La Belle France

We’ve been barging a month already, revisitng some villages, but never having the same experience. To get out of our home port Roanne, we always have to retrace the waterway of the Canal de Roanne a Digoin, which takes us to Digoin. This is a mere 55 kilometres, but travelling on average 20 km a day it takes us 3 days. The slow pace of barging at between 4 km and 7 km per hour creates time to slow down and notice and savour with all senses. I am in front of the barge a lot of the time, either giving guidelines of how much space Rob has to manoeuvre through a narrow bridge or into a lock, or I am holding the ropes in a lock. My ropes act as a break. So when we enter a lock, my job is to throw the ropes onto a bollard and tie us up – quickly! And in the lock, when the water gushes in as we are rising and the lock is filling up, my ropes hold Sojourn steady. Sometimes the force of the water could push us back alarmingly.

Pam holding the ropes . The front ropes act as a break and hold Sojourn steady

It was pretty chilly when we barged for the first couple of weeks. Spring blossoms everywhere, including the canal. Very pretty, but it does block the exhaust, and Rob has to duck into the engine room to clean the filter.
Blossom on the canal

I take the wheel for a bit every now and then. My hands are spinning the wheel here, hence the hands off look.
Pam at the wheel

The French countryside is beautiful, lush green fields, sprinkled with farms or villages.
Lush french countryside

At the end of this canal, at Digoin, we turned right into the Canal du Centre. This Canal joins two valleys, the Loire and the Saone, and links the Canal lateral a la Loire in Digoin and Chalon-sur-Saone on the River Saone. It has 61 locks and is 112 km long. Building the canal, gruelling digging, began in 1784 and finished 6 years later, despite the French Revolution happening at the same time. The canal du Centre climbs 77 metres to the summit, so we go up in these locks. And then drops 130 m to the river Saone. The last lock drops 10.7 m into the Saone River.

We’re in Burgundy, famous for its wine, food, waterways …The milky white Charolais cows so named after the Charolle area in Burgundy, are one of the oldest of the French cattle breeds. They are all free range and feed on grasses and wildflowers, and in winter may only be fed local grasses collected in summer. They must be free from growth hormones and antibiotics are raised for their excellent meat – famous dishes include Beef Bourgogne, and steaks served with sauces made up mostly from the juices of the meat, sometimes with wine and mushrooms added. Charolais meat has an AOC appellation, which certifies a standard and geographical area that the product originates in. As in Champagne, grown ONLY in the champagne terroir

Milky white Charolais cows graze along the banks

The fishermen are still out fishing daily… so much time is spent on fishing, in the rain, in the wind, most have at least 2 rods, but nothing fancy. I am still surprised to see young boys fishing alone, or a girl with her father, so many young boys fish, and middle sized boys, and old boys too.

Some old boys fishing – fishermen always line the banks of the canals, whatever the weather

Then there are the stranger sights, a woman leading a donkey with a saddle – who was going to ride it?

A donkey with a saddle

A WOB (Women on a barge) letting her pet chicken have a run around. But the chicken was reluctant to give up its freedom, and she had to chase it home to their barge (called Freedom) She is carrying weeds gathered for the two rabbits on board!

Pet chicken reluctant to go home to its barge called Freedom

Paray-le-Monial is one of our favourite towns, with its huge Basilica dominating the town. Here it is lit up at night. My brother Dave and his wife Brenda met us here, and barged for a week with us.

Paray-la-Monial at night

Another shot of the Basilica at night… so beautiful.
Paray la Monial Basilica

Genelard, a pretty setting and lovely mooring, on WW2 Demarcation Line separating occupied France from Vichy or free France, which turned out to be a farce. The museum there tells the story in moving photos of the brave men and women of the resistance movement who rescued allied soldiers shot down, and set up networks to get these men out of France over the Pyrenees.

A favourite mooring at Genelard

Genelard at night. Its breathtaking to experience the sunsets on the water.

Sunset at Genelard

Cruising into Montceau-les-Mines and waiting for each of three huge bridges to lift is a fun experience. This large town grew rapidly when coal was discovered and the canal enabled the coal to be transported to Paris which generated a lot of wealth for the town. Most of the mines are abandoned now, and the town is struggling financially.
After the bridge has lifted at Montceau les Mines

Dave and Brenda enjoying the scenery as Sojourn thrums along.
Dave my brother and his wife Brenda enjoying the slow life

Another favourite mooring is on the shady banks at Santenay where we wild moor, which means no electricity or water facilities. Its a couple of kilometres walk into the village, over the old flowered bridge. Towns and villages in France are flower rated. Santenay has 4 flowers, which means the town is full of flower boxes, the bridges have flower boxes, and most of the buildings are decorated with flowers.

Santenay is renowned for its chateau where they make excellent wine. It has an AOC label. Wine also has to pass strict standards of excellence in a region to be granted this appellation. We enjoyed a wine tasting, and a tour of the impressive cellars. A great meal together at La Terroir restaurant afterwards.
Another exquisite sunset on the water

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