Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Migennes (back on the Yonne)

Moored on the outside at Migennes boatyard for the next week

Although the sun was out when we awoke on Tuesday, we had cloud cover by the time we set off at 9.30.  Saying that though, it was very warm and another day in the low 30s despite the cloud cover.

After about four kilometres we were approaching Migennes.  When we left here in March, we had thought it quite a drab quiet town with some industry.  Of course, now it’s summer, it looks completely different and is busy, but without the sun when we went through it didn’t really look its best in pictures.

Industry as we approached Migennes
A couple of boats were coming out of the first lock when we arrived so there wasn’t a problem, for once, about whether or not the message had got through to the éclusier that we were on our way.

Straight stretch before the port
The town had put on a fine display of plant pots on the bridges and along the streets and even around the lock in the centre of town.

The port was jam packed with hire boats when we were last here as it was before the hire season, but today there were only a few boats not rented out.

The lock in the centre of town marks the northern end of the Canal de Bourgogne and drops boats onto the River Yonne.  As there is a river on one side, the drop is variable but the éclusier told us it was five metres today.  We can remember seeing this lock when we took a walk around Migennes and being full of trepidation about going through such a deep lock.  As we had dropped 11 metres to get onto the River Saône from the Canal du Centre a month ago we wondered what we had been worried about 😉

Leaving the last lock on the Canal de Bourgogne
We were soon on the River Yonne, which was very calm, and turned left towards Simon Evan’s boatyard where we had been dropped in the water all those weeks ago.

Back on the River Yonne
As soon as we were on the river, I rang Simon to check where we should moor.  He gave us a temporary mooring on the outside of three other boats while we sort ourselves out for the next couple of days.  We will then move it on Wednesday evening to a more permanent position whilst we are back in the UK.

As we were mooring up, I could hear Karen talking to a couple of people and it turned out to be Ian & Lisette on Catharina Elisabeth.  We were moored next to them before setting off at the start of the season and had conversed by email off and on over the last few weeks.  They have been coming over from Australia for the last six summers to cruise on their boat and had arrived for this season last weekend.  It was good to finally meet them in the flesh and, as we have to traipse over their boat to get on and off ours, we will be bumping into them a lot over the next day or so. Oh, and Lisette is mad keen on lavoirs!

Ian & Lisette washing down Catharina Elisabeth
Everyone in the yard seemed to be busy working on or cleaning their boats ready for extended cruises but we did have a quick cuppa with Ian & Lisette before lunch.  As we haven’t been inside a Dutch barge before nor they a narrowboat we will be closing that gap tomorrow, no doubt with some wine to celebrate.  During the day we also chatted quite a bit with the other couple in the picture who were protecting themselves from the sun but I’m afraid I don’t recall their names.

The clouds all but disappeared over lunch and it became even hotter, but we had jobs to do.  Poor old Buddy, being nervous, found it difficult getting onto the quayside.  As we are a low boat, he has to get on our roof first which he really hates but once on the barge next to us he was soon getting across the three larger boats to reach dry land.

One of the first jobs was to make sure the car was Ok, which it was, so we took a trip down to Grand Frais near Auxerre as we promised Sue & Paul, who will be looking after Buddy for the next week, that we would get them some halloumi.  It seems Grand Frais (= French Waitrose) is the only supermarket that stocks it over here.  While we were out, we also got a French gas bottle (yes, the fixings are different to UK ones) and filled up our jerry cans with diesel.

It was hot work carrying the jerry cans and full gas bottle across to the boat when we got back but we did it without any mishap.  And some other good news, the gas adaptor I had purchased in the UK worked on the French gas bottle 😊.  It always amazes us how long gas bottles last (up to three months) considering we do all our cooking using gas apart from barbeques of course.

Evening at Migennes
It was lovely being on the river, but we were rather wishing there would be a breeze to cool us down.  Of course, we’re now not sure what sort of clothes to pack for the UK as, if the weather is the same it will be like last year’s heatwave when we were in Yorkshire.

After Tuesday’s seven kilometres down two locks we are back where we started from having covered a circular route around Burgundy covering 663 kilometres through 389 locks.  Apart from feeling very nervous when we cruised in extremely windy weather on the River Saône we have enjoyed every minute of it and would do it all again.  It was our fault that we cruised on that windy day so even those nerves could have been avoided. 

Our journey started by heading south to Auxerre on the River Yonne where we picked up the Canal du Nivernais and continued south to Decize.  After a short stint on the River Loire we continued south east to Digoin on the Canal Latéral à la Loire.  Then we joined the Canal du Centre heading north east to Châlon-sur-Saône.  That was when we joined the River Saône up to St-Jean-de-Losne where we joined the last canal, the Bourgogne to head back north(ish) to Migennes.

We have seen some beautiful countryside in a part of France neither of us really knew before.  We have met some lovely people, both boaters and non, and realise now that the trepidation of how we would be accepted as Brits was totally unfounded.  Without exception we have been made to feel at home and many French people have told us we are more than welcome over here and should stay.

So that’s the end of our first epic adventure which we would highly recommend and would love to repeat.  The next one will be a lot shorter as we are only going down the Yonne and then the Seine into Paris, but it will be quite different.

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Esnon (the last stretch)

Moored at Esnon for a couple of days
For those of you who’re a little tired of hearing about lavoirs then fear not as we saw none on Sunday.  You’re not saved from the other recent repetitive theme though: éclusiers not turning up.

My morning walk with Buddy took us around the small park in St-Florentin that we hadn’t visited during our stay here, not even on the heritage tour.  Once again, the sun was out, and it felt very warm even first thing in the morning.  Two rivers run through the town, the River Armançon that we have been following for some days now and a tributary to it, the River Armançe.  The Armançe is the river that flows through the park and where we saw what looks like a bandstand built as an island without access.

The island bandstand in the River Armançe
We had definitely agreed on Friday afternoon that we wanted to go down the St-Florentin lock at 10.00am on Sunday.  The éclusier and both of us even repeated what we agreed a couple of times and we heard him ringing it in too.

As we were moored in sight of the lock, we could see no sign of life as ten o’clock approached but we were being positive and pulled up to the aqueduct just before the lock so we could stake our claim 😉

Sure enough no one turned up and I called both the numbers that were (unusually) present at the last lock we went down on Friday and I had made sure I had made a note of them.  As luck wouldn’t have it, both went through to answerphone, so I left messages on both.  The next approach was to ring the port and get a number from them.  Both numbers given in the waterways guide for the port were no longer in service, so we resorted to a web search and finally found the correct number. 

The guy who answered was extremely helpful and even said everything in French and English which was amazing as we hadn’t stayed in his jurisdiction as he pointed out 😉 He said he had seen us waiting on the aqueduct and had already rung VNF and said an éclusier was on his way.  He also mentioned that those who pay for moorings in the marina or quayside (in his jurisdiction) get the additional service of him arranging an éclusier for them.

Zachariah was our enthusiastic éclusier who saw us through the first three locks and was full of apologies.  In the past, when we haven’t moved for a couple of days, we have been knocked up by an éclusier checking when we want to leave, not so over the last week.  We do remember seeing Zachariah scooting past us several times over the weekend, enthusiastically waving, but never thinking of stopping.

A rather twee lock cottage
Because of the delay in getting going we didn’t complete our journey before lunch so stopped just short of a place called Brienon-sur-Armançon having arranged to restart at 1.30.  This time the éclusiere was ready for us when we arrived, and she quickly got us through.  We were back to a guy at the last lock and when he asked when we wanted to move on again, I made sure I saw what he wrote in his notebook.  Yes, he had written down ‘Chalkhill Blue 2 – mardi – 10’.  Mind you I did confuse it all to start with as I had been thinking today was Monday and not Sunday so had originally said we wouldn’t move until mercredi!

Last lock of the day – Moulin Neuf at Brienon-sur-Armançon
As we came out of the lock, we passed a blackberry bush in full bloom and it seemed to be smothered with marbled white butterflies.  If you can ever see one at rest, we think you will see they are really beautiful butterflies.

Image from
We moored up at a small village called Esnon and will be staying here for a couple of days before our last cruise on Tuesday before coming back to the UK for a few days.

On Sunday we cruised 12 kilometres down five locks.

As it was going to be a hot day on Monday, Karen went for her run early and I put another coat of undercoat on the side we are working on.  First, I had to do a bit of gardening by cutting back the long grass and nettles on the bank to avoid being stung when I was doing the painting.

When Karen returned, she said that the towpath back down to Brienon-sur-Armançon was practically in the shade all the way and suggested we took a bike ride down there.  We were glad we did as we found three lavoirs!  I will refrain from saying too much about them other than their basins weren’t the usual rectangular shape, instead being round, oval or hexagonal.  They will be added to the ‘Lavoir’ tab with more information when I find the time 😉

Cycling past the port at Brienon-sur-Armançon
The three lavoirs of Brienon-sur-Armançon
 The town church seemed to be quite a mash up of styles from the outside.

Some of the streets and a château in the middle of the town:


On the ride back we stopped at a lock as we saw Kev & Deb were having lunch on their boat, Rangali, while they waited for the end of the éclusier’s lunch break.  We had been moored near each other when we spent a couple of days in Tanlay last week.  We had a quick chat about our respective plans but had to leave as we were getting rather hot standing out in the open.

Later in the afternoon we had a walk around Esnon and were rather surprised by this strange looking building on the edge of the village:

The reason we were surprised was that it turned out to be a lavoir.  So after saying I wouldn’t mention them I kept my word for Sunday but with four in one day on Monday I just couldn’t resist it.  Oh, and while I'm at it, you may remember I said that Peter & Helen, who visited us on Friday, had told us that they were also keen on lavoirs.  This morning I received an email and pictures from Helen as they had found a lavoir at St Gengoux-le-National after leaving us. 

On Tuesday we will be heading the last six kilometres back to Migennes when we will have completed our round tour of Burgundy – 414 miles through 389 locks since 27th March 😅

Sunday, 16 June 2019

St-Florentin (another mystery tour)

Our mooring for the last couple of days at St-Florentin
We were heading off to St-Florentin on Friday as Peter & Helen were stopping off to say hello on their way down to their house in the south.  We had arranged to meet our éclusier at the first lock at 9.10am; I know it seemed an odd time, but we had suggested 9.00am and were told that it would take them 10 minutes to get there from home so ten past would be better (they don't start work until 9.00am).

We had to set the alarm as we needed to leave by 8.30am because it was a few kilometres away and arrived with five minutes to spare.  There was nobody in sight and we hung around outside the lock for a while before deciding to pull up and get off the boat to wait.  That plan didn’t work as the sides were so shallow, so we just turned the engine off and we gently grounded and carried on waiting.

Hanging around at the first lock
After a while we convinced each other that there had been a misunderstanding and that they would turn up at 10.  Ten o’clock came and went and still no éclusier and we were really beginning to rue not having taken a phone number yesterday evening.   The locks on the other canals we have been on so far and also those on the Saône side of the summit of this canal have generally had contact numbers to call.  For the last 100 locks though there have been no numbers and we have taken the mobile number of the last éclusier we have seen each day.  For some reason we have stopped doing this for the last few days.

An éclusier, on patrol, finally turned up on a scooter but explained they had no record of our request, but he would see us down to St-Florentin.  On the way we passed the obligatory lavoir of the day of course.

Lavoir at Germigny 
Ironically the last lock we went down actually had a board with contact numbers on it, so I made sure I took a picture of it just in case.

The lock at Germigny was originally built as a double chambered staircase but when the locks were enlarged to the Freycinet standard in 1882 it was converted to a deep single chamber.   

Strange lock at Germigny
The narrow section we are driving into is the old top lock chamber.  The other odd thing about the lock is the mandatory sign that means ‘Stop in certain circumstances’; it just seemed an odd place to have it and we have only ever seen it on rivers or narrows before.

As the lock was approaching six metres in depth and didn’t have sliding poles or floating bollards, we were glad of a couple of things.  Firstly, that we had bought extra long lines before coming over and secondly, that we had t-bars fitted over our rear dollies to keep the lines from slipping off as they get to the vertical.  I know we had a couple of dollies with t-bars added on both sides at the front of the boat too but we have used those on nearly every lock we have been up over here, so we have been glad of those since day one.

Going down
We finally made it to St-Florentin before lunch and made arrangements with the éclusier (we hope!) to leave on Sunday morning.  There’s a large port in the town with a marina and plenty of moorings with services.  As we didn’t need any services we moored in a stretch before the next lock where it was free to moor even though we were still in the town.

Arriving at the port at St-Florentin
Moored at St-Florentin
Once we were moored up, Karen went off to get a couple of things from town and I took Buddy for a walk further down the canal and then into the old part of town.
Parts of the medieval town
On our way back from our walk I chatted to a couple of the people in the port, an Irish couple and a Brit who had just arrived for their annual holidays.  They keep their boats in the marina rather than the UK which is a bit similar to having a holiday home abroad I suppose.

Just in front of our mooring is an aqueduct over the River Armançe and then a lock.

Our view from the front
Our view over town
Peter & Helen turned up during the afternoon with their friend Elizabeth.  We hadn’t seen them for some time and as this was their first visit to the boat, they had plenty of questions.  We spent a pleasant couple of hours chatting before they had to leave for the next leg of their journey.  It was really great to see them and catch up and, as they travel down five or six times a year, we will no doubt meet up again and hopefully, next time, we can spend longer together.

When they were leaving Peter did let drop that they also enjoy finding lavoirs so it’s not just us who are mad 😉

When Karen was out in town, she had popped into the tourist information office and picked up a leaflet detailing a heritage/historic walk around town.  We will be doing this on Satuirday as well as visiting the market so it will be interesting to see how it compares with the one we did earlier this week in Tonnerre.

Karen also found a cuckoo clock house on her walk
On Friday we travelled ten kilometres down four locks.

We awoke on Saturday to lovely blue skies, but it did feel muggy.  After Karen came back from her run we headed off to the market and then called in at the tourist information office to pick up the key for the large church at the top of town.  This was the first stop on the heritage tour of St-Florentin that Karen was taking us on.

We had to provide id to get the key but didn’t have any with us; however, the lady seemed to like us and was happy I just left my name and French phone number!  As is often the case, the church was ostentatious by being far bigger than it needed to be for the size of the town.  We were surprised to learn that it wasn’t even finished as the nave was never built, that really would have made it more like a cathedral.

The touristy bits of the church were the locally made stained glass windows and the stone statues which were produced by the Troyes school of stained glass and sculpture in the early 1500s.  We don’t remember seeing so many stained glass windows in a church before and they really were stunning considering they were nearly 500 years old.
Some examples of the stained glass and statuary

By the time we were dropping the key back it had started getting cloudy and it was feeling even muggier, so we were expecting rain.  The rain never arrived, and the sun came back out in the evening, but we heard from other people in France during the day that hadn’t escaped some rain, so it seemed we were fortunate.

The next part of the tour was around the medieval part of town looking at the narrow streets and timber framed houses that we had seen yesterday.

One of the timber framed houses we missed yesterday
The museum which was in the original post office wasn’t open, so we made our way to the old abbey gardens at the top of town. It afforded a wonderful view over the surrounding countryside across the higgledy-piggledy roofs of old town.

Looking over part of old town
The round bell tower is the only remaining one of the original six towers that were part of the town fortifications built in the 12th century.

The 16th century town fountain with bronze dragons
The rest of the walk was around the canal to see points of interest like the port and the aqueduct and the lock next to our mooring.  We did get to see the aqueduct from the side with its strange drain holes.

The aqueduct built in 1810
After lunch we went on a bike ride as we wanted to go back and have a look at the lavoir at Germigny that we passed on Friday’s cruise.  We found it to be in need of a bit of attention, but it was nice and cool inside.  We even saw a couple of European Green Toads that made their way into the water when we got close to them.

Inside the lavoir de Germigny which still has its drying rails
 When we were nearly home, we stopped to chat to a nice Aussie couple who had just arrived on their Dutch barge, Quercy.  We had met them at Tonnerre, so it seems we are travelling at the same speed.  They have brought their dog over with them and she and Buddy obviously remembered each other from Tonnerre and had a good run around while we all chatted.

We are well on target for getting to Migennes by Tuesday afternoon as we only have 19 kilometres and seven locks to do, some of which we will do Sunday.

Friday, 14 June 2019

Percey (and the duck fish)

Our mooring at Cheney on Wednesday evening
As it was one of Tonnerre’s market days on Wednesday we had arranged to travel in the afternoon so we could pay the market a visit and pick up the provisions we were running short of.  There weren’t many stalls; apparently the Saturday market has many more.  As it was, we got nearly everything we needed and were soon back at the port.

The small market with the church we half visited yesterday at the top of the hill
We set off after lunch and Cecile was opening the lock at the agreed time of 1.15.  She had both gates open and as there were only bollards on the left side that was where we moored.  Unfortunately, that was also the side where she was standing so I apologised that it would take me a while to walk around to close the other gate. She explained that it wasn’t a problem as a wider boat was joining us so we needed to keep both gates open.

As there was no boat in sight she went off on her scooter and was back in five minutes saying the boat was coming.  It was one of the hire boats that had been moored behind us at Tonnerre and they were apologising profusely for being late.  They were clearly new to driving the boat as they were all over the place and, as they were going to be behind us in the lock, Karen took charge of watching our rear end.

Two French couples on the boat coming in behind us with Cecile closing one of the gates
At Dannemoine, as we approached the second lock, we felt we were back in the UK as there were weeping willows growing on the bank.  We hadn’t really realised but we have seen very few weeping willows over here.

A little bit of England
Thinking of England reminded us of the strange noises we had heard for the last two nights at Tonnerre.  In the UK we’re used to the sound of ducks, geese or swans pecking at the algae on the side of the boat.  Sometimes it can get quite loud and even wake us up first thing in the morning, but it’s one of those sounds that we find soothing.

Well, for the last two nights we’ve been hearing a noise like plastic chairs scraping on the ground.  At first, we put it down to the people moored on the plastic boat in front as they were eating dinner outside and were sitting on plastic chairs on the deck.  Once it had got dark and they had gone inside the noise continued so we knew our theory was wrong.  Karen finally got it yesterday evening as she was convinced it was coming from our hull - I was trying to ignore this idea as the last thing I wanted was an animal trapped behind the gunwales.  

The next thing I knew she had taken out one of our windows and was hanging over the water in great excitement as she had sussed it; large fish were busily attacking the algae.  We were so surprised that we had never come across this before but at least we knew what it was.

Anyway, back to the cruise.  By the side of the Dannemoine lock was a stone carving that took the form of a towel and bikini top placed on top of a block.

Unusual carving
Whilst in the lock we noticed a long low roof that looked suspiciously like a lavoir so made a note to cycle back and check it out later in the day.

Is that the roof of a lavoir near the lock?
By the time we reached Cheney, and the third lock, our French cruising companions were getting more confident.

In the lock at Cheney
As we were going to moor up for the day when we found a decent spot, we let the French boat pass us as soon as we were out of the lock.  The first stretch was nice and deep at the sides but had very high trees and we weren’t looking for shade as the hot weather has disappeared for the last few days, so carried on for a while. If we believe the forecast though, it should be returning to the high 20s from Thursday – let’s wait and see.  What we did pass though was yet another lavoir so one more to add to our list for our bike ride later.

Passing the lavoir at Cheney
We soon found an open spot and moored up for the day.  Compared with recent moorings this one didn’t have a pathway next to us, so we won’t have people passing by the boat.  It did mean that we will have a pleasant walk along the grassy bank to get to the closest road back at the lock at Cheney.

Moored for Wednesday – water coming through the gate paddles at Cheney lock can be seen in the far distance

After putting our feet up for a while and having a cuppa we cycled down the grassy track back to Cheney.  As we approached the lavoir we came across the community recycling area that contained some very new looking bins.  On closer inspection we realised how new they were because, in addition to the normal stickers explaining what can be deposited, there were stickers headed ‘New’.  These stickers indicated that they could now take those items like yogurt pots.  We have always found it odd that we could recycle these in the UK but not over here. 

We buy yogurt and similar dairy stuff in 1kg pots which we wash and have been stacking up and storing to take back to the UK.  At least we have now found somewhere that will take them – a job for Thursday morning.

We stopped to have a look around the lavoir at Cheney and, as expected, found that it had been fed through a sluice from the canal.

Sluice from the canal beyond
Next, we crossed at the lock and got onto the towpath to cycle on down to check out what we thought was a lavoir at Dannemoine when we came through on the boat.  Sure enough, it was a lavoir, and I’m afraid I need to include a couple of pictures to explain the two new words and the fact we learnt today.

As you can see the basin was fed by rainwater from the sloping roofs.  There was also a spring running into the basin but that’s not so obvious in the picture.  Apparently, the Romans built villas with roofs like this to catch water and the basin it was collected in was called an impluvium and the roof was a compluvium.  These two Latin words were new to us, but we found out later that they are used in French descriptions of this type of lavoir.

On top of a drying rail we noticed a couple of wooden boxes and we also found out that these were used by the washerwomen as knee protectors when leaning over the washing stones that surround the basins.  These wooden knee protectors are called garde genoux in French and comprised our new fact for the day.

A couple of garde genoux resting on the drying rail
For completeness I will mention the other items in the above pictures but I will try and refrain from further discussions on lavoirs 😉 At the far end on the right is a fireplace for producing wood ash for cleaning and at the far end on the left is a twin holed lavatory that is open to the stream below.  Also, the smooth washing stones can be seen around the basin and, the cast iron pillars that are often seen holding the roof beams on impluvium lavoirs.

On Wednesday we cruised six kilometres down three locks.

When Karen went off for her morning run on Thursday, I walked down to use the recycling point we found yesterday.  When I got back, I went in the annual search for suitable large twigs that would make ideal sweet pea sticks. 

We set off at 1.00pm on a journey that should have taken about three hours but ended up taking nearly six!  It wasn’t that we had a lot of disasters, but it seemed everything was against us. At least the weather was back to full sun and in the high 20s so, after the last few greyish days we felt summer was back again.

Before the first lock we went past a fuel point.  We had seen it marked on the waterway guide but couldn’t understand why there would be diesel available in the middle of nowhere.

Fuel point but goodness knows when it was last used
We arrived at the first lock and there were no éclusiers in sight and as it was quite breezy, we didn’t fancy hovering around in the middle of the cut while we waited.  As usual there wasn’t a lock landing, so we tied up to a pole by the lock and used a stake for the rear.

Waiting for our first éclusier
After about a quarter of an hour a hire boat with a British couple on board turned up behind us.  We thought great, they must have been let down the previous lock so their éclusier will be on his way.   No such luck but after waiting a bit longer one did turn up but told us there was a lock broken further down which should be mended by the time we got there.

When we got to the broken lock, the British couple were still behind us and started hovering around with us while we waited for the repairs to be finished.  In the end they gave up waiting and turned around to moor about 400 metres back at a mooring site we had just passed.  After another long wait the men opened the gates and let us in and we sat and waited for the éclusier.  

Going into the broken lock
He finally arrived and then promptly said he should go and get the British couple so he scooted off on his scooter.  He was back in a few minutes and we all carried on waiting for them to arrive.  In the end he gave up waiting for them and let us down on our own.

About to go down at last
The next lock was all set for us, and we were straight in and out without any delays other than a conversation with the éclusier.

Straight in…
…and out of this lock with only a conversation as a delay
Our conversation with the éclusier was mainly him explaining that a hotel boat was coming in the opposite direction, but not to worry as we would get through the next lock first and could then wait for it to pass us at a point where it was a bit wider.

It’s good that they tell us when large boats are coming so that we can be extra vigilant.  As it turned out the next lock was set against us and we could see the hotel boat going in, so we made fast to the bank to wait for them to come up the lock and get past us.  Of course, the pound started dropping as the lock was filled for them and we ended up at a fair angle as we got stuck on the bottom.

The hotel boat had a full English crew and they were most apologetic about us getting caught but we said it didn’t matter especially as we weren’t in a hurry.  With a fair amount of reversing and poling we were soon free and heading for the lock ourselves.

We told Buddy to stay on the boat when we went into the lock as we could see several dogs running around the lock cottage and lockside.  To our surprise, when we arrived at the lock, they weren’t dogs, but goats, so it was just as well we told him to stay where he was otherwise it could have been pandemonium.

An éclusiere took over for the last two locks and she had obviously got hot as her mum turned up with a bottle of water for her.  Although we offer our éclusiers coffee, we haven’t thought about offering water.  We took a while to find somewhere to moor for the night as the sides were so shallow, but we eventually found somewhere that even had some shade even if it was four feet from the bank.

Moored for Thursday night outside Percey
Tomorrow we need to get to Saint-Florentin as Peter & Helen are popping in to see us on their way down to their house in the south, so we have arranged for a 9.00am start.

On Thursday we cruised 12 kilometres down six locks.