Pont d’Ouche to Dole

Despite the noise, we slept well and found Pont d’Ouche a relaxing stopover. From here the canal strikes out north-east towards Dijon, following the Ouche valley. Reputedly one of the finest stretches of scenery on the French waterways, we were looking forward to it and glad to have fine weather for the cruise. With the help of efficient lock keeping duos, we progressed between wooded valley sides with the occasional Burgundian village in the valley bottom or straggling up a rocky outcrop. Our lunch stop was taken at the bottom of the lock at St-Victoir-sur-Ouche, giving us the chance to climb out and wander around the village. From here it is possible to climb up to the romantic ruins of Chateau Marigny, which we admired from the canal below.

Our planned stop was in the basin at Gissey-sur-Ouche. This is a shady spot near an interesting village with a brick chimney suggesting industrial history to be explored. It was with not a little regret that we deemed the mooring place too insubstantial for our safety and elected to continue.  The delightful village of Ste Marie had no moorings but our lock keeper directed us to a good coffered quay just before the lock and village of Pont-de-Pany and just before the A38 Dijon autoroute finds the canal. We had taken just one day to cruise the lovely Ouche valley and, although pleased with our overnight stop, wished we could have found moorings that would have given us the time to savour the experience.

We were in for even greater disappointment the following day. The valley sides levelled out, trees giving way to fields and the ver-near motorway. Our guides had talked up the moorings at Plombieres-les-Dijon as being cheaper and less hectic than those down in Dijon city centre. When we arrived, however, we found that the hire boat base moorings had gone leaving only a rough bank to tie to. Worse, was the encroachment of blocks of new flats all around and, of course, the people who live in them. It was a hot, sunny  French Sunday afternoon and everyone was outside. People were swimming across the canal in front of us as well as noisily occupying the banks. At the lock we found a group of lads using the chamber for diving practise, only clearing out of our way at the last minute.

Somehow the VNF messed up passing on the message that we and the boat we were following were now continuing into Dijon and we had long delays at two of the locks, only juts making it before shut-down time. A scratch mooring in the Dijon suburban housing projects does not bear thinking about. But we were also disappointed in the moorings at the Port du Canal. Since our visit two years ago this facility has been taken over by the Camping Municipal who send a man in a van once a day to collect the fees. Thus, the environs have gone downhill whilst the prices have risen. We ended up mooring alongside the quay in a slick of old weed and rubbish and with no shore-side security. Our outlook was over the gravel car park to the public loos and now defunct Captainerie building. The boats around us seemed to permanently moored and occupied by single men of a certain age. We were expecting guests but felt that this was not the place to invite anyone.

Seurre on the River Saone was, however, a place to entertain visitors. 22 locks and 30 kilometres of arrow-straight canal would bring us to the River Saone at St-Jean-de-Losne from where it is 15 kilometres and one more lock to the well-appointed moorings at Seurre. We could do it in a day – and we did. But what a day! we started late due to the lock keeper not turning up for work on time. Then we got held up behind the ingenious weed-clearing machinery for two locks, the engine raw water filter not taking kindly to the chopped up bits of foliage. Back on track at lunchtime, rain clouds were gathering behind us offering a shower to relieve the blistering heat.

Be careful what you wish for! As we were approaching the lock at Thorey-la-Plaine the wind suddenly got up, gusting at up to 100 kph and ripping leaves and branches from trees, sending them whipping across  Eleanor‘s deck. The heavens opened, soaking us to the skin in seconds, and lightening gave scant warning of the thunder crashing all around us. Somehow Paul got Eleanor into the full lock chamber despite the wind which threatened to blow her over the low lip to the lock chamber. We both did our best but couldn’t prevent some scuffed paintwork to the hull before the lock keepers got the water level down in the lock. They appreciated our problems and signalled for us to rest in the bottom of the lock until the storm had passed, which took about 20 minutes.

Having wrung ourselves out, donned oilskins and cleaned the worst of the tree bits from Eleanor we emerged onto the canal once more although it was still raining. As we approached the next lock a hire boat pulled out in front of us, thus delaying us as they struggled with mooring. It wasn’t long before the next delay at Bietre where a tree had been brought down into the canal during the storm. To their credit, this was well on the way to being cleared up but the problem had nearly killed a passing VNF man on his Mobilette and halted navigation for a while.

Despite everything, we made it onto the River Saone just before the 7pm lock closure on the Canal de Bourgogne. It was quite relaxing to be able to put up the mast and full hood for a river cruise on a by now sunny and pleasant evening. The lock at Seurre was still operating and we achieved our objective when the Capitain, Jean-Francois, ushered into a space on the coveted river pontoon at Seurre port. So, we were able to spend a happy few hours entertaining Pam and Mike on Eleanor‘s aft deck on a glorious day in a beautiful setting.

The following morning we had a brief encounter with the idea of heading south for the Med. but soon got over it and turned back north for the quay at St-Jean-de-Losne. Despite a baking hot day, we fought shy of paying the extortionate amount required to get electricity to run the Air-Con. We managed to huff and sweat through some necessary chores but found the heat enervating. In the early morning cool we set off for a new adventure on the Canal du Rhone au Rhin and River Doubs which turns off the River Saone 4 kilometres north of Losne and heads north east for Mulhouse and the borders with Switzerland and Germany.

At the entry lock Paul was summoned into the lock hut for a practical class in using the over-engineered telecommand to operate the automatic locks to follow. Returning with a box of lock-operating equipment the size of a small brief case Paul piloted us on our way. At the second lock a VNF person was present to ensure that we had mastered the technology and could be let out on our own. The first section of this waterway is a canal cut with lcks associated with water mills and sturdy, four-square lock houses. The passage past a Solvay factory was less than wonderful but things soon began to look up.

At lunchtime we came to the pretty village of Choisy where we unexpectedly found a good but unserviced pontoon to tie up at. We braved the heat to take a walk around this delightful village with its 17th Century Chateau Merichot with its dependencies, large farms and old cottages. It was quite a sizeable community with two squares: one around the church and another around a green with a Madonna in the middle of it. We would have liked to stay but decided to set off for Dole and the electricity and water at the moorings there.

Just before Dole we entered our first section of navigation on the River Doubs before the Jardin Philippe lock took us back onto a channel through the city. The Dole locks all have smart little towers for the lock keepers and the Jardin Philippe lock had been neatly renovated including up-lighters on the tidy quayside. The centrally located moorings were part of an extensive hire-boat base with the places for visitors being where the current runs. It took us three goes to make it onto the short finger which was equipped with rings instead of cleats, just to add to the interest. We had helpers ashore but they were used to handling light, plastic boats and didn’t do what we needed to moor a heavy, steel boat! But, we made it and appreciated the water and electricity for long showers and Air-Con.