Cruising towards VermentonWe happily squeeze in to the row of boats – Linssens and Euroclassics – on the quayside, but to our dismay we discover that the SFR signal at Vermenton isn’t sufficient for our needs. We wonder what to do and head off to the local sports bar for a pastis to cogitate. 

We learn that the area is not served at all well by SFR so next morning we reluctantly head back to Accolay where the signal improves, and we stay for a week. Relatives arrive and we head off for a wine-safari, organised by our neighbour, Giles, owner of Bout de Zan, the Floating Gite.

We leave in his red mini-bus for Cravant, through its town wall archway and up to the hills of Irancy and Willy Charriat’s ‘cave’. We stop on the way to admire the stunning views across the Nivernais valley, looking down over the canal and the airstrip in the distance where the German’s landed Messerschmidt parts to be assembled in the huge caves beneath our feet. Now boarded up, the caves were previously quarries and subsequently used as mushroom farms and wine cellars.  We watch some grape-pickers at work, each placing the Pinot Noir bunches in a small black bucket as they work the rows, tipping the contents into a larger white hod strapped to another’s back. When this is full, or perhaps too heavy, the hod is carted up hill to the road and neatly tipped, just by leaning over into a small tanker attached to a tractor.

Willy tells us that the harvest has been good this year: the grapes have been smaller than usual, but very sweet and a good quantity. So we settle round the table (a huge slice of tree trunk) to savour three vintages and debate which one is best. Of course, there isn’t a best – each of us likes a different one. But we buy a case of 2008 – a very pleasant fruity red, not too dry, with an earthy flavour – a typical choice by men, says Willy,

The Chablis region is huge – stretching for miles – but it is only a fraction of its previous size. The hills of green corduroy were once under the ocean and the special fossil-rich ‘terroir’ is called kimmerridge, responsible for the particular flavour of Chablis wines. (Incidentally, we are told the Chablis name is now protected after a court case with the USA, who started using the Chablis name for any old white wine).

We stop at St-Bris-le-Vineux and visit Domaine Bersan, and their marvellous cave that once stretched beneath much of the village. We taste five delicious white wines each quite different from the other. However, by the time we climb out of the cellar and into the sunshine we have kind of forgotten which we like the best, they are all delicious: we buy some vintage 2014, simply named Chablis.

The safari continues to the cave of Bailly for Crement de Bourgogne.  We are late – we have asked far too many questions at the last two stops – and they are about to close. The huge cave is empty of customers and we quickly decide on a Rose and head boatward, well-satisfied with our afternoon adventure and purchases.

Accolay, once famed for its pottery, has a water-jousting team, a very nice wash-house, a good, safe mooring, a kingfisher or two and a very good restaurant, La Fontaine. Boaters return to La Fontaine year after year and we see more folk in it in one evening than anywhere in the village all week. However, finding a veggie dish each is hard, and apparently the menu has never changed. The mooring has one bourne with four or five sockets, and water, but when the hotel barges arrive mid-week, Luciole and Randle, it’s quite a scramble for services and the electricity supply does break from time to time. However, the mayor turns out to be boat friendly and is installing new bollards and, maybe, more bournes for next year.

As we leave Corbigny, we pass through a curiously thin bridge, which turns out to be a tiny aqueduct, only a foot wide. It’s dry but at one time obviously carried water from one side of the steep banks to the other, one field to another. There’s some history here if only we could find it: why construct this stone edifice for a tiny stream of water? Who paid for it?


Cruising from Corbigny to Vermenton

At Chitry les Mines, a super little port with a shop that sells bread (at last) and spare impellers, we meet the infamous Ted Johnson. He’s now retired from the family business, which once repaired boats and now supplies boat parts with son John at the helm. As he tells us stories we discover we have many acquaintances in common all over the world and it’s hard to drag ourselves away. It’s a small world, boating.

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Just round the corner, there’s a series of lifting bridges – get off and operate with a button – but one is out of order and has to be opened manually, turning a large wheel with very low gearing. It takes forever to get through, since one must stop afterwards and lower it again the same way.

 

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We pass the Le Boat hire-boat base at Tannay, with its boat lift. But we press on to Clamecy, the capital of the Nievre region, and wait for a short while at the swing bridge before the lock.


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Here the canal and the River Yonne rejoin and the port is formed where the canal is blocked from its former route running through the town. The recent storm has brought a large tree down on top of the old wash house, but it has spared its part-conversion art gallery.

We moor just beyond the river bridge for a quick (and highly successful) supermarket dash. On the bridge itself stands a memorial to Jean Rouvet, responsible for the first ‘rafts’ of Morvan timber to be floated down the Yonne to Paris, a hugely important industry that continued for four centuries. Remnants and reminders of the logging trade can be seen all along the Clamecy banks. 

At the other side of the bridge stands the rather ugly Church of Béthleem. The Count of Nevers promised his friend, the Bishop of Bethlehem, that if ever Bethlehem should fall to the Saracens then he would welcome him in Clamecy.  In 1188, that’s exactly what happened and the church is the result.

 

Chatel Censoir

 

We stop for the night at Chatel-Censoir, a delightful basin with paying town moorings, but we choose to hug the town-side bank just by the lock using our own mooring spikes. The town is well worth exploring for its collection of important and vernacular buildings. The road and railway are right by the canal, the church bell rings out from high on the hill. But as the sun sets, you can hear a pin drop. Utterly peaceful.

Cruising towards Vermenton

We turn right just under the railway bridge along the embranchment de Vermenton. Here’s our first uphill lock for some time but only 0.8m and then another deeper one past Accolay before we reach the basin, with the River Cure flowing through it, at Vermenton. We think we’ve reached our destination for the winter.