Tuesday 30 April 2019

Gannay-sur-Loire (how to get rid of your wife)

Monday night mooring

Karen & Buddy went for an early run on Monday morning so that we could lock down onto the Loire by our allotted time of 10.00am.  The early morning had started foggy which then cleared to a beautiful blue sky but by the time we left the clouds had rolled in again.  The clouds stayed with us most of the day but luckily it didn’t rain but it did feel unseasonably cold.

Setting off for the Loire past the permanent boats at Saint-Lèger-des-Vignes
Once we had gone down the lock it was only a couple of hundred metres to the river and, fortunately, it looked calm.  It had been closed for a couple of days because of recent rainfall and is one of those rivers that rises and falls very quickly; we certainly wouldn’t have risked it on Sunday if it had been open.

The River Aron joining the Loire from the left (Decize sits between the two rivers)
Looking back to Saint-Lèger-des-Vignes, our home for the last couple of days
It wasn’t too long before we had to leave the river and make our way onto the Canal Latéral à la Loire.  This canal is 200km long and links the Canal de Briare in the north (at Briare) to the Canal du Centre in the south (at Digoin).  It was opened in 1838 and runs parallel to the Loire for its length, hence its name.  The Loire had been used for navigation but was constantly plagued by silting and shifting sandbanks, thus the need for the canal.

Approaching the lock to take us onto the Canal Latéral à la Loire
We are joining it about 2/3rds of the way down with only 70km to go until we hit Digoin and join the Canal du Centre.  The lock off the river was an automatic one and Karen pulled the rope to set the operation in motion.

Getting ready to pull the cord
You can’t tell from the picture above but there was quite a flow on from the river and I was fighting to keep the front end away from the side – one of those occasions where bow thrusters would have made things easier.  It wasn’t long before the lock was empty, and the gates opened for us.

About to feel safe getting off the river
We soon got the front and back ropes looped around the mooring poles (it was one of those locks that didn’t have ladders to get up to the bollards) and then it was time to work out how to set the next operation in progress.

Secured securely
I got on the roof and walked down to the blue pole which has to be lifted to get the gates to close and to start filling the lock.

Pulling the pole upwards
Nothing happened for ages and in the end,  I had to lift it up and down a few times.  Maybe it just needed a more forceful push.

Wondering what was going on
Once we were up and out of the lock, we were in the port which looked like it was still full of overwintering boats, so that’s why we haven’t seen many boats on the move yet

So that’s why we haven’t seen many boats yet
 At the other end of the port was another automatic lock and the lights were set on red.  As soon as Karen pulled the cord, the lights changed to a single red and green meaning the lock was being set.  When it was nearly ready an orange light started flashing too.

Red & green with orange flashing mean almost there
Once the lock was empty and the gates opened then just the green light was left on and in we went.

As we came out of the lock we were on the Canal Latéral à la Loire proper and we turned left to head for Digion.

The junction where we headed south
As we were going uphill it was back to the procedure where Karen secures the line at the front as we go into the lock and I hold the boat into the side with the engine as we go up.

Karen getting back into the swing of hooking her loop over the lock bollard
The locks are further apart on this canal compared to those we’ve been used to for the last four weeks.  Probably all the more reason to have built a lock keeper’s cottage at each lock.  They are all manned so we are going to have to continue making arrangements with the éclusiers each day we want to cruise. Once again, these cottages were a different style and also had larger name plates with more information on:

Lovely log pile at one of the lock cottages
When we came out of one lock, we found two boats waiting for us and then a bit further on we passed another couple of boats.  It suddenly felt like things were getting busy as four boats in one day had been unheard of 😉

Beautiful Dutch barge waiting for us
Another difference we noticed with this canal was that the bridge arches were iron rather than stone and consequently were nearly as wide as the cut itself.

Karen driving under one of the iron bridges
We arrived at Gannay-sur-Loire at mid-afternoon, moored up next to a lavoir and went for a bike ride.

Our lavoir
During the cruise Karen had met an Italian who was on an extended bike ride.  His wife had died nearly a year ago and for the last six months he had been cycling around Europe dropping off some of her ashes at each place they had wanted to visit.  He had started from Rome and was now on his way back there.  She suspected he was godly as he had visited Lourdes and been on the Camino de Santaigo.  When we moored up, he was siting on one of the picnic benches having availed himself of the boaters’ showers.

We cycled through Gannay-sur-Loire, and as we are getting used to, there was no one around.  In the centre was an odd monument which is actually the remains of a tree.  In the early 1600s a guy called Sully initiated the planting of trees alongside the Moulins to Nevers road.  This was one of the last surviving trees but was split in tow by a trailer that had come away from a lorry in October 2010.

The tree of Sull planted in 1620

Heading out the other side of town we found a garden centre and went for a wander around.  We couldn't believe the number of people that were there and think we have solved where all the French go during the day.

When we got back to the boat, several barges had moored up around us; all were English couples who had come out of Roanne afetr overwintering there and were now a few days into their summer cruising.

The first mooring restrictions we have seen
On Monday we cruised 18 km through seven locks.  We will be cruising on Tuesday but have to stay put on Wednesday as it’s Mayday not even éclusiers will be at work.

Monday 29 April 2019

Saint-Lèger-des-Vignes (last weekend on the Nivernais)

On Friday evening I received an email from VNF that the final lock on the canal onto the River Loire at Decize was closed as the recent rainfall had made the water levels on the river unsafe.  They estimated two to three days until the water drops to a safe level, but we weren’t too concerned as we had planned on staying at Decize for a few days anyway.  Hopefully, as we are at the upper reaches of the Loire and the rain has stopped it won’t be long before we’re on our way again.

Saturday was moving day and we set off for our rendezvous at 11.00am at the first lock of the day in the middle of Cercy-la-Tour.  After a quick chat with the éclusier we agreed, with 8 km to the next lock, that we would stop for lunch on the way as we wouldn’t get to the lock before it closed for lunch at midday.  Whilst letting us down, she received a phone call, and then apologised and explained that the lock would be closed for an additional 15 minutes.  Hardly a problem for us but she was very apologetic.

We stopped on the pontoons in Cercy for lunch and as we set off again, heard our second cuckoo of the year.  I’ve no idea if this is early or late for this part of France but it’s a lovely sound as I’m sure you’ll agree.  While on birds we saw our first white stork since being here and we had forgotten how large they are but still graceful in flight in their distinctive black and white livery.

We arrived at the next lock at 1.00pm, prepared to wait for 15 minutes as agreed but, to our surprise the gates were open so in we went.  The éclusier for this and the next lock was the last one employed by the Niévre department before we returned to VNF control at the Loire.  He showed a great interest in our plants and was explaining what they were called in French, most of which we won’t remember of course.

Heading into Decize – the first industrial area we have been through
Return to the distinctive uniform of a VNF éclusier
During the heavy rain on Thursday I found my walking boots leaked so after they had dried out I gave them two coats of waterproofing and promptly forgot I left them on the roof in the sun.  On Saturday morning, taking Buddy for his pre-breakfast outing, I saw the boots on the roof and found they were soaked through as it had rained again.  It was back out with my spare pair for the cruise on Saturday and I left the wet ones where they were hoping they wouldn’t take too long to dry out. 

After dropping through the last lock of the day we moored up alongside a retail park and opened a well-deserved beer.  I had forgotten to mention, that although it had been a dry cruise, it had been very windy and, in retrospect, we would not normally have travelled in such strong winds.  With a wide canal and no boats on the move or moored up on the way we felt a lot safer.

The point of mentioning the beer was that as I brought my now dried boots in from the roof, I somehow spilt my beer bottle into one of them so back to square one again. 

As we were moored next to a retail park, we took the sack barrow to the petrol station and filled up with 60 litres of diesel.  We were also next to a garden centre so went and bought a couple of 70 litre bags of compost so we could finish potting up the summer plants.

Our mooring for the weekend

Another use for our trusty sack barrow
Before we left for France one of my tasks was to put solid wheels on the sack barrow.  I am so glad I did this as we no longer have to worry about getting punctures as we would be lost without it.

On Saturday we cruised eight kilometres down four locks.  We have now been here for a month and in that time covered 198 km through 118 locks.  We are therefore just short of a third of the way around the Burgundy Loop cruising ring.

Sunday was a rest day for us as we wanted to have a bike ride and look around Decize in the morning and get some more pots planted up with summer plants in the afternoon.

Decize is a fortified town built on a hill practically surrounded by water as can be seen on this map:

The dark blue line across the top is the Canal du Nivernais and we came in from the right on Saturday and moored just before Saint-Lèger-des-Vignes.  The canal finishes where it joins the Loire on the other side of Saint-Lèger and we will head down the Loire, to the west of Decize and join the Canal Latéral à la Loire at the bottom and head off towards the south east.

Looking at the map you can see that Decize is also bounded by the River Aron which we have been cruising parallel with for the last week or two and also the Vielle Loire or Old Loire which runs to the east of the town.

Crossing the River Aron on our way to Decize

Heading into Decize on the approach to the bridge over the Vielle Loire
The Loire was still flowing quite quickly, and we were glad it was closed; we did get an email later on saying it would be open on Monday morning though.

Decize itself was like many medieval hill towns with narrow streets and a main road skirting around the hill itself.  We didn’t see it at its best as it was a gloomy day and everywhere was shut as it was Sunday.

We cycled down to the port which is at the start of the Canal Latéral à la Loire as we wanted to check out the route we would be taking and see how the locks work as we left the Loire.

The lock off the river into the port and also the lock from the port up to the canal were both automatic locks.  We will have to pull on a pole as we approach the locks, wait for the lock to empty, the gates to open and the green light to come on.

The pole at the end of the hangman's arm at the top lock (we will come up the lock and turn left)
Once in the lock we need to tie up and then pull on another pole to set the lock filling operation in motion followed by the gates opening for us to leave.

We will need to pull the rod on the left (the one on the right is for emergencies only)
We were glad we visited the locks as it answered the question, ‘which side should we go in?’.  As the operating poles are only on one side then that’s the side we will go in 😊

After we drop down the lock onto the Loire we will then be going uphill again for the next 130 kilometres until we hit the summit of the Canal du Centre at Montchanin.  

After lunch we planted up a few more summer pots and took it easy for the rest of the day.  Whilst outside an éclusier stopped on his bike to tell us that the Loire was reopening and to ask us when we wanted to leave.  We told him we would leave at 10.00 on Monday morning.

Saturday 27 April 2019

Cercy-la-Tour (we don’t call that wind)

With heavy rain and strong winds with 75kph gusts forecast for Thursday we thought we would stay put at Anizy and go for a cycle ride instead of a cruise.  Once we were ready, we decided to walk rather than cycle as we both admitted we find it quite miserable on bikes in the wet, but walking is fine.

When we got to the lock at Anizy we saw a Dutch barge coming up.  We both had the same thought at the same time, ‘If we’re out in the rain walking – why not have a cruise in the rain instead?’.  We had a quick chat with the éclusiers and said we would come down the lock, head for Panneçot for lunch and then carry on towards Cercy-la-Tour in the afternoon.

Wet weather gear for the day on Thursday
Once down the lock we were on a section of the River Aron which made a pleasant change.  We have noticed that the current area we are in is mainly meadowland but very few fields have any livestock. 

When there is any livestock it is almost always Charolais cattle but only a few per field not like the herds we see in milk producing areas of the UK.  It does seem that Charolais are particularly inquisitive and when they see us coming, they run across the field and keep pace with us as we pass.  We laugh as they really do look like they enjoy gambolling.

Arriving at Panneçot we had to take a sharp left into a large open area of water running down to an unprotected weir.  Here there were moorings with electricity and water shared with a camp site but there were no boats, very few tents and just the odd camper van.

Moored for lunch in the rain at Panneçot
The buoys in the picture above are the only indication there is a weir ahead!  After crossing back across to find the canal, we struggled to find the entrance to it as it was raining so hard.  It was a hidden sharp right just before another weir into a flood lock and, once through, we were back on the gentle waters of the cut.

As I just said, it was still pouring as we set off, but the 50kph winds with 75kph gusts just hadn’t materialised.  The éclusiers agreed with us that strong winds were expected and also found it strange that they hadn’t arrived.

Never seen our flag so limp
At Isenay we went through the Pont-levis du Tremblay, the only wooden lift bridge left on the canal.  All the lift bridges were originally wooden and wound up manually.  They were nearly all replaced during the late 19th century with metal bridges.  The wooden decking on this bridge did look like it had recently been replaced so I assume they are keeping it as original as possible.

The wooden lift bridge at Isenay
Even with the constant heavy rain the éclusiers were all friendly and chatty and we enjoyed our cruise even though we were looking forward to getting indoors to dry off and have a rest.

Everyone dressed for the occasion
Karen & Buddy walked for the last few kilometres and met me at Martigny, where there are mooring bollards just short of the town of Cercy-la-Tour.

Karen & Buddy enjoying their walk in the rain

Moored for the night at Martingny
Paul & Sue were moored in front of us having decided to moor there rather than in Cercy itself.  Paul had sent me a message saying they had got absolutely soaked which is rather strange as they have a pram hood on their widebeam.  When we bump into them next, I’m going to make sure I take the piss out of them, as being on the back of a narrowboat without a pram hood is how you get absolutely soaked, not under cover of a massive pram hood on the back of a wide beam 😉

During the day we travelled 14km down five locks and are now only 17km from the River Loire.

Friday morning – what a difference a day makes
As you can see above, Friday dawned a completely different day and Karen & Buddy managed their morning run in brilliant sunshine.  Another advantage of having a tarmacked towpath is that Karen finds it better for running than uneven unmetalled paths.

Running into Cercy-la-Tour with a heron ahead
Seeing the picture of a heron reminded me that when we were cruising in the rain yesterday, I saw three herons wheeling around together; we have never seen more than two at once.

When Karen & Buddy came back and we’d had our coffee (both) and cake (me) we went for a cycle ride.  We headed for Cercy and then out through to a large supermarket on the other side of town.  We were looking for dog food as we think we may have slightly underestimated and may need to buy some more before we pop back to the UK at the end of June.  We came back empty handed as they didn't stock Buddy's brand; we may end up buying a small bag of a different brand and mixing it in until we restock in the UK.

The empty moorings at Cercy-la-Tour
As you can see above, the clouds were beginning to roll in again and by the time we left the supermarket there were more clouds than blue sky but we were determined to look around the town even if it meant getting wet.

We’re still finding it hard to accept that we cycle along high streets and main roads with Buddy.  This is not something we could even contemplate in the UK with the volume of traffic these days.  Cycling along the high street back into the old part of town we were faced with a large statue up on the hill in front of us so we locked up the bikes and walked up the hill to investigate.

Probably a Mary statue as we’re in France 

Heading up one of the streets in the old town
The street above used to be the main commercial street of town until the arrival of the railway line in 1866.  The line and station is a kilometre away and the high street we cycled along to get to the supermarket is the ‘modern’ replacement.

Sure enough, when we got to the top the statue was a Notre Dame but looked very new.  Not surprising considering it was erected in 2008 replacing an eroded concrete statue erected in 1958.

Looking down to the canal basin and rivers from the top of Cercy
The replacement high street running down to the railway station and commercial area of town

Pretty lock between old and new town
Cercy-la-Tour is so named, well the la-Tour was added, in the 1200s following the erection of a large fortification tower on the hill overlooking the river.  Needless to say we couldn't find any remnants of the tower as it is virtually destroyed, but we did find the three rivers that form a confluence in the canal basin a couple of pictures above (Rivers Aron, Alène & Canne).

We spent the afternoon relaxing around the boat followed by a few drinks with Paul & Sue by which time the sun was fully out again.

When we set off tomorrow we will probably moor up near the town of Decize.  As it is a largish town we should be able to do our weekly shop and find diesel and even some dog food.  

We are currently doing the Burgundy loop, a 666km 400 lock circular route, which we are planning on completing by the end of June when we are coming back to the UK for a long weekend.  To put this in perspective with cruising in the UK it’s the same length but 40 locks longer than a circular route starting at Warwick, going up through Leicester and Northampton to Leeds and then over to Manchester down to Birmingham and back to Warwick.

Thursday 25 April 2019

Anizy (vive la différence!)

A study taken by Karen during her camera course on Wednesday
Strong winds and heavy rain had been forecast for Wednesday, so we had prepared to stay put for the day at Fleury.  Laying in bed first thing we could hear light rain but could see that the trees weren’t moving, showing the wind hadn’t arrived yet.

As it was Wednesday, Karen & Buddy went for a run but didn’t avoid the heavy rain that started about 10 minutes before they got back so were completely drenched By the time they had sorted themselves out the rain had eased off so I got the bikes off the back of the boat and we went for a bike ride. 

We had promised ourselves we would go for a ride whatever the weather and, as Karen had read that we had missed a ‘famous’ fountain on the cruise down yesterday, we cycled back up the canal to find it.  A good advantage of this canal is that the towpath is tarmacked for the whole of its 173 km length and just wide enough for the éclusiers to drive their VNF vans along.  The advantage being that they make excellent cycle tracks.

Buddy was back to normal after the recent heat and, even though he had had a good run with Karen he was more than happy to run along the towpath with us on our bike ride.

We knew we were looking for pk (point kilometre) 40.5 because that was where we needed to turn off to do our sightseeing.

pk 40 so we knew we were getting close
The trouble was we had forgotten what we were looking for, but I did remember Karen reading out that we had to cross a bridge over the River Aron to get to the spot.  We saw the bridge but as the river was running on the other side of the canal it meant we had to cycle a few more more kilometres up to the next crossing point, which was a lock, and back down the other side to reach the bridge.

We crossed the bridge and found what the guide book described as a magical fountain.  It was, in fact, a trickle of water coming out of the bottom of a limestone cliff.  An artificial pool had been made to capture the water, maybe for washing although the river was close by.

Our uninspiring 'fountain'
On our ride home we bumped into an éclusier at one of the locks and, as the heavy rain and winds hadn’t arrived, we agreed with him that we would set off after lunch.  It did start raining again before we got back to the boat but we both felt really exhilarated after our ride and sightseeing excitement so we didn’t mind.

Karen’s second soaking of the day 😉
We met our man at 1.00 as planned at the first lock.  We gave him a cup of coffee and had a chat before we got going.  It’s always good to try and have a normal French conversation when there’s no pressure like when you’re trying explain where you want to moor for the day or that you want to change your plans.

One of the smaller lock cottages
I was reading about the history of the 100+ lock cottages built in the 1820/30s and had been surprised to find that they were built without ovens or staircases.  This was a cost cutting exercise apparently.  The families were provided with wooden ladders to get upstairs.  It was said that the families made a lot of fuss having to live in such remote places without ovens and staircases so all the cottages were updated to provide both.

The car in the picture above reminds me that the éclusiers along this end of the Canal du Nivernais work for the local department (Nièvre) and not the state run VNF as is the case with the majority of rivers and canals over here.  This explained a couple of things we have noticed recently.  Firstly the éclusiers don’t have a uniform and there are far fewer of them compared with the VNF guys who got us up to the summit over the last three weeks.

Departmental car not the VNF vans we have been used to seeing
Unusually, there was a lock landing at the next lock, so I moored up walked down to the lock with Buddy to help get the lock set.   Buddy clearly remembered the UK routine of locking downhill and was quite happy (insisting) he stayed with the éclusier while I went back to bring the boat into the lock.

We joked to our children that the éclusier’s dog looked just like Buddy
We knew that the French word for barge is péniche but haven't known what they call narrowboats.  During one of our conversations with our éclusier he explained that narrowboats are called 'péniche anglaise', wide beams are 'péniches' and plastic boats are simply 'bateaux'.

We arrived at Anizy after eight kilometres and two locks and moored up for the day.  The promised wind arrived soon after mooring up but only lasted a couple of hours.  In fact by six o’clock the skies had cleared and we ended up having an unexpected warm sunny evening.

I mentioned Karen’s camera course at the top, so I had better explain that it’s an online course to teach her to use all the facilities on an SLR camera.  Today’s lesson was about controlling exposure length for moving objects.  Luckily, we had moored up next to a field of Charolais and, as usual, they were nosy and quickly ran down to investigate us thus giving the ideal opportunity to capture some of the shots Karen wanted.

Practising photographing moving objects
Mentioning differences that we have been encountering between cruising in the two countries makes me think I’ll share a list of what we have found now we have been here for four weeks.  These are purely our observations and I have tried to avoid inferring which country we prefer for each item on the list and the list is in no particular order 😉
  • Locks:  all have been manned so far; in the UK it’s generally only the larger rivers where they are manned
  • Mooring: we have been able to moor anywhere we want on either side of the cut (subject to the odd restriction); in the UK it’s very unusual to be able to moor on the offside (non-towpath side)
  • Wild mooring: couldn’t be easier but use recognised ports if you want to see another boat; in the UK wild mooring often means another boat is in sight unless its not the boating season
  • Mooring: not come across any time restrictions although in towns you have to pay; in the UK it’s 14 days or fewer before you have to move on
  • Water: not that many water points and it looks like you have to pay in the summer; in the UK getting water is never a problem and it’s free
  • Lock landings: few if any whereas the UK it is unusual not to be able to temporarily moor to a bollard to wait your turn to go and set the lock
  • Locks: have only seen a couple with balance beams; in the UK it’s usually only river locks that don’t have balance beams
  • Cills: we have only seen these marked at a couple of locks; in the UK it would be a H&S nightmare if the cills weren’t marked at the side of every lock
  • Electric lift/swing bridges: controls are on both sides; in the UK the controls are usually on the wrong side making it very difficult for single-handers
  • Recycling: lots of recycling bins along the way but not all have bins for general rubbish; in the UK it is noticeable how few canals offer recycling facilities
  • Cyclists: not seen any racers here just families and people out enjoying themselves and happy to stop and chat to passing walkers and boaters; in the UK it’s a constant nightmare having to get out of the way of speeding cyclists who refuse to stop and wait for pedestrians
As you can see from the pictures above, Wednesday was a gloomy day but by evening the clouds had gone and the sun was out leaving us with a pleasant few hours before sundown.