September 10

ancient bottle kilns for making lime, with the modern facilities in the distance

the border between France, and Belgium, looking forward into Belgium

A strange illusion of a crooked tower, in Antoing.

old lime processing facilities in Antoing

The end of a chapter in my journey.

My journey. At the top, 2018 in blue. The center towards Toulouse (with a big loop along the way), 2019, in orange. And, from Toulouse northward, in green, 2020

I left France today, and entered Belgium. France has been wonderful, exciting, interesting, enjoyable, and altogether a good experience- but it is time to move along. The St. Quentin canal has been a very gentle route north, and a very much better choice than the industrial Canal du Nord. Lots more locks, but much less commercial traffic, and I got to do the tunnels (see previous posts). Even so, in France, there were not many commercial ships (2-5 per day) and very little other traffic as well, so I was often in locks by myself. All that changed as soon as I got to the first place in Belgium (Antoing). At the junction for the canal Nimy-Blaton-Perrones, Antoing is by far the busiest inland port I have encountered, and I met or had pass me, more than 25 commercial ships just today. A very different scenario than in France. Antoing is a major industrial center, and has been for more than 100 years. They have made lime (the bottle kilns and massive roasting kilns) and continue with the processing of aggregates, lime, cement and other building materials today. There are almost no pleasure boats moving at all, and Covid is certainly a reason for that. I had hoped to stop in Tournai, reportedly a beautiful place to visit, but the moorings are out of service as that city does a complete makeover of the waterway, removing major restrictions in width and maneuvering around ancient structures. So, onward I have gone and am readying myself for Gent.

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Aug 27 Compiegne

After travelling up the Oise river, I am in the historic city of Compiègne. I am moored just upstream of a lock, and do have a significant amount of movement of the boat due to the wakes of passing ships, but the mooring is quite sheltered from the significant winds of the past few days.

Compiègne is famous for three major events: the Chateau of Compiègne, where Napoleon III set out to create a magnificent palace; the signing of the armistice of the first World War, in a railway carriage in a clearing of a nearby woods; and the signing of the surrender of France to the Nazis in World War II.

the dining room, set ‘en famille’

the map room

the king’s bedchamber

the library (I am drooling)

the Queen’s bedchamber

the ballroom (the white platform is modern, being prepared for a display of period clothing)

the forecourt

the front facade showing the huge nature of this structure

The Chateau is amazing: the state apartments are preserved as a museum. It is a huge palace, and the preserved state rooms are a small fraction of the interior. There are extensive descriptions of each room, in multiple

the tea room 

languages, so that help to understand the purpose, history and details of the paintings and tapestries. Another part of the palace holds the national car museum. There are

a carriage for a rich person!

every sort of ancient vehicles, from horse-drawn carriages, through bicycles, sleighs, motorcycles, and ancient cars. This is not a museum for vehicles after 1918! it was very dark in this museum and hard to get photos that would do justice to the displays

some of the ancient motorcars on display

 

 

a model of the site for signing the Armistice in 1918: on the left, the carriage of the French. on the right, the place for the German carriage

the replacement carriage now again on display, (with Daniel, former student, visiting me on the boat)

interior of the carriage, with the name placards of those present during the signing of the Armistice, Nov. 11, 1918

the central plinth now recovered from Berlin and restored as the focal point of the memorial, Marshal Foch’s statue in the distance

 

 

The Famous Railway carriage: Signing of the armistice.

The event of 1918 was to take place in the woods far from spectators and media people. There were railway tracks which would allow both the train with German functionaries, and, a similar arrangement for the French. The site was made into a memorial after WWI, and the building in the upper part of the model, a museum where the railway carriage was displayed.

Hitler was determined to erase all traces of the defeat of 1918, including the Treaty of Versailles. He was determined to humiliate the French by making them sign their surrender in the same carriage at the same place as the Armistice of 1918. Hitler  had the railway carriage removed from the museum (cut a huge hole in the wall,) and placed upon the track as in 1918. After the French signed the surrender of France in 1940,  the railway carriage was taken to Germany. He removed the original signed copy of the Armistice, and had the entire site destroyed (except the statue of Foch). The stones of the center memorial were numbered and taken to Berlin, where they were found in a hanger after the war. The carriage was eventually burned and destroyed in Germany, except for two handrails. The carriage now on display is an identical one, now carefully restored. The museum where the carriage is displayed, is an excellent one and carefully describes the individuals of all countries involved as leaders of both wars, the circumstances of both wars, and the results. It is an exceptionally balanced presentation.

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Aug 22 The Seine and Oise

After making the trek trough Paris, I am reflecting on the less cultural and more nautical aspects of the journey. The Seine is a heavily used industrial waterway, supplying the huge metropolis of Paris with a great deal of the heavy bulk things that are needed for construction and waste elimination. That means that the ship traffic mainly brings sand, stone, gravel and the like to Paris, and takes away recycling (mostly metals) and organic sludge from water treatment plants, but also construction waste, and such. The Oise is much less commercial, but is part of the connection between Paris and the north, including Belgium, so there is still significant commercial traffic.

unloading aggregates from the barge into one of the tens of concrete making units along the Seine and Oise

barges of aggregates awaiting unloading

using snow-making machines (not to make snow- it was +32C) to control dust and smell, I guess, as the machines load waste into the barge at a transfer station

a debris trap that skims floating debris from the water. They are common along the Seine, and make the appearance of floating garbage almost extinct. Awesome!

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Aug 19 The Seine

Melun prison not in use. Still very intimidating and impressive!

After departing the Canal du Loing, I entered the Seine River. As the Saone and Rhone (see previous descriptions) the river is an entirely different nautical experience than a canal. Current, locks that are humungous compared to the canals (water use is much less of an issue), and a very large increase in traffic. I fueled (a necessary part of boating), and then set of towards Paris. As I went along, the increasing urbanization was obvious at every turn of the river. There are lines of peniches used as homes, there are industrial activities evident, both past and present, and there are many commercial boats, mostly hauling sand, gravel, recycling, or grain.

sunrise on the Seine: crappy mooring, but beautiful way to start the day

evening cool down. Why I chose this mooring

I moored in a very uncomfortable place ( actually a bad choice on my part, as there were a couple of options further on) but there were incipient thunderstorms, with wind gusts that are not my friend, while trying to moor. So… But there were compensations!

one of hundreds of similar passenger boats ready to help you explore Paris or you could visit me!

Then, I set off very early this morning, advised to cross Paris before the Mouchettes begin (a mouchette is a cruise/view ship, and there are hundreds moored as I went through the city). In a non-Covid year, I am sure it would be very busy, but this trip, I only (narrowly) encountered one.

Notre Dame, after the fire. They have enough scaffolding and cranes…

Obligatory Parisien photo

But there are a few things to see as one passes through Paris. It IS a tourist destination for a reason, and I only got pics as I passed through. Most places might be easily recognized, but the angle, from the river, might be strange and unfamiliar (unless you paid big money to the tour boats!)

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Aug 16 Canal du Loing

in the city of Nemours, the fortress (now museum)

The last of the freycinet gauge canals for a while (38m x 5.0m). It has been an hot but delightful journey through these canals. There is so little traffic (Covid has all but eliminated any trip boats, and all of the foreign rental traffic). People are very surprised to meet a Canadian because Covid has eliminated almost all international travel. I, of course, live on the boat and have been in France since March. Now, just about impossible to get out without quarantine.

I am at the confluence of the Canal du Loing and the mighty Seine River: one of the two major waterway systems for commercial traffic (the other being the Saone/Rhone system- see postings about my travel there!)

one of the city gates into old Morret-sur-Loing

the main entrance into the church in Moret-sur-Loing, sowing some of the exquisitely restored stonework

the ‘store front’ of a winery complex in Moret-sur-Loing. it has been here a while!

Moret sur Loing was once a royal retreat city: somewhat like Sandringham, or Balmoral in Britain are today, or (if you are Canadian and thinking primeministereal, Meech Lake, though on a much less grand scale). There is significant evident of this city’s impressive past: major (old, stone, and intact) bridge across the Loing river, exceptional city gates, a fantastic church, recently having undergone extensive restoration, and the remnants of the royal residence, though this is significantly reduced in scope and grandeur from the days of the 14-17th centuries.

Given that this city (and St. Mammes on the east bank of the Loing, plus the companion cities of Champgne sur Seine across the Seine,and Thomery just downstream on the Seine), this area is one of the important crossroads of the waterways of France. Lots of industrial traffic used to come down the Loing, and there are still remnants of that, especially in the transport of sand and rock. The Seine is still a full commercial river, and there is daily traffic of all sorts of ships, particularly as the Seine has locks 180m long by 11.5m wide, so the ships can be very large (compared to my cockleshell!). I stay far away as I can!

The next days will be completely different as I deal with these large ships, their wash, and their absolute right-of-way (might has right!). I will also be back in a river with current, and a significant expectation of following all navigation and safety guidelines.

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Aug 10 The Briare Canal

The 4 canals that make up this route from the Rhone to the Seine (Canal du Centre, Canal Lateral de la Loire, Briare Canal, and Canal du Loing), have the much shorter sections of the Briare and Loing at the northern end. Each about 55km in length, the Briare is a summit canal, connecting the watersheds of the Loire and the Seine.

The peaceful, rural character of the Briare canal

The Loing is a lateral canal, following the valley of the Loing, until it joins the Seine. This year, this canal route is the only one remaining open because of the worst drought for France in a long time. Fortunately for me, they are pumping water from the Loire river upwards to the summit of the Briare canal, and keeping it open. The water levels have been reduced, which makes for some uncomfortable noises as the keel of my boat drags along the gravel in places. It is also incredibly hot: more than a week of temperatures above 35C. There was a thundershower last night which certainly helped cool things down, but today is again hot, and very humid!

The summit reservoir of the Briare Canal, with morning mist, right beside my mooring place

the old lock staircase, replaced with separate locks when they were enlarged to frecinette standard (38m long by 5m wide)

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Aug 3 The Loire

The Canal Lateral de la Loire follows the Loire river, which, at times, has plenty of water (a torrent) for navigation, but by midsummer, is a maze of small lagoons, huge sandbars and a nightmare for navigation. The French realized this and several plans were made for canals alongside the river. The result was a canal from Roanne to Briare. I met this canal at Digoin, where the Canal du Centre branches off to the valley of the Saone. Now, I will be climbing over the summit of the Loire valley to the valley of the Seine.

The pont bridge over the Allier, showing the source of some of the sand that causes such navigation challenges

The canal bridge (aquaduct) over the Loire at Briare. An impressively long canal bridge!

The Loire at Briare, showing the challenges of using the river bed for reliable navigation

This canal has experienced many changes, and especially in how the canal accommodates the major rivers of this valley. There are three major canal bridges (aquaducts) to carry the canal. One at Digoin, one crossing the major tributary, the Allier, and the last at Briere, which eliminated 7 locks and a treacherous descent on the Loire river, with it’s constantly changing channels.

The Briare canal links the Loire valley and the industrial sites I’ve passed through, to Paris, and then the sea. Because the Loire is so seasonal and difficult to use for navigation, other canals have been used in the past to try and link the interior of France to the sea. The Berry Canal, (now abandoned), and the Canal d’Orleans are two of those attempts: they worked, but were plagued with water supply problems, and were swallowed economically by the railways, and are now closed.

A small chateau, really like an old, but significant mansion

The chateau and formal buildings of Sancerre

a rather common crop of something that looks like corn maize) but isnt.

The trip has been interesting: the very gentle descent has made lock work easy, and the scenery changes significantly depending on the commune (municipal district). Goat cheese factories, lots of different wine areas, and many cattle farms, with concomitant fodder and pasture lands. All making for a varied scenery.

And alongside the canal in the river valley are some amazing chateaux. Mostly stately homes, in a variety of sizes and degrees of opulence; some preserved and used, some in decay and really mostly ruins.

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July 29 The Loire

Lift bridge in Montceau les Mines, a former center of mining for iron ore and coal. First lift bridge in a long time!

long ‘pont du canal’ or aquaduct, that carries the canal over the Loire river. This reduced the locks, and certainly reduced the issues with flooding and silting, that the former path through the river required

The Loire: wide, shallow (except in flood), the canal parallels the watercourse, but avoids the unpredictability

One (of many) ceramic factories along these waterways. Once essential industries, many have closed. Huge buildings (this is not the largest I have seen)

Well, the descent from Montceau les Mines to Digoin was easy, and really nice: followed by major disappointment at Digoin. The depth was very low (so I was dragging), the moorings even more shallow. The good ones were plugged with boats, and the only remaining ones had nasty surprises like sloping stone walls, with a ledge underwater about 15cm down. That makes fendering very difficult (supposedly, tires are illegal as they don’t float, but floating fenders do not work when the obstructions are underwater!). So, a pass on Digoin, but I was 10 minutes late (scoping out the moorings), so had to wait 1h45 to go down the big lock at then end of the aquaduct over the Loire. Even the holding mooring were stone and sloping, which is very hard for me to use without boat damage. So, forget Digoin!

The area is famous for its ceramic industry: everything from utility objects, through figurines and decorative ware. Lots of evidence of huge factories, mostly abandoned., but some still making everything from bricks to decorative wares.

I chose a wild mooring (as I am learning how to do) primarily as these often provide afternoon shade. This is important when the afternoon temperatures are all over 30 degrees! I am self-sufficient for more than a week, requiring water about each week, and electricity can be made via generator.

part of the restored facade and buttresses of the cathedral. Superb warm coloured stonework, unmarked by pollution

The western end, called the Roman Choir. This is a fresco on the ceiling, which apparently escaped war damage (mostly)

Wonderful colours as the sunlight streams through the modern stained glass: replacements for those destroyed during the war

a house in Nevers: my dream. A turret, courtyard with tree for shade, and a view from the hillside.

morning mist on the canal. It has been so hot (days above 30 degrees) but delightfully cool at sunrise

I am now outside the city of Nevers. Really quite beautiful, alongside the Loire ( they have a public swimming area on the river, open during the summer). The cathedral, which is exceptionally prominent, was heavily damaged by an air raid in 1944. Apparently the RAF thought they were hitting steel industrial works, but he cathedral and surrounding city center suffered extensive damage. Rebuilt in the 1960’s, and under extensive restoration now, the brilliant cream coloured stonework is certainly an eye-catcher. The interior was alive with ethereal colours as the sunshine shone through the modern stained glass replacements for the medieval windows that were destroyed.

The city is really an interesting juxtaposition between medieval layout (many small lanes and very narrow streets) and open, modern, areas, clearly where the war damage was greatest.

Although it is very hot (drought and heat are major concerns for my progression), I will persevere and move further north as I can. I am almost exactly half-way along this canal, and hope the the next one will still have enough water for me to make the trek!

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June 23 Canal du Centre

the summit lock on the Mediterranean side. the other side is called ‘le ocean’,and is downwards for me. this is the watershed divide for France, between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic

I have made the significant trek to the summit of this canal: 35 locks upwards (always especially challenging when single-handing) and several of the locks are more than 5m high! Still, I made it, and am now on the much longer, but more gentle trek downwards, first to the Loire (and the canal that parallels the river: the river being too temperamental and causing silting during flooding). There will be a short climb again out of Briare, but not nearly as steep or extended. I am in Montceau-les-Mines, a former major coal mining area. Now, it just has a nuclear power station, and museums to it’s mining past. The summit of the canal is really non-spectacular. There are several lake/reservoirs along the canalside, which help supply the water for both sides of the watershed, but the town of Montchanin is entirely overwhelmed by the passages of autoroute and railway. The town was the center of ceramic tile production for more that 100years, and there is a HUGE building alongside the canal. The factory closed in 1967, but I saw a cherry picker with someone it in, attending some of the windows on one side, so who knows, it may be in use again somehow.

The photos aren’t spectacular: the scenery is pastoral, rural, and really quite ‘normal’ . there are cattle, which I haven’t seen many of, there are fields of all sorts, and the valley the canal climbs is, well, unspectacular. It is nice, though, to be able to moor alongside the canal, in the middle of nowhere, and see a comet, to have darkness at night, and  just be gentle.

I’m in Montceau les Mines and getting supplies (groceries, water, and…) for the next few days as I descent to Digoin and the valley of the Loire.

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June 18 Saone River

Well, how things can change. I left Lyon, and planned a 4 day journey to St. Jean de Losne, which is the unofficial hub of the inland waterways of France. Restocking, getting a few essentials and especially fuel, in preparation for my journey northwards on the Canal de Vosges to Nancy, and then the Mosel River. BUT.

It turns out that the Canal de Vosges is closed for the rest of the year, and all the other routes north are under restrictions or closed, from Covid stuff (north-eastern France has been particularly hard hit), or from lack of water (I  had my first day of rain in a long while on Wednesday). SO, I have spend some days exploring all the options, including a retreat from getting boatwork done in The Netherlands. When I got to St. Jean de Losne, I spoke with the VNF (French Waterways people) and was assured that the western route (Canals du Centre, Loire, Briere and Loing) was still open, and the best possible option. Sounds fine to me, as this was the route I had planned to explore last year, but which was closed due to lack of water. So I have backtracked to Chalon sur Saone, where the Canal du Centre joins the Saone, and I will attempt the steep climb up this canal.

Chalon is especially attractive, and they have a vast floral mural which is on a point of land between the branch of the river to their marina, and the main river. A particularly appropriate display for this year! I do hope that the coming canal experiences are a little more photogenic than the Saone river, which while very gentle, is really green banks, an occasional bridge or powerline, and not so much else!

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