France - - Easy Itinerary -

Tips and ad­vice for driv­ing in France­plete­­ing

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

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