The river Loire had been used for centuries to transport goods, and in 1642 it was joined to the Seine by the canal de Briare, at the instigation of the estimable Henri IV. A hundred and fifty years later the Loire was joined to the Saône by a new canal, the Canal du Centre (from Digoin to Chalon-sur-Saône), which effectively linked the north to the south of the country by water. This was a great boon to trade, but the weakness in the chain was the Loire itself, which was prone to seasonal floods and droughts.
In 1827 work began on a lateral canal, following the left bank of the Loire between Briare and Digoin.
A stone aqueduct carried the canal over the river Allier near Nevers, and another one crossed the Loire at Digoin to join the Canal du Centre.
At Briare the river was so wide that no aqueduct was possible and boats often had to wait for days until the river level was right for crossing (this was rectified in 1896 with the construction of a long, high, iron aqueduct).
The description that follows is of our walk in 2010, when we went upstream (south) from Cosne-sur-Loire as far as Fourchambault, using a mixture of towpaths, levee banks and minor roads.
A previous walk (2006) had taken us downstream from the same starting point all the way to Briare, although we had not stuck as closely to the canal on that occasion.
Getting to Cosne-sur-Loire
We got the train from Paris, from the Gare de Bercy (which specialises in Burgundian destinations), having taken the precaution of buying our tickets well in advance from the SNCF website, for a much-reduced price (€14 each compared to the full fare of €27.40).
The trip took about an hour and three-quarters, and it was only a short walk down to the village, which we remembered from our previous visit.
The camping ground was over the bridge on an island in the Loire, and as soon as we had set up our little tent, we went back and sampled a glass of the famous rosé from Sancerre.
We dined at la Petite Venise, an Italian place in an old mill, with a terrace overlooking the millstream. However, nobody was eating out of doors on such a chilly evening.
We sat in a sort of glassed-in bridge straddling the water and could look down on a family of ducks cruising about on the smooth water. It was a lovely substantial meal of tagliatelle and lasagne and we thoroughly enjoyed our first restaurant meal of the year in France.
Our route for this walk
You can also get a full screen view of this map in Google Earth and take a virtual flight along our route.
Back to canal walks