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Digital Subscriptions > Lonely Planet Traveller (UK) > February 2017 > LA FRANCE profonde

LA FRANCE profonde

Deep in rural Burgundy, a journey by canal boat reveals a landscape of medieval churches and vineyards, where traditional French life still flows at a gentler pace
A man waters his geraniums in Mailly-le-Château, a village beside the Canal du Nivernais. LEFT The Randle moored for lunch

FROM THE TOP OF THE LIMESTONE escarpment, the Canal du Nivernais appeared no wider than a ribbon, the stationary canal barge no bigger than a toy. The only sound was that of the wind in the treetops far below. How strange to think that this forest was once an ancient seabed, and that sharks had slipped by at eye level. Because I was about as far inland as it was possible to be, halfway along the 110 miles of canalised river that bisected Burgundy, connecting the valley of the Seine in France’s north with the valley of the Loire in the south.

Lock-keeper Clara Gauge mans the lock near Auxerre. RIGHT A clogmaker’s shop in the hill town of Vézelay

My journey had begun a couple of days earlier in the Gallo-Roman city of Auxerre. ‘Welcome to the Randle,’ Captain Tim Harrold had said as I stepped aboard his barge and adjusted to the sensation of being afloat. I felt much as Mole must have done when he was first brought aboard a riverboat by Ratty. ‘It’s traditional to name your boat after your dearest love,’ Tim was saying, ‘but Randle named his barge after himself.’ Tim explained how the original owner of the barge had sourced the ship’s wheel, the portholes and the engine from an eclectic array of vessels, ranging from a Scottish herring boat to an ocean cruise liner that had seen action in the Falklands War. Tim had moored the Randle for the night, and yet there were still several hours till suppertime, so we returned to the quayside and set off to explore Auxerre.

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February 2017