The journey begins . . . here.
Friday 15th June 2018
Digoin to Pierrefitte-sur-Loire
This is a lovely part of the world and I’m beginning to get the hang of knowing the more attractive routes and stops.
First I look for boat hire companies in the area. Check if there is a tourism office. And finally if there is a green cycle route along the canal, you’re in a pretty area. Which means you will encounter more boats and possible queues at the locks. But there are also more bars, cafes and restuarants as well as supermarkets. Pierrefitte-sur-Loire had TWO supermarkets. One real old fashioned one and a Proxi-Marche which wasn’t open at 16.00pm. There is an old chateux right in the village. I desperately wanted to snoop around the chateaux but suspected it was privately owned and best not to.
Outside our first lock there were two boats tied up. We recognised one. You get to know them after passing them and them passing you. A few hire boats or “bumper boats” passed us too. The first boat tied up out side the lock, had not one, not two, but three cats on board. Now I’m used to pet dogs but was a bit surprised to see that many cats on a boat. Right next to the lock was a mobile home and I got chatting to the woman inside as we locked down. She turned out to be the sister of the bloke on the cat boat. The reason the cat boat wasn’t moving is the cats are geriatric and can’t deal with the noise of their engine.
We entered the next lock at 11.45am and two extra lock-keepers came along to help the lock-keeper whisk us through briskly. Lunch time in France is sacred hour. It was a perfect boating day. Not hot. Not cold. Not raining. Slightly overcast. Absolute pleasure. The boat agent came to meet us around 17.00pm to discuss possibly selling our boat. Sjoe, the comissions are steep – 10%. He wanted an exclusive mandate and a set of keys. I will admit he gave us a good pitch. But I was bitterly disappointed that he wanted to put the boat on the market at a price that would nett us 5,6% lower than my husband had paid for the boat 6 years ago. We resolved to educate ourselves on the boating market and try and find out actual prices of boats over the last few years.
The boat agent and his wife mentioned the region had experienced particularly high rainfall and that the rainfall had been unseasonal. One of the canals had been closed for the last week. They also told us the very low Canal Vaux had finally been dredged and was much more accessible. Mrs Boat Agent told me Decize has an excellent organic food market we should not miss. It occured on Friday mornings and the French Waterways map book mentioned the third Tuesday of every month. Tuesday fitted our plans perfectly as that was the next Tueasday.
Saturday 16th June 2018
Pierrefitte-sur-Loire to Pont de Garnat
The locks on this stretch are manual and thus require lock keepers. Most are friendly and helpful. One chap near Pont de Garnat was full of character. He pointed out our incorrect French pronounciations in his perfect English with great humour. Another bloke returned from lunch 10 minutes early catching us completely by surprise. Yet another old chap drove up to the lock and screached to a halt while a young bloke was winding open the paddles and began yelling at him. Then he shook his hand. Carried on yelling. Helped wind paddles on the oppostite side. And continued shouting and gesturing wildly. Would have loved to know what that was all about.
Soccer Cup fever was beginning to show as loyal fans put up French Soccer Cup regalia. Big flags draped across windows and flying on masts in gardens. We saw our new best friends at Pont de Garnat and tied up next to them. Then went walkabout. A lovely old church was open so we wandered inside. It had that musty smell of an ancient building and plenty original fixtures and frescoes.
The boulangerie (bakery) was open so we picked up a loaf of mixed flour bread. No matter how small a village, there’s almost always a boulangerie. Not much more to the town but we found a big cherry tree groaning with fruit. We ate our fill and then went back to our boat and joined our friends for a drink on the back of their boat. I can listen to waterways stories forever. And they had plenty. It’s mainly retired couples on the waterways with plenty time on their hands. I would guess the average age is 65 plus. Youngsters tend to go for hireboats.
The journey continues . . . . . . here.