Boating on the Burgundy Canal: Not Great

Although this blog is about boating on the Thames, I'm going to include a story I wrote about boating on the Burgundy Canal in my RichmondReview blog. You see... one of the reasons we bought the barge is because we're thinking of doing 'the French thing' in a few years time. So our holiday was a bit of a recce. I know that to compare is to despair, but I have to be honest and say that boating on the Burgundy Canal is pretty boring compared to boating on the Thames. And the 12 days we spent on the Canal between Tonnerre and Montbard in June were probably our worst holiday ever. The fact that it rained every day didn't help. And we had problems with our 'luxury' hire boat.  I say luxury in inverted commas because the boat smelt damp and musty, parts of it were downright dirty and brown duvet covers have never been synonymous with luxury to me (I was hoping for crisp, white cotton sheets and plump, lavender scented pillows). Back to the problems:  a water pipe broke and flooded the engine locker on day one (8 buckets of water). And on day two we discovered that the toilet gauge wasn't working, the black tank was completely full and the pipes were blocked. So the toilet overflowed - oh smelly joy.  Both problems were fixed by the boat hire company but it wasn't a great start to our holiday.  Boating problems and weather aside though, here's why I didn't enjoy boating on the Burgundy Canal (for balance, I'll include some positives at the end):

1. It's full of weed which gets wrapped around the propeller.
2. Most of the small villages you can stop at along the way are deserted and if they have a cafe/restaurant it's usually closed or only sells pizza.
3. Almost all the boats on the canal are holiday boats, unlike on the Thames where the majority of boats are private boats. The reason this makes a huge difference is because on the Thames you feel that everyone is enjoying the river, regardless of the size, age or type of boat they have. There are new barges, battered barges, narrow boats, shiny gin palaces and stylish day cruisers plus paddle boarders, canoeists, kayakers and rowers. People run, walk, cycle, picnic and barbecue along the river bank and dogs splash around in the water. The Thames (between Abingdon and Cookham at least) is vibrant and full of life. Whereas the Burgundy Canal is very quiet. Too quiet for me.
4. The lock keepers control your schedule. You have to let them know what time you’re planning to set off in the morning, where you want to get to for lunch (the locks close between 12-1pm), what time you want to set off after lunch and where you’re aiming to moor up in the evening (the locks close at 7pm). That way the lock keepers can make sure the locks are manned.  If you don’t tell them what you’re doing, you could end up waiting in a lock for hours. It’s great to have a personalised lock-keeper service, but it removes all spontaneity.  On the Thames, you can come and go as you please. And if the lock-keeper isn’t at the lock you can open and close it yourself (at any time of day).

That’s why I didn’t enjoy our holiday on the Burgundy Canal. But here are some pluses:

1. The Chablis is delicious and inexpensive.
2. When the sun comes out the countryside is beautiful. And if you can hire a car (which is what we did in Montbard) there are some lovely places to visit, like Fontenay Abbey, the medieval village of Noyers-Sur-Serein and the town of Chablis.
3. We met a family on a hire boat who had never been boating before. They were having the time of their life, in spite of the rain.

Peut-etre it was just me. If I hadn't compared the hire boat to our lovely barge and the Canal to the Thames - and if the weather had been a bit better - I might have enjoyed it a lot more.


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