Lots of locks
Our first day of riding was a long one, ironically, one of the longest of the whole trip (75 km). But it was mostly riding along the Bourgogne Canal, so it was flat and easy territory to cover. We rode south alongside the Ouche River and then veered north west up the Auxois River as far as Pouilly-en-Auxois.
The mountain bikes performed beautifully and were quite at home on the gravel (and occasionally muddy) track. All the effort involved in getting our customised and familiar bikes to France had paid off. Everything worked well, no adjustments were required and we knew we could ride all day in comfort.
I was impressed at the quality of the trail and the overall condition of the canal, which was also very well maintained. River boats were frequent company. Almost without exception, they were beautifully cared for and proudly shown off by their owners as we rode by.
The locks provided a fascination all of their own, which I never tired of watching. For anyone who has not seen a canal lock in action, it is the way that boats are able to move upstream, by literally floating to a higher water level. A simple, but very effective process. Boats going upriver move into the empty lock, the gates are closed at the lower end and water is allowed to rush in until the lock is full. Then the gates at the upper end are opened and the boat moves out. The reverse process happens when going downstream. Nothing happens in a hurry, but that seems to be a feature of the life on these picturesque and peaceful canals.
A rather unexpected discovery
We did not spend a great deal of time planning tourist stops. Neither myself or KJ are fond of crowds and our idea of a relaxing cycling holiday is to avoid places where large gatherings of tourists congregate.
Consequently, we had not spent any time looking at tourist guides, focusing only on our intended riding routes and issues we were likely to encounter with the bikes. It was therefore with great surprise, that we rounded one section of the track and were treated with a distant view of the beautiful Châteauneuf-en-Auxois. Folks who live in Europe may wonder at my fascination with castles, but the reality is that in the country where we live, there simply aren’t any and they are therefore a novelty!
I was delighted with our ‘find’, and there was not a doubt that we would be extending the day’s riding so that we could ride up to the village and have a look around.
The Château is in very good condition and is situated in a (similarly well cared-for) village atop a hill. The feared large crowds were not there and we pretty well had the place to ourselves! We spent a few hours having a look around and enjoying the views of the surrounding countryside and then had to get moving as we had a way to go to get to our first stop for the night.
A lovely welcome
We were made very welcome at our first bed and breakfast stay, where we were also treated to a superb home cooked dinner with local food and wine being the main feature. Our hosts did not speak much English, so for the first time, I had to rely on my limited French! There were two German guests at the B&B too – one amazing lady was fluent in English, French and German while her friend spoke mostly German. They were in France on a cycling holiday too, and it was good to compare notes and ideas.
Dinner was therefore a wonderful session of mixed languages, cultures and lots of fun and laughs. One of those truly unforgettable nights and a taste of the spontaneous friendliness that we would find everywhere we went on our trip.
(Follow this link for the itinerary and details for our Tour of France)