“The coaches that stop three minutes on the bridge to admire the Eleven locks, that makes me laugh,” quips Jean-Michel Moraldo, president of the Maison du Canal association, in Hédé-Bazouges (Ille-et -Naughty), drinking her little white. Better than anyone, this sixty-year-old with the physique of an old sea bass knows that this site, one of the most remarkable in romantic Brittany, 24 kilometers north of Rennes, is only revealed to those who dare to take the time.
Time to stroll, observe and wait for a boat to pass through the Ille-et-Rance canal. 500 boats parade there on average from the end of March to the end of October. In this artificial environment created by man in the 19th century, nature is green, calm and restful. Seen from above, the alignment of the Eleven locks offers a magnificent bucolic perspective. By bike or on foot, we go up them one by one, taking the towpath in the shade of chestnut trees and centuries-old beeches.
Three hours to spend them all
It’s not difficult to imagine that this surprising succession of river engineering structures is a technical feat. Separated from 200 to 300 meters each over a total length of 2 kilometers, the locks are like the bars of a water ladder making it possible to cross a drop of 27 meters. “It takes about three hours to spend all of them by boat,” explains Jean-Michel as a good connoisseur. This former educator and sailor sailed his Neptune barge for 30 years on this canal that he knows by heart.
The locks with large granite walls and solid, enormous oak doors hold no secrets for him. “Bringing in a 90-ton boat, 30 meters long with only 7 centimeters of margin on the side and all without brakes, it was far from obvious,” he recalls. Strolling through the Eleven locks is now the opportunity to visit the Maison du Canal museum which offers heritage walks every Thursday in summer. But also to admire the lock houses built in the Napoleonic era which have welcomed generations of men and women to the service of the canal.
One night in a horse box
Several of them were rehabilitated a few years ago by the Brittany region, which entrusted the keys to project leaders wishing to bring them back to life. This is the case of the “Petite Madeleine” invested since 2014 by Catherine Saint-James and her family. They live there all year round and have created a range of unusual accommodation on site, the floating island. “You can spend the night on the water aboard all cabins (a sort of ferry), on land on a sailboat stranded in the meadow or in old horse boxes” transformed into rustic and charming rooms.
The terrace with its guinguette atmosphere is an essential stopover for all cyclists who want to quench their thirst before getting back in the saddle for the rest of their journey. And for those who want to taste the pleasure of sailing, Catherine offers the rental of small boats without a license. Maximum authorized speed: 6km / h. Life on the canal is a praise of slowness.