Chilaxin and her crew carry on through the French canal network with the next river in sight

Day 20

Up early and… it’s trying to rain! Typical. We head off anyway as we need to get moving. Today we are going to get as far south as we possibly can, through as many locks as possible to make up time.

We wave to a couple of the other boats as we leave Moret Sur Loing, some of whom are still tucked up in bed.

We hit the first small lock and everything is okay. We are given a remote control, which, as we approach the lock, activates it – great! We move on to the next lock amd as we approach – zap! – the light acknowledges us and soon we have a green light to enter. Awesome! This lock has quite a surge of water, which catches us out slightly. By using the bow thruster, Chilaxin is back straight and behaving.

Approaching Montargis

We had planned to get to Souppes-Sur-Loing for our night stop but, as we start going through the locks quite quickly, we feel that we will get there too soon and waste more time. We had not realised that these remote controls, which cover the whole Canal du Loing and are quite new, would save so much time!

We re-plan and think that we can get to Montargis, at the tip of the Canal de Briare. We move on, lock after lock, never seeing another boat – just lovely views and beautiful properties along the river banks. Before we know it we’ve arrived at Montargis, the Venice of the Gatinais.

Entering Montargis – the “Venice of the Gatinais”

In total we have completed 23 locks and 52km! We find a space at the Port de Plaisance and just as we start looking around to find out where to check-in, a van pulls up, we are given the okay and off they drive.

Once settled, we head into town to see what is on offer. We see a bar – music is playing, lots of ladies are stood outside and it looks like Salsa classes. I would like to add, at this point, we have not had a shower and 23 locks in full heat is no picnic! I decline to go in, even though Kev, not realising how smelly we were, was half way down the steps.

Heidi in Montargis town

We head on a bit further and find a nice quiet bar with seating outside. Two beers ordered, free peanuts and nibbles and the hint of Wi-Fi. I’m not moving!

The Wi-Fi is slower than dialup! Another round of beers and it’s time to head back to the boat for a shower and bed. We have completed the Canal du Loing in a single day. What an achievement!

Tomorrow we are heading to Chatillon-Coligny (half way down the Canal de Briare) which is recommended in every book – and has free moorings.

Day 21

A rude awakening, after a very humid night, by the harbour master banging on the boat just before 7am. The shock on his face when he saw me was comical – my hair on end, in a small dressing gown, one eye open, the other glued shut with hay fever gunk (lucky him!) He charges €10 for the night and after a very small form has been completed off he goes.

Six locks down and we are pleased with progress. Then the VNF chap asks where we are heading. Chatillon we reply. He shakes his head – no you are not, the next two locks have been closed. Crap! His English was very good but all we got was that the lock was closed. We would have to stop in Montbouy (pronounced “mont-bwie”).

We start really well again on the canals. This canal does not have the remote control but we have a VNF person at each lock (if it is manual) or they are automatic and you gain entry from cameras watching your approach.

When inside there is a pole you lift up, which activates the lock. Not sure why people said you had to climb the ladders! If you are on your own, tie up next to the pole (there is normally a slider pole or a ladder which is just as good). The only grim bit is the activation pole, which is covered in slime!

We go past a long line of boats (some we have seen before), onto an empty jetty, I notice a small note on a board and realise that this is the hotel barge slot. We had a close call with barge on a horrid bend. Luckily we could reverse back into a turning basin. They were grateful to us going back as it would have been very tight to get by.

Squeezing under bridges has become the norm aboard Chilaxin

We leave Chilaxin to see if we can stay as we are as the next hotel barge is not due until tomorrow lunchtime. We head towards the mayors office, two lovely ladies say hello and then we start asking about the issue with the canal – do they know when the locks will be fixed?

They look puzzled as they know nothing about any closure. A few calls later and it appears that there is not an issue with the locks, but the flow of water between two locks a bit further up. As most people on this stretch of the canal have hired boats and have no real experience, they close the whole lot down for safety.

We ask about the town to see if there is a bar or restaurant so we can follow our tradition of trying a beer in every town. There is but she closes at 7pm! We head back to the boat.

A VNF lady is stood by all the boats – she is very young and speaks the most amazing English. She says that the next lock will be opened before 7pm, to allow those wanting to continue, but the VNF will not be responsible for any damage to boats that proceed.

Two boats head through – a Frenchman and an Australian (who lives in France and knows this area very well). Perfect – we move back into their places just in case we are told tomorrow that we still can’t move forward. It also means we are able to get electricity and water.

We head up to the bar for quick pint, and meet the owner and her large Alsatian dog. We communicate that we would like a beer. No problem. There are a couple of young lads sat to our left and one of them speaks very good English. We all start chatting and soon enough we are way over closing time – but having a giggle!

Day 22

Over night, the water has calmed and at 9am we are given the go ahead to proceed.

We are joined by an Australian couple – Bruce and Marilyn. A lovely couple on their holidays and on the weirdest looking boat I have ever seen! They say that they will follow us and hope we will make it down to Briare for 4pm as they have to hand their boat back. That is 24 locks away going up some steep inclines.

As we get through the first lock of the day, the young girl from last night is there and says that we should be fine if we take it steady – fat chance!

Chilaxin is like a twitchy horse – she does not do slow and I have decided that she is not liking the locks, especially upstream where there is such a rush of water.

The beautiful tree-lined banks of Rogny

We head off and all we can hear behind us is Bruce’s’ voice – this guy is never quiet! He is perched on top of his boat and reminds us of Timothy West & Prunella Scales! He has one speed and one speed only – flat out! He bounces around, has no regard to fishermen (we give a wide berth as don’t want the props wrapped in line), or anyone else.

We get to Rogny just before midday. Bruce comes flying past us shouting that the lock is closed. We panic, thinking it’s another issue; we forget that France shuts down for lunch – not an issue when you have your own remote control. We moor up and have lunch. Just as we finish clearing up, the other Australian boat goes into the lock. Lets see if we can catch them up!

This is the start of the big incline – we have six locks taking us up and eight to get back down. The views are breath-taking in this area. As for the old locks well, what a masterpiece!

Two locks on and we catch them at the third. Both hire boats are low and flat so bridges are not an issue to them. For us, we are still looking at bridges, I then walk out to the bow and, if my hands touch the bridge (just), then we are okay height wise. There have been a few which are at lock entrances – and it is tight!

By the end of the day we arrive in Briare – 24 locks and god knows how many kilometres later. Dorothy, the Capitinaire at Briare, toots in her car and tells us to follow her down to our space. She speaks perfect English and is so very helpful.

The crew are used to sharing locks with local trip boats

Why is it you get not a hint of wind all day yet, when you go to berth up, gusts arrive to knock you about? We end up next to a lovely English couple, Ron & Myra, who have their own boat and travel the inland waterways six months of the year. It is now 6.30pm on Friday night so we decide to have a shower and then eat out.

As soon as we mention this, we are told that the bars close at 7.30pm (who says that the French have a night time living?!). We head out and find the bar in the square. We end up being the only two there but it is nice and we have a view of the church too.

Well earned beers in Briare

We then look for restaurants, none of which are cheap! We go to one and see the first boat that we were following (the Australians) having dinner so we pop over and say hi.

A lovely meal later, with a nice glass of red, and we head back to the boat. It’s going to be another sticky night; tomorrow we will not be going anywhere.

Day 23

The heat was just too much yesterday – I felt like I was melting the whole time! Today is not much better but Kev sets off to clean Chilaxin. She is covered in sap, flies and crud from the locks. We are not allowed to use hoses so he sets about with (limited water in) a bucket and a microfibre cloth.

Me on the other hand… off to do the “dobbie”. Yep, last night I tracked down the laundrette so today the bedsheets and all our clothes will be clean again!

Kev has now decided to go into town to get bread and milk. Two hours later (and a 2km walk in 28 degrees), he now has stretched arms from carrying beers, salad, vegetables, cans of Coke, cakes and biscuits – and of course the bread and milk he set out for!

Clouds gather over Briare

The skies are turning black and I am hoping the storm, that keeps being promised, is nearly upon us.

Tomorrow we set off again and head onto our third canal – Canal Lateral a la Loire. This one only has 35 locks in total and is 200km in length. By the time we get to the end (hopefully 3-4 days), we will be halfway through our journey in distance.

There will be one more canal after this and then we hit the rivers again – which I know Chilaxin will be looking forward to as she will be able to go that bit quicker again and be out of this murky brown water.

Day 24

What an amazing start to the day heading over the Briare Aqueduct! We headed across early to make sure we had no hold ups. Unfortunately, this meant that we left in the rain but that was not a major issue.

We carried on to our third canal of the journey – the Canal Lateral a La Loire. Very peaceful, passing lots of boat hire premisses. We saw the two boats moored up (that we had been joined by the other day) which the Australians had been on.

We carried on until midday, when the locks are closed for the VNF people to have their lunch (still not used to planning this in our day).

Heading over the stunning aqueduct at Briare

As we moored up, we thought we would walk up to the lock and see what was coming. Next minute, we have another Australian chatting to us. They are in the hire boat opposite us and his steering has given up. They are waiting for assistance. He is going the same way as us, yet, at present, he is facing the wrong way!

We watch the next couple of boats coming towards us (more hire boats). I head out to advise them that the lock is closed for lunch when the first one hits the bank!

We try not to get involved but, after a few minutes, we know that they are in trouble so Kev goes over to give them a hand and to try and get them tied up until the lock opens. A very grateful holiday maker and they’d like to follow us to our day’s stop so that we can share wine – how very nice!

Three get into the lock. Chilaxin (with her nose right against the lock, which I am very un happy about!), the couple we helped off the bank, and then a German couple in their holiday boat.

It’s a squeeze but everyone is helping out, including the lovely VNF guy. He can see the panic on my face at being so close to the lock gate and promises me that he will fill the water very slowly.

The crew beg for a shower to break the heatwave

It looks like we will have more storms tonight. We are in a tiny little village, which is very pretty and it’s a free stop (including water and electricity). They also have a small supermarket a few hundred meters away, which will be open tomorrow. I will head off first thing, before we attempt 30nm and 13 locks. We’re not sure where we will stop but will be aiming for Marseilles-Let-Aubigny.

Day 25

Beffes – we stopped just short of Marseilles-Let-Aubigny. Mainly due to some very obnoxious people on a holiday barge, whom where all very drunk and getting far too close to the back of Chilaxin! So much so that, if we reached out, we would have touched their boat! We also over heard that this was where they were heading.

In the books it said that there was a nice little holt but no electricity or water. We decided that we would have a look and, to our surprise, Beffes has had a major overhaul. Proper pontoons plus water and power for €6 per night – bargain!

Chilaxin alongside in Beffes

Time to check out what Beffes has to offer. On the main roundabout there is a bakery, a small – but very good – supermarket, a tabac and café and a restaurant. What more did we need?

We had a very quiet evening and cleaned down the boat for the first time in ages with no-one to tell us off about the water. God it felt great to see her looking white again without all the tree sap, bugs and canal grime. Everywhere we have stopped, people come and admire Chilaxin saying that she must be very new even though she is now 15 months old.

As we head along the canals, all the cyclists ring bells and wave and, if up close to the roads, the lorries and cars all toot their horns.

Day 26

Having had a nice quiet stay in Beffes, we headed on to Fleury. First we had to head through a double lock and cross a viaduct. As we approached the double locks, and just before lunch for the lock keepers, we decided to stop and give us time to work out how this lock worked. Just as well we did… it is massive! I ended up having to use a ladder as my main stay on this lock. This would be a test for us.

As it turned out it was not too bad. Half an hour later we were through and heading across the aqueduct – just stunning. As we arrived at Fleury we thought we had made a bit of a mistake. The snack shack that is mentioned was there but there were a couple of long gazebos and it all looked a little shabby.

Kev inspects the next lock

We checked the power worked and then walked up to the shack where we met the owner who had several beers on offer at €1.50 for a large – perfect! Several beers later and the others we have met along the canal start arriving. We manoeuvre boats so that everyone will get in and now it’s time for dinner. Another boat pasta night ahead and cooking again for our new friends who weren’t so enamoured with the shack’s menu.

Just as I’m getting everything cooking nicely… no gas! How have we gone through more gas in the past few weeks than all of last season? Well, if you’re only cooking at weekends it will go further! We steal the gas our pals and use what we need quickly, before getting it back on their boat and secured again. What a nightmare!

Another early night is wanted as the locks do take it out of you, especially when we are averaging 15-24 a day! We are doing well. Sleep is not to come for me. The little shack is popular – not just with the few little boats but obviously the place to be! Cars keep arriving and more people but finally at 2am they all go home and I can get some shuteye.

I must say though that, as I was up and looking skyward, I have not seen stars so clear since I was in the Isles of Scilly a few years ago. Totally breath-taking.

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