Chevroches, Canal du Nivernais

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Last Week - in Auxerre

One week tomorrow we will be off the boat and on a convoluted journey home. I've spent the last 2 days on the internet trying to organise trains and hotels. All are booked now - let's just hope that when we turn up at the station/hotel lobby everything goes smoothly. Things have not been made easier by the fact that Visa (CBA) cancelled our credit cards not long after we left home claiming that they had been 'compromised'. According to them 'someone' had tried to make a $1 dollar purchase over the internet using our cards, so hard luck to us. Who on earth would attempt a measly $1 puchase? I was particularly annoyed as I had made a point of personally visiting the bank before we left and had told them where we were going and for how long. Their emergency card replacement service (based in a call centre in a far off universe) was useless as they couldn't understand we were travelling on a boat, wouldn't deliver to a post office and if we wanted new cards we'd have to stay in a hotel. Try booking a hotel without a credit card. Is this a ruse to get us onto the expensive travel cards I wonder. They are Visa debit cards but they give you a rotten rate of exchange. Bank is a 4 letter word.

At the risk of sounding even more grumpy the weather has suddenly turned cold and wet. Nothing to be done about that. It most definitely is autumn now. For the first time in 5 months we didn't even go off the boat today. Still, despite the cold we have a million dollar view from the window - the river on one side and the  medieval town of Auxerre on the other. The river is flowing fast and the ducks pass downstream at amazing speed. How they manage to paddle upsteam beats me. Which brings me to a slight problem we have developed. Our bow thruster has died. This means that the boat is much less manoeuvrable. So far so good - the captain is being cautious and the crew has become super good at throwing ropes in locks. There's nothing like downgrading the technology to make you upgrade your skills. Only 8 locks to go......

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Non! Non! Non!

Today there was a general strike. There have been a couple over the summer but to be honest we haven't really noticed. It's a bit hard to come to grips with normal working French hours never mind when they are being 'difficult'. For instance, the entire country closes down and goes on holiday for the month of August. Want a restaurant? Sorry, 'Ferme'. Hungry foreign tourists wander through deserted towns across the country gazing forlornly at scrawled messages taped in dusty windows announcing the proprietors are off on their 'vacances' and see you in a month or so. Well, no you won't. We'll all have gone home by then. 'So what' shrugs the French proprietor - ah! the Gallic shrug. It's a pretty useful gesture. I've been practising. If it's not August and thus normal working hours then everything shuts down at mid day - on the dot (some places there's even a siren) - and everyone goes to lunch. Now, there's a bit of variation here, lock keepers generally get back on duty at 1 or 1.30 but shops often stay shut until 3 or 4pm. Unless it's Sunday, when they don't open at all, or Monday when they most likely won't open- but they might open for a bit in the afternoon. Depends.

So, today a lot of the lock keepers seemed to be 'missing'. Result was that some poor student on a holiday job had to work 3 or 4 locks. I can see a flaw in this. If a poorly paid student can manage to keep things going whilst the old guys are off on strike....

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Time to Turn Back

Chevroches on the Canal du Nivernais

Chevroches is a pretty village of stone houses, dry stone walls, stone wells, stone seats, stone steps..... yes there was once a stone quarry here. The stones were transported along the canal and where we are moored used to be the port. There are no shops unfortunately, not even a boulangerie but the countryside is beautiful. This is as far along the Nivernais that we can go with confidence as it has become pretty shallow and whilst we are keen to give this lovely canal a go in the future we don't have enough time left this year to factor in getting stuck or worse, doing any damage.The canal is much used by hire boats which have a much shallower draft than us and, as I have previously mentioned, often go at speed (they understandably want to see as much as possible in their week's expensive holiday). At the risk of sounding like a boring boatie speed is not good in shallow water; it causes wash which damages fragile banks and it causes us to run aground which is not good for my fragile temper (or for those around me). So this is as far as we can go before retracing our steps a bit to Migennes where we will leave our boat for the winter.
A beutifully kept lock on the Canal du Nivernais

Roches de Basse Ville, Canal du Nivernais


  It's not all sunshine you know! Rob did the gallant bit and let me have the one emergency poncho.

Next day - blue skies again....

Mooring at Chevroches

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Drifting at Chatel Censoir

Just came back from this market in tiny Chatel Censoir (who buys a mattress at the village market I wonder) to find our boat adrift and across the canal. We had been moored here on pins for 2 nights waiting for the rain to let up. Fortunately the local lock keeper  had spotted what was happening and  raced down in his car and was hauling her back in as we arrived leaving some unfortunate in the lock. Some dimwit cruising at car speed had caused our pins to pull out. I suppose we shoud really have been more cautious and one of us should have stayed with the boat.
Anyway, thank you lock keeper and a request to anyone thinking of hiring a canal boat. Can you please slow down when you're passing moored boats.


Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Canal du Nivernais - hire boat country

From the moment you leave Auxerre you realise things are going to be a little different. Approaching the first arched bridge we glided to a panicked halt (a contradiction I know but it just means the panic lasts lomger) when we realised that lowering the nav frame wouldn't be sufficient to get through. We would also have to pull down the canvas canopy - and don't forget the flag pole! So, a few minutes dizzying around mid river and entertaining the locals. Immediately through the bridge we entered the first lock of the Nivernais. Nice locks, keepered, worked manually and you need to get off and help. There is no commercial traffic on the Nivernais which is perhaps one reason why it has become a hugely popular tourist waterway. The other reason is that it is very pretty. So, lots of hire boats which, with all their rubber fenders, resemble dodgem cars (thanks Libby) and are occasionally driven in a similar fashion. Sharing the locks has been an interesting experience (I even met a teacher from my primary school in Scotland) but we're ever wary of feelings of superiority as they often precede some disaster. I suppose this is the way that commercial bargees have felt as they looked at us over the past  months -  exasperation tempered by mild amusement.
Many of the locks are operated by students as a not overly taxing holiday job.These are sometimes beautifully turned out young women. Where else in the world would you have lock keepers who look like they should be starring in a photo shoot for a glossy magazine? Are they so glamorous because they know they are going to be in hundreds of tourists' photos and maybe one of the photograhers might be someone famous or is it just because they are French and therefore chic? Probably the latter.
A few pics from the Nivernais so far......

A typical Nivernais bridge

Misty morning on the Nivernais
Hire boat negotiating bridge

Le Saussois - peregrine falcons here

 Sunset on the Nivernais

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Sens to Auxerre with a little 'boom boom!' on the way.

One of the joys of travelling is the unexpected. Moret-sur -Loing had surprised me in the discovery that half timbered buildings are not the preserve of ye olde England. The towns of Sens, Joigny and Auxerre are full of narrow winding streets of ancient, sagging, leaning buildings. Part of their charm is that many are pretty shabby looking - not having been given the equivalent of botox and a face lift they look their age and in my opinion all the better for it. Most of these towns are dominated by wonderful Gothic churches set high on hills. The mean streets below seem to be full of hairdressers. Being August, everyone is on holiday the only people around being tourists roaming the streets looking in vain for an open restaurant. So far I have learned that between 12 and 4 each day and for the whole of the month of August, France is closed.
At the last lock before Joigny the lock keeper was at pains to tell us something. We weren't sure what though. Eventually he pointed to the sky and said 'Boom! Boom!" A thunderstorm perhaps?? What it turned out to be  was the most wonderful firework display to commemorate the anniversary of the liberation of the town in 1944. We had grandstand seats on our boat and as the almost full moon rose behind the church on the hill the lights illuminating the arched bridge over the river were switched off. A few minutes of silence passed and then a voice over the sound system read a moving speech remembering those who fought and died for France, followed by some songs of the Resistance. Then 'boom! boom!' to music. Unexpected and magnificent.
Thanksfor visiting, Libby and Brian. Also for the delicious haggis.

Joigny, R Yonne


Tour d'Horloge, Auxerre. Magnificent golden sundial on gateway to pedestrian precinct.
Following 'Elizabeth' into Auxerre

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Sloping Along the Yonne

Now September and so we're into our final month afloat. We've come a long way and every day there's something new to surprise us or snap us out of complacency. After leaving Moret-sur-Loing, ten days ago we were quickly reminded that we're not as expert as we might have imagined we were - note to self, beware smugness. Pride comes before a fall etc etc. We had been forewarned about the locks on the River Yonne but forewarned is not really fore-armed. Having passed through them I still don't know what the best way to go about it is. They are big and have sloping sides - I haven't researched why as yet.

We were locking up so I jumped off before the first one and went to check things out and talk to the keeper. He told me that I should catch a stern rope as Rob drove into the lock, loop it round a bollard  in the back half of the lock and pass it back. Then Rob was to throw a bow rope and repeat. He should then attempt to stay in the middle of the lock by using the engine and fending off with a boat hook so the boat wouldn't drag up the sloping lockside whilst I looked on uselessly from the sidelines. The most important part of this information is the bit about staying in the back half of the lock. As the keeper said, 'It's very violent at the front.' Hmmm... So, we had just got ourselves organised - sort of - when the keeper got a call and told us we'd have to move to the other side and up to the front of the lock. 'Look,' he said, pointing back down the canal. A large commercial barge was approaching and would be joining us in the lock. Thereafter it was all a bit fraught. I did the useless bystander bit perfectly though. Rob struggled manfully with ropes, engine and boathook and gave up the latter as a bad job pretty quickly but came through with only damage to his nerves.
Next lock, the commercial barge went in first and we tied up to him and it was a breeze. Further up the river you get into hire boat country and the locks have been modified so that there are floating pontoons to tie up to. The pontoons rise or fall with the level of the water which makes life much easier- quite relaxing in fact.

The Yonne is a lovely river - if they could just fit those pontoons into all the locks.

 A dapper lock keeper. Bowler hat (which he raised as we arrived and left) and safety vest. Can't beat it.