In Episode 6 normal service resumes as we get back onto the water, sailing down the wide but gentle, feminine River Saone and the wide, impressive, masculine River Rhone.
‘Cos it’s soon one morning, down the road we’re going.
On the road again . . .
Wed 31st March
We’re off! Again. Having been cocooned in the Gare d’Eau at St Jean for 4 months, maybe we got too tied-up, and our voyaging spark dimmed ? . . anyway, we were sad to leave some good friends but we were also itching to get going again and experience those ‘into the unknown’ nervous excitement feelings when we cast off.
18km 2hrs. A short cloudy rainy sunny cruise downriver to the lovely village of Seurre. Excellent mooring. And The Best Showers on the River Saône (best we’ve yet been in).
Thurs-Fri 1st-2nd April
20km 2hrs 10mins. Another short sweet cruise to help us get back into the swing of things and a reason to experience the historic border village (town?) of Verdun-sur-le-Doubs. Bloody battles in the Middle Ages, plagues and dreadful inundations now left far behind. The village lads did, however, play a noisy game of football in the square one evening . .
Sat-Tues 3rd-6th April
21km 2hrs 25mins. The river’s getting that bit wider at every km and Chalon is probably our largest place visited since Paris in October last year. The port de plaisance is good and very handy for a big supermarket and a very big DIY store (“bricolage”). It is also next to a footbridge onto an island, thence across another bridge and into the centre of the town – which is impressive. We visit the Denon museum-art gallery and the Niepce photographic museum, both fascinating. Also the Tourist Office, contained in a pretty 1960’s period piece circular pavilion. All in all, a good stop (3 days) and it’s inexplicable why no photos got taken . .
Wed-Fri 7th-9th April
25km 2hrs 40min. Another easy trip to the lovely historic town of Tournus. A long riverside pontoon, subject to some wash from passing peniches, but a safe and secure mooring. Narrow streets and alleys. The enclosed 12th century monastery site of St Valerien and St Philibert with its cool calm church, cloisters, refrectory, cellar and houses. Stone quays, bridges and treed avenues. Terrific ‘pain rustique’. Memorable.
Sat-Sun 10th-11th April
32km 3hrs (well 4hrs . .). A lovely trip, with a sting in the tail. We get to Macon, which is on the true Saone with the main river traffic taking a by-pass canal that avoids the glorious multi-arched town bridge. We spot the town’s pontoon, just before the bridge, and make for it . . Unfortunately, we neglect some basic navigation, don’t look closely enough at the Navicarte book and run aground on a ‘hidden’ sandbar island. We have a devil of a job getting off – kedging out both bower and stern anchors doesn’t work but we remain calm and eventually after an hour a kind Swiss cruiser gives us a pull off. A definite lesson both in the dangers of complacency and also that seemingly big powerful rivers have shallow bits in the most unexpected places!
After that less than perfect start, Macon provides us with a lovely weekend stay. A quiet but convenient pontoon, a nice interesting town, and good dog-walking.
Mon-Tue 12th-13th April
28km 3hrs. A nice stretch of the river and we pass at least two possible village halte pontoons before arriving at Montmerle, which has been recommended to us. Deservedly so. A beautiful spot by a bend in the river, by the village square, and quiet and secure and convenient. Water, electricity and a nice little supermarket adjacent, all for 5€ per night.
Wed 14th April
21km 2hrs 55min. Through Villefranche (looks like a good mooring at PK41.5) to the stunning small town of Trevoux. Pontoon mooring by a campsite close to the centre. Trevoux, perched by and dominating a bend in the river on a steep hillside, was once the capital of a small independent principality – Dombes – with its own parliament and mint. Even more surprising, this existed up until 1762. Atmospheric narrow precipitous streets and alleys. Panoramic views from the town square and the ruined castle.
Thurs 15th April
LYON – LES ROCHES CONDRIEU
72km 6hrs 27min. Passing through the outlying town of Neuville we enter the heart of France’s second city (or maybe Marseille is). Lots of road and foot bridges, the Fourviere basilica dominating the skyline, old buildings, big buildings and kilometres of quaisides. Lyon was the Gaulish capital, very significant in Roman times and one of the Middle Ages’ most important cities. The archaeological museum and Roman amphitheatre complex is breathtaking, the central square – Bellecour – was Europe’s biggest, the cathedral houses an amazing mechanical-astronomical clock, and we also highly recommend the guided tour of Old Lyon. All this, from a separate visit earlier in March – today we just moor up at lunchtime to collect our forwarded ‘post restante’.
Then – a big step – we leave the calm but powerful Saône for the sizeable vigour of the Rhone. The feminine and the masculine as a memorable sculpture outside Lyon’s bourse has it. And it is big. Wide. Wind. Waves. Currents. The first enormous lock, just below Lyon, is 12m deep (it empties quietly in a few minutes, a truly dwarfed Grehan tied to a sliding bollard that descends smoothly with us into the cavernous depths). Out of the lock and into a large canal that by-passes the river itself, then back onto the river through Givors and Vienne, another big lock and we arrive at the river marina at Les Roches de Condrieu. The location and facilities are nice, but – well – not that special.
Friday 16th April
50km 4hrs 33min – considerable current-assistance. Big river, wide valley scenery of vinyarded hillsides, villages and small towns. Weather overcast. The Rhone carries sizeable ships, very big barges and enormous river cruise boats, all which we try to give a wide berth to because their wakes can be fierce and their pitching after-swell legacy seems to last for about 15 minutes after they’ve disappeared from sight. We’re mostly ok and the river is wide, deep and spacious. But, out of another deep lock at Gervans is a narrowish stretch that includes a single rock pinnacle out from the bank. An historic rock, where St Louis is supposed to have lunched on his way to the Crusades. Of course, this is exactly where we meet a big barge struggling upstream against the current. There’s room enough and depth, we think. There is, but out of nowhere while we’re concentrating on the King’s Rock and the barge, our alarm sounds and the depth zooms up from 4.5m to 1.2m. Twice. Our keel clangs on what must be uncharted underwater obstructions – we’ll call them the Knaves’ Rocks. They’re at PK88.5 and a bit and they’re well within the marked ‘safe’ channel, west side.
Shortly after we get to Tournon. The harbour (it’s seen better days, lots of rocking from passing craft) is by a big town square – gravel and tall plane trees. This is a fortified town, with a castle on a rock and two watchtowers overlooking. It also saw France’s first suspension bridge in 1875. Not exactly captivated at first (grey and rainy), the place then grows on us.
Sat 17th April
LA ROCHE DE GLUN
8km 45mins. A short hop downriver to a delightful rural halte, we’re moored up in the stretch of water created by the La Roche dam. Beside us is the village’s park; and the village of La Roche de Glun and its twin across the water (Glun) are very pretty (once the stronghold of river pirates). Quiet and peaceful. Some rain, some sun and mist in the morning, we get the bikes out and do some ‘sploring.
Sun 18th April
14km 1hr 30mins. A grey and windswept short journey, with one lock. We moor at the large porte de plaisance on the outskirts of Valence, a fair sized town. Aisles, pontoons, electricity, showers, fuel, etc but on balance, Glun was nicer . . .
Mon-Tues 19th-20th April
54km 5hrs 5mins. The weather looks good, we really don’t need the marina or the town, so we leave. Sky is blue but with big clouds, occasionally grey and producing a few spots of rain, bit of wind sometimes but basically a nice day all day as we motor down the increasingly wide river. At one point it must be 1.5km wide, with little islands. We pass the captivating-looking La Voulte sur Rhône, with its ruined castle on a rock. And Montelimar, with its nougat industry. We descend 3 cavernous locks and pass 1 nuclear power station.
Eventually we get to Vivers. We’ve been advised the pontoons are probably not in service but we trust we’ll be able to moor somewhere. We can. We tie ourselves to two pontoon piles, get the dinghy out, crane the dog down into it and row ashore. When we walk into town we are amazed. Captivated. This is a very ancient town with a castle, cathedral (France’s smallest), bishop’s palace, mansions, narrow alleys and higgeldy-piggeldy roofscapes. It’s so small and so untouched (so un-polished . . ) it’s like stepping back 200 years, if not 500. Tuesday, we explore the village/town – city? The Roman bridge. Cathedral (a gem). Cathedral Close. Belevedere. Streets. Alleys. Squares. The Lot. It’s beyond words . .
Wednesday 21st April
55km 6hrs. Brilliant blue skies for our further kilometres south. The river is impressively big and so are the railway bridges, power stations and locks, include l’ecluse de Bollene – biggest on the system at 23m rise/fall. It’s fast and smooth in operation and its architecture, described as “Art Deco” is more “Art Moscow”. Rather than press on to Avignon (where we know there are pontoon problems) we take a 4km sidetrack up the old Rhone to a small informal marina at L’Ardoise.
Thurs-Sun 22nd-25th April
36km 2hrs 40min. A fairly straight run, past the magical-looking ruins of the Chateau de l’Hers, to Avignon. Having got there, we turn up the old Rhone and past the famous Pont St Benezet (sous le pont d’Avignon . .) with its 3 arches remaining from the original 22; the city ramparts; and the Pope’s Palace. The pontoons have gone (winter damage), but there are convenient moorings alongside the town quais. We go ‘sploring once more, including across the river to Villeneuve where the cardinals had their mansions and castle.