Canal du Centre

The canal du Centre takes me from Digoin the most southerly town of my journey north east to Chalon-Sur-Saone, a trip of 112kms and 61 locks. The canal du Centre is, like everywhere beautiful but a little tedious because there’s such a high concentration of locks, most are automated but some needed a little attention by the mobile lock keepers. I had heard of reports that this canals water level may be low and full of weed. Thankfully this did not turn out to be correct.

The first day is fairly straight forward with automatic locks and a 2 night stop at Paray-le-Monial. Wow, what a truly beautiful town. Rich with history, beautifully maintained. The quay accommodates several barges and whilst there I met Canadians, Australians and Sally and Charles on Piper barge Bluegum. The quay has a large woodland park perfect for Nutty to run around.

The Central is very a winding canal and not one to be rushed. Other boats were far and few between but you could guarantee when one appeared it’d be coming the other way on a corner. Montceau-Les-Mines was my next destination with 3 lifting bridges to negotiate before arriving at the modern port. The mines here are long closed and the old site is reclaimed into lakes, woods, farms and a lovely place to walk the dog. Here we met another Vizsla only the second in France. A very feisty 3 month old pup called Odin who’s going to grow into a big dog.

Continuing upstream to Ecuisses the peak of this canal, there used to be a canal museum here but unfortunately it’s closed leaving a large commercial barge in what looks like someones garden.

Going downstream it’s much less traumatic, the water gently runs out of the lock and it’s easy to hold the boat gently with one rope. In deeper locks they have floating bollards to make it even easier. Going upstream is dependant on how and how fast the water enters the lock. If large amounts enter immediately by the gates you are at first pushed back and then forward after the water hits the back gates. Often bumping the boat from side to side.

Downhill to Chagny stopping at Saint Leger for lunch, a popular port for hotel barges, I must have arrived on changeover day as none were moving, just stocking up.

For the majority of the canal from Paray to Saint Leger a minor road runs very close to the canal. Odd when you see a car coming round the corner at the same height, for a moment the mind plays tricks and you think “I hope you’re going to turn out of my way.” Although a minor road it was quite scary watching the speeds and blind overtaking that goes on. I had to keep Nutty on a line at locks in case she spotted a squirrel on the other side of the road.

From Chagny through 8 locks, most over 5 meters deep in quick succession eventually stopping at Fragnes. This is on the outskirts of Chalon and only 8kms from the River Saone. A very well maintained quay in what appears to be an affluent village. The quay has an excellent bakery, restaurant and bar.

I was told by the lady in the tourist office / harbour master that the final lock only opened twice in the morning to save water as it’s 10.76 meters (35 feet) deep. I arranged to meet with a French cruiser at 8.15am for the short journey to be at the lock for 9.

The lock at Chalon dropping us onto the Saone is controlled by a lock keeper. It was ready for us as we arrived before 9. The keeper took note of our boat names and destination before lowering us down. The drop was very quick and smooth. Being fairly narrow for such a deep canal it was quite grim and gloomy at the bottom. The steel gates were hauled up by 2 chains and then we were back in the sunshine and on the River Saone.


Leaving the lock and canal behind, river ahead

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