Canal de Bourgogne Revisited (Autumn 2013)

Having abandoned our exploration of the Canal de Bourgogne in heavy rainfall during May/June, we decide to persevere again this autumn…

Monday 19th August

Arrived at Pont de Vaux around noon, after an uneventful trip.  Traffic had been a little heavier than previous occasions, but not bad considering it was the prime French holiday month.

Everything was fine on the boat apart from the inevitable cache of spiders.  By this time of the year the previous autumn’s chestnuts appear to have lost any effectiveness they might have in deterring our hairy little friends.

Weather was fine and sunny, comfortable but not overly hot.

Tuesday 20th August

DSCF1664Neville fitted the new smaller bits that he, together with one of the volunteers from 92 Squadron at Nene Valley Railways, had made to supplement the single bits at the front of the boat.  It’s much easier to manage the ropes taking the strain on two bits, as we do at midships.  Also painted the remaining bits with black Hammerite, though how long that will last is anyone’s guess.  We’ve never been too successful before at maintaining the paint on the bits.

Wednesday 21 August

Gratuit - emportez-les si vous voulez

Gratuit – emportez-les si vous voulez

Before leaving the port it was time to say goodbye to 2 old friends who’ve given good service for the last sixteen years.  We bought these bikes when we were living in Germany and they have travelled with us to England, Spain and then to France.  Spending most of their time on the back of the boat the UV light has begun to get to them over the last three or four years, and they’ve been shedding bits and pieces of plastic from time to time.  Still serviceable though in need of some TLC, we decided it was time to replace them with fold-away bikes and thus free up a bit of space on the back of the boat.

Cecile on the boat next to us expressed an interest in my bike for her daughter, though seemed less keen when she found out that they were the ‘back pedal braking’ type of bike.  You soon get used to this, and there is still one front handbrake, but she said she’ll try it out and if not suitable, she’ll try to find other owners for them.

Left the port at 9.00am.  The level on the canal leading to the Saone was quite low, certainly compared with last time we came along here in June!

Quick break at Tournus for a snack and reached Ormes Lock by 1.30pm.  If you don’t like the inset bollards where you have to change ropes as the level rises, note that there is a sliding pole left bank side.  There was as big a rise on this lock as we’ve ever seen, more than two metres, and the ascent was a bit rocky.  Normally it’s much less than that, and last time we came down we had to go over the weir instead of through the lock.

The disused lock at Gigny

The disused lock at Gigny

Arrived at Gigny at around 2.30pm.  Moorings in this disused lock are 1 euro per metre length for one night.  Winter moorings are also available here, around 1300 euros.  Open Internet was available free of charge which was a real bonus, and though the capitaine expressed her doubt that we would manage to receive it on the opposite wall of the lock, it worked well and was quite quick.

The restaurant offers a 23 euro and 28 euro menu, plus a la carte, with lots of attractive choices (for us anyway).  Sadly they were fully DSCN3213booked until Sunday evening!   The lock began to fill up during the course of the afternoon, and I’d advise trying to get here before 4.00pm in order to secure a mooring, unless you’re a smaller boat.  One 8m boat came in at 7.00pm and just managed to squeeze in.

There was a boat with seven or eight Aussie girls moored just opposite us. After a few glasses of wine they made their way up to the restaurant where they found, as we had, that there were no tables available.  I’m not sure where else you could eat around here if you didn’t have transport or food on board, and they had to manage on crisps and wine for the remainder of the evening.  They had a great time though, on an empty stomach!

Thursday 22nd August

DSCF1686Up early and away by 8.00pm, reversing carefully out of the lock and back onto the river.  Another beautiful morning with a slight mist on the water, which wasn’t deterring the local fishing fraternity! 

Gergy - the restaurant behind the mooring.

Gergy – the restaurant behind the mooring.

After a quiet morning’s cruising northwards through Chalon and onwards, we arrived at Gergy around 12.30.  We’ve never stopped here before and it’s always looked like a thriving little place whenever we’ve passed.

On arrival the pontoon appeared to be a bit the worse for wear, probably due to flood damage as it is on the outside of the bend in the river.  Nobody else moored up there yet, so we had our choice of location on the pontoon which is about 70 metres in length.  We chose what we hoped would be the most secure spot, but even so the pontoon creaks and groans alarmingly in the wash of passing boats.

There is power available – no indications as to what the cost here is likely to be, if there is a charge, and there is a camp site behind the restaurant where you could fill up water containers.   No water piped to the pontoons though.

Having been thwarted yesterday evening, we hoped to be able to dine out tonight, but we were again unlucky.  A sign outside the restaurant indicated that during ‘demi saison’ the restaurant is open Fridays and Saturdays, and on other days for reservations comprising minimum 12 people.  I would have thought that we were in high season now, but the place was deserted and shuttered and remained that way all evening. 

I think the restaurant embraces a 'pirate' theme.

I think the restaurant embraces a ‘pirate’ theme.

This is a pleasant mooring, and at this time of the year it attracts a lot of young boys trying their hand at fishing.  They were pleasant enough kids, and very polite.  Nobody came to collect fees for mooring/elec and there were no signs indicating where to pay.

Friday 23rd August

Away just after 7.30 heading for St Jean de Losne.   The weather forecast, which had been promising temperatures in the high twenties for the weekend has now changed to rain and low twenties ready for our ascent onto the Canal de Bourgogne.  Stop me if you’ve heard this before….

Passed through Ecuelles lock at 9.45.  Not our favourite lock by any stretch of the imagination and this time we positioned ourselves a bit further forward along the lock (normally we stay towards the back).  We got a better start and although it’s not a lock where you can afford to have anything go wrong, or to be unprepared, we did think our ascent went better this time.  The strongest surge comes about the middle of the cycle, (for us after the first of three rope swaps) with a surprise final turbulent surge right at the end when you’re beginning to relax.

No such problems at Seurre lock, (a side-filler) and the moorings look so nice there that we plan to try to break our journey there on the way down instead of St Jean de Losne.

Arrived at St Jean de Losne just after 1.00pm to find no space at all on the quay, so had to take the lock up onto the Canal de Bourgougne and moor on the same side as Blanquarts boatyard.  Temperatures were up in the late twenties, and though we cycled off to the Casino store behind H20 to get a few essentials, we waited until early evening before cycling down to the quay to find out if there was any more space.

A further 40 metres of quay had been cordoned off after the lunchtime leavers, and the quayside road had been blocked to traffic to accommodate a stage complete with huge amplifiers.  Signs indicated lots of events including a karaoke, so we weren’t entirely disappointed that there’d been no room for us to moor down there.  A noisy night in store for those who had managed to secure space.

Saturday 24th August

What a change weatherwise!  Awoke to grey skies which soon gave way to violent thunderstorms and torrential downpours.  The electricity supply needed re-setting on several occasions, and once when I reached out for my spectacles which were resting on my computer, I got a sharp static shock.  This is more like the Canal de Bourgogne we’re used to!

Once the weather cleared slightly we went out on the bikes for bread, and had a look at the situation on the quay.  There was a little more space, but we decided we would probably stay where we were above the lock.  Later on we met up with Wynn and Ann, the New Zealand boaters we’d met and travelled with along the Centre, & Lateral a la Loire last year.  It was good to catch up on what has been happening, and where their travels have taken them this year.

Sunday 25th August

Much cooler this morning.  Walked out for bread but the usual boulangerie on the main street was closed, and I followed a few shoppers carrying empty bags across the river, where they led me to another boulangerie.  A quiet day after that, filled up with water and did a few jobs on the boat.

DSCF1690We took a stroll round the upper port area.  There are so many boats there that appear to be beyond help.  Some, like this one, appear to have suffered fire damage. 

This second boat really is in need of a true DSCF1693friend to bring her back to anything like her best.  The boat name plate appears completely untarnished, adorning a wreck of charred remains.

Other boats simply appear to have been abandoned – it’s always so sad to see boats reach this condition.

Went to Wynn and Ann (Waiheke) on the Blanquart moorings for drinks with them

A little over-bearing for the occupants of the yellow boat.

A little over-bearing for the occupants of the yellow boat.

and another couple from New Zealand, after which four of us walked down to the quay to examine an absolutely huge cruise boat which had arrived earlier, probably one of the biggest we’d seen on this stretch, and easily equal to the biggest we’d seen on the Rhone.  And then it was time to say goodbye to Wynn and Ann until, hopefully, next year.

Monday 26th August

(The next part of our journey, from St Jean de Losne to Dijon, is detailed in a previous trip report, so I’ll skip over details of supermarkets, locking arrangements etc as they can be found at Rain, Rain and More Rain.)

After a very cool night, we were away from the moorings at 8.15.  We still hadn’t discovered where to pay for the electricity/moorings.  Just above the first lock we passed the hotel boat Amaryllis, which we think is the one normally moored on the central quay at St Jean de Losne.  Perhaps they had to move off early to accommodate the big boat.  As soon as we passed they set off, so we were expecting at any moment to have to give priority to them.

DSCN4735There’s a real feel of autumn around here right now.  Many of the lockside gardens are past their best, gladioli, dahlia and nasturtium all full blown and in some cases beaten down by the downpours we had during the weekend thunderstorms.  There was a nip in the air and most of the morning I wore a fleece and woolly scarf, adding a waterproof layer for the intermittent showers that were around.

At this point of the summer on the Midi the water would be humming with boaters, but already there are signs that holidaymakers are diminishing in numbers.  People used to say that the French went on holiday for the entire month of August, and that at the beginning and end of the month the roads would be chock-a-block with cars.  But I’m not sure that’s the case these days. I remember starting our late summer cruise at Meilhan around the third week of August three or more years ago, and finding that the camp site was half empty, the boulangerie no longer called to sell his bread, and restaurants were not busy any longer.

The intermittent showers, which we’d been dodging nicely between locks, suddenly gave way to heavy downpour mid morning.  We were handed over to a female lockie around lock 70 – one we remembered well from our last visit in May, and she later remarked that the last time we were here it had rained incessantly, and that since then there had been no rain until today!  She’s a very hard-working and obliging lockie, and she asked if we would like to continue throughout the lunchbreak!  It would be better for them as there were a lot of boats on this stretch, if it were OK for us.  Naturally we agreed as we’d just been commenting that we were making such good progress that it might be possible to miss our planned stopover at Epoisse and try to reach Dijon, with a bit of hard slog.

And the rain continued.  Out came the waterproof hats and leggings, and we had a hot cuppa soup on the run to cheer our spirits.

The lockie’s offer back-fired:  we ended up locking through the worst of the rain, getting soaked, and then spending an hour of dry weather waiting at the next lock which was under the supervision of someone else, who’d filled the lock ready for a large boat coming down (several locks away) and had no intention of emptying and refilling it to help us on our way.

29 kilometres and 21 locks after leaving St Jean de Losne at 8.30, we cruised out of the top lock at Dijon and into the mooring basin on the right which still appears to be offering free mooring and electricity.  It had rained most of the day, with varying intensity, but as we ate our evening meal the heavens really opened.  We were pleased it hadn’t been quite so bad during our journey.

Tuesday 27th August

We both slept well after our exertions yesterdays, and awoke to more rain.  For us Dijon has become synonymous with rain.  However during the day the clouds lifted and the sun came out so we went for a walk in the city centre.  It’s not far, and it’s a wonderful shopping centre, mixing sophisticated shops with timbered frontages.

DSCN4657Called in at the Eglise St-Michel and Notre Dame, and wandered round the Place de la Liberation, checking out the restaurants.  Dijon centre is very compact, and you can get to see a lot of the sights within a relatively short period of time.

DSCF1461Walking around the port area, we saw a number of hotel boats moored up at the far end.  One boat that had locked up ahead of us on our last trip, Niagara has now completed her renovation, so they’ve cracked on at a fair pace with that since we last saw her.

Here’s a picture showing only part of her bow as she was in May (we were actually taking a photo of another hotel boat) and the amount of work still to be done.

And here is another picture of her as she is DSCF1704today.  A great job!

By six pm it was raining again, and a heavy thunderstorm circled Dijon most of the evening.

There was something taking place at the disco boat Cancale this evening; we could hear the sounds of young people gossiping, chatting and occasionally shouting, and later on the beat of music thumped away into the small hours.  It wasn’t too disturbing from our end of the mooring; but there was an English boat in the spot we’d used last time, and we guessed they would have a similarly disturbed night as we’d previously had.

We also see that there is a rock concert on in the port on Thursday night; we’ll be leaving Thursday morning. 🙂

Wednesday 29th August

A much brighter day, with a fair amount of sunshine.  Took another walk around the park behind the port, which will be the scene of tomorrow night’s rock concert.

The monument or obelisk here commemorates a different event on each of the four sides, for instance, the first boat that arrived at Dijon from St Jean de Losne, and also the first to arrive from Paris.  DSCN4664aOn our walks we’ve seen quite a number of small furry animals moving quickly from the water’s edge to the bushes.  I said they were rats, Neville thought they were voles.  Certainly the one I saw this morning, scurrying down the bow rope which tethers one of the hotel boats to the quay had every appearance of being a rat.  He was too quick for a decent photo, but I managed to capture a shot of his head peeping out from the refuge he’d taken inside the bourne.

Another concert on Cancale again tonight, followed by a wide screen animation but this time aimed for a slightly older audience.  Still plenty of noise though, and lots of people on deck, though not a problem for those of us moored closer to the lock.

The shared boat that was moored very close to Cancale had two bikes stolen from the roof of the boat during the festivities of the night before.  On arrival we’d taken care to lock our rectangular rubber fenders together and to the back of the boat, together with the lifebelt and had removed our flag.  Our bikes are now kept below.

Thursday 30th August

A fine day, cloudless sky.  As we made our departure preparations it became clear that the heavy downpours had raised the level of the water to the point where our stern had risen to slightly overhang the square concrete plinth that each bourne stands on.  Subsequent lowering of the water level had wedged us on the concrete and it took both of us to ease the boat off the corner of the plinth.

We’d booked the lock next upstream lock for 9.30 but the lockie, who we’d been expecting to have along this next stretch, didn’t arrive until 9.45.  We’d expected that also, based on our experiences with him last time.

We’d planned to lunch at Plombieres and carry on to Fleury, but he advised the lock at Fleury was broken.  Normally, he said, it would be fixed by tomorrow, but they’d had to empty the pound.  At least, I think that’s what he said.

DSCN4680Arrived at Plombieres at 11.15 where nothing much has changed since the last time we were here.  Still no sign of life at La Pause Gourmand, no water and electricity on the north side of the basin, still the same live-aboards on the opposite side of the basin.  At least the sun was shining and there were more leaves on the trees.  This could be a beautiful facility, and probably was when there was a hire boat base here.  It’s still very pretty though, even without facilities.

After lunch we embarked upon new territory, since this is the point on our last visit where we decided to call it a day, head back to Pont de Vaux and drive down to Spain where we’d heard it wasn’t raining.  We’ve also been told that this is where the canal de Bourgogne becomes very pretty, not that we’ve had many complaints thus far.  We were advised that we would have to stop at Velars sur Ouche, just below lock 45. The broken lock is at 42, but this would be the last stopping place before the pound that is to be drained to facilitate the repairs.


The mooring at Velars

The mantra from the VNF staff seems to

Draining the bief

Draining the bief

be 1 day for draining, 1 day for repairs, and 1 day for refilling.  That will mean, all being well, we won’t leave Velars until Sunday.  The quay here at Velars easily accommodates our 16 metres with about half as much again to spare, but there are only two rings, awkwardly spaced.  The good news is that we are right by a Colruyt supermarket and one of two boulangeries in the town.  There’s also a beauty parlour if you fancy getting your nails done.

In the afternoon we cycled up the busy towpath/veloroute to the lock at Fleury. The problem seemed to be with the bottom gates, from what we could tell, and the lowering of the water level was well underway.  Repairs hadn’t started as the level at the lock was still too high.

A pleasant evening once the roar of traffic across the bridge and along the A38 had subsided.

Friday 30th August

I snapped these beautiful flowers in the lock-keeper’s garden. 

If you cross over the bridge at Velars, and turn to your right you’ll see a low tunnel (euphemistically called a tunnel a pietons) which crosses beneath the A38.  That should read tunnel a petits pietons as although I could walk upright, Neville had to stoop well forward to get through.  At the end of the tunnel, turning left up the hill, you’ll find a restaurant which looks quite nice – Auberge de Gourmand.  A sign on the door indicated it was closed from mid August to Mid September for annual holidays.

There is another building with a sign saying Auberge de Relais on the right, but thought we walked over there, it seems to have long since expired.

In case you were wondering, it's a topiary duck...

In case you were wondering, it’s a topiary duck… on the quayside at Velars

The Colruyt supermarket is well stocked with a butchery and fresh fruit/veg section.

After a productive morning doing chores around the boat, we cycled back up the towpath to see what progress was being made at lock 42 at Fleury.   The problems seemed to have been sorted, and the paddles had been opened to start the refilling process.  Early evening the lockie arrived to tell us to be ready to leave at 9.00am and we would be joined by another boat of approx 14 metres.

Saturday 31st August

Our 17th wedding anniversary!

The second boat was a steel cruiser, and theoretically we should have been able to fit in the lock together.  But these locks have only two bollards, widely spaced on the left, and three on the right, the first of which is a good way back from the front gates.  We discovered from the other cruiser that  the lockie, when she arrived, wanted us to attach our ropes to the railings, but by that time he’d withdrawn from the lock anyway.

As it happened we only passed through four locks before getting the message (at Fleury, lock 42 – the scene of the first delay) that lock 38 had jammed in the same way.  We were advised to moor up and wait for further advice on the position.  We seem to be dogged by bad luck or inclement weather on the Canal de Bourgogne.  We moored up just short of the restaurant, and had there been another protracted day would have eaten there in the evening, for our wedding anniversary.  As it happened, the delay was only for a couple of hours or so, whilst divers went down to sort out the problem, which was a large stone stuck behind the lock doors.

DSCF1731This gave us the opportunity to explore Fleury a little more, which is a pretty little village with the river running through the centre.  You can moor on the bank, or on the left bank heading upstream there are bollards and some sturdy posts running along the edge of the road.  There’s no electricity or water that we could see, but there are bins for refuse close to a picnic area. 

Mooring at Fleury

Mooring at Fleury

We continued our journey just after lunch, cruising through beautiful countryside, locks occuring fairly frequently.  It was a lovely day and the further we progressed the more spectacular became the wooded slopes lining the canal.

We moored up for the night at Moulin Banet.  Lovely tea rooms/café here, and also electricity is available.  The owner, a Swiss, charges 3 euros 50 for electricity, and after the first (free) night’s stay, 3.50 mooring fee.  This is a lovely spot. The cafe closes at 7.00pm so we couldn’t celebrate our anniversary there.


We forced a couple of glasses of wine down…

Instead I made one of Neville’s favourite dishes, Toulouse sausages with onions, and we celebrated our anniversary in style and by candlelight.  Where has 17 years gone?

Sunday 1 September

Away by 9.00am.  After the next lock (and they’re all between 1 and 1.5K apart on this stretch) we came across another potential apparently unserviced mooring at Gissey sur Ouche.

There’s a turning circle before the lock here.

Onward between heavily wooded slopes which will look glorious in a few weeks time as autumn truly gets underway.

Lock 28 for some reason is set up as an automatic lock with the red and blue poles in the lock side, lights at the lock entries, intercom etc.  No lockie in attendance when we arrived and a few anxious moments as the by-wash on the upstream gate drove us over to the lock operation side, but there were no bollards to moor up with, apart from one right at the far end.  Fortunately, just as we we’d finished battling the by-wash and secured ourselves on the bollarded-side, we saw the lockie arrive.

The lockie told me there is a boulangerie at the village of Bouchet, Lock 27.

DSCF1805At Lock 26 at the lockie’s direction, we moored up just out of the lock and on the right bank for lunch just after 11.30am.  We assumed this was because it was a long way to the next lock, but as it happened it was just round the corner.  Perhaps the ladies (for we were being accompanied by two lady lockies) just fancied an early lunch.

At Lock 24, both ladies renewed their acquaintance with the lady owner of the lockside cottage who made them a cup of tea.  To enable them to drink this, they only just cracked the paddles so the water rose slowly, and they were able to have a nice chat.

At Lock 23, one of the ladies initiated the automatic lock-filling before we’d managed to get the second rope up, but they responded quickly to our shout and were suitably apologetic.

DSCN4760We arrived at Pont d’Ouche in the middle of the afternoon.  Nice mooring, pontoons for smaller boats,  but the owner prefers boats of our size to moor along the bank where stone bollards and electricity and water still available.  Mooring is run by Bryony, an English lady who also runs a café/shop/tea rooms (Chez Briony).  Bicycles are available for hire. You can get bread from her plus odds and ends as available.  On the day we visited she offered us a roast chicken (on the spit that lunchtime) or a melon, probably things she hadn’t used in the lunchtime business.

DSCN4745Even now, 1st September, the port was this day populated only by boats left for the winter.  The season really does end early in this part of France.  Neville went off on his bike to look at the miniature railway which calls not far from the port.  We were able to take a trip on this narrow gauge line on our return journey, when it was using a different engine.

Monday 2nd September

Away early to catch the first lock opening.

Passed through Crugey – a picturesque village with restaurant, nice moorings but no services by look of it

DSCF1749Beautiful scenery on this leg, towering forested slopes, Chateauneuf always within view on the hilltop and very pretty houses along the route.

This is a very popular spot for hotel boats, and we passed at least three of them on this stretch.  Naturally we usually encountered them as they or we approached a narrow bridge-hole, but everything went smoothly.  They seem to adopt a more gentle pace around here than they do on the Midi, though they are still given priority on the locks.  Having said that, on one occasion we had at least four lockies hurriedly trying to turn the lock for us to get us through before the hotel boat arrived.


This morning’s cruising was probably one of the best we’ve experienced.  The sun was shining but there was enough of a cool breeze to make our journey very comfortable.  The lockies along here were second to none – efficient, friendly, working happily as a team and really thinking ahead, all the time. 

Moored up at Vandenesse. 




The village restaurant has a shady outdoor terrace at the rear.

Mooring fee for us was 15 euros for the two nights, including water and electricity.  A man comes round to collect the fees around 9 am.  We’d highly recommend this mooring.

Tuesday 3rd September

This is probably the last week of the summer in France; temperatures have risen again to the late twenties but thunderstorms are forecast for the weekend and then temperatures are forecast to be in the mid teens for the remainder of our stay.

We decided to visit Chateaneuf, the beautiful building standing on top of one of the hills overlooking the valley.  We could see a winding road leading up to it, and we decided that we would go on our bikes, which, even if hard work going uphill, would at least speed our return journey.  After cycling a kilometre or so along the canal we started the climb and fairly quickly had to resort to pushing our bikes.  This gave way even more quickly to Neville pushing both bikes!

It’s a steep and protracted climb, but do-able with frequent short breaks on a day like today, taking about half an hour.  It was a relief though, when we rounded the final bend to find we were almost there.

This village is listed as one of the most beautiful in France, and indeed it is very picturesque (though we think the prettiest we have visited is Apremont sur Allier.)  Quaint houses, winding streets and of course the magnificent castle which is at present undergoing substantial remedial work on its foundations.  Only one part of the castle was visitable but at 5 euros it was worth the tour.   Interesting replication of the bedrooms, banqueting halls and the tomb of Philip Pot, quite a ghostly spectacle.

Philip Pot was given the castle by  Philip the Good, after the previous lord was murdered by his wife (who was burned at the stake).  It’s easy to imagine just how cold these castles must have been, and in this one at least some attempt had been made to cover the interior walls with padded fabric – early wallpaper I guess.

DSCN4846We lunched at the Auberge Marronier in the village square, Neville having sausage and frites (bright orange Strasbourg sausages) whilst I had a healthier (marginally) lardon and fromage salad.  Excellent value at under 20 euros including two beers.

And then we free-wheeled down the hill, brakes smouldering all the way.  Even the slightest release of the brakes capatapulted the bikes forward at a spectacular rate!

Later we cycled up the towpath to check out Escommes and the tunnel entrance.  We DSCF1746weren’t impressed with Escommes as a mooring spot; there were a couple of boats there, propped well out from the bank, and in one corner of the basin there was a nasty accumulation black sludge on top of the water.  No facilities.  This is however the place where you’ll hang about waiting until it’s your turn to take the one-way passage through the tunnel.  There are bollards on the right hand side of the basin for this purpose.

Wednesday 4th September

Another beautiful day, with temps set for 29 degrees C.  We’d negotiated the eight locks up to the tunnel by 10.15am, not without some difficulty.

I’ve mentioned before that the locks on this canal have two bollards (front and back) on one side and similar with an extra middle bollard on the othern side.  Occasionally the three bollards would be on the opposite side, necessitating a swift change of rope.  Then there were long stretches where the three were positioned on one side, before changing back to the other.  Eventually, there were only two bollards, front and rear on both sides which meant we had to use the stern line instead of the midship line.  No problem so long as there’s only one boat in the lock, but this morning we shared with another smallish cruiser and both of us had to put both our ropes onto one bollard.  The angle of the ropes to the boat was so acute that there was limited control, and once when I went back to help Neville I nearly got cut in two by my rapidly tightening bow rope running along the side of the boat!

Then on the last three locks the bollards were set a good couple of metres back from the lock-side, invisible at the best of times in these deepish locks, but the water level was down a good twelve inches too!  The lockies, working in pairs, had to be reminded to take ropes to put them round bollards we couldn’t see.  Next time we negotiate this tunnel, we will use the bollards on the port side, which were always in view.



On the plus side though, there are some great photo opportunities at one of the locks along here, with a display area containing antique farm machinery, plus a glorious floral display in front of the lock cottage which has ancient tools and implements embedded in the facia. 

DSCF1743Entered Pouilly tunnel at 10.45am having been given a radio and instructions, plus having our light and life jackets checked.  Three fairly long unlit sections in this tunnel but with all cabin lights switched on below deck it wasn’t that bad.  Our boat doesn’t steer well in narrow channels, and it didn’t disappoint today as we stopped a couple of times to peel ourselves off the wall of the tunnel.

We emerged from the tunnel at 11.30  It had taken longer than we’d expected and had been more difficult than anticipated.  The corner of the door to the wheelhouse (not pinned back flush with the wheelhouse) took the brunt of an encounter with the roof of the tunnel and we have a few new scratches.  I’ve never enjoyed passing through tunnels, (we used to moor our narrowboat near Braunston) and this one was no exception.

The tunnel is approached from either end through a long narrow cutting so we’ll allow an hour and a half in total on the return journey.

In the left foreground is the craft that will come to your rescue in the tunnel - feel better now?

In the left foreground is the craft that will come to your rescue in the tunnel – feel better now?

Pouilly mooring is a lovely spacious basin with trees and flowerbeds along the quay.  There is an ATAC supermarket just across the road (through a couple of car parks so we took the bikes).  It’s as well stocked as the one in our home port at Pont de Vaux, and we were relieved to be able to buy a new mouse for Neville’s computer, the old one having given up the ghost at Vandenesse.  The petrol station there is 24/7 so it’s within ‘jerry-can-dragging’ distance if you need it.

The capitainerie also serves as the Tourist Information office, and has internet that wasn’t within range of our boat, but there were tables and benches outside the office where you could take your laptop.   Charge is 5 euros a night including electricity, and 3 euros for water if you want it.

At one end of the basin is the electric tug boat that used to tow the commercials through the tunnel, last used in the late eighties I believe.  The VNF office  (where you also hand back your radio) is at the far end of the basin.

If you pass round the back of the canopy beneath which the tugboat is located, you will find the green route along the side of the tunnel cutting which will take you into the town, a distance of about 1.5km.  It’s a pretty little centre with a lovely church, several boulangeries, hairdressers and a Petite Casino.  Also a Credit Agricole cash point.

Thursday 5th September

Temperatures still in the high twenties,, and a clear blue sky.  We moved our boat further towards the capitainerie and the trip boat.  Not all of the power points on the bournes were working but we managed to find one that was, and from this location enjoyed fairly reliable internet access whilst on the boat.  And at the very least, it wasn’t as far to carry your laptop to get a better signal if necessary.

If you do moor down this end of the port during the season when the trip boat is operating, be aware that when it’s recharging, as it does every day in the late afternoon/early evening, the constant high pitched hum can be very irritating.  It does diminish however, as the recharging process nears completion and will finally stop.

We had a fairly relaxing day, with Neville doing a spot of painting on the boat.

Friday 6th September

More painting of the boat, and then we turned it round so we could do the other side.  Much windier today, heralding a break in the weather we think, with thunderstorms imminent.

This is the point at which we will start to retrace our steps back to our home port again, trying to call at some new mooring points on the way.  We went to see the lockie to advise our return back through the tunnel tomorrow morning, first thing.  Neville will fix our zig-zag fenders to the hull for this trip.

We stocked up at the ATAC, as there will not be another supermarket within cycling/walking distance until Velars sur Ouche.

During the late afternoon and early evening we saw clouds building up on the horizon out to the west, and whilst eating dinner we had our first rain shower.  The lockie came round after dinner (he tends to work late at this depot) and asked us to report a little earlier to collect our radio and sign the paperwork for our journey through the tunnel.

Saturday 7th September

At 2am the rains came down, heavily enough to wake us up at first, and then settling to a steady flow which continued right through the day, abating only slightly every now and then.  How could we go so quickly from T-shirts and Factor 50 sunscreen to waterproof leggings and North Face weather jackets?

We entered the tunnel at 8.50, emerging 45 minutes later, this time having had a contact-free passage.  We’d fitted the big blockie zig-zag fenders but they weren’t necessary.

We went straight into the series of 8 locks with another boat who had just been a light at the end of the tunnel behind us for the last third of our journey but who emerged a few minutes after us – a green ex-rental boat.

Miserably wet locking for the rest of the morning, with sodden gloves, squelching feet and heavy gritty ropes.  On English canals, unaccompanied by the locking staff, you’d moor up and wait it out but the lockies plan carefully and work very hard in all weathers to keep the flow of traffic moving, so you tend to avoid wimp-like behaviour and plough on regardless.

Later that day, at Vandenesse, we saw a huge barge come down the locks whose crew had obviously had to disassemble the wheelhouse to negotiate the tunnel.  Subject to the same constraints as us regarding the lock-keepers, (exacerbated by the approaching 7 o’clock deadline) they’d had to plough on through 8 locks with the wheelhouse sections still laid out carefully on the decks behind and in front of them.  It was absolutely throwing it down, as they struggled to re-assemble it on arrival, doing so with impressive haste.  Once up, the wheelhouse steamed up beautifully inside, leaving us in no doubt as to just how saturated the interior had become during those eight locks.

Vandenesse just didn’t look like the same place in the rain.  There’d been rows of camper vans at the side of the quay but only two now, and everybody was inside their boats instead of sitting around on the decks or on the quay.  Chateauneuf was a faint blur on the horizon and you might miss it if you didn’t know it was there.

It continued to rain heavily for the early part of the night.

Sunday 8th September

No change in the weather on waking, still grey though only light rain.  There are at least four boats here who are waiting to go down so we’ll await the lockies instructions, but it’ll be two to the lock again.  The hilltops are shrouded in low cloud.  It’s going to be another wet one but we are only going as far as Pont d’Ouche, so we should make it by lunchtime.

Off at 9.00am.

As we passed Lock 16 we saw the family who lived in the lockside cottage.  The father was busy downsizing logs at an unguarded circular saw with his safety goggles on top of his head to protect his scalp from flying splinters I guess.  His ten year old son was wielding a long-handled axe splitting logs and loading them into wheelbarrow.  As locking progressed, the wife with babe in arms came to stand by the spitting circular saw,  whilst two toddlers stood right on the edge of the lock helping the lockie.  A Health and Safety Office’s nightmare, but at least the dog was securely fenced in front of the cottage.

We arrived at Pont d’Ouche just before lunchtime.  We’d heard before that the capitaine doesn’t like longer boats moored on the pontoons, but beware, if you moor against the bank she doesn’t permit the use of stakes either.  If the existing rings and bollards aren’t conveniently spaced to hold your boat static as hotel boats/peniches pass (a more frequent occurrence round here), better to move on or moor on the bank on the opposite side from the port, where there are a couple of wooden posts.

In the afternoon we turned left out of the moorings and after passing the Auberge du Reynard walked up the hill to the pick up point for the narrow gauge railway.  At a cost of 8 euros per person, it’s good value if you’re a train fanatic, to take the half hour trip through the Ouche valley to Bligny sur Ouche, where there is a tiny station with a bit of a museum.  At one point the engine is detached and moves along the run-around track to the front of the train.  The carriages are basic wooden seats, some open sided though others have glassed windows.  On a nice day it would be a lovely ride, but today it started raining soon after our arrival in Bligny and continued until we got back to the boat.  Unfortunately there wasn’t enough time at the turn around to take a look round the village.

The train departs from Pont d’Ouche at 3.15pm (Sundays and fete days) for a return trip, and 5.00pm for a one way to Bligny.  It’s surprisingly popular.

Monday, 9 September

Away first thing, with the little green boat (the one that had raced up behind us in the Pouilly tunnel and then shared the second space in the locks down to Vandenesse) determined to be first in the lock this time.

We’ve no problem with that, though it’s always seemed wiser to us to have the heavier boat enter the lock first, but it is annoying when the front boat leaves their engine running right through the locking.  This might be a long, wheezy day, and judging from the way they studiously avoided greeting us as we entered the lock behind them, they were as underwhelmed as we were at the prospect of sharing the lock.  No doubt we were going to slow their progress down.

Following lock 22, Veuvey sur L’ouche looks like a pleasant mooring spot, though no electric/water.  There is a restaurant just opposite, which although for sale is still open at the time of writing.

Above lock 25 (La Forge) there is a nice spot for lunchtime mooring with bollards/posts on either side, and lovely views.

Mooring posts below the lock at Charme, and thankfully we lost our smoky locking partners there, with just time for us to throw open the windows and try to air the boat out before we ourselves stopped for lunch.  I think the lady lockie, a very efficient woman who’d handed us over at Pont d’Ouche yesterday, had noticed our difficulty at the lock before and asked them to turn their engine off at this lock.


Saint Victor

After completing the next lock alone, we moored up for lunch beneath the lock at a lovely little village called Saint Victor.

There are mooring bollards below lock 32 Gissey sur l’Ouche in a basin – no services though.  Bank might be a bit suspect.  The Hotel boat Wine & Water was moored just by the bridge here.  The village here is off to the left as you point downstream, ? and we could see a restaurant there   Mooring bollards  downstream of bridge too.  Quite a few large boats on the right beyond the bridge, look like long term moorers.

Moored up at Moulin Banet just after 2.00pm.  Only one large peniche (Saroche) there so plenty of room for us.  The weather, which had been bright and sunny (though fresh) changed late afternoon becoming overcast with rain throughout the night.

A sunny day had been a welcome change after two days of rain and overcast skies.

Tuesday 10th September

Intermittent cloud and sun with a cool breeze on the way down to Fleury, where we had lunch at p’tit repere du gout, the restaurant by the canalside.  There is a covered terrace at the back of the property, with two more formal rooms on the front.  We had canard du maigret framboise which was nice, though Neville’s was a bit tough.  But nicely presented, as the French always do, and the menu de jour looked pretty good too.  We just didn’t want three courses.  Worth a visit.

Carried on at 3pm down to Velars, having to wait at the first lock for another boat which turned out to be the French couple with the green smoky boat.  How pleased were they to see us!   With them at the back of the lock there was no problem for us, but when we moored at Velars they sped past.

Wednesday 11 September

DSCF1836This stretch of the canal, below Vandenesse, has been a lot weedier.  When Neville emptied the weed filters before departure this morning they were full, and when he tested them afterwards, they immediately filled up with more weed that had been in the system.  As you approach the locks the areas behind the gates are congested with weed, and draped over the top of the gates.  Raining again.

There really is a marked difference in the demeanour of the lockies below Velars compared with the upper stretches of the Bourgogne, and I know other boaters have mentioned this. They seem to get slower and more lugubrious as you rack up the kilometres downstream towards Dijon.  At lock 47, the lockie allowed the lock to empty by use of only the ground paddles, whilst he disappeared into his cottage for ten minutes.  He emerged only to crack a lower gate paddle in the last couple of minutes or so.

As we approached 48 the lockie was busy making ‘tea drinking’ signs to his mate mowing the grass, so we knew that there’d be some delay in our progress at this point.  Neville helped him close the back gate after which the guy went to fill in some paperwork in the doorway of the lock-cottage – without even cracking open the front paddles.  We waited several minutes, in the rain, before he emerged and began to empty the lock.

When we reached 49, the lock was full, gates closed.  There’s little you can do on this stretch except wait mid-stream, as it’s impossible to put anyone ashore with the rocky sides.  We tooted and waited, thankful there was not too much wind, and then after a while the same lockie came roaring down the towpath on his motorbike, presumably having finished his cuppa with his mate.

Passing through the deserted Plombiere basin (apart from the live-aboards) we got as far as lock 51 before having to wait for a hotel boat ‘Apres Tout’ to negotiate the lock.  When we finally got in the lock, the lockie told us we could do this one and the next before he went for his lunch.  I asked if there was any where to moor at the next lock, knowing how difficult it is to bring a boat into the side on this stretch.  He didn’t know.

Could we stay in the lock then, I asked.  No, it is forbidden.  What, even when the lock is full?  Forbidden.

Contrast this to the lockies higher up the Bourgogne where we’d been advised where to moor, where there were bollards, where we’d have to put stakes in, and even situations where they’d worked the extra ten minutes to get us through a lock because there was nowhere to moor before it.

We ended up in a very shallow pound between two locks, so shallow that we had to move our boat to the middle of the channel before the lockie, when he arrived after lunch, could fill the lock for us.

At 2.00pm, after a frustrating half day’s boating we arrived in Dijon to find no space on our usual serviced moorings, and had to moor on the public quay without electricity.  If the position doesn’t change tomorrow, we might as well move on.

Thursday 12 September

An early outflux of boats afforded us a spot on the serviced moorings, and fine weather made it possible for Neville to do a spot of painting.  Later that day some old friends arrived, Bob and Rosemary from Angelbak (another Sagar boat), last seen five years ago at the DBA get-together in Paray le Monial. We had a pleasant early evening get together on their boat, catching up on the gossip exchanging news and comparing our respective boat characteristics/history.

Friday 13 September

A reasonable day.  We’d half thought about continuing our journey but the weather made it a good prospect for finishing up the painting.  Rosemary went off on the tram system which has a similar pricing structure to Lyon.  A 3 to 4 euro ticket lasts 24 hours from time of purchase, so she was able to go to the markets as well the next day.

The outlook for the weekend was not good, in fact storms and heavy rain.  We decided to push on the next day, as there is no let up in sight.  Had the weather been better we might have taken a more leisurely trip back to port.

Saturday 14 September

We said goodbye to Bob and Rosemarie, hoping it wouldn’t be another 5 years before we met up again.  The lock was ready for us at 9.00am and we were the sole occupants.  Progress was very slow, taking an hour to complete the first three locks.  The weed around here is about as bad as we’ve seen anywhere and we were constantly stopping to engage reverse to try to free the prop.  The locks took ages to empty, no doubt the vannes being clogged with weed also.  (In the basin at Dijon the weed is so bad that we joked we’d be mooring on a field next time we visit.)

The two lockies worked as a pair, standing around chatting as the lock filled and emptied instead of one going ahead to set the next lock.

After the fourth lock, one of these lockies went back and another came up to assist at the fifth lock.  He didn’t arrive in time to start filling the lock for us, so we were hanging around in the pound for a good ten minutes.  During lock emptying, a third lockie joined them for a chat.  Did this mean that the sixth lock might at least be ready for us?

Yay!  Filled and gates open by the time we arrived, and the two new lockies were taking us forward.  Five locks (5.3kilometres) in an hour and three quarters, so far.

A further five completed within the next hour and ten minutes, before we moored at Epoisse for lunch.  Our first lockie for the afternoon was a hard-working and enthusiastic young girl, but no locks had been set for us.  After three or four locks we were handed over to possibly the laziest young lockie we’ve ever met.  He’d spent the best part of an hour contemplating his filled lock (when he wasn’t texting) as we waited above the lock ahead for the boat he’d just dispatched, (the only boat of the day we encountered) to negotiate the lock we were waiting for.  He’d come up on his moped, but didn’t stop to help the girl close the gates once the upcoming boat had entered the lock or to help her turn the lock.  During the time he was waiting for us, he could have gone down to set the next locks but he hadn’t.  So for the next three or four locks we had to hang around before each lock whilst he leisurely closed the bottom gates, opened the paddles and then opened the top gates.  At his last lock, we waited whilst he finished a chat with his mates before he even began to open the paddles.

We’d been chased by rainclouds and after idling around at the top of each lock for a total of at least 45 minutes, the heavens opened and when we cruised into the basin above the lock at St Jean de Losne it was after six.  We decided not to drop down onto the river in case there was no space on the quay (a wise decision as we saw it was completely full and breasted up next morning) and moored up close to Blanquarts.

The satellite finder has been playing up just recently, and tonight we failed altogether to get a signal for the television, so spent the evening in the wheelhouse listening to our store of music playing from the smartphone through speakers.

And listening to the rain falling on the roof.

Sunday September 15

We caught the first lock down onto the Saone, and began the last leg of our journey back to port.  The rain had continued intermittently through the night, but there were some welcome patches of blue sky in the direction in which we were heading.

We’d entertained a wild hope that we might make Pont de Vaux, but really we’d have had to start early from the lower quay to do that.  Being in the upper basin, we had to wait until 9.00am before locking down, and even then someone was coming up and it was 9.30 before we hit the river.  Then delays at two locks, so I rang ahead to Gigny to see if they would have space for us if we arrived around s 6.00pm.  They confirmed they would.  When we arrived we noticed another smallish cruiser moored on the river opposite the disused lock, and as soon as we had moored they followed us into the lock.  I think they’d been hoping to get the space we had, the first on the right at the entrance to the lock, as internet access is reasonably reliable there, and had stood off on the off-chance we might not arrive as we’d said we would.  Certainly, it would have been very difficult for us if we’d not rung ahead and this space had been taken; the river and the moorings have been much busier on this return trip than on the outward trip, with no spaces available at St Jean, and limited space at Gergy.  Gigny was almost full.

So another long day for us, but at least the rain held off until mid to late afternoon, and being inside the boat it didn’t really matter.

Rosa, photo taken 5 years ago when we passed her on the Rhone.

Rosa, photo taken 5 years ago when we passed her on the Rhone.

The big ugly hotel boat Rosa, (hot lips!) which had been moored at Chalon came past the lock at great speed whilst we were having dinner. It looked beautiful inside, all glowing lights, glittering bars and restaurants, but the outside resembles a floating vacuum cleaner with its broad front (painted red lips) and rounded stern.  All the boats in the lock, particularly the lighter ones, had an interesting few minutes as its wake swept into the lock.

Monday 16 September

The last day of our Autumn cruise.  Left at 8.45, another grey, cold (13 deg C) damp day but not raining at the time we left.  It had rained throughout the early hours of the morning.  Through Ormes lock by 9.15am, and met two boats coming upstream, the first of which managed to end up in the lock pointing back downstream.  I expect there’d be some cordial conversations going on in that lock!

As we cruised downstream into Tournus we noticed a small mooring quay we’d never noticed before, just before a red balisage.  This is in addition to the two other quays, one a general quay with rings (and supposedly power), and the floating pontoon, which normally is very busy.  There were maybe a dozen boats in total at the three quays, and the two boats we’d passed would probably have come from here also.

As we neared the bridge at Uchizy, we took extra care to stay right in the centre of the channel, despite driving rain and poor visibility.  I still have quite raw memories of that very long night grounded near PK 103 in April 2012.

Around this point we passed a hotel boat coming upstream well over into our path.  This was about as close as we’ve ever passed one before.  No doubt his depth-sounders were alerting him to the issue around this part of the river. 

Just before noon we locked up onto the Canal de Pont de Vaux, and after the next 3 km we were back in our home port. 

A day later, the green smoky boat cruised in – looks like they’re our neighbours on the next pier.  🙂







About Sandra

I used to cruise the French waterways with my husband four or five months a year, and wrote fiction and poetry. Now I live on the beautiful Dorset coast, enjoying the luxury of being able to have a cat, cultivating an extensive garden and getting involved in the community. I still write fiction, but only when the spirit moves me - which isn't as often as before. I love animals, F1 motor racing, French bread and my husband, though not necessarily in that order.
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14 Responses to Canal de Bourgogne Revisited (Autumn 2013)

  1. billgncs says:

    man – that’s the life. Sad about the bicycles though.


    • Sandra says:

      It was sad Bill, I get very attached to inanimate objects. Ask my husband! 🙂 No, I didn’t really mean that. Yes, we had a good cruise, one of the most delightful, scenery-wise though yet again the weather let us down around Dijon. We’ve begun to associate Dijon with rain now; we christened it the Manchester of France.

      Glad you dropped by.


  2. That incessant rain is no fun, no matter how you’re traveling! One of Bill’s sisters and her husband now live near Dijon, but they just moved there, so we’ve never been. I enjoyed traveling with you. 🙂 And we celebrated our 29th anniversary on Sept. 15. Happy anniversary to you two.



  3. I’m so happy to have found your blog (through this week’s photo challenge)!
    I’ve been reading with great interest the details of your barge trips. I’m a novelist and writing a story set on the inland French canals. Your diary has been so helpful.

    I’m wondering if there are any maps or books about barging that you would recommend for further research? Also I’m planning a research trip next spring. Do you have any suggestions of where to make my home base? It sounds like you enjoyed Vandenesse very much.


    • Sandra says:

      Hi Jackie, so glad you’re enjoying my trip reports. I was intrigued that you are writing a story set on the French canals; my own novel (85000 words, based on the canals) is currently languishing on the back burner! In answer to your question about home base, I guess it depends on the genre of your novel. We loved Carcassonne (Canal du Midi), but Kate Moss has more or less done the Cathars to death (for the second time). The autoroute network is so good in France, (and not particularly busy), so I think you could base yourself almost anywhere and make forays into most corners of the country. There is history to be found almost everywhere.
      At the moment we are in Spain for a few months and I don’t have my reference books with me, so I can’t help at the moment re book titles. There are a number of fluvial guides (try which we use, mostly for navigational detail but they do cursorily cover the history and surroundings. When we return to the boat I’ll try to remember to add a note here with more details. Off the top of my head, Cruising French Waterways (4th Edition) Hugh McKnight, and de Breil and Fluviacarte guides might be of assistance to you.
      Happy writing!


      • Thank you for this information, Sandra! As a matter of fact, I had Hugh McKnight’s book Cruising French Waterways in my shopping cart. Now I will buy it with confidence, and I will look for the other guides as well. I can only get so far looking at Google Maps! 🙂

        I’ve decided to set my story on the Burgundy Canal. I’d been thinking too that the Canal du Midi is so well known. Have you ever been to the small town of Saint Florentin? My plan was to set up camp there during my visit.

        I hope you’re enjoying your time in Spain! Good luck with your novel! How wonderful that we’re both writing stories about the canals in France. (I hope I’m not imposing, but may I email you at some time in the future if I have some technical barge related questions?)


        • Sandra says:

          No we’ve not been to St Florentin, though we’ve often seen signposts for it. You’ll be closer to the River Yonne side of the Burgundy than the Saone side which is where we cruise. You’ll also be within reasonable distance of the Canal Lateral a la Loire, Canal du Loing, and Canal du Briare – all worth visiting. Of course you may email with technical barge related questions, and we’ll do our best to help. In case you can’t find my email address on WP, I’ll drop you a line. I know I’ve seen your address on there somewhere.


      • My order of Hugh McKnight’s book is on its way. I’m looking forward to digging into those pages. I think the maps alone will prove very useful as I’d thought Saint Florentin would be a good village to set up, but I think I’d prefer to be on the Saone side. Thank you very much for all your thoughtful comments. I received your email and you may hear from me in the near future, if that is okay. Sometimes I don’t know all of the information I’ll need until I get to certain points in my story and then I have a question that sends me to do more research. Have a wonderful holiday!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Nan Falkner says:

    Sandra, Once again I so enjoyed your blog. How wonderful you trip was. I really liked the pictures, this blog is like a coffee table book, full of pictures to enjoy! Thank you so much for blogging! Nan 🙂


  5. Pingback: Auxerre – Canal de Bourgogne – Saone to Pont de Vaux, May/June 2014 | castelsarrasin

  6. In my pre-digital camera days we went on a two week canal trip on the canal de Bourgogne with gorgeous weather the first week and persistent rain the second. It was a fascinating glimpse into a different way of life. We met a couple who lived and worked aboard a huge converted Dutch barge called the Marco Polo (if my memory serves me well) and they were kind enough to show us the interior of their barge – wonderful!


    • Sandra says:

      Some of these old traditional barges are wonderful. A lot of work, but well worth it. It seems that Burgundy can have more than its fair share of rain – we’ve arrived today after several fair weeks in the UK to find that the rivers are well up and the fields sodden. Still, at least the rainfall may have rescued the Canal du Centre from being closed again this summer. Thanks for reading the article. 🙂


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