Chevroches, Canal du Nivernais

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Homeward Bound

Gare d'eau St Jean de Losne

L'Avenir is now safely (we hope) tucked up for winter at St Jean de Losne. Our last week or so on board was spent in magnificent autumn weather which made packing up and winterising reasonably hassle free but also made us wish we could continue cruising. However, we knew the warmth wouldn't last much longer and the enormous woodpiles outside people's houses gave a clue as to how cold it would become in a few weeks time.
St Jean de Losne is a major base for cruising boats with many people storing their boats there for the winter and we saw quite a few we'd met earlier in the season. Being in a port for a few days was also a good opportunity to chat to other boaters and share experiences and plans.

L'Avenir's winter berth- the port has a webcam which can be remotely operated by boat owners

It always intrigues me that people can travel the same routes visiting much the same places and have such different experiences and opinions of them. Part of the reason might simply be due to the weather at the time but it's not only that. Depending on the size of your boat, you might have had trouble finding suitable moorings for the night. Perhaps you had to clamber up and down ladders in locks. Maybe you arrived in the only village for miles on the baker's day off or, alternatively, were lucky enough to be there for a festival and fireworks. Or, you had an altercation with another boater and he threw a bucket of water over you (this did happen to someone we met but seems so incredible I have to mention it). The permutations are endless.
So, we're travelling similar journeys but in different ways. Most of us began in much the same way though, and that was  by hearing someone's else's story - in a tv programme or a film, a book, an article or even a blog and then saying,
'I'd love to do that!'

Mantoche. One of the prettiest moorings on the Saone. The chateau was once a royal hunting lodge.

Monday, 19 September 2011


Otherwise known as the Canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne

Am writing this as we cruise up the River Saone having left the Canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne this morning. The river here sweeps through forests and although the trees are mostly still in full leaf they are beginning to hint at what is sure to be a gorgeous display of autumn colour in a few weeks time. Unfortunately, we won't be here to witness it as, exactly 2 weeks from now, we need to be in Paris ready to fly home to Australia. Summer has slipped into autumn and the days have not only become shorter but they seem to be whizzing past at an ever increasing pace. Time is very nearly up.
Autumn activities are in full swing here now. The crops are mostly harvested and the fields are ploughed ready for whatever winter crops they grow; squirrels (beautiful red ones - haven't seen any greys) are busy collecting nuts as are the local French people - and me. There are walnuts and hazel nuts all along the canal banks. Fruit trees are laden but unlike the nuts no-one seems to be collecting the fallen fruit which seems a bit of a shame. And yesterday was the beginning of La Chasse - the hunting season. So lots of banging off of shotguns in the surrounding forests. We were out on our bikes yesterday when we came across this notice.

Moments later we heard bells ringing and out from the woodland wandered some very muddy dogs (the bells were around their necks) followed by hunters with shotguns. Fortunately, for us at least, no rushing wild boar in evidence.
I have noticed the fishermen are less in numbers recently. Perhaps that season is over. Here's a picture of one very happy one from last week - that is the fisherman was happy, I suspect the fish less so. The fish weighed in at 9 kilos and after weighing and measuring they let it go, packed up and went home or, perhaps, to the pub.

As mentioned we are now back on the River Saone after completeing our return trip down the Canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne (and I'm glad I don't have to keep typing that any more). The trip back was just as enjoyable as seeing it for the first time. The countryside looked, and in fact was, changed due to the harvest and anyway everything always takes on a different appearance depending on the weather and the colour of the sky. We stopped in different places wherever possible and, of course, we met lots of different people.
The automated lock system worked - mostly - and when it didn't the mobile eclusiers were unfailingly helpful and friendly. They keep a reassuring eye on  everyone  and whilst you might have moored for the night out in the middle of nowhere and think yourself all alone a tiny white van driven by a man or woman from the VNF (the waterways authority) will drive past on the tow path last thing in the evening and first thing in the morning and note will be taken of where you are.
Here are photos of the 'instructions' of how to enter/leave the canal. When we arrived a few weeks ago the notice had only the diagram and no written instructions. Obviously confusion reigned and so someone realised that sometimes we need words as well as pictures.
If you want to enlarge you'll need to click on the pics.

Telecommander - Canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne

The canal was very quiet. Some days we would meet only one other boat. A few commercials use it  - maybe one every couple of days -which means it stays open all winter. A lock keeper told us that it gets down to -20c in winter and the canal gets 8 cm of ice which they break using an ice breaking boat. If the ice is more than 8cm they close the canal. He also told us that Langres, where he lives, is the coldest place in France - but I think we've heard that claim several times before.
Langres was a place that merited a second visit even if it does take a heart attack making climb of 3 km to reach the city. It makes the somewhat modest claim to be one of the 50 most beautiful cities in France and whilst the town has some lovely streetscapes what really makes the place are the intact ramparts which you can walk right around.. The views from there are quite breathtaking always assuming you've still got some breath to take after the climb. The walls incorporate gateways into the city which date from Roman times. Should you ever visit we can recommend the tower museum which has some great audio visual displays and is an absolute bargain at 3 euros for an audio guide.


A tourist brochure we picked up in Langres mentioned a 'petrified waterfall' in Rolampont but gave no further details so, intrigued, we made a stop there to discover what that was about. Many of the mooring places along the canal have some sort of information board of varying usefulness and range from the basic and most important- how many kilometres to the nearest baker or hairdresser (the two shops perhaps still to survive in a French village) to ones with maps, recommended walks, historical sites etc. The board at Rolampont devoted on whole side to the waterfall location which turned out to be at a site called La Tuffière. So, after waiting in vain for the rain to go off, we donned our waterproofs and set off to cycle the 5 or so km.
Cycling in this part of rural France is, despite the hills, a real pleasure. The roads are practically deserted  apart from the occasional scarily large agricutural machine) and the scenery is lovely - farmland stretching for miles over the hills, small villages each clustered around a church and many beautiful woodlands. The road and then track that we wanted led into one of these and whether it was all the rain or the watery sunshine filtering through the trees it was one of the most amazingly green places (outside of Ireland) you could imagine and could have been lifted straight from a fairy tale. (My camera I'm afraid couldn't begin to do it justice - I'm resolved to buy a new one.) We were the only people there which added to the atmosphere.

La Tuffière, Rolampont

Without going into a long explanation of what's going on there (what's Google for after all?) it's a kind of magical turning of moss into rock over thousands of years and the formation of a very beautiful pooling cascade of water. The waterfall is the process still in action but the whole area of woodland has rock formations which were quarried in the past but have now been reclaimed by the forest. Anyway, it was lovely.

Now, we're off to sample the 15 euro menu in the local restaurant. Will report back later and hopefully upload some photos if the internet connection still works.
Hmmm. We were the only customers. The wine was good.....
An observation. Traditional cuisine seems to mean either 'entrecote et frites' (steak and chips) or pizza.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Retracing Steps

Joinville - on the canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne as well as the R Marne
Well, we didn't toss a coin after all.  Caution and Sense (me) prevailed and we turned around 180 degrees and set off back down the Canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne. The route may be the same but it seems different - all the locks we went down in we're now going up and we're seeing the countryside from the other side of the trees so to speak. Things also look different in the rain....
It is most definitely Autumn now. The trees are just beginning to lose their  leaves and there are lots of people out along the tow path collecting nuts and apples from the laden trees. We've collected quite a pile ourselves which might stand us in good stead when we run out of shops in a day or so. The farmers are also out in force, collecting and wrapping hay bales and harvesting the sweetcorn and sunflowers.

There is even less traffic than a week ago. Today, for instance, we travelled for 6 hours and didn't see a single other boat. All very peaceful, the only drama being stuck in an automated lock for half an hour when the road bridge which is supposed to work in conjunction with the lock got stuck half way up meaning we couldn't move and nor could the road users.
A little maintenance whilst stuck in a lock

Another phone call to the control centre. Perhaps it happens regularly as none of the drivers seemed upset. They all just got out of their vehicles for a chat and a lot of shoulder shrugging. I even had the chance to do a bit of sympathetic shrugging myself. Eventually a liitle white van arrived and a lock keeper leapt out to save the day once again.
Holding up the traffic

Saturday, 3 September 2011

St Dizier

Bill or is it Ben? Canalside art.

Buxom gnome. Interesting lockside display.

Here we are at St Dizier and almost at the end of this canal. and for the very first time in 4 years some unpleasantness with kids throwing stones at the boat. It's the last weekend before school goes back so perhaps they are at the limit of their boredom threshhold.
This may be between Champagne and Burgundy but there hasn't been much of either to be found. The canal is very rural and pretty passing through rich agricultural land. There are lots of villages but either there is nowhere to moor or if there is there are no shops - the huge out of town supermarkets have killed off most of the local shops. However, we have been really pleased to be woken at 8am on several mornings when a mobile baker van has visited the various moorings. Just love that fresh 'pain chocolat' for brekkie.

One of our travelling lock keepers swinging a bridge open for us.

This canal has been very quiet. Most of the locks are now automated but they don't  always work and my 'canal French' is improving thanks to having call up the control centre to report problems.The lock keepers never seem to be far away though. Today we had one accompany us to every lock even though they all worked and we had a very nice- and very hard working - student with us yesterday working us through the remaining manual stretch.

Our 'holiday job' lock keeper zooming along the towpath on his moto.

View from the ramparts at the fortified town of Langres. A very steep 2km climb from the canal but worth it.
Another tunnel. This one is lovely and wide - and well lit.

So tonight we have to decide what to do next. We can turn around and retrace our steps along this canal or... we can go like the clappers and continue north and west along the canal de la Marne to Toul and then south on the Vosges and Saone back to St Jean de Losne. The latter is a gamble. It's a long, long way and there are more locks than I care to think about. Will we toss for it??
No shortage of water on this canal. 

Misty autumn morning in Langres

Thursday, 1 September 2011

The canal between burgundy and champagne

-or between the river Marne and the river Soane.
We are here on the toss of a coin. We left St Jean de Losne and headed north along the Saone passing the entrance to the Doubs and pausing for a lunch break at the city of Auxonne. A night and a very ordinary meal at Pontailler sur Saone and we came to the junction of the Saone and the canal entre bourgogne et champagne. Which way? A toss of a euro and tails won. Doesn't it always? And here we are. We had absolutely no preconceptions about this canal. It doesn't seem to be on the most popular list and we'd heard nothing at all about it.
2nd lock in, enter lock, lock fills, wait for gates to open, and wait and wait. Eventually wake up and look at notices. We are supposed to phone up via a box at the lock and declare ourselvses. The person at the other end tells us he will deliver a 'telecommander' (remote control) in a few minutes. We had a remote control to operate the locks on the River Doubs so we're familiar with the concept -we think. But there's always a variation on the theme here.
We expect a delivery from a lock keeper in a little white van but are astonished when, about 5 mimutes later, said zapper is spat out of the machine I have just spoken into. Now what? we have the zapper but we're still trapped in the lock. So, after zapping everything in sight, unsuccessfully, we call up on the phone again. which is what we were supposed to do in the first place apparently. They just want to know the number of the zapper we have received and then open the gates remotely. Bon apres midi and we're on our way. Champagne and Burgundy - sounds promising.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Pretentious. Moi?

Warning - gratuitous product name dropping you may find offensive.

I was amused recently to discover that we have apparently joined the ranks of the 'chic'. Here we were, moored beside a pretty village in Franche Compte enjoying a very late and pretty ordinary ( or so I thought) lunch of bread and cheese and a glass of the local white. We were both reading the day's English newspaper which had been magically delivered to our Kindles via Whispernet. (Yes, I know it's not chic to read at the table but we're about to more than make up for that).
He was still on the front pages which were filled with stories of rioting and looting in English cities whilst I, having had enough of that depressing news, had flicked to the magazine section and promptly choked on my crusty baguette necessitating a gulp of wine before I could read on.
Me. 'What do you think of the fromage?'
Him, barely looking up. 'You mean the cheese? S'okay. Prefer the blue though.'
Me. 'No, it's not just 'cheese'. It's Compte and it's referred to as fromage even when you're speaking English. And I think by 'the blue' you really mean Roquefort.'
He's looking at me now. 'What are you talking about?' (expletive omitted)
So, I had to explain that according to this article, the 'fromage' (as it was called throughout) we were eating with insufficient appreciation is the latest 'must have' on the fromage plattters of the 'chicest' dinner parties in England. You will, apparently, be unlikey to find it in your local supermarket so it needs to be 'sourced' from farmers markets. Not only that, if you haven't already bored your guests quite to death with your wine knowledge you can finish them off by describing the cheese in similar detail. Apparently, like wine, cheese has hints of this and notes of that. I can't remember what they were in this case but perhaps they were hints of meadowsweet and buttercup and notes of cowbell.
Me. 'The fromage is best enjoyed with a glass of this Jura wine apparently.' I'd bought the wine at the only shop in the village - the baker. Or, as we fromage-y people say - the boulangerie.
Him. 'I'd sooner have a cold beer. But then, that would be a ploughman's lunch and I suppose that's not chic'.
And we both went back to reading the front pages about the hoodies sourcing doughnuts, crisps and cider from Tesco  Express to enjoy whilst watching themselves on previously sourced flatscreen tvs.
Cows with Bells. Franche Compte fromage producers.
-and a rather curious young one watching us in a lock

We have now left the mountains and spectacular scenery of Franche Compte and are once again in Burgundy. One thing I won't miss is the sound of churchbells. Every village is clustered around a pretty church with the distinctively shaped and attractively tiled clock/bell tower of the region. The bell chimes the hour as you would expect. Often twice, after a pause of a couple of minutes, just in case you missed it the first time. They also chime the quarter hour - once for the first quarter, twice for the second and three times for the third. Again they often do this twice, in case you missed it the first time. Now, during the day this is fine. Should you feel the pressing need to know the time to the nearest quarter of an hour you don't need a watch but during the night it is enough to drive you to insanity. The locals seem sane so either they're used to it, have triple glazing or sleep with earplugs. Actually I think they just like bells. Even the cows wear them (notes of cowbell).
Typical Franche Compte Churches
Stuck in a stop lock

This full size commercial got stuck fast in a stop lock in Rochefort. We thought we'd be held up for days but in the event we only had to wait a day whilst they lowered the level of the canal and then refilled it once the barge had been freed.

Our Scottish guests kindly took the rain away with them and we are back to scorching days. We have decided to book our boat into the marina here in St Jean de Losne for the winter which is a load off our minds. So now we can relax even more and enjoy our last 6 weeks.

Restaurant at St Jean de Losne handy for our boat - that's her in the background. Had an interesting dinner of boeuf bourguignon served (on the same plate) with chips and lots of lettuce. Only 13 euros for a 3 course meal though. The large barge opposite had to move the next evening as there was a fantastic firework display set off from that very spot. We had the best seats in town.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Welcome Visitors

We love having visitors and are really appreciative of the long distances people travel and the convoluted routes they are prepared to take in order to find us (not to mention the even more involved route they might have to make to return home). Our somewhat lackadaisical approach to planning means that we're never quite sure where we're going to be even a week hence so I'm afraid intending crew have to be pretty resourceful, adventurous types prepared to make their final travel arrangements at the last minute. If you're thinking of joining us over the next month or so I can say with certainty that we will be in France (although we are very close to both Switzerland and Germany at the moment) and with some confidence somewhere in Franche Comte or Burgundy. Unlike some other countries France has maintained an excellent train network which generally works efficiently and as canals and railways often share similar routes we are usually not too far from a station. I say generally because there is always the possiblity of a strike or some unforseen (by us at least) stoppage for line works. As happened to Libby and Brian who left us this morning from Baumes les Dames on a rather tortuous trip back to Edinburgh. They joined us last week at Besancon (having been emailed their destination station a couple of days earlier - all very secret mission-ish). Not knowing our plans they had booked return flights from Paris to Edinburgh but decided to arrange the trains back to Paris from here. Not a problem, normally, but today and tomorrow there is a problem. Unfazed, they arranged a somewhat  longer journey via bus and train and involving a bit of waiting around which they cheerfully accepted as good opportunities for cafe stops.

Besancon is a lovely old walled city overlooked by the UNESCO world heritage site citadel (which, apart from containing a couple of museums, also has a zoo with a poor, lonely kangaroo in it.

I bet he doesn't enjoy winter here).
Besancon Citadel

River Doubs from Besancon Citadel

 There's a lot to see from Roman ruins to Renaissance buildings and more and we spent a hot couple of days exploring. The streets are wide and paved and the stone of the buildings is a lovely gold, pink and blue.

Antique carousel at Besancon


The River Doubs loops around the city walls, and can be navigated with care (not sufficient care from us I'm afraid - we managed to bump the bottom once)

and then through a tunnel beneath the citadel.

Tunnel entrance Besancon

We had been told by many people that the Doubs river valley from Besancon towards the Rhine was spectacular scenery wise (a bit like Scotland) and so it has proved. Unfortunately some good Scottish mist and rain  followed our guests here and we've had a wet few days (making it even more like Scotland).

No-one's spirits were dampened though and we've had a lot of laughs (some credit must go to Chic Murray), great food, wine and 'Glesga patter'. So, thanks Libby and Brian (a man prepared to hike more miles than you'd believe in search of a baguette) for your great company and see you soon in Oz.

Monday, 1 August 2011

This is the Life

Well things could be worse. At last the sun is shining. We are now on the River Doubs which is in cow bell  distance ( heard them today) of Switzerland. The river is pretty but there are very few places to stop which becomes more of an issue the nearer it gets to lock closing time. The canalised sections of this navigation are in a very poor condition and so it's difficult to moor except where there is a pontoon ( practically nowhere). And even if there is a pontoon, hard luck if you happen to want to tie up on a Sunday. There'll be a fishing competition and there's no arguing with French fishermen. We tried and lost.  We've had a long couple of days with every stop already occupied and so lunches on the run.

A rather prettily lit tunnel.

We are now in Besancon.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Fire Drill at Dole

Things to do on a warm Sunday morning in Dole, France:

lie in bed.....

....go to this church


don a lovely shiny helmet and play grown-up super soakers with your friends and team mates and have fun!

Friday, 29 July 2011

Changing Direction

Barbie weather at last!

We are a little surprised to be on the River Doubs (canal du Rhone au Rhine - I have to look that up every time). After leaving the Canal du Centre we cruised up the Saone to St Jean du Losne, the fabled centre of navigation in France. I'm not sure what I expected here - there are certainly plenty of boats but the town seemed less lively than I had anticipated. We stopped in Blanquarts marina for a couple of days and enquired about leaving the boat for the winter. No chance apparently - you have to book a year in advance. H20, the other big boatyard, is next door. We enquired there and they may have a place but they also directed us to their new marina at Auxonne further up the Saonne. So off we set for a look see. The cruise up the river was pleasant and quiet. There seemed to be quite a few boats coming the other way. At the lock into Auxonne we discovered why. The keeper told us that a lock further up had been so badly damaged it was closed - effectively closing off the navigation - and everyone was having to turn back. Worse still the word is it will be closed until September. So, no route north.
 We spent a night in Auxonne and decided the new port wasn't for us. The walled town, dominated by its army barracks, has some interesting buidings though.
So back down the river and then onto the Doubs. We have been told that this is one of the most spectacular navigations in France - but also a bit tricky. At the end of this is the Rhine which is described in our book as being 'not for the faint hearted'. Well that's me excused then. I'm researching bus routes.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Messing about on Rivers - again

I love canals. Want to stop?  Just pull in to the bank and hammer in a couple of pegs. But - I love rivers more. We descended the deep lock onto the Soanne and when the guillotine gates slowly slid open everything the world became bigger, wider and more relaxing. Exiting the canal cut we immediately met an approaching large peniche (commercial barge) and rather than going into panic mode (my default position) and yelling 'get into the side!' 'look out!' we just swung nonchalantly to the right with regal wave and drifted past.

Lock from Canal du Centre onto the River Saone

  A great evening of musical and theatrical entertainment in the narrow, cobbled streets of Chalon sur Saone compensated somewhat for the rather expensive night in the port. Pity about the drenching thunderstorm. Thunderstorms seem to be a daily feature recently. Usually ocuuring about 3 in the afternoon. Anyone would think we were in the tropics.

Chalon sur Saone

We are heading north along the Soanne but have not really decided on a long term plan. Today we are in the pretty fortified village of Verdun sur le Doubs which, as it's name suggests, is situated on the River Doubs - and the River Saonne, and the Petit Doubs. Threequarters of the way to being an island in fact.
L'Avenir at Verdun sur le Doubs

Verdun sur le Doubs

Afternoon thunderstorm at Verdun sur le Doubs

The ancient bridge we are moored alongside has a flood indicator on it which reaches terrifyingly high. When I feel a bit more confident about posting photos again I'll add one to show you! Success!!!
Flood indicator on the bridge at Verdun sur le Doubs