Chevroches, Canal du Nivernais

Monday, 19 September 2011

Autumn

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.

Langres

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.