Monday, August 14, 2017

Canal Lateral a La Loire

After leaving Briare we crossed over the aqueduct and left the Briare Canal behind. We were now on the Canal Lateral a La Loire. This area is most noted for its chateaux and wine. Two areas are particularly well known for their wines - Sancerre and Pouilly Fume. Our plan was to stop near Sancerre, go up to the village, taste some wine and buy heaps. There are, however, some very enterprising lock keepers who probably have family in the wine industry and offer bottles of wine to boaties as they are tied up in the lock. So at Ecluse 36 we were tempted by the 11 different varieties of Sancerre and Pouilly Fume and ended up buying 6 bottles of 2 different vintages of Pouilly Fume. We still planned to go to Sancerre so figured it was better to buy the Sancerre variety there.
Some of our purchases in the Sancerre region

What we hadn't counted on was how popular this section of the canal was with hire boats, so when we arrived at Menetreol sous Sancerre there weren't any spaces to moor. As it was lunchtime and the locks were closed we bashed a couple of pins in and tied up on the bank. Then Kevin walked back to the quai. Some of the hire boats were only stopping for lunch and filling up with water so we were able to move onto a very precarious mooring with one bollard and a couple of pins in the bank as well as a rope around a power pole. It was also quite shallow and as one boat cruised past quite quickly we felt the boat shudder and noticed we were at quite a slant. Kevin loosened off one of the ropes and with a thick pole managed to push the hull off the rocks and into deeper water.
 We had been told that you could catch a taxi up to Sancerre but after phoning 3 companies with no luck we decided to walk the 3.5 kms up to the town. Unfortunately that would make it more difficult to buy anything. It ended up being quite a pleasant walk as it was cool and we took a cheeky shortcut through someone's vineyard. 
Short cut through the vineyards with Sancerre in the background
 The town has some magnificent views across the Loire River and I commented to one cellar door rep that I was surprised that it didn't have UNESCO listing like St Emilion. She said they had applied but the prospect of windmills being built nearby was contentious and could block the application. We did eventually buy one bottle but the thought of lugging a carton down the hill stopped us from trying more.
 There are some lovely buildings in Sancerre and there are plenty of opportunities to sample both the wine and the chèvre that this area is also famous for.
This chateau is now home to a language school
Museum in Sancerre
From Sancerre we were now heading for Nevers where planned to catch up with some friends we'd initially met in Belgium, Torild and Nils with their barge Passe Lagom. But before reaching Nevers we had to go into a very deep lock. What I hadn't realised from the map is that it was actually 2 locks in a staircase style. As we approached the lock at Le Guetin we were met with the strange view of a sloping path alongside the lock. It wasn't until we moored the boat at the quai below the lock (it was lunchtime so the lock wasn't being operated anyway) and walked up to the lock that we realised that it was actually two locks with the first lock only filling to half way from the second lock, the doors opened and then you went into the second lock which was filled up from the canal above. It was also quite a magnet for tourists who walked alongside the lock and stopped to watch boats entering. 

As soon as 1pm arrived the lights on the lock turned green and we were allowed to enter. Apart from a very high bollard where we had to rely on the lockkeeper to put the rope on all went smoothly and we were soon crossing the aqueduct over the Allier River, which empties into the Loire. We were surprised to find a hotel barge waiting at the other end of the aqueduct. Pleasure boats like ours are hardly ever given priority over a commercial boat. Having said that, the hire boats that had been waiting on the other side before the commercial arrived did have to give way to the hotel barge.
It was now fairly easy going to Nevers, which is on a side canal of the Canal Lateral a La Loire, and before too long we were pulling into the jetty where a place had been saved for us by Tori and Nils. With the boat moored safely and greetings dispensed with, we organised to meet for drinks and then go to the local marina restaurant for dinner. We had an excellent meal at great value and sat there till dusk catching up on events since we had last seen them at the DBA rally. As we arrived back to the boat I managed to capture an amazing sunset.

The marina at Nevers is about 1.5 km from the centre of Nevers so not so easy to pop into town but we did go in a couple of times to view the historic centre. It is quite common in France to turn sections of river into plages (beaches) for the summer, sometimes importing sand to make it more inviting. It is usually set up with deck chairs, lounges, beach umbrellas and pop up bars. Nevers kept up the tradition.
The "beach" on the Loire River in Nevers

Staircase inside the ducal palace in Nevers

The Ducal palace in Nevers

Very colourful modern lead lights in Nevers Cathedral gives lots of light

Towers - part of the old town wall of Nevers

Part of the old town wall
After leaving Nevers we were heading for Decize, which lies at the junction of the Loire River, the Nivernais Canal and the Canal Lateral a La Loire. It was a long day and we decided to stop about 2 km outside of our proposed mooring to ensure, hopefully, that we would be able to secure a mooring near the supermarket. It was one of the few mooring places where there was a decent supermarket within walking distance of the canal and we were sure it would be popular. Our mooring for the night was the first entirely wild mooring with us using pins hammered into the ground and an obliging tree trunk. There wasn't much chance of us moving very far once the locks had closed anyway.
Wild mooring

The next day we arrived early at Decize just as a barge was departing so managed to snaffle a spot under a tree as it was quite warm. We then went off to the supermarket to stock up the fridge and pantry. We then set up our deck chairs and table under the trees waiting for the weather to cool off before strolling into Decize.
Bell Tower in the square at Decize

St Aré church, Decize
Font and stained glass St Aré Church, Decize

 After leaving Decize we were approaching the end of this canal. Digoin is also a point where three canals meet - canal ateral a la Loire, canal de Roanne and the Canal du Centre. The Roanne Canal is a dead end canal terminating at the town of Roanne and is a popular spot for many people to leave their boat over winter. We had originally planned to stay in Digoin but there wasn't a suitable spot for us as there were many hire boats and it was Friday afternoon when rentals terminated. Also the town didn't look that appealing so we made the fortuitous decision to continue on even though it was threatening rain and we normally don't do rain!
Loire River from the Pont Canal Digoin

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