So far, so close37 mn de lecture

Let me take you on a singular exploration, that of the Loing – a close river which I wanted to explore by kayak from its distant source.

The Loing, a bucolic tributary of the Seine, is part of the familiar landscape of my childhood. However, despite its proximity, it is a river I know very little about – at least in its entirety. My project is therefore to go and find its source almost two hundred kilometres from my home and then see if Ican return from there in an inflatable kayak.

NB: this article includes all the publications made from day to day, from the initial scouting to this funny adventure full of unexpected events. As usual, you can read it in its entirety or cut it up by following the episodes in the summary.

Contents

First of all, a little geography

Because the main difficulty, as is often the case, consists in identifying the course. So let’s start with the inevitable scouting.

The Loing has its source in the Yonne’s county, at a place called Ferme-du-Loing, which is located on a limestone plateau at an altitude of 320 metres.

Before flowing into the Seine at Saint-Mammès, the Loing runs through three counties (Yonne, Loiret, Seine et Marne), totalling 180 kilometres according to this enamelled map at the entrance to the source – but Wikipedia announces 143 kilometres and the Sivlo (Intercity’s syndicate of the valleys of the Loing and the Ouanne – another river) puts the cursor in the middle with 166 kilometres. Who to believe?

Another difficulty: the french “rivières-info site” (specialized in canoe)  tells me that only 70 kilometres are navigable. I know this part because I have already travelled it between Gretz and Moret – small towns nearby the river – but what about the 100 non-navigable kilometres? I tried to use my GPS application (called Iphigénie) on the smallest scale, but it didn’t give me much information.

Additional difficulty: I planned this descent in July. In low water. Unless the big storms of June recharge the flow a little.

That said, the Loing is twinned with the Briare canal from Rogny-les-Sept-Ecluses, and then with its own canal from Montargis: in case of insufficient or congested water, I could at least use the first. But boating on flat water, with locks and constraints: bah.

Come on: let’s go and see!

And while we’re driving on the small secondary roads, let’s answer this question: why the Loing?

Well first of all – I dare to use a pun – because it is close to me.

PS : in French, “loin” means “far”. So I played in the french title with the name of the river “Loing” and the idea that this river, which is very close because it flows a few miles from home, is in fact far away in my knowledge of it. 

The Loing bathes part of my native region, the south of the Seine et Marne county, and gives to the part of the landscape it waters an irresistible and picturesque charm, winding through hedged farmland, valleys and forests, beautiful sandstone villages, old properties carefully hidden from the road but whose parks lined with willows, poplars and pontoons can be seen from the water. Alfred Sisley will not deny it.

As a child, I collected crayfish in its spillways between Souppes and Bagneaux, then, as a grown-up, I bathed in it and travelled it in a dinghy and a rented kayak. It therefore undoubtedly has a nice childhood flavour – a return to the source, in short.

Speaking of source:

To find the Loing spring, you first have to go to the Yonne, then cross the small commune of Sainte-Colombe, exit to the south and climb about two or three kilometres until you find a sign that sends you to the right on a narrow road. 800 metres later, you’re there.

A monument overgrown with ivy houses a kind of fountain with a small plaque.

The plaque says : “From this spring rises the Loing, carrying charm and freshness far and wide”.

In front of the fountain, the spring stagnates and puddles. I grimace. Machete recommended for the first few metres…

Then running shoes are obligatory – also to carry the gear – because the Loing is buried at least as far as Sainte-Colombe where it re-emerges to the west of the town.

There, I don’t know if I’ll be able to get on board. We’ll see. I may have to walk again, in conditions I know nothing about. Some black paths will allow me to cut through, just in case. Between Sainte-Colombe and Saint-Sauveur: about 8 kilometres. Let’s go back on the road to see a little further.

At the place called l’Orme du Pont, the Loing forms a pond overgrown with vegetation which gives it the appearance of a bayou, which stops on an old retaining wall, not far from a property which seems to be a mill. On the other side, below: the river runs through the riparian zone. At least, that’s what I imagine because I don’t stop there and head for Saint Fargeau. So I borrowed this photo from the Sivlo mentioned above.

This photo is actually of the riparian area above, at Dammarie sur Loing.

Anyway, it’s hard to say if you can paddle there. Not deep enough. What’s left? Pull the kayak up on a rope, walking in the water? Yep.

From Saint-Sauveur, I’ll eventually hitch a ride to Saint Fargeau. I know: you’re thinking, hitchhiking with a kayak? But yes, trust me! 

Let’s go back to Saint-Fargeau, where I am enthusiastically misunderstanding.

What I think is the Loing is in fact another river. The lady at the Syndicat d’Initiative tells me this. She gives me several leaflets. I tell her about my project and mention the enamelled map of the source. She then confided in me that it was her father-in-law who painted it – amusing – and showed me on one of the maps from the Tourist Office the Loing which runs to the south of the village. She doesn’t know if it’s possible to canoe there, there are some small, very low bridges, she says.

There again: we’ll see.

Let’s enjoy the castle…

And let’s continue our tour to Rogny and its Seven Locks – designed at the very beginning of the seventeenth century by Hugues Cosnier to extend the Briare Canal at the request of Sully and Henri IV and thus link the Loire and the Seine via the Orléans Canal to the north.

A big project. Pharaonic even. By hand, in hard and compact limestone, twelve thousand men dig and sweat blood and water. Horses are also being finished. A first boat crossed this great staircase of water in 1609, then Ravaillac stabbed Henri IV: temporary stop of the works. I will skip a few anecdotes – the Thirty Years’ War, the death of Hugues Cosnier, Louis XIII and the musketeers, etc. – and here we are in 1642: the Rogny locks are once again in full operation and see 4,000 boats and 200,000 tons of goods pass through each year, for two centuries, although with a slight drawback: their width prohibits crossing. The wait from top to bottom was long.

In 1880, they were therefore abandoned in favour of six locks built to the Freyssinet gauge – like the barges of the same name – which bypassed the hill and sent the traffic back to the Briare canal.

The Loing passes further down on the left. IphiGéNie – my GPS application – tells me that I may have to take the canal to the Savionnière, where the river becomes much more navigable.

I’ve seen enough. Let’s go back home.

I pass through Montargis to buy chocolates at Mazet, in a setting straight out of Harry Potter’s Hogsmeade. Recommendation: in addition to the chocolates, the almond, ivory chocolate and pistachio mazettes!

Then home, finally, to reflect on this glorious expedition while compulsively liquidating the mazettes.

Spotting, again

26 June 2018: two weeks to go, but I’m getting impatient. So, to keep myself busy, I daydream – and try to determine my itinerary from a distance.

Here is what I have gleaned by searching the web in all directions: seen from the sky, already…

Can’t you see anything? That’s normal. I help you a little with a thin blue line:

This is the Loing in summer. Dry or almost dry. To walk on it, with twenty kilos of equipment on your back, it’s likely to be difficult. Especially as there is no path along it, not even a black path.

PS : Black paths are sometimes poorly marked paths that are drawn in black on French hiking maps at a scale of 1:25,000.

If you want to follow the river, you have to cut across the fields, IphiGéNie is formal. Not sure the local farmer agrees.

Naively, I thought that a little further on, no pun intended, things would be better.

It’s hard to tell: the satellite doesn’t show anything because the tree cover hides the stream.

So I searched long and hard for other visual information. On the few pictures I found on the web, nothing is really encouraging: closed passages…

Dead ends of disused mills, with juggling bypasses…

Depth of water varying between a simple puddle, as here, a ford – the puddle is the Loing. Yes, it is.

Or charming edges, but with the obligation to pull the stuff while walking in the water.

I know, at first I thought it was a funny idea. At first. But now I’m not sure of anything. Except that if I follow the Loing strictly, I can expect about forty kilometres of painful difficulties. Unpacking the kayak, walking in the water while pulling it, sometimes meandering between the banks overgrown with nettles, repacking, or else surveying the fields without even finding a path, unless I make a lot of detours on small roads, move away from the river and spend the first five days as a hiker, not even a beautiful one, loaded like a donkey. Counting on a lot: four days of pure misery.

That’s a problem when I only have ten days to spend on this trip.

But despite everything: I want to leave from the source, I won’t give up. Stubborn.

How can I do it?

Let’s think about it. I could leave the kayak somewhere downstream, on the day of departure, then get dropped off at the Loing farm and walk a few kilometres. Ten maximum, given the aspect of the route. Then, from this point which remains to be defined, according to what I would have seen, I could try to survey the ripisyvle or take a bus or hitchhike to the Briare canal to finally start paddling.

I would then have plenty of time to see if the difficulty is worth tackling, or if it’s much more interesting to bypass it because it’s decidedly intractable.

Let’s look at the map. Saint-Sauveur en Puisaye. A small commune located about ten kilometres from the source. Perfect. No campsite, let alone a bivouac area. A hotel? No hotel either. Ah, a bed and breakfast. Well rated. Great. Reservation, email to ask to leave the kayak in the morning, acceptance from the hostess with a nice word. Well, it’s all set.

Well, here we are: ready to go! All we have to do is wait for the departure.

An unforeseen event

Article published in the République de Seine et Marne – the very local newspaper – on Monday 2 July, and which my wife showed me before asking me how I was going to get around this unexpected event:

When I saw the title: damn!

It says that the river is impassable on its upstream part.

I raised my eyebrows and thought of the recent storms, but overall, no, nothing to see: the forbidden part was in fact a 6 km section, in the middle of which I had planned to bivouac and which still bears the after-effects of the serious flooding of 2016.

Well, it’s not as bad as I had originally feared.

In this area, the river is permanently bordered by its channel. If ever navigation is prevented by some barrier or net, I will use the canal. And off we go.

In fact, it seems that only one really dangerous area justifies the ban: the Portonville dam at the entrance to Bagneaux, damaged by the floods mentioned above. The ban is in place because of the rental canoe fleets whose users are not always experienced paddlers – you don’t take risks in a tourist area.

That’s fine. But the average person travelling alone with their own boat will follow the advice quietly. Especially since you can dock in Portonville and go around the weir. Heh heh.

A non-problem, then. Phew. And my wife rolled her eyes and shook her head in dismay.

Navigation... with a compass

12 July 2018.

On the road early, towards the Source.

We drop off my twenty-five kilos of junk at Maison Marthe, a very nice guest house in Saint Sauveur en Puisaye.

My wife drops me off at the Ferme du Loing and then leaves, without forgetting to ask me to come back in one piece. Yes, yes. But I’m already impatient to get going and I contemplate the spring, which hasn’t changed in three weeks. Except that the water seems to have dried up even more.

As I had expected, the meadows are impossible to cross. Barbed wire. With herds dozing in the shade.

No problem. I’ll be on my way…

And I walk.

I zigzag along my map on the IphiGéNie application so as not to lose sight of the Loing.

I walk.

Without ever meeting a soul.

I find the Loing from time to time, in punctual resurgences. Like here, at the Guittons fountain.

A pond quite similar to the one at the spring.

And further on?

Yeah. No better.

So I go back to the back roads and black paths.

Following the indications of other resurgences.

I walk along bucolic meadows where herds graze.

On the edge of one of them, something funny happens. A herd of Charolais cattle starts mooing as I pass. So far, so ordinary.

I answer them by mooing too, also banal, we laugh for a while – especially me – then I go back on my way. But then, surprise! A thud of hooves makes me turn around: the whole herd is galloping towards me! A racket!

I stop and look at them coming: they probably think I’m the cowherd who’s coming to get them for a snack.  I explain to them that it’s not time, girls. VERY disappointed moans.

Thereupon, I continue my search for the Loing. I find it here…

Or there.

No way to dip a paddle in. Even the toes become retractable at the thought.

Sometimes, in the meadows, a dark green furrow of rushes indicates the presence of water.

Let’s go and have a look at the Orme du Pont, where I had raised my hopes in the spring.

A pretty stretch of water. The Loing accumulates there, held back by a masonry dam.

I walk along the reservoir to the end.

Then I go and see what happens to the Loing on the other side. Alas!

I was right not to take the kayak with me…

Heading for Saint Sauveur on the left bank, where I join a small road.

Before the village, however: a sign on a bridge. Hope…

But no. Still not navigable.

I enter Saint-Sauveur by going up to the Sarrazine tower.

And I visit the Colette Museum – a native of the place. The tendrils of the vine, read a long time ago, left me with a beautiful memory. I say to myself that I should read them again, now impregnated with the landscape of the Puisaye in which she grew up.

Then I take a shower and a nap at the Maison Marthe, before enjoying the beautiful garden.

Thereupon, I go and find the restaurant recommended by Elizabeth, my hostess, and then, satisfied, I take a little evening stroll in the magnificent golden light.

I visit the house where Colette was born.

And then, amused, I come across this old lorry which reminds me that I too have a move to organise in about ten days’ time.

Good. Tomorrow, there is no need to try to navigate. The Loing will be as I saw it today, even after Bléneau. So I’ll take a taxi to Rogny and leave the mainland at the Briare canal. No but.

In search of the Loing

July 13th. Early in the morning, I was dropped off in Rogny by cab.

I walked along the canal with my bags, tracking the Loing with my GPS. I found it… screened.

Never mind. I walked around the lock to a grassy launch I had spotted earlier, then put the gear down in the shade and took out the inflator.

Ready to go.

Then, sliding in the water and first paddle strokes. Goodbye, Rogny.

Hello canal de Briare.

Always following the cartographic information that my faithful IphiGéNie gives me, by accosting by places in the nettles, I track the Loing. So close. At the place called la Savionnière, for example.

The Loing is indeed there, but to reach it, it is another thing.

I leave the kayak attached on the bank and make five hundred meters in a meadow, to go to see the end. There again, inaccessible.

Forced return on the canal.

Absolutely alone. The picture is taken with a tripod installed on the bank and a wireless remote control.

After a few kilometers, I reach a succession of locks

The thing about the locks is that they are absolutely not designed for kayaks. The exit of the boat is acrobatic!

Then, you have to go around carrying the stuff (gravel) or pulling it (grass). Phew.

Then walk again to find an access to water. Sometimes, there is some…

Sometimes not at all.

The technique I found then consists in lowering the canoe with the rope, then sounding the depth of the shore with the paddle (about 80 centimeters), going down into the water and pulling oneself up in the kayak by leaning on the opposite side and the bank, like a parallel bar – and noticing in the process, sorry to say, a certain ageing of my physical capacities…

To recover from all these efforts, picnic areas are provided.

Fortunately, because the locks are multiplying.

I pass three like that, maybe four, then suddenly: miracle!

There, below the towpath: the Loing. Accessible, at last.

Another acrobatic launch and here we are! I’m sailing to the goal.

Moments of pantheistic ecstasy.

Short-lived. That never lasts, the pantheist ecstasy. The river narrows.

Impossible to go any further. I probe the depth with the paddle: 10 centimetres. Okay. I put my foot down. And croutch : I spray a thin layer and get stuck in 60 centimeters of putrid glue ! A sort of macaron effect, only less glamorous…

I pull myself up on the bank with the help of the nettle stems and look at my legs and feet.

A brief moment of solitude…

However, the Loing is still there, tempting. But its course ends on a stupid grid before joining the canal.

Fatalistically, I drag the equipment there in turn. I rinse myself as best I can in the canal, cross a last barrier – a young woman wearing a blue polo shirt with the VNF (Voies Navigables de France, that is to say : boating french’s ways) logo, keeps an ambush watch on a trio of young people doing somersaults in the water on the edge of her lock.

I arrive at Châtillon-Coligny.

Along the campsite fence, I deflate and fold the kayak…

Then I set up the base camp.

Shower then, small washing, putting on an evening outfit (trousers, dry tee-shirt and trainers) then I leave to visit Châtillon Coligny.

It’s a great start.

Museum closed during construction, says the note.

You can feel that the city was once beautiful and opulent. Used to be. Because today, it’s a complete desert. For a Saturday 13 July, the day before the bank holidays, it is surprisingly quiet.

I still find food – avoiding the Royal Kebab – in a brasserie where the owner cranks the blinds with a drill.

Then I stroll back. It seems as if the city is located in a time vortex. Stuck between the active past and the decrepit present.

Many houses and businesses are closed. More or less for sale. Here, a old temple of design.

There, a former tavern.

All this was overseen by Antoine César Becquerel, a 19th century physicist from Châtillon-Coligny and incidentally Henri’s grandfather – the father of radioactivity. I wonder to what extent the grandson’s work has not influenced this atmosphere of a dead city…

On a more serious note, and because ever since the Route de Saint-Lu, I have been stunned by the morbid emptiness that reigns in the small French towns I pass through during my escapades, I wondered how it had come to this. Because of giant shopping centres. Because of concentration of services and jobs in cities. Before of motorways and highways criss-crossing the suburbs and avoiding the villages. All this. And so dies the rural life.

Let’s close the sociological parenthesis and return to the campsite, spotting a possible launch tomorrow

And I finish my article of the day in the evening.

Where we finally find the Loing

14th July. In the morning, I leave Chatillon-coligny…

… under the very intrigued eye of a morning cat.

Channel. No choice at the moment. We won’t complain, I have it all to myself!

So I row. With the curious sensation of being against the current. When I stop, I go backwards slightly. Strange.

On the right bank, a small dam opens onto the Loing.

Unfortunately inaccessible, as the bank is so high.

And then Iphigenia tells me anyway that the river is getting narrower and that navigation must be complicated. I think of my misadventure of yesterday. I might as well continue on the canal.

A few kilometres pass. Sometimes I board to look at the map, to satisfy a need – splashing water is notoriously diuretic.

And I continue.

Here, a lock. It’s been a long time.

I chat with a man who I think is the lock keeper, but no, he’s actually a fireworker who sets up the fireworks for the 14th of July. The guy asks me where I come from; I tell him and he laughs.

– You won’t find him before Montargis le Loing! Houlà! At least.

Portage then, launching further down…

… and continued navigation on still waters.

I am bored. A few kilometres go by. About ten in all since this morning. Signs on the towpath – which remind me of those on the Loire by bike – are useful information.

I am less far from Montargis than I thought.

New lock. Montbouy.

I cross it before reaching another one, that of Montambert. I consult iPhiGéNie: she tells me that there are five other dams in a row, a real pain in the ass for the next two kilometers.

On the other hand, it also shows me a black path that goes away in the direction of the Loing, which widens. On the map at least. I highlighted it in red. What should I do?

On the one hand, my setbacks of yesterday. On the other, all those locks…

Come on: risk-taking! In the worst case, I’ll go back on my steps. With my twenty-five kilos of Barnum.

First, down this modest relief.

I know. It smells like a hazardous journey.

What was I saying… it looks like a Colorado beetle.

According to iPhiGéNie, it’s here.

I’m still laughing about the nettle patch in swimming trunks. But at the end :

The Loing! Obviously navigable! I feel like Mungo Park discovering the source of the Niger…

I dismantle my paddle and use it to cut an access in the nettles. I machete like a furious man.

Then I get into the water, avoiding the mud, and join the current, where I rinse my burning calves and forearms.

The river is beautiful. Wild. I’m not sure how many kayaks pass by.

Grey herons, ducks. A slight current. I am delighted! And what an atmosphere!

Even if there are a few obstacles along the way.

Parfois, on passe dessous en se couchant, comme ici. D’autres fois, c’est plus scabreux. Il me faut contourner par la berge en m’accrochant aux arbres et je récupère des araignées, des punaises, des branches mortes et des feuilles. Le kayak ressemble enfin à autre chose qu’un jouet sorti d’usine.

The depth is generally sufficient. Even if I sometimes have to walk on the pebbles to pull my boat.

Apart from these few passages, the descent is pleasant, marked by a current that intensifies.

Small natural weirs make the circuit fun.

I pass several of them and then, with confidence, I negotiate a very bad one that throws me into willow branches.

A brutal desalting. The kayak is stuck between two trunks, turned upside down, the paddle is gone and I struggle against the powerful current to go up the kayak centimetre by centimetre, hauling myself up on the straps. A broth!

I recover my paddle a little further down, stuck in some branches, a second epic in itself, then I dry off and get back on the river, which widens as I approach Montargis.

I enter the city by taking canals.

I feel as if I have changed continents and am paddling in Bangkok.

Then I arrive at the terminus: an impassable weir.

From there, I turned around and landed upstream, deflated and repacked, then searched the Net for the nearest hotel. Yesterday’s bivouac made me want comfort: some kind of big flying ants were running around the duvet until noon.

Let’s see: Ibis centre. 450 metres. Perfect. I’ll dry my stuff there…

And, incidentally, spend a comfortable night. I need it.

A crazy day

15th July. After an early breakfast on the terrace…

I crossed the Loing canal by the footbridge I had used the day before,

Then I went to the edge of the lake to inflate my kayak.

The first passage I found was closed, and I was afraid that the second one would be too – which would have forced me to dock, deflate, carry, walk, etc. But no: I was able to cross this bridge by lying down a bit.

But no: I was able to cross this bridge by lying down a bit.

I travelled through green canals, guided by the indispensable IphiGéNie.

I crossed an amusing weir with the kayak, chased by a football which reminded me of the World Cup final scheduled for this evening.

The exit from the city was less bucolic.

But I eventually found the river.

Crossing this bridge gave me some work to do.

I walked a short kilometre pulling my boat. Soon enough, however, the Loing regained its enchanting face.

With even some current, to make navigation more pleasant.

I passed under an old disused railway line.

Then under another one, in service this one.

Then I reached Chalette much faster than I expected.

So I took a short break after the weir.

Then I got back into the current, which was very present in places. Vaccinated by my stupid desalination of yesterday, I negotiated my curves better – you learn every day.

To avoid another weir that was almost dry and populated by fishermen, I took an arm that iPhiGéNie indicated to me. Banks of water lilies adorned the banks. Beautiful!

At the end I saw this:

A mini footbridge. Rather low but I knew it would pass. I lay down in the kayak, Ramses 2 style, paddle long against me, and let the current guide me.

There really wasn’t much room: like a scanner tube.

It was when I got close – and it was too late to manoeuvre – that I realised that the tube was full of spider webs. With the owners inside. Monsters!

To recover from this improvised nightmare, I landed on a small island.

I thought it would make a nice place to bivouac but it was still too early to stop, so I continued.

For several kilometres, I slipped on aquatic plants.

I went along ramshackle, deserted cabins, whose atmosphere reminded me of Boorman’s film Deliverance. The appearance of a young idiot playing the banjo wouldn’t have surprised me much.

So I didn’t linger.

Then I came up against the Goulette dam.

With careful docking in the mud.

It reminded me of Châtillon. The macaroon effect, melting under the thin crust.

You can’t get enough of it…

I realised that I was on the edge of the canal. What to choose?

Certainly not the canal.

The seaweed patches were blooming with little white anemones with blue dragonflies flying around.

Further on, I inevitably thought of another film: A River runs through it…

And while I’m on the subject of film memories, these long aquatic plants also reminded me of that dreamlike, frightening scene in The Night of the Hunter, where we discover what the false preacher, the disturbing Robert Mitchum, has done with his recent wife…

Before Dordives, the Loing has widened to such an extent that it reminded me of the Seine, as found upstream from Montereau.

I then understood that this widening was caused by this dam, which still bore the scars of the 2016 flood.

I crossed it on foot and walked for a while in the shallow, sun-warmed water.

When the Loing returned to a more navigable depth, I started paddling again and passed under the A77 highway.

Before coming up against the Grands Moulins dam. 

So I approached in an unsightly place, with brambles and nettles to greet me at the exit.

I hoisted the canoe, cut a path with a machete-paddle, carried all the gear along the canal in the blazing sun and then tried to get back into the river.

Steep slope but nothing very complicated with a little elbow grease…

Arrival in Souppes sur Loing. Almost on time to see the world cup final.

Quickly, I pack everything up and walk to the campsite.

What? Closed? Ah. Since the 2016 flood. Goodbye game, shower, etc. After a full day of paddling, thirty kilometres of river on the clock, I’m a bit stunned.

I hear clamour from the church square. A terrace. Umbrellas. Let’s go and see…

I order a beer and watch Paul Pogba score. Then the barman tells me that there are no hotels here either. I am cursed.

I finish my beer, a quarter of an hour before the end of the match because I’ve got an earful of vuvuzellas and the screams of male and female drunks, then I go back to inflate the kayak.

The storm that had been rumbling for a while turns into a downpour: I take shelter from the rain under some trees, telling myself that I will definitely remember Souppes sur Loing on this historic final night.

Under a bridge, I watch the sun return.

Everywhere, invisible, there are shouts, whistles and horns. France is obviously the world champion of soccer but the news leaves me indifferent: the river has put me on the sidelines a bit and fatigue no doubt does the rest.

I leave Souppes with difficulty, through cluttered canals where I have to walk in the water with care – there is rusty junk among the pebbles.

I then return to the Loing, wondering where I am going to sleep…

I have about two hours of sunlight ahead of me. Let’s consult IphiGeNie. She shows me a tiny island nearby.

Can’t you see it? Wait, I’ll enlarge the image and draw a cross on it, like Stevenson in Treasure Island. Well, I know, it’s a star. No cross available on the application…

Given its size, this island must be deserted. I will therefore spend a night there, if not comfortably, at least quietly.

Let us approach and board.

Not very engaging on that front.

Here, however, it may be appropriate.

Let’s get the place cozy. First, the clothesline. I think it’s immediately more civilised to have laundry drying, don’t you?

And mine needs it. I then put on dry clothes, slip the bottom of my leggings into my socks and spray everything with insecticide. I prune some ivy and other brambles with my Opinel knife and then I finish by putting up the hut. Et voilà.

I forgot: with a view of the port. Sure ya.

Then night falls little by little. Apart from the firecrackers and foghorns that reach me from beyond the world, the island is full of strange noises.

Well, see you tomorrow!

To the forbidden section... and beyond

 

I like to paraphrase Buzz Lightyear.

OK. Big programme today: up at the crack of dawn…

I didn’t sleep much at all, about 4 hours. I thought I would be quiet, away from the honking crowds, but the proximity of the canal earned me the rattles of exhaustless scooters until around midnight. Plus a few avuncular screams. All these people left at about one o’clock and I stayed for a while listening to noises in the dark: gurgling, croaking. Not worrying. Intriguing, rather. Then I fell asleep without realizing it.

After a frugal breakfast of crunchy muesli eaten directly from the plastic bag, followed by a ration of lukewarm water, I packed up and headed back to the river in the beautiful light.

Past this railway bridge – the Paris-Montargis line – I head for the old, deserted canoe passages.

A succession of small, very pleasant rapids, in shallow but sufficiently deep water.

To pass, while sitting in the kayak and counting the drift, twenty centimeters is enough. I measured with a paddle. Let’s continue.

Nice, isn’t it? This meander leads to the well-named Beau Moulin.

Entrance door to the Forbidden Section. At least that’s what the article in the local paper that my wife cut out some time before I left and which I mentioned earlier.

I positioned IphiGéNie on a suitable enlargement – 1 centimetre for 80 metres – but for the moment, the river offers a peaceful face.

I’m a bit apprehensive about the Portonville weir, which the article talks about in appalling terms. We shall see.

Speaking of weirs, here is the one at the Glandelles mill.

Not very bad. Passage to the rope, a little walk in the water, let’s embark again.

Next. I arrive in sight of another weir which is a barrier. My map tells me that it is the Portonville weir. I am wary. But nothing. The water flows a little faster on the right, a natural path that leads to a quiet area that I take.

And that’s all.

I have just passed the gap, which can be seen here on the right. The bank is indeed a bit hollowed out – you can see the current at the foot – but nothing to worry about. I have known more rock n’ roll in the upper gorges of the Hérault, in the south of France. Well, I imagine that after a big storm, it can be hectic. But today, frankly, the flow here is a laugh…

Having said that, in a few days of paddling, I also learned to “read” the river better and to control my skids, to use movements which seem contradictory to the trajectory but which usefully compensate the force of the water. This probably explains why I didn’t find this passage very complex.

The Bagneaux bridge marks the exit of the Forbidden Section. Which was short after all.

The altruistic concern of the graffiti artist, who does not want the tourists to get lost, is to be noted.

I continue on my way, looking at the huts on the bank.

All this with a beautiful golden light on the willows.

I spend a moment, amused, watching moorhen chicks, balls of fine black down playing, wading, on water lily leaves.

The Loing then runs alongside a few houses which I wonder whether they still belong to Bagneaux or already to Nemours.

Nemours, no doubt, as I get there very quickly, with a magnificent view of the castle from the right bank mill weir.

I dock at the foot of the castle and ask a young Rasta to look after my kayak while I go and buy some cigarettes.

I chat with him for a while when I get back. He still has blue-white-red marks from the day before, a nasty scab on his cheek and has obviously slept on his bench. I don’t know if he’s a party animal or a homeless person, so I don’t dare ask him if I can take his picture. Stupid shyness. He would surely have accepted.

I fill my water bag in the Loing, with my filter, add two disinfectant tablets – precaution in the form of a belt and braces but the water is so clear that I see a perch chasing a small fish that jumps out of the water, followed by the perch playing the river orca – then I leave.

The Loing canal and the river are adjacent for a moment. The landscape makes me think prematurely of the Seine, although it is still far away.

I walk along silos, more imposing than those of Châtillon-Coligny, proof if any were needed that barges do not only transport gravel.

Then I pass under the Autoroute du Soleil – the “highway of the sun”, nickname of the A6 which goes from Paris to the south of France -and look at the vehicles, amused by the difference between their speed and mine.

At the Moncourt-Fromonville dam, I obey a sign that instructs me to take the starboard side. I am now in marked territory – no more adventurous exploration – but I absolutely do not want to tempt the devil by crossing this flap dam.

To find out more about this type of dam, which can be recognised by its hydraulic cylinders, and its deadly incompatibility with canoeing: take a look here (the link is in French but you’ll easily understand the drawings)

I misunderstood what the sign was telling me, thinking that a slide was hiding on the left.

But no. There is only the lock. Open, though. Abandoned. In memory of all those I had to painstakingly bypass, I paddle through it, giggling.

Before I realise that there is no slide and that I have to turn back, sheepishly.

I land at the foot of the sign and find the river.

On the other side of the dam.

By photographing this cormorant afterwards, I am making an inventory of all the birds I have seen since I have been on the Loing.

Mallards, lots of them – I noticed on this occasion that the female duck, to keep the intruder away from her brood, has a brilliant technique: she feigns weakness by flapping her wings painfully on the water, as if she were injured, carries on this game for about three hundred meters to attract the one she thinks is a predator, and then, when she judges the distance from the nest to be sufficient, she takes off, makes a sharp turn and returns to her starting point. Clever.

I also saw a lot of grey herons, about ten a day, that I never managed to take a picture of. Swans too, including a couple with a still grey-plumaged swan. I discovered that the swans, when they take off, make an incredible helicopter noise: their wings flap like paddles – ftaf ftaf ftaf ftaf – and then they rocket away in a noise that is difficult to describe. “Rocket’ is still the verb that best describes the sound.

What else did I see? Barnacle geese, which I frightened away and which immediately flew away as they passed very close to me.

Moorhens, jet black with red beaks. A jay too. No kingfishers, alas, although I know there are some.

Plus hundreds of others, which I didn’t see, but whose whistles in the trees brightened up my walk.

In Moncourt-Fromonville, sumptuous mansions have replaced the huts.

With that, I arrive in sight of the magnificent bridge of Grez sur Loing. I had originally planned to stop in Grez for the stage, but it’s only midday and I think that at the rate I’m going, I might as well be home in the evening.

So I crossed the bridge and continued on my way, past more superb properties – in the etymological sense of the word “superb”: proud.

At Montigny, two young guys on the weir are showing off their bottles of booze.

– Two stars! We’re the champions! they bellow in a hoarse voice.

– So it seems,” I reply with a smile.

I pass the slide and then bypass the bathing area, which is not very busy on this hungover Monday, and I turn around to look at Montigny for a while.

Before continuing my navigation along the current that carries me, admiring the houses of which I wonder, however, what face their ground floor made during the flood of 2016.

Towards the Sorques reserve, I pass a group of rented canoes – the only ones I’ve seen all this time and who seem to be just discovering the craft – and then stop on a shingle beach.

And then I realise that I am exhausted. I am exhausted. The blisters on my hands, which didn’t bother me much before, are burning. I’m terribly hungry for something other than roasted peanuts or dried fruit, and much more hungry for a beer than the lukewarm water in my water bag.

I inventorize, sorry, some marks of my passages in the brambles…

I pull the kayak into the shade, bathe – wash myself would be more accurate – in the cool water, then nibble without finding pleasure in it and open IphiGéNie.

I am not far from Moret, nor from my goal – the confluence – but I had initially planned to return to Fontainebleau by the Seine and to dock at the marina of Avon, after Valvins. However, apart from the fact that I feel that I am running out of strength, the presence on the map of the big Champagne lock is making me feel cold.

What should I do? At the rate I’m going, I should reach Saint-Mammès at 4.30pm.

I decide to call my old friend Jean-Christophe. He lives in Thomery, not far from where I’m staying. If he hasn’t gone on holiday…

The phone doesn’t work. Text messages do. A few exchanges later, an appointment is made. Great!

I get back into the kayak and soon arrive in Moret.

I pass the bubbling slide of the mill under the amused eye of the onlookers, who were waiting for it, then I go towards the canal.

The presence of barges tells me that the Seine is not far away.

The channel widens and I struggle against the wind, in a small contrary gust of wind that gives me a hard time.

I sail alongside colourful boats.

Then I see the Saint-Mammès footbridge, which marks the end of this exploration.

Fighting against the wind, modest but rough on my scale, I advance painfully and I finally arrive at the confluence, where the Loing insensitively mixes with the Seine. Goal!

Last docking.

Folding the equipment with Jean-Christophe’s help – it reminds us of some common adventures from almost thirty years ago – then beer on the terrace to celebrate.

The cafe owner is a former school parent, from when I was stationed not far from here, but I don’t know if he recognised me. I have one of those faces, though. Hungry too, absolutely.

Jean-Christophe drops me off at home and I throw myself on the fridge.

Ahhhhhhhh…

Then, fresh shower and in bed at 6pm for 14 hours of non-stop coma: a record!

NB: If you liked this report, leave me a comment so I can read it when I wake up.

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