Going up the Canal de Bourgogne, Saone side

St-Jean-de-Losne to Pouilley-en-Auxoir

10 days in June 2016

with Captain Stu’s comments in italics!


St-Jean-de-Losne lock

We had reached St-Jean-de-Losne from Auxonne down La Saone (in pretty rapid time) and stopped in at the boatyard chandlery for some fenders and canal maps. After a quick lunch on the visitors moorings we set off up Canal de Bourgogne – our quick get away hampered by arriving at the lock when it was closed for lunch!



We enjoyed the enforced rest, sat in the lock happily resting and awaiting the éclusier’s return.

The lock was a real surprise to me – because I had misread the Du Breil! The map for the start of the canal was opposite a page with lots of information – about the Canal Entre Champagne et Bourgogne! This told me all the locks were mechanized. In fact they are the opposite. They are all manual, as I saw when the éclusier came back. He put his muscles to work, opening and closing ‘portes’ and ‘vantelles’ until we were off up stream.

The first few hundred meters of the canal were very wide, with lots of barges, old and new, moored both sides. It has obviously been an absolute hub of barge activity through the decades.  It seems bizarre, but these two photos, taken within minutes of each other, have such different colouring.

The plotted course was to Longecourt – just 6 locks away. Another éclusier joined us in his sou’wester and waterproofs for the next two locks, zipping along between the two on his little VNF motor scooter.


Lending a hand, or a bottom!



Then a very pleasant lady éclusier took us through to our stop for the night, with my little bit of help.

Guy and Vickie on Manuka joined us at the mooring later – we are at the far end.

Another surprise – the chateau at Longecourt-en-Plein. Huge history linked to Dukes of Burgogne, back to c12. Now open as a small hotel with its own Facebook page!

Up just a few more locks next day to Breteniere – an upside/downside mooring. The upside is that it looks quiet and rural, but with a small supermarket and garden centre within easy walking distance. The downside is that it can be a bit noisy from a nearby road – and, although not while we were there, a nearby small airfield. Overall we enjoyed our stay at Breteniere, with a higher percentage of birdsong than traffic noise! It also gave me a chance, inbetween heavy showers, to wash the deck and roof.

On our second day there we were waiting for brother Alan and his wife Ceanna to arrive on their way to Italy, so a good chance to experiment with local food and drink to create a special meal –blinis with crevettes and smoked trout, summertime cassoulet and a tarte au pomme birthday cake!

It was a home and garden day, making beds, cooking, and potting on my herb seedlings.


Alan’s pre-birthday dinner

Alan and Ceanna arrived earlier than they hoped, the sun came out, and all was good for drinkies on the back deck before the meal, with plenty of family catch up chat and laughter.

Next day A&C drove off on their way to Italy and we motored on towards Dijon. The canal was exceptionally weedy! We only had 17 kms to our intended stopover, but quite a few locks to negotiate. We began with a young female éclusier – a student of Biology from Dijon Uni, on a summer job. Part way through the day she was joined by another éclusier, and between them they had us speeding through the locks. Ploughing would be a better description; sparrows were hopping across the surface . . .

We came through Dijon, noting that the canal basin was quite full of boats and barges,

water-lillies and waterfowl before continuing on into the country and a village called Plombieres-les-Dijon.



This was another pleasant surprise. Described as ‘a run down canal basin’ in one of our guides we actually found an open sunny port de plaisance (excusez moi).

It is next to a village of charm and character – with a boulangerie, small supermarket, and two restaurants! We tried all of these but one of the restaurants, enjoying a meal out with our new neighbour Ozzie boater Stuart aboard his barge Vagabond.


Vagabond and Calliope

Calliope’s Stewart used the good mooring to touch up the rubbing strake with black tar like paint – dropping his reading glasses into the paint in the process – then handing them to me to clean which meant that I ended up with tar stuck to my hands and shirt! White spirit and plenty of rubbing seems to have done the cleansing trick.

After two nights we started on a gentle trip up to the top of the Canal de Borgogne, just travelling 10 kms to Fleurey-sur-Ouche …… ah yes, we now work our way alongside a new river – L’Ouche.

Fleurey is an atmospheric and picturesque old village, spanning both sides of the canal and river; it must have some interesting history. One of the chateaux had fascinating walls along its water meadows, built with holes in it, to let flooding water in and out, but keep cattle in!


Fleurie-sur-Ouche mooring


We took a walk through both sides of the village before retiring to cook and eat our own supper, regretfully voiding what looked like an excellent restaurant just along the canal bank.


Unknown butterfly joining in the cruise




As we moved along the canal from Plombierres to Fleurie we kept catching a glimpse of the top of a church at the top of a rounded hill. It was Gouffre Les Damwes, and finally I caught a photo just about worth sharing.




Morning after Fleurie


Next day we cast off at about 9.30, meeting up with two jolly, somewhat chubby (are we allowed to say that these days?) éclusiers who worked with us through the rain, sun and several locks. Once they left we found ourselves in the company of the previous days slightly sad éclusier, who stayed with us for two locks – then disappeared……….





We reached the next lock, 35, entered through the open gates, and closed them to be helpful, thus ‘locking’ ourselves in. There was a small steady flow of water in through one of the upstream vantelles, so we tied up, made lunch, and over the course of a gentle hour we floated to the top of the lock.


Lock 34 restaurant and gite

At about that point a new éclusier, on a bicycle, turned up and operated the two locks that took us to our next mooring at Lock 34, Moulin Banet. This turns out to also be a very characterful lockside restaurant, with plenty of French families taking lunch outside at an assortment of tables and chairs, watching the entertainment of our ascent!


Waiting for my kir


Later I joined them, at a separate table, for an excellent Kier and the lock cat. Poor Capitain was unable to get ashore, having had to moor outboard of a load of rushes in order to take on water!





Nightfall at Lock 34

Nonetheless it was a wonderful gentle evening amongst green grass, red poppies, blue skies and wooded hills.


Father’s Day fun

It was also Father’s Day, and Stu had a lovely surprise when he responded to strange sounds from the iPad to discover Hollie calling him on Messenger, or some other new form of communication whose chirps and buzzes we do not yet fully understand!

Although a delightful spot we carried on next day, wanting to reach the tunnel at the summit and put its gloom behind us. We passed the13th century bridge at Gissey and later stopped at La Bussiere sur Ouche to fit in with the eclusiers’ lunch break.

We took the opportunity to spring ashore and walk up to the village and see what we could of the old Cistercian abbey – not much as it happens as it now belongs to a Relaix et Chateau hotel!

But we did see an ancient gateway into what was a fortified village, and the lavoir (laundry house for washing clothes in running water). Watch out for more lavoirs – a bit of a passion of mine!



Lock 29 with two lady eclusiers

We enjoyed the company and working relationships with the two female éclusiers who were with us part of that afternoon.


Iffy mooring poles

We arrived for the night at Pont d’Ouche – where, not surprisingly, there is a bridge over the Ouche; the canal passes over it as well. Picking a tranquil spot just outside the village we found that it was little used because the mooring stakes were pretty much out of the ground! So we moored to two handy lamp-posts instead.



A beetle came visiting, with narrow orange and black stripes.


Over the Ouche

Pont d’Ouche has unsurprisingly got its name because of a bridge over the Ouche river – in fact two bridges these days – one for the road and one to take the canal over the top.

We walked into the village looking for a bar with a TV for England’s game in Euro 2016. There was a bar, called ‘pub’, with a sign for Guinness – but closed on a Monday! Back on board technology came to our rescue and we managed to watch live on line on a laptop.

Next day was due to be a bit of a route march, starting at 9am, in showery weather, to get through 10 locks, shared with another boat, and moor up at Chateauneuf (sadly not the du Pape version). I will let the Captain comment on the stresses and strains involved in the lock sharing! Hmm, bit cosy . . . .

Along the way I managed to grab a photo of the local style of lock – the downstream end includes a set of stone steps at each side. And a photo of our shared lock!

We made it, and the weather cleared. Once moored up we had a perfect view across meadows of cows to the hill with Chateauneuf perched atop.

At night the chateau is lit up, and in the morning it rose like a fairy tale castle from the mist.

Our last section of the ascent of Canal de Bourgogne began next day.

The early mist cleared, the sun came out, and it was so hot we were almost glad when we reached the tunnel and its cool interior! Prior to that we came through some fascinating locks.

We moored at the lovely wide Escommes basin for lunch, and waited for the light to go green, the barrier to lift, and the radio to announce that the tunnel was ready for Calliope.

We entered the tunnel via a ‘tres beau’ cut into the hill. It was full of dragonflies, mostly mating as they flew – a version of the ‘mile high club’ peut etre? Though this pair were on the boat.

We had our instructions for the tunnel, and these included wearing life jackets, so being good law abiding Britons we did.

Pouilley basin

Pouilley basin with Calliope at the far end

The tunnel brought us into another long narrow cut and led into the canal basin at Pouilley-en-Auxois, where we stayed for a very pleasant four nights RnR.  We both needed it!

Onward and downward in the next chapter.

La Saône – a big river with big mood swings

I’d lke to just preface this section by saying ‘yes, the river did change from blue to grey/green and back again, many times. It’s not just my photography!’


7 days in early June 2016

Setting off



Au Revoir Canal

At last, after all the floods and dangerous currents, the rivers were on ‘green – passable with particular vigilance’.  The weather was fair so we decided to leave the safety of Maxilly and set off for Gray to find a mooring to meet up with some of the family.

We approached the T junction into the Saône and turned left with no problem, into a canalised section of the river.


First real waters of La Saone

Then we were out onto the big river herself. It was not too bad!  It seemed very full and although flat calm at first there were some swirling and wavelets in places. However with  a full sun in the sky we were warm, dry and happy.

Three days ago when we walked down to have a look this was running at about 10 knots with big lumps of tree and dead animals racing by. Yesterday it was running at 5, and today a manageable 3, but with one eye on the weather forecast and the other on haters.


Beware, alligators

There were quite a few boats around – far more than we had normally passed over the past two weeks.  Also ‘alligators’, or big chunks of tree trunk taking their own passage downstream towards us.  Alligator watch was the crew’s work for the day.


The joining of the Vingeanne

We passed by a pretty bridge where the river Vingeanne joined; we had a close relationship with the Vingeanne as it had run ‘parallel’ to our last canal for some miles.

At time La Saône still seemed quite angry, rushing against our progress upstream, but we made it all the way to Mantouche where we had hoped to stop. No chance; the wharf we had hoped to moor at was only just visible above water, so carried on to Gray.


Coming into Gray lock channel

When you come upstream to Gray the river widens considerably. Our second planned mooring spot was not looking good – a sloping stone wall with no bollards or rings visible.

Gray torrent

One can see a big bridge and long weir in front of you, with a small channel into the lock on your left. That was where the Captain had to persuade Calliope to go, passing close enough to a suspended pole so that crew could turn it and operate the lock; then waiting outside the lock channel, in the headlong stream, behind another boat.


La Saone in torrent



And the river was raging!






Calliope was pushed around in every direction by the swirling currents from the overfull weir but our trusty helmsman made it! She’s a good girl is Calliope when she’s a mind to be . . . . 


Moored at Gray Plage



There is some good news here. After the lock we carried on to Gray Plage, a relatively new place to moor. Although not easy to stop anywhere around Gray, after expending some effort to get the right ropes in the right places and stop the current sweeping our bow out, we realised we had tied up at a perfect place for the family to join us.



Lovely place to be with family

We were next to a play park, shady trees, picnic tables and grass. Other children were already there playing in the sunshine and we couldn’t wait for young Sofia (17 months) to arrive the next day and have fun.

We had an interesting first evening and night, firstly meeting a Syrian man and his three young children (Mother was killed in the war 3 years ago); he generously agreed us some of the food he had made for his children. And secondly with a midnight guitarist – a young man who though this was the place to bring and electric guitar and amplifier for a practise session!

Day 2


Parasol, and later parapluie!


We had a busy day getting ready for Hollie, Rick and Sofia to arrive – beds to make up, food to buy, shopping for a parasol and base to keep us shaded in the balmy weather.





Sofia 2

Sofia found it a long day’s travel. but caught up on her showbiz gossip!


We had a lovely evening with them, including time for Sofia to be in the play park. Such a poppet!

Days 3 and 4

We all went for a good walk round Gray, up to the chateau, the church, intrigued by the old streets, and saddened by the number of closed shops and empty houses.

There were marvellous views from the chateau terrace, out ver the city and to our mooring in the distance.

We had spotted a restaurant down by the river and stopped in there for lunch; time for Stu to relax and Sofia to enjoy another baguette.

The afternoon was a time for napping, playing, and preparing for a gentle evening on board.


Lavoir, Gray


Next day a second walk to Gray and the discovery of a lavoir (old wash house) – one of my favourite buildings, reminding me of the one in a Maltese village where I spent two years of my childhood. I can always imagine the local women (almost bound to have been the women) gathering with their washing and for a good chat. Not something that would have been so popular in Britain with its much colder climate!


Good Menu de Jour

Then back to La Plage and the excellent restaurant there for another good outdoor lunch.


Pink Champagne from Conde sure Marne

We all had a relaxing afternoon, then an evening on board with pink champagne and a game of Scrabble.


Keeping cool under the trees

It was so hot  that we took Sofia ashore in the shade for her supper at one of the picnic tables under the trees, and looked back at the boat.













Day 5

Sadly it was time for the family to go back to UK – just a chance for a snap by Calliope and a good time hug.


Leaving  Gray

But no time for tears. We were setting off down stream, through the lock (with water still turbulent), and back down the Saone – a much faster trip travelling with the current!


Pipers passing

We were soon past Heuilley and the entrance to Canal Entre Chamagne et Borgogne, seeing our first other Piper boat (Kororareka) since we arrived in France.


Then on past Pontpellier and down to Auxonne.


Wondrous, lustrous

Along the way Stewart pointed out some strange horizontal rainbow style lights in the sky – not sure that the camera has quite caught them as we saw them.

The river was still quite high in Auxonne, narrowing the options for us to moor. There were no free moorings available so we went into the H2O marina.  It is neat and well run, but at €20 for one night was more than we budget for. However it provided our second Piper moment of the day when we moored up next to Manuka; she is a lot shinier than we are after all our travelling! I must get cleaning!


Axon running duck

We were placed on a hammerhead mooring at edge of marina, thus looking out over the river, and were entertained by running ducks along the bank.

Next Day


Moored on the river, Auxonne – form the other side.

A trip to the boulangerie also exposed the potential to move to a free mooring near the bridge; it looked good and we took a short trip round to it.

Although a bit grey we went for a good walk round the town, amazed at yet another set of incredible buildings. Fascinating and welcoming place we’ll be back here for sure.

After supper back on board we caught a bar where we could watch the England Euro 2016 match. Met Steve from Vrouwe Cornelia and cheered England on together.

Next Day


Rain sets in

We had planned to move on downstream, but the weather was so dire we stayed.


Gardening time

When it cleared later I potted on the tomato seedlings  before another walk round town. It turned out to be the Oingons Tart Festival (I think) and the judging of the tarts had just taken place – in the company of a decorated goat!

June 13 – last day on La Saône

Although rather grey and with plenty of potential for rain, the weather had improved. We cast off at 9.30 and pointed the bow downstream. The river was also rising again, and the thought of a quiet calm canal just around the corner we cut and ran.


The river was still running quite strong so we made good time to St Jean de Losnes, passing the entrance to the Canal du Rhone au Rhin as we went.


We turned off the river and into the basin so that we could stop in at the Ets Blanquart boatyard chandlery for fenders and maps. Another fascinating place; could have staid longer and definitely could have spent a load more euros. . . . 

After a quick lunch on the visitors moorings  we were ready to begin our journey up the canal de Borgogne – the next chapter!




Langres down to Heuilley – our descent on Canal Entre Champagne et Bourgogne

May 31 and the first few days of June


It rained all day! We had another very wet journey, starting with the two locks to the tunnel – all covered on the last chapter.

We had got to about 1500 foot above sea level, which is where we began at Saint Valery-sur-Somme on April 1st, exactly two months before.


Into the Bourgogne side

Setting off into great unknown again – we jumped off another cliff – went up last of the 3m locks before going through a 5km tunnel (we only kissed the tunnel wall once).

This was almost immediately followed by 6 x 5m locks going down, down, down. We were full of anticipation and adrenalin for this flight, but they were pleasantly tame and gentle.


Spot the swallow. (Funny name for a swallow)

Chatting to the eclusier at Lock 1 I asked about a huge old barge called Peter Pan that was moored up, and discovered that this was, genuinely, the ice breaker barge! A fluffy baby swallow preferred it as a summer perch.

We carried on down the chain in the rain, through locks 2 and 3.


Watching the waterfall into the lock

All was going well, until at lock 4 we had an unexpected red light and had to call the en panne cavalry.


Up for the basin; down for alarm!

And then, ‘quell domage’; the blue lever to operate the lock was too stiff for me, so Stu came to help – and in using the red lever to steady himself managed to set off the emergency stop in error; very embarrassing! Ah yes – the sign does say ‘up’ to operate, and ‘down’ to sound alarm. Whoopsey-day.



Saone side scene

The scenery was very different this side of the wet mountain – cattle grazing in alpine like meadows.




And the lock gates were different too – made of large panels of metal.





The barge came to a delightful woodland mooring at Piépape, becoming more delightful as it gets drier, but with more grey clouds looming. I decided that my reward for being so wet should be a hot chocolate with rum – mmmmm.

We crossed our fingers as we said that the weather should be getting better as we come down from the high hills over the next couple of days………

I went for walk round village of old stone buildings and houses – and got lost, so had to sneak into the grounds of the chateau, where I discovered I was locked in the grounds, and had to climb over wall into the graveyard to escape! But in doing all of this I discovered that Piépape had a boulangerie, open from 7.30-8.30 only.

We kind of felt that we were now over the hump of the canal, and on way down towards the Med now.

June 1

Hooray – better weather, and in fact it got better and better all day, ending up with beautiful sunny blue sky evening. We started the day walking into the village for a baguette as we had a long days travelling ahead (for us).

We started at 9am and ended at 5pm, taking in 17 locks and a viaduct (just a very short very pretty one over the River Badin.)

The canal was calm and green; all was well with our world. By late morning we were at Lock 21 – half way down the 43 locks (well almost). Sadly it was one of the many many lock houses that are now empty and abandoned.

We took a lunch stop at Cusey – a pleasant enough rural Halte Nautique. Soon after we got going again we passed from Haute Marne to Cote D’Or – a major landmark on the journey.

Some interesting moments – a rook flying school; Stu hung up in a lock when the ropes got locked in a crevice and had to use emergency procedures; later ended with mooring a 20m boat on a less than 5m pontoon! No probs.


Has summer arrived??

The weather improved – the rain stopped and blue sky appeared.

Looks like we have found another fairly isolated and picturesque place, (St Seine sur Vingeanne) with water rats (nice ones), black kites, songbirds and a variety of butterflies and insects! Thank goodness, as it is about two hours to the next mooring South!

The evening was lovely and we sat on the back deck drinking a toast to our grandson who was 12 that day – although we were unable to speak with him as totally out of internet reception .

June 2


Wet weather again

More rain! Is it really June? It poured and poured and poured, but we braved it and walked to St -Seine-sur-Vingeanne to the boulangerie, or so we thought.

What an amazing beautiful old village and chateau. It certainly was raining when we started out, but did stop later. Just as well because we discovered that the expected boulangerie was another 800m on into St-Seine-la-tour! We kept going and got bread, plus paté rolls for supper.

I went balmy with the camera as there was a multitude of ancient stone buildings in various states of repair – here are a few.

Back to Calliope and a quick lunch with our Saint-Seine-la-tour pain. Yum yum.


After lunch we continued southwards – looking for the sun!  Captain Stu rather liked the metal bridges on this side of the canal, wondering if M. Eifel had had a hand in their design. We passed under quite a few – not sure which one this is!

We got down as far as Oisilley – first the famous viaduct, and then another very rural mooring on another tiny wharf. (8m long this one, positively huge . . ) Lovely. Suddenly we have internet again, and discover most of middle France is under water! So it wasn’t just raining in the mountains!

Next day walked to Renève for bread – much further than expected – and when we arrived the boulangerie had no bread, but husband expected back with some soon – so we waited (me sitting on the church steps) – and only one baguette appeared!

June 4th

After a second night at Oisilly we went on down to Maxilly – seriously near the end of the canal – and stayed there two nights. There was a good boulangerie, but nothing else, in Maxilly so I cycled to Pontailler for a supermarket top-up.

We took a walk to Heuilley-sur-Saone along a lane lined with poppies and cornflowers – a rare very hot day.


Contemplating La Saone

Although the VNF had announced that levels were falling Stewart wanted to check the river levels for himself. (Down to about 3 knots from 7or 8 the day before, with dead animals and halves of trees whooshing by).


Maxilly sunset

As mentioned, it was a very hot walk, and the day ended with a wonderful sunset.

We met up with a great Dutch couple – Jom and Dorothy – from an adjacent camper van and put the world to rights that evening over a couple of bottles of Rosé.


June 6th

All looked ok, so we prepared for the last little stretch of the Canal Entre Champagne et Borgogne – just 2 locks, 4 bridges, and about 1.5kms!


Maxilly lock


First, Maxilly lock – just a few metres form ur mooring of the last two nights!






Then down the canal towards the last lock, number 43.


Bye bye zapper

At Lock 43 we had to return our trusty zapper – the one given to us 18 days and 143 locks before at Vitry-en-France.

We were off onto the Saone!

Canal Entre Champagne et Borgogne – a canal well worth the effort.

Part 1 – Going up!

 2 weeks end of May 2016


Goodbye Soulanges, next stop Vitry Le Francois, to buy bread for lunch. This looked a major junction – three canals meting – we were leaving the Canal Lateral à la Marne to join Canal Entre Champagne et Borgogne, with the Canal de la Marne au Rein coming in on the left.

It was very busy with lots of commercial barges moored two deep, leaving a narrow channel through, and huge barges using the right angle bend as a turning space.

An even narrower channel at the corner led into the little port de plaisance where we moored to get bread.


Lunch excitement was provided by another commercial giant turning behind us, her mighty bow stopping just short of our back deck! Turned it on a sixpence too – all the more impressive when you consider that they can’t see a thing in front of them when they’re unloaded, as this one was.


Threading the needle


Green and red; lock in preparation

Then off again, leaving a slightly grubby Vitry behind us (we probably did not get to see the best bits) and through an ‘eye of the needle’ bridge to see Lock 1 of 114 in front of us. A cheerful lady eclusier let us in and helped with the ropes – it was one of those days!

IMG_0117She gave us two leaflets, a zapper, and a warning about ‘bad boys’ at lock 63. Checked this out with Women on Barges, who said “go early, don’t worry” – so we did and we didn’t.

The leaflet showed on the left incline 71 (blue and yellow) locks going up, a black tunnel at the top, and 43 (red and blue) locks going down the right incline.Oh yes, also yellow triangles, green triangles and red/blue triangles, plus yellow squares and diamonds to complete the picture. They all meant different types of lock operation and bridge. Keeps you on your toes – especially as many of them had changed operation type when we reached them!


Lock filled to the brim




And we were off, with deep locks to go up every 10-15 minutes. All of these, from Vitry to St Dizier, interestingly, and sometimes a little disturbingly, fill to the brim. This resulted in our fenders being too high to protect the hull when we left each one! Watch that paintwork!

Actually, we dropped the centre zig-zag fenders to almost water level which eased the anxieties a little, though it was now our turn to be sailing out of an enclosed space that we couldn’t see.



Ecriennes, with its unusual purple bridge.

After 4 locks we were tired – there were three before lunch as well after all. We had planned to reach Orconte, but stopped at Ecriennes for the night in the middle of nowhere except an ex-lock keepers cottage, now inhabited by a fine and enthusiastic gardener. It is a truly lovely location for all fans of peace and countryside.

Ecriennes yellow sky

The village is about 1 km away from canal so it is a very quiet mooring. And it absolutely poured with rain, followed by a weird yellow sky, and our first mosquitos.


Lapin Vert edges into position

On to Orconte the next day, arriving in time to get a lunch time baguette from the boulangerie. When we arrived we moored up alone on the right bank, apart from a couple of seemingly permanent boats on the other side. Then two Dutch boats arrived, followed by a Swiss. Then a massive pink and green ex-commercial barge came through the lock – Le Lapin Vert. They squeezed in at the end, so the left bank was full up.

We went for a walk along the canal and although storm clouds seemed to be gathering it cleared up for a beautiful sunny evening, just right for a Happy Hour or two on the back deck.

Our entertainment for the day? It was watching a swan swim calmly into the lock over the upstream lock gates (remember the lock is full to the brim) – and keep swimming through the lock to the down stream gates where it was caught by the current and thrown unceremoniously over the precipice! Luckily no damage seemed to be done apart from to it’s pride, and it continued downstream with great shaking and harrumphing of it’s tail feathers.

The next stretch included the ‘bad boys’ écluse at Perthes, which we now knew had given some previous barges problems with children throwing things at boats, but we were lucky and saw no-one, quietly passing on our way.

Eight écluses and several hours later we were at St-Dizier, our only event being a broken down lock just before St Dizier, at Hoericourt, that caused us, and the boat in front, some delay. The two red lights and one open lock gate were a sign of the hold up. First we were waiting outside the lock, eating lunch and watching French fighter jets whizzing about from the adjacent airfield; then we were stuck in the lock! The French for ‘broken’ is ‘en panne’ (where the distress call ‘pan pan’ comes from of course) and it’s a phrase we have become quite used to using. A quick call the VNF however with the lock number will usually get you an agent in his or her little van pretty promptly to sort it.


St Dizier – great mooring with free facilities.

We moored up at the long quay in St Dizier, opposite the leisure centre and really handy for the town. Everything is available, free! We had electricity, water, wifi, mooring; excellent value.

Our only ‘complaint’ on night one was that we had moored rather close to the disco. Although we col not hear the music from within, it was a little excitable at 4am when youngsters went home!

Lapin vertSo next day we moved along the quay; Calliope was now moored next to Lapin Vert who, it turned out, were putting on a Moliere play!

The weather was generally hot and sunny during our stay and we had a fascinating walk round town and along La Marne on a very hot Saturday, ending with a welcome with beer in the Square.


99 cents each – a bargain

I also managed to catch the inspiring Saturday market where, amongst other things, I discovered oeuf en geleé.

It was a rather wet Sunday, but we still had a walk round to explore other corners of the town, including the chateau and the gardens around it.

Weather forecast St DizierAfter three nights we decided to leave St Dizier, despite the weather forecast. At this point we little knew what an absolutely beautiful canal we were on, becoming more and more stunning the further up into the hills we went. There were so many gorgeous views that I had to stop taking photos – a surfeit of beauty! But it did dampen down considerably for a couple of days.

Boat has changed name from Calliope to ‘Locks R Us in the rain, in the rain . . . ’.

The initial stretch from St Dizier was more urban, but still with its interest. For example our first ‘obstacle’, at Marnaval, was a disused railway swing bridge at immediately followed by a lift bridge – all in slightly damp conditions.


Marnaval lock keepers house, once.

We saw yet again the demise of a tradition with more empty, boarded up, sad sad eclusiers’ houses, this one at Marnaval.


Somewhat moist

We had set of from St D with a planned stop at Joinville, but had not taken account of the time and effort involved in ‘amonting’ all the locks, or the wet wet wet, so with the eclusiers agreement we stopped between the lock and the bridge at Bayard – a very simple and delightful country mooring, despite the rook chorus. We managed to moor directly opposite a rookery full of young demanding to be fed every minute of daylight! Not quite the same as the nightingale arias that had soothed us before.

We gave ourselves an easy day next, and pushed on to Joinville. We went past a series of old open lift bridges, all with beautiful ironwork raised skywards – this one at Gourzon.


We could see, through the most and rain, that we were heading towards the hills – this view between Breuil and Curel.

Our eclusier Jean-Claude accompanied us in his little VNF van, sadly explaining at Curel lock that he used to live in the lock house there; it is now privately owned, seemingly by a chicken lover.



The lock is immediately followed by a lift bridge, stopping the local traffic for ten minutes.

As we came into Joinville we at first mistook the hotel pontoon for the Halte Nautique, but corrected our mooring after lunch.

Joinville was a … surprise – a small and ancient town on a hillside, with narrow streets, many old (often dilapidated) buildings, and an arm of the Marne running through the centre. Joinville was also useful, with a supermarket for ‘essential supplies’ and a garden centre for my ‘potting on’ equipment. It was also the venue for the frog chorus. I have never heard so many frogs croaking their love songs all night.


Upstream from Joinville

We recalculated our timings, knowing we needed to travel up, and then down, the rest of the canal in a fortnight in order to meet our daughter in the Dijon area. The aim was to do an average of 10 locks per day, through sunshine as far as possible, whilst trying to limit cruising time to 3 / 4 hours per day. With that in mind we left Joinville, and thought that with a bit of effort we could get to Chaumont.

Amazing birds entertained us along the way – black kites, kingfishers, black redstarts, herons, buzzards, baby swallows and sparrows learning to fly – and a changing vista as we progressed higher and higher into the hills.

We found ourselves cruising over the winding Marne time and again, watching the river gradually become smaller as we climbed higher. At Mussey we went through the lock, and onto a viaduct (or is it an aquaduct?). Here La Marne was joined by the Le Rognon – the two rivers joined by history in fame for metalwork. (Just wondering – how is it decided whether a river is male, Le, or female, La?)


Another example of the metalwork immediately followed – one of the beautiful pont-levis.


Donjeux lunch stop

We broke the day’s trip for lunch at Donjeux – what a lovely little mooring – peaceful, pretty, and, on the day we were there, hot sun. We descended from the boat and used the picnic table on the grass for a change. (Yes, Le Capitaine is a little rouge from the soleil)

On through the sun for the afternoon past Rouvray Lock – a bit deeper this one, so helpful bollards in the wall.


Watchful kingfisher

Just beyond the lock a kingfisher scrutinised our progress from atop a signpost.

We met up with our éclusier at Gudmont Lock Bridge. He helpfully let us know that there would not be space for us at Viéville, our hoped for endpoint that day, and suggested Froncles.

Well who can resist a place with a name like that?? So we stopped at the scenic mooring at Froncles, amongst high wooded hills, shared with some camper vans and boule players. And in the morning by a patient, focused fishing team.


Next Day – Thursday


Canal above Froncles

We knew that the hot sun and blue skies would at some point give way to grey skies and thunderstorms – it was just a matter of when. In the meantime we enjoyed the full-on sun and spectacular scenery.

We went onwards and upwards, through locks of 3 – 4m in height, Vouecort being one of the deeper ones. There were baby swallows everywhere, calling for food as they practised their swooping and swerving flight in the blue blue sky.

But our main bird excitement of the day was created by seeing an Osprey! Whoops – no camera ready for that moment.

Lunch was eaten on the move, and we fully expected to make it to Chaumont before the rain – only 11 locks between Froncles and Chaumont. A couple of blips held us up a bit. At Viéville bridge we waited a while midstream for an éclusier . It seems that our notified progress to the VNF had not reached the appropriate éclusier. He turned up eventually, as cheerful as ever, and we were on our way again.


The passed some interesting moorings – the one at Riacourt is fronted by some more remarkable old buildings.


From De Breil

The second blip was at Condes – the exciting combination of lock/tunnel/viaduct over La Marne/Lift bridge was more exciting that expected.

We exited the tunnel to see a double red light for the bridge. Captain Carr kept Calliope gently waiting as the rain began to fall. Eventually the bridge mechanism was mended and we progressed on to Chaumont.


Leaving our Chaumont mooring astern

Not quite the planned mooring at Chaumont as the Port de Plaisance looked full, but we found a stretch of grass with two stout metal poles and decided that would do nicely. We then had a mission to accomplish – a French SIM card to replace the ones that were about to stop service from Three (a huge sense of annoyance). There is a clue on the name Chaumont – it is on a hill and the walk up from the canal is steep! We did not accomplish the mission until next day, but found respite in a pleasant café with a beer.

Chaumont is a fascinating town with lost of buildings to catch ones attention – but I regret I took no photos, being so focused on the SIM card mission!



The day started with aforementioned 1.6 mile walk up to the area of Chaumont we required. Mission was accomplished, so back to boat for early lunch and noon departure, as agreed with our éclusier. This was to be a short day – only 3 hours, 14 kilometres and 8 locks. We began in rain – wet weather trousers and everything – and ended in sunshine, dipping toes in the water to cool down (well one of us did!).


Lovely Luzy-sur-Marne pont-levi

More of the area’s expertise in metalwork over the centuries was evident at Luzy-sur-Marne with this pont-levi. It was sadly no longer working but we cruised underneath in awe of the use of ore. (haha)

The river Marne still meanders alongside, passing now and then under the canal, but becoming a smaller and calmer waterway.

The system at locks with the éclusier was a change for us. He prepared the locks, we went directly in and moored up. Then he, manually, closed the ‘portes’, and opened the ‘vantelles’. These locks fill very gently, after a first fountain spurt of water at the front mid point of the lock – much to my delight!

I offered to jump ashore and help by opening one of the ‘portes’ while he (or sometimes she) opened the other. In this way we made our way through to Foulain for the night. I think he and I both earned our beer – and the Captain of course, who steered Calliope through the various obstacles with aplomb and no mishap.


An evening at Foulain

Foulain – just our kind of mooring; quiet, peaceful just outside a village and apart from the occasional train passing by, the only sound being church bells and birdsong. Lovely lovely lovely.

Supper in the coutryside, a wonderful sunset, and in the morning we were visited by a pair of goldfinches.



Next morning we set off with our new éclusier, Franc, who joined us at lock 16 and stayed with us through to lock 10, 2 kms from our next chosen mooring at Rolampont. This was another Halte Nautique – pleasantly rural, at the end of an EU funded ‘facility’ for the village, comprising boulodrome, outdoor table tennis, small playpark, and tiny shower/loo block for camper vans and boats.



I discovered another stowaway – rather a nice beetle.

All looked set fair for a quiet night, apart from rumbling thunderstorms, until the local young congregated under the shelter for an impromptu party! One cannot blame them for thinking o was a good place to meet up, have fun, and make (relatively muted) noise – but it did rather disturb out sleep. Ah well, we were all young once!




Half the competitive fishermen

We were moving on again – this time to Langres, which looks a really fascinating town on a hill. We realised as we prepared to go that there were an unusually number of fishermen (yes, all men) with all kinds of amazing tackle, on the bank. On enquiry we discovered that a fishing competition was about to commence, and that Calliope passing by, however smoothly she travelled, might not best please ‘les pecheurs’. A quick word with the organiser resulted in a decision to embark 15 minutes early, and avoid the start of the competition; everyone happy.


Sylvie – 40 years an eclusier

Our éclusier for the day was Sylvie. A delightful lady who lives in the lock house at Lock 3, named Moulin Rouge! Sylvie has worked as an éclusier for 35 years. She had a mixture of manual and automated locks to deal with, made more difficult by one of the ‘automated’ locks being out of action and requiring manual handling. I helped as and when I could and overall we had a laugh!


Lock living budgies

Highlights of the day included sight of another osprey, budgies at two of the lock houses, and an ability to miss all the rain that was definitely rolling around the hills.


Moored, in the distance, below Lancers

This took us to the ‘port’ at Langres-sur-Marne, below the wonderful hill top town of Langres itself, moored about 1500 feet above sea level, which is where we began! There was a plan to visit Langres, but I regret we allowed the very wet weather and very steep hill to deter us.

We had very limited internet connection and were blissfully unaware that the continuous heavy rain, which we put down to being on the ‘mountains’, was causing havoc down below. The Seine had flooded Paris, a canal had broken its banks, rivers were closed, and boats stranded. Luckily we were high above all the trouble.

We were now just two locks from the Balesmes tunnel that would take us through to our decent to the Saone. After two days in Langres we attacked the final stretch, and the tunnel to the other side.

It was our last ‘Amont’ of the zapper; after 71 locks starting in Vitry here we were at Batailles.

The people living at Lock 1, Batailles, had made a real effort to make the area attractive, with a small garden and a cabin. They must be most welcome to those emerging from the darkness of the 4.8km tunnel!

But we were entering the gloom. First the cut towards the tunnel entrance, and then the tunnel itself. Almost an hour underground.

The story continues with Calliope’s exit into the world of Côte D’Or and 43 locks down to La Saone/

Little friends hitching a lift on Calliope

This may seem a bit weird when the blog is about barging through France, but I’m afraid it will always home in on the things I find fascinating – usually the wildlife!

Quite often delicate and beautiful insects, spiders and butterflies hitch a lift on Calliope. When I am lucky I manage to catch a close-up.


To be fair the slug and red beetle were not on the boat, but right by it, and they replace a yellow beetle and grey slug that were aboard, but did not get photographed.


And I discovered this lovely insect house at Gray Chateau garden.


Champagne country – La Marne


4 days mid-May 2016


The T junction at Condé-sur-Marbe looked tempting both ways – so we turned right for a couple of days, then came back and went down the left arm.

Turning right had Calliope faced towards Epernay – but we did not get that far.




We were on the Canal lateral de la Marne, and wended our way, next to the river, through calm countryside and vineyards.





The swing bridge at Bisseuil



After just two locks and a ‘pont-mobile’ we came upon Mareuil-sur-Ay, a village steeped in champagne history, boasting 14 champagne houses, and a small port.




the port at Mareuil-sur-Ay

Although pretty and pleasant, Calliope was too big for the port, but we had spied a new tranquil mooring just outside the village on the way and promptly accomplished a U-ey.

Fantastic – absolutely right for us. We could walk to the village for bread and La Poste, then retire to our own isolation.

The mooring was also just right for us to give the boat a clean and for me to sit on the grass and ‘prick out’ the herb and tomato seedlings – so housework and gardening done we relaxed.

The evening brought a set of swirling black clouds, followed by rain and thunder. In one whirlwind blow almost all the blossom of the chestnut tree opposite descended into the river and drifted into pink patterns on the water.

As darkness fell we enjoyed a nightscene of the village and a statue on the hill opposite.  At last we find something beneficial to come from a Straight and Narrow. 

Next day was fine again. We walked up the hill to get close to the statue and the vines, and a hillside view of the village.



We had the added benefit of a marvelous view back down to Calliope at her mooring, and a close up of a linnet.


You have to be at least as old as us to understand the link with ‘we’re in the boat with our ‘ome packed in it’, but in all those years this is the first linnet I’ve ever actually seen . . . .



And we checked on the progress of the next vintage champagne …



American geese

Our other ‘bird-find’ at Mareuil were two American geese – goodness knows why!

After two nights at Mareuil the barge turned round to head up for Chalons-en-Champagne, stopping at Conde for lunch. We had an interesting journey; on arrivale at the Tours-sur-Marne lock, ready to turn the hanging pole and open the lock gates, there was no pole. We kept looking and wondering if there was another device to operate the lock, but eventually moored up and phoned the VNF in my broken French. “je suis á l’écluse Tours-sir-Marne et il n’y a pas un pole pour tourner.”

I was not believed, and told the to turn the ‘peche’. (a peach?) “Non Monsieuer. Le pôle a disparu!” After repeating this several times he agreed to dispatch an éclusier, who soon turned up and agreed that the pole/peach was missing and set about operating the lock for us.

That was not our only difficult lock of the day. The locks from Condé to Chalons nearly all had a strong jet of water swooshing out just below the lock, pushing Calliope sideways. Of course our man at the wheel took account of this as much as he could, but at Juvigny, with the water pushing the boat into lock wall – a zigzag fender rope was broken with a good loud twang! Your Honours I do maintain that it was the merest of kisses and the line was indeed a little frayed already . . . . .

We arrived at Chalons-en-Champagne to find plenty of space for a nice mooring, above the lock by the Grand and Petit Jard parks, and beneath the towering cathedral. These are very pleasing spaces, and include plenty of waterfowl – more coots for me!

We quickly decided to spend two nights there. The town is full of ancient timbered buildings, and intersected by two tributaries of La Marne, Le Mau and Le Nau.

Our boating neighbours were an interesting group of people. One, an ex-diver, managed to lose his bow thruster and then his propeller mid-channel. Mark, who we had met at Sillery, tells us he is a millionaire farmer, and had on board with him his friend from East Anglia, Steve, who is an ex Baptist missionary, wants to be a writer, and shares our love of birds.

And then we were joined by Robin, who, in trying to moor, drove his big barge Magansar2 bow first into the quay three times (proper T-bones) whilst trying to get a rope ashore with inexperienced crew. All were very friendly, accommodating, humourous and helpful to each another nonetheless.

So after just two days in a lovely place and with good company we set sail again, towards the end of La Marne. But one more night still to spend on this canal.


Moored up at Soulanges


Up stream we went, stopping for the night at a 10/10 mooring for us -Soulanges. Initially all alone, later we were joined by a commercial barge that moored up behind us for night.





mini garden


I found time to do a little gardening – get those herb and tomato seedlings sorted out!




It is a pretty mooring and although the village is small it had an interesting walk up the hill between a series of crosses to a statue.


Soulanges vista



Looking down we could spot Calliope peacefully resting.







Bridge over La Marne, Soulanges

Alongside the canal La Marne flowed on. We crossed over the bridge to take a look at the river. The nearby car park was almost empty; just a few fishermen and one camper van – (skillfully hidden behind Lesley by the photographer) occupied (as we later discovered) by a Belgian story teller and his wife. After enjoying a glass of wine with them we all settled down to a calm night.



Next morning the sun still shone and we were off to where we would join the Canal Entre Champagne et Borgogne at Vitry-Le-Francois – the next chapter!

Sweet flowing L’Aisne and Canal on to La Marne

Fifteen days in early May, 2016

The first 6 days

New waterway; new system. Onto the L’Aisne, a river, not a canal and given our first zapper, so alertly looking out for the sign to tell us to press ‘amont’ –

Zapper sign L'Aisne.JPG

zapper sign (un)helpfully facing the river

and after a bit we realised that the signs, instead of facing us as we came along the river, were 90 degrees wrong, and facing the river itself! One or two zaps were a bit late.


Levers on L’Aisne

We soon got the hang of pressing the zapper, watching for a green light, and once in the lock, pushing up the blue pole to get things going!


Vic-sur-Aisne silos

Our mooring target was Vic-sur-Aisne – though we were not so sure as we first approached and saw huge silos with grain being loaded into a big barge.


Loading grain


Looking across to the morning at Vic-sur-Aisne

How wrong we were – just a few yards further, and …. almost heaven!


Our serene company for the evening

We found we were the only boat on a lovely quiet mooring, just past the silos, and extremely pleasant – our only company two courting swans.


Everything done including the washing

A walk round the village followed by a Happy Hour aboard created the perfect evening in the sun. Cheers y’all.


Morning, Vic-sur-Aisne

And when morning broke, it was still, and still perfect, or even more so.


Before leaving there was time for a look at the work going on to (sadly) remove one of the last ‘needle weirs’ on L’Aisne.


Linnet at lunch time

We had a great sunny days cruising, including a lunch stop that brought us our first linnet to tick off in the I-Spy book.


We came into Soissons to find plenty of space on the town quay ….


Pont des Anglaise, Soisson

…. just in front of the new Pont des Anglaise …….. so named because the English built a bridge across the river just after the war – and this one has just replaced it.

Soissons market and Cathedral

We visited the market which occupied a characterful market hall plus a huge space in front of the green tiled cathedral, and found a food bounty awaiting us – so many traditional charcuteries, forgeries, boulangeries, and of course dew fresh fruit and veg.


Market fare!

Two night in Soissons gave us the opportunity to have a good look round this historical town with its ruined abbey and voluptuously vaulted Chapter House – plus the Captain could buy some ‘stuff’ from a Brocante to mend a fender.


Soissons goldfinch

Our walk round Soissons also provided another for the I-spy bird book – a gold finch popping in and out of a hole in a tree near the abbey.  (More goldfinches appear later in our journey)

We had Reims in our sights by now, and all that promised champagne! This was planned as a two day trip, staying just outside Reims in a country mooring at Courcy before tackling the city. Luckily we had a plan B.

The next nine days

Joining the Canal de L’Aisne a la Marne

So we left Soissons on a super sunny day and delighted in the smooth calm countryside along the River Aisne.


Goodbye Soissons

By later afternoon we were looking to moor up, and chose a quiet mooring near Cys-la-Commune – very rural – and between two villages.

A walk from one village to the next have us a perfect view of Calliope surfing a field of rape, and the discovery of a pleasing old church.

During a wonderful peaceful evening watching the sun disappear at the end of the lock pound, I was captivated and mystified by a bird call – black bird like, but a very distinctive different song. I downloaded ‘Warblr’ recorded the sound, but we were too rural for me to get an answer – so forever a mystery warbler. (I think we have since found out it was a frog . . . . .)


Next day, knowing we were nowhere near a boulangerie, we studied the map and thought there would be bread, and indeed cake, at Maizy. What a lovely place to moor – the canal widened out with a wall for mooring and village road that led down to the river, with a cheerful bar close at hand. Not for us the midday beer, but the locals directed us to the boulangerie and a baguette was secured for lunch.

The L’Aisne is a beautiful river to wind through. Working the locks was a joy.


Having motored on to Berry au Bac we easily found a place to stop, mooring below lock. Again we were the only boat there and our only company, apart from a couple of gentle pecheurs, were nightingales, day and night, plus water rats, herons and other wild fowl; a good rest before the long haul to Reims!

The haul to Reims is actually only a day, through the Canal de l’Aisne à la Marne, but in that day Calliope and crew had 9 deep locks like waterfalls to ascend.

These were operated by a new (to us) system; a pole hanging above the canal to be turned as we cruised underneath – and another pole to push up once safely inside the lock chamber. Quite a laugh grabbing that pole. Luckily the Captain is good at steering, except when side currents catch Calliope broadside. I learned a lesson at the first pole. Don’t let go after you’ve turned it! It will swing madly pendulum style across the boat, hitting anything, including the wheelhouse glass, as it goes. Luckily no damage, and from then on I walked the pole down the boat.

It was made even more interesting for us because the bollards were spaced for barges twice our size! Anyway, all was fine, if slightly demanding.

By the time we reached Courcy, the last lock before our stop over, we were looking forward to completing the day’s journey – but oh no! The lock was apparently closed for restoration! We quickly moored up to the lock approach and began to think through our options – when a most welcome ‘monsieur’ appeared above us, and with a few words, and lots of gesticulations made it clear that we could rise up to a new level! He and his working companion operated it all by hand for us. Fantastic. Merci messieurs.

And then … the expected mooring was not where we expected and the map had shown – the big ‘bay’ on the left bank that was to be our place of rest was shallow and full of fishermen (the bank was full of fisherman, not the actual bay).


Looking up the canal in Reims towards our mooring in the distance

So two tired people had to carry on to Reims, past long commercial wharfs, the small marina and, finally and thankfully, onto the free mooring right by the lock – and a main road! But look at the photo – it looks more like the Med! The canal is an unreal blue – must be full of copper sulphate! (Our mooring is just round the corner after the bridge you can see in the distance . . . . )

Never mind. We know how to relax, so boat safe and sound we walked into town and found first a bar, and then a restaurant under the trees of the main square..

We stayed two nights in Reims and managed to see some of this beautiful city, including the Cathedral, the park, the football stadium and many of the fascinating houses.

It was also our first (but not last) meeting with Beryl and Ray on Vrouwe Catherina, plus briefly Mark on Ariana.


Progress so far

So our journey was progressing – we had travelled a fair way on the map.


Near Sillery

We left the city environment of Reims for the more rural atmosphere of Sillery; just a 4 lock trip.


Sillery Marina

The small marina there looked full , but Capt. Stu sneaked into a space on the wall. We soon met up with Beryl Ray and Mark again. Plus made new friends of John and Martha. This led to two guitars and some singing voices appearing over some wine!


French war graves, Sillery

We walked round the village and found a good boulangerie, – an essential! Lesley also walked over to petit Sillery and round to the …… military cemetery.


Astern out of Sillery

After two nights it was time to move on southwards, starting with a difficult astern manouevre to extricate Calliope from her resting place – all done with an audience, and with aplomb by Stu!

It was 11 locks down to the end of the canal at Conde sur Marne, at the T junction with La Marne. There was also the ‘attractive’ tunnel Billy to enjoy, so described by Du Breille. Its not a long tunnel, but navigation and steaming lights needed just the same.


Waiting our turn for Billy Tunnel

This, as with most tunnels, is a one way system and we had time for lunch in the sun at a pleasant mooring just outside the tunnel awaiting our turn.

Conde-sur Marne was a sweet place to stop over, in the best sense of the word. We only stayed one night, opposite the old hydro power station, but this was time enough for a couple of walks round the village.


We sought out (recommended to us) Mme Potié’s champagne house with the inevitable tastings and purchases! We bought some Ratafia – a champagne based aperitif. Mmmmm.


Billy loco at Conde sur Marne lock

We also grabbed a photo of the little engine that used to pull barges through the Billy tunnel at the time of radical industrial revolution.

Next morning was said goodbye to the canal De L’Aisne à La Marne, because we were onto La Marne!