part 2 – Mulhouse to Saint-Jean-de-Losne including a tiny bit of La Saône
10th to 22nd September 2022
Saturday was rather another rather long, and initially wet, day, travelling from Mulhouse to Dannemarie. For this section of the canal we had to have an éclusier with us, although the stretch is being automated and within a year or two I expect it will all be operated by remote control in the hand of the boater.
This is both good and bad – good for the independence of the boater, but bad and sad for the éclusiers who lose their livelihoods.
Initially we were accompanied by one éclusier on a VNF motor scooter; he was a friendly and helpful guy, chatting away to me; I replied in my brokn French, and we mostly seemed to understand once an other.
He remained cheerful in his wet weather gear even though travelling on his motor scooter between the locks.
We were to travel 23 kilometres, and with as many locks – uphill. We set off, as mentioned, in the pouring rain and for the first couple of hours it continued to pour.
So rope crew was determined to be as cheerful as the éclusier, bundled into her wet weather gear too. (To be honest I rather like the rain – very refreshing after the hot summer).
We quickly left the town behind us and enjoyed the open views – and duckweed topped waters! The green set off my few paltry sunflowers rather well.
The duckweed also gave me a chance to muck about with shadows (yes, the sun made an appearance), and to enjoy the green lace patterns we left in our wake.
The locks felt quite narrow on they stretch. Officially they are 5.2m wide, and Calliope is 4.2m wide – so theoretically there is half a metre spare each side. It sometimes doesn’t feel like that, especially with an audience. But slowly does it, and we ease in smoothly.
This one is at Heidviller.
The skies continued grey, though not wet, as we passed by Eglingen and the 15th lock of the day. Only another 8 to go!
But after that the weather gradually improved, with the sun coming out between the clouds. It became noticeably windier as we climbed upwards into the hills, and the terrain changed too.
After 7 hours continuous travel, with lunch taken on the move, we arrived at Dannemarie with its wide basin, small port and a mooring under the pine trees for Calliope. Phew!
It is a nice place to be – calm and interesting. I had a quick recce up the hill into the town, finding a small Super U supermarket for beer replenishment (we had given all we had to the éclusiers who had worked hard all day alongside us) and found a boulangerie for next morning.
I didn’t have time to properly explore the town, but did notice that there was a stork nest on the chimney of the town hall.
Other than that we settled for a quiet night to rest our weary bones.
The next day, Sunday, was to be our last ascending the hills and locks.
It was just the most lovely autumn day to go – blue skies, light winds and a few scudding clouds. (Does anything scud other than a cloud?) So much better than the drenching we had the day before.
As were moored just in front of the lock and as we prepared to leave a boat came down through the lock, and slowed down next to a Calliope. It turned out to be Paul and Desirée who have been following this blog for awhile. (Thank you. I really am surprised and flattered when I meet anyone who reads my outpourings). Here they are, almost in silhouette against the morning sun. Happy cruising to them both, on Anna Sophia.
We were soon onto our second major day upwards, this time including a final rise of 9 locks in 1.5kms, and in total 15 over 4.5kms. But we began, as we left Dannemarie, going over a small ‘pont canal’, or aqueduct, over the river La Largue.
I can see it was time I cleaned the paintwork, but when you have lots of locks, and therefore lots of rope throwing, on a wet day things do get a bit mud-stained, including me.
Let’s look at the locks first. Here is the flight of 9. Basically it is out of one, across a short pond, and into the next. They were all between 2m and 3m deep, so not difficult, and through great countryside.
It was also made easy for us by the éclusiers.
We had a good team with us. Our main (young) man for the day was Gabriel, but his colleagues came and went during the ascent to help, chat, or simply enjoy the view.
We handed out tea, coffee and b biscuits to keep everyone going.
The locks along this part are set with a water level that means the water runs over the top gate to meet you like a waterfall as you enter.
With the sun out much of the time it gave an extra sparkle to the day.
It was a three hour trip to cover the 4.5kms – makes me smile to write that; snail’s pace!. Looking down we could see what we had jointly achieved. We were about 40m further up into the hills.
Let’s have a quick focus on nature because along the way I collected photos of a lock-side flowers and a heron taking off. Here they all are.
It was a very pink day, apart from the heron.
And I took photos of something else that always fascinates me – the grooves in the tops of the lock walls caused by countless ropes over a couple of centuries.
It makes you think back over the centuries – this canal has been open since 1834, so almost two hundred years.
At the top of the last lock up our éclusier Gabriel handed over our new box of tricks.
We have had many telecommands (remote controls) for locks over the years …..
…. but this was a new version – larger, in a box and with a charger.
Interesting; and nice to be back in charge of our own lock operation – and going downhill!
Let’s see how we get on with that for the rest of our journey on this canal.
(I probably should have trimmed the bottom off this photo. Apologies for my toes, complete with the chipped remains off bright blue nail varnish for my niece’s wedding – or perhaps, if I’m lucky, you haven’t noticed.)
So we continued on alone, waving goodbye to Gabriel and his manager, who now both had the rest of the day off. We cruised, without locks, for 5 kilometres – essentially along the top of a range of hills.
By mid afternoon we were approaching the mooring for the night – Montreux-Chateau. At first we thought there was no space for us, but as we passed the big restaurant barge a big long empty quay opened up to our view and we tied up with glee.
Blue skies and reflections to be enjoyed for the rest of the day.
After a quick wash down of the decks and bollards (they get somewhat muddy after 37 locks as mentioned before) we both had a well earned rest.
A short walk in the afternoon disclosed that there is no longer a chateau here. All that is left is a small grassy knoll and the lavoir that was part of the chateau’s out buildings.
But we did find a small supermarket that was open next morning for a quick trip to get bread and a few things we had run out of.
The evening there was perfect – quiet and with wonderful skies. The sun set to the West and later a big moon rose in the East.
A drop of wine before supper and a meal of turkey escalopes, new potatoes, green beans, and a rather special parsley sauce (my secret recipe) set us up to enjoy the tranquility.
It certainly suited a Captain who had driven Calliope into 38 locks over the past two cruising days, each one only 1 metre wider than our ship!
Time to relax.
On Monday we were set for a different direction; downwards!
Everything started off beautifully this morning. We were all prepared with our new telecommand, but then an eclusier appeared to let us know he would be accompanying us for the first few locks as they sometimes had problems with the lock doors opening.
So he prepared and operated lock one, and the next few as well.
At the second lock I saw him eating a nice apple and he pointed across at the fruit tree laden on the other side of the water. Seeing my envious eyes he picked me a juicy apple for me too.
I have mentioned before how fruit and nut trees were planted at many of the locks, allowing Bargees and their families access to fresh produce as they worked. here wass another example.
I had heard that this was a lovely canal to cruise and we had lovely scenery all day. We began to see cattle – always a treat for me.
I think these are the famous, and delicious (sorry vegetarians) Charolais.
There were also some interesting obstacles, including a swing bridge, operated by our happy lock keeper and the ‘pont tournant de Froidefontaine. We did not get to see the ‘cold fountain’, if indeed it even still exists.
We had been cruising along close to both Le Bourbeuse and l’Allan rivers.
Now, just after écluse 7, it was time for them both to enter the canal and for a while the three waterways were as one, although it would not be long before the canal took over again.
4 kilometres further on Captain Stu had to take a sharp turn to port into a narrow aqueduct over river l’Allan, followed immediately by a lock. By now we were alone, operating the locks with our super-large telecommand. So we were glad to get the green and red lights, meaning that the lock was preparing for us, before Calliope set forth across the aqueduct!
As you can see the aqueduct was definitely narrow!
In fact not much spacer to spare either side!
But lovely views down onto l’Allan either side. As crew I get time to look at the view, and to take photos!
That lock gave me a bit of a surprise; at each lock you push up the blue lever to set it in motion; an alarm bell rings to indicate the lock gates are closing.
On this occasion the bell alarmed a nest of wasps in a hole at the top of the mechanism and they flew out towards me.
I think I then became the more alarmed of everything in the area! But no stings so all was well. You can just see two of the wasps in this photo.
The meanderings of l’Allan continued, this time joining us just after lock 12 at the point where another river, la Savoureuse, entered the downstream flow.
These junctions always add interest, and sometimes add a degree of difficulty, depending on how strong the current is that comes in from the side.
On this occasion we were met by a double red light, meaning ‘en pann’, or ‘lock not operating’. So we sat back, had lunch, and waited for assistance!
It wasn’t long before a helpful VNF man arrived and had us in the lock, looking out over the drop to the river below. Once we had descended we only had 5kms, I lock, and a few bridges to go under before we reached Montbéliard and our stop for the night.
We had been told that the section of quay outside the VNF offices at Montbéliard was both a nice place to moor, and free. It is just beyond the main port de plaisance and we could not see if it was empty until we turned the corner of the port pontoons. Hooray, it was empty!
We took a walk up into the famous old town, ‘sight-seeing’ for a while before finding a good local bar that was open on a Monday. (Just in case shopping and eating out in France is a new experience to you, the majority of shops, bars and restaurants are closed on a Monday).
Returning to Calliope for the rest of the evening we were rewarded with one of the most beautiful sunset skies we have had this summer.
The following day we left Montbéliard, and we started off with a series of ‘narrows’. We were slightly caught unaware at first but a closer look at the map showed where each one was coming. They were due to the canal being squeezed between a road on one side and the river on the other. Some lead to locks, some lead to bridges, and some simply narrowed and then broadened out again.
We were again surprised to be joined by an éclusier even though we had our remote control. This whole section is fairly recently automated and there seem to be occasional problems and so it is easier to send an éclusier along to accompany a boat and deal with issues as they arise, rather than have to send someone out when a phone call is made by a stranded boater.
Along the way we saw a hopeful heron, patiently waiting for the fisherman to decide to throw away some small fry – just right for breakfast!
As always there was wonderful view after stunning scene – so difficult knowing which photos to include.
This one is not exactly stunning, but shows a village rather than fields – Dampierre-sur-le-Doubs.
Churches dominate the landscape time and again.
Just over a kilometre after Dampierre we had a short stop. Today’s cheerful Eclusiers did want to take his one and a half hour lunch break -something that didn’t happen with our accompanying lock keepers over the past few days.
That was okay; we were happy to more up for a while for our lunch and then carry on to the lift Bridge where we had agreed to meet at 1:30.
In fact he got sent off to deal with something else and we were left waiting for an extra half hour until he could rejoin us. Once we realised that he was not at the bridge the Captain went astern and onto a VNF quay nearby; it provided a convenient place to tie up to while we waited!
It was around here somewhere that we were joined in our downward journey by a little frog, jauntily clinging to some weed that had got wrapped round the blue operating lever of the lock.
At one point the canal crossed the river Doubs – a crossing that must be quite exciting when the river is in flood.
We were going right to left on the map.
Luckily for us it was a calm day and we could enjoy the view. The bridge ‘above’ Calliope’s wheelhouse is the bridge across the Doubs seen on the map; the red buoys are visible too.
We had been heading for a mooring at l’Isle-sun-le Doubs, but decided on an earlier stop after our delay. Both the eclusiers and the DBA recommended a wooden pontoon out in the country, very peaceful and quiet. We moored up there and it was just as promised.
It’s an unusual mooring. There are not many pontoons this long next to locks on this canal.
The DBA Waterways Guide describes it as “19 steel piles at 5m intervals 3m from bank with a wooden walkway the whole length” – and that is just what it is!
We took a walk round the little local village (Colombier-Châtelot), scarcely more than a hamlet, where a large stream flows through and has obviously powered a mill in the past. It also must have supplied water for this lovely stone structure – simple lavoir or cattle trough?? I think the former because of the groove to allow water to flow out at the lower end.
Later, after our supper, we were joined by another boat on the pontoon. It was a bit of a surprise as they arrived just after 7pm, which is when the ,locks close for the night and you imagine no more boats will be moving around!
Stu went to help them moor up – loads of room for us both – and we then enjoyed getting to know the crew of Ziggy B on our back deck.
Kimberly is a member of Women on Barges, as am I, so we were both pleased to meet.
The rest of the evening was one of those magical completely quiet, completely dark times that we treasure.
And still warm enough to sit out on the back deck too.
On a bright blue morning we carried on downstream, leaving our new friends behind.
Now we really did seem to be in control of our destiny.
Telecommand in hand we were set for the 13 locks of the day.
We were clearly right alongside the river Doubs now – in fact we were squeezed between the rocky cliff of the valley and the river itself, as you can see at this lock.
We were now seeing an interesting, and useful, addition to the lock signage here. The lock number is shown on the ‘traffic light’ – here you can just see Ec.25 next to the green light. This is all part of the modernisation of the locks on this side of the canal, and links in with the remote control system we were using.
We soon reached l’Isle-sur-le-Doubs where we had been thinking of staying for the previous night.
There is a short by-pass canal here, including a lock at each end and a lock in the centre of the town, with a tiny ex-lock keepers cottage next to it.
Before we left town we moored up right next to an Intermarche supermarket; very handy if you are getting low on milk, bread and fresh veg.
The lock at the other end of the ‘by-pass’ took us back onto the river again. We love being on rivers – so wide, so scenic, so full of interest.
Here is Calliope leaving the lock – number 27, as shown on the sign.
And here is Calliope two moinuites later, heading downstream between the navigational buoys, there to keep us away from sandbanks and other obstacles.
We started going through some lovely little locks at the side of big wide weirs and I began to understand why so many people have said that we had to go on the river Doubs.
At this one the lock keepers house is now a VNF office. I took the photo of the doorway because it made me smile that we were now in a region that included the Mediterranean! Google maps tells me that it is over 600kms to get there.
Many of these locks had a short ‘lead in’ canal at the side of the river. Most of these had a ‘gard’ at the end – a door that can be shit to guard against floods. These are not always set at the easiest angle, and are frequently narrow – and picturesque!
This one is at Rang, and a bit different. It is just over 3lkms long and contains two locks, dropping Calliope calmly down over 5m while the Doubs rushed along to port, dropping the same amount in a more chaotic fashion.
The day was rather grey. The scenery was not shown off to its best effect. We were travelling along a steep sided tree-clad valley with sudden splashed of colour as we passed through villages such as this one – Clerval.
It’s not often that I get a chance to see a lock from this perspective. This was our last lock of the day and I was able to walk back to a bridge that overlooked it. It is one of the locks without a ‘lead in canal’. There is a 100m wall above the lock separating it from the weir – not easy to see in this photo.
I had chosen a mooring by another of these locks, out in the middle of the countryside, but when we got to it it was clear that we could not stay there for the night. So we carried on a few kilometres and a couple more locks until we reached this one.
And here we found a pontoon below the lock, at Hyèvre-Magny, that we could tie up to. Quite a relief after a longish day.
Officially it is awaiting pontoon for the lock but by that time of day and this time of year it was unlikely that any other boats would be coming past. If they did, and they needed the pontoon, obviously we would move but luckily that didn’t happen.
It was tempting just to stay on board and enjoy the surroundings but I made the effort to go for a short walk using a narrow bridge to cross the river and take a look at the nearby village.
It was worth making the effort because I found a lavoir!
Maybe I should quickly explain my love of lavoirs.
I think it is the idea of the community that must’ve gathered around these laundry washing places, the sharing of joys and troubles that went on there for decades.
It was quite gloomy by time I got to this lavoir, so not so easy to se the features under the old beamed roof. But you can se the separate stone tanks of water, the fresh water constantly pouring in at one end, and the wooden pegs to hang things up.
It flowing water is one of the aspects of the lavoir that appeals to me – constantly renewed rinsing water. albeit also constantly cold!
Back on board we had a peaceful night with the only sounds being the water falling over the local weir and an owl.
We woke up to heavy rain and that continued almost the entire day. There were just one or two short breaks that got one’s hopes up, only to be followed by the next downpour.
Nonetheless we were able to enjoy our trip down the river because of the stunning scenery, rock faces, kingfishers, and general movement of the water.
Some of the locks were more exciting than others. Many of them were simple falls of around 1m and easy to negotiate.
Several had very narrow channels leading from the main stream to the lock – and rather shallow at the edges too after this hot summer, so not so easy. Of course the day’s rain was exceptionally welcome to replenish these waterways!
Another lock completely fooled me. It had very high sides as we came in, with the bollards we should secure too way up above us on the quay. I felt that it was a lock in which I would be going up, so put a rope around a sliding pole above the median horizontal bar. And of course we started to go down! We are going downstream after all! What an idiot. Luckily I realised in time and got my rope where it needed to be before it got stuck.
Then there was a lock was adjacent to an old industrial mill. The mill race took water from the lock channel and whooshed it to one side, causing unexpected side currents- but Captain Stu was his usual capable self and kept Calliope on course. The photo is of us leaving the lock.
The ‘lock’ in the photo above is a temporary lock. On the day that we went through the flow on the river was low enough for us to drive straight through, but when the waters rise a lock can be brought into service here. The ‘quay’ is a floating pontoon that allows for whatever level of water there is at a particular time; ingenious.
We thought we would moor up above the last ‘different’ lock of the day – a double lock. When we tied up we realised it was right by a busy rural road. Looking over the ‘cliff edge’ of the double lock we could see a much quieter pontoon below, much like the one from the night before.
So we untied, went into the double lock, and descended to the river.
A double lock is where you exit one lock chamber straight into another, thereby stepping down twice. It dropped down over 6m in total; here we are moving form lock 1 to lock 2 – half way down.
And here we are, just below Deluz, waiting to enjoy a marvellous sunset as the clouds gradually, finally disperse.
And when the skies did turn red/orange/pink I was on hand to take a photo – and Stu was on hand to take a photo of me!
The next day was Friday – 4 days until we were due in Saint-Jean-de-Losne. We needed to keep moving.
It was still grey as we continued our journey on towards the Saone.
There were not many locks on this day, but as usual they were next to weirs on the river.
The weirs were beginning to look a little more exciting, what with all the rain and us being further downstream with other rivers joining in all the time,
Two hours and only two locks on we are on the outskirts of Besançon, looking up at the massive Vauban citadel on the hill above the city.
We arrived in Besançon with a plan – cut the loop off by going through the tunnel (souterrain) and moor up just the other end.
But that mooring – two 15m pontoons – was full!
So a quick re-plan was required and I booked us into the port – back the other end of the tunnel. This meant that instead of another tunnel trip we could go round the Besançon river loop and see the city. With that positive news in mind we put lunch out of our minds for a while and enjoyed the view of city walls.
The port said we must go through the manual lock – yeah, like there is a manual lock still on this river/canal! Must be a translation issue!
Until we got to the lock! Very pretty and next to an old mill. So we had fun working out who would do what off the two of us, tying up, emptying the lock, driving in and securing, filling the ,lock, and out.
Needless to say Stu did all the difficult stuff while I pushed and pulled and turned handles and wheels – and took photos!
But once moored up we were in a good position on Quai Des Artes to both visit the city and later to join our new friends on board Ziggy for cocktails – a very sophisticated experience!
Of course we could not stop to enjoy Besançon for an other day because of our rush to St Jean de Losne – but I suspect we will be back.
So next morning, cold and grey though it was, we were off at 9.30, after my mad dash to a boulangerie for a very good baguette. We had to go back through the tunnel under the citadelle again, but this time at the end we turned left instead of right and into the next lock down.
I completely lost my sense off direction and was momentarily alarmed when the Captain went to port out of the lock, but of course he was right! We joined quite a strong downstream current, following the heavy rain of a few days ago, and looking back to bid farewell to the citadel.
This made entering the next lock more than difficult. It is beside a big weir which was sufficiently angry to try to pull Calliope sideways as we entered the lock. The captain did very well!
Once in the lock Stu thought it advisable to put his rope around the sliding pole instead of a bollard. In attempting this, from above, his shoulder nudged the alarm cord which was so sensitive that it set off the alarm! Funny really, but one does not like to alarm the éclusiers so I called up to explain that there was not a problem. Nonetheless in order to allow the lock to continue its operation someone had to come and reset the lock. He was verge good about it.
We did not have to wait long and were on our way again, having apologised to the VNF.
To be honest this was not the easiest of days. But as always we rose to each challenge that came our way. Stewart had got steer through many narrow bridges and ‘gardes’ (like a lock but with no change of level and there to stop any flood waters going down the canalised parts).
One little diversion was going through a second tunnel – this time the Souterrain de Thoraise. It has been made interesting by a Danish artist who has had some LED light strings installed through the tunnel roof, and a watershed at the Eastern entrance that stops before you enter, then re-starts behind you. There are some chrome tube sculptures at the western end.
11 kilometres further on we went through lock 58A and just below found another perfect pontoon for the night. The Captain is showing his delight at this beautiful setting. Once more it is officially a waiting pontoon for the lock, but arriving not long before the lock ‘closed’ for the night we decided all would be well.
In fact all was very well! The evening sky was one of the most beautiful we had enjoyed and there was scarcely a sound other than the splash of jumping fish and birds singing their way to bed.
We watched with delight as the sun burnt the mist off the water tin the morning, waiting just long enough for the river to be clear and bright before we left.
Here I am, wonky glasses, enjoying that early morning sun on my face and the gently switch of Calliope moving downstream.
It is moments like this that constantly remind me how overwhelmingly lucky I am to be living this life on the water.
We had set ourselves a 28km target cruise for the day. It was easy to achieve in such lovely weather and along an extraordinarily beautiful stretch of the Doubs. It was no wonder fishermen and swans were out there sharing it with us!
We passed by the village of Ranchot with its marvellous angled weir.
The short canal that by-passes the weir ends up with a lock (as usual) and then a long curved wall separating it from the main river; yet another magnificent view.
There were narrow sections again, to complement the wide open scenes. This is the start of a canalised section that runs alongside the river from Orchamps to Dole.
It includes, at its upstream end, this high walled section and écluse de garden.
By 2pm we were entering the avenue of plane trees that lead into Dole. We were aware of the possibility of no space for us on the quay at Dole; it is a very popular place to stop, so we were on the look out for an alternative.
And here it is – our alternative. We moored above Dole, just above the Charles Quint lock. On this occasion there was no sign about it being a waiting pontoon, so we felt good tying up here.
I went for a quick walk round Dole, main ly so that I knew where the boulangerie was for the next morning.
These few photos do not do justice to an amazing small town – where Louis Pasteur was born . It is absolutely lovely. There is a characterful inner moat with old houses and restaurants lining the quay and plenty of narrow lanes and allies to explore.
Yet again we had landed somewhere for just one night that definitely requires a return visit.
Monday was our last day to reach Saint-Jean-De-Losne and the town quay where we hoped to meet up with Simon Piper of Piper Boats.
It was also the day of Queen Elizabeth II state funeral; a sad, ceremonial, reflective day.
I made my dash to the closest open boulangerie for a nice fresh baguette. That meant we could cruise through lunch with a crusty sandwich in hand.
And then we were off, passing through the Dole marina area and round the city wall.
On leaving Dole we joined a lovely open river and headed across it towards the next lock, in sight and just a kilometre and a half away. We approached and saw a red light, partly open gates, but no boat emerging. It didn’t make sense. Using our remote control made no difference and we pulled into the waiting pontoon.
Up jumps crew to go and report the ‘en pan’ lock. I used the automatic connection to the VNF office that is on the side of most lock huts, and was told someone would be sent to help us.
After about 20 minutes a van pulled up on the other side of the lock and a man started to work on the weed clearing machine at the side of the lock – was that perhaps the problem? After a further 10 minutes, and no sign that the man recognised our plight, I went back to the lock and explained.
Ah! Now he understood why we were on the waiting pontoon – and two other boats were wallowing about on the river behind us, both also waiting for the lock. His job was weed clearance, but he would help us. He went to the lock controls and soon the gates fully opened – to reveal a large tree trunk that presumably had been trapping the doors.
Together, with a variety of boat hooks, rakes and rope, we managed to bring the log to one side of the lock and secure it to the ladder. Hooray. At last the lock could operate, and we could all proceed.
We went on through a mix of fields and huge chemical works, but few photos were taken as I was using my iPhone to watch as much of the state funeral as I could, and have the two minutes silence together with the rest of the British nation.
It was not too long before we were at last kilometre of the canal, and its final three locks. The first two are each alongside beautiful old mills as shown above; a very peaceful setting near a village called St-Symphorien-sur-Saône.
Then into the final lock, number 75, where we handed back our telecommand and soon found ourselves out onto La Saône
It is only 4 kilometres from St Symphorien to Saint-Jean-de-Losne so it was not long until we were moored up on the stepped town quay. It is always an interesting place to tie up as you have to find the rings set at various places and levels on the steps, and make sure you have ropes long enough to secure your boat!
This time it did not take long and we sat back to relax and enjoy the end of another epic season, this time including time on 9 different rivers, and about 6 canals. The rivers were:
All that was left to do was to turn the corner into St Usage, where Calliope was to spend the winter, then go back to the UK and start planning for the 2023 cruising season!
Hope to see you all again in April