Gray (plant happy Karen)

Saturday in Gray at 5.30am (French time)

Stuart & Vicky decided to stay in Gray for the weekend and leave on Monday morning, so with three British couples moored next to each other it was a weekend of socialising without the added complexity of different languages.  Variety was added by alternating whose boat we sat outside each evening.  The full sun of the last couple of weeks had disappeared and at least it kept dry all weekend, but the week ahead doesn’t look so good with rain forecast at some point on most days.  At least, if it does rain then Karen won’t have to worry about the plants dying while we’re in Barcelona.  As it happened, Dave & Helen were staying for another week and offered to water the plants if need be.  They needed to stay around Gray as they would be getting their second vaccinations next weekend.

On Saturday we walked down the river and then cut away from it to the village of Gray-la-Ville.  It had a nice wide main street but not a lot else.  A square at one end looked promising as it was called Place de la Fontaine and sure enough, we could see the tell-tale sign of a lavoir ahead.

Place de la Fontaine in Gray-la-Ville

Of course, there was also a church; this one was rebuilt in the 18th century and had a Burgundian roof to its odd-looking bell tower.

Église Saint-Maurice with village war memorial

Looking at old photographs of the village we found out why the bell tower looked so strange; it had lost its spire.  Further investigation unearthed that a localised tornado on June 19th 2019 destroyed the spire.

Prior to losing its spire

The mairie was a rather uninspiring looking building and it didn’t have the standard display of flowers that most seem to have, thus making it look even less attractive.

Mairie and village postbox

Entering up the boat log later I realised that we’ve now been through more than 1,000 locks in France, but we completely missed the occasion which was on 5th June on the Saône side of the Canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne.  It was lock number 32, called Fontenelle after the village of the same name.

One of our outings on Sunday took us over the river into Arc-lès-Gray where one of the sights was an interesting lavoir.  As regular readers know, I do try and keep lavoir mentions to a minimum but this one was quite unusual.  Not only did it have an elaborate animal drinking trough (abreuvoir) but its situation was quite odd as some modern flats had been built close to and almost all around it.

The abreuvoir in front of the lavoir at Arc-lès-Gray

Stuart & Vicky left on Monday morning and boats seemed to be coming and going all day.  At one point a sailing boat appeared, and they were clearly having difficulty mooring as the depth is only one metre by the quay and being a sailing boat, they needed a much greater depth.  I gestured that they could moor alongside us which they duly did and then came and introduced themselves.

They were a lovely young couple; Oskar was a South African German and Rosa was German although they both had impeccable English.  They were on their way from Berlin to the Med for the summer and we spent time exchanging boating and life stories.  We all thought it was a shame they were on a mission as it would have been fun watching the England-Germany game together on Tuesday.  Mind you, if both teams continued playing like they have been then it wouldn’t have been much fun.  Obviously, the noise from around the town won’t be anything like the France-Switzerland game - one minute we could hear riverside bars erupting in cheers, followed by similar from most of the hire boats which were occupied by Swiss holidaymakers.

April moored alongside (their blog is worth dipping into)

Before they went, Oskar & Rosa left a bottle of wine on our back deck as a thank you for letting them moor up against us.  They ignored our protestations and insisted we keep it and we were reminded of a bunch of Germans we met at Mantoche.  We’d lent them our water hose and in return gave us a bottle of wine, again unnecessarily, but most welcome at the same time of course.

Not much has changed on the butterfly front over the last few days but I did see my first confirmed sighting of a southern small white.  These are very similar to the small white found in the UK but have slightly different black markings on their forewings.  The much-used phrase, ‘cabbage white’ covers the small white and large white butterflies in the UK, both of which lay eggs on brassicas.  The southern small white is not a garden pest as they lay eggs on candytuft and it does not occur in the UK.  It is slowly extending its range northwards and has purportedly been seen as far north as Calais so it may not be long before it can be seen in the UK.

The warm weather brings plenty of lizards out to sun themselves on warm walls and wooden fences.  They have been so skittish that I still haven’t been able to identify any of the species seen other than this common wall lizard spotted on Monday.

While chatting with Dave & Helen on Monday morning it transpired that they really enjoy card games and have dipped in an out of learning to play bridge a few times.  They were very excited that we play bridge as they haven’t met any other bridge playing boaters so invited us around to their boat for an enjoyable evening of social playing on Monday.

I spent Tuesday afternoon lavoir hunting in local villages and found many, most of which had drinking troughs outside like the one in Arc-lès-Gray from Sunday.  I’m mentioning lavoirs yet again because this blog will serve to jog my memories in years to come and as I had such a delightful afternoon this will help with that particular memory, so please indulge me.  We are currently in the Haute-Saône (70) département which apparently has more lavoirs than any other – over 2,500 were built there in the 19th century alone, so it wasn’t surprising I found at least one in every village I visited.

Most were of the style we’ve started to come across in Haute-Saône, square stone pillars supporting semi-circular arches or horizontal lintels.  As I mentioned, many of them had abreuvoirs and other similar places where livestock could drink.  A couple of them were a good way outside their village which really brought home to me what a hard life it must have been for the women carrying their laundry.  The only reason I found those two was that one was on a Rue du Lavoir and the other on a Rue de la Fontaine.  We always look for these or similar street names when on a lavoir hunt.

Living quarters above this one in Autrey-lès-Gray

Very clear water and some of the smoothest washing stones at Auvet-et-la-Chapelotte

At Bouhans there was a very old lady in the garden of the house opposite.  She went indoors before I could get her attention, but I bet she would’ve remembered when the wash house was in use.  The pool by the lavoir is called an égayoir which is a term from Lorraine meaning a pond dug to bathe horses. The bottom of this égayoir was paved and the lavoir was constructed in 1850.

Égayoir at Bouhans lavoir

This view of the lavoir shows the horse wash on the left, then the lavoir, then an animal drinking trough and finally the well with a raised wall around it, which fed all three.

The one at Chargey-lès-Gray had an impluvium style roof.  These roofs slope inwards so rainwater drains into the wash basin and was the first we’ve come across for a while.

Impluvium style roof at Chargey-lès-Gray

The same lavoir seemed to be used for the storage of Christmas items

One of the lavoirs at Essertenne-et-Cercey was reached by walking through a field behind the church.  The track led down to a stream where the wash house had the date 1865 inscribed on a central stone in the rear wall together with four sets of initials.

Nice location in a field

A smaller lavoir was found at the other end of the village and was also built over a stream and was just as far away from housing as the first.

The other lavoir at Essertenne-et-Cercey

The one at Feurg was quite a way from the village too; the closest houses can be seen in this photo of it.

Another remote location, this one at Feurg was restored in 2017

One of the two wash houses at Nantilly was also used as a storeroom like the one at Chargey-lès-Gray.  This one had a real eclectic mix including three stills and a dummy!


…and inside

The other one at Nantilly had notices from the mairie forbidding entry because of the state of repair of the stonework.  There were loose stones and dropping arches all around, so it did look particularly unsafe but still managed to look quite grand.

Complete with a fancy abreuvoir at the front

The final one, at Poyans, had an abreuvoir running the full length along the outside.

All in all, a successful trip on Tuesday and I was also privileged to look around some pretty little villages.  The other big thing about Tuesday was the evening’s football match with Germany – such a shame Oskar and Rosa hadn’t stayed neighbours for another night 😉

Gray (where did the Gs go?)

Even though we’re on a river, our mooring at Rigny is like being on a canal.  The Saône, being such a meandering river has had many shortcuts constructed over the last couple of centuries.  Each shortcut has flood gates where it leaves the river at the upstream end and a lock dropping it down to rejoin the river at the downstream end.  The flood gates are closed when the river gets too high thus preventing the banks of the shortcut being eroded by floodwater.  These manmade shortcuts are referred to as lock cuts and some of them bypass up to ten kilometres of the river.

Moored in the lock cut at Rigny (we’re the black speck on the right)

The flood gates at the start of our lock cut 

This page from our guidebook to the Saône clearly shows two lock cuts or dérivations as they’re called in France.  The one to the west cuts off 10 kilometres of the river and the one to the east cuts off another five.  The western cut has a tunnel at one end and the other has a port halfway along.  That’s another advantage of lock cuts – unless the flooding is really bad, they don’t get affected by rises and falls in the water levels so quite a few have ports built along them.


Monday was a day of short walks interspersed with getting around to those admin tasks most of us do anything to avoid.  Weatherwise it was a gorgeous morning and afternoon but became overcast during the evening.  Boat-wise the morning was quite busy, mainly with hire boats, but by the afternoon all was quiet.  Later in the evening we heard a boat coming past and the first thing we saw was that it was carrying a Land Rover on the front, not a car we’ve seen on a canal boat before.  We were engaged in small talk with one of the crew who was taking pictures of us so I missed out on getting a picture of the old Land Rover.

Too late but you can just see its nose sticking out at the front

Although we heard rain on and off during Monday night, Tuesday was a much warmer day than expected so it was another day of short walks but, with no admin to do, quite a lot of sitting outside reading and puzzling happened too. 

Where most of Tuesday was spent

But Buddy spent much of his time cooling down in the water

The retaining wall by the mooring attracts lots of lizards and one unidentified snake, so time was also spent watching the reptiles sunning themselves.  Karen took a break from work at lunchtime and we had a wander around the village of Rigny together. 

Walking over the Saône into Rigny

Some overhead cables had dropped down in the high street making walking past them rather precarious, I was glad I wasn’t driving a lorry or bus through the village.

At least there was some health & safety tape

Under the cabling we found an early Michelin corner post, these models date from between the two world wars.

Other than the Michelin corner post the village boasts a lavoir but its only commercial outlet is a bar/restaurant.  Although, the Rue de la Boulangerie, rather gives the game away that there was at least one other shop present once upon a time.

The lavoir and bar on Rigny high street

There was, of course, the obligatory war memorial and church.

WWI war memorial

Église Saint-Étienne, rebuilt in the 1720s and extensively refurbished in the 1990s

Much of Wednesday was spent rubbing down the woodwork on the rear doors and then applying four coats of varnish.  As the doors are open a lot of the time the woodwork is exposed to the elements so needs revarnishing every year.  Before anyone says anything about it being too hot for varnishing, I did utilize the two parasols to ensure the doors remained in the shade while I was working on them.  Mind you the warm air made the job a lot quicker as each coat dried so quickly.

A French couple on a boat pulled up and started chatting as if they knew us and, as is often the case, I couldn’t place them until they explained they’d moored at Mantoche with us for a couple of nights the previous week.  They were now heading in the opposite direction so had obviously gone as far as they wanted up the Saône before turning around.  They must have thought I was mad taking so long to recall them, but they seemed happy enough and were full of waves and smiles as they set off on their way again.

It's that time of year when the best time to go butterflying is early morning or late in the evening.  That way there's a chance of seeing butterflies either waking up or getting ready to roost; during the heat of the day they never seem to rest for long.  The other time to catch them when they're still is when they've just emerged from their chrysalis.  Quite a few skippers have been emerging alongside our mooring so that's how I managed to catch this somewhat oddly named female Essex skipper: males have a sex brand showing as a black line on each forewing.

Female Essex skipper

The internet signal on our French phone was fine at Rigny for the first two days of Karen’s three-day work week but for some reason became virtually non-existent on Wednesday.  It was so bad that she had to use her UK phone as a hotpsot.  When we got up on Thursday the internet was still poor on the French system, so I had a look at the settings.  Unbeknownst to us, there is a setting deep in the configuration where 4G, 3G or 2G can be selected as the permanent option.  Somehow, the 3G option had been selected.  Switching it back to 4G resolved the problem instantly.  I’ll doubt we’ll ever understand the vagaries of iPhones.    

As we had a bridge lesson in the middle of the day on Thursday and the forecast was for almost continuous rain, we decided to stay put in Rigny for another day and move on during Friday.  As it turned out there was just a bit of rain and that was first thing but as it wasn’t particularly sunny either, we didn’t mind that we’d stayed put. 

We’re still in two minds about where to leave the boat when we go to Barcelona for a few days in a week’s time.  I know we’ve got a space booked at Savoyeux but I wasn’t particularly enamoured about the place and other ideas have cropped up since too.  Now that we’re both double-vaccinated we don’t need easy access to the car so one thing we’ve decided is that we’ll just move it between major towns.  We can then use public transport each time we want to move it on again. 

Gray is the closest place that has decent spots to leave the car and also has good bus links up the Saône valley as well as water for the boat.  So, we’re toying with popping back there until we go to Barcelona, maybe trying a couple of the other moorings we noticed in addition to the main town ones we stayed at last week.   When we return from Spain, we can then make sure the boat is topped up with water before we set off.  Not having a car with us when we get going again will mean more freedom in terms of distances we can travel and the frequency.  Talking about these ideas has made us realise that we’re quite excited about a change in our routine.

Our conversations around routes and cruising have also made us consider whether it’s practical to get to Strasbourg this year.  As we’ve travelled so slowly, we’re now in a position that we’ll have to travel like the clappers to get there and then back to the Marne where we want to be for November.  That would mean not being able to stop off to explore places so we’re considering other options.   A favourite at the moment is to carry on to the end of the Saône, up the length of the Canal des Vosges, up the Moselle to the junction with the Canal de la Meuse around the Nancy area.  We’ll follow the Canal de la Meuse north to Sedan where we’ll turn left down the Canal des Ardennes to meet the Canal de l’Aisne à la Marne at Berry au Bac and then back south through Reims down to the Marne. 

New plan – we’re currently at the bottom of the purple line

There’s always next year for Strasbourg and anyway, aside from the little section through Reims, it will all be new to us.

In line with the latest plan, Friday was ‘move back to Gray’ day, so Karen drove there with Buddy to leave the car and then ran back to the boat before it got too warm.  It only took an hour to cruise back to Gray which, unlike last weekend, had quite a few boats on the main mooring. 

Gray cathedral in the distance

Approaching the lock in Gray

We wanted to get back to the same spot as last weekend as we knew it was shady in the afternoon but unfortunately there was a boat there already, so we moored just in front of a lovely English couple, Helen & Dave, on their 21.5 metre Dutch barge called Brontë.  The 21.5 is mentioned because once boats are over 20 metres, they and the crew are subject to a whole new level of rules and regulations.

We found we had a lot in common as they came over to France at the same time as us and have also managed to get their French residency.  They use Strasbourg as their permanent address and really raved about the place.  Coincidentally, Helen works a few days a week like Karen so conversation soon turned to internet, and they warned us about how poor we'll find it on the Canal des Vosges which, to be honest, we were expecting anyway as it is very rural.  Helen kindly gave Karen a list of everywhere they stayed and what the internet reception was like.

Although we’d followed the tourist trail around Gray last weekend, we decided to do a bit of our own sightseeing during the afternoon.  As usual we came across interesting buildings that hadn’t been mentioned in the tourist trail.  For example, this 17th century lavoir with a house built over it.

Then we found a fine old 16th century building that was a hospital even older than the one on the tourist guide.

When we got back we had a Zoom call with four boater friends from the UK and then later in the afternoon Stuart & Vicky turned up on Victoria; they were on their way back to Auxonne to return to the UK for their second jabs.  Sadly for them, when they return to their boat they will only have a couple of months to travel as, without residency cards, they are subject to the Schengen 90-day rule.  Together with Helen & Dave’s friends Jean-Claude & Jean on Pax II moored behind them we all sat outside drinking and chatting for a few hours.  Jean-Claude & Jean were an interesting couple as they were French-Venezuelan and French-Canadian respectively.

Friday evening at Gray

On Friday we cruised three miles down two locks.


Rigny (watching the world go by)

Friday evening in Gray – Karen working out Saturday’s walking tour

Friday looked like it was going to be no less hot than the rest of the week had been and, as we were going to move on to Gray, I drove the car there early in the morning then cycled back to Mantoche.  Although Gray wasn’t that far away, the cycle ride was four kilometres longer as the path was on the other side to the mooring I had to cycle back past the boat before finding a river crossing.  Karen went for an early morning run in order to avoid the heat and we met as we were crossing the river in the opposite directions.  She told me that the marbled whites were out in force near the flood gates so I stopped and spent a happy 20 minutes watching them.  I also managed to get my first decent picture of a male so I was happy.

Male marbled white

Once we were all back at the boat we set about leaving for Gray.  The Saône was still heavily wooded on either side and we didn’t pass any boats on the journey but did spot a pleasant looking wild mooring that Karen rapidly made notes about.

The Saône on Friday morning

After an hour or so we were approaching Gray which, being an old boating town, had quays on both banks that would take dozens of boats so there was no danger of not finding somewhere to moor.

Approaching Gray

We were surprised to find there was only one other boat moored there as when we checked on our scouting trip the previous Friday it seemed to be jam packed.   Token-operated water and electricity bornes are provided on one stretch of the quay on the left bank.  The token mechanism hasn’t been working for a while so both water and electricity are free.  This was rather fortuitous as it meant we could have electric fans going in an effort to keep air circulating.  It also meant we could use the electric kettle to avoid adding extra heat by using the gas.

We had a quick look around town and found the tourist office where we picked up a couple of leaflets.  It was refreshing but strange to finally see the bars and restaurants doing a good trade now they are fully open and tourists have started arriving in France.  Even though we hadn’t had full sun all day it felt the hottest day yet and we had to keep exercise to a minimum for Buddy.

Buddy finally moved out of the shade later in the evening

On Friday we cruised four miles through no locks.

On Saturday we did our tour around Gray and one of first places we visited was a lavoir down by the river.  This one was built in 1825 in the nearby village of Mont-le-Franois but was relocated to Gray in 1972 where it became the tourist information office.  That was a good idea at the time but a new tourist office has been built since then, so the lavoir building is now closed down and looking in rather a sorry state.  Being a river town, Gray used to have a series of bateaux lavoirs, the last one being taken out of use as late as 1945.  Bateaux lavoirs were large and even had furnaces on board for boiling the laundry.  Near to the relocated and unloved lavoir was a war memorial dedicated to those townsfolk who died in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1.

Franco-Prussian war memorial

The medieval part of town started by the river and led up to the old fortifications at the top of the hill. 

One of the two streets leading to the top of town

Soon after starting up one of the narrow streets, we came out into a small square where two houses with corbelled towers stood in opposite corners.  Corbel was a new word to us and refers to the projection from a building that supports a structure above it.

Left hand building dates from 1500s and the right hand one from a century later

Every so often alleys led off to the sides forming small courtyards of housing; a mixture of well-kept and run-down dwellings.  Some of the better looking places were operating as restaurants.

Halfway up the hill a side street opened up into a large square with a hospital at the far end.  This was built in the first half of the 18th century and the inscription high up on the front wall indicates it was built for the poor and unfortunate.   A little further on, a commemorative ceramic tiled plaque on the front of a building indicated that it housed the first printing press in Gray.  

Printing press established in 1789

Around the corner was a tower that was built as a grain store in the 15th century; the gable at the side being added 200 years later.

The corn exchange

A little square by the corn exchange was apparently the venue for medieval folk festivals although the water fountain wasn’t so old being built in 1808.

Little fountain square

Next was a much larger square with the impressive town hall standing along one side:

Gray’s hôtel de ville

As we were now near the top of the town, we went in search of the remains of ramparts around the original Gray castle.  When we found the walls, they looked quite promising and followed them to find the 12th century Paravis tower.

Unfortunately the tower was covered in netting

Taking a rest at the top we had a good view over modern Gray and along the Saône valley.

Gray below us

On the way back down, we also passed the cathedral that was rebuilt in the 15/16th centuries, the original church having been destroyed during the wars of Louis XI.  

The cathedral

Back at the boat we spent the rest of the day in the shade of the trees alongside while people-watching and admiring the many large houses along the river front.  An old lady came out of one of them and sat near us.  We’d noticed her the doing the same thing the previous afternoon, alternating between, reading, knitting and completing puzzles in a book.  This time we had a good long chat, and she was lovely as she deliberately spoke slowly which is something so many people seem unable to do however hard they try.

She explained that her house was built in the beginning of the 19th century and her family had always lived there.  In her working life, she was a vet and now lived on her own as all her children had families of their own and her husband had died.  She was over 80 years old and remembered when the waterfront at Gray was packed with barges rather than today’s pleasure boats.  Commercial traffic stopped using the highest 150 kilometres of the river from Maxilly-sur-Saône through Gray and further upstream some while ago.

Gray has a bridge across the river at each end of town so later in the evening we went for a walk down the river to the lower bridge and back up the other side.

The house opposite our mooring which was built for the local vinegar distillery owner

The upper bridge back into Gray

Later in the evening we were entertained by a spectacular lightning storm which gave way to rain as we went to bed but it made for a more comfortable night’s sleep.

After breakfast on Sunday, we moved further upriver to a place called Rigny.  Unlike Gray and Mantoche our new mooring was on a lock cut which was built to bypass the river with a lock at the downstream end.  

Rigny lock cut 

As soon as we moored up, Buddy was straight off the boat and settled down in the shade of a handy bush.

Buddy being sensible

After mooring up we walked back to Gray to fetch the car and as we drove back the sun disappeared and black clouds started rolling in.  We got back just in time as we had a torrential downpour for half an hour which cooled the atmosphere and the rest of the day remained breezy and overcast.  We were lucky compared with Doubs which is in the same region, where hailstones were so large that car windscreens were smashed.  

Narrowboat sized mooring in the Rigny lock cut

On Sunday we cruised three miles up two locks.

The week ahead looks like we will have temperatures back to the right side of 30 degrees with some rain so it will be quite a change from what we’ve been used to recently.