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in a straight row. We stop at the first of them, La Ségerie, which is surrounded by bushes covered with masses of blue flowers. The warm evening light casts long shadows across the grass, and a family sits enjoying a picnic on the opposite side of the lock. After a brief rest, a snack and a series of cartwheels (the seven-year-old, not the forty-something), we continue the short stretch to reach La Petite Madeleine.
The lock-keeper’s house has a small café with tables and benches (hard to beat for a coffee and some palet breton biscuits), and offers accommodation in converted stables, as well as on boats moored by the lock. Our beds for the night are aboard the Diskiant – a small yacht ‘moored’ in a quiet paddock. It hardly matters that it is not in the water – the fact that we are sleeping on a boat had sent my daughter into a frenzy of excitement ever since I dropped a hint earlier in the afternoon.
The best place to learn about the history of the Canal d’ille-et-rance and its construction is at the Maison du Canal, which is housed in a former lock-keeper’s cottage at La Madeleine, the previous écluse about 200 metres from our accommodation. We walk along to the small museum the following morning, which also gives us an excuse not to cycle in the wet weather that is forecast for the early part of the day.
Work on the 85-kilometre canal began in 1804 – although the idea of building a waterway linking the Rance Estuary with the River Vilaine had been proposed much earlier – and it was opened in 1832. The red saxophone-playing figures near the museum allude to one of the most popular events in Hédé-bazouges – the Jazz aux Écluses held every September.
By midday the drizzle has stopped and we set off again, pausing at the bridge where the D795 crosses the canal. Leaving our bikes against a tree, my daughter and I walk up a ramp to the metal footbridge, with its views back along the ladder of the 11 écluses. At Évran, we spend another night on a boat (this time on the water), moored by the lock.
A little way beyond Évran, we pass the Moulin de Boutron, a pretty old mill, and at Pont Perrin we watch a group of kayakers negotiate the lock, before skimming off along the canal again.
Many of the lock-keepers’ houses are still in use, and in most cases the écluses are swung open by hand, although the paddles are operated electrically. Sometimes, a lock-keeper will operate more than one, if they are close together.
Around this point, we pass the junction with the V3 cycle route, which runs from Saint-malo and passes the Forêt de Paimpont, which is associated with the forest of Brocéliande from the Arthurian legends. This in turn links with a route further west, following part of the Canal de Nantes à Brest.
At Léhon, we cross the steeply pitched old stone bridge, before cruising around a bend opposite the walls of the abbey, to arrive at the small port below the steep ramparts of Dinan, where restaurant and café terraces spill out along the waterfront.
Dinan is arguably the most impressive of Brittany’s old towns (and the competition is pretty stiff, with the likes of Saint-malo and Vannes). We enter along its most picturesque street – the cobbled Rue du Jerzual – pushing our bikes up the steep incline to reach the historic centre. After checking into our hotel, we head over to the ramparts, which offer a fantastic view over the canal, then make for the bell tower for more views.
A couple of kilometres beyond Dinan, the canal broadens to become the Rance Estuary, surrounded by reed beds. It is here that we leave the waterway and follow an asphalt road up through the village of Taden to join the greenway ( voie verte). Originally a railway line linking Dinan and Dinard, it is now a pleasant, traffic-free cycle path running more or less straight down to the resort. En route it passes the village of PleslinTrigavou, one of the most important megalithic sites in Brittany, with its 4,000-year-old menhirs (standing stones – although unlike those at Carnac, these ones toppled over long ago). The greenway also goes near Dinard airport, but is completely hidden from it, before heading down gently into the bustling centre of Dinard.
Leaving the greenway, we head for
Our beds for the night are aboard a small yacht ‘moored’ in a quiet paddock