As I see it, the last three days since our rest day have been dominated by locks. The main thing I'm currently taking from the 52 locks we traipsed around are the burns where my sandals have grappled with my feet and feeling shattered. These locks have also presented obstacles, introduced us to new people and marked our journey across France.
Our first day of the new week started with familiar toil. We had to drag the canoe and our bags back from campsite to canal. Only difference was, this time we were also carrying a week's food. Nonetheless we had a target of 17 locks in order to make the milestone of the top of the hill and the point where the locks would be going down rather than up. To be honest, even at the end of that day the locks were a blur. Right now, each one has murged into a blur of steep banks, steeper steps and stinging nettles. 2 months ago, I would have said that getting a canoe around any of these locks was impossible. At the time, one more lock always seemed impossible. And now, for me and anyone with experience of the canal... It still seems impossible.
Aside from the locks, day 30 was marked by us ducking and then squeezing under 3 mechanized bridges. As with a few things so far we'd been told that these tower-bridge-style bridges that sat on the water would be the end for Dora. Having got past the bridge in the most obvious way, we had lunch on the steps of the church in Montceau and felt pretty proud of ourselves.
Our journey hasn't always given us the same opportunity to congratulate ourselves. Having got around our final lock of the day, a campsite greeted us with open arms: the open gate of a carpark with some rough looking locals. Having unanimously decided we didn't want another attempt at reporting 'canoé crime', we came across a fishing lake with an unused tap and plug socket. Day 30 finally boshed.
The only downpoint of day 30 was that we knew that day 31 was even more of a bitch. Having exited the lake -lock style- we were warmed up for our 23 downstream locks. We had 4 within a mile for breakfast. 17 by lunch. And the full 23 by late afternoon. Suddenly the11k to paddle until the next lock seemed welcome relief. After about half that distance we came across a pretty mooring spot with shiny tourist boats which was too good to turn down. One of the stoves may have chosen that night to stop working but day 31 - that's a month if you've been counting - had been boshed.
Today was always meant to be an 'easier' day to separate all of those locks from our return to upstream paddling on the Saône. And it has been: 12 or so locks, less mileage than normal, a spontaneous swim across the canal and a campsite by mid-afternoon. Saying that, the decision to race a pleasure boat the last 5km was pretty good for my ego and pretty bad for my body.
Apart from all my moaning, canoeing on the canal let's you meet people. There was the woman who let us lift the canoe through her garden. There were the friends we met on the rest day who let us ride a lock with them. There was the couple on the boat next to us on the second night who wanted to buy us fresh bread for breakfast. Less happy were the lock engineers who told us to go away before being silenced as we walked the canoe around them. There was the dingy bar here I bought 'gâteaux' on day 2 as we looked for inspiration around the lock. There's also been the inevitable shocked reaction of the people who live in houses by the locks. And I haven't forgotten the women who stop their fishing to wave and take photos of us.
Finally, canoeing by a continuous parallel road and towpath has made us celebrities of the canal. Cars toot and cyclists shout encouragent and we feel like we're on our own tour de France.
So the canal du centre may not have the castles of the Loire or its reputation, but it has a lot more people. While we've passed through our share of abandoned factories, my morning run around a misty lake and today's walk around Chalon Sur Saône showed us that even canals can have a picturesque ending... Saône next, more canal next week.