2019 Barging France

Duck diving and Lavoirs: 14/8 – 22/8

Clamecy – Châtel Censoir – Merry-sur-Yonne – Mailly-la-Ville – Vincelles


Obviously, the priority was to inspect the temporary bimini set-up and stabilise it until we could get it properly repaired. First, Ian and Michel tested it to see if the bimini could still be lowered and raised. But as it went down, the starboard side support gave up the ghost and tumbled into the canal. So they relocated the wooden support to replace the drowned one and tied it up securely. The bimini now looked and functioned pretty much as it had been – fixed on two supports and anchored to the back of the wheelhouse. The only concern was Catharina Elisabeth was again going to pass under the lowest Nivernais bridge at Mailly-la-Ville but, although the repaired bimini was sitting a little higher than before, we had previously cleared the bridge with plenty of room, so we were not overly concerned. Well, just a little.

Later on, Ian felt he should try to retrieve the support in case it might be needed for further repairs. Taking a lead from the kids who had been magnet-fishing last time we were in Clamecy, he attached one of our powerful magnets to a piece of string and after a few casts, felt he had the support located. Donning bathers and mask, he followed the string down and easily located the support. In the event, it wasn’t ever needed. Thanks to the ingenuity of Michel and Ian, we were able to complete our voyage with at least a cover over our heads.


We also took time off for another walk around this lovely town: strewn with stone and wood-framed houses;  the unusual war memorial with the broken shards that is retained in situ as a reminder of the fortitude of the citizenry, the statue of Jean Rouvet – inventor of the flottage – at the écluse; the church of course and a fresh look at the Joan of Arc window in the church.

Half-timbered house
Unusual stone building
Noting that the memorial was destroyed by the Nazis in WW2
and left in its broken form as a further reminder
Statue honouring Jean Rouvet who invented the idea of floating logs to Paris via the river Yonne
Taken hanging off the front of the pier and missing 'A L'Industrie' below
Saint Michael and other saints greet Jehanne la Pucelle (Joan of Arc)
Half-timbered house



After a further day with us, Michel, Rebecca and Panache left for the long trip home – they had more than earned their keep! It has always been such a treat to have Panache on board as we are only briefly cruising each season and cannot have a canine companion for our travels.

Until next time …

On one of our walks, we came across Le Parc Vauvert, a delightful space that forms part of the grounds around a stately home. The gardens have been gifted to the town, but the château must be privately owned, as a group of people picnicking on the grass outside indicated we could not enter the house as it was their residence. We enjoyed a stroll through the open spaces, joining others enjoying an evening walk.

Right beside the port was a lavoir that had been converted into a gallery. With some persistence we eventually managed to be around for the fairly restricted opening hours. Whilst there we picked up a pamphlet advertising a night-time walk around Clamecy’s four candle-lit lavoirs. Lavoirs were public spaces set aside for washing clothes. We have seen many of these along our travels, particularly as they were situated near a source of moving water. The walk had been organised by a local association (Au fil des lavoirs) dedicated to restoring heritage lavoirs in Clamecy. We didn’t fancy the 10 pm start as would not fit in with retiring before the next day’s cruise but, with a nod to our barging mates and lavoir-tragics, Neil and Karen on Chalkhillblue 2, took off on our own walking tour. Other than the lavoir at the port (Lavoir Quay de Jeux), all were locked up but we could see candles placed in some of them presumably for the evening walk. We understand their eventual aim is to get these heritage buildings restored to preserve this important aspect of patrimony, especially as it relates to the community of women in the past.

Lavoir Quay des Jeux near the port
Outside of the Lavoir Quay Bethléem
Through a crack in the door you can see to candles set up for the tour
Locked and shuttered - the outside of Lavoir Quay des Îles
Set up for the nightime visit - Lavoir des Ponts Verts
Lavoir Quay des Jeux near the port



The only other event of note was that Ian finally relented and had a haircut. He generally resists visiting the coiffeur as long as possible but the one time he avoided the scissors for an entire season, he looked like he’d been dragged through a hedge backwards long before we returned home. (I now insist that he has at least one trim, in the middle of the season.) Eventually, it was time to leave Clamecy, a really lovely town.

This time we avoided getting grounded on the shallows by cruising under the arch of the bridge nearest to the écluse, having checked with the éclusier the previous day that this was the deepest passage.

The gauge indicates about 1.2 m – only just enough!

Hearts in mouths, we cruised under the bridge – without incident! It was a rather cloudy day, but the cruise was only about three hours. As we neared Châtel-Censoir, off in the distance, we saw what appeared to be a rather architecturally impressive farm. However, this is actually the Château de Faulin – a private residence that is sometimes open to the public (on heritage days or by appointment). It houses a museum of medieval innovation. But in the 1960’s it was featured in one of France’s great comedic movies set in World War II, La Grande Vadrouille (released in English as ‘Don’t Look Now… we’re being shot at!’, and starring Britain’s very own, the late Terry Thomas).


We cleared our last lifting bridge without incident and arrived at Châtel Censoir, where we were told to moor inside the marina this time, and not on the straight stretch leading up to the écluse (as we had done last time we were here) because a hotel boat would be coming along and would have to use this space to turn around.

In port, we met a group of Aussies on Parce Que. We had seen them previously at Chatillon-en-Bazois and they were enjoying a last cruise before delivering their boat to the new owners. Another example of the “small village” that Ian so loves – these guys told us that apparently Catharina Elisabeth had gained some fame on the Nivernais. Before you jump to any conclusions, it was not because of our propensity to break things as we try to cruise unobtrusively along, but because while we had been moored in Gurgy, maybe six weeks ago, the owner of one of the little cabins must have taken a photo of us, and we were now featured on an enormous vinyl poster hanging in front of the cabin, promoting their restaurant in town. Apparently, boats travelling up and downstream had been talking about Catharina for weeks. We will definitely check this out the next time we are in Gurgy.

As advised La Belle Epoque arrived a little later in the afternoon, coming through the écluse, and taking up a place just beyond the port, where the canal narrows again. The following morning, we watched her make a very impressive 180º turn in the port, pivoting her 30 m length from a bow rope thrown over a bollard at the very edge of the port, swinging her length into the port space, skilfully avoiding each of the barges resting in place (including Catharina), and re-entering the lock through which she had joined us last evening. All done with just engines, rudder and the pivot rope – no bow thruster.

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This summer we repeatedly encountered two of the hotel boats that would normally cruise the Bourgogne, but low water had forced the canal to shut quite early in the season. So we shared our cruises along the Nivernais with these two, meeting them over and over again as they took their guests on an alternate  route. Her entry into the écluse was a thing of beauty. I mean, these boats just fit in the shorter locks on the Nivernais, and the method of snagging a rope on a bollard and stopping just before the far gate, is nothing short of remarkable. However it is not uncommon to see small smears of blue paint left behind by these boats on the lock walls.

Fancy cruising. Don’t forget the bimini!

After taking on passengers, the crew lowered the bimini (noted!) before exiting the lock as the fixed bridge is quite low, and off she went. The section of the canal immediately below the bridge is quite a challenge for deep-drafted vessels – it seems to be silted and quite shallow. La Belle Epoque took a long time to work her way downstream. She was churning up huge amounts of mud and was using a ‘porpoising’ technique – hard astern to bring up the stern, hard forward to drive a few metres until she grounded again, then repeat. Over and over again. But eventually, she disappeared around the next bend and we all returned to our own business.

The village of Châtel Censoir, as we would have mentioned previously, is built on a very steep hill, and we trudged up once again to resupply from the tiny Proxi Mart and to take advantage of market day. When we finally left to continue our journey, the day was again warm and sunny.


We only made a short cruise to Merry-sur-Yonne and were delighted to find the single pontoon was free of other boats. So we tied off, and spent one beautiful day and night right under the rocks.

An empty pontoon below the Saussois Rocks beckons.

The rocks are popular for climbers, and we saw small groups of people scaling the Rochers du Saussois.

Even with safety lines, impressive, but not something we are likely to attempt!

Ian took a less onerous route to climb as high as he safely could, to take pictures of Catharina and the tiny village of Merry-sur-Yonne down below.

There was some painting and work done while we were there, but it was another glorious warm afternoon. Later in the day, a chap drove up in a van and basically told us one of the hotel boats would be mooring here the following evening, which was not a problem for us. And with that, he placed a sandwich board on the pontoon, which is really only long enough for one moderate length boat, effectively reserving the space. I’m pretty sure you can’t do this, even a hotel boat, but that’s not my call.

Another small van showed up soon after with a couple wanting to sell fresh produce. The woman said she was one of the éclusiers on this stretch and she was off duty. We did buy some tomatoes and zucchini, and off they went.


The next run was from Merry sur Yonne to Mailly-la-Ville, again a short cruise in fine weather. We cruised past the place where we had previously moored at Mailly-le-Chateau, when Catherine and Simon were with us, and then into the écluse immediately upstream of the the town moorings.

A nymph outside the écluse watches over our mooring.

At Mailly-la-Ville we were able to take advantage once again of the lovely free mooring – three good long pontoons with free power and water.

Several hotel boats passed in both directions while we were there, and we watched La Belle Epoque squeeze under the low bridge without any problem, so we were more comfortable that we would still make it with our repaired bimini which now could not be lowered.

Bit of a squeeze.

We had a quick look around the town, noting the delightful sculpture in front of the Mairie – perhaps paired with the nymph at the écluse.

Another of the lovely sculptures that seem to be a feature of the town.

There was also a nice park and a lavoir. That evening, we treated ourselves to one of our rare but always pleasant meals in the delightful courtyard of the restaurant, ‘Les Coûtas’.

Ian enjoying the meal and looking presentable with his new haircut.

The following day our aim was to visit L’écluse des dames, a feature we had not come to see while we were moored at Prégilbert (where instead we took in the nearby trout farm). An easy and very pleasant cycle ride along the towpath soon bought us to the écluse. On one side there is a cool children’s activity area with netted climbing routes up through the trees.

Fun in the sun while the adults look on

On the other, at the old écluse cottage, there is a restaurant, which we took advantage of this time, and enjoyed a meal out for the second day in a row!

Further up the hill behind the restaurant, we found an Impressively well-restored church, Eglise de Notre Dame Prégilbert.

We could get into the cimetière – always my first stop, but not into the church (and some photos on the internet suggest it is ruined inside at present).

Old graves, which appear to be no longer cared for, must be recycled for other burials, following notification they will be removed.

On the way back, we had a look at the interesting architecture of the Église Saint-Adrien. Again, couldn’t get inside.


The following morning, we set off again on a six-hour cruise in fine weather ending once again at Vincelles. Mooring just behind La Belle Epoque it wasn’t long before a cruiser showed up with a couple of Kiwis we had met before in Clamecy. The four of us took our glasses of wine, sat on a little stone wall beside the hotel boat, and were treated to the jazz performance that must have been organised for their guests. A lovely way to end the day – with a free concert.

Nice, but we wouldn’t swap our lifestyle for theirs for any price.

We had the prospect of some more painting – as there usually is – and just enjoying passing the time until the arrival of our next guests in a couple of days.

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