2023 Barging France Nivernais, Canal du

Waiting for the Whelans (19/07 – 30/07)

Auxerre – Vincelles – Cravant – Vermenton – Prégilbert – Mailly la Ville – Cravant

Cruising Again

After the Rally had ended, boats drifted off both upstream and downstream and Catharina Elisabeth was left pretty much alone. We were in no particular rush and had some time to kill before our daughter, Kathryn and family were due to arrive.

As we were facing that direction, we took advantage of the gorgeous Canal du Nivernais, and headed off, upstream, to enjoy a cruise while we waited.

The return trip from Mailly-la-Ville obscures some of the outward cruise paths.


First stop would be Bailly of course but had been warned that there was a shallow stretch on the river Yonne between Augy and Vaux and sure enough, as we approached lock 78 Vaux at we started to bump along the bottom of the river. We slowed right down so that the stern did not dip any more than necessary and crept along. Unpleasant but nowhere near the gut-wrenching event on the southern side of the Nivernais in 2019. It was soon over and we continued on, and arrived, uneventfully at Bailly.

Later in the day, Terry arrived on CarolAnn with his friend Sue and her dog. Drinks were had on Catharina and it was lovely to spend some time with another Rally bargee. The only disappointment was that the beautiful thick stand of trees on the opposite bank had been entirely cut down so rather than a wall of greenery across the river, there was a desolate, empty landscape of tree stumps. Yuk. No photo was taken!


Next was Vincelles, passing through just one lock, where we found a perfect space on the deeper part of the long stone quay. Once settled in this familiar mooring, we set off on our bikes along the towpath towards Cravant. We were keen to check out the mooring which we understood had been repaired since our last visit in 2019. It was now possible for larger boats like ours to tie up against a newly built stone quay with large well-spaced bollards. Sadly, the power and water bornes had been vandalised and it did not look as though they would be reinstated. However, it was a good clean mooring, with a train station on the other side of the canal, and we decided this would be a good place to meet the family when they arrived.

Having satisfied ourselves with the current status of the mooring we cycled up through the village of Cravant and continued on a delightful ride through the vineyards back towards Irancy. From high up in the pinot-rich hills, we had a wonderful view of the river down below meandering through the lush countryside.

As we continued through the vineyards we eventually saw Irancy, nestled in a bowl formed of the hills that surround it.

If we can, we like to stop in at Hosotte’s gallery and, as it was open, we took another tour through it.

Although you are not supposed to take photos, Ian did sneak in a couple.

The kitchen with some wintery paintings.
Sneaky shot. Irancy from just about the same place we took the photo above.

As a bonus, on this visit, we also found the little church opposite opened for the first time and were treated to a sextet practising for an evening concert.

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Ian was pleased to be the first to find Jeanne d’Arc. It has become a challenge to see who can spot the statue first in any church we visit.

Back on our bikes, we stopped off to check out an exposition on flash locks. Modern locks date from an innovation made by Leonardo da Vinci who developed the modern canal lock. Prior to the construction of this type of lock on the Nivernais, flash locks were in use – some 20 of them from upstream of Clamecy to Auxerre. Basically, a weir held back the river and then, at certain times, a gate in the weir was opened, the water rushed through and vessels surfed through with the flow. To get upstream, vessels had to be hauled through against the flow. Very laborious and inefficient.

The pailings in the middle would be removed, stored on the arm (you see them top left) and the arm would pivot to allow boats to pass

Returning to Catharina for the night we were treated to a little jazz on the nearby hotel boat. This is a common sight here at Vincelles and we just take a glass of wine and sit across from the hotel boat and the paying guests and enjoy the ambience of an evening performance.


The following morning we moved on making the short cruise to Cravant to test out the mooring for ourselves. Bruce and Graham on Matilda arrived shortly after and the four of us took a walk up through the village, stopping for a beer in the local pub.


As we have mentioned before, Cravant has an important association with Scotland as, during the 100 years war between England and France an important battle was fought here. The French, allied and aided by a Scottish army were defeated by the English. This event is memorialised around the town.

The text reads (in part): On 31 July 1423, in keeping with the “Old Alliance”, 4500 French and Scottish soldiers fell in defence of France between the ramparts of the town and the Yonne, commanded by John Stewart of Darnley and Amaury de Sévérac. In every battle where, for five centuries, the fate of France was at stake, there are always men from Scotland to fight side by side with the men of France: Charles de Gaulle, Edinburgh, 1942.

We were surprised to read that the next week would mark the 600th anniversary of the battle – surely it would be worthwhile to be present. Not so – for some unaccountable reason, the celebrations had been held a week earlier! Ah well, it was interesting to read newspaper articles about the events.

Ian and I then continued strolling through the little village checking out the lavoir and the donjon (tower), noting them as interesting places to take the family in ten days time.

The beffroi (watch tower) – part of the ancient fortifications


From here it was off to Vermenton, the only place this season that we have not visited previously and moored in the expansive harbour where we again met up with several friends, as is often the case when cruising. We are always keen to explore any new territory, so after a little search I found a reference to an old Cistercian Abbey, about 8 km away. Off came the bikes and we cycled along the pretty towpath beside the pretty River Cure before leaving to pass through a small village and finally through the fields to the abbey.

Arriving at locked gates, we were quite disappointed to find the abbey was closed although the internet suggested it would be open. A car drove up while we were considering our options, but quickly gave up and left. However, in a very short time, a young man walked down the long drive to open the gates for us and we happily followed him in.

Founded in 1104 as a small priory, the Abbaye de Reigny was home to 300 monks at its height, and although much of the original buildings have gone the way of all things, and the remaining property is now privately owned, we were offered a brief tour inside the main building before being set loose to wander the gardens, such as they were, and identify the few remains of the original monastery buildings.

Back of the Refectory
The Dovecote
Now the reading room
Planning for the next function
Souped up rocking horse
Photo of the interior of the dovecote - lots of pigeons!
14th century refectory
Old dray
Back of the Refectory

Cycling back to Vermenton, we rode through the town, but there was little open. However, we came across a beautiful, well-cared-for lavoir before heading back to the boat.


Bruce and Graham left the following morning, and that evening we had farewell drinks again on Dea Latis as Sue and Alan were going back to England for a few weeks.


Leaving Vermenton, we continued downstream stopping at Prégilbert, another familiar mooring. A pretty location just downstream of a bridge without power or water. Another village with little to offer (although there is a trout farm nearby that is well worth a visit), but Ian set off looking for bread. The bread machine was empty so he tried his hand at a pizza vending machine, which we have never used before, but it was a damp day and we were not going to travel any further today, so pizza it was. It wasn’t as fast as advertised and the quality was less than supermarket pizza heated in the oven. Not something we’ll bother with again.

It was warm and cooked but unappetising


The next morning we set off on our last short cruise up the Nivernais towards Mailly-la-Ville. On the way, we passed the ‘pink lock’ where the éclusier’s cottage had been converted into a very nice restaurant. Closed now, unfortunately, probably a victim of COVID. The bridge as you enter the village is reputedly the lowest on the Nivernais but with a flat profile, it’s not the most challenging. However, as it was quiet, it presented an opportunity to do some measuring. As we passed under the bridge, we saw Andrew and Nicki from Shensi whom we had met at the rally (who provided this excellent photo). They were walking their dogs and waved when they saw us.

Ian slowed Catharina and had me up at the bow measuring the distance from the top of the forestay to the underside of the bridge. Then he moved Catharina forward and he measured the distance to the bridge from the top of the wheelhouse. This meant we could calibrate what sort of warning we would get from the forestay as we approached a low bridge. In the event, the top of the forestay was 8 cm higher than the wheelhouse, really a bit too much so we may adjust that at some point. One (well, me predominantly) seems always to feel the need to confirm the air draught of Catharina. I am pretty sure Ian is still trying to convince me we will have no trouble with the low bridges on the Canal du Midi when we make it down south.

Andrew and Nicki came over for a coffee before leaving to head back to England.

We decided to go no further along the Nivernais as we do like this mooring. It is a lovely spot with three good-sized pontoons and free power and water which spans both sides of the canal. Sadly, the restaurant here has closed also and there are now no services in the village. But we settled in for three nights.

We chose to use the middle of the three long pontoons, one precisely the length of Catharina, so no wasted space and no need for other boats to try to squeeze on. There was a large cruiser on the most distant one, and we left the first one for any hotel boats that might show up. Somewhat disconcertingly, a woman from the house beside our pontoon approached us as we were tying off, and I thought she was coming to say hello. However, she was less than welcoming and I realised that her stream of French was telling us we could not moor against this pontoon but had to go to one of the others. Bizarre, and not very friendly, so Ian decided we would later move down to the third pontoon once it became free as we had no wish to irritate a local if we were to stay for several days as planned.

The next pontoon behind us was the one where the self-appointed capitaine thought she ruled.

We later heard from other friends that she had done the same to other boats, so perhaps she didn’t like the view from her garden being interrupted. We have been in this exact spot on previous occasions with no difficulty.

It was a lovely social few days, with boats coming and going. We had a lovely chat with an Irish couple on their little cruiser Cut the Gap in which they had sailed across to France and planned to continue as far as the Mediterranean.

Making an effort to recruit Brian and Paula into the DBA

One evening we joined Graham and Maree, a Kiwi couple on a cruiser, strolling over the canal at the next lock, and stopping for burgers at at a small fast food popup that runs during summer. It had just a few outdoor tables, in great demand so it was lucky we had booked. The burgers were excellent.

One rather dreary day was brightened with the arrival of Suzanne and Allan (Aussie friends from Whisper) who picked us up in their car and off we all went to visit the Grottes at d’Arcy sur Loire. The caves have been inhabited from the earliest times of human presence starting with the Neanderthals. It contains cave paintings that have been dated to 28,000 years ago, making them the second oldest that have been discovered. We bought tickets for the tour, keen to see the cave paintings, but although the tour guide could speak English, the entire visit was conducted in French.

We did have a pamphlet in English but the guide spoke at length at each spot.

Photos were not allowed but Ian managed to sneak in a couple but none of the paintings which were faint and difficult to interpret. Still, it was interesting, as caves usually are, and it kept us out of the rain for a few hours.

Suzanne had booked lunch at a much-recommended restaurant in the campground in Merry-sur-Yonne where we enjoyed a wonderful meal.

Cravant again

We left for Cravant on the day that Kathryn’s family were due to arrive in Paris, late in the evening. Ian was getting ready to leave and noticed that one of our large, expensive balloon fenders was missing. There was only a broken rope left. Somewhere, unknown to us, we must have lost it in one of the locks. We could last remember having it in Vermenton. At the first lock, we asked the éclusière if anyone had found our fender – she said she would check and went off to ring the downstream éclusiers. Sure enough, one reported it had been found and would be waiting for us at the ‘blue’ écluse. Happy days.

We cruised through several écluses in fine weather but under grey skies, waiting to come upon the ‘blue’ écluse.

Pretty – apparently this is staghorn sumac. A native of North America.
Charming drawings on Écluse 66 – St Maur

Finally, we arrived and it turned out to be the first lock we would have passed after leaving Vermeton five days ago. Sure enough, the fender was waiting for us on the side. Pretty lucky.

Ah, this was it!




Shortly afterwards we were settled into our mooring at Cravant. The next day, we did a quick tour around the town, checked out the train station and dressed Catharina in her bunting ready for the first and only visitors she would host this season.

The Donjon and church tower

Late in the evening, we were pleased to hear Kathryn and her family had landed in Paris. Tomorrow we’d take the train to Paris to meet them ourselves at Gare de Bercy and bring them back to start a five-day cruise to Migennes.

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    6 Responses

  1. Were there Scots fighting alongside the French at Waterloo? I don’t think so!

    1. True, although the Scots were Brits at Waterloo whilst during the 100-Years War, they were a separate country – but in the context of “400 years”, I get your point Don 😉

  2. A lovely blog post, Lisette (I see you were the author of this one). I dream of cruising deeper into France, but I doubt if we will do it now. I can at least enjoy these parts of France vicariously through your words and photos. Thank you!

    1. Thank you. Yes, Val, this one was mine. We decided to try to write alternate blog posts so we did not have to keep them author-neutral despite both having input to the content. This way, we can each write in our own style, although we do review each other’s drafts for accuracy and suggestions. It takes both of us to make a memory these days, and both of us to remember details!

  3. Reliving my past adventures through yours warms my heart.

    1. Hi Lynne, such a nice comment. Actually, given we are so late in posting these – we are reliving our adventures creating the posts!

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