Hello and welcome to the latest blog on 6th August 2021 as we explore Besançon and head on back down the Doubs.
We visited Besançon around ten years ago on one of our tours in our beloved old Hymer motorhome. It’s not a place you forget. The old town is contained within a loop of the River Doubs, as you can see from the photo below, and towering above it in the following shots are the forbidding, impregnable walls of the Citadel.
Over its lifetime this massive fort has been put to many uses: a barracks, a military school, and even a prison. These days it houses three museums and, somewhat oddly, a zoo. I can remember standing at the top of those vertigo-inducing walls, looking down at the river so far below me. I never dreamt that one day I would own a boat, let alone find myself gazing up at those same walls from the water.
Besançon is an attractive city with elegant architecture, balanced by an abundance of green spaces and river walks. It’s a nice place to wander around both by day and by night, window shopping and exploring narrow alleyways, or passing by crowded restaurants, vibrant and noisy with chatter.
The town feels like a safe place despite the rumours we heard of vandalism and stone-throwing at boats. There was certainly no sign of that when we were here. However during daylight hours, and particularly on Sunday when the town shops were mostly shut, we did notice the street beggars. We were accosted by one charming woman near the railway station, obviously working her patch as I watched her approach other people after us. We gave her a few coins, but there were so many of them around the town that it began to feel a bit overwhelming.
There were plenty of tourists to be seen but surprisingly few pleasure boaters like ourselves and even fewer hire boats. We headed 19 kilometers north from Besançon to a little port at Deluz and found ourselves in a very different world. The majority of the boats in the port had obviously not moved in many years and were in varying states of falling apart. Three of them were inhabited, each with a single man aboard, all of whom very kindly came to take our ropes as we moored up and then disappeared back inside their boats. The feeling of being in a forgotten, rather neglected place was heightened by the adjacent ruin of what must at some time have been a sizeable factory. The roof had long gone, and through the broken glass of countless windows we could see rotting timbers inside. We spent one night here and decided it was as good a place as any to turn around and head back.
Canals are not renowned for their clear waters. Every passing boat stirs up the sediment which means they are continually murky. Perhaps it is because the Canal du Rhone au Rhin spends so much of its time on the river that these waters were wonderfully clear and teeming with fish of all sizes. At times it was like cruising through a giant aquarium. The clear waters also allowed us to see how much weed there was below us and in some stretches it was like pushing your way through a thick forest. We could feel Olivia getting slower and slower and in the worst parts we had to stop and go astern to try and unclog the propeller. After one particularly bad patch Michael dived down under the propeller to clear it and came up shivering. In summer most canals are warm – but not this one!
We passed through a couple more tunnels, most notable being the little one at Thoraise which has been turned into a work of art. It is now described as a ‘creative happening’ which means that a string of lights have been attached to the roof and they ‘chase each other along’ in front of the boat. The highlight is a curtain of water at each end of the tunnel which has been timed to stop just as you enter and leave. Like so many things in France, the timing can be a little off, particularly if you go too fast, which means you get very wet. My top tip for anyone else going through this tunnel is go slowly and take an umbrella.
Returning back to Besançon we decided that this would be a convenient time to take the train and go back and pick up the van from where we had left it at our winter mooring. Michael took the TVG, which reached speeds of 200 miles per hour, and took him three and a half hours to do a circuitous loop up via Strasbourg. Returning by road a more direct route of approx 300km took him a similar time. By contrast, we have spent the last month following a similar route to the one he drove. That’s slow travel for you.
Now that we have the van our days take on a new pattern. We spend the mornings, or maybe a bit longer, cruising and then cycle back to the van, typically an average of 25 km a day. It gives us the chance to use it for day trips when it suits us and all this cycling keeps us fit. Although we are re-tracing our steps, we are going in the opposite direction and so it all looks different.
I’ll leave you with two bits of very good news this week. The first is that the travel rules have changed for France and now we can begin to plan a trip back to the UK in September and secondly, some boating friends of ours are not too far away and now we have the van we can reach them. So we had dinner with them last night, our first meal with company in over a year. What a treat!!
Hope some good things are happening in your lives and see you next week.