Canal de Saint-Quentin / River Escaut : Cruising in Detail

Information about the 92km of canal from Cambrai on the canalised River Escaut to Chauny on the Canal Sambre a l’Oise. Plus, at the northern end, 13km of the canalised River Escaut from the Bassin Rond at Etrun to the Canal St Quentin junction at Cambrai. And at the southern end, the final 3km on the Canal lateral a l’Oise to Abbecourt.

The canal, commenced in 1810, was the main means of commercial water transportation between Belgium and Paris (with traffic so heavy as to require all locks to be doubled) until its long overdue replacement by the newly constructed Canal du Nord in 1965. Since then commercial traffic has declined dramatically and the canal is now consistently quiet and peaceful, although a few Freycinet size barges still use this scenically attractive route. The canal found itself in the centre of the fighting of the First World War – there are many poignant reminders.

See also general notes(foot of page).

Basic Information

  • Approximate TE minimum depth 2.20m, TA headroom 3.5m, width 5m. Pleasure craft are unlikely to experience dimensional difficulties.
  • There are 35 ecluses (locks) along its length plus two tunnels. One is 5.67km long, with vessels being towed by a chain tug; the other is 1km long, with vessels proceeding under their own power. The locks are automated, with sensors.
  • VNF contact telephone number 03 27 82 25 25 (Cambrai).
  • Using a pilot-guide book is strongly recommended: Breil Guides or Fluviacarte (Navicarte) Guides.

‘PK-13′ Liason Dunkerque-Escaut / River Escaut – Etrut (Bassin Rond)

A 13km section of the canalised upper River Escaut from the junction with the Grand Gabarit Liason to Cambrai – five ecluses.

PK0 Canal de Saint-Quentin – Cambrai

PdP – 03 27 81 41 87 – water and electricity. Diesel (only). Cambrai is the base for Tam and Di Murrell’s renowned barge handling courses, aboard their barge ‘Friesland’.

PK29-PK35 Bony/Riqueval Tunnel – 5.67km

The ‘Grand Souterrain’ tunnel is long enough, old enough and deep enough that natural ventilation is limited and boats are therefore towed through (in convoy) by a venerable electric chain-tug (a 25€ fee is charged). Times of operation are timetabled, with our current information being that each day it leaves at 07:10 and 15:10 hours in northern direction and at 09:30 and 17:30 in southern direction. The voyage takes 2 hours. Setting up the tow-lines (you must provide your own) is tricky and preparedness is vital, as is adjusting the lines for ‘straightest pull’. It may be difficult to keep your ‘link’ in the ‘convoy chain’ centred in the channel and away from the sides. For smaller craft there are obvious implications of scraping and damage, so be vigilant and provide as much hull protection as possible. Casting off at the other end also needs care to avoid a ‘rope around prop’ incident. All this said, this is one of the memorable French Waterways experiences. You are likely to be asked for your papers, especially at the southern end (where the man has a ‘reputation for awkwardness’). You will not be asked for money, the VNF send out an invoice, so you need a ‘official’ (looking) document with your address on.

Click above to run a short video showing how the tow operates (commentary in French, courtesy Paris Triumph Club)

PK42 Lesdins/Tronquoy Tunnel – 1.1km

Between the two tunnels the canal runs in a deep cutting. The second tunnel (photo: David Evernden) is relatively short and easy and craft proceed under their own power.

PK51 Saint-Quentin

Unfortunately the PdP has closed and the harbour is fenced off from St Quentin itself, although still available to moor within. There are also quiet pretty places to moor bank-side below Saint-Quentin.

PK62 Seraucourt-le-Grand

Located along a quiet spur branch. Halte, 5 places on pontoon, water and electricity. 03 23 60 51 17 The canal here is wide, wooded and often very quiet.

PK70 Saint-Simon – Canal de la Somme

The Canal de la Somme branches off to the west. This section is currently closed, however, with no known plans to re-open.

PK85 – Ternier/Fargniers – [Canal de la Sambre a l'Oise]

Small industrial towns at the canal T-junction. Potentially, turn east to the Sambre canal, (which runs north to Belgium and Liege) but which has been closed for some time due to a pont-canal aqueduct collapse at Vadencourt. Turn west to continue to the Canal lateral a l’Oise – Canal de l’Oise a l’Aisne junction.

PK92 Chauny

Halte Fluviale03 23 39 32 32 – water and electricity, 12 visitor moorings.

‘PK+3′ Abbecourt – Oise Canals

Turn south at the junction (bankside moorings) and through the ecluse to take the Canal de l’Oise a l’Aisne south-east towards Berry-au-Bac, Reims and the Marne route to the Mediterranean. Continue 16km west, now on the Canal lateral a l’Oise, to Pont l’Eveque (junction with the Canal du Nord), the Oise and the River Seine to Paris.

Click here for information about the Oise route to the River Seine.
Click here for information about the Aisne route to Reims.