Canal du Centre (F)
In the summer of 2003 we stay on a camping site close by the Canal du Centre in France. This canal links the Canal latéral à la Loire with the Saône. The canals starts in Digoin at the beautiful canal bridge across the river Loire. From there it runs 112 kilometers in easterly direction until it reaches the Saône at Châlon-sur-Saône . I start my survey of the Canal du Centre at the 'tranchée de Génelard', a section of the canal is cut through a hill. I follow the canal from there in easterly direction. In contrary with most canals in France, there is a motorway along this canal for the greatest part. It is easy for my to survey the canal by car. The Canal du Centre has very much curves, the road-surface isn't well maintained and so there isn't much traffic along the canal. Soon I see the first lock. They are managed manually. Later on I'll see many automatic locks The first lockkeepers houses look beautifully: pastel colored stucco or masonry and green or blue panels. I follow the curvy canal upwards. On my left hand the little river Bourbince runs, on my right hand the canal. Now and then I see the rests of a glorious industrial past such as an empty ceramic factory which is now being renovated . I arrive at a town, Montceau-les-Mines, where I can see a beautiful counterpoise-bridge. In this town I see the rests of old steel factories and coalmines and an electric power station from 1920. Nowadays it looks all abandoned and decayed but one can still see much of the old wealth in the details. By a passage on the factory site with some large supermarkets, I can still follow the Canal du Centre but when I reach the last lock upwards I have to permit some distance to the canal.
As usually I notice that I am in the neighbourhood of the highest sections by the spacious water surfaces along the canal. They serve as water reservoirs to fill the highest sections of the canal.
Then I arrive at the lock stairs of Écuisses from where the canal runs down towards the Saône. From 'les 7 Écluses' which are name at the signs there are just four left. The canal is modernized at the end of the nineteenth century. In this operation a large number of locks has disappeared. Nearby a little museum at lock 6, in earlier days lock 9, one can still find an old restored lock with wooden doors . At the Saône site the locks look more abandoned. They are all converted in automatic locks and the lockkeepers houses are mostly abandoned or vanished. There are no other buildings but shelters.
Sometimes I see nearby the present-day canal rests of old locks and lockkeepers houses..
On the lockkeepers houses one can see the old and the new numbering of the locks. On this picture one can also see that the numbers are given from the highest section. At the west side of the dividing pound a shortening of word 'Mediterranean' is put behind the lock number, at the east side one reads 'Ocean' behind the lock number. The kilometer-signs are mostly disappeared or illegible. Now and then I see one standing or laying.
I haven't seen much professional navigation on the Canal du Centre. I saw just one barge which was moored at the end of the day half in a lock. I presume there isn't enough draught at the sides of the canal.
On the other hand I do see some hotel barges. One of those has, just before my arrival, pulled up a large piece of the lock platform. By a small rim on the side of the ship the platform is destroyed along three meters. The stones are destroyed by the pressure between ship and quay. From the village of Santenay there is a beautiful cycling path along the canal and from Chagny one can't follow the canal by car anymore. I take my bike to cycle the last part. Just before Châlon-sur-Saône a diversion is made. I follow the old canal into the city. In the middle of the town a large obelisk is erected in remembrance of Emiland Gautthey, the engineer and architect of the canal. A little bit further the Saône runs. I saw the other side of the Canal du Centre in spring this year during our boat trip on the Canal latéral à la Loire.
Just outside of Digoin a narrow canal is discharging into the Canal du Centre, the Rigole de l'Arroux. It was constructed especially for a steel factory in the neighboring village Geugnon. The little canal was just wide enough for a small barge towed by donkeys. There also were about twenty places where the barges could pass each other.
Close tot the Canal du Centre one can find a little counterpoise-bridge, a canal bridge and a lock.
The lock is just 2,50 meters wide and has only one door on each side. It is only 17 meters long. Alas, the dike just before the canal bridge over the Bourbince has been washed away and so there isn't any water left in the Rigole navigable de l'Arroux. It must have happened recently because a pedestrian with a dog tells me that recently the little canal was a favorite spot for fishermen. There is another lock some five kilometers further but I decide to turn my bike because the towpath isn't very good.