Canal d'Ille et Rance
The Canal d’Ille et Rance runs from the north to the south through Brittany and connects the English Channel to the Atlantic. According to the name the canal links the rivers Rance and Ille. The Rance is running from the center part to the north of Brittany and discharges in the Channel nearby St-Malo. The Ille an the other hand runs from the center part south and discharges at Rennes in the river Villaine which discharges at her turn on the south-coast in The Atlantic.
The canal is constructed as part of a strategic plan for waterways in Brittany from which the Canal de Nantes à Brest was also a part. It made the inland connection of the ports St-Malo, Lorient, Nantes en Brest possible. Because the English made the sea unsafe and blocked the French ports these cities could be supplied by the inland waterways. Though the plans were made in earlier days the charge to construct the Canal d'Ille et Rance was given in 1804 by Napoleon. The canal was put into use in 1832. It is 85 kilometers long and there is a total of 48 locks.
I survey the Canal d’Ille et Rance on a Sunday. I start at St-Germain-sur-Ille and cycle north from there. The locks are small, just 27 meters long and 4,70 meter wide. The gates in the Canal d’Ille et Rance are all made of wood. It is a solid construction of thirty centimeters thick. In St-Germain-sur-Ille there is a workshop where they are made. Every year some are renovated.
It is a sunny day. The weather is very good to make a cycling trip. During the day I will see a lot of French fishing or walking by the water-side.
I pass a sign 'Chapelle de St-Anne des Bateliers' and follow the footpath upward. I arrive in a little chapel which is full with burning candles. I climb further by a winding stairs because I have seen that the chapel tower rises high above the landscape. But I don't arrive in the tower but in a higher situated chapel which can be reached from the other side. I hear a lot of buzzing. I almost appeared in a religious ceremony behind the priest. The altar is empty. When I walk round the chapel I see a lot of people having diner at long tables. That 's where the buzzing came from. They apparently have been part of a religious procession. Against the chapels wall are standing some standards.
I cycle on and see a washing-place close to a lock in St-Médard-sur-l’Ille. The quality of the towpath is varying. Generally the path is good but it isn't always clear which side of the canal is the best to cycle on. Sometimes I discover after some hundreds of meters that the other side is better.
At all locks the lockkeepers houses are still there. They are all occupied. There are some beautiful examples. In Brittany much attention is given to the dressing. There are a lot of flower-boxes.
The railway track which had given the canal a lot of competition, crosses the canal a couple of times.
It is a varying landscape but not very appealing. Sometimes I have a spacious view over the fields on the hills, sometimes I am surrounded by the hills and the plants. When I arrive at the watershed (at 65 meter above sea level), I enter a different world. There is a lot of space around me and a lot of water because of all kinds of reservoirs made for the water supply of the canal. The weather is fine and it 's Sunday so I see a lot of French families picnicking: a table, some chairs and a extensive meal with the whole family on a shady spot with a view on several fishing-rods.
After the watershed with a length of 7 kilometers the staircase of Hédé follows which brings the canal down again. A series of 11 locks within two kilometers takes the canal 27 meter down. It is a fascinating beautiful sight. The locks are all decorated with flowers and on the banks huge chestnut and beech trees are located.
In one of the lockkeepers houses (28 La Madeleine) is an exposition about the canal where I found a book about the Canal d'Ille et Rance.