Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Canal again

Several things have brought me back to the Nantes-Brest Canal lately, a construction I wrote two books and several articles about quite a few years ago and a territory that once so often mirrored my inner landscape. In clearing out some old CDs I found a copy of the French TV programme in which I appear tallking about the canal. French people sometimes recognise me from that production but I've never actually seen it before, so it was strange to watch my self of eight years ago, so familiar and yet so long gone.
More practically, I'm doing a feature on the canal in Finistère for the new walking book, and yesterday went out to rewalk one of my favourite circuits at Pont Coblant, which includes a 4km stretch of the beautiful Aulne river (a bit insulting to call it a canal here) in countryside far removed from roads and noise of any kind. The inland section goes over a hill to give great long views, particularly towards Karreg an Tan, the Fire Rock, which will also be in the book.
The canal does not start in Nantes, nor end in Brest, but its original military prupose was to link the two naval bases (and Lorient via the Blavet canal south from Pontivy) and provide a secure inland route at a time when Napoléon was frustrated by English naval supremacy and the resulting blockades of Breton ports. Most the 365km length is made up of beautiful rivers - the Oust, the Blavet and the Aulne being the most remarkable - with artifical sections cut and ladders of locks built to cross the hills between their valleys. It was only fully open long after Napoléon's time and became used mainly for the transport by barge of materials like stone, slate, wood and sand. The railway soon became quicker and more economical, with a better organised infrastructure of depots and loading facilities. Great leisure resource though the canal undoubtedly is these days it was always something of an economic white elephant.

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