Canal lateral de la Loire
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The canal lateral de la Loire runs from its junction with the canal du Centre at Digoin in the south, 196km down the Loire valley through 37 locks to Briare and its famous aquaduct across the river Loire in the north. The first few days on this canal were in thunderstorms and torrential rain - typical August weather really considering the summer of 2007 as a whole! It is a well engineered canal but lacks interest along the southern half. Plenty of interest in the England/India one day cricket series though with England going 3-1 up after a fantastic record eighth wicket stand. We found a nice quiet free mooring at Beaulon with water and electricity laid on, Sue caught up with the washing and we stayed for a couple of days, cycling around the pleasant farming countryside and sampling the local cheeses. England managed to loose the next game as India fought back to bring the 7 game series score to 3-2.
We set off again on September 2nd for a few hours up to Gannay and found a nice little basin with a restaurant. Here we made the acquaintance of Sudy (another Sue) and Eric in their barge Oldtimer. They were leaving Roanne as we arrived and winter there as part of the expat American community. Both are keen cyclists and even take their dog with them towed behind Erics bike in a buggy!
We sailed again on the 5th September, the day when India drew level with England in the one day cricket series by winning with two balls to spare. Gripping stuff, especially as they had to win it to have a chance of winning the series with the decider at Lords to come. We dropped down through two locks onto the River Loire, sailed downstream then turned upstream into the Vielle Loire, navigated up a narrow buoyed channel through many canoeists to the quay right besides the old town of Decize. Famous, amongst other things, for its 1km long Promenade des Halles lined with old Plane and Lime trees planted in the 18th century. Here is the start of the Nivernais canal which is supposed to be one of the most beautiful in France. Unfortunately Harmonie is too big to navigate this canal but we can probably get about half way up from the northern end which we plan to explore next year. On this occasion we had to be content with cycling up the towpath a few kilometres.
Decize is a quaint little town with a history dating back to Roman times. The church of St Aré dates from the 7th century, St Aré being the bishop of Nevers in the 6th century and the next major town on our itinerary.
Decize also has a Leclerc which Sue has declared to be the best supermarché chain in France so we provisioned the ship and settled down in front of the telly to watch the opening game of the Rugby World Cup between host nation France and Argentina. France was stuffed and the next day England beat India to win the one day series. It was a day of telly watching as after the cricket finished the Rugby started, three games in a row with underdogs USA performing well against England who were crap, Australia beating Japan by a mile and New Zealand likewise beating Italy but who still managed to cross their try line twice! Next day we managed to leave Decize and travel a few miles down the canal to Fleury where it was back to the telly and the established Rugby countries shocked out of any complacency with Canada scaring Wales, Samoa roughing up South Africa, Portugal giving some lessons to Scotland and Namibia frightening the life out of Ireland. I was starting to get square eyes!
We met up again with Paul and Margaret on Andreus who had been up to Briare but settled on Nevers for the winter. Paul offered to get us some decent mooring pins from the UK on his next trip back and we said we would drive down to collect them from Briare. Nevers was our next stop where we caught up with Sudy and Eric on Oldtimer. This is the capital of the Nivernais district and a lovely old city with many interesting buildings, a cathedral dating back to the 4th century, the splendid Romanesque church of St. Etienne and the Palais Ducale where the Counts and Dukes of Nevers held court in the 15th century. You can also view the embalmed body of Saint Bernadette along with her umbrella, the chair in which she died and her knitted underclothes, a strange display for a saint.
Nevers is famous for its ceramics which were begun by Italian immigrant craftsmen back in the 16th century and known as fïance. It is very beautiful and very expensive.
During our stay in Nevers we cycled along the canal to the aquaduct across the river Alliere then 5km upstream to one of Frances most beautiful villages, Apremont-sur-Allier. This is the subject of a separate page.
Jeremy and Ann Clifford arrived from the UK and we dined together on the terrace of the excellent Port du Croux restaurant overlooking the city gate of the same name. We had eaten there the previous night with Eric and Sudy and were impressed with the food, service, decor and atmosphere of the place.
The next day we headed off up the two locks onto the canal lateral and on down the Loire valley. In a couple of hours we reached the aqueduct and the staircase locks.
Here you can see the view ahead from the fore deck of Harmonie looking down over the first lock gate of the staircase and another shot of Harmonie after the first drop. Staircase locks are a bottleneck on canals as each vessel has to complete the staircase before another one can come the opposite way. Add to this the long aquaduct it took us over an hour to complete so we adjourned to the Auberge on the canalside for lunch.
You see a lot of flowers along the canals, both the cultivated and the wild varieties, especially at the locks where lock keepers, residents who live alongside the canal and local councils make great displays. Someone once left his bike propped against a tree and on his return found it painted blue and decorated with geraniums!
The weather stayed fine for most of the time Ann and Jeremy Clifford were cruising with us. Both spent their time snoozing in the sun on the foredeck, Jeremy when he wasn't reading menus, drinking wine or eating his way through five courses. We arrived in St. Thibault and sailed up to the end of the port to grab the last spot. It was evident that we could not turn around so would have to go astern for about 400 metres, round a bend and through a narrow bridge. We were now back in wine country and the town of Sancerre beckoned us from high on the hill above the port. The Capitain here runs a taxi service up to Sancerre which we took advantage of as it is 3km and up a steep hill.
The vendange or wine harvest was in full swing and here they were using machines to do the job. Sancerre and Menetou Salon, which is adjacent, grow Sauvignon Blanc grapes from which they make a delicious fruity dry white wine which does vary in taste according to the different soil of the terroir. They also grow Pinot Noir grapes from which they make rosé and red wine but it needs drinking when young as it does not age well - no problem for us!
Sancerre is a wonderfully scenic place. From the Tour des Fiefs you get a superb view across Le Sancerrois where vineyards are planted everywhere except on north facing slopes.
The town itself is full of quaint little streets and you can follow a wine coloured line around the town to view the points of interest. The regions other claim to fame is the making of Crottin de Chavignol goats cheeses, literally translated as horse droppings because that is what they resemble when they are ripe. Jeremy was busy reading menus so our lunch included some crottin and a glass or six of the local wine.
Needless to say there are many shops selling the various regional wines including Pouilly Fumé and Menetou Salon in addition to Sancerre. Bottles of the latter were priced from six Euros, a fraction of the price we would pay in the UK.
We left St. Thibault backwards. My masterful navigating astern between yachts breasted two deep on each side of the narrow canal basin impressed even Sue and the pinched white worried faces of most of the yacht owners. It seemed the whole harbour were watching our departure on an overcast and wet morning.
And so to Briare over the longest aquaduct in the world. It was built by, amongst others, Gustav Eiffel who built the Eiffel tower in Paris. Originally, barges arriving at Briare from the north had to descend to the river Loire and travel upstream to where the canal lateral de la Loire joined the river. This was often hazardous, especially in wintertime when the river was in flood so the lateral canal was extended to Briare and the aquaduct built across the river.
Briare itself was a thriving port with quite a network of canals and basins. With commercial shipping all but ended the waterways have been converted to pleasure use and Briare has become a town for tourists who come to admire the famous aquaduct and take boat trips across it. The town is a delight with flower displays on bridges round the canal basins, gracious parks and gardens and a museum devoted to the local craft of enamel work. Apparently Jean-Félix Baptterosses, a local lad, invented a machine that could mass produce buttons while us Brits were stamping them out one at a time. Just another useful pearl you have learnt on this web site!
Briare is also the place we will spend our winter but we must first explore the canal de Briare and the canal du Loing, the subject of the next page.
Jeremy and Ann took the train back to Nevers to collect their car and the next day dropped us off at Charles de Gaulle airport from where we caught the train to Brussels and onwards to Balen to collect our car. We welcome Sues sister Maryanne and husband Fred on 25th September who will cruise with us up to the river Seine during the next few weeks when we face a Kiwi invasion for the Rugby World Cup Final.