Woke up and the sun is shining. Holidays are blessings for all sorts of reasons, and this is one of them. The other is sleeping in without having a dog telling you its breakfast time. The drawbridge had to be turned on by the lock keeper as it would not open until 9am. When you are walking it’s important to avoid the clay (messy) and the stinging nettles (itchy). The drawbridge opens and closes extremely slowly! An hour after the drawbridge at Ecluse Gravier is a restaurant. You can order bread the day before and probably get some coffee while you are in the lock. While we were in the lock before the second drawbridge a van wanted to get across and closed it. The rule is if you find it open leave it open, and if it’s closed, close it after you. The van managed to cross, and open the bridge before we got out of the lock. But then a cyclist came along and started lowering the bridge! The lock keeper sped off, hotting, so that they bridge would be open for us! The next wooden drawbridge is shown in the book as being open but it was closed and slow! As I walked to the next drawbridge a dog came up behind me and nudged my calf. He walked with me to the next bridge, accepted a pat and went home. We tied up close to Monceaux-le-Comte and walked 6 minutes into the village for bread. We had a lazy lunch and got under way at 13:15. We left the last lock of our trip at 14:25. There has been so much rain that the lock mechanism was under water! At the penultimate drawbridge Dave had to go far right to drop me off, and then go back for the narrow path through where the drawbridge crosses the canal. The last bridge was open, and led straight to the barge basin. We finished the barge trip 4 days after we begun, and it was truly peaceful and relaxing. We tied up and walked to the train station. There is no ticket machine so we will have to go online to check the schedule. We walked uphill for 2km to Tannay and found a butcher where we bought Provencal sausages and pate. We found an open caves and did a wine tasting of some not very good wines. The supermarket is a further 5 minute walk out of the centre of the village and we got wine there as well as a few odds and ends. We walked back to the barge, stopping at the hotel opposite for an espresso – at €3 it was more expensive than Paris! Wine tonight is another bottle of Bordeaux Supérieur and dessert is tart Normandy.
We’ve woken up to rain! The lock keeper has asked us to wait for the barge we picked up yesterday. There is a barge here with us which will go through the tunnel first and then the other barge will come through. They rammed us a few times yesterday so this morning our plan was to go behind them. We are now on the down section which is very easy from a tying ‘up’ perspective as you just loop the rope around the bollards. By 10:30 the other barge was nowhere to be seen so we decided to head into the lock. 15 minutes later the lock keeper decided enough was enough and we headed down. As we were alone in the locks and Dave is competent at driving, we didn’t have to tie up. Dave used the motor to keep us steady as the lock went down. I helped close some of the gates which sped up the process. After a few locks there were 2 lock keepers. We must be the only ones in the series. We got through 9 of the Sardy lock staircase before lunch at 12. We started again at 13:10 with 1 lock keeper. There are old fashioned lock gates with no winch to open or close them. And they are heavy! We saw a dead baby boar in the water. Wonder if it fell in and drowned? Despite there being free WiFi and certain points along the canal it doesn’t appear to have been on since Panneçot. We left the 16th lock at 14:25. Shortly after that is a lovely place to tie up if you get here at lunch time. The barge does not have a helm indicator which would be a nice addition. Some of the lock keepers’ cottages are abandoned. I wonder if they are for sale? What a life that could be! On this route there are few places with shops and so far none of the lock keepers have sold anything! The rain finally stopped but the wind picked up. There is a massive cement factory taking up 86ha along the banks of the canal. It’s 15:30 and so far today we’ve passed 2 other barges. The water has tiny waves rippling across the expanse and gently knocking against the barge. The aqueduct marks the start of a one way section which must be governed by the locks as there are no indication lights. At 16:35 we came across a barge going up and we had a short wait at the lock for them. We tied up at Chitry-les-Mines and the dodgy barge basin keeper called an ambulance ‘taxi’ which took us into Corbigny. We needed wine! And the return trip cost us €20 *gasp*. We bought pate, chocolate, tartelettes noix and limoncello as well. Unless you need groceries or WiFi don’t bother stopping. It’s a 3km walk which we could have managed had it not been raining. We left the boat basin and tied up at the first of the Dirol drawbridges. Supper tonight will be pasta and we will enjoy a bottle of Bordeaux Supérieur.
Woke up nice and early and had breakfast and coffee. We. Then made our way down a curvy part of the canal. There are loads of wild herbs and edible plants but the only ones I’m sure of are the nettles and dandelions. If you don’t tie up at the basin at Châtillon-en-Bazois then go under the bridge and hop off the barge – leaving someone behind to hold it against the shore. Go up to the main road and turn left. A minute down the road is a fantastic bakery. I bought a baguette, croissants and a tart citron. We carried on until the next lock, tied up under the bridge and had lunch. I had an amazingly clear call to South Africa when I phoned my Dad for his birthday. There are artists cottages at some of the locks. The first one we came across was for stained glass. At our first double lock I took a video. The lock keepers house has a small farmyard attached and the poor goat was chained up. I managed to steer the boat for a bit, and made the bend with no problem. Our next double lock was followed by a holding basin and then a triple lock. We have been very lucky so far with all the locks being ready for us. We ‘picked’ up another barge at the second double lock. The late afternoon brought rain which was sweetened by the perfect tart citron. Not too sweet, not too sharp! The lock at Baye is deep but has a sliding pole for the ropes which makes life easier, especially when it’s pouring down. We were asked to wait until 6pm to go through the tunnels, so tied up alongside a commercial dining barge and as we did so the light turned green, an hour early! This part of the canal is fairly narrow. The tunnels are not easy to navigate. There is no lighting other than the boat’s floodlights and internal lights must be off. Thankfully we are doing this in dank weather as it would be difficult going into sunshine between the three tunnels. The tunnels are cold. And what a different experience to the locks. It takes 25 minutes to get through the 3 tunnels. There is a stunning waterfall shortly after the last tunnel on the right hand side then a very imposing bridge. There is a second waterfall on the right after the bridge. Our plan was to get to Baye on Monday night but we’ve gone past and tied up at Port Brúlé for the night. Tomorrow we start with 16 down locks in a row! Tonight Toulouse sausages and a bottle of Côtes de Bourg are on the menu.
I woke up just before 7am and it’s raining! I snoozed until my alarm went off at 8:15 and then got ready for the day. Turns out they forgot to turn on the gas at the stove so Dave did that and we could finally have coffee. The kettle whistles at the start to let you know it’s ‘on’. We stopped at Cercy-la-Tour. There is free WiFi on the canal as well as free water and electricity. There is also no fee for tying up. We walked into the old village and had an espresso. The gentleman who owns the place worked in South Africa for 18 years! There is a bakery and local produce shop, both worth stopping at. We walked around the garden which has a huge statue and a vista of the town. Across the bridge and a 10 minute walk is a small supermarket. On our way back we popped in to the local butcher for food for lunch. We then headed down the canal for a bit. We went into the lock at Isenay which has no ladder! I don’t have long enough legs to jump back onto the barge so Dave had to reverse to fetch me. We tied up there for lunch and just as we were about to leave, the rain started up again. At the next lock we encountered another barge and it came pouring down. I discovered that my very expensive jacket is no longer waterproof and I am drenched! First stop back home will be at Due South for a new one. We stopped at Panneçot and walked around but there is nothing to see. This is where we had planned on staying the night. Mooring fees are €8 including electricity and water. It was too early to stop however. We then joined the Aron river. We got to a closed lock and waited for 2 barges and I made coffee. Thick walled mugs don’t retain the heat of the water long enough for me to still have hot coffee to the last sip. The letting out of the water pushes the boat back an amazing distance. We had a brief patch of sunshine and then the rain came back. We decided to tie up at Fleury – no charge for tying up and if you need water it is €2 for 100l. There are also shower facilities at a cost of €2.50 but I would not bother. Of course the sun came out as we tied up! We enjoyed a blonde beer, had an half hour walk and came back to the barge for supper. Fresh fettucini with a clam and mussel sauce was on the menu and a bottle of Bordeaux.
Passport control was a breeze and after we collected suitcases we checked emails and walked to get the RER B to Paris. A kind gentleman assisted us and we just missed the 06:59 train. We caught the 7:05 into Chatelet Les Halles. Then changed to the train to Gare de Lyon and walked to Gare de Bercy. We were there later than I planned but in time for Stephanie’s arrival. It’s amazing to see my Aunt who lives in Australia. She is beautiful inside and out. The train was 20 minutes late in departing so we had some quality time together. We all had coffee and croissants for breakfast. The train had some issue and so we slowly made our way alongside canals and beautiful green countryside where I even saw some buck while Dave slept. We arrived late in Nevers but with enough time for Dave to get lunch – plain ham and lettuce rolls – which we ate on the train to Decize. We walked just over half an hour to the boat basin and we were helped straight away. As soon as the paperwork was done and the money paid, we went onto the barge. It is amazing! I unpacked while Dave was given instructions from the mechanic. He then went to shower while I carried on getting things organized. We left as soon as he was dressed. We had one lock to go through to get onto the Loire River and then turned into the Canal. We tied up at the first mooring on the left and walked 6000m to the Carrefour. We shopped, and Dave popped into the Lidl 150m from the barge for water. Groceries were dumped on the barge before we carried on. And we went straight passed the moorings on the right hand side just behind the carrefour. Had we known that, shopping would have been bliss. We have tied up near Verneuil and I showered while Dave looked at why the gas isn’t working. Sadly whatever it is is terminal and we cannot cook. We had cravettes for dinner, followed by cheese and crackers. We had snacked on a baguette with pate earlier and so finished off the last of the pate as well. We enjoyed a bottle of red wine, and had a very early night.
We are finally at the airport for the first leg of our trip. We fly out of Cape Town to Johannesburg. Our suitcases are checked through and we are relaxing in the lounge. Our holiday has begun. Our flight to Johannesburg left late and then landed on the furthest runway from the airport possible. We parked opposite the international departures and bussed to the terminal. By the time we had walked through the airport, gone through security and got into the queue for passport control we had 10 minutes to boarding. A customs official helped us jump the line and we had enough time to have a quick visit to the lounge where I washed the top half of me. We then went to the gate to stand in a queue! Thankfully a short one. But, our flight left half an hour late! Supper was a very nice chicken and noodle dish served with a not nice salad, average cake and sweetened yoghurt. I ate my mini baguette with brie. A glass of champagne and a bottle of wine later it was time for sleep. I managed 6 hours of sleep. Interrupted by a baby crying. We woke up in time for Dave to shave before breakfast of a sweet crepe, coffee, more yoghurt which I didn’t eat, fruit salad which was fresh and crisp and a croissant. Sadly only one cup of coffee. Teeth brushed, top changed, face washed and make up on, I feel ready to face the day!
On Thursday the 23rd of April we will be leaving Cape Town for France. We arrive in Paris on the 24th and head straight for Decize. Our aim is to get there in the morning and do our shopping and then Dave will drop me off at the boat basin. I will do the check in while he takes the car back to Nevers. Hopefully everything will go to plan and we will leave Decize in the afternoon and spend the night in Cercy-la-Tour. We have already visited the old city of Decize so that is not a priority this visit.
The following day we will head to Panneçot and on the Sunday night we plan on being in Châtillon-en-Bazois where we know there is a bakery and a butcher. On Monday we will sleep tied up in the lake at Baye so that we can head through the 3 tunnels and down the 16 locks as early as possible. This will take us to Corbigny. From there we head to Tannay where will spend our last night on the barge.
Due to the 1st of May being a public holiday, we have cut our barge trip one night short and will spend the night in Auxerre. As we are staying in a hotel we have decided to eat at a one star Michelin restaurant that evening. With limited train service on the 1st we will leave Auxerre for Paris just after lunch. We are spending the weekend in Paris in an apartment so that we can take advantage of the amazing markets. We leave for home on Monday the 4th of May.