Over the top to Champagne

Canal Entre Champagne et Bourgogne

25th August to 11th September 2018

This is a seriously exciting and enjoyable canal. It is 224 km along with 43 locks on the way up and 71 locks on the way down plus a 5 km tunnel through the summit – the Balesmes tunnel.

E832CFE6-BA43-47C8-9C9C-9B71CE5B18A9It passes through glorious agricultural countryside, forests, villages and somewhat industrial areas with the kilometres marked off by small white stone markers all along the way. Nearly all of it is tranquil, very rural, and somehow real whilst totally charming.

It is also very different to the rivers we had just left, Le Rhône and La Sâone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After waking to a very misty morning in Maxilly Stewart and I jumped on our bikes and cycled off for a restock of the fridge and cupboard; There are very few shops on the way up to the summit!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then with provisions aboard and the Sun shining we set off for our first day on the canal. We covered 23 km on day one going through 10 locks and rising 30 m. We found a lovely lunch spot-very pleasant thing to be able to stop for lunch after all the full days on the rivers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We passed under the beautiful viaduc d’Oisilly, through plenty of locks ….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…. and eventually found a very tranquil mooring spot for the night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Next day was a shorter cruising day-only 17 km, nine locks, and 28 m up. We began to pass more livestock – mostly cattle, but occasionally a horse. And dragonflies appeared to join the journey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We arrive at Cusey in time for lunch and siesta, and then walk round the Village. This has obviously been a busy agricultural centre in the past, full of old barns and houses, and even 14th century Chateau.

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There were no people there to greet us but we did make one new friend.

 

 

 

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It was a peaceful mooring, even though a couple of other boats did arrive later to keep us company.

 

 

 

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The following day, Tuesday, began with a bit of boat cleaning. The heavy overnight dew provided just the right amount of water to clean the roof!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We only covered 14 km but we went up 14 locks taking us  41m higher.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The locks on this canal are mainly operated by a mix of a remote control, to prepare the lock and open the gates, and pulling blue levers (often rather slimy!) to fill or empty the lock.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For some reason the light was just right for photographs so I took quite a few; here are a couple with nice shadows, to my way of thinking.

6E6E359D-5BED-4A4B-A2B7-594A96000038At one point I jumped off the boat and ran, well sort of jogged, to get a photo of the Pont Canal de Badin from below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had by then begun a series of photos ‘through the galley window’, a couple reproduced here to show the varied buildings we passed by.

2A36F989-B09A-4202-9EC4-960946C09062We had not planned to go quite so far but it took a while to find a mooring. Eventually we stopped outside Villegusin-Le-lac under the trees; gentle light for the Captain and his crossword. (Oh, he and I together had cut off his curls a few days before, so here is the convict look!)

8EB90A44-8CC1-47E5-86B2-DBF68A92C385Once more there was time to eat, sleep and go for a walk. This time our new friend was a young Whip snake at the side of the road, behaving very bravely and threateningly given his size compared to mine!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are plenty of fruit trees bulging with ripe fruit, many just growing at the side of the canal or the road, so some scrumping was in order! This continued for the length of the canal, with me collecting and tasting lots of varieties of plums and apples, some eaten raw, and some cooked with added alcohol!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thunderstorms forecast for Wednesday so we decided to have a day moored up under the trees. Before the rain arrived I cycled back down the canal to Dommarien because I knew there was a Lavoir there – and as it turns out there is also a pretty bridge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That afternoon the storm arrived and the rain absolutely poured down! We stayed in snug and warm with cups of tea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then when it had abated we walked into Villegusin-le-Lac and found the one bar, attached to the one restaurant, and had a pleasant evening along with the locals.

9D57D254-F76C-4E0C-8C0E-986DCA568CB7Throughout the bad weather the big commercial barges must keep working. Many of them are quite new, but one beautiful old barge came past ……

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A good night’s sleep prepared us for what was to come – the final assault on the Saône side of the canal in order to reach the top. This meant 8 x 5m locks, each about half a kilometre apart, followed by the 5km tunnel. This required hours of concentration from Stewart, getting in and out of each lock without mishap, and then avoiding being sucked into the sides of the tunnel for an hour and a half!

2072489B-A6A0-4313-A2B5-186B44E3B721We stopped for a well earned lunch by the side of the canal and a field of 5 mares and 5 foals. Delightful. Then pressed on for two locks – downwards! – to reach Langres. We moored up with two other Piper boats, an unusual event since leaving the south where we were in the company of quite a few Piper owners.

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Distant view of Langres

Our objective in Langres was fuel. If you read the Sâone  chapter of our trip you may recall our need for diesel and ‘shock horror’ finding the expected pump on the Sâone closed. So it has been an ongoing concern.

So we made it to Langres and I thought it would be easy. But when I  phoned 4 companies who apparently deliver to boats all I got was ….. “non, non, non, non”.

Next day I asked the girl in the VNF office; she found a number, made a call for me, and before I could walk the 150 yards back to Calliope a tanker was drawing into the quay!

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Such a nice guy too, helpful as you like – and patient as well when we asked him for his slowest fill so we didn’t overflow. The only bit of an Oops was when we gave him our card to pay for it, and he apologised that he didn’t take cards . . . . No problem he said though, we would pass by his garage in a village down the canal tomorrow and could drop in and pay for it then! Marvellous!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So having spent the rest of the day very pleasantly with a trip to Intermarché (yum yum, head and tongue charcuterie) and an excellent evening with the Rangali crew (fizz and salmon blinis) we set off first thing next morning for Rolampont to pay our bill.

9BF3EBAD-68C4-404C-A76F-0779301A40CCA short day of 9.9kms and 7 locks brought us to our destination. Along the way we were saluted by a lift-bridge, ascending magestically into the blue.

81043F77-C517-4159-B2F6-344F6F0EF0B5There was just room for us to join a cruiser on the 30m quay …. and then another, and another, and another boat arrived. We all squeezed up, moored with stakes, round rocks, and anything else that held fast. We ended up with our nose tucked into the reeds!

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Rolampont bridge and church

It’s a lovely mooring and attractive village, with that great essential – a good boulangerie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And guess what we found – a lavoir! Watch out for more!

724BA6AC-66EA-4588-9F24-D59570B30055Sunday morning dawned bright and sunny. A quick visit to the boulangerie also discovered the start of a fishing competition, each ‘pecheur’ having several long long rods that reach right across the canal.

7D67162C-D4DA-4A55-A150-FD56EB29CEA8We were off at 9 when the locks officially open for ‘pleasure boats’ (yes we are known as bateaux de plaisance’ here in France). The locks along this section are all newly automated, with nice shiny clean blue levers to lift.

Calliope passed through green/blue scenery, reminiscent of England in some ways, although the Charolais cows are white rather than our brown Jerseys and piebald Friesans. (Do friesans come from Friesland, where I want to go cruising?)

 

6623FFC7-7B94-49ED-9000-5A342C87342BWhere kingfishers had accompanied us on the other side of the tunnel, this was heron country, though most of them take off just as you plan to take their picture!

There were twists and turns in the 15 Kms and 7 locks we covered, running alongside the Marne river and the railways line much of the way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This led to interesting combinations of bridges and locks at some points, such as Pommeraye.

C238348F-3B3C-43BB-804B-20B2685843CFWe came to Foulain at about 1215, fingers crossed for somewhere to moor, and hey presto we have the place to ourselves. It is a joy to be in such a lovely place again, and in sunshine after our visit in the rain two years ago.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We took a walk into the village, and here’s another lavoir. There was added interest for this lavoir lover as it has a little trough all round the edge with drain holes in it, to carry away the splashes form the washing.

3E16C781-228F-42BD-9AD0-5A200A236AEAThe pontoons here are surrounded by meadowlike grassfull of flowers, and my little autumn display on board hopefully complemented the array; a suitable setting for a sunny evening.

We were only allowing ourselves one night on most places, so off we went next morning for a 24kms, 13 lock day – the run down to Riacourt. The first part of this section is not yet automated – the gear is all in place, but it has not been commissioned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This meant that we were accompanied by a young temporary éclusier whose job it was to manually open and shut two pairs of heavy lock gates, and manually operate the ‘vantelles’, or paddles, that manage the water flow through the lock. Stewart helped close one side behind us and I got off open up at the other end of each lock, but it was still mostly his muscle power that saw us through locks 17 to 22.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The approach to Chaumont is different, passing the very pretty Chamrandes, then passing along a stone walled stretch. We waited for the Chamrandes lock while a big commercial barge came up, giving me an amusing addition to the ‘through the galley window’ series! We stopped briefly at Chaumont to eat lunch, then onwards to our destination.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The section through Condes is interesting – we remembered it from two years ago when the lift bridge did not lift and we floated about mid-aqueduct waiting for a VNF service van and man to appear.

9C427E62-810B-4195-B4D0-963DE2D7E7F4Seven hours after we stated we came to the final lock, and looked down, with relief, to see the hoped for mooring place empty and waiting.

9C56D1A3-B8E7-44B5-A28C-DDB1DC858232The mooring at Riacourt is next to a rather ornate ‘colombier’, or dovecote. We have seen many of these across France, of varying age and materials and in varying stages of repair. This one is newer than most, but still at least 150 years old.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I took myself for an introductory stroll round the village, and guess what … another lavoir! I had not heard of these structures when we came through the canal in 2016, so was very much catching up on what I had missed. This one was a gem, with lovely stone shelves round for the laundry baskets. But I bet it didn’t have a boat full of flowers outside when the villagers came to kneel on the cobbles and do their washing.

AC4D246F-C0B7-4EBB-A475-6A96294FC7D6Tuesday morning we were off again, starting on one of those misty autumnal days that you know will get better and better as the sun comes up, passing through such lush and beautiful scenery that words escape me. Even pictures cannot communicate the freshness of the air, the stillness and tranquility, or the real darkness of starlit nights. But maybe you will get a sense of the majesty of the wooded hills, and the abundance of the fields.

8CE04AE0-3E40-47CD-BD65-C509BD3E986AI had put in a special request to stop at Vouécourt as (apologies all round) I had heard of a rather special lavoir there, but I think you will be suitable amazed! We had a very short day of 10 kms and 5 locks, all quite easy, although a lot of loose weed in many of them. We hope it has not got wrapped around the propellor.

So this special lavoir – well it turns out that the village has had two previous lavoirs; one of them closed because of the amount of iron ore in the water, turning all the laundry pink! This has been a major metallurgy area in the past. The other, built in 1904, was a floating wash place that went up and down with the level of the Marne river; this no longer exists.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So in the 1860s the council built this new almost posh lavoir with water from the source of the Grandvau, 2400 meters south of the village and a little higher. The gravity fed pipework still functions and in addition to the lavoir, water was made available for drinking. The big arched windows, grand doorways, and separate rinsing basin all point to something a bit special here in Vouécourt.

18295657-64C0-408C-8116-A642B6B6AA72Wednesday morning was beautiful; I am quite envious of the people who wake up with this kind of view very day – although it does get very cold here on the winter, just above freezing and with a little snow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our cruise took us initially to Froncles, in the company of a young brave heron at one lock. Sorry about the look on my face; I did not expect to be on the photo! We stopped for a short time at Froncles to visit the supermarket, and we were surprised by the lack of boats at this nice little Halte Nautique. It was almost full when we came thorough two years ago.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Journeying on we met two boats that only just fitted onto the locks – a wide catamaran and another commercial barge. And we think we have it hard!

E9BE4AC0-4FF1-4DB9-B658-D562651B79EEAfter Froncles we finished the 13 kms and 4 locks of the day and arrived at a tiny mooring at Villiers-sur-Marne. This is a super quiet place. The tiny stone village has its Mairie in the front room of a cottage, and the only commerce is the far that sells milk, butter, cheese etc for two hours twice a week! We missed the slot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next day was not so blue – in fact a bit grey and drizzly. The days scenery included a shepherd inspecting his flock and a quarry with a juxtaposition of an old stone quay and a row of bright red railway trucks; the ancient and the modern ways of moving the quarry’s produce.

DF3540E1-738E-4CF0-ACD9-B64CDCD639CBThe travelling day was very short, just 6.4kms and 2 locks to Donjeux. As we got closer to the village the Donjeux church appeared through the mist above us. It is not the prettiest of places to stay the night, but is perfectly adequate (can those two words be put together?).

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We walked round town, mainly to post a birthday card to our daughter, and found the La Poste in the school, with no collection until next day when the postman called! As we walked back to the boat we found ourselves following one of France’s characters.

He came and sat down by the canal later, deploying his green umbrella as the rain came down.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few glimpses of the sun in the evening and as we left in the morning showed the mooring at its best.

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The final day of the working week took us on down to Joinville, past the majestically rusting point levée at Massey – now permanently ‘levéed’!

 

 

 

 

 

 

44BD883B-7F71-4CB5-BBAD-C7F5AA46008EThis bridge leads onto yet another ‘point-canal’, or mini aqueduct, over the Marne, still twisting and turning alongside us. I include this photo more because I enjoyed the inadvertent shadows than for the river!

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Along the way to Joinville there was plenty of countryside, less remarkable than that we had seen recently, but one article of fascination was this lonely and strangely placed book exchange. France has many of these free community operated mini-libraries, where people can browse, leave and take books – but normally in town and village centres. This one was way out in the country, but with a helpful reading bench alongside.

673322F0-38FD-4DA0-8DF8-112EB03EBDF8We are now only 60kms from the end of this canal, but with over 40 locks still to navigate, moored up by the trees and reeds at Joinville.

F51C2E9D-8466-44A9-9EE2-FFA0B57EEAD2In the morning the town, up a hill above the canal, looked almost ethereal.

 

 

 

 

A quick visit to Lidl for bread and wine (that sounds a tad religious) preceded our 9am get away from Joinville ….. and after less than a kilometre we were halted by an ‘en pan’ lock with two red lights to prove it! Having phoned for help we settled down to enjoy the morning sun in the countryside, and within half an hour all was sorted and we were on our way again.

 

 

Signs of preparation for winter were all around with much stock piling of wood at houses and cottages all along the way.

 

 

And random views of inquisitive young herons, cuts along tree lined valleys, sunlight on wet lock walls, and rusty bridge reflections all add to the delights.

 

 

 

 

We were heading for a little rural mooring at a village called Bayard with just room for one boat – us! Around us were ripe apples one side and a railway line the other!  Luckily the trains were few.

 

 

 

 

I walked into the village, strung out along a hilly section of the Mane, and found another lavoir, more utilitarian than many, and fed from a watering hole just above.

 

 

 

 

This felt a bit like the end of our rural moorings as we were heading into the town of St Dizier. I kept remembering May two years ago when we cruised this canal in the opposite direction, in the rain!  These photos compare me at the same lock, 28 months apart.

 

 

 

 

We had our last bit of help from an éclusier who opened the lift bridge at Marnaval for us. Next to this is the old railway turning bridge that used to allow the trains across the canal, long our of use.

BB98077A-D701-4D43-BEAD-867BA8ABF42FThe long quay at St Dizier was almost empty; we tied up and sat down in the sun for lunch.

 

 

Later we had a stroll round the town which is famous for its ironwork, Miko ice cream and its castle.

C5FF2432-4F8D-4F6A-B31E-E2BAF86D4624Back on board for the evening we discovered that even St Dizier can feel like countryside  in the autumnal sunshine!

0A812585-73E5-4B89-A8CC-6A8AE4A153F4With two days to go to the end of our odyssey on this canal Calliope set a north easterly course and 15kms, 7 locks later she was secured to bollards at Orcante, our last night on the Canal Entre Champagne et Borgogne. And somehow, yet again, we found ourselves in a quiet country spot, with chickens and donkeys almost the only sounds, and as the light fades, beautiful skies. (The two mysterious ET eyes are from our wifi router)

 

The last day dawned brightly and we left a sparkling wake behind us as we began the final stretch to Vitry-Le-François and the junction of three canals.

 

It took about three hours, during which I pondered on the past; lock keepers cottages derelict, idyllic (back breaking poorly paid) jobs replaced by a remote control.

 

Finally we reached lock number 71, the last in line going down the Marne side. The surroundings began to become industrial. Then we had to wait for the lock while a narrow boat came up to start their voyage through all the scenery we have enjoyed over the past two weeks.

34074D5B-9152-46AC-8147-1D21693CF5C6And ironically, this, the last lock, was a bit tricky! The water level came up above the top of the lock walls and a small surround wall has been built to contain the spillover. So the bollards along the side are partly under water; that, with the wall, makes it difficult to throw ropes and the skipper had to step ashore to get the ropes on and fend Calliope off the submerged ledge as the lock emptied !

2440605A-D26C-4488-8553-2A52FB092803But all was well, and we said goodbye to the Canal Entre Champagne et Borgogne – bring it on Canal Lateral de la Marne ……

B9C1111A-AA26-4564-AA60-9EF3E453AED2…. where we moored up after 3kms, but that’s another chapter!

 

 

 

 

5 days and 4 nights on la Saône

August 21st to 25th

We liked the Saône. It is generally a pretty river and in the southern part there are plenty of places to moor – not so many after Tournus for a biggish barge like Calliope. It would have been easy to spend far longer on the river, exploring towns and villages, but we were on a mission, catching up on the two weeks we lost trying to get new batteries down at Frontignan.

 

So this chapter is short, and actually quite sweet. We left the port at Lyon in the morning, getting a good view of the city and its fine buildings as we drove through.

594BE8D7-D839-4C01-89F0-71713AC70CC2All the way along, after Lyon, there were gentle rural views interspersed by old villages, small towns and churches; always something to see. By side afternoon we were ready to find a stopping place, and saw a pontoon at Anse just the right size.

6202478D-D31C-46B6-A5FE-71F52A727000During the evening I went for the short walk to the Anse swimming lake – an exceedingly popular spot on the hot day. And in the morning before we left a kingfisher joined us long enough for me to make a photo through the window!

Despite rather liking the mooring we had only allowed ourselves one night in each place, so next day we were off to Mâcon where we hoped to meet a passing ship (a Westerly actually) from the same Haslar Happy Hour Yacht Club, the antidote to yacht clubs,  that we belong to back in the UK.

2B026251-806E-4608-A405-15C9D957BCB8Just before we cast off, yet another seemingly overloaded commercial barge went by – literally looking as if it was under water amidships!

370DE7E5-A4EB-4E5C-829B-F344910A8FDDWe had heard of a new long pontoon in Mâcon just before the multi-arched old bridge. and heading for it, we found it completely vacant – wow!

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Once moored, rested and showered we went into town to meet the crew of Kraken, and there, in mid France and almost 500 miles from the official club house, we had a happy hour or two together.

 

 

 

 

 

A3FA649B-1DBF-4B34-AE76-940E0B9FD878Our mooring was also popular with local teen-agers, again, who decided that their favourite place on the long long quayside to eat burgers and fries at 1am was the part of the quay adjacent to us!  Ah well, we were also able to enjoy the modern instalation nearby.

 

Once more only one night allowed, so on another blue sunny day we carried on north, passing Mâcon’s waterfront houses, and also passing Kraken and crew heading in the opposite direction.

D983CF00-D385-4DEC-A343-F903FF862706With such a wide space to drive in, and such broad bridges, the cabin girl was able to not only take a turn at the wheel, but go under bridges too! I could even drink tea at the same time.

BFF41E2D-006D-4804-B86A-7F00253D3BE7Our trip was becoming increasingly rural, and a different kind of farming appeared. Dairy and beef herds were all along the banks, with cattle frequently standing in the water to cool down as we went by. Some evidently found us as interesting as we found them!

 

Unusually for us, who spend most of our time as a twosome, we were again heading to meet up with friends. This time it was to see Tam and Di, our ICC barge tutors from 2012 who now have a home not far from Tournus. Once more the mooring fairies smiled on us and there was space on the wharf.

51C2E98E-8450-4591-A36A-14131B58FD0FIt was wonderful to see them again and we had a lovely evening with a to-die-for prawn rice dish from Di’s famous cuisine and very nice white (or two) from Tam’s cellar. The evening was made complete for Stewart when Tam got his new banjo out and put it through its paces. Happy days!

 

 

 

Before we left Tournus the next day I went in search of bread and milk, allowing me a quick walk round in a rather grey light, but enough to show off a little more of the local stonework.

65228F81-D50B-44EA-97F5-AEC526F88CF4Then on upstream, occasionally left in the wake of hotel barges – bouncy bouncy!A6EF558C-0E48-402E-BC27-03E54B24F983We passed through Chalon-sur-Saône, remembering it form two years before when we had stayed nearby on the barge for a week and had quite a good look round. This time, a whoosh under the bridge and we were gone!

This is when mooring began to be difficult. We had planned a 4 hour day, but after 6 hours and passing by Gerry, Verduns and Écuelles without finding anywhere to moor I phoned ahead to Seurre marina. When they too responded with a “Non, je suis desolée” we decided to try mooring at the lock.

D585C8AF-3A53-489C-BD45-D1D2619D56CCWe have heard of many boaters mooring at the big river locks, but have never needed to do it ourselves until now and radioed the éclusier on he VHF. Asking in my very best (Portsmouth High School) French if it were possible he immediately replied ‘Yeah, no prob’ (or something similar) so hence this wonderful, very very tranquil Seurre lock mooring.

 

There are several ‘lasts’ around this. It turned out to be our last night on the rivers, last night on the Saône, and next morning it was our last ‘écluse à grand gabarit’, or big gauge lock of 185m length and 12m width. From now on it would be more like 39m x 5.2m!

We were set on a course to buy gazoil (diesel) at St-Jean-de-Losgne so that we could confidently carry on up north and we drew into the fuel pontoon expectantly. But we were disappointed. Despite it being a Saturday in August the fuel office was closed until Wednesday! And the supposed self-service option was out of order! So on we went.

3A697964-2428-4B7F-B35F-98C2604DBE91Once more we had plan A, B and C overnight mooring choices. This meant that we went up past Auxonne through the first of the little locks, number 20 at Dérivation d’Auxonne – oh so narrow – and hoped to moor at A ………. no luck.

C09EF10D-3ED5-4777-B18E-4383A783B093The skies began to darken in an alluringly velvet manner and we carried on to pass B (Lamarche) and C (Pontailler).

A6A7C71E-2DDE-49E6-A2BA-4B2841D37420

 

Hmm – nothing for it but to carry on to the entrance to the Canal Entre Champagne et Borgogne, and leave the Saône behind, and we finally reached the turning into canal.

 

0CA36A40-D371-4BD6-8802-602DC607F9E9The canal looked so tiny, after the river, but small is very very beautiful.

378150A6-BEC1-439F-84A2-AAFB2C49FE70Within minutes we came into Maxilly to find a commercial barge just leaving, thus providing us with a space to tie up. We are off the river and back on the canal system again!

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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Saone side scene

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

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

 

 

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Piepape

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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Threading the needle

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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!

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Lock filled to the brim

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Curel

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.

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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?)

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

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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.

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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

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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.

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

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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.

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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!

 

Friday

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!).

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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.

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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.

 

Saturday

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.

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stowaway

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!

 

Sunday

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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/