Downhill all the way from Montchanin, with the locks named and numbered Ocean 1 to 26, each with a lock-cottage in a more or less critical state of decay. We are heading for the end of the Canal du Centre. The locks are all full to the brim, making it difficult for a curved-sided boat to stay off the lock edge on the way down (so, lower the fenders) and the stubby white-painted mushroom bollards often fail to keep the ropes secure. But the water is calm in the locks going down, just a splashing at the rear gates, so an easy last few days.
We pass no vineyards nor sunflower fields, nor even stubble; just rolling gentle green pastures for the white Charolais, bordering the delightfully twisty Bourbince river – well, stream at the moment – on its way to join the Loire.
Cruising west, we pass through Montceau les Mines with its 3 lifting bridges – the first rising up horizontally, the second and third hinging vertically, all having a rapid movement up and down so as not to hold up the town traffic for too long.
We stop at Genelard, a good wide basin just beneath a huge disused factory where machinery and tools for mining used to be manufactured, and where the Reich took over the local Gendarmerie in the building opposite in WW2. The line of demarcation between the 1942 German occupied and free zones ran through this town and region.
At PK 87 (see previous Cruising tales post) we are upon the Chateau de Digoin, up on the shady hillside. With the sun rising behind it, it could be yet another shuttered, abandoned French inheritance going to waste.
But the domed turrets are intact, even on the fine gateposts; it is in good order, clearly occupied. The ‘Breil : 02 Loire-Nivernais’ guide book tells us it belongs to the descendants of the Comte Pierre de Croix, decorated inside by Ciceri of the famed Opera House in Paris, and where Offenbach composed his triumphal waltz ‘Chateau of Digoenne’. It’s open for tours – but alas not right now due to renovations. Round the next bend we look back and see its east face lit up and the full extent of the facade and walled gardens. Well worth a visit should you have the time and some wheeled transport.
At Digoin the pont de canal crosses the Loire, completely un-navigable here as many large sand-banks supporting vegetation confirm. We will cross tomorrow. Meanwhile, we walk the town streets and discover yet more early 20th century facades including the marvellous Post Office with its upside-down anchor heraldry. Any ideas what this means or why it should be there? (Sorry, no prizes).