopping place. Also, the weather was finally heating up so swimming in the lake would be a good thing.

A misty morning over the lake.

One day we road the bikes up and over the summit to revisit the Sardy flight, a group of 16 locks in quick succession that takes boats from the end of the three tunnels 4 k down to the Yonne River. The channels between the three tunnels look like a jungle cruise.

Little electric boats on the move heading for the most northern tunnel.

Those electric boats are headed back to a hireboat base originally built by the visionary Pierre-Paul Zivry who, in the mid 1960’s, convinced the local department to take over maintenance of the Nivernais Canal and established a Saint Line Cruisers base, the first of it’s kind on the canals. There are now hireboat bases all over France, keeping canal boating alive. 

There is a salon de thé in one of the old lock keeper cottages at #7 on the Yonne side.

We also biked around the lake and to the nearby town of Bazolles, but the afternoons were reserved for the plage. There are several campgrounds and holiday parks at the lake so the beach can get pretty busy

After three days it was time to begin retracing our “steps” back to Briare. We still had about two weeks left on our one month canal cruising permit so we weren’t in any big hurry. Plus, the weather was going to be warm for another couple of days and we wanted to get back to another of our favorite swimming spots.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

To the Top, Aug 9-10

 Monday morning at the usual 9 am we departed Fleury and entered a more “interesting” section of the Nivernais. The 15 K heading north from Fleury to just above Chatillon-en-Bazois is not straight (forward).

That “watch out” in Chatillon is for real. I’ve touched the wall twice on that corner.

The map legend tells you that, i.e. Fleury is Nivernais lock 21, it’s 1.9 meters deep and the bridge below it 

has 3.5 meters of headroom. It’s 1.640 k between #22 Bernay and Fleury.

After some challenging driving, about 19k around all those bends, we stopped right above the double locks of Mont-et-Maré about 3 o’clock, early enough to wander about the village and check out a couple of lavoirs, not all of them restored. These were the washhouses of the villages and many of them across France have been rebuilt.

We think maybe a nice watercress salad could be made here.

We liked the sign for the old telephone booth at the local bar.

The view across the fields from above the village of Mont-et-Maré.

Our mooring above the double lock.

Looking back down the canal from our back deck.

Tuesday morning we left the mooring headed for our ultimate destination this year, the top of the Canal du Nivernais, the dike on the lake at Baye. After that, it would be back to Briare slowly.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Up the Nivernais, Aug 6-8

 We arrived in our usual spot outside Decize around 3 o’clock, giving us plenty of time to visit the nearby grocery store to stock up. The Nivernais is, as our old Hugh McNight guidebook declares, “intensely rural” and the big shopping opportunities are pretty sparse.

The Loire Lateral canal is on the south side of the river while the Nivernais, originally constructed in the 1880’s to connect the Loire and the Yonne Rivers, heads off to the north. That means the river has to be crossed. In the flood year of 2016 it was impossible to make that crossing. Boats were stuck on both sides. No problem this year. After the mooring, you turn left through a lock into the Decize marina, then through another lock that drops you down into the river. After a short distance downstream, a sharp right turns takes you into the Nivernais. We stopped just after the first lock to do a last little shopping and then headed up the canal. We were only going to go a short way and by about noon we were tied up near the small village of Champvert

Follow the yellow line.

Leaving Champvert after lunch on Saturday we had this years first encounter with the dreaded weed. Invasive water plants have invaded the French canals and when they become thick they wrap themselves around spinning propellors and severely limit forward progress. If your engine uses canal water for cooling, the chopped up weed can clog cooling water intakes. Luckily we have external cooling pipes so that’s not a problem for us. The first kilometer out of the Champvert lock was really thick but the VNF weed cutter had been at work so that was really the only place that caused a problem. Hopefully on the way back they will have finished the job. This plague is a system wide problem and the VNF has formed a task force to try to come up with a practical, environmentally sensitive way of dealing with it. It’s been made much worse by the lack of boat traffic over the last couple of years.

We only traveled about 11 k Saturday and stopped overnight in Cercy la Tour, Sunday morning entering the more picturesque portion of the canal. The locks on this stretch were never upgraded from their original size to the “frecinet” 39 meters, remaining about 30 meters long. Not a problem as there was very little traffic.

We’ve seen hardly any private boats this year. Usually we would see large numbers of European flagged boats, especially the Dutch. The Australians and New Zealanders aren’t here at all. The upside to this is that the hireboats have been very busy and their clients have been almost exclusively French. We’ve talked to a number of first time hireboaters and they are enthusiastic about the canals, which is a good thing. Lack of anglophones has also forced us to practice our French, which is also a good thing.

Our Sunday night stop was in the small village of Fleury where we stopped for the beautiful swimming beach in 2018.  No swimming this time as it was still pretty cool, although no rain and the sun did peak through the clouds. Sadly, the small restaurant no longer exists.

In the 1880’s when the Nivernais was being constructed, a needle weir was built in Fleury on the Aron River to help feed the canal and, as a side benefit, provide a nice recreation opportunity for the residents of the area. To maintain water depths, the weir, a type of dam, was constructed with small wooden needles that could be removed or added to control water levels.

In the 1980’s a local organization was formed to reconstruct the weir and protect the beautiful swimming beach. We’d have an opportunity to make use of the beach again on our way back down the canal.

The Fleury Weir

The reconstructed needles.

Monday morning we were off at 9 am to tackle a portion fo the Nivernais we affectionately refer to as “The Intestine.”

A New Way to get the Blog

 Over a the top of the right side of the page is a new feature. Well, sorta new. It used to be possible to get blog posts automatically in your email inbox using Google’s Feedburner function. Recently, though, our Google Overlords have axed that function but other bloggers pointed me to a new one. Putting your email in the little box will get new posts emailed to you looking just as they are here. The only difference is there will be a little strip of those silly ads you see on other pages at the bottom. I don’t think they’re particularly intrusive but that’s the price you pay, I guess. I certainly don’t get anything from them. You can give it a try and there is an “unfollow” button on every email so you can end it any time you want.

Friday, August 13, 2021

To the End of the Nivernais, Aug. 3-5

 In the flood year of 2016 when we traveled this canal last, we stopped in the village of Beffes twice, once in each direction. It had a nice new halte with water and electricity and plenty of room for boats, although the lack of mooring points for larger boats was a problem. We also found a very nice restaurant, the Crozet de Chemin, that we like so much the first time we made a return visit. The halte is still there, still lacks bollards, but the restaurant has been sold and the replacement didn’t look that inviting. Plus, the weather was still iffy so we just spent one night. 

It was pouring rain when it was time for our departure at 9 on Wednesday morning but since we can drive from inside we set off anyway. Our next planned stop was just a small bankside mooring in the village of Chevenon, 36 k up the canal. In 2016 we sat here for a couple of days in the rain waiting to travel into Nevers to await Inez arrival (the long taxi ride). 

A hireboat joined us later in the day

under a dramatic sunset.

 It was raining again. Maybe it always rains in Chevenon. We’ve had off-and-on rain for the last couple of weeks, nothing to cause any flooding like they've had elsewhere in Europe and we kind of enjoy it as it’s a novelty for us rain-starved Southern Californians. Plus, everything is really, really green in contrast to the gray landscape of Southern Cal.

One night was all we were going to spend here. 

Thursday morning it was off for the 25 k and 5 locks to Decize. There we would do a little supermarket shopping and then make the left turn to cross the Loire River and enter the Canal du Nivernais.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Sancerre, August 1-3

 It was just a little over 27 k and 5 locks to our next potential stop, one of the wine capitals of the region, Sancerre. Actually, Sancerre is at the top of the hill so the mooring is in a village at it’s base, Ménétreol-sous Sancerre. It’s a difficult mooring with sloping sides so careful fendering is needed and there’s not room for many boats. Luckily there are no hotel barges operating this year that we’ve seen. Last time we were here we were kicked out by one.

We arrived kind of late in the day, after 4 o’clock, but there were no other boats so we had our pick of spots. A little later another hire boat joined us and the next day the tie up would be full. The boats are coming in waves this year, mostly we think because it’s almost all hireboats and they seem to be all on the same schedule.

As you can see, the village is surrounded by vineyards, mostly planted with the sauvignon blanc grape, although there is some pinot noir for the Sancerre Rouge. On the west side of the Loire the wine is labeled Sancerre while the Pouilly Fumé comes primarily from the east side of the river.

It was a sunny, cool day. No rain for a change so we hiked up the hill on a well marked path through the woods and vineyards to the village.

The village of Ménétreol with Sancerre up the hill.

This is the Sancerre terroir. More rocks than dirt.

Those vines have to struggle!

We didn’t need to buy anything in town as our wine locker was well stocked and it was quite a hike back to the boat. We just wandered about town doing the tourist thing and picked a pizza restaurant for lunch. We enjoyed a well-made pie and a quarter liter of the local red. We did have a chuckle at the “knife” they gave us to cut our shared pizza in half, though.

Tuesday morning it was off again, further up the Loire lateral canal. We had a couple stops we wanted to make before we reached the end of the Nivernais. The weather was not supposed to be great, scattered rain and continued cool so there wasn’t much off-the-boat sightseeing to do and we decided to just keep moving. Since we’d be back along here in a couple of weeks we didn’t need to get wet but we were making careful note of the stops we wanted to make on our return.

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Departure Day, July 30

 It was time to go. It was going to be a busy day.

Friday is market day in Briare. Plus we had to visit the butcher and do other chores so we decided we’d leave after the 12-1 pm lunch closure. We would have to clear the three locks on the Briare branch canal to reach the Canal Lateral a la Loire, but from there it’s 17 k to the first lock and we wouldn’t be going that far. We would make our first overnight in one of our favorite haltes, the village of Beaulieu.

You may have read that beginning in early August, France is going to require proof of vaccination for COVID to enter bars, restaurants, cafes and other crowded public spaces. So far our CDC cards and State of California proof had been sufficient (we had to show it to visit Chateau Chaumont). The French have developed an app, Tous AntiCOVID, that will provide a QR code that shows proof of vaccination. Unfortunately, as we are not in the French health system, we were unable to get the QR code, even though we are both fully vaccinated. Luckily, one of our fellow American bargees, Tom Cason on Vivante, had read of a way to get Americans into the system and provided us with instruction, helpfully in French, to take to a pharmacy. They are the ones doing the vaccinations and providing the code. 

The first instruction (in the English part) was to try to visit the pharmacy when it wasn’t busy so they could be convinced to perform this magic. As we walked by after visiting the butcher we saw there was no one in the store so we thought we’d give it a try. No sooner had we handed the instruction to the pharmacist and his assistant, who were scratching their heads trying to figure it out, but three people came in the door. The pharmacist told us to come back in an hour. When we came back, we were handed the two pieces of paper with the QR codes and we were successful in entering the information into the AntiCOVID app. We were now officially fully vaccinated in the eyes of the French health system!

A small hiccup with the timing of the lunch closure on the branch canal delayed our departure but by 1:20 we were off. By about 5 o’clock we were tied up. This years adventure on the water was underway!

Beaulieu. This is from 2016 but it looks exactly the same.

Friday, August 6, 2021

A Chateau Visit, July 28

 We developed a plan (I know, I know). We were going to head out for about a months cruising on Friday so we decided to visit one of the Loire chateaus on Wednesday. Our choice was the Domaine of Chaumont-sur-Loire, known for it’s beautiful gardens and installed art.

Originally founded around the year 1000 by the Count of Blois, it ended up belonging to the d”Amboise family for about 500 years. In 1465, Louis XI burned it to the ground to punish Pierre I d”Amboise because he was involved in an aristocratic revolt against the king. But in the fickle ways of the French aristocracy, he soon returned to favor and the land was returned to him, beginning its rebirth.

In 1559, Catherine de Medici, now in control of the chateau, decided she wanted something different. That would be the chateau at Chenonceau (so far, our favorite), then controlled by Diane de Poitiers. In return for the expropriation, Catherine “gave” Diane Chaumont and Mme. Poitiers proceeded to complete several construction projects that had been languishing. Over the years, several families controlled the property until is was purchased by the heir to the Say sugar fortune, Marie-Charlotte-Constance Say in 1875. In the 1880’s, the landscape architect Henri Duchene began creating the grounds, which today are the main attraction.

The chateau had its ups and downs during Mme. Says ownership and was finally expropriated by the French state in 1937.

Every year the chateau sponsors the International Garden Festival. Designers from all over the world design small gardens to the years theme, this year “Biomimicry in the Garden.” There were some fascinating displays. You can read greater details of all the displays  and see pictures of all the individual gardens here


A cactus garden was one of the displays.

We liked this creative display of scoops in another.

One of the permanent features of the gardens is the “Misty Canyon.” A small valley below the main gardens, it features man-made mist and some unusually crafted sculptures, as well as a rustic wooden bridge.

The interior of the chateau is as you would expect, with squeaky parquet floors, lots of hanging tapestries and ornate furniture. In keeping with the art-centric features of the chateau, we did enjoy what they’d done with the chapel.

It was a 2 1/2 hour drive each way from Briare so we didn’t have time to visit the permanent gardens on the northern side of the property. Maybe another time.