Friday 8th June
Moored at Digoin, where it rained occasionally during the night with the odd distant growl of thunder, and we woke to grey skies interspersed with patches of blue and the odd pale ray of sunshine. We’d been uncomfortably warm overnight.
Just a kilometre or so through the town and then onto the aqueduct across the Loire, which was flowing faster than we’ve usually seen it. There is space to wait for the lock at the other end of the aquaduct and a few mooring bollards, but sloping sides on either side. If you wanted to put someone ashore, do so on the aqueduct.
Then we were on the Canal Lateral a la Loire.
It was some distance to the first lock, along a fairly straight, wide section of canal. At the first lock we realised that perhaps we should have moored on the opposite side from the lockie, so that we could at least help with shutting one of the gates, as these appear to be manual locks. Must try to remember that for the way back. Seems a long time since we saw a lockie wielding a windlass. But he was a pleasant chap, and didn’t seem to mind. And it was scarcely busy along here today.
The same lockie attended the next lock, and having seen which side we like to work from, he made sure he was on the other side so Neville was able to close the gate on our side behind us. It’s a horizontal winding wheel, with a peg on a chain to hold in position. From then on, we made a point of changing the ropes over so we could moor on the side opposite from the lockie, and thus close the gates on our side. It helps speed progress, particularly where lockies have to walk round the lock, not to mention keeping them sweet!
Surprisingly, after we left, he left the gates open and cracked the paddles at the other end to let some water down, and drove off leaving it like that. The levels didn’t seem low at all as we left the lock, but then again it’s a four kilometre pound at this point.
We stopped at Pierrefitte. This could be a very good mooring, out in the country, plenty of bollards, and right by a man-made lake just over the crest of the land beside it.
But there’s no electricity, the water is press-button only with no screw connection and it’s right by the depot for the gritting machines. Also, the quay has sagged remarkably behind the edging, and you need to be careful getting on and off your boat. If you take your bike back to the bridge and cross over into the village there is a small, but poorly stocked grocery, where you can get the essentials and also bread. There’s a bistro there, part of the same establishment as the epicerie, I think.
The hotel beside the mooring is undergoing a half million euro restoration including a restaurant, so maybe some more attention will be lavished on this spot. There’s certainly been no change since the last time we were here four years ago. We did manage to get our own internet connection to work this time, but that may well be because we’ve changed our system since then.
We continued after lunch down a further two locks. The lockie (a new one) was late back from his lunch at the first, so we entered the lock and closed the gates after us, settling down to wait. He accompanied us down to the next one; a very uncommunicative guy who didn’t interest himself in our plans for continuing on our journey.
Shortly after 2.00pm we arrived at Diou, a pleasant halt opposite the Mairie, with water
(no electricity) about 40 metres from a Proxy supermarket. It’s a nice little town; the hotel has closed down but there is a boulangerie, a boucherie/charcuterie, and the usual Presse. Even a mens’ hairdresser and of course, the inevitable ‘Institut de Beaute’.
There was a sign indicating a ‘Fete Patrimoniale’ tomorrow and Sunday, which showed boats (not vintage ones) moored at this quayside, and when we returned from the shops an old barge we’d seen in Digoin had moored up behind us. He’d been using the dry-dock at Digoin.
As we returned to the quay after visiting the Proxi shop, a large commercial peniche went past. That’s the first commercial boat we’ve seen along this stretch. The Canal Lateral a la Loire is quite different from the Canal du Centre; it’s wider, less bendy, and less overgrown, with few villages en route, so it’s not much of a problem passing commercials.
A pizza van came to the carpark by the mooring and stayed an hour, maybe more. We’re not pizza lovers, so no use to us, though he did a steady trade during the evening. Don’t know whether this is a weekly (Friday) thing, or a daily event.
We would certainly recommend this mooring.
Saturday 9th June
Though the day dawned bright, the forecast for Sunday/Monday was not good, so we decided to press on whilst the sun was shining and hope that we can reach Gannay sur Loire, where we have stayed before and where we will be able to get electricity. If it rains hard, we can stay there for a day, maybe two.
At the bottom of the first lock you’d turn left for Dompierre but bear right to continue towards Gannay. We’ve been to Dompierre, four years ago and our recollection was that it wasn’t an ideal mooring, in a fairly industrial environment, incorporating a hireboat base and we couldn’t get a satellite signal for the television. We’ve had friends who went there since and stayed more than one night so perhaps it’s improved. Certainly we moved on the very next morning.
Stopped for lunch at Garnat sur Engievre. Quite a pleasant morning though laid out strangely, with one extra long pontoon towards the middle. The passarelle to this pontoon was already positioned half off the pontoon, and when we tied to the pontoon, we made the situation even worse. Somehow I don’t think this pontoon will be around too long. There are linear moorings available so you could fit maybe two or three boats our size in those but a hireboat had positioned itself right in the middle. There are facilities in the town, no electricity on the mooring and though the guide said water was available, we didn’t see it.
Arrived at Gannay s/Loire around 2.45pm, exactly the same time, same day of the week, and just one week earlier than four years ago, to moor in exactly the same space! Already the skies had turned grey, and it had remained cool most of the day. There is water and electricity here and a small shower/wc block. Four years ago this end of the quay was free, but the guide indicates this is not the case now.
There once was a Connoisseur hire boat base here, but nowadays that area is occupied by Entente Marine, a boatyard with slipway, run by two DBA members, Mark Vardy and Sid Jacomb, offering full repairs and services.
If you cross over the canal to the right from the moorings, and cycle down that road into Gannay sur Loire itself, you’ll find a Proxi, a boucherie, and a boulangerie. It’s perhaps a kilometre or so. There is also a hairdresser, and a few metres beyond the village a garden centre. Four years ago we bought pots and geraniums there for the boat. The Proxi is open Sunday morning, as is the boulangerie. The boulangerie is closed on Monday, but the Proxi acts as a bread depot on that day.
In the centre of the village you will see the Tree of Sully, or rather the remains of the tree of Sully. Sully was a Minister in the Government of Henry IV, who was charged with reforming the organisation and finances of France. This tree marked the road between Moulins and Autun, and the remains have been petrified in stone and a tower-type roof erected above it for protection. In 2010 it was demolished by the trailer of one of the large wagons that like to thunder through these tiny French villages, rather than pay toll fees. It has now been re-erected.
We decided we would stay at Gannay for Sunday, at least.
Sunday 10th June
A bright start, though rain was forecast for 11.00am on the hourly forecast. Undeterred, I washed the bedding and we had a bit of a clean up. The lockie came to ask when we were moving on, and told us that the Loire is closed due to flooding and will remain so for a further two days. We hadn’t been planning to visit the Nivernais on this trip, so we will be unaffected by that. The small boat next to us, a Shetland 4 plus 2, was the last boat coming through yesterday and they said their crossing from the Nivernais to the Lateral a la Loire was horrendous. With more rain (1.8cm) forecast for today, the situation would only get worse.
There seemed to be more activity at the bar/restaurant tonight; last night the blinds were drawn. We’ve eaten there before. It’s OK, though a bit like a small canteen inside.
Monday 11th June
Awoke to a bright, breezy day with quite a lot of rain cloud about, so we will press on for the morning at least, rain being forecast later. No-one came for mooring fees, and there are no signs indicating where they should be paid, so we can only assume that contrary to what it says in the guide, moorings are free.
Set off just after nine. The next couple of locks after Gannay have ground paddles which made for speedy emptying and good progress.
Arrived at the lock which drops you down into the basin at Decize just after noon so had to wait until 1.00 before the automatic lock sprang into action again. The lock taking you out and onto the Loire is at the opposite end of the basin, and you can see the gantry on the right of the photo, from which you pull the cord to automate the lock onto the river. We’d been told today that the Loire was open again, but a cyclist told us that there was ‘beaucoup de l’eau’. The first section of the basin is reserved for Le Boat, but then there are lots of other pontoons on three or four other piers. The max limit is 15 metres, but the representative from the capitainerie just grimaced and took our money. There is scarcely anything available in linear mooring, as the hammerheads have rescue ladders in the middle.
The cost is 9 euros per night including water and electricity, and internet is available for 1 euro. There is a 10 euro deposit for the electronic key fob that locks the door on the piers, and also seems to work the water and electricity connections, though they switched these on for us.
It’s a big basin, with trees along one side and a rather ugly hospital and blocks of flats set back a bit on the other side. There is a hotel in the corner, next to the Capitainerie office, and several ‘gites’ which from where we are moored look like square boxes with the only visible source of light being a corner window. They appear to be grouped around a few artificial ‘ponds’. I suspect, with their basic cooking facilities, they’d be ideal for those on cycle tours. The development of this site into possibly the largest port in the Burgundy region, started in September 2010 to be ready for Spring 2011. It still has that slightly self-conscious ‘newness’ about it, but we were still impressed at the facilities and the staff were very friendly. There’s a lot of weed in the basin, but one of the staff goes out in a small boat a couple of times a day to try to clear it. A bit like painting the Forth Bridge, I should imagine.
We were unable to get a signal for satellite television in the position we were in, probably because of the trees we thought, so we pulled the boat about three metres along to the next pontoon. Still no signal there, so we moved it again, ending up a good 15 metres from where we’d started but by this time, with all the fiddling about, the set had lost its lock on the satellite. Oddly, we could see two or three other boaters fiddling around with their satellites too.
So gave up at 6.15, and France v England (Euro 2012) will have to be watched on the internet or go unwatched. Grrrr!
Tuesday 12 June
Rain is forecast again today. We cycled into the town of Decize – it’s quite a long walk into the town. You follow the road behind the capitainerie, cross over the road bridge over the Loire (flowing fast this morning, but still open), and then carry straight on up the hill to a quaint little centre with a narrow winding road through it.
There is a very well stocked Petite Casino on the left opposite the centre, and a boulangerie on the right. If you didn’t want to go that far there is a boulangerie on the left just before you get to the road bridge, and there also seems to be a bar/restaurant there.
As we left the boulangerie in the centre of town the heavens opened and we sheltered in a doorway for ten minutes before braving the rest of the ride back to the port, incurring a further drenching from the trees en route after it had stopped raining.
Later on, we learned that there was an Intermarche much more conveniently situated, just the other side of the hospital. If you go to the opposite end of the port from the capitainerie and take that road leading through the field, the supermarket is just the other side of the main road, easily walkable. It’s an excellent Intermarche, probably one of the best we’ve visited.
Still no television signal, and we decided to turn the boat so that the bow (where the satellite dish is located) lodges against the pontoon, where it should be more stable. We really are a tad too long for the pontoons though. Of course, by the time we got round to it a strong wind was gusting, and it was only with the help of the crew of Waiheke (Wynn and Anne) that we managed to get it turned round and secured.
In the course of this, the wind blew my bike off the pontoon and into the canal, and by the time we’d completed the manoeuvre the bike had sunk out of sight. After a bit of fishing, we located it and brought a very sodden, muddy bike, liberally festooned with weeds, out of the canal and back onto the pontoon. I wonder how long it will take my saddle to dry?
Oh, and it didn’t make any difference to the satellite signal…
Wednesday 12 June
We left the port around 9.30 under clearer skies but still with a stiff cool breeze. As we turned right to continue our journey along the Lateral a la Loire we noticed that the Intermarche is even closer if you moor up behind the other boats (some of which appear to be live-aboards) on this main stretch. Useful to know if you are not dropping down the lock into Decize, and useful for our return journey.
The New Zealanders in Waihiki, Wynne and Anne had been planning to cross the Loire for the Nivernais, but they arrived in Fleury about half an hour after us, saying that the Loire had been closed again. And as they arrived, it started to rain again.
The canal was much busier today, and the mooring was full by lunchtime. Several boats cruised past looking for space but decided to carry on. Towards late afternoon there was a thunderstorm and torrential rain, during which a hire boat pulled up and breasted up with the boat behind us, and shortly after 7pm a towering ‘gin-palace’ arrived and breasted up against us, so we spent our evening staring into the side of their boat.
The little hut at the mooring did a roaring trade during the evening, with ten or so boaters going there for either drinks (nibbles provided) or meals. Several locals turned up too, spending most of their evening outside smoking. There’s not much of a menu, but it would hit the spot if you didn’t want to cook.
Throughout the day we’d been constantly trying to get a satellite signal for the television, but having lost the signal lock at Decize, we just couldn’t get locked on again.
Eventually, around 5 ish, we were successful. Now perhaps we can watch Euro 2012.
Thursday 14 June
The boulangerie is up the road towards the village, turn right at the church and it’s there, set back.
By 10.00 four boats had left, two in either direction and we decided to stay on for an extra day, as did Billow, the boat moored behind us, in whose wake we’ve followed from Blanzy, through Genelard and Decize. By midday the mooring was full again. Breasting up was looking like it might be in prospect once more this evening.
And how it was! This time, at 6pm, a 30 metre ‘unofficial’ hotel boat arrived and asked to moor up alongside. We pointed out there was a mooring two kilometres further up the canal, but they wanted electricity. So we had to put up all our heavy duty fenders and help them moor alongside, resigning ourselves to staring into the side of a motor scooter –parked on deck whilst we relaxed over our evening meal. Not to mention the joys of sharing the cigarette smoke of those relaxing on the deck .
At least this time we weren’t in the middle of eating , like last night. And then of course, they discovered that there was no electricity available, all the points being taken, as you might expect when you turn up at a mooring in the early evening.
That being so, after having spent ten minutes securing ropes and fenders, they decided it wasn’t worth breasting up, (next to a sourpuss like me!) and moved twenty yards or so further down and moored up on the bank. Which was lucky, because their boat was interfering with our hard-won satellite signal and it was beginning to look as though we’d not be watching any football tonight either.
By this time nine boats were moored up here at Fleury, and it looked as though there’d be another busy night in the café again.
We’d had a good day, getting lots of jobs done, cleaning the boat, polishing, washing, etc. The weather was fine and sunny, and not unbearably hot and the following day looks good too, so we’ll press on to Nevers. It would be nice if they had internet there; we’ve had an email from SFR indicating that we’ve used up 80% of our monthly gigabyte allocation, and we still have 15 days to go before our new allowance starts.
Trade was still brisk at the little café when we went to bed, and went for at least an hour afterwards. It’s such a tiny place, and so much could be done with a few more mooring facilities and a slightly bigger facility.
Friday 15 June
The man behind me in the queue at the boulangerie this morning was the chap who spent the greater part of yesterday afternoon mowing the grass around the moorings on a motor mower. He whiled away the last hour of his shift yesterday by driving up and down the same stretch beside the moored boats until it was practically bald and the boaters were driven to distraction. No amount of black looks and exasperated gestures permeated his consciousness, and it was a heavenly relief when the café owner realised what was happening and directed him to a distant piece of grass.
Just as we were preparing to leave, the Americans, Jerry and Page Robertson, on the next boat came across to present us with a bottle of Pouilly Fumee. We’d loaned them an extension for their power cable yesterday evening. They come to France every year and were now at the end of their trip for this season. Such a pity that the weather hasn’t been better for them.
The little café does early breakfasts, which is ideal for those with limited cooking facilities or people such as the cyclists who had camped close to our boat last night. Then he closes from 9 to 11, and after doing lunches he closes again from 3 to 5pm. The proprietor is very friendly and likes to practice his English.
Terry and Andew (Houtrib) left at the same time as us, locking down to Nevers with us. We missed the locks at the Canal Jonction, and had lunch whilst we waited for them to open. There are two locks on the way down to the basin, not co-ordinated, and it took us about half an hour or so to reach the port. The capitaine is very helpful, gives you a map and runs through the areas of interest, nearest boucheries, boulangeries and supermarkets. There’s a reasonably well stocked book exchange too, and internet access. We were on the furthest pontoon, and whilst the internet worked for me it was only intermittent for Neville’s computer.
We watched England beating Sweden 3-2 during the evening. It had been very hot, around 80 degrees most of the afternoon, and it was a hot and sticky night.
Saturday 16th June
Rain was forecast for later so we walked into the town. It’s a fair distance, following a path which runs along the top of what we supposed was a kind of levee, and comes out near the bridge over the Loire. Some years ago, the Jonction Canal carried straight on into the Loire, instead of funnelling left into the marina basin, and in the line where the canal would have been, there are the remains of three or four swimming pools, which weren’t in use four years ago, and still aren’t. After that lies the lock which would have taken you down onto the Loire.
We walked around the town for a couple of hours, firstly by heading straight on as you cross the bridge, and later on exploring the streets which lay off to the right of the bridge. The first route took us to a central park close to which the Saturday market was taking place. There is an indoor market hall as well as stalls along the streets.
Along by the ramparts there are some beautiful gardens, and some quaint little buildings. There is a gigantic sequoia tree donated by the Americans in recognition of the anniversary of 200 years of independence, and thanking the French for their assistance in preparing the Declaration of Independence.
On our way back we called at the Credit Agricole branch which is near the station, and then we explored the territory which lay to the right of the bridge, along Avenida Francois Mitterand. We’d heard from the Americans moored next to us at Fleury that there is a one month temporary internet facility available from Orange, which does not require a contract, and we wanted to find out more.
We use an SFR connection which acts as a hot-spot for our two computers, enabling us both to work at the same time. This is on a two year contract with monthly payments of around 34 euros a month. This we can suspend during the periods we return to the UK, but you can only stop and start your contract from your monthly anniversary date, in our case 29th of each month. We are limited to 3 gig per month, which, when I’m maintaining my website and submitting fiction on line, goes nowhere. As I said earlier, at the halfway point in the term of this month’s allowance, we are already 80% through it. We need to have a backstop.
We found the Orange shop at 90 Francois Mitterand, and the receptionist found us an English speaking assistant. Orange shops, we find, are generally very well staffed, unlike SFR where you can hang around for ages.
He had just the right package it seemed, and for 39 euros we got a dongle which we can put in the computer, or we can remove the sim card from the dongle and plug it into our smart phones. The smart phones will act as a hot-spot, thus enabling us to work on our computers at the same time. No French bank accounts necessary, no monthly payments, no contracts. The term of the allowance is 15 days, and the limit is 2 gig. It can be renewed on line, we were told, or at Orange shops or local tabacs. This sounds very similar to the arrangement we had when we were in Tenerife. And it’s ideal for us.
For the moment then, we have three alternatives available to us: port internet, where it is available (as it was at Decize and here at Nevers), or SFR until we’ve used up our monthly download allowance, or the Orange key/simcard. If this Orange arrangement works well, we might terminate our SFR deal at the 2 year anniversary, because this suits our lifestyle better.
Sounds too good to be true hey? We’ll see.
In the evening we went round to Wyn and Anne’s boat, Waiheki, for a drink, together with Andrew and Terry from Houtrib.
Sunday 17th June
We walked into the town again this morning, calling in at the cathedral to admire the beautiful stained glass windows. As we continued on our way, the bells began to chime to mark the 11.00 service.
Nevers was initially the leading French centre for ceramic production, (Faience) and the city employed many Italian artists who brought with them the narrative styles of Italian Maiolica. There are countless galleries in the city streets, with magnificent displays of the tin-glazed pottery.
During the afternoon the clouds cleared and it became very hot on the boat.
Monday 18th June
It rained during the night and was quite showery when we set off first thing. Once we climbed up from the basin back onto the canal it was clear that it was very windy, and also that the bow thruster had given up the ghost again.
We passed through Plagny, where there is a Nichols hire boat base. Pontoons there, and a hammerhead, but there seemed to be a lot of hireboats in port. Still, there is an extensive left bank before the pontoons where one or two boats were moored, and just before the basin there are mooring posts for trip boats.
It was going up to 11.00am when we
approached the very windy aqueduct over the Allier, leading to the deep double lock at Guetain, to find a couple on a canoe happily paddling towards the aqueduct.
We tooted them, but still had to slow down whilst they got their act together and climbed out of their boat actually on the aqueduct. It looked as though they were hoping to pull their canoe towards the lock, whilst we passed them on the aqueduct, without benefit of our bow thruster. A few hand signals sorted that matter and they lifted the boat out of the water, but it seemed they hoped to drop the canoe into the lock and go down with us. The lockie advised them differently. Maybe it was something to do with the two metre ropes, (well strings, really) they had on board.
We’d ascended this lock some years ago, so we were prepared, having got a new, longer length of rope up from the engine room. The two locks span just over 9 metres, but the lower lock has a diagonally sloping quay (really diagonal!), so if you’re close to the gates between the two chambers, you do need to have a reasonable length of rope. On this lower chamber the lockie will dangle a hook for your rope, (on both upward and downward locking) and pass it round the bollard and back to you. Given a choice, we’d have gone further forward where the distance from the quay to the water is less, but he put us at the back.
Even with the new, longer (15m) rope Neville at, midships, reached the end of his line as we neared the bottom. At the bow I still had a metre or so left on my similar length rope.
About half an hour later we managed to catch the last lock of our day just before it closed for lunch. There was an old bicycle being used as a flower display, as was a pair of stepladders, and even the locking gear had flower boxes.
Arrived in Cours les Barres around 12.30pm. A neighbouring boater advised that the
boulangerie is closed for a week, which it was the last time we were here! No alternative sources available in this small village.
Electricity and water available, no one came for payment and no signs at the Mairie as to where one might pay.
We’d moored next to the outlet for the little waterfall that runs down the hillside into the canal. Last time we were here, that waterfall was turned off around bedtime, but now it seems to run continually, right through the night. Very irritating.
Neville stripped down the bow thruster again. This involves removing the mattress, headboard, and a panel behind the bed. This time he thought he felt some resistance on the driveshaft to the propeller, and when he persevered it eventually became free. When we tested it again electrically, it worked. Hopefully this will solve the problem, but we started looking at spares for this unit.
Tuesday 19th June
Awoke to rain, looking fairly well set in for the day, though the forecast had been for ‘showers around’. When someone further up the quay left, we moved the boat into their position, away from the everlasting waterfall.
Quite busy along the canal today, despite the rain. Eventually there were nine boats moored here at Cours les Barres, four of them hireboaters.
Wednesday 20th June
Set off at 8.15 to catch the first lock at Marseilles les Aubigny. This basin here is not as we remembered it, with a lot of big old barges at one end and pontoons at the other. Between the two there was the possibility of linear mooring against a sloping side, which is how we moored four years ago. Right by the waterside there is a chemist, an epicerie and a boulangerie, but today we continued on towards Beffes, where we knew there were more shops. The mooring is after the lock, with a part of it set back, and it looks as though it doesn’t see much use. The weed infestation in the water is quite bad, and there doesn’t seem to be water or electricity. This is a shame because this is a useful halt. On the other side of the canal is a children’s playground, and a short way back towards the lock there is a Proxi supermarket, a tabac, and a boulangerie.
As we approached the lock we saw Wynn, (from Waiheki) who was moored in the set back area of the moorings with further trouble with the boat – this time one of the batteries. At Nevers they’d been changing the hydraulic filter and oil due to loss of pressure. Fortunately, in that short space of time (maybe an hour or so) we had already passed two boatyards, one in Marseilles les Aubigny, and one just after the second lock. A passer-by had kindly telephoned one of these who were supposedly sending someone out. Not sure whether the message had got through all right, we moored up and put their battery on charge on our boat for a while.
Whilst we were having a coffee with Wynn and Anne, the mechanic did turn up, pronounced the battery spent, and took details saying he’d come back with another one later that evening. Batteries are expensive in France (we’d brought our own from England when we replaced ours last year), and the charge was likely to be in the region of 200 to 250 euros for that kind of ‘high performance’ battery. We later found out that he’d returned at 1.30pm with the new battery, so they were able to continue their journey shortly after we’d left.
It had been a grey, humid day, but in the afternoon the sun came out and we had a leisurely cruise through pleasant countryside, apart from a couple of factories whose locations just happened to coincide with moorings.
Eventually we stopped around 4.00pm at the village of Herry. The sign at the lock indicates that the moorings are at the lock, but despite there being bollards just after, there are brick sloping sides here. We were about to continue on, until we found a straight sided edge about 500 metres below the lock, with three or four bollards.
The lockie here managed to have an empty lock, with not a boat in sight on the downstream side, with a queue of three boats waiting above the lock in a strong breeze. Clearly he was expecting some boats from downstream, but it must have been a good ten minutes before the first boat came into view, followed by another, five minutes later. He seemed a pleasant enough chap though, a stone-mason of sorts, as he had a table beside the lock with all this tools, diagrams etc and an array of extremely artistic stone pieces on display. And he professed to be ‘desolée’ when he eventually locked us down.
To be honest, the best side of Herry is probably to be seen from your boat.
Like so many little French villages, it’s badly in need of some money spending on its dilapidated houses, uneven roads and pavements. There is a boulangerie, up the hill from the ‘mooring’ and on the left, whilst on the right there is a Tabac which boasts alimentation and fuel, but was closed when I walked through. There are a couple of bars/restaurants, and a boucherie/charcuterie but again these were not open when I walked through around five-ish. There is a church, and a ‘boat washouse’ which I didn’t see.
Services are limited to water (by jeton from either of the two shops or restaurants) at 50c for 50 litres, and a telephone charging point at the moorings. It’s not quite the humming little beauty spot that the sign at the lock suggests.
Thursday 21st June
Rained during the night. Went for bread first thing. The weather didn’t look promising, sunny above but solid grey skies in the direction we’re travelling. We set off in plenty of time coasting the 3 kilometres or so up to the first lock where the lady lock-keeper immediately started setting the lock for us as we came in to view. We reflected how pleasant and friendly the female lockies almost always are. I could think only of one woman, down on the Midi who’d been a bit of a termagant; and she reserved most of her bad temper for hire-boaters.
About 3 kilometres downstream after Lock 31, there is a pleasant straight sided mooring at Pouilly. Currently occupied by one derelict boat and one apparent long term moorer, there is room for several boats, and even more if the two boats were moored closer to each other. No services though.
At lock 32, Ecluse la Grange, the lockie’s lovely young white Labrador supervised our locking activities, checked our boat and its captain out quite extensively.
He was definitely a man’s dog, and the
best I got from him was a long level stare as we prepared to leave the lock.
At Saint Bouize, we came across a sloping-sided, unserviced mooring with a track leading to a restaurant and other services.
The third and final lock of the morning dropped us down into the approach to Ménétréol. If you go on the right side of this lock, as we’ve been doing so that we can close the gates on our side (the lockies preferring to stay on the left along this stretch) you’ll find there’s a bollard missing and you’ll have to use front and back ropes if you’re using two. It’s quite deep as well, 3.75m.
Arrived at Menetreol around 11am to find at least two spaces suitable for our length. The keys for the electricity and water controls are available from the bar/restaurant Le Floriane, which was doing remarkable business even for this hour. 4 euros per night including electric. Water extra at 4 euros too.
The quay is low and sloping sided, so we had to put our pasarelle down, plus a couple of thick oblong rubber fenders. There is a boulangerie at the side of the canal, where a few basic foods can be obtained, tinned stuff, pasta, etc. There was an alimentation shop next but one to the bar/restaurant, but this has been closed for several years. Now part of the roof has fallen in, the façade is breaking away and there is an official notice stating that the property is ‘in peril’ and the owner has had notice served on him to effect repairs. It’s dated July 2011, so it would appear that the owner has scarcely been galvanised into action.
I remembered that last time we were here we’d laughed at some of the notices outside the Mairie, in particular the one that advised that ‘after weeks of conflict, the hens that have been on strike have now started to lay again, and eggs will be available at the Mairie from 9.30 again next Saturday’.
This time I found a notice advising that the ‘vagabondage de chiens’ is forbidden in the town, and on a building close by there was a placard displaying an extract of General de Gaulle’s speech following the occupation of France.
Ménétréol is a pretty village where some of the houses date back to the 12th century. This was originally the site of a monastery where the monks tended the vineyards already existing at that time. It was a thriving village with more than a thousand inhabitants until the 19th century when Phyloxera wiped out huge swathes of wine growing activity in France and neighbouring countries.
After lunch the skies darkened and an incredible storm erupted, hailstones the size of marbles, a really strong wind. Even when the storm passed by, the winds remained strong, gusting from all directions. The temperature remained high, still in the mid eighties.
Wynn and Anne (Waiheke) arrived during the afternoon and moored further down the quay, joining us for drinks in the early evening. Anne, we discovered, is a writer too, with an impressive track record in childrens’ books.
Friday 22nd June
Awoke this morning shivering. Although the barometer is right over towards ‘fair’, the temperature was 48 degrees! Out came the woolly jumpers and long trousers. It’s set to be cooler for the next few days, in the sixties mostly.
We believed there was a supermarket a couple of kilometres downstream, so we set off on our bikes. The traffic on the road running beside the canal is quite heavy, (lots of lorries) so we opted to try the other side of the canal where there appeared to be some kind of towpath. This soon ran out and it was heavy going over the grass until we reached St Satur, crossed the bridge and headed back along the road towards the supermarket, Colruyt. It’s a bit like a warehouse, but we managed to get most things, and opted for the busy main road coming back.
On the hilltop west of the canal you can see the vineyards of Sancerre. You can organise a taxi from Ménétréol to take you up to the town and the vineyard, or if you’re feeling energetic, you could cycle up there. There’s a museum well worth visiting there.
Ate at Le Floriane Restaurant. Their bottles of wine are a bit pricey so we had a pichet of Cotes du Rhone with our meal, spicy prawns for Neville and Confit du Canard for me. The frites were to die for, but other than that an average meal, the duck being deep fried and a bit stringy. Cost 32 euros, (compared with 42 euros four years ago when we had a bottle of wine with two spicy prawn dishes) which wasn’t bad value for what we had.
Saturday 23 June
Another fine, clear but cool morning. The restaurant opens at 7.00am so we obtained the keys to disconnect the electricity and fill up with water. We left at 8.00am to get to Les Fouchards, where we will take the bikes across the Loire to get to Cosne sur Loire, where there is an Orange shop and we can try to sort ourselves out.
When you buy this simcard/dongle you have to register with France Telecom within 15 days. Before this process is complete you can’t top up on line. We posted this form off, together with photocopies of our passports six days ago but still haven’t been able to top up on line. It’s our understanding however (and this has been known to be less than complete in the past) that you might be able to top up at an Orange shop.
Through some lovely countryside, dotted with palatial residences, charming cottages and vine clad gentle hills. At Bannay the lockie tried to sell us a jar of paté, but we declined. Our love affair with paté has cooled somewhat, after several jars that smelled vaguely offensive, and tasted even more so.
Just below the lock en empty push-tow came towards us, steaming up the middle of the canal and forcing us into the bank. The catamaran with whom we’d shared the lock faced a similar hazard. The first commercial we’ve encountered on the Lateral a la Loire.
We moored just beyond the bridge leading to Cosne sur Loire in the basin close to the silo, and cycled the two or three kilometres into the town, finding the Orange shop quite easily. Very slow service, long queues and I made the mistake of giving too much information to the assistant when it finally came to our turn. I told her, in French, that we had bought the dongle/simcard in Nevers and that when we tried to complete the recharging process via the computer, the procedure didn’t work, so would it be possible to recharge at the shop. She got it into her head that we were saying the dongle didn’t work, and kept insisting we needed to go back to Nevers. Eventually it was sorted, we paid 20 euros for another 2 gig, and when we got back to the boat and tried it – it worked, albeit slowly. Result! We still haven’t resolved the problem of why we can’t recharge the card over the computer, but that’s for another day.
Cosne sur Loire is a very attractive little town, market day being Wednesday morning and Sunday morning.
As we were about to set off to catch the first afternoon lock, Wynn and Anne arrived, planning to go through exactly the same procedure with their Orange set up, the only difference being that they have already recharged their set up at Nevers, but haven’t been able to access it. I suspect they’re going to get the same response – go back to Nevers.
We continued after lunch and at Ecluse no 36, Les Houards, we were offered Pouilly Fumee. We declined on this occasion. This lock was beautifully decorated with boxes and tubs of flowers. This section of the Lateral a la Loire has been truly lovely, the houses having steep roofs similar to those along the Doubs/Rhone au Rhin. In many gardens families were seated at tables outdoors, with barbecues smoking and some appetising aromas floating across the water towards us. Happy family gatherings which were to culminate in France’s 2-0 defeat later on in the day.
We arrived in Lere in time to catch the Valencian F1 qualifying session.
What a contrast this village was to some that we’ve seen in France. The streets were clean, well-maintained, immaculate houses decked in flowers, a proper Tourist Information office, boulangerie, boucherie, tabac doubling as a general store, (all open Sunday mornings) a branch of Credit Agricole, pizzeria, a fuel service station and a lovely church set in a tree lined square.
In this square, preparations were in hand for a music concert that evening, with long tables and benches and a stage. We strolled out there after the concert had started and it was good to see so many people, both old and young, having a great time. There are posters advertising a fireworks display next Saturday night, but I suspect we’ll have passed through on our return journey by then. Market day here is Saturday morning.
Even the mooring itself here has been maximised. It’s the traditional square recess in the canal, next to a silo. But instead of crumbling edges, overgrown weedbanks etc, here there are trimmed hedges between the silo and the moorings, neatly mowed lawns edging the quay, free electricity and water points, all well lit by stylish blue lamp-posts. There’s even an air-point on the quay for inflating cycle tyres. And a shower-block and poubelles.
This is a village well worth a stop-over. There’s clearly a great community spirit and a desire to keep the village vibrant and attractive. So often there’s a marked dearth of young people in the villages, but there were many out and about here, all very friendly and polite.
Later that day Wynn and Anne (Waiheke) cruised in, having sorted their Orange problem
with greater ease than we’d experienced, and we got tables and chairs out to have a couple of sun-downers before our evening meals.
A hire-boat came in with lots of young German males on the top, one of them playing a guitar. There was no problem though at bedtime.
Sunday 24th June
Went out on our bikes to stock up on bulky items at the Tabac and had a quiet day, getting a few chores done.
Monday 25th June
Awoke to drizzly rain, and were underway by 8am. It rained most of the way, stopping as we were on the stretch between the last lock and Briare. On the way we passed a number of potential moorings:
Sury pres Lere – this is just a few hundred kilometres upstream from Lere, and is a nicely laid out mooring, near to a restaurant, but with no apparent services.
Belleville – a nice straight edged mooring with picnic table, wooden mooring posts, electricity, tree lined, nicely laid out, opposite cooling towers and above the lock. The side wall might be a bit rough in parts, and there is a slipway. We could see signs for a boulangerie as we passed through, and there is a Supermarche Utile.
The moorings continue below the lock – with electric, restaurant, tabac, boulangerie and a hotel with an outdoor dining area.
Beaulieu – elec, water, picnic tables, departure point for a trip boat. The village is up a hill from the mooring. Market day here is Wednesday morning.
Chantillon sur Loire – pretty mooring on a bend, not suitable for our length, sloping sides, hire boat base. Market day here is Thursday morning.
After passing through this port there is some kind of estate on the right, and if you’re lucky you might catch sight of several peacocks sitting on the rooftops. On the day we passed through, there were no less than three sitting proudly on the ridge tiles, surveying their domain.
Around noon we cruised across the impressive aqueduct over the Loire, then the old canal before entering the commercial mooring basin of Briare. There was a free pontoon over the other side of the basin with a notice indicating it was reserved for another boat. We tied up there temporarily whilst I tried to find the capitaine.
A man cleaning a cruiser in the corner of the port said that the capitainerie was in the lower
port, in the centre of the town, but he was also capitaine – on a day off. Nevertheless he gave me a professional looking folder with lots of leaflets, maps and forms and said the reserved notice on our pontoon was ‘old’ and we could stay there.
To get to the lower basin you would continue through the basin and on along the canal for a while before turning back on yourself and descending two locks into the port proper.
This is a beautiful little port, everywhere bedecked with flowers, a couple of restaurants lining the quay, lots of small pleasure boats, some stunning architecture and good car parking. But, and it’s a big but, you’d either need to enquire ahead if you’ve a biggish boat because it’s a long way to go to find there’s not enough space. There was only one linear mooring that would have accommodated us, and I’m not sure whether that too was reserved. There are pontoons, some longer than others but no spaces on the longer ones. But there was plenty of space for shorter boats. The capitainerie office is here, with internet access.
The port is right in the centre of the lovely little town, population 6000, and is well worth a visit even if it must be on foot from the less attractive commercial basin.
We took some steps down from the rusty brown iron bridge at the entry to the commercial port basin and strolled along the side of the old canal through pleasantly grassed and tree-lined areas before ending up in the port. Having walked through the port and the town, calling at one of the two boulangeries there, we crossed the basin by the green iron bridge at the other end and back to the boat.
In the evening we called at the Pont du Canal restaurant close to the brown iron bridge into the commercial basin and had an excellent meal. Neville had the 16 euro tourist menu, (terrine, pave de saumon, apple tart) whilst I had one course from the a la carte menu, a seafood salad comprising a seafood gratin, mussels, smoked salmon, clams and four giant prawns. Excellent value, with a pichet of red wine, at 40 euros.
We would recommend Briare, but there is a sign of things to come here. The leaflet pack had order forms for bread and wine to be delivered to the boat, a list of markets in the towns along several neighbouring canals and was, all in all, a very professional and commercialised job. Now the port comes under the auspices of the biggest French water company, Suez Environment – Lyonnaise des Eaux, and we saw that Ouzouer, another of our favourite ports last time, has now been taken over by them. All this comes at a cost though.
For a boat our size, the overnight charge was 20 euros, which is the most we have ever paid in France outside of the centre of Chalon sur Saone. This may well be the shape of things to come, as we are hearing that Veolia (another major player in the French water industry) is taking over a number of ports along the Midi and putting up the prices. (We were not sure whether Nevers falls under Veolia’s control though we paid around 12 euros there). The cost for a 14-20 metre boat at Briare would be 20 euros per night, 30 metres – 28.40 euro and 38.5 would be 42 euros. Water, electricity, showers and wifi at the office are included. Obviously the weekly and longer term mooring charge works out cheaper.
There’s a lot of muttering along the towpath about these major water companies taking over the ports and putting up the prices. In fairness, it should be pointed out that the facilities seem to be improving too. It’s been rumoured that boats over 15 metres will not be permitted to moor in the ports, but it’s always been the case that ports can bar boats above 15 metres, principally because of the damage they can cause to the pontoon structures. We’ll just have to see. But if 20 euros is going to be the order of the day, we’ll be doing a lot more wild mooring in the future.
So now we have come to the end of our outbound trip, and here we must turn round to retrace our steps along the Canal Lateral a la Loire, the Canal du Centre and the Saone to be back in England for appointments. On the way back we hope to visit some ports we missed, or where there wasn’t sufficient space for us as we passed through. We’ve really enjoyed this trip, and are now considering whether we might stay up here for a further two seasons. We’ve already booked at Pont de Vaux for 2012/13 hivernage, but maybe we’ll do the same for 2013/14.