The Canal Latéral à la Loire
We are on the last day of a one-week trip on
the Canal Latéral à la Loire
through central France.
We started in Decize, and by the end of today we will
have covered 130 kilometers and passed through 23 locks
as we travelled south to Decize.
We spent last night tied up at the village of Fleury-sur-Loire.
Today we will visit Avril-sur-Loire and pass Baugy, and then arrive at Decize.
Decize will be the end of our trip south from Briare. We will tie up for the night in the Port de Decize basin between the canal and the Loire. It's visible on this map just south of what's labeled as "Faubg d'Allie", now the part of Decize including the port and the main hospital. You drop down through a lock from the canal into the port basin, and further locks lead from there down to the Loire.
Avril-sur-Loire is a small village of just 243 people, lying between the canal and the Loire. Its Saint-Pierre (or Saint Peter) Church was started in the 12th century.
The church was, of course, built in pieces. Upstairs, where local families are preparing for a wedding on the following day, we see the final result of the centuries of construction.
The church started as a small barrel-vaulted structure in the 1100s. The ground has built up over the centuries. If you go outside and around the church to the old entry directly into what is now the crypt, you will have to descend a few steps to reach its small door.
The choir and apse were built over the crypt. The nave was then added, its floor five steps lower than that of the choir. It is offset from the axis of the choir, extending further to the right but not to the left.
Let's go down to the crypt, down the staircase at the right front corner of the nave.
How do you get fresh groceries if you live in a small village with no store? You could drive into Decize, but a grocery truck stops here daily. A sign near the center of the village lists the days and times it stops here. We happened to be here when it was.
Now we're back on the boat for the last segment, to Decize. We cross one last water bridge.
Decize continues to be a busy hub of water traffic. It has been settled since Neolithic times because it's where the Aron river flows into the Loire. The Loire is somewhat braided here. The old center of Decize is an island within the sharp angle of the river junction.
The Celtic Aedui people had a settlement here. Julius Caesar mentions it as Decetia in his Commentarii de Bello Gallico or Commentaries on the Gallic Wars. In its Book VII Caesar describes meeting the city's senate to settle a conflict between two high ranking Aedui for the highest office, the vergobret.
The city grew on the island in the river junction through the Middle ages, eventually spreading across both shores. In the 6th century, Aregius, the bishop of Nevers, died in that city. The legend says that his body was placed on a boat on the Loire at Never, in accordance with his wishes. The boat then miraculously traveled upstream to Decize. They buried him in Decize, and with his name evolved from Latin to early French Saint-Aré he was made the patron saint of the city.
The story of his miraculous post-death boat trip was popular through the 15th century, bringing many pilgrims to the city to visit the church built in his honor. Parts of its crypt and choir date back to the 7th century and the initial construction around his tomb. Most of what you see today is at least from the 12th century, with the current nave being built in the 19th century.
A number of major improvements were made during the 1770s, including the first bridge across the Loire. The Promenade des Halles market boulevard was constructed and lined with plane trees.
Major shipping improvements happened in 1838–1842. The Canal Latéral à la Loire opened in 1838, and the Canal du Nivernais in 1842.
The Canal Latéral à la Loire connects to a large boat basin between it and the Loire. A boat could lock down to the Loire, travel down it for about a kilometer and a half, cross the mouth of the Aron, and enter the Canal du Nivernais. On that canal it's 174 kilometers to Auxerre. Below, we're tied up at the boat basin in Decize.
The boat rental company has a base here, with a rental office and a maintenance area. We're directly behind the Decize regional hospital. A large supermarket is across the road.
We will walk in to the old city, along the Promenade des Halles, across the bridge, and into the old city past a taxidermist's shop where they seem to specialize in birds.
The first French railway was built in 1832, but as a short line for mining. The main French railway system was not started until 1842. Once it reached Decize, it rapidly replaced freight traffic on the canals. Decize is now connected by regional passenger service.
The boat rental company set up a pair of taxis to take us to the train station. Once there, we could buy our tickets for onward travel.
There is just regional RER service in Decize. It only takes 25 to 30 minutes on the RER to Nevers, where you can connect to many trains including the medium-range Intercités trains. For the TGV lines you would have to go from Nevers to Dijon, Lyon, or Orléans.