We walked for only one short day on this canal, from Rogny-les-Sept-Écluses to Briare. It was part of a longer walk that we did in 2015.
The Canal de Briare, connecting the waters of the Seine and the Loire, is one of the oldest in France. It was begun in 1604 by the Duke of Sully, with the blessing of Henri IV, and was in operation by 1642, a good twenty years before the Canal du Midi was even started.
Although there were already canals in existence in Europe, this was the first one to cross a watershed, and it was therefore necessary to provide locks and a means to feed water into them.
Artificial lakes were constructed at the top of the rise, and at Rogny, the steepest section, a staircase of seven locks was built. The difficulty with this was that each boat had to pass through all seven locks before another one could start, with the result that there were huge delays and the system was eventually bypassed.
Not knowing this at the time, we were mystified by our first sight of the seven locks, dry and obviously abandoned. It looked to us as if the canal ended at this point.
When it was first built, the Canal de Briare emptied straight into the Loire, but with the construction of the lateral canal in the 19th century, an ambitious iron canal-bridge was built over the river.
It was designed by Gustave Eiffel and was until recently the longest navigable aqueduct in the world.
Getting to Rogny-les-Sept-Écluses
We know of no public transport to Rogny-les-Sept-Écluses. Probably it would have to be a taxi from Briare.
This map shows accommodation icons for each night. Zoom in on a particular icon to see its precise location.
You can also see this map using Google Earth and take a virtual flight along our route.
Description of this walk
Thursday, 2 July 2015
Distance 22 km
Duration 4 hours 45 minutes
Ascent 16 m, descent 29 m
Map 128 of the TOP 100 lime-green series
We left the charming but silent camping ground of Rogny at 6:45 am, munching our bread and cheese.
It was good that we had this marching food with us, as there was nothing open in the village for refreshments when we walked past.
We set off towards the dry flight of locks, wondering how the canal could possibly continue past it, when to our surprise we saw that it now went to the right on a much shallower gradient.
There were locks, but no multiple ones. The water was glassy in the early morning light, reflecting moored boats, lock-keepers’ cottages and small stone bridges.
After half an hour we came to the junction of the old canal bed with the new one, where a rusty disused warehouse stood, a relic of the heyday of trade along the canal.
As we approached the highest point of the canal there were artificial lakes on either side of us, constructed to feed water into the locks.
The air was warm, heavy and humid, mosquitoes rose in whining multitudes, biting flies attacked us and we were burdened with a overwhelming lethargy. I tried to fan myself with the map but could feel nothing.
We were beginning to wonder whether we had somehow lost our health and strength, when at the topmost lock, almost from one step to the next, the air became fresh and breezy and our energy returned.
The locks were now facing the other way and we pressed on happily for another hour.
The river Trézée followed along beside us until it flowed into the canal and the two went along as one.
The canal coalesced with the river on this straight section, but diverged on a more sinuous stretch lower down, rejoining two or three kilometres later.
When we reached Ouzouer-sur-Trézée there was a high road bridge leading into the village, but from the towpath it was tricky to see how to cross the canal. A man walking his dog obligingly showed us.
Once in the steeply rising main street we found a boulangerie but there was a sign on the door saying that it would open on Monday the 13th of July. We took that to mean that was presently closed, and turned away in disappointment.
Fortunately for us, a local woman arrived at that moment and explained that because of Bastille Day, the shop would be opening on the Monday before, when it would normally be closed. She pushed the door and it opened, to our great relief.
We got two croissants and a pain au chocolat and carried them across the street to the bar. Squeezed into a tiny table on the footpath, we indulged in our first coffee of the day.
It was pleasant in the shade of the building, with an assortment of locals coming and going. (The barman said there was a terrace at the back but it was in the sun at the moment.)
Well satisfied with our little break, we resumed our descent on the canal and after an hour or so we came to the junction of the original Canal de Briare and the more recent Canal Lateral à la Loire, which was built 200 years afterwards, when the Loire became hard to navigate due to silting.
This spur of the lateral canal was needed to allow barges to cross the Loire on a high aqueduct out of reach of floods. The old canal, which was also the Trézée, kept going and emptied into the Loire lower down.
We walked another three kilometres past houses and bridges before we arrived at the famous pont-canal, a handsome and ingenious metal edifice designed by Gustave Eiffel and opened in 1896.
At the time it was the longest navigable aqueduct in the world and it remained so until 2002.
We had seen it before on our previous walk down the Loire (2006), and it was as impressive as ever.
Leaving the canal and pressing on into the streets, we soon found ourselves in the church square, an enormous tree-lined expanse full of bars and restaurants, a big contrast with the steep, narrow street at Ouzouer.
By that time it was midday. It was searingly hot and everyone was under an awning or an umbrella, but we found a table in the solid shade of the wall, which was even better.
We ordered coffee and got two more croissants, and that was lunch.
We were very glad that our walk was nearly over for the day, as it was no time to be out and about. The last kilometre or so to the camping ground was quite enough of a challenge.
We walked around the Port de Plaisance, as wide as a lake with its moored boats and its line of small restaurants, then onward beside the Loire in the blazing sun until we finally came to the camping ground.
The gates were open but the office was closed, so we went in and chose a spot near the ablutions block.
There were scores of caravans and tents set up, but the place was so large that it still seemed half empty. The grass was green, the trees and bushes shady, but we sweltered all afternoon – there was no escape from the furnace-like air.
Nevertheless it was a lot better than trudging on to Gien, and after delicious showers we kept our wet towels handy to refresh ourselves periodically. We gave Bert a shower too, as he had become rather grimy.
As the afternoon dragged on, the heat weighed on our spirits and we decided to walk back to town before we became completely morose. When we got to the exit gate it was 7:10 pm, which was when we discovered that the office had closed at 7 o’clock. It would be a free night’s accommodation.
Back at the Port de Plaisance, streaming with sweat, we sought refuge in a brasserie with a deep awning and several yellow umbrellas. Cold glasses of pastis and rosé improved our mood wonderfully.
Across the road were the boats, lined up prettily under a row of trees, and a slight movement of air off the water wafted over to us.
At about 8 o’clock we began our dinner. First we shared a mountainous salade niçoise, with which our host kindly provided an extra plate.
After that we had pasta – I had spaghetti bolognese and Keith had fettucine carbonara.
I told the waiter that the former was called spag bol in English, and he laughed and replied that in French our two dishes were tag bolo and tag carbo.
A woman at the next table spoke to us in English – she thought, mistakenly, that she had seen us on bikes earlier in the day.
They were Norwegians from Bergen and it turned out that they were on bikes themselves, doing a month-long ride from Dijon, along the Canal of Burgundy and then across to the Loire and down it, not unlike our route.
They were staying in hotels and today they had wisely had a rest day in their air-conditioned room.
With what remained of the spag bol and the bread, I made some flaccid sandwiches for our marching food tomorrow, as we hoped to leave very early.
Briare has a railway station. From there you can go almost anywhere in France.