Canal du Centre

Canal du Centre

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Castelnaudary, August 1-12

 We had a little break in the weather while we were in Carcassonne. In fact it rained a little on our way in and by a break I mean the temperature was about 90 as opposed to close to 100 degrees.

Monday morning we were off and made the 40 k to Castelnaudary in fits and starts. 9 k the first day then just 2 k the next to find some better shade as the temps were ramping up again and we try to only do locks in the morning when it's relatively cool. Wednesday we stopped outside the small village of Bram as we needed to get our daily bread and there was a boulangerie just 1.5 k from the canal on a very nice bike path. Thursday was a longer day; 11 locks and no stopping (except for the lunch closure) until after 2 pm. We wanted to be close enough to make it into Castelnaudary by late morning.

Friday morning it was up and at ‘em, arriving at the first lock just after it opened at 9 am. Then it was just the 4 lock Chapelle St-Roch flight into the Grand Bassin. We found a spot along the bank with good afternoon shade. We intended to spend the weekend.

Our mooring was along the wall just below the Ile de le Cybelle

The harbor here is famous for the Bassin, a large pond that was dug out to hold water the four lock flight. It was also a major shipping point for grain grown on the Lauragais plain. Now it’s headquarters for a very large Le Boat hireboat base and a very popular private port. Our spot was on the quay wall just after the hireboat base but before the bridge into the port. We had a great view of the comings and goings of the hireboats and the town across the basin.

The Collegial St-Michael church and 

to the right on the hill the Musée Lauragais, 

formerly a courthouse and prison in the 16th century

First mentioned in documents from 1118, the town was fortified during the Crusade against the Cathars. Crusaders took the town in 1211 but it returned to Royal hands in 1221. In the mid 1500’s, Castelnaudary became an important administrative center and, in the early early 1600’s when the Canal du Midi was proposed, the city administration paid the princely sum of 30,000 “livres” to make sure the canal came through town, cementing it’s position as a major port. The Bassin was surrounded by boat related commerce; wood drying shops and carpenters, rope makers and dry docks for repairs. 

The Bassin was also exposed to winds from every corner and maneuvering boats was a problem with men and horses being pulled into the water when it gusted up. In the mid 1700’s Ile de le Cybelle was built to provide some protection from the winds and until the 1940’s was home to an open-air restaurant featuring music and dancing.

Castelnaudary is also famous as the home of cassoulet, a dish of white beans with chunks of duck, pork and sausage. We saw at least four large “factories” that turn out the dish and you can find cans and jars of it in markets throughout France. It’s a very hearty dish, however, and with temps in the 90’s we were going to give it a pass until the weather cools off.

A quick trip into the tourist office gave us our agenda for the weekend. Friday night we would see Antoine Garrido perform traditional French chanson in the garden of the city hall and Sunday evening featured the music of Andalusia, a musical combination of Castillian and the Maghreb and one of our very favorite genres, with the group El Candil in a courtyard at the Musée Lauragais, all free, of course.

Antoine Garrido emotes in true chanson fashion.

To make matter worse (for our livers) Lenny and Di on Elysium were in port so aperitifs ran long.

We decided to stay an extra day as Monday was market day. It turned out to be a good decision because Cathy Jo came down with some sort of stomach bug Sunday night so we weren’t going anywhere anyway.


Then things got a little more harrowing. The drought is putting extreme stress on the local farmers who pump from the canal and someone decided the boaters on the canals were a waste of water. Three of the locks on the way to the summit pound out of Castelnaudary were vandalized. One lock gate was disconnected from its hinges and a gate motor was destroyed. Graffiti regarding water usage was scrawled on the lock walls. We wouldn’t be leaving for awhile. We were moored right next to the VNF office and when asked when things might get fixed we got the famous “gallic shrug,” although they were obviously working on repairs.

We put our waiting time to good use, visiting the last of the 32 windmills that used to dot town. The Moulin du Cugarel operated until 1921.

This view from the mill looks down on the site of a major battle over royal control of the region in 1632. The Duke of Montmorency lost the battle and subsequently lost his head.

We also visited la Chapelle Notre-Dame de Pitié with it’s amazing gilded panels.

Quick work (and a big crane) by the VNF and the damage to the canal was repaired late Wednesday afternoon. However, Castelnaudary was having a night market in the Port Thursday night so it was over to Elysium for an evening of food a drink. John and Gill on Millie had also appeared so there was much hilarity.

Friday morning we joined the parade of hireboats leaving town headed for the last 8 locks to reach the summit.


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