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

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Loing and Briare Canals

Moret sur Loing is a very picturesque town set on the Loing River. The old mills on the river have inspired a number of painters over the centuries and the town is also renowned as being the place where barley sugar was invented.

Lovely town of Moret Sur Loing
Watermill on the Loing River in Moret
Old mill now the Moret museum

We stayed here for a couple of days but as mooring space was restricted we moved on to the very picturesque Loing Canal. Our next stop was Nemours which was due to have its Medieval festival the next day but as mooring space was again scarce and it was going to rain anyway we decided to push on.

Getting ready for the Medieval Fair in Nemours
Old canal in Nemours

Neronville, our next stop, was just a hamlet and the mooring was next to a picnic spot. A pretty tranquil spot for the night. Even though it was drizzling we still managed a walk along the pretty towpath.

Lock keepers house on the Loing in Néronville
Tranquil mooring in Néronville

Our next stop was Montargis, which we approached with some trepidation. We had heard some pretty bad stories about this place especially from a boating perspective. There were tales of youths jumping on boats, bikes and other unsecured items on the deck being stolen. Rather than stay in the marina, which a lockkeeper had already told us was full, we opted to moor on the Quay outside the police station. It was well lit and there were security cameras. We figured no one would be dumb enough to steal anything here. We woke the next morning to find all our gear still on the boat.Montargis is quite a pretty town and with its system of canals in the old town it calls itself the Venice of the Gaitinais. It is also renowned for its praline so I had to make a visit to the famous shop where it all started. Monsieur Eiffel was also here putting his name to the bridge over the canal.

Praslines were invented in Montargis
Canals in the historic part of Montargis
Monsieur Eiffel’s bridge across the canal
Reference to the waterways through Montargis – Venice of the gatinais

As we approached Briare we were coming to a section of the canal that had been built during King Henri IV’s reign in the 1600s. These old locks were a lot smaller than the current Freycinet but it’s incredible to think that the principle has been around for so many years. The first evidence of these old locks was at Dammarie sur Loing and then again at Rogny les Sept Ecluses. As the name suggests there were originally seven locks in a row, what are called staircase locks. These locks have now been replaced by six bigger locks at a greater spacing than the original.

Waiting for the lock keepers to have their lunch
One of Henri IVs old locks
The original staircase locks at Rogny Les Sept Ecluses
Rogny Les Sept Ecluses
From Rogny it was a short cruise to our final destination on this canal to Briare. We had met Dorothée, the harbourmaster, at the DBA rally and she had organised a good spot for us right across the road from the best restaurant in town, Le Petit St Trop. And of course we had to try it!
Briare is very picturesque at the junction of the canal and the Loire river so there are many waterways and lovely walks. They also have a weekly market and while we were there they had a Vide Grenier. This literally is empty the attic and is much like the car boot sales in the U.K. and “trash or treasure” type markets in Australia. So you never know what gem you may find. Unfortunately there weren’t any gems for us to buy at this one. 

This chateau is now the town hall
The wash house in Briare
The Loire River at Briare
Looking from the port to the hire boat base
Briare port is divided into 2 sections by a lock. This is the lower port

There was also a party at the commercial port with food, drink and music. 

The girls got into the action with their upbeat tunes
Apparently the French were the first to wear kilts!

Briare is also noted for its mosaics. This is especially evident in the church which has mosaics everywhere, courtesy of a local ceramics manufacturer. There are also several shopfronts with mosaic work on them.

The church in Briare with mosaics and enamel work on the outside
All of the floor area is in mosaic tiles

Mosaic shop front

However, the Briare Pont Canal is the most impressive thing about Briare and this canal. This 662m long aqueduct was completed in 1896 and until 2003 it was the longest navigable aqueduct in the world. Monsieur Eiffel also played a role in its construction being responsible for the masonry work. This aqueduct replaced a river level crossing that was very dangerous when the Loire was in flood.

The Loire river from the aqueduct
View as we cruised across
A hire boat navigates its way across the one way aqueduct