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January 8, 2012

Canal des Deux Mers: Trebes to Carcassonne

Reflections over the Vauban designed Orbiel Aqueduct

Canal du Midi

With the Herault’s well-worn ropes stowed on board we gently throttled out of the Trebes’ small canal port.  This morning there was no wind.  The water was as a mirror still reflector of the fated plane trees that line the banks.  Under the conditions a slow exit seemed appropriate.  Canal du Midi is its finest on tranquil windless mornings.  We tried our best not to break the channel’s calm.

Ages of ropes have grooved the Fresquel lock's rim stones.

Our day’s stretch of canal was familiar.  Last summer we stayed nearby at Chateau Canet.  Then we cycled from Trebes to Carcassonne on the Canal du Midi’s repurposed towpath.  On the way we crossed by four locks and over two bridge aqueducts.  Today we established that it is much faster from Trebes to Carcassonne on a bike than by a canal barge.  Nevertheless anyway is a good way to travel this section of canal.

Near Carcassonne the Canal du Midi deviates from its original alignment.  Pierre-Paul Riquet, the canal’s entrepreneurial builder, wanted to route the waterway through Carcassonne.  Taking the canal into Carcassonne was more costly than constructing a channel along an easier route near the Fresquel River.  Deeply in debt, Riquet sought financial support from the Carcassonne municipality.  At the time the canal project and Riquet himself were unpopular with rulers of Languedoc; the Consuls of Carcassonne rejected his proposal. Thus the easier route was built and for years the Canal Royal de Languedoc, as the Canal du Midi was first known, followed the course of the Fresquel River two kilometers from Carcassonne’s center.

Lock edge stones worn by the passage of years of barges (left). Becky gets Alonsomania (center) and pilots the Herault into a lock (right).

Once the Canal Royal de Languedoc was finished and functioning Carcassonne understood the value of a central canal port.  A solution was proposed; a spur channel from the main canal would be built that would allow boats to travel into the city.  In the mid 18th Century construction of this secondary canal began.  Soon the technical issues proved overwhelming.  It was decided that it was more viable to reroute the entire Canal du Midi through Carcassonne.

Work on the canal’s new alignment began in 1787 but proceeded slowly.  In 1810, the new channel complete with a canal port in Carcassonne was commissioned.  Riquet’s vision of taking the canal through Carcassonne was ultimately realized more than a century after the Canal Royal de Languedoc was inaugurated.

Canal du Midi reflects the plane trees and a characteristic arched stone bridge.

The Herault crosses le Fresquel on the Pont-canal du Fresquel. Near this point the canal deviates from its original alignment.

Carcassonne continued to fund urban improvements along the new route of the canal until 1855.  The legacy of this work today is attractive.  In Carcassonne, as it does in many of the cities that it passes through, the Canal du Midi functions as a band of parkland.

For modern barge travelers the Canal du Midi’s route through the heart of Carcassonne is ideal.  With a modest mooring fee, bargers stay in a convenient park-like central location and explore the city from the comfort of their mobile temporary homes.  Not far from the boat docks are Michelin-starred restaurants and open-air markets.  In Carcassonne as in many places in France, traveling by canal boat has its advantages.

Carcassonne's lock is the last step before the city's port.

The Carcassonne lock filled with water.



Becky powers the Herault into a lock.

Day 12

Start:  Trebes

Finish:  Carcassonne

Travel time*:  2.8 hours

Cruising time**: 2.7 hours

Distance traveled:  13 kilometers

Lock chambers transited:  7

Weather:  Clear, moderate temps with calm wind

At the end of the day, our trip across France was 29% complete based on cruising time and 28% complete based on distance covered.  We had passed through 61 of the 246 locks (25%) of the locks that we would cross.

* The time between the start of the day and the end of the day.

**As measured by the hour meter on our boat.  When the motor is running we were either moving or standing by to move (like in a lock).

Pont-canal d'Orbiel (left) and the Hotel Terminus in Carcassonne (right)

The gates close behind the Herault in the small pound between the Fresquel locks.

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