The Canal du Nivernais, opened in 1784, links the Loire with the Seine, as does the earlier Canal de Briare (1642). Its northern part follows closely beside the Yonne river and was originally built, not for boats, but to allow the floating of timber from the forests of the Morvan to the factories and fireplaces of Paris. The river itself was unreliable for this purpose until downstream of Auxerre, which is where the canal ceases.
The canal soon proved useful for other sorts of cargo and helped greatly in the economic development of the area. But like all the canals, it was superseded by the railway in the nineteenth century and is now used only by pleasure craft.
This was part of a longer walk that we did in 2006. The description that follows is also provided in the Short walks section under the title
We spent five days dawdling upstream along the river Yonne and the Canal du Nivernais. The weather was extremely hot, so we only walked for a few hours each morning, starting early. Most of the time we followed the towpath instead of the GRP (Meanders of the Yonne).
Our starting point, Auxerre, was a most interesting and picturesque town with many unusual buildings, chief among them a huge golden clock surmounting an archway over the road.
There was also a statue of the local writer Restif de la Bretonne, who was born in nearby Sacy and wrote copiously during the turmoil of the late eighteenth century, on the brink of the modern age, looking back longingly on an idealised pastoral childhood as well as forward to the new order.
One of his claims to fame was that he was the first to use the term “communism”, which of course had no derogatory undertone at the time.
The good thing about the Canal du Nivernais for the walker is that the villages are much closer together than, say, on the Canal du Midi.
The villages were typically Burgundian – charming, prosperous, full of flowers and well-supplied with cafés for the needy walker. The countryside was benign, despite the heat, with mature crops of wheat and sunflowers on either side of the tree-shaded strip of the canal.
Getting to Auxerre
Auxerre has a railway station so you can get there from almost anywhere 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.
Day 1: Auxerre to Vincelles
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