Two Rivers Cruise – La Saone et Le Rhone

From Chalon-sur-Saone, through Lyon, to Saint-Gilles

Thursday 18 August 2016

IMG_1728Leaving Fragnes (we like Fragnes) after a full moon night and just after breakfast we had a final short trip on Canal du Centre from countryside towards La Sâone.

Chalon_3

First we had to pass the the industrial end of Chalon-sur- Sâone, with the usual warehouses, old quays and occasional beautiful rusting barge before reaching the tall, narrow 10.76m ‘bis’ lock to drop us down to river level.

The mighty lock 34 of Canal du Centre – ‘bis’ – ready to lower us to Sâone level.

And it started to rain! Ah well – boating is a water sport I guess.

We joined the big wide Sâone uneventfully and started chugging downstream at a good pace, enjoying the grey-hued view of Chalon from the water.

The statue is important to me, and all those who wield a camera. It is of the unlikely named Nicéphore Niépce, born in Chalon in 1765 and widely credited as the inventor of photography.

tournus__afterThe countryside below Chalon is rather flat – less interesting than some, but the wide, open, view and the wildlife made it very enjoyable on a day when clouds lifted and the sun came through..

From the tall and narrow to the wide and shallow – we went through our one Sâone lock of the day – all alone in a huge space! Life jackets on! It’s the rules!

Chalon, after, Ormes lock

Chalon, after, Ormes lock

And look who we saw the other side of the lock!  Our friends on Lapin Vert, the theatre barge, last seen on Canal de Bourgogne weeks ago.

Not far on from the lock we came to Tournus and moored up at the quay – what a pretty place, full of history!

I loved some of the balconies, and all the flowers!  It is a must for another visit, to explore the abbey sector and the many little narrow streets.

We saw all weather from sun, clouds, pouring rain, mist and back to sun again by 11am the next day, when we were finally able to move on down the river.

Friday

The Captain feels he is relaxing into river ways quite quickly. Huge hotel barges ply up and down but there is plenty of space for us all on La tranquil Sâone. Cattle and horses graze; towns and villages look down at the water.

maconWe cruised a massive 57 Kms on Friday, past the graceful riverside house of Macon and ending up moored near Belleville. Macon, which looks a pleasant city. It’s a shame to miss such an important wine growing region, but if we are to meet our mates Chris and Tasmin in 3 days time we need to keep going.

Below Macon we began to see a new set of watersports make use of the river – water skiing, power boats, jet skis and ribs were more prevalent than skiffs and kayaks!

It is so much quicker with about one lock a day, and at a steady 12 Kms an hour with the current. Friday’s lock was called Dracé – as wide and empty as Ormes the day before, out in the country, with the hill town of Mogneneins in the distance. In contrast the abandonded old lock of Thoissey, just after Dracé, seemed gentle and contained.

drace_lock__after__almost_perfect_mooring!Soon after Dracé we spotted a ‘perfect’ rural mooring for us – except that the pontoon was 8m long and we are 20m. In a canal it’s ok to moor in such a short space, but on the river, with big barges, jet skis and power boats sending wonderful wakes our way, we thought it might not be wise.

We carried on to Belleville, and at first were alarmed to see a ‘No Mooring’ sign on the pontoon. We came up close, peering through binoculars, and saw below something that indicated it was the next day that mooring was forbidden, so tied up and crossed our fingers. All was well.

No time to explore Belleville this time, but an absolute definite for next time we pass through.

Saturday

After a nice calm night and pink purple dawn we had pouring rain – I don’t think it stopped until about 3.45 that afternoon! Nonetheless the intrepid crew slipped mooring ropes and set off to Lyon.

trevoux__before

On the way we saw some lovely countryside – hills, woods, islands, lakes – and attractive villages; but all through windscreen wiper!

And there is always the industrial side of the river, lending purpose to the maintenance of the locks, banks,  and navigation buoys.

We caught sight of the National Patanque Competition at Trévoux – an Italianate town somehow transposed to La Sâone.

I don’t give much info about the towns, but Trévoux is worth a quick mention. It was capital of Dombes, an independent principality with its own parliament until 1762. It has a 10th -13th century castle amongst other old buildings and is famous for diamonds and dictionaries – and Petanque!

As we passed through le point de Trévoux we remarked on some languishing ladies in blue atop the ornate piers, unconcerned by the rain.

autoroute_de_soleil!!_before_neuville

Route de Soleil!

Also unconcerned by the rain, or perhaps to escape it, were the cars whizzing South on the Route de Soleil, passing overhead for about the third time!

And then we stopped at Neuville-sur-Sâone for lunch. I ran through the rain to find a boulangerie, discovering on the way set of lovely lanes flanked by small shops of all types – how France used to be, but maybe tarted up for the Lyonnaise who were not far distant.

neuvilleNeuville-sur Saone has a claim to fame, linked to the Lumière Brothers. A congress of French Societies of photography took place in Lyon in June 1895. They had a boat trip on the Saône, to Neuville-sur-Saône where Louis Lumière filmed their landing on the Pastor dock. The following day the film was screened at the closing session of the congress. This film is considered to be the first “news” movie, the ‘ancestor’ of all news.

As we came on down into the Lyon conurbation we passed so many lovely houses and buildings, all set against a wet grey sky so not shown at their best.

But it did give us a typical parapluies sur le pont moment.

lyon_diesel

We were on the look out for gasoil and somewhere to moor, and found both. The diesel pump was at a very friendly boatyard / chandlery. We filled up to be sure of propulsion on the Rhone.

lyon__mooringThen returning up stream half a kilometre or so we tied up on a tree-lined quay in the middle of the city. When the sun comes out this is going to be spectacular!

lyon_nightThe skies cleared as it became dark, bringing ‘spectacular’ forward by a few hours.

Sunday

Sun shining; it  was spectacular all over again.

There were no traumas joining the Rhone – just suddenly very wide, though no perceptible increase in flow. Seemed a quarter of a mile wide, so even had thee been loads of river traffic we would have been ok – and as it was we were the only ones there!

The confluence is marked by a slim isthmus of grass – and a huge modern museum building – both equally amazing in their way.

We had a bit of hanging around for the first lock, Pierre Bénite, as we had not qute grasped the ‘registration’ system, but once in the ‘sas’ (lock chamber), the floating bollards took us down the requisite 9m very gently.

lyon__lock_pierre_benite_6

Rules is rules, so life jackets on for the lock. We would be at our most vunerable waiting for a lock the Captain says, so we were lucky; with a low flow and a back breeze we were fine.

lyon__after_1Calliope glided on down the river, with the scenery opening, closing, changing. We passed towns and villages more reminiscent of Italy than France, so definitely now in the South and with a Roman influence.

lyon__afterOn the canals our expectations were to achieve 20 Kms per day; on the river, with few locks and a following current we have been doing 14Kms per hour on Le Rhone! White Water Barging!

We ate lunch on the go, with co-pilot taking the wheel while Captain ate, weaving my way in and out of bridges and boats coming the other way – with yards and yards to spare I must admit!

lock_vaugris

Just after lunch, before digestion set in, we were at the second lock, Vaugris. We only gave the éclusier a kilometer’s notice of our arrival, so we bobbed about a bit waiting for the lock to be set for us, and another bateau de plaisance also travelling downstream.

These big locks are so gentle that once tied up one can loll on deck during the descent.

By now the wind was starting to pick up …. Is it the Mistral???? We have been warned about the dangers of the Mistral, but ‘hell, came from a winter in Gosport!’

And its not the Mistral. It is northerly, but it is only 15kph, and its warm – though a 3 to 5hph flow coming up your aft at the same time makes it interesting . . . . 

We passed Viennes; it looks fascinating from the water, and through the greyish light; a town-in-waiting for exploration.

We were by then deep into Côte du Rhone country, slipping by lots of named vineyards; we passed so many vineyards – it was mega frustrating not to be stopping and trying them all, but actually there are very few mooring places on the Rhone. Capital V, capital F.

Our planned mooring at Chavanay was spotted from about 1.5 Kms away – a 20’ pontoon for our 20’ boat, empty. Hooray!

chavanay_mooring_3About half an hour after our joyful mooring out in the country we were joined by a HUGE hotel barge who was disembarking passengers for a coach trip! The Captain of this barge was superb, mooring up to 5 ‘ducs’, or huge black poles sticking out of the river, to which are attached gangways to the land.

Half an hour later, it was gone.

We had moored by a tall, elegant, simple monument. The plaque was a sad reminder of WW2 – something we thought we had left behind further North. The village were obviously very proud of this young man.

Stu and I took a walk round the village, bumping into the remnants of a holy of festivities  – the Vogue fete!  The band played on, with musicians in a variety of locations (and libations), and people (in a variety of locations and libations were joyous.

Not sure whether any of them made it it the evening’s dance and the 1.30am ‘Grand Galop’!

chavanay_6

And Chavanay has wine caves too – for next time.

It all led to a peaceful moonlit night on the river and a beautiful clear morning..

Monday

We liked the mooring at Chavanay, but had to continue next day, leaving the monumental nuclear power station on the opposite back behind us.

Setting off towards the South, we descended through Sablons lock, which had one huge door each end that opened sideways, and a hydroelectric power station alongside. To be honest, most of these big Rhone locks incorporate hydroelectric – good source of power.

Callliope cruised on, between Andance and Andancette, the former being clearly labelled! Three crosses on the hill above the church stood strong against the blue sky.

la_galaure_enters_at_st_vallier_

Many of the small towns and villages along the Rhone are just out of site, behind trees, or well above flood levels. One that we could see was St-Vallier, where La Galore river enters the Rhone under a low bridge. Nauticulars will notice the white horses just forming; time to re-check the wind forecast . . . .

st_valier__after__tour_d_arras

Before we reached Gervans lock the Tour d’Arras came into view above the trees, though the town of Arras was out of sight.

We were on and through this 11.5m lock quite quickly – getting used to them now, radioing ahead to say we are nearby.

arras__near__windyBy now the wind was picking up, a daily feature, probably linked to the ground warming up in the high temperatures we have been enjoying!

It almost felt as if we were back at sea – in a good way –  no, not so good some would say . . . . . .

We needed to reach our hoped for mooring at Glun to meet friends, so a quick bowl of cereal lunch for Stu and yesterday’s bread for me as we continued.

I took a turn at the helm, taking Calliope through the relative narrows by La Table de Roi – a small (6’across) flat rock in the channel where, apparently, Louis IX stopped to eat on his way to the Crusades.

We came into the Hermitage area, past Tain and Tournon and the many many vineyards terraced onto the slopes.

Tournon is overlooked by two watchtowers, and connected to Tain by the first suspension bridge over the Rhone in 1825.

glun__afterThe wind continued to pick up – blowing harder than forecast, but with a bright sky and sunshine – harder than forecast is correct.

We reached the wonderfully name Glun, and la Roche de Glun, and turned away from a canalised section onto the old Rhone and the hoped for mooring – which was totally full!

Stu managed a difficult astern manoeuvre in the wind, back onto the main route, refocussing to the South, with me contacting the friends and changing our meeting point.

A quick look at the map suggested that I should phone the port at Valence, and an extremely pleasant Capitaine told me he had a hammerhead on ‘J’ for our 20m boat – the second pontoon.

buorg-les-valence__lockThe 12km trip included another lock, Bourg-les-Valences. Here the ‘door’ rises up behind you out of the water, although this photo does not show the actin very well.

We entered the port a Valence  with me on the bow looking for pontoon J; the one closest to the entrance for H. The sign for the next was hidden by masts and wheelhouses, but surely would be I, not J? ………. As it emerged I could see that it was G, and coincidentally realised that in the French pronunciation of the alphabet, G is J, if you get my meaning!

Good, all sorted, and we moored up with welcome help from another boater as the wind was blowing us straight off the pontoon. We quickly met up with our friends, and after a 800m walk to Casino (supermarket, not entertainment!), we settled down to a very pleasant evening.

Tuesday

Lovely day – horizon to horizon sunshine, low winds. Perfect half days cruise, with Captain  Stu sharing the helm and binoculars with his old old Lake District boatman friend Chris – drinking orange juice look; mind, it was early. 

Through Beauchastel lock, past la Voulte with its fascinating buildings and lovely rock formations and onwards to find a resting place with a restaurant, if poss!

The four of us came down to le Pouzin quay which looked like a difficult mooring; the wall was tall, the two bollards too far apart to both be used, and the railings potentially insecure! Despite there being little to hang onto it all worked out , with the exception of one rope snapping after a small boat with a ridiculously large wake went by. Ah well.

le_pouzin_mooring

Lunch weas enjoyed by all, followed by a stroll round town for the men and relaxation for Tas and I.

The ropes continued to be tested by some big commercial barges and hotel boats – will they even get under bridge?

le_pouzin__swimming

Hey, got me a swimming partner, so while the old boat mates spun yarns and drank grog Tasmin and I took the healthy option of a cool down swim in the river. The current was strong enough to be testing, but not frightening, so good exercise for ten minutes or so.

Then off to a local pizzeria for a treat meal – all delicious, and with some delightful translations on the menu

le Pouzin

Chris, Tasmin and Stu at le Pouzin bridge

The evening walk back through warm air, past the illuminated bridge, to our floating apartment was just perfect.

Wednesday

This was ‘extreme écluse’ day; le Logis-Neuf (11.7m), Chateauneuf (16.5m) and the enormous Bollène at 22.5m!!!! (That is an 8 x storey building, with its roof on . . . . heroic engineering, and the smoothest decent ever.)

Prior to that we had a breakfast of croissants and hot chocolate before moving off in splendid sailing conditions; enough breeze to cool us down now and then, full on sun, and a gentle but persistent current in our direction.

Our first lock, Logis-Neuf, was the baby of the day. We had quite a wait for the lock to be ready, and then quite a wait for another boat to arrive and join us in our journey  11.7m down. It gave me time to inspect the floating bollards more than usual!

Birdlife was a bit more prolific than usual, with plenty of cormorants and gulls – and on a floating branch, an osprey. The photo, though not good, is included as we see them so rarely. Can I say “Cormorants to the left of me, gulls to the right. Stuck in the middle with Stu’? (Doh!) Guess it depends how much of a music lover you are!

In contrast to each other my Mediterranean garden was at the fore as we passed the nuclear power station at Cruas, where attempts have been made to make one of the cooling towers attractive.

chateauneuf_beforeFurther down river we saw the delicious town of Montelimar in the distance rive gauche, and beyond the inky outline of a mountain range.

Soon after the 16.5m Chateauneuf écluse came into view. As usual we radioed ahead to announce our presence. I know I am a bit of a lock nut! Chateauneuf had interestig features – ‘wine-stain’ colours to the locked, massive curved doors either end to hold the weight of water, huge doors part way along to make a smaller lock (I guess), a bit of a waterfall leaking in at the top end as we descended, and a rising, curved door, with metal gate beyond, to let us out at the bottom of our 54 foot drop.

There’s a couple of short videos filming the start and finish of our trip down at The start of the descent and ‘Getting to the bottom of the lock’

Below Chateauneuf lock is the Donzère Gorge. The river narrows appreciatively, although not to the scale of other famous gorges. There are many magnificent rock formations and cliffs that once formed the immediate banks of the river.

We had hoped to stop above the lock at Bollène, but the quay was full of commercial barges being loaded with very dusty stuff so we continued, down through the absolute biggest lock in Europe.

Does it look or feel different to the other big locks on the Rhône? Well probably not a lot, at least not on a benign August day, but just knowing that you are dropping the height of three houses is something to keep you awake on a dreamy afternoon. (Actually I had to be woken up to do it!)

It was a 10 minute smooth as silk descent from hot sun to welcome shade, and I even got a good shower from a spray leak in the wall at about 3m down, that continued to soak me with water all the way down to the bottom!

The associated dam and hydroelectric power station was designed by architect Théodore Sardnal, built in 1947 and officially opened in 1952. It is now a historic monument, as well as a working generator.

Still with Tas and Chris aboard we arrived at Saint-Etiennes-des-Sorts to find the pontoon occupied. We turned round and examined found tall wall at the upstream end of the village and located enough rings, some at water level and some 4′ above. With ingenuity, acrobatics, boathooks, (competent helmsmanship) and leaning overboard we managed to tie up securely for the night – although it did require the deployment of our ladder to get on and off the boat, even for swimming!

Across the river, solidly watching from the top of a cliff, was the Mornas Fortress, with colours changing as the day progressed into night.

St Etiennes,

St Etiennes

Downstream, as twilight faded in, we could see a cluster of village buildings, including the church overlooking the water.

st_etiennes_morning_sun__wallThursday

Next day the sun streamed in once more. Chris set off early, hitch hiking, to collect his car from Valence, returning for lunch before taking himself and Tasmin home.

Stu and I had a relaxing afternoon and evening, including for me a late evening stroll in the cooler air around the village.

Friday

We liked Saint-Etiennes, and seeing the boat on the pontoon leave at 8am we decided to make the 400m journey down to that mooring and enjoy one more day at the village.

We had been told that there were no longer any shops or boulangeries in the village, so we were surprised to read a sign at the pontoon telling us that there was a an selling bread at the bus stop each morning from 8.30-9.30, and an épicerie van once a week on a Friday morning for an hour. We moored up on Friday morning!

I set off to find the bus stop, asking along the way, and discovered that the dépôt de pain had relocated to the Petit Restro. This was easy to find and a friendly welcome resulted in the lunch time baguette and a promise to return in the evening for a beer.

st_etiennes_shop_3

Then, just before 11.30, a van drove along the riverside road tooting; must be the épicerie!  I followed the sound and found a shop-in-a-van continuing everything I could need. His card reads ‘Épicerie, Fruits et Legumes, Boucherie, charcuterie & fromage à la coupe, Depot dépôt de pain, Crèmerie, Produits régionaux, Droguerie, Parfumerie, Timbres post, Presse …..’

I only needed one word for it – superb. In addition to buying some chicken legs for supper I noticed a regional specialty, from Sète, called ‘tirelle’ – or in my words, cephlapod pie. But I don’t know my version until I had heated it up, quartered it and served a portion to Stu – who pronounced it fish paste tart! No, it wasn’t that nice . . . . .

IMG_2080

Another relaxing afternoon, reading, gentle cleaning, and an exfoliation of my feet by the local little fish!

One more bit of retailing to do; wine, veg and eggs. I had noticed a big high wall with a big high wooden gate on my evenings perambulation the night before – and a sign saying that they sold ‘vin en bouteilles et ‘bag-in-a-box’, ouefs, legumes et fruits’ – and were open after 1700 each weekday. So off we went to explore, rang the bell in the wall, and went in to an authentic rural courtyard and barn, linked to the Le Jonquiers vineyard.

A 5L Cotes du Rhone winebox €8; a bottle of white Vignognier was €6. I am not sure how much the 10 eggs, aubergines, onions and garlic were, but the total bill was €20. It’s how I had hoped rural France would be. (And the wine was more than palatable; apparently if you buy 4 x 5l boxes it’s only 7 Euros each – I’ve made a note for the trip back . . . )

On the way back we stopped for a beer at Petit Restro, and sat watching small village life swirling gently around us. I could describe so much; I am saying too much already.

saint_etiennes_electricityBut I had better tell you about our electricity cable. We were pleased to moor Calliope in such a way that the stern overshot the pontoon and allowed our 10m power cable to suspend over the water to the electricity point on the land. It worked perfectly – until a large boast with a particularly big wash rocked Calliope so much that the wires popped out of the plug on the boat and disappeared into the river. I hope not too many fish were electrocuted!

After a third wonderfully peaceful evening and night at Saint-Eiennes-des-Sorts we said au revere et bientot.

Saturday

saint_etiennes_dawnFeeling much more relaxed we awoke to a perfect dawn. A gentle 21Km day was plotted, from Saint-Etiennes to Roquemaure, another free mooring at a small quay.

roquemaure_mooring

Our prayers were answered; the quay was empty. Along the way we had just one lock at Caderousse – a mere 8.6m. And I can remember only a few weeks ago being excited about he 7m lock on the Canal de Roanne  à Digoin!

We moored up and stayed two nights, entranced by the ruined Chateau de l’Hers on the opposite bank (it used to be an island in a much wider river, and paired with another castle in Roquemaure village – photos below). Like the fortress at Saint-Etiennes, the stonewalls changed colour with the arc of the sun.

The weather continued to be hot and sunny. We learned that a flat calm morning would likely be superseded by a breeze midday, then calm period in the afternoon before evening breezes blew in.

Saturday was invigorated by wat we thought was a flypast of about 5 sea planes, that appeared to landed the river further downstream. In fact they were part of a firefighting team, scooping up thousands of litres of water to dump on wild fires somewhere – or practising. At one point they swooped down over a barge, landing and taking off not far in front of it; I hope the Captain was expecting it!

IMG_2102Further invigoration for me was through the use of the biggest private swimming pool I have ever encountered – the whole of this stretch of the Rhone just for me, with warm stone steps at the end of the quay for easy immersion. On Sunday I dived in from the boat – feeling quite brave at my age; stupid really.

Sunday

roquemaure_3

Stu and I went for a walk round the village in the cool of the morning air. Along the way I saw lots of little white flowers – except they weren’t. They were little white snails!

We found a small town full of surprises; it has rich history, part of which is, regrettably, being the place where that pest of  grape vines, phylloxera, was introduced to France in 1860 from America. Not one to be proud of, but plenty of other points of interest, a lively retail and bar/restaurant area, and the ruins of the aforementioned castle, now part of someone’s home.

roquemaure_duskTwo pleasant evenings at Roquelaure, during the second of which we planned a long day South and onto the Petit Rhône. Seems like a good idea through those millpond calm hours.

Monday

avignon_lock

Our last day on the mighty Rhône – and it happened to be more than breezey, though certainly not a gale! (Hmmm, it had been picking up since 6am , and the wind forecast predicted 15kph plus later with up to 20kph tomorrow; time to go . . . ) We set off early before the midday winds came in and passed through Avignon lock on a bit of an adventure; our first lock on the Rhone shared with a big commercial vessel – called Poseidon! All went well.

We by-passed Avignon (it is up a side shoot of the river) having a better view of Villeneuve-lès-Avignon. I would have loved to see the famous bridge that people danced under, rather than ‘sur’ as described in the song.

last_lock_on_rhone_for_usTaking note of the quite expensive, but not very attractive, marinas along the way we came to our last lock on Le Rhône, with the wind at its trickiest, blowing sideways across the river. We were helpfully blown onto the small waiting pontoon, but that made it difficult for the Captain to persuade Calliope back into the stream and through the lock mouth. He did it! Bravo!

Below the lock the river runs between Beaucaire and Tarascon – both of which have castles. In fact there was a castle on almost every tenth hill we passed, and I had to rein in my photography. Here’s a small selection, especially the Tarascon side, a very together castle, called Chateau de Roy-René, the 15th century King René, son of Louis II of Anjou.

It felt like quite a long day so we were pleased to spy, just before Arles, Le petit Rhône forking off to starboard, with a dredger working to improve the channel nearby. The morning’s high level clouds that had made it less bright than usual were lowering, and making photo clarity difficult for this amateur.

Good bye Rhone

Good bye River Rhone

Goodbye Le Rhône. We’ve spent 9 glorious and exciting days in your company. À bientot, l’année prochaine peut être.

What a change! From a wide open vista back to a quiet, narrower, tree-enclosed waterway.

We found the hoped for 6m jetty at PK296.5, as detailed by the DBA members, just a couple of kilometres before St Gilles; we tied up, and enjoyed the solitude.

petit_rhone_bug_2The flora and fauna is so different down here – definitely Mediterranean. I went ashore with the camera, but apart from this red mini beast I didn’t capture anything good ‘on film’. We were a little bothered  by biting mini beasts later, but a mélange of smouldering coils, sprayed skin, swatting and spraying kept us safe for the night.

petit_rhone_nght

Tuesday

_bye_bye_petit_rhone

The scent of sea salt was in the air! Casting off at about 9am Calliope glided through the last kilometres of the blue green Petit Rhône morning to reach Saint Gilles lock by 9.30.

St Gilles lock

St Gilles lock

A quick radio call resulted in the lock being prepared for us – the lock that would take us off the Petit Rhone, off the river system, and back into canals – the Canal de Rhône à Sète.

15cm_down

Would this be a big drop down – after all we have become used to locks from 7m to 20.5m over the past 10 days? Actually no; the drop was 15cms – fifteen centimetres! If you don’t believe me, just look at the waterline.

But it is obvious from the huge lock doors and vertical sets of bollards that in different river conditions it can be a lot more.

onto_canalSo that’s it for this section. The Canal de Rhône à Sète will be a somewhat different experience I think. Let’s see.

Sauntering through Canal du Centre

Whoops whoops whoops! Pressed ‘Publish’ by mistake! But now all sorted I think.

 

I’m taking a break from lots of words for this canal section, but still got lots of pictures to share.

We joined the canal at Digoin, mooring by the viaduct, and with Keeva and Abi still on board.

After breakfast amongst the sunflowers we set off across the viaduct towards Paray-Le-Monial, with the girls adding a touch of glamour to the proceedings!

We passed under lovely bridges and past the (sadly to be missed) Snail Festival preparations.

digoin_mini_canal_and_bridge

Ancienne écluse de Neuzy

We also passed the entrance to an old ‘narrow guage’ canal, complete with its own pont levée.

Next stop, Paray-Le-Monial; an absolutely delightful little town, where I discovered for the first time that moorhens have green legs! (Cool for cats or what?)

Out for a drink and a meal. I had my portion of escargots and Charolais beef and ice cream drenched in local alcohol!

The girls left next day and Stu and I continued on a strangely quiet barge towards the summit of the canal. We had a lovely lunch stop in sight of Chateau de Digoine, with a ‘swarm’ of baby cat fish swimming alongside.

imageI had a delicious lunch à la francàise with things we had bought in the charcuterie, boulangerie and boucherie in Paray – baguette, terrine de Lapin avec noix, oeuf et jambon en gelee, cows cheek salad in vinaigrette and big salad with radishes and dressing.
Tucking in now!

 

paray__after__near_palinges

Old furnace near Palinges

We wiggled round Montet where it seems that the canal was forced to go round an important persons chateau – not always easy – and past a beautiful old pottery furnace.

That night we moored up at Génelard. Just what is that creature attached to the quay??

Génelard had several unexpected treasures. One was this 1950’s fake Art Deco facade to an old factory that used to make mechanical parts for locks etc.

Another was the Trancées of Génelard – a cutting sunk round the town.

We carried on upwards next day, passing a famous ceramic tile factory, now a museum and another abandoned kiln. We were getting used to having traffic lights again too!

For cow lovers like me, some different cows. On the left some spotty cows, a change after all the white Charolais. On the right, one white cow who likes to be different – lying on the sun while the rest of the herd  crowd into the shade!

We found one of our (less) picturesque lunch stops by an old cooling tower, but with lovely flowers. As we moved on I was waiting with excitement for Chavannes lavoir, imagining another old stone washing place for villagers, only to find a monster facility to wash coal!

Next set of obstacles were the six bridges of Montceau-Les-Mines – a mixture of types of lift brudge and passerelles – leading us into Montceau lock.

We had decided not to stop in Montceau and continued on to Blanzy – a former coal mining town, though nowt like them that I know.

Next day we made the short trip to the summit at Montchanin, noting a change of traffic light structure on the way (bit nerdy!).

We came through the last lock Ocean side (see explanation later) into the top stretch.

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The mooring by the VNF office at Montchanin was quieter than it initially looked, with roads and bridges nearby.

And the town of Montchanin was pleasant, tree lined, with some houses decorated with spare tiles from the ceramics factories (more of these to come!)

After after a night at Montchanin we began our descent. An interesting start with the Captain looking to see if we had missed tripping a sensor on our way into Lock 1 ……. And once in the lock we had a great view down over the first staircase of four.

‘Écluse 1 Med’ had lots of interesting points. Firstly it helped us understand why the locks on the way up were all named ‘Ocean’, being closer to the Atlantic, and on the way down named ‘Med’, being in the direction of the Mediterranean.

Second was the amusing painted lock operation building, with mermaids depicting the  two linked rivers, Loire and Saone, flanking the architect of the canal.

And thirdly, a strange boat shaped sluice, or something……. (Since found out that it was a ‘lock boat’ – they would float it across a lock gate, open the scuppers and sink it to stem the flow of the canal while they worked on the gates.)

As we went into the deeper locks we began to see real floating bollards to descend with; what a treat. We LOVE floating bollards.

As we reached les 7 Écluses we found more houses and shops with the colourful Borgogne tiles.

Next to Lock 6 Med we went by another set of old canal and locks, the water cover in green algae. Next to it was an interesting decorated  building …….

Moving on down we came to what is now one of our favourite stopovers – St Julien-sur- Dheume, a quiet, peaceful village. Lovely lovely.

After St Julien there is a section where the canal and several locks have been moved. We could still see one wall of one of the original locks.

Along the way on this canal were another set of atmospheric abandoned lock houses.

wine_purchase__cheilly-les-marangesSo with With another 46kms still to Chalon we decided to hit another 20 Kms from St Julien to Cheilly-les-Maranges. This turned out to be a good move as we were able to buy some good local wine at Chailly!

The start of the next day’s journey gave good scenic views, plus a wacky garden.

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We passed a lovely old steam boat (tug) which deserved a photo.

Then into Chagny over a viaduct above a railway for a change. We found baguette for lunch, and chicken quiche, before leaving Chagny through a narrow channel!

We went down through some lovely locks, both abandoned and occupied, on our way to  Fragnes – and often the ‘garden’ within the lock was just as stunning.

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Then at the last lock before Fragnes we thought ‘where is the green light…..?’

 

 

 

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Aaah, there it is, amongst the Foliage!

 

 

 

 

 

And finally, moored up at Fragny, just outside Chalon!

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The cruise down to Chalon-sur-Sâone was a short one and we knew we would be whizzing straight past on a downstream current so we visited Chalon by bus! The old town near the river is a fascinating place to walk around.

Now for our river trip on the Sâone and Rhone!

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Roanne and Return

Three days getting there from Diou; three days RnR at Roanne; two days back to Digoin, although maybe the RnR was more Rock n Roll than Rest n Relaxation because we picked up 17-yearolds Keeva and Abi while in Roanne!

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So it started calmly enough – in fact very gentle and peaceful; we liked it! We came form Diou and did a smart turn to starboard into the Roanne to Digoin canal, 56kms.

The first lock, going up, was automatic; “are we know all about this”, we thought. Then the next included an éclusier who let us know they would be with us at the third – Chassenard – a 6m deep lock (gulp!).

The lock has interesting old hooks on the wall that barges used to use for their ropes and gradually move up, or down, with the water. These days the éclusier lowers a rope with a hook on it to take your rope up, out of sights, and round a bollard on the quay; very civilised.

La Beaume mooring

La Beaume mooring

After three locks, and a later than usual start from Diou, we decided to moor up at la Beaume. The official quay was full, but a well placed one of trees acted as an additional series of mooring posts and we soon tied up in the glancing evening sunlight.

A stroll after supper led to the surprise discovery of a stork in a field, hoovering up grain spilt during a recent harvesting.  These were the prelude to seeing 14 storks stocking up in another field the next day. We are just not used to storks! Wow!

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le Beaume evening sky

 

The light was magical, with mini rainbows flickering among the sunset clouds.

 

 

 

 

 

Next day was to be a 20km day to Artaix, rising up through (what we thought was) the deepest lock in the French waterway network. It turns our that there are even deeper ones in store on La Rhone – more of that in weeks to come.

There was much to see along the way – such a variety of buildings, bridges, glimpses of La Loire and insect/butterfly life.

 

All of this relaxed us for the expected excitement ahead – rising up in our first 7.2 metre lock, Bourg-Le-Compte. That’s 23 and a half feet – the height of a house.

As we got closer we noticed as the giant downstream doors opened that only the bottom half of each door moved.  We could see at the end of the cavernous chamber water already pouring in through various leaks and, as we got closer, slimy ladders reaching skywards on each wall.

The éclusier pulled our ropes up on his hook and we held on tight for the elevation. It was a very smooth ride; we emerged 20 foot up, and glided out to the next pound.

We passed a nice mooring in a basin just outside Artaix and continued to our anticipated mooring closer to the village …. oh no! The map had misled us, and the mooring place we were aiming for did not exist; it was behind us in the nice basin!

So we left that one for our return trip, and carried on to Les Poteaux, jumping ashore with stakes and a hammer to moor by a bridge. We had a noisy evening (neighbours!) but from 10pm a quiet night, waking to another blue sky summer morning.

Just the run up to Roanne to do now – easy n a day; 26 kms and 3 locks. Along the way we saw the big bridge over La Loire to Iguerande, with Mailly on the hill beyond, and the tight squeeze Pont Dupian just after; all definitely worth a visit next time! But this time we have to arrive, shop, hire car and collect grand-daughter plus friend.

Potteaux after

By mid-morning we were going past Briennon – what an attractive little port! But with nowhere to easily moor we thought we would carry on through the next two locks before éclusier déjeuner time. We ate as we motored and pleasingly arrived at the lock into Roanne port just before 1pm.

After a short wait we were up and into the port, with directions towards a mooring space towards the far end.

That evening there was music in the market place so after a wander round town to admire some old buildings and amazing trompe d’oeil we sat by the fountain listening to the music and watching the crowds.

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Flybe flight arrives form Southampton.

After a day of rest and pottering it was Saturday and we were off to rediscover other modes of transport!  The hire car, a modest Nissan Micra, ‘cheapest-you’ve got’, went so fast after our pedestrian 6km per hour for the past 4 months. And seeing planes arrive and depart at the airport was a stark, noisy, reminder of the life outside the canal network.

If you have read Keeva and Abi’s blog about their days on the boat, this may seem a bit similar, but then we were on the same boat.

The girls plan was to get a tan; simple. Except as we drove back from the airport the storm clouds gathered ……..

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….. and once back on the boat a massive electric storm hit Roanne – rain, thunder and lightning all around us.  I could sense the disappointment emanating from the girls.

 

 

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Sort of lardy cake studded with pink pralines

 

Next day was cloudy, but dry so they put on their shorts ready for the sun.  We set out for the obligatory croissants and pain au chocolat for breakfast, plus the Roanne yummy speciality ‘La Pralaline” – a chintzy looking pink confection that is much nicer than it looks!

 

 

Then a walk round town to choose a restaurant for K&A to eat at that evening. It was Sunday. Roxanne has a very traditional attitude to Sunday! Just about everything – shops, cafés, bars, museums – was shut!

But Keeva has fun ion the fountains, and we did find one restaurant that was open Sunday evening; the girls photographed the menu so that they could translate it back on the boat.

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A&K at Roanne Plage

We walked round the port, dropping in at Roanne Plage, a place whose name had offered spot much fun, but is actually a large sandpit with a café and a fountain.

Things looked up that afternoon. The sun came out and we went to the outdoor pool, with water slides, flumes, lots of water, and virtually no other people!

That evening they went out for their meal while Stu and I prepared for the next day’s cruise.

The return trip

Quite amusing to travel back on he same waterway, but this time in the company of two lively teenagers.

It was still and quiet during the day as they took in the sun and began to achieve their tanning objective.

Bit more hectic when we went for a countryside stroll in the evening, round the sleepy, scarecrow invaded, village of Artaix.

Getting back to the actual journey …. having set off at 10 we stopped at Briennon for lunch. There is a wonderful dinosaur of a crane on the quayside, interesting buildings and a view out to distant hills.

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North of Briennon

The canal passes through gentle countryside with enough straight stretches for the girls to take driving lessons from the Captain – even I had took the wheel for a change.

We moored up at the Artaix basin that we had missed on the way up – and it was as lovely as it had looked, though quite busy with boats and camper vans.

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Artaix basin mooring

After supper we went on the aforementioned scarecrow walk, and found other points of interest in Artaix.

They have an old weigh bridge, complete with the weigh master’s little office, weights and scales. And  in Fenruary 1933 the canal collapsed near Artaix – a major catastrophe. We walked back via a footpath and bridge over L’Arçon river, quite small at this point.

Next morning broke bright and sunny. We were off to complete the canal and get round the corner to Digoin.

Random old artefacts kept me amused as usual.

Then we were back at our 7.2m lock, this time to go down, with the girls decorating the foredeck. Stu got the chance to step off and help with the gates; I got the chance to photograph the turning mechanism of the gates!

The canal from Bourg-Le-Compte to the end was peaceful and pleasant, passing by our night’s mooring form a few days ago near Le Baume, and gradually working our way up to join the Canal du Centre.

To be faithful to the title of this bloglet I should end here, but with just 36 hours left of the girl’s sojourn with us I am including a little of those last hours.

 

We had an evening’s mooring just outside Digoin, but close enough to walk in over the amazing viaduct and have a beer in the centre together.

IMG_1420And then our last day voyaging together, over the viaduct, up to Paray-Le-Monial. It was another blisteringly hot day with plenty of sunbathing opportunities, and another outdoor pool to enjoy in Paray once we arrived.

That evening we went out together in the warm sunshine, taking a quick tour of Paray’s lovely buildings, stopping off at a bar or a drink (once the kids chose what they wanted!), and then a meal to suit us all overlooking the river and the Basilica.

It would not be complete without the famous Oreo photo, and the cat who looked on.

It was helpful, fun and lively having this two on board. Sorry to say goodbye.

 

 

 

Abi nd Keevas adventures

For those who have read more of my bloglets, this chapter is written by grand-daughter Keeva and good mate Abi after their stay with us. Trés amusant.

 

Day One:

IMG_1278First we arrived in Lyon airport, we need a wee so we went to the toilet. They were clean. We didn’t know how to get out so we had find the exit. We found it. We met with granny and step and gave them a huge hug. Granny had lost her phone so we had to go to the information desk to find it. IMG_4211

We found the car and then we drove to Roanne where we ate quiche whilst watching the thunder storm.

 

 

 

 

Day Two: We woke up and it was really cloudy and then in rained but we went to get croissants, a pain au chocolat and a baguette for lunch.

We came back and decided to go around for a walk, we explored the town and ‘La Plage’,
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and made a major purchase – white chocolate Oreo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When the sun came out so we decided to go to the swim park for a few hours. Keeva got whiplash and Abi’s tooth stayed in.

The sun came out for a bit at the water park. We went down the couple of slides they had about 500 times, as it was completely empty.

In the evening we went out for a french meal by ourselves and had speak french. Bonjour. Bon Appetit. J’adore le fromage.

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Day 3: We set off from Roanne at 9am and went on a trip to Artaix along the canal, where we moored for the night.

On the way we sunbathed all day and went through some deep locks.

We went for a walk into the village when we arrived in Artaix, there wasn’t much there but we made some mates; they were scarecrows.

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At the end of the walk we found the boat again!

 

 

 

 

 

Day 4: We travelled along the canal all day again and sunbathed in the hot sun.

IMG_1375We went through the deepest lock, it was quite a shock, i’ve got a word block, Abi heard a knock, when i hit my head. Photo on 03-08-2016 at 22.21

 

this is us trying to drive the boat; its hard. Don’t do it. Abi just did it for a pic. xx

We arrived at Digoin that afternoon and walked into the town and had a beer (Granny had a beer; the girls had coke).

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Abi brought us a pudding, thanks u legend 🙂 x

 

Day 5: Today we got too hot because it was 34 degrees so we went to another swim park, it had diving boards.

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We are in Paray-le-monial.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We went out in the evening for a drink,

we had ananas and Malibu,

and a lovely meal, yum yum.

IMG_9813Tonights our last night.

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Au revoir France

 

Lateral to La Loire

We said good-bye to the Canal de Nivernais at Decize, but still had a few more days before we were to say good-bye to Jenny and  Charlie so as a boatload of 4 we voyaged down a small section of La Loire to join the lateral canal.

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Decize

Two seemingly big, adjacent, locks called Ter and Bis act as the barrier between river and canal and we approached with caution the blue rope ‘pull’ that would prepare and one the first lock for us.

The doors were a new fascination, having a ‘window feature’ at the top allowing us to see in and through each lock. I guess these are filled in when the river is in flood.

It’s great having guests aboard who are comfortable with the lines, allowing this totally amateur photographer time off for a few extra shots! Thanks Jenny.

Once the two locks were traversed, quite simply as it happens, our joint reward was time off on the front deck taking in the scenery.

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Locks with 2 vantelles per porte

 

I noticed on the Canal latèral à la Loire that the locks were different again from other canals. For example each gate, or porte, has two vantelles, or paddles, allowing more control over the rate and direction of water flow into the lock. On the whole this resulted in a smoother climb for Calliope and crew.

 

 

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Stu and Charlie moving on upstream

The day was fine and the journey relatively undemanding, with only 5 locks after Ter and Bis. Charlie and Stu took turns at the helm while Jenny and I took in the view.

Nature had some surprises for us. Stu noticed two storks standing in their nest atop a telegraph pole some three hundred yards from the canal and despite distance and the movement of the boat I caught a ‘not-too-fuzzy’ photo.

Then there was the amazing living slime on a lock wall – what is that stuff??

And the baby poule d’eau (moorhen) found by the éclusier in the swirl of scum and weed by the lock gate, followed by a second found by me, its little head just trying to lift and breathe through the mess. The éclusier’s wife took them in to care for.

We had chosen our mooring for the night with care – Les Vanneaux – because it had a restaurant and our guests had offered to take us for a meal. Having moored up right beside the restaurant we approached with fingers crossed as it was Sunday and highly likely to be closed on the evening ……. but we were in luck. A simple barbecue menu was on offer each evening from Thursday to Sunday. Stewart and I enjoyed both our treat and the company!

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Les Vanneaux morning mist

Next morning we awoke to an eerie mist across the river, lending quite a magical feel to the start of the day. It soon cleared and by the time we were on our way the sun had swept up the moisture; another blue blue day began.

There was a definite new confidence to the crew; Jenny was throwing ropes onto bollards with far more ease and Charlie was understanding how a cumbersome barge reacts, compared to his beautiful sleek sailing yacht. Look – no hands . . . . . 

VAnneaux, after, Besbere lock

Besbre lock

Needing bread for lunch we stopped at Garnat-sur-Engiêvre and walked into the village – but all was shut on a Monday, so back to the boat and onward upstream to Beaulon where there was the promise of ‘lundi pain’. The captain took the opportunity to stretch his legs, which were stretched more than expected! He was gone for half an hour or more, returning with packaged pancakes, croissants and sliced brioche; all he could find left on a Monday shelf in the one small shop open. It was an interesting lunch (not . . )

Hunger sated for now we moved on towards Diou, are stop for the night. On the way we went through and over the lock and viaduct near Dompierre. The latter took us over little the river Besbre which joined La Loire about 4km down.

The last night’s stop for Jenny and Charlie was at Diou. We had hoped to moor on the quay, but when we arrived it was full so we pulled out the stakes and hammer and moored up on the grass bank. Next day, as the photos declare, our friends on Piper boat Rangali left the quay to go downstream.

A rare photo of Stu and I on the back deck was taken by Charlie. Thanks mate!

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The Loire at Diou with Charlie and Jenny

That evening and next morning we wandered round Diou, admiring its stretch of La Loire, the church, useful small shop, excellent boulangerie, and an ancient wine press (??) hidden in the corner of an ancient garage.coach house.

Diou still has a decidedly rural feel, so plenty of opportunities to see cows, donkeys and ponies!

At 11am it was time for Jenny and Charlie to swap barge travel for the faster alternatives of taxi, train, plane and ferry to return to the Isle of Wight.  We waved good bye, then headed for the short stretch of canal towards Digoin.

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Changing canals again

Just before Digoin we saw the right hand turn towards Roanne – 56kms – and left the Canal Lateral á La Loire for a week or so.

Our objective? To reach Roanne in time to tidyup  boat, shop, and hire a car – then collect Keeva and Abi from Lyon airport; the next episode will describe it all.