After a terrific breakfast of sweet potato and eggs hash prepared by Dawn, we all rode our bicycles into Gannay-sur-Loire on a glorious September morning. The guidebook advertises that there is a tree in the town square planted by “Sully” in 1597 to mark the boundary between Burgundy, the Bourbon territory and the Nivernais region. We had high expectations of viewing this genuine historical artifact. Imagine our disappointment when we stopped in the town square and found a concrete rendition of a tree stump. Quite the letdown! Obviously the guidebook needs updating.
We rode around the rather small village and then stopped in a small èpicerie (grocery store) to stock up on more wine, water, bread and saucisson. Our disappointment quickly vanished when we stopped in the local pottery shop of Yannick Boucard. His work was indeed “colourful and pleasant”, as described in the guidebook. We bought a bowl that Yannick carefully wrapped for us for hand-carrying back to the US.
Proceeding onward, we passed through Lock No. 13 l’Huilerie, but then arrived at Lock 14 outside Domaine Grand-Jean just before the noon lunchtime lock closure. We moored in the shade waiting for the 1:00 PM re-opening. It was an an absolutely wonderful day weather-wise, so we passed a pleasant hour having lunch and enjoying the ambiance.
We proceeded northwesterly towards Decize and arrived at the canal turnoff to Decize about 3:00 PM, where we encountered our first fully automated lock. The guidebook went into great detail to describe the operation of the automatic locks and the transition from the Canal latéral à la Loire to the Canal du Nivernais, so we were expecting a somewhat stressful segment of the journey. It turned out, however, to be extremely simple and low-stress. The automated lock is activated by pulling on a cord dangling from a pendant at the lock entrance. A red light on the lock gates then starts flashing and the gates open or close as is appropriate. Once you enter the lock and secure the lines, you pull up on the blue-colored rod at the control station and the opposing gates start to open or close as needed. There are only two automated locks on our entire planned journey, but we were wondering why all the locks were not automated. It surely must cost quite a bit to pay the salaries of all the èclusiers (locks keepers) that staff all the manual locks. Perhaps there are reasons unknown to us.
After passing through the first lock, one is immediately in a rather large port marina. This marina was by far the grandest of all marinas that we have seen along the canal so far. The guidebook says it was built in 2011. While there was abundant available moorage, with sought-after water and electricity and a nearby grocery store, we elected to continue onward, as there were still several hours of potential cruising time left in the day.
After passing through the second automated lock to exit the port marina, we entered a short segment that traverses the Loire River. The guidebook warned to hug the right bank (heading northward) and the channel was correspondingly well marked. We proceeded at a slow speed and admired the view of Decize from the water. Decize is an ancient city located on an island in the Loire River, which was settled in Roman times and is quite picturesque. From the water one can see remnants of the town walls and the medieval castle. Très magnifique!
We passed through the first lock on the Nivernais canal heading north (actually Lock No. 35 in the Nivernais system). We were aiming for the moorage shown in the guidebook just beyond the lock. As I was practicing my French with the lock keeper, he mentioned that if we wanted water and electricity, we needed to go to the local Maire (town hall) and pay for these services. We docked at about 4:30 PM then learned that the Maire closed at 5:00 PM. So we all jumped on our bicycles and rode a couple of kilometers to get there before closing. The electricity is purchased in 10 KWH blocks and the water is purchased in 250 liter blocks. Not knowing any better, we purchased just a single block of electricity and 500 liters of water. In the end this turned out to be just fine for running our air conditioning throughout the evening and refilling our water tank.
We then rode along a busy street into the centre ville portion of town to tour the old part of town. Although we found a few open shops and one open restaurant, we learned that most businesses are closed on Monday as well as Sunday. We had a glass of wine at the one operating restaurant, then walked around town to explore. We passed through the sole remaining medieval town wall gate and viewed the remnants of the castle, then found ourselves back at the same restaurant. As the choices were limited, we decided to eat there. I had my worst French language exchange of the trip to date conversing with the waitress. She was rather young, she spoke very fast and her accent, for some reason, gave me much difficulty. In the end we all ordered the Moules Frites, which were steamed mussels with French fries. We were served a giant bowl of mussels that was quite adequate as a main course. Along with the bread, French fries and wine, we had an appetizing meal. We rode our bicycles back to the boat in the chilly evening air then settled in for a good night’s sleep. All together, we traveled only about 20 kilometers in the boat, but it was a full day of activity and sightseeing!