Autumn in France 2018 (DAY 1)

Dublin – Carcassonne – le Ségala

Thursday , 11.10.2018

lots of km

The Canal du Midi. The canal of canals. The story goes that Francis Egerton, the 3rd Duke of Bridgewater travelled along the Canal du Midi on his gentleman’s tour through Europe. And thus got the inspiration to built a canal from his mines in Worsley to Manchester. It was opened in 1761. And yes, it was a great success, it kicked off the canal mania, and there might not have been an industrial revolution without it.

But what faint memories Egerton must have brought home. Compared to the grandeur of the Midi, that was almost a hundred years old by the time the duke visited, the Bridgewater was not more than a muddy ditch. There was one aqueduct (hurray!), and not much else. The Midi is far away from being such a modest affair. It has got dozens of aqueducts, it has got 65 locks, a huge and elaborate feeder system, a tunnel, and hey, it has got the weather.

Now that my English readers are sufficiently disgruntled, lets go into medias res.

I have been toying with the idea of visiting the Midi for years. But in the summer it seems to be absolutely mobbed, extremely hot and a very long way to tow ARGO. But then Locaboat made me an offer that was hard to resist. A one-way trip from Lattes to Argens-Minervois, very cool, would take in all the major attractions. Maybe even a detour down the Émbranchement de la Nouvelle?

A flight was booked, a hire car hired, and two nights at a cottage by the canal and three nights in a cottage in the Pyrenees paid for.

Thus we set of at 3.00 in the morning to Dublin airport, enter one of Michael O’Leary’s finest, upwards and beyond to Carcassonne.

Before we get to the Midi, we have to talk about the Cité de Carcassonne. We arrive around lunch time, pick up the hire car, a Peugeot to the lads utter disgust (we all remember the Top Gear episode, where Jeremy pretends to be a Peugeot driver), and drive directly to the Cité.
As much as the Midi is the quintessential canal, the Cité is the quintessential medieval castle. But this is not a well kept secret, it is rather aggressively advertised in any travel guide from the Americas to the Chinas. Meaning: Even in the off-season the place is packed.

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We look for a place to eat. Which is not difficult, while being really difficult. Practically every house in the Cité either hosts a restaurant or a tacky gift shop. Eventually we settle for pizza. Nothing too special, but al fresco, in the sun, in October. Makes it very special.

Then it’s a tour through the Citè and the castle.

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The lad approves.
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In the distance the Montagne Noire. We will have a closer look tomorrow.
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Out into the countryside. We have booked an old cottage in the hamlet of le Ségala, right at the summit of the Canal du Midi.

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A very nice place on a sunny evening.
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The landlord has gone to great length to accommodate us and has booked a table for us at the restaurant next door.
Good food and wine. Early bed.

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France 2018, Brittany (Days 27 to 30)

Glénac – St-Pol-de-Léon

Monday to Friday , 14. to 17.08.2018

lots of km

Tuesday morning we load up the boat and get the rig ready for the journey to St-Pol-de-Léon near Roscoff.
Big hugs and farewell to Regina, Martin and Drew. They will continue up the Oust to Rohan, where Martin owns a house by the canal. So it is a matter of pride for him to get there on his own keel. They eventually make it after a lot of trials and tribulations, and adventures. But this is their story to tell.

The trip to Roscoff is only 220km long, but more than half on it is on small and smallest RDs across the rural heart land of Britany. Beautiful but time consuming. But none the less we eventually reach Camping Ar Kleguer right by the sea at St-Pol-de-Léon. As usual I had pre-booked, as usual we get strange looks for the rig, as usual it is a tight squeeze to maneuver ARGO onto her pitch.

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The camping is grand. Mostly picked because of the waterpark. The lad likes it. But then its a campsite….

On the Tuesday we are reasonably tired. So just a swim in the pool, a quick trip to town for some food shopping and a quick look around. Plus, and that the highlight: We pass the La Pomme d’Api. We always wanted to visit a Michelin star restaurant. And this is the chance. And indeed after a bit on and forth we secure a table for Thursday evening.

Wednesday:

After a more frugal dinner at the campsite, its time to admire the sun set.

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On the Wednesday we take it easy. Driving along the coast and enjoying the scenery. And the rugged coast line really is spectacular.

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In the late afternoon we are booked in for beach sailing. But that is called off due to a lack of wind. But not a bother we do some messing at the pool, cook up some dinner and then walk down to the beach front. There the Fete de Mer reaches its climax, with the “Johnny Depp Revival Band” giving their very best.

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Once they have finished and it is dark, we enjoy glorious fire works. Deployed from a boat out in the bay.

Thursday.

Today its rather overcast and dull, but nonetheless sightseeing is called for. The word Tahiti Beach sounds very promising. And its really beautiful, although not quiet like I would imagine Tahiti.

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But the clouds bring wind with them. And that is just what we need.

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All in all there could be a bit more wind, but nonetheless great fun.
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Covered in sand, we have the rush back to the campsite to get brushed up for fine dining. The finest in fact we have ever been to.

When we booked the table, we were told to be there at 6.30 sharp and that’s the last table they have got. Like really 6.30, not roundabout that, like Irish time. Thus we are very surprised to find the place empty when we arrive. But then we find out that they stagger the tables. Everybody getting greeted by the staff and getting the utmost attention.
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The whole thing is an incredible experience. The service is so good, that you cannot possibly refill your glass, as the sommelier will rush to do it for you.
And the food. We get four different Amuse-Gueule.
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The entrée. Foie Gras marbled with smoked eel.

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Red snapper.
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Tarte.
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All of sheer indescribable taste. The best money ever spent on food. Go whenever you are in the area.
Before bed a digestive walk by the sea.
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Friday:

Time to go home. We drag out the morning at the pool, as there are few places we could go, once the trailer is attached to the car, and the ferry is only leaving in the evening.
We are the first at the ferry port and park the rig up to one side of the waiting area, hoping to be in nobody’s way.

From here we walk along the coast into Roscoff proper.
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A nice crepe lunch and then a detour to the supermarket for some fresh food aboard the ferry.

The Oscar Wilde is quite a sight.
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Just as we leave the Pont-Aven arrives.

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And that’s really it folks. An uneventful crossing and the slog through half of Ireland gets us back home.
But please stay tuned and watch this space, as this year we had the privilege to spend a  second holiday. At the Canal du Midi, which turned out to happen almost anywhere else but on the Canal du Midi.

France 2018, Brittany (Day 26)

La Gazilly – Glénac

Monday, 13.08.2018

8 km, 0 locks

The rain has died away over night. Which is nice, as I can catch the 7:55 bus to Redon. Which is, during school holidays, the only bus to anywhere.
In Redon I have to wait a bit over an hour for my train to Nantes. The weekly market is in full swing. And it is so bountiful, that I cannot decide what to buy at all. So I just buy nothing and have a coffee at a nearby cafe.
The train to Nantes arrives in time. I have to change again in Angers and arrive in Sable-sur-Sarthe just at lunchtime. A walk to the campsite, the Landy fires up *sigh of relieve*, trailer attached and back to Glènac near la Gazilly.

Meanwhile the two crews enjoyed the photo exhibition an la Gazilly.
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After that the crew has boated down the l’Aff. The slipway here is much wider and easier to access then the one in Gazilly.

And that is how I found them: Martin totally at ease with the world.

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Then there is stuff to organize. Change a wheel on the trailer that has gone bald. Take Martin and the Landy to Redon for some shopping. And then its finally time to relax. Although the clouds are still dramatically black, I really need to go for a swim.

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This is a seriously beautiful spot.

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The evening is spent with a lot of chatter and a few glasses in good company.

France 2018, Brittany (Day 25)

Rieux – Redon – La Gazilly

Sunday, 12.08.2018

24 km, 1 lock

The last proper boating day is raising its ugly face. The weather reflects the mood. It is decidedly cooler (which is not bad) and threatening with rain.

It is up the Vilaine and through the grand basin at Redon. Only after getting back home I read that the boat museum there has acquired a few restored old boats. Maybe this is one of it.

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Through the automated lock with its lift bridge it is back on the Canal de Nantes à Brest. Luckily the rather dull and suburban artificial cut widens out soon, as the canal enters the bed of the beautiful river Oust.

The Île aux Pies, and I repeat myself, is just beautiful. One of my favourite spots in this neck of the woods.

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And, as it is customary we go rock climbing at Escapades Verticales.

Just as we are finished the rain has stopped threatening.  Instead it switches to end-of-world-mode in an instant.
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Alas there is no time to loiter, as we have to make it to La Gacilly tonight. The logistics of a one-way boating trip demand, that car and trailer have to be retrieved at some stage. And from La Gacilly leaves a bus that connects us to the wider world.

But, due to really bad weather, no pictures of the lovely river Aff.
We are lucky to just grab the last two spaces at the small harbour. Then it is off for a light dinner. Not too much choice, as this being Sunday evening, most places are closed.
The lad is delighted nonetheless.

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France 2018, Brittany (Day 24)

La Roche-Bernard – Arzal – Rieux

Saturday, 11.08.2018

40 km, 0 locks

Well, well, well. It must have been the hangover from last night that got me up so early, that I can still see the morning mist.

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Fresh Baguette and Pain au chocolat for breakfast. Then Martin and myself go on a shopping foray to prepare for the looming weekend.

Down the Vilaine. The valley is just magnificent.
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Guess I could live here.
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The Vilaine soon reaches the Arzal Barrage. This was finished in 1972, after several huge floods have played havoc with the valley of the Vilaine as far upstream as well beyond Redon.
With the Vilaine no longer tidal above the barrage, it attracted several huge marinas as a safe haven for seagoing boats.

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We moor up to the visitor jetty, although Martin is a bit pale around the nose, with no reverse and millions worth of glass fibre one could potentially hit hard. But all goes well, and the harbour master allows us unlimited stay for the rest of the day. Also he hands me a copy of Marinarzal’s catalogue.  This is the local chandler, and with the potential customership right at the doorstep in the thousands, there is very little they do not have on offer. So the shop is an attraction in its own right and we pay it a visit. Needless to say, that we spend some bucks on stuff we didn’t even knew, how badly we needed it, only hours ago.

Then on to the barrage itself.
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The barrage sports a massive lock.
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Alas the water on the other side is just taking a break.
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After a yummy Moules-Frites lunch it’s back onto the river, in a general upstream direction.
Some serious markers:
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La Roche-Bernard from an other perspective.

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And an amazing selection of the most wonderful boats.
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Another bit further upstream we meet our friends from Sucé. We are on a bit of a rush, only mildly. But there is enough time for a chat.
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And just before we moor up at Rieux, we are treated to a free air show.
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Really a great day on the water with loads of action. What a difference to the Sarthe, were we haven’t seen other boats in days.
Another nice evening ensued in the park by the moorings in Rieux. Really one of my favourite places.

France 2018, Brittany (Day 23)

Rieux – la Roche-Bernard

Friday, 10.08.2018

25 km, 0 locks

We have been told by various sources, that we absolutely have to go down the Vilaine to la Roche-Bernard.  So Bernard’s Rock it shall be.
First obstacle is the swing bridge at Cran. We can just about squeeze through the 5.8m opening.

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Past the bridge, one is immediately in sailing country.
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We happen to run into our NI friends we have first met in Rieux three years ago. We stop for a beer or two and a little chat.

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La Roche gets into sight. And what a sight it is. The Vilaine has cut her riverbed between high rocks on either side. All enhanced by two huge bridges.
First the Pont du Morbihan.
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And then the older but much more elegant Pont Neuf.
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While we were boozing on board of another boat, Martin has sussed out a mooring for us. The visitor mooring costs us 14€/night. But has a great view of the river and is rather exposed to the strong southerly wind we have just got.

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It is time to explore the place. And a very nice place it is indeed. Alas mobbed with tourists. And with a galore of the most beautiful boats.
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The town itself is very nice. Of the classical Breton granite style. But all in all it really is the location.
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In the evening it is fine dining. The name of the game is the Auberge des Deux Magots. Brilliant place. Excellent food and good service. Even the lads don’t complain.
But the best was yet to come. On the square a swing band  has set up their equipment. And good music it is.
The lads have a ball.
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France 2018, Brittany (Day 22)

Pont de Melneuf – Redon – Rieux

Thursday, 9.08.2018

38 km, 1 lock

Time to get off the canal and onto some river again. Thus I had announced an early start last night. But then the night was long and an early start does not really happen…
A check of Martins outboard reveals, that it is obviously burning oil, bad rings maybe. Being well equipped, and rather smug, we fill it up with four stroke oil and force it into life.

At least the canal at this end flows in the bed of the little river Isac. It widens out and is rather pretty.

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Only past Bellion lock it narrows again.
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And eventually the massive railway embankment offers some architectural interest.
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We stop at the huge E.Leclerc at Redon and avail from its filling station, that is only 50 meters from the canal. Very handy.
Then it is down the last lock and we are finally out on the beautiful Vilaine.

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Eventually we arrive at Rieux with its beautiful mooring below the castle ruins. But no time for sightseeing. Martin’s engine refuses to switch into reverse. A lot of poking reveals the problem. A rather complicated contraption that controls the gearbox. We fiddle around for two hours and get it kind of working, alas not reliably. But who needs a reverse? A couple a years ago we went all the way from Middlewich to Llangollen and back in a full length hire boat without any reverse gear. And that worked just fine. Mostly.
A fine BBQ in the park ended the day in good spirits. Less hustle tomorrow is promised.