One more lock then a sharp right turn and we were on the Canal de Bourgogne. The first lock was narrow like on the Nivernais…………….but we could do ‘narrow’ now. It was extremely deep and I wondered how on earth I would manage to throw my rope over a bollard I couldn’t even see? I needn’t have worried because the lock keeper lowered a hook down on a rope and I placed the eye of my rope onto it. We made it safely through the lock and into the port of Migennes where we stayed the night.
First Lock on the Canal de Bourgogne.
Here we met Terry and Iris on ‘Leprechaun’, an interesting couple who have sailed from Texas to Australia in the past and have now swapped their sailing boat for a barge. Sadly, Iris had broken her leg badly last year at Migennes and their barge had been damaged after getting suspended in a lock. They were awaiting the nearby dry dock for repairs.
Going Up…… Migennes to Tonnerre
We left the port the following day after lunch, pleased to get away from the noisy trains and unpleasant sewage smells. Our cruise took longer than expected and we eventually stopped at St-Florentin for the weekend, having been forewarned of the May Day lock closure. Here the saga of the Carte bleue continued, with the realisation that there were now two cards, one which our friends had delivered to us and one still at the bank in Paris. To complicate matters, they each had different pin numbers and one of these was still at our old house in Hersham. Our friend Clare retrieved it and texted it to us for which we were very grateful –being down to our last 20euro note. In anticipation of being solvent again, we visited a hole in the wall in the town and put the card in using the new number…………………alas it didn’t work and neither did the second attempt. We found a different bank and tried again. Third time …………….unlucky, it kept the card!! So we still had no cash and would have to return to the bank on Tuesday after the bank holiday. We reluctantly used our English bank card instead and went off to explore the town.
St-Florentin looking back to the barge.
St-Florentin is on a hill and boasts a large church which is lit up at night and looks lovely. As it was a feast day, lots of people were selling Lily of the Valley in small bunches. We walked up to the priory from where we had a superb view down to the barge. We spent a quiet few days there, having moved further along to where there was a deeper mooring and at last retrieving our Carte bleue from the bank. A circus arrived and used the space next to our first mooring spot as grazing for llamas, camels and other assorted animals – we were glad we had moved!
Our next stop at Flogny-la-Chapelle was arranged so that we could hook up with Gwenda (a friend from Treble Clef Choir) who was en route to the south with her husband and cousins. After a very pleasant couple of hours they continued on their way.
The next few days were very cold and gloomy, as we headed for Tonnerre. Here we met Lynn and Keith, a New Zealand couple who have a part share in a Linsen cruiser ‘Paprika’. We had to moor opposite the port as there were no suitable rings or bollards for us to use. As the General Election in The UK returned a ‘hung’ Parliament, we were pleased to be away from the media frenzy….even if it was cold and wet. The town was rather scruffy, but quaint, with a really lovely wash house – the Fosse Dionne.
We were moored to starboard (right for land lubbers) which meant we could use our crane to lift the BMW motorbike off the deck, thinking it would be a good idea to collect the Micra from Chatillon (if it still had its wheels!!) We had left it there on the 11th of April, almost a month before. The journey took us through some beautiful national park countryside, so far off the beaten track that we almost ran out of petrol. Fortunately, the sat nav came to our rescue just as we were running on fumes. On reaching Chatillon, we were relieved to see the Micra, a bit dusty but all in one piece. Sadly, the battery had died and with nobody around to give a jump start, Peter went off in search of a new one. He eventually returned three hours later having found one back in Decize (close to our winter port). By the evening we were safely back at the barge and ready to continue leapfrogging with the car along the rest of the canal.
Tonnerre to Pouilly-en-Auxois
At Tanlay, we met up again with ‘Paprika’ and then again at Ancy-le-Franc. Here the water and electrics were free and we were pleased to discover that we had only spent 20 euros on moorings and shore power since leaving St-Legers-des-Vignes on the 2nd April. There were also three large hotel barges cruising along this stretch. The countryside was beautiful and hilly which made the internet coverage via the dongle rather sporadic. We moored over night at Buffon and visited the forge there, but were not tempted into any of the other “chateaux” at 9 euros a head entrance fee. Having cycled to Montbard the previous day to use the port’s wifi, we stopped there only briefly for lunch on the barge and then carried on. It was bitterly cold and I was wearing five layers of clothing, including a thermal vest! When would this weather improve?
Art de Triumph !
We were within striking distance of the summit now and the locks were getting closer together. We spent several days at Venarey-les Laumes, returning to collect the Micra again and visiting the very pleasant Abbaye de Fontenay (Cistercian) on the way back. We also visited the Mediaeval town of Flavigny, where the film ‘Chocolat’ was made. We were surprised that the shop used in the film was empty and dilapidated and nobody had tried to cash in on the ‘Chocolat’ factor as there were many tourists wandering around like us looking for landmarks from the film. Instead the town focuses on its variously flavoured aniseed balls which are made in the old abbey.
Flavigny and a tin of aniseed balls.
The old ‘Chocolat’ shop on the right.
Having got the BMW off the barge, we took it and the Micra to Pouilly-en-Auxois to recce the moorings. I then donned my motorbike gear and returned to the barge on the bike with Peter, leaving the car at the port. The weather was improving, but our central heating boiler, ever temperamental, had started to play up again.
The day dawned with a heavy mist and we entered the first lock in what proved to be a record-breaking day. We had a good morning’s locking- it can’t be called cruising as we had a lock every 500m and the engine was barely above tick over. We lunched in the pretty port at Pouillenay and then went through more locks in the afternoon. By 4pm we were ready to stop in a pound between locks and said goodbye to the lockkeeper who had been with us for the day. Unfortunately, it was too shallow to moor so we made our way to the next lock. Luck was with us and we managed to hail our lock keeper as he sped past on his moped. He happily worked us through two more locks to Marigny-le-Cahouet for a well deserved overnight rest. Exhausted, we totted up the number of locks we had worked since the morning, all uphill (always more difficult). Twenty nine in total over 10.5km………….not bad for newbies!
As we cast off the next morning, we were beginning to wonder if we would ever reach the top. The canal was getting shallower and we were pleased to stop at Pont Royal where we spent a pleasant evening with Lynn and Keith having caught them up again. This was a splendid mooring, out in the countryside with only the sound of crickets or cicadas to break the silence.
The next morning we watched a chap from a hire boat trying to land a big carp. After an hour and a half it finally snapped the line and he peddled off frantically to catch up with his friends who had left him behind. Paprika moved on but we rested up for another day and cycled to the nearby village of St Thibault for a look around.
Reluctantly we left the peace and tranquillity of Pont Royal the following day and had a cruise of 10 km with just one lock, which made a pleasant change. It was still pretty shallow and slow going up to the lock at Gissey. After lunch there we faced the final climb to Pouilly–en-Auxois where we intended to stay for the weekend. Our friend Martin from St-Legers-des-Vignes was meeting us there at lock number 1, the top of The Canal de Bourgogne. On our arrival the lockkeeper gave us instructions for passing through the three and a half kilometre tunnel beyond and checked that we had lifejackets and a bow spotlight. We booked to go through on Monday morning. The tunnel operates a one way system and timings are critical. As we approached the quay we were welcomed by the sound of an accordion playing. It was Martin, who ‘piped’ us in much to the enjoyment of those looking on.
We spent a lovely weekend here with Martin and managed to top up with food and fuel at the nearby supermarket. Once again we celebrated our achievement with some fizz. The chaps played a lot of boules and I cycled to the town and also found the entrance to the famous tunnel. ‘Paprika’ left and we wouldn’t see them again until the next spring. The moorings were reasonable at 7 euros a night including water and electricity and the weather was glorious with a slight breeze to take the edge off the heat. Martin and Peter took the Micra to the other side of the tunnel and left it at Vandenesse-en-Auxois and then Martin left.
One of the old towing barges for the Pouilly tunnel.
Wheelhouse down ready for the tunnel.
The Tunnels at Pouilly
We didn’t end up leaving until the afternoon slot on the Monday and spent the morning taking the wheelhouse down and enjoying the sunny weather. At 1pm we left the mooring having collected our radio and voucher, both required for travelling through the tunnel.
About to get narrow.
Last sunshine for a while and about to regret only having a T shirt on.
The approach to the tunnel was narrow with a low wall on both sides. I managed to jump of the barge and walk ahead to take some photos- not something I get the opportunity to do very often. Once back onboard I used the video camera to record our progress, which was very slow owing to the width of the tunnel. There were distance markers at intervals which charted our progress. Wentworth remained unscathed but we were glad to have removed the wheelhouse as it was one less thing to worry about…. and no cold shower this time! The tunnel was well lit and very cold. After 3.33km inside, we were quite chilled….literally, but soon warmed up again as we entered the leafy cut which led to the first downhill lock on the Canal de Bourgogne.
Bye Bye warmth.
Out of the darkness but still pretty narrow.
Going Down……Pouilly-en-Auxois to St Jean de Losne
Here we relinquished our radio and voucher and made our way gingerly down the eight pretty locks (each within view of the next,) to Vandenesse-en-Auxois.In the cool of the evening we put the wheelhouse back up and as mooring was free, decided to stay there a couple of days and explore the surroundings. Vandenesse is a pretty village with a tea room and restaurant and not much else. We waited in vain the next day for the ‘boulanger ambulant’which serves the village and I ended up driving several kilometres to find a shop. In the church graveyard we found the graves of two young British RAF airmen (20 and 21 years old,) both killed in August 1944- a sad reminder of the waste of human life caused by war. We took advantage of the Micra and drove to nearby Chateauneuf-en-Auxois. It is a picturesque mediaeval walled town built on a hill, complete with chateau (obviously!). From our high vantage point we could see ‘Aurigny’ at her mooring in the distance.
View down to the barge from Chateauneuf-en-Auxois.
7 Million euro barge ! Our rather more modest home behind.
The port proved to be very popular with hotel barges and two huge ones were moored up when we returned. At about 8.00pm the chef from the one next to us threw some bread over the side and Peter watched as the water came alive with a frenzy of feeding fish. Never one to pass up the chance of catching a fish, he wrapped half a slice of bread around a small hook and cast his light line in among them. Within seconds he had caught a lovely 10-12 pound carp. Delighted with his catch he repeated the process, (“just one more before we eat”) After a three hour struggle and with dinner abandoned, he finally managed to land it…….a huge Mirror Carp of at least 30 pounds!! Needless to say he was delighted, especially as he had caught it using a 5’ rod, 4 pound line and size 14 hook.
Hooked 8 pm.
Landed 11 pm !
The next week was spent cruising through some beautiful and tranquil countryside. We met few other private boats on this stretch, but several hotel barges, all of which have priority at the locks. The generator was well used as there was no available shore power. We spent a couple of days at Pont d’Ouche from where I cycled back to collect the Micra at Vandenesse. I also crafted some new fenders from some rope we had bought from the lockkeeper at Tonnerre. Hitherto we had relied on some thin rope fenders which had definitely seen better days. I used a small knot book which I’d been given as a leaving present and which contained the instructions for a ‘four strand plait sennet- a decorative flattish knot. We didn’t want anything too bulky as there still wasn’t lot of room in the locks. With the aid of the ever useful duct tape, we fashioned six new fenders at a cost of just 30 euros.
After Pont d’Ouche, the canal turns north again as it winds its way slowly towards Dijon. Our next stop was La Bussiere-sur-Ouche, another tranquil location with, (thank goodness,) a boulangerie and a bar. After that, Gissey-sur-Ouche, where we left the barge and drove to Dijon to check out the moorings. En route back we left the car at Fleury-sur-Ouche and cycled the rest of the way back the barge.
Beautiful as the canal is, it is unfortunate that there are so few shops in the villages. In an old 1990s guide to the Bourgogne, it is described as a ‘shopping desert’ and in some places it is now also a restaurant and café ‘desert.’ This is a shame as boaters will not use the canal if there are no facilities. Beauty alone may not be enough to entice them and the canal faces an uncertain future.
From Fleury-sur-Ouche onwards, the cruise into Dijon was fairly straight and adjacent to the motorway. There is also a very smooth, well used cycle path. The French do love their cycling and most of them have all the gear.
Our stay in Dijon lasted for five days and we enjoyed exploring the old parts of the town by bike. We wished for good luck and health as we rubbed the small owl outside yet another Eglise de Notre Dame; this one boasting one of the oldest carved statues of Mary in the whole of France. We also took advantage of the free entry into le Musee des Beaux Arts in the Ducal Palace and had a delicious lunch in a picturesque square. …and we collected our new Gold Carte bleue which had been delivered to the HSBC Bank there. The weather was glorious, our mooring free and we were within easy walking distance of an Intermarche. We weren’t surprised when the first thing passing boaters asked for was ‘where’s the nearest supermarket?’
Adjusting well to barge life.
Another bonus was that our arrival coincided with the annual ‘Fete du Canal’. This was a mixture of a funfair, performing arts festival and an excuse to mess around in boats, all topped off with a fantastic firework display on the Saturday evening. We had ring-side seats for the latter and enjoyed one of the best displays we have ever seen.
Supposed to bring good luck…
Mr. Not Convinced !
Sadly, on the Sunday afternoon, everything fizzled out as the threatened showers brought proceedings to a damp close. The following day, we aborted our attempt to visit the home of Dijon mustard (which had apparently closed in 2008). Instead we drove to our next mooring, left the car and cycled back to the barge.
Leaving the Bourgogne
As the warm rain continued intermittently, we cruised along the straightest stretch of the canal to date, towards our goal – St Jean-de-Losne. We passed several commercial grain quays and even used one as a mooring. Our final stop was at Brazey-en-Plaine, from where we visited St-Jean-de-Losne and the end of the Canal de Bourgogne.