River wide, river deep

Hello and welcome to the latest blog on the Olivia Rose Diaries on July 23rd 2021.

My blog last week ended in Fontenoy, close to the southern end of the Canal des Vosges, where we waited for the canal to be cleared of fallen trees. The next stage of our journey would be back onto a river, the Saône. In its upper reaches it is known as the Petite Saône and we were looking forward to some beautiful cruising.

As the years pass I am finding that I really appreciate these smaller rivers, although they are few and far between. They tend to be less commercial and the scenery is often more rural, which means the mooring spots are quieter. Cruising is usually a relaxing experience, but if we had been on this river a few days earlier it would have been anything but relaxing.

The authorities had hoped to open the river to navigation again at mid-day on Saturday 17th July. Lunchtime came and went, the floodgates remained shut and eventually we received notification that the closure was extended for a further three or four days. We might have waited it out at Fontenoy but that choice was denied us as we woke to find Olivia Rose was resting on the bottom. We had tested the depth when we arrived and she was fine, but overnight the water levels on the canal had dropped. They would probably drop further so it was time to move on. We managed to rock her off the bottom and out into deeper water and decided we would creep our way slowly down the last twenty kilometers of the canal, dropping just a few locks each day.

So many of the lock keepers cottages were abandoned, open to the elements and falling into disrepair.
But every now and then we’d see one like this.
Most lock walls are bare, coated in slime and smelly, but some of them on this canal had been taken over by weeds which somehow managed to survive the daily submersion in three metres of water.

An hour later we came to a halt yet again. The VNF had been busy clearing the fallen trees ahead of us, but as soon as their backs were turned another had fallen, blocking three quarters of the waterway. We knew it would take a while to get the chainsaw team, plus digger, back again and we figured we might just be small enough to squeeze through the gap if we went very slowly. And we did indeed get through, Michael ready to reverse at a moment’s notice and me out at the bow with my long depth-testing pole, fending off the branches.

We took this picture later in the afternoon, when the tree had been chainsawed up a bit and the digger was dragging it out.
This picture was taken at the junction of the canal with the river two days after it had reached its highest point. To give some perspective the day Michael took this shot he was standing at least two metres above the water line, but at the height of the flooding it would all have been under water. Along the length of the river the water flooded into fields, into campsites that were hastily evacuated and overflowed into roads, making some of the lanes impassable.

Three days later, all the floodgates were opened and navigation resumed once more. Even in that short time, it was like a different river, calm and peaceful and with very few bits of floating trees and debris to content with. The only clue to how very different it had been was the mud-line along the river banks and the flattened grass in the adjoining fields. We were grateful that the flooding had happened before we joined the river, not whilst we were on it. We had spoken to a few fellow boaters who had been on the river and they had endured some worrying moments.

Summer had returned, with blue skies and temperatures in the high twenties, and we allowed ourselves to relax and enjoy the scenery. With the cases of the Coronavirus growing exponentially in both the UK and France the future is feeling precarious once more, and it seems ever more important to enjoy each day to the full, taking nothing for granted.

Is there anything more beautiful than this?

We weren’t the only people on the water. There were a growing number of hire boats and the moorings became notably busier. We also had the unexpected pleasure of mooring up next to two British boats on two different nights, which gave us the excuse to share a bottle of wine whilst we compared each other’s experiences this year. Later on we even passed a British narrow-boat, a rare sight in France. This boat, which has the beguiling name of Chalkhill Blue, also had some Brits abroad and we waved to each other as we passed. They had recorded their experience of being on the river through the flooding on their blog and it makes for fascinating reading.

The St Albin tunnel  gave Michael a chance to play with the time-lapse function on our phone. I hope the video at the end works – sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. But as a back-up here are a couple of still shots as we go through the tunnel. It’s only 680 metres long and is fully lit, much easier than some other tunnels we’ve been through in the past.

The approach to the tunnel, where they are rebuilding the walls.
You can see the chains on the walls, originally put in place for the barges to drag themselves through.
This video was taken at one shot each second, so twenty minutes has been compressed into forty seconds. We don’t move quite as fast as this!

And that is it for this week. It’s 29 degrees here today, but thunderstorms are forecast for tomorrow and then temperatures will drop to a more comfortable level.

I hope everyone in the UK has enjoyed their heatwave – or maybe not – and I will be back again next week.


13 thoughts on “River wide, river deep

  1. If you like small rivers and have the time, travel a little further south on the Saone and turn left into the River Seille. You won’t regret it. Anthony


  2. Mary-Jane, Hi – we were thinking of you with the floods.  So good that you are all OK.  Surfing down the Meuse wouldn’t have been a good experience.

    Sydney is now experiencing a major outbreak of Delta and it looks very serious.  We have escaped to our beach house three hours south of Sydney.  With travel restrictions I have no idea of when we will see our Sydney home again. One of the blogs I follow is from a lovely guy and his wife on L’Escapade.  David Rothery.  Search for him on fb and ask to be a member of his group.  Very entertaining.  Mention my name if you wish.

    We do so miss traveling and feel part of of lives just slipping away.  We are so fortunate to have the house where we are.  Wood fire every night and fabulous ocean and beach views.  Would much rather be in France but hopefully next year. Keep up the good work on the blog. 

    Regards,Lloyd Davies+61 (0) 412 256 199



    1. Hi Lloyd.
      Sorry to hear it’s all going pearshaped out there. Your beach house sounds idyllic, but not under the circumstances that force you there. I’ll have a look at that blog. Take care.


  3. Yay! Loved the video – as did Uncle Stephen in Scotland where I am just now. He sends his love and says to say that Michael drives too fast………
    I’m sorry I have been quiet for a bit…..things, you know, but I will be in touch soon once I am safely back in my nest. Hugs to you both, T xxxxx


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