We are moored at the top of the 16 ecluse and ready to navigate the cutting and three tunnels which mark the summit of the canal. A hire cruiser sets off just in front of us as we pass the green light which tells us we can continue along the next 3800 metres without meeting something coming the other way! We enter a deep and rather gloomy cutting which is as deep as anything on the Shropshire Union canal in the UK. There is only about 3 feet clearance on either side and water is shallow so Bluegum tends to crab sideways which makes steering quite difficult.
We make slow and tentative progress through the cutting and then through two small (250 metre) tunnels before entering the final 750 metre tunnel. We are thankful to emerge into daylight and a wide open area waiting the enter the next lock – downhill from now on! Our next challenge is the lowest bridge on the system – some say the wheelhouse will have to be lowered others say it’s no problem. Sally is ‘on guard’ and reckons we have two metres to spare (although she always says we have 2 metres to spare!) – we sail though easily.
The day is turning warm and sunny and we have spotted a restaurant shown in the guide book by the next lock. When we arrive we see several VNF guys peering into the depths of the three rise lock and hear much hammering and banging – sure sign of a problem. It happens to be lunchtime so we enjoy a long and leisurely lunch at the restaurant which is a converted lock-keepers cottage.
To be honest there is no option than to have a long and leisurely lunch – as the French don’t know any other way. We also recognise several faces amongst our fellow diners – eclusiérs who have been helping us along our way! After the statutory lunch break the hammering begins again and in a short time the lock is filled and clearly working again so we decide to carry on. We arrive at Chatillon-en Bazois late afternoon – confronted by a nasty bridge and a very tight bend where the canal turns back on itself.
Thankfully we are cruising very slowly and can stop in time to avoid dragging a sleeping pêcheur and his tackle into the water! We are told there is a small harbour and Sally runs ahead to check out that we will fit – she reckons there is at least 2 metres to spare!) and so we gently glide into the mooring (actually with about 2 metres to spare) and head off to the supermarket to replenish our dwindling supplies.
This is a lovely mooring with free facilities and wi-fi so we decide we will stay for a couple of days. Sally does 4 lots of washing and cleans the boat from one end to the other. We have spotted a bike hire place and decide we will hire a couple of bikes on Sunday. However, our new neighbours, Maggie and Nigel on ‘Gesina’, offer to lend us theirs and so we set off with a picnic on Sunday morning to cycle along the canal.
We are really enjoying it and rather forget that we have to come back as far as we go. Our return is a little more painful in the nether regions! 28 kilometres was a bit ambitious for our current level of bike riding experience. The weather is staying beautiful and we join Maggie and Nigel for drinks on ‘Gesina’ on Monday evening – three bottles of bubbles with Nigel having two goes at aiming for Charles when he takes the corks out, I think he must have shaken the bottles first!! I didn’t mind that so much as wasting the contents………
We normally get itchy feet when we have been moored in the same place for more than a couple of days but we are taking advantage of the free electricity and water and as there is plenty of space we don’t feel guilty. The weather has really taken a turn for the better so having cleaned the boat on the inside set about cleaning the outside – its easy to forget how big Bluegum is until you wash her and it starts to feel like The Forth Bridge!! Maggie has started to call me ‘Mrs Mop’ but its worth all the hard work to see the boat shine. Its quite amazing how many superlatives we receive from passerbys when describing Bluegum – fantastic, superb, magnificent (try saying it with a French accent) – you get the picture. It surprises us by how many times we are asked how much we paid for her too. Just wait until next year when I get lots of plant pots and she will look even more beautiful. We enjoy an early evening drink on our boat with Maggie and Nigel but restrain ourselves to two bottles of red to go with hot Camembert and baguette – yummeee. Charles shows Nigel our engine room and the next day all we can see and hear from their boat is hoovering and cleaning as they set about cleaning their engine space in readiness of painting it – apparently ours put theirs to shame…….
Chatillon-en-Bazois isn’t very big but has a lovely boulangerie and a decent supermarket and there are some nice walks around and about so we decide to stay until Thursday so we can stock up at their weekly market before heading off on our adventures.
We mutually decide we will have a day off from the alcohol and were both committed to it so it wasn’t our fault that we ended up opening a bottle of red to share with Jeff and Karen from New Zealand. They are on holiday on a hire boat and complimented us on our boat as they were passing so we got into conversation which led to showing them around the boat and inviting them for a drink – what a social life we lead and what a great way to meet people from all over the world – and the great thing is we don’t get chance to get fed up with each other as we don’t stay in one place long enough!!! We take a walk to the market on Thursday morning and are underwhelmed by seeing two stalls with neither of them selling celery which I have been craving for a week or so – not everyone’s taste I appreciate but it helps to make veggie dishes more substantial. So off we go joined by Jeff and Karen whose boat just fits into the lock with ours. They continue on their way as we moor up at Fleury where we enjoy a lovely meal at Restaurant La Libellule du Nivernais by the lock No. 21 in the evening. The staff are very friendly and we are impressed with the range of languages they speak – getting vegetarian food in France is always a gamble so its a good job I love salad.