Canal de Briare

Walking in France: Canal-de-Briare
Canal de Briare

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.

Walking in France: The seven abandoned locks of Rogny-les-Sept-Écluses
The seven abandoned locks of Rogny-les-Sept-Écluses

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.

Walking in France: Mystery solved
Mystery solved

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.

Walking in France: Early morning on the Canal of Briare
Early morning on the canal
Walking in France: Crossing the old Canal of Briare
Crossing the old canal

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.

Walking in France: Swatting mosquitoes beside the Canal of Briare
Swatting mosquitoes

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.

Walking in France: River Trézée flowing into the Canal of Briare
River Trézée flowing into the canal

The river Trézée followed along beside us until it flowed into the canal and the two went along as one.

Below this straight section, the canal and the river diverged again on a more sinuous stretch, 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 low towpath it was tricky to see how to cross the canal. A man walking his dog obligingly showed us the way.

Walking in France: At ease in the main street of Ouzouer-sur-Trézée
At ease in the main street of Ouzouer-sur-Trézée

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 the sign just meant that the shop would be open on the Monday before Bastille Day, 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.

Walking in France: Second breakfast
Second breakfast

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 this hour.

Walking in France: Crossing the second join of the Trézée and the Canal of Briare
Crossing the second join of the Trézée and the canal

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 river Trézée) kept going and emptied into the Loire lower down.

Walking in France: Junction of the Canal de Briare and the Canal Lateral à la Loire
Junction of the Canal de Briare and the Canal Lateral à la Loire
Walking in France: The beautiful and impressive Briare pont-canal spanning the Loire river
The beautiful and impressive Briare pont-canal spanning the Loire river

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.

Walking in France: Out of the scorching heat in Briare
Out of the scorching heat in Briare

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.

Walking in France: Lunch in the church square, Briare
Lunch in the church square, Briare
Walking in France: Port de Plaisance, Briare
Port de Plaisance, Briare

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.

Walking in France: A vain attempt to get cool
A vain attempt to get cool

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.

Walking in France: A clean Bert
A clean Bert

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.

Walking in France: Slightly cool at dinner
Slightly cool at dinner

Across the road were the boats, lined up prettily under a row of trees, and a slight movement of cool 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.

Walking in France: A magnificent salade niçoise to start our dinner
A magnificent salade niçoise to start our dinner

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.

Walking in France: Tag bolo and tag carbo for mains
Tag bolo and tag carbo for mains

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.

Leaving Briare

Briare has a railway station. From there you can go to almost anywhere in France.

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