Information about the 92.5km long Canal de Saint-Quentin

Canal de St Quentin map France

The Canal de Saint-Quentin was for 150 years France’s only navigable link to the industrial north. It connects the canalised river Escaut at Cambrai to the Canal latéral à l’Oise at Chauny, a distance of 92.5km. It also has junctions with the Canal de la Somme near Saint-Simon (PK 68), and with the Canal de la Sambre à l’Oise via the branch to La Fère, which leaves the main line at km 85. The canal crosses the watershed between the Escaut and Somme basins by a 20.4km long summit level at an altitude of 83 m, between locks 17 (Bosquet) and 18 (Lesdins).

There are two tunnels on this pound. The first, at Riqueval, also called the Grand Souterrain, is 5670m long (the longest still in use on the French waterways). The second, Lesdins or Tronquoy, is 1098m in length. The tunnels have a navigable width of 6.75m and a headroom of 3.58m. Towage is compulsory for all vessels through the long tunnel between Bosquet lock and Riqueval basin. Tows (rames) are made up twice in each direction every 24 hours. The current departure times are:
–    northbound (from Riqueval), 07:30 and 15:00,
–    southbound (from Vendhuile) 09:30 and 17:00.

The service is operated by special electrically-driven tugs, which warp themselves along a chain laid on the bed of the canal. The duration of passage through the towage section is about two-and-a-half hours. Boats are joined to the tow behind the last barge, starting with the largest and finishing with the smallest. The tariff for towage in 2010 is €22 for boats up to 12m in length and €26 for boats of 12m or longer. Unladen barges pay €24 and laden barges €60.

Between Riqueval basin (PK 35.9) and Lesdins lock (PK 45.2), the section including the shorter tunnel, all boats proceed under their own power, at a maximum speed of 4 km/h. Navigation is one-way only, controlled by lights.Canal de Saint-Quentin region map

Although still a busy waterway, this canal is attractive for cruising, especially the northern section in the Escaut valley, the spectacular summit level with its tunnels and the port de plaisance in the basin at Saint-Quentin.

History – In 1724 the Sieur de Marcy obtained authorisation to build the Canal de Picardie (later Canal Crozat) from Saint-Quentin to the Somme and then the Oise at Chauny. When he ran out of funds, the concession passed in 1732 to the rich Antoine Crozat, who succeeded in finding subscribers to 10 000 shares; the canal was opened in 1738, but fell into disrepair after Crozat died the same year. In 1766 it was bought by the king from Crozat’s heirs, as part of the projected through route to the Escaut. The need to handle coal traffic from Belgium led to proposals by Devicq and Laurent for the extension through the ridge of high ground to the Escaut near Cambrai. Laurent’s line was agreed in 1769 on the duc de Choiseul’s initiative. It included an enormous 13 682 m tunnel which, if it had been built, would have been the world’s longest. The section from the Oise to Saint-Quentin was reopened in 1776, but works on the link across the watershed were interrupted in 1773. Napoleon revived the project, choosing De Vicq’s line, and personally opened the canal in 1810. It was upgraded to its current dimensions in the 1830s. The canal remains in the national priority network.

Key Waterway Dimensions

  • Max Beam: 5.60m
  • Max Height: 3.58m
  • Max Draught: 2.20m


Locks – There are 35 locks, of which 17 fall towards Cambrai and 18 towards Chauny. All the locks are paired, with two chambers separated by a central quay. Lock dimensions are 39.30 by 6.00m and maximum vessel dimensions 38.50 by 5.60m. Locks 7 to 12, 18 to 21 and 26 to 30 have been equipped for automatic operation, with radar detectors and lock entry lights.

Draught – The maximum authorised draught is 2.20m.

Headroom – All the fixed bridges offer a minimum headroom of 3.70m, although it should be noted that Saint-Quentin bridge (PK 52) is on a gradient and offers 3.58m on one side and 3.83m on the other. Headroom is reduced by up to 0.30m when the canal drains storm waters.

Canal de Saint-Quentin double lock
Characteristic double lock on the canal, with its charming control cabin on the central island. This is écluse #15, Honnecourt. © LDM Provinsblogspot

Towpath – There are towpaths on both banks.

Authority – VNF – Direction territoriale Nord – Pas de Calais
–    Place Marcelin-Berthelot, BP 371, 59407 Cambrai cedex (PK 0-26)
Direction territoriale Bassin de la Seine
–    44 rue du Gouvernement, BP 616, 02321 Saint-Quentin (PK 26-92)

Embranchement de La Fère
The branch to La Fère leaves the main line at a junction just below lock 31 (Fargniers) and connects with the Canal de la Sambre à l’Oise between Beautor and La Fère. Its length is 3.8km.

Locks – None.

Draught – The maximum authorised draught is 2.20m.

Headroom – The fixed bridges leave a minimum headroom of 3.70m, as on the main line.

Towpath – There is a good towpath throughout.

Authority – Same as above

Click to enlarge

Route description

PK 0.0     Junction with canalised river Escaut, Cambrai freight office

Cambrai is the base for Tam and Di Murrell’s renowned barge handling courses, aboard their barge ‘Friesland’.

PK 2.2     Lock 1 (Proville)
PK 3.8     Lock 2 (Cantigneul), bridge d/s, Proville 2000m
PK 4.4     Lock 3 (Noyelles), aqueduct
PK 5.3     Bridge (Râperie), quay, Noyelles 700m
PK 7.3     Lock 4 (Talma), quay d/s r/b
PK 7.7     Marcoing bridge, quay d/s l/b, village 700m
PK 7.8     Lock 5 (Marcoing)
PK 8.1     Railway bridge
PK 9.4     Lock 6 (Bracheux)
PK 10.7     Masnières bridge, quays above and below r/b, village 300m
PK 11.5     Lock 7 (Masnières), automatic
PK 12.7     Lock 8 (Saint-Waast), automatic, aqueduct u/s
PK 13.8     Crèvecœur-sur-l’Escaut, quay r/b, village 500m
PK 14.1     Lock 9 (Crèvecœur), automatic, bridge
PK 15.0     Lock 10 (Vinchy), automatic, bridge, Les Rues-des-Vignes l/b
PK 15.4     Lock 11 (Tordoir), automatic
PK 17.9     Lock 12 (Vaucelles), automatic, bridge d/s, Vaucelles abbey 700m
PK 19.3     Bridge (Grenouillère), D644, main road Cambrai-Saint-Quentin
PK 19.8     Private basin l/b
PK 20.0     Lock 13 (Bantouzelle)
PK 20.5     Lock 14 (Banteux), bridge, Banteux l/b, Bantouzelle r/b
PK 23.2     Lock 15 (Honnecourt), bridge, village l/b
PK 24.2     Lock 16 (Moulin-Lafosse)
PK 24.8     Lock 17 (Bosquet), beginning of summit level
PK 26.6     Grain loading quay in former canal arm
PK 26.9     Vendhuile bridge and village
PK 27.6     Macquincourt basin (for southbound tow)
PK 29.0     Grand souterrain, Macquincourt (northern) entrance
PK 34.7     Grand souterrain, Riqueval (southern) entrance

Canal St-Quentin
A boat hitched up close to a péniche enters the tunnel from the southern (Riqueval) end. © Chat Lune blog

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.

PK 35.9     Basin for northbound towJunction Plan Pont-de-Tugny
PK 36.0     Riqueval bridge
PK 37.3     Basin (former tow passing point)
PK 38.0     Grain loading quay
PK 38.2     Bellenglise bridge and village, basin south side
PK 39.5     Bridge (D1044), main road
PK 41.0     Le Haucourt bridge, quays either side, village 400m
PK 41.9     Lesdins tunnel, Le Haucourt (northern) entrance
PK 43.0     Lesdins tunnel, Le Tronquoy (southern) entrance

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.

PK 43.7     Basin (formerly for tow formation)
PK 44.5     Public quay, water points
PK 45.2     Lock 18 (Lesdins), end of summit level
PK 45.5     Lock 19 (Pascal), bridge
PK 45.6     Lesdins bridge, village 1000m
PK 45.9     Private basin r/b
PK 46.7     Lock 20 (Omissy), bridge, village r/b
PK 48.7     Lock 21 (Moulin-Brûlé), bridge
PK 49.5     Bridge
PK 50.9     Lock 22 (Saint-Quentin)

Unfortunately the port de plaisance 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.

PK 51.7     Saint-Quentin bridge, quay and port de plaisance r/b, 60 berths, water, electricity, showers, crane 2t, restaurant 300m, town centre 800m
PK 52.7     New road bridge (Viaduc de Picardie), D1029 (road uses infilled bed of former canal basin)
PK 52.8     Entrance to basin (Vieux Port)

Canal de St-Quentin entrance
The electric tug with three péniches in tow approaches the grand souterrain from the Macquincourt entrance. © Lucien Defawe

PK 53.0     Railway bridge, quays r/b
PK 54.9     Bridge (Œstres)
PK 55.6     Motorway bridge (A26)
PK 56.9     Dallon bridge, village r/b
PK 58.3     Lock 23 (Fontaines-les-Clercs), bridge, village r/b
PK 60.7     Bridge
PK 61.1     Seraucourt-le-Grand basin in former canal arm l/b, moorings for 5 boats, night €12, water, electricity, slipway, village 600m

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

PK 61.7     Bridge
PK 62.8     Lock 24 (Seraucourt-le-Grand), aqueduct u/s
PK 64.4     Artemps bridge, village l/b
PK 66.1     Entrance to former canal arm r/b
PK 66.3     Pont-de-Tugny bridgeSt-Quentin
PK 66.5     Lock 25 (Pont-de-Tugny), d/s entrance to Pont-de-Tugny arm, quays 300m
PK 68.0     Triangular junction with Canal de la Somme , r/b
PK 69.0     Saint-Simon bridge, village l/b

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

PK 74.2     Jussy basin r/b and quay l/b
PK 74.5     Jussy bridge, village r/b
PK 76.4     Railway bridge (main line Paris-Brussels), footbridge
PK 77.1     Lock 26 (Jussy)
PK 78.6     Main road bridge (D1)
PK 79.6     Lock 27 (Mennessis), bridge
PK 80.2     Lock 28 (Voyaux)
PK 83.0     Quessy bridge, quay d/s l/b, village 300m
PK 83.8     Lock 29 (Fargniers I)
PK 84.1     Lock 30 (Fargniers II)
PK 84.2     Fargniers bridge
PK 84.8     Lock 31 (Fargniers III), railway bridge d/s
PK 84.9     Junction with embranchement de La Fère (leading to Canal de la Sambre à l’Oise), l/b

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.

PK 85.8     Lock 32 (Tergniers), bridgeTergnier Junction Plan
PK 87.1     Bridge (D53), public quay u/s l/b, Condren 800m
PK 88.3     Bridge (D1032)
PK 88.4     Lock 33 (Viry)
PK 89.7     Viry-Noureuil bridge, railway station 500m, village 1000m
PK 90.7     Bridge (Senicourt)
PK 90.8     Lock 34 (Senicourt)
PK 91.8     Railway bridge
PK 92.0     Junction with Chauny branch, with one lock down to the Oise, navigable for 500m, (branch now disused)

Halte Fluviale – water and electricity, 12 visitor moorings.

PK 92.3     Lock 35 (Chauny)
PK 92.5     Chauny bridge, town r/b,  junction with Canal latéral à l’Oise, embranchement de La Fère

Embranchement de La Fère
PK 0.0     Fargniers junction with main line
PK 0.2     Pipeline crossing
PK 0.9     Bridge (Frette)
PK 1.5     Disused railway bridge, power station and numerous overhead power lines, industrial quays
PK 3.2     Beautor bridge
PK 3.3     Railway bridge, quay
PK 3.5     Disused railway bridge
PK 3.8     Junction with Canal de la Sambre à l’Oise d/s of La Fère bridge