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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June 10 Lyon

Roman ruins

a media center, this building seems to be drilled with giant holes. A sister building nearby, red, has a large ‘bite’ taken from one corner

one of the passage ways from one street to the next. Quite unique!

super tall and not decorated as many Baroque buildings

Lyon, which is France’s second largest city, is really a very pleasant place to visit. I stopped here on the way southbound last August, but didn’t post things, so you get some of that visit now. An old city, not severely damaged during the wars, Lyon has a character that is really quite interesting. For example, there are old Roman ruins, excavated and restored, available for viewing. There are special ‘passageways’ or public corridors through buildings and built-up areas. Although with restrictions, people just walk through interior courtyards, hallways, and passageways. Very unique. There are also really unique new buildings, built in the ‘confluence area’, where the Rhone and Saone rivers join. The cathedral holds a most prominent position over the city. Visible from most places, the building is an amazing combination of old and new. I have seen many churches and religious monuments, but this one really does command the view in a spectacular way.


the amazing artwork at the crossing

There are markets, shopping centers, small alleyways, and many other interesting places to explore and visit. I could spend months here, but, alas, not possible. One is only allowed to spend 72 hours on the public quai, and is is VERY bouncy with the passing local tour boats, the commercial traffic, and all.  So, I will move along, up the Saone.


one of the most magnificent mosaic murals I have ever seen

the view from the eastern bank of the Saone, showing the commanding view of the cathedral, and some other amazing architecture


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June 9 to Lyon

After battling the wind for the last week, finally a reprise. Not a true Mistral, but a ‘baby mistral’. A week of strong northerly winds (40-75 km/h including gusts). The skies are clear (mostly, especially in the afternoons) the temperature are sultry (always above 30 in the days and seldom below 20 at night), but that makes things certainly more ‘summery’ than many of my British and Canadian friends are ‘enjoying’.

the chateau in the center of Tournon. A favourite mooring for river cruise ships (4 moored here for the season), it is a very pretty town

at Ampuis, the small mooring harbour is the local swimming hole. Some of the kids I met last fall were here again. No problems: they reminded me of swimming in the reservoir when I was in high school, some centuries ago.

My dream house: turret, stone construction, riverside-yet elevated to protect from flooding. Sigh

I think this is what is meant by loaded to the gunwales . Not a lot to accommodate for waves or wakes!

Although the Rhone is a very big river, lead

an observation tower for defense along the river. the outer ‘stairs’ might be a little challenging!

ing to some rather less interesting stretches, there are surprises around many corners. Some amazing architecture, the vineyards plastered on the sides of impossible hillsides, and some ‘interesting encounters’.

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June 2

I left Avignon, though I really wanted to stay here and explore further, because the major weather phenomenon in the Rhone valley is called the Mistral. These strong (sometimes VERY strong) winds funnel down the valley from the north, and are a major weather determiner. Often with clear, blue skies, these winds can reach storm forces and it does make boat handling tricky. I experienced them in the fall coming down the Rhone, and decided prudence was important. I am moored at L’Ardoise, one of the only sheltered moorings from the Mistral winds along this stretch of the Rhone. I’ll wait out the winds.

castle (chateau) on the west bank just south or L’Ardoise

castle ruins on the east bank between Avignon and L’Ardoise

a dead-looking bush just floating in the air near the Palace du Papes in Avignon. At least 30 m from any buildings, it seemed to be hovering in mid air, though moving quite a bit. Actually suspended on nylon monofilament lines from the castles, the lines took me 20 minutes to spot, and figure out how it was done. A very impressive sight!

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July 1 (Canada Day)

I left Arles, and moved onto the ‘big river’, the Rhone. This is going to be somewhat challenging, as the current runs against the direction I have to go, and is from 2-5 km/h.

Petit Rhone on the right, and the Grande Rhone on the left.

The famous bridge from the city walls

This makes for slow travel at times. after a few hours of stemming the current, I arrived in Avignon. A fabulous place to visit, and so much history. The city was not damaged in either world war, so much of the character and buildings are as they have evolved over the last thousand years, or so. There have been a number of popes who set up residence in this city (instead of Rome), and their palace, churches, and fortifications are central in the city. Fortunately, the mooring requires passage right by these places, and you get the results! The famous bridge is no longer complete, and boats are forbidden to pass under the remains.  The song

Sur le pont d’Avignon / On the bridge of Avignon
L’on y danse, l’on y danse / We all dance there, we all dance there
Sur le pont d’Avignon / On the bridge of Avignon
L’on y danse tous en rond / We all dance there in a ring

might have been a challenge as the original bridge was so narrow. The remnants today are from one of the many rebuilds, but the bridge was finally abandoned in the 17th century

one of the guard fortresses

one of the towers in the city (and the obligatory bell tower!)

Avignon was also an important center of defense, though the river made that challenging as there are several channels and islands. However, there are also many fortifications guarding the river approaches to the city.

Saint-Bénézet Bridge at Avignon

the palace of the Popes, with their chapel on the left

if you look very carefully WCToo is alongside almost in the center of the picture

Pictures of the impressive Rhone valley, and the commanding position of the site.

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June 30 to Arles

So, finished the coastal trek across the Camargue, stopping  at Aigues Mortes. Gorgeous city, reminiscent of the middle ages, Arabian Nights, and all. This walled city is on the absolutely flat land of the Camargue, which is mostly marshes, salty lakes and swamp. The city is a fabulous place to explore- like Carcassonne, but different as well.

the best mussels (from Etang de Thau) served here with blue cheese and white wine. Exquisite, and inexpensive!

The name of the city literally translates as ‘dead water’ and this was because the water is very salty, and, so, Aigues Mortes has a thriving salt extraction industry.






the Camargue

And then on to the end of the canals that link the Rhone river to the Atlantic ocean.  The city is called Arles, and has been the hub of traffic and trade since Roman times. lots of Roman roads met here, and, of course the rout from the Mediterranean up the Rhone into central France. Lots of Roman ruins and buildings, excavated and open for viewing.



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June 29 parallel to the Med

the beaches of the Mediterranean are about 1km away from the canal. An easy stop for a stroll

from the terminus of the Canal du Midi, looking out over the Etang de Thau

part of the huge oyster farming on the Etang de Thau

I finished the Canal du Midi, and set off across the Etang de Thau, a brackish lake which is a source of over 20,000 tonnes of farmed shellfish per year. The trip across the lake reminded me of the best (and the other) of longer open water trips. I then stayed for a couple of nights at Frontignan, where I was reminded of the two fond memories I have of this place from the trip up in September. Firstly, this is where my two sisters and a brother in law joined me, for the trip to Tououse, and Frontignan has about the best market I have seen in France!

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June 24 Carcassonne to Beziers

The weather has been perfect, as long as one remembers to put on enough sunscreen, everywhere. I always miss somewhere, and …

Fonserannes staircase lock looking upwards from our trip in September.

The canal is very quiet: I only see 3 or 4 boats moving in a day. On the trip down the big staircase locks at Fonserranes, just outside Beziers, I was the only boat moving, despite there being only 2 times a day in each direction, and the trip through all 7 locks took only 28 minutes. sometimes, however, the Covid issue invades even this wonderful experience, and Beziers port was full of barges (not moving) and making any attempt to stop again here was not possible.

The locks each have their own charm- sometimes enhanced by the lockkeepers. The lock at Aguille is especially memorable, with  the sculptures made of recycled bits of metal and wood, with some of them animated.













the Pyrenees mountains in the distance with vast vineyards in the foreground

and finally, a quiet, gorgeous sunset to end another great day, steps from a Mediterranean beach

And then there is the wonderful countryside. Fields of ripening grain, fields of grapes everywhere, and the canal itself. The tall rows of plane trees are dying from a disease, and are being cut down and burned in huge pits. A losing cause, I’m afraid, and there are skeletons of many of these dead trees. However, where there are trees, there is very welcome shade. VNF (France’s waterways authority) are making a very concerted effort to replant trees along the banks, and in a few years (20?), these new trees will be able to provide that shade.

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