Le Canal du Nivernais really captures the essence of rural France at it’s best. Le Canal du Nivernais is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cruising waterways in Europe. Our journey along the Nivernais takes us through Burgundy and the ancient city of Auxerre. We pass through the vineyards of the Bourgogne along the valley of the R. Yonne and up into the Forests of the Morvan, discovering Chatel Censoir with it’s unusual Moroccan restaurant, and taking a detour into the pilgrims’ city of Vézelay. The centre of the French logging industry was the beautiful old medieval town of Clamecy, where we discover all about the ancient way of moving logs downstream by floating them on the current, lashed together to form mighty rafts. The Nivernais was originally conceived as a waterway for log flotation, to extend the harvesting of firewood for Paris up into the Forest of the Morvan. However its construction was delayed by the French Revolution. By the time it restarted, in the 1830’s it was as a barge canal to link the R.Seine to the R.Loire. Unfortunately, the locks were built smaller than the new Freycinet standard, so Peniche traffic was never able to cross the summit. Commercially, it was never a success. We press on up to the summit through the country market town of Corbigny, with its enormous abbey, built in the time of Charlemagne. Up on the summit, the canal passes through three consequetive tunnels built on a series of S-bends, with spectacular cuttings through the forest in between. We come across a party of French schoolchildren going through the tunnels on a trip boat, singing to keep their spirits up – and any other spirits away in this eery landscape. The canal emerges from this subterranean world into a wide open landscape with enormous lakes providing the water supply for the navigation. On the long descent down to the Loire, the locks are organised into double and triple staircases. These are not the spectacular waterfalls that we have found down on the Canal du Midi, but are operated chamber by chamber. Eventually, approaching the delightful market town of Chatillon-en-Bazois, the canal enters the valley of the R. Aron which it follows all the way down to the Loire, sometimes running on the bed of the river. We pass chateau after chateau as we head down towards Cercy-La-Tour, where we climb right to the top of the tower. We follow the canal across the flood plain of the Loire, and eventually join it at Decize, that delightful town built on an island out in the middle of the river. (Run Length 68 mins)
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