Thursday, 25 September 2014

Canals? You Just Can't Keep Away From Them

Hilary and I have just returned from a holiday in France - a few days in Paris followed by a week in the Dordogne. On the way home we broke our journey to visit some friends who live about 50 miles south-east of Paris, The last stretch of what had already been a long and not particularly fast journey seemed to take for ever on a slow, infrequent and somewhat antiquated regional train that actually took an hour-and-three-quarters to cover the 50 mile journey from the capital to their local station, thus giving the lie to the widely-believed myth that the French railway system is in any way superior to ours.

The next day our hosts took us to visit the delights of their local town, St. Florentin. I'd done no research so didn't know what to expect - and they didn't mention anything - but shortly after parking the car and walking through a nearby park I saw what appeared to be the top of a boat - a large "plastic" cruiser - poking above a hedge. Then I realised it was actually crossing an aqueduct - the aqueduct of St. Florentin on the Canal du Bourgogne (Burgundy).
Canal du Bourgogne aqueduct at St. Florentin
Of course, we had to walk up and have a closer look, which was when we found the aqueduct itself had a rather strange feature - certainly one I've never seen on any English canal.
The aqueduct ends in a lock!
At the far end of the aqueduct and immediately adjacent to it was a lock - and a deep one at that. The lock-keeper was just in the process of (manually) dropping the paddles and closing the top gates prior to emptying it again, presumably for another boat.
The view from the bottom gates towards the aqueduct
Note the absence of balance beams and the manual winding-handle in the red box. The keeper herself is on the left tending to her garden in the old boat.

Later that day we were taken to Auxerre, on the River Yonne, where amongst the flotilla of pleasure boats moored on the opposite bank to us, but too far away to see much detail, were the distinctive red-and-white counter bands of an English narrowboat!

And that wasn't all. From the train back to Paris the next day** (running 50 minutes late due to "une probleme technique" - but no apology) we glimpsed a huge (but empty) push-tow barge on the Seine and another, even larger one, from the Eurostar** (30 minutes late leaving Paris - "people on the tracks") somewhere in northern France.

Canals? You just can't keep away from them!

**and at this point I have to say that the two Virgin Pendolinos we caught to and from London at the start and end of the holiday were quick, exactly on time, and more comfortable than anything we rode on in France! I did, however manage to get one over on SNCF, whose website managed to let me buy a reduced-price "Senior" ticket without explaining that I would need the equivalent of a Senior Railcard to make it valid. However, SNCF's ticket checking is as hit-and-miss as Virgin's and Trans Pennine Express so I got away with it.

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