Day 1: Saint-Jean-de-Losne to Dijon

Walking in France: Boat harbour at St-Jean-de-Losne, at the mouth of the Canal de Bourgogne

Boat harbour at St-Jean-de-Losne

Thursday, 29 June 2017
Distance 36 km
Duration 7 hours 35 minutes
Ascent 70 m, descent 12 m
Map 136 of the TOP 100 lime-green series

We had a long walk ahead of us, and we were afraid of the heat of the day, despite having shivered our way through the previous evening, so we snatched a bite of muesli at one of the tables outside the restaurant and were back at the bridge by 6:30 am.

The town looked if possible even more dead than before, but we expected that, and carried on to the port at the mouth of the Canal de Bourgogne, where there were warehouses, and workers unloading boats and trucks – the first living beings that we had seen today.

Walking in France: The start of a long day on the Canal de Bourgogne

The start of a long day on the Canal de Bourgogne

Behind the dock was a harbour full of pleasure boats, some of which had no doubt come all the way from the other end of the canal, 240 km away.

After leaving the port, the canal narrowed to its normal size and we were soon out of the town.

We could have walked on either side, but ahead we could see that a large poplar tree had fallen over the track on the left, so the choice was made for us. Mist rose from the canal, which was pleasantly lined with trees, unlike most of the banks of the Saône, and the sun slanted in between the trunks.

Our fears about excessive heat were not realised – in fact the sun soon vanished and I walked in my warm jacket until we reached our first refreshment stop.

Walking in France: On the way to Brazey-en-Plaine

Mist on the canal near Brazey-en-Plaine

Walking in France: Second breakfast in Brazey-en-Plaine

Second breakfast in Brazey-en-Plaine

The village of Brazey-en-Plaine was no more than a few streets of small, low cottages, but it had all the attributes that we required, namely a boulangerie and a bar, which in this case were side by side.

As the weather had turned showery, we sat inside the bar, attended by a perfectly groomed, unsmiling, ice-cold blonde.

We wondered whether we had done something to offend her, but she treated a group of arriving workmen the same way. So we were amazed later when she actually smiled, and flapped a flirtatious tea-towel at one of the men at the counter.

As we had hopes of two other breakfasts along the way, we restricted ourselves to one coffee and one pastry each here.

Walking in France: Approaching another lock, Canal de Bourgogne

Approaching another lock

Back on the towpath, we swung along with new energy for an hour or so, to the lock of Aisery, through which a big boat was squeezing, and soon after that we left the towpath, scrambling down a steep, overgrown bank into a field of ripe wheat and following an old capped wall, which enclosed the grounds of the local château.

Walking in France: Leaving the canal beside the wall of the Château of Longecourt-en-Plaine

The wall of the Château of Longecourt-en-Plaine


Rounding the corner, we came to the first houses of the village of Longecourt-en-Plaine, and shortly afterwards to the château itself.

We learned that it had been founded in the thirteenth century, as a fortress surrounded by moats and drawbridges, but by the fifteenth century it had fallen into ruin, with saplings growing through the collapsed roof, and many of the stones of the walls having been taken away for other projects.

A new owner rebuilt it in brick, and during the seventeenth century ornamental gardens were planted (a few of whose original trees are still standing).

Walking in France: Château of Longecourt-en-Plaine

Château of Longecourt-en-Plaine

By the eighteenth century it had become a real pleasure palace, just in time to be requisitioned as a cloth factory during the Revolution. In 1870 it was occupied by invading Germans, who repeated the insult in 1940.

At the end of the war the American air force was stationed there for a time. These days it has reverted to peaceful obscurity, even though it is classified as a historic monument.

Of more immediate interest to us was the bar, which was on the highway nearby, and provided us with our third breakfast of the day – coffee and croissants this time. It was only 10:30 am, and we still had a long way to go.


Walking in France: Some nasty looking weather ahead

Nasty weather ahead

A few kilometres further along the canal, we saw a nasty-looking bank of cloud rearing up ahead of us. As it moved towards us it whitened the far hills, then the nearer ones, at which point we decided to put on our rain capes.

Walking in France: Near Ouges, Canal de Bourgogne

The rain arrives

The storm arrived moments later with a great flurry of wind and rain, and a cascade of small branches from the towpath trees.

We put our heads down and marched on grimly for an hour, until at last we reached the lock of Ouges, and scurried into the village in search of a bar, which we almost missed, as it only had a tiny sign.

We took off our streaming shrouds at the door and left them to drip while we went inside.

The room was warm and convivial, full of people having lunch, but we only had coffee this time (after all, we had already had three breakfasts). By the time we emerged the rain had passed.

Walking in France: Blue skies near Dijon

Blue sky near Dijon

The canal continued pleasantly through parkland, with pretty little locks and the occasional laden cherry tree, until we came to the outskirts of Dijon, and very unlovely they were too, a shambolic accumulation of factories, railway lines, warehouses, overpasses, hoardings and rubbish.

The canal then opened out into a large triangular boat harbour presided over by an obelisk.

Walking in France: Cherries for the passing walker

Free cherries


One of the big boats there carried an Australian flag, so we spoke to the woman on the deck, who was from Western Australia. She said they spent four months every year on their French boat, and asked us how our luggage was being carried, refusing to believe that everything was on our backs.

She also could not understand why we were walking instead of going by train or bus, and we knew it would be a waste of time to try to explain.

After that the canal, which had been relentlessly straight all day, took a turn to the left as it neared the river Ouche, and we crossed both the canal and the river on footbridges to arrive at the entrance of the camping ground.

Walking in France: Camping near the sanitaires, Dijon

Camping near the sanitaires, Dijon


The woman on the desk surprised us by saying that she had been to Australia last year, on a tour. She had enjoyed it, but was not happy about our treatment of refugees, which made us feel ashamed of our government. We assured her that we felt the same way.

Although the place was crowded, we got a handy little spot near the sanitaires. There was not much of the afternoon left for washing and sleeping rituals, but we managed to do both.

Madame had told us the best way to get to the old part of town, where all the restaurants were, and we set off as soon as we were ready. It was a beautiful path through shady riverside gardens, full of joggers, dog-walkers, cyclists and strollers.

Walking in France: Hungry walker looking for a meal

Hungry walker looking for a meal

Emerging from the trees, we joined a busy road that passed under the railway line, and then found ourselves in the old quarter, with its narrow, winding streets and crooked houses.

Walking in France: Approaching the Théâtre Dijon

Rue Monge, Dijon


At the top of the Rue Condorcet was the cathedral, an imposing Gothic pile, and not far from it was the stylistically similar theatre, evidently a church in a former life.

Walking in France: Place Emile Zola, and restaurants

Place Emile Zola, and restaurants

We turned down the Rue Monge in search of bodily sustenance, and came to the Place Emile Zola, a wide square shaded by great unlopped plane trees and lined with bars and restaurants. We later found out that in the fifteenth century it had been the scene of many cruel and disgusting executions.

Walking in France: Safely out of the storm in the Pizz’Zola

Safely out of the storm in the Pizz’Zola

However, ignorance was bliss at the time, and it looked inviting, so we sat down happily in a plastic-curtained enclosure at the Pizz’Zola, where red lamps cast a rather hectic glow over the tables.

We could have chosen to sit outside under an umbrella in the middle of the square, but we did not like the look of the sky, and later we were vindicated when a sudden torrential storm sent outdoor diners sprinting for cover.

Walking in France: Lasagne and local red for dinner

Lasagne and local red for dinner


In our enclosure, we were not affected, and continued working on our large servings of lasagne, which we washed down with some excellent local red.

It was still broad daylight as we sauntered back through the park at 9 pm. We did have a torch amongst our possessions, but so far this year we had not used it, nor would we for the remainder of the trip.