The Canal du Nivernais is beautiful – have we said this before?! We are heading slowly up towards the summit through stunning wooded countryside accompanied by fresh faced itinerant eclusiers who are clearly on vacation from university and travel swiftly between the locks in cars, mopeds or bikes to get them ready for our arrival. Sally is in her element as she can now get stuck in and help to open and close gates and sluices which is much appreciated by the eclusiers. We leave Villiers-sur-Yonne on Monday morning only to stop at Tannay where we find a decent supermarket although the town itself is dead. Our arms knew about it by the time we returned to the boat and felt at least a foot longer but on the positive our stocks are replimished and we will not starve….. We carry on and stay the night at Montceaux-le-Compte where we are serenaded by fountains of spray damping the piles of logs which we find incredulous as we endure a horrendous downpour – but how were they to know?
We set off on Tuesday to encounter our next lift bridge and find it is one of the rare surviving wooden drawbridges in France at Dirol. These bridges either involve pressing a button to open and a button to close or a wheel to turn – the latter being more energetic than the former. We arrive at Chitry -les-Mines where we hope to find Ted Johnson an Englishman who we hope can fix our rev counter – but alas no is the answer so we continue on our travels without accounting for our engine hours. Its a lovely port and we learn that they also provide winter moorings which is attractive to us but after much discussion decide to proceed with our original plan to winter moor at Briare (think I’m beginning to sound like Mr P – must make huge attempts to change! :-))
We have a lovely long walk along the canal and on our return meet a lovely French guy who is cruising alone with a little terrier to keep him company. We have met him briefly before and talk about travelling through the next set of locks together. However in the morning a number of boats move off early in readiness of the locks opening at 9 am on the dot so our friend decides to stay put to let the queue (three boats) die down.
We reckon the other boat will have got through the first lock so move off at 9.15 am only to find the eclusiér has decided to have a lie in and see the small cruiser backing out of a lock to allow us to enter first – they are Canadian and in a fibre glass boat – good decision on their part as we have the most frightening experience yet. We enter the lock and tie both bow and stern ropes but an over enthusiastic young eclusiér opens the sluices far too fast – I struggle to hold on to my rope and then hear the dreaded noise of the rope slicing along a sharp edge of the lock wall and suddenly find a small piece of rope in my hand. I can honestly admit to open fear as I see Bluegum lurch forward towards the lock gates. I jump onto the roof and grab hold of the handrail as I shout in a hysterical fashion ‘shut the sluice, FERMEZ, FERMEZ NOWWWWW!!!! The smiling incompetent eventually understands the predicament and half closes the sluice enabling Charles to engage reverse gear and me to get another rope on to control our mortified and traumatised Bluegum – to appreciate my predicament you must imagine that you are trying to warn your most loved one who is swimming in the water that a shark is approaching and you are trying to frantically warn them… I admit that I may be over egging this but at the time I was frightened out of my wits. We hit the lock gates and I am mortified to see the foremost part of Bluegum engage contact but later find only peripheral damage – nothing compared to other parts of her body from previous encounters!!!!
We are quite shaken by the experience but so pleased that we are the first boat in the lock because if the the little cruiser had been first it would have been reduced to a rowing boat with only one passenger……..
Enough of the drama – you must understand that our days are rather sedentary so anything out of the ordinary is worthy of note (and perhaps a little exaggeration). We find this stretch of the Nivernais lock heavy but we are not shy in asking the lockies to open the sluices more slowly and are surprised that the little cruiser continues to travel with us but I guess its in the safest place; behind us!! It’s good to be able to help with locks as working the locks in the UK has been one of the things I have missed. After 12 locks we decide to call it a day and moor up at Sardy.
After lunch we take a walk into Sardy which is a very pretty village but without any shops although our guidebook does suggest it has a boulangerie but it probably means a mobile one which is quite common in these rural areas. We decide to take a walk along the canal to see the flight of 16 locks with a rise of 40.83 meters over a distance of 3200 meters that we will be enjoying tomorrow. The weather is sunny and warm and each lock is painted a different colour.
In the days when the canal was used solely for working boats, lock keepers would live in the houses next to the lock they worked. Nowadays these houses have been sold off and the home owners have painted the locks to match their own colour scheme. Its quite odd to see peoples washing hanging on lines next to the locks and there are some artists who live in the houses and display their products.
This would not only be frowned upon in the UK it would not be permitted – probably for health and safety reasons!! The flight of locks meanders through a wood and some of the pounds between the locks open up to resemble small lakes – it is quite magical no wonder the young lock keepers love their jobs. We learned that it such a popular job there is a long waiting list and the students are given one month each to work in the season. We arrive at lock 6 called Planche de Belin which is quite bizarre.
It is a little cafe/bar selling tea, coffee, beers and soft drinks and crepes. There are little tables of different shapes and sizes strewn about – ours was made out of a STOP road sign, some were plastic, others made out of bits of wood. There was a floating pontoon next to the lock blasting out Amy Winehouse music. Charles face is a picture when he returns from placing the order reporting the proprietor was scary and grumpy and only grunted back – a man of few words. We got our beer and a one euro crepe each which was very nice before making our way back down hill where we once again saw our French friend who we think was called Ralph and his little dog – wouldn’t fancy doing all these locks as a sole boat handler.
So on Thursday we climb to the summit which is not a great distance but takes quite a few hours and our hands are very sore by the end of it all from hanging onto the ropes. We moor up at the top and Charles says there is a bar only a few kilometers down the road at La Collancelle so even though I should know better by now from previous experience; we set off and four kilometers later find the bar closed and there is’nt even a shop to buy any beer so we trek back. Its been quite an energetic day after my 15 minute morning workout of hoola hooping and skipping, followed by helping with the locks and walking between the locks not to mention the little stroll in search of beer.
And to complete the traumatic week both Charles and I are woken up at 3 o’clock in the morning by a horrendous crash – we think a window has been put through so dive out of bed – none of the risk assessment we used to teach when working for Maybo – although Charles did pause to put on a dressing gown whilst I just run through the boat naked up to the wheel house – if anyone had been there the shock of seeing me in all my glory would have made them run for their lives!!!. Anyway there were no broken windows and it took us some time to realise the crashing sound was the washing up from the previous night had somehow slipped and fallen back into the sink.