June 2005

Carcassonne to Beziers





We were provided with yet more entertainment concerning  this lunch time break in Carcassonne. We were aware that there were to be road restrictions due to a ‘manifestation’ and so were not surprised to wake up to a row of vehicles, trailers and riot police on the bank of the canal. They hung around all morning and then at 12:00 promptly set up tables in the back of the vans and laid out their ‘dejeuner’. Truncheons and weapons were adjusted so that all could sit round and enjoy the baguettes cheese and no doubt wine. A minute after 1:30 the sirens wailed as they disappeared off towards the Palais du Justice. The local paper next day lamented the bunker that had been set up around their courthouse and sympathised with the 150 viticulturists who had been demonstrating against the imposition of wine quotas and found themselves herded by 300 riot police.


Carcassonne has restored it’s extraordinary old city which is a fair walk from the canal but worth it.


Carcassonne Disneyland

Carcassonne Street Scene




Carcassonne from Pont Neuf






Malpas Tunnels.


The tunnel that Riquet built through the limestone and sand of Malpas hill was the first to allow barges underground but many doubted that he could do it.  Colbert, on behalf of the King, who was part financing the venture, sent a message to stop the work. Riquet’s response was to build the tunnel in the next six days and to greet the treasurer, when he arrived, with a torchlit walk through the hill.  In fact Riquet had taken into account the tunnel built 400 years before, to drain the lake at Montady for agriculture, which still drains the land  and runs below the canal tunnel. We also searched out the entrance to the tunnel for the train, built 200 years after the one for the canal. As we passed through the canal tunnel we could feel the rumble of the train passing below us.




One end of the first canal tunnel in the world


One end of the ‘monk’s tunnel, built in the C13th deeper and longer than Riquet’s C17th canal tunnel or the C19th railway tunnel





As we approached the canal tunnel


TGV exits rail tunnel 12 metres under canal but above the monk’s tunnel.






One of the other fine achievements is the flight of locks at Fonseranes. The canal followed a high contour so that it had no problem as it approached the edge of the River Orb valley. It then needed to lose height in a hurry in order to join the Orb.  Riquet built 9 locks to allow this. There are still 6 chambers working before joining the newer cut to run through Bezier and they make fairly hard work in the heat, even though all we have to do is to handle the boat, making sure that it makes no holes in itself or other boats. The lock walls have withstood 400 years of thumps. Each evening at this time of year, we were surprised to see the lock keepers empty all the chambers. This makes a temporary but glorious waterfall.




Fonseranes lock gates open. About the same number behind us.


River Orb and Beziers cathedral to which Fonseranes locks used to drain; now there is a pont canal over the river.






We took a car for a weekend towards the Pyrenees. Amid the lovely hills we took a look at places with haunting memories of  the persecuted people of Montsegur.