The Canal des Deux Mers | No Mad's Land
No Mad's Land

The Canal des Deux Mers

The Canal des Deux Mers (Two Seas Canal) whose reputation is well established is composed of the legendary Canal du Midi and its little brother the Garonne Lateral Canal. Yet for those who have never taken them, they can be some surprises. Used by many cyclists during summer, we imagine them easy, but once on the edge of the water, it must nevertheless be prepared because the traps can be numerous, mainly on the Canal du Midi.

I wanted to write this post to warn those who let’s cycling thinking approach a casual stroll. Bordeaux and Narbonne are separated by about 400 kilometers, so you need about 8 days, depend your training, to rally the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. The tramontane, strong wind from the North – North
West, naturally encourages cyclists to travel the Canal du Midi in moving towards the South East, Catalonia and the Languedoc Roussillon rather than the inverse.

Day 1 : Coming from Angoulême, I followed a cape south to cross the Garonne Lateral Canal around Marmande, at Mas d’Agenais precisely, a small port where you can directly get water … That day, there was an humid and unpleasant atmosphere, to which should be added a slight headwind. The track, covered with a fine yellowish gravel is quite good to ride. The canal, completely straight, is disconcertingly of monotony. This is quite confusing to go from the hilly road lined with cars to a flat canal and empty of life in winter.

Day 2 : Stopping at Agen for the night, I headed the next day on a pleasant journey, sunnier and less monotonous than the day before. The passage of the famous canal-bridge of Agen, that section of the canal empty, it was perhaps even less reassuring to see the bottom of the canal rather than cycling the edge of the water …

Canal vide

Some sections under reparation obliged me sometimes to leave the canal. That day, more beautiful than the day before despite the cold, easily took me to the town of Castelsarrasin without forgetting to stop at Moissac. I was surprised by the difficulty to get water while I spent my entire day around it.

Day 3 : I left the Garonne Lateral Canal a few kilometers to still find him in St Porquier. The coating is now very different. Asphalted, very fast, you must still be on your guard because some small roots can hang out here and there. Between Pompignan and Saint Jory, the path is strewn with asphalt patches, but may be not when you will pass it. Many walkers wander with their dog on the end of this section and in the summer, peak time on the canal, it can make driving difficult …

Day 4 : There are 20 kilometers to go to reach Toulouse, the pink city, and the decor of quiet and peaceful water with lined trees suddenly change to the din of highway, industrial buildings and makeshift shelters for homeless along the canal. Asphalt is now totally demolished until the entrance of the suburb habited of Toulouse and the docks give you the way to join downtown. You must leave the canal to get there. I was in Toulouse the First of January and the city seems empty, quiet, pleasant as ever … I’m not cycling a lot that day, taking the time to wander. Starting again on crowded docks, South Port and his harbor a few kilometers later, in Ramonville city, is the real beginning of the Canal du Midi. I would spend the night on a barge welcomed by a couple of nomad moored there since the day before … Thanks to them for my first night of my life on the water !!!

Day 5 : I start my first pedals revolutions on the Canal du Midi. It show me his best finery. Severe frost in the morning, water was froze and shrubs scattered covered by a thousands of crystal canvases. Riding on this asphalt perfectly maintained place specifically for cyclists by the Haute Garonne department reveals a disconcerting ease. The highway often too close for me, installing a constant background noise that we ended up forgetting, offers to the cyclists some shared rest areas. On this section you will find water every 10 or 15 kilometers and also the sanitary halt of Emborel with toilets and sinks. It is the paradise of the cyclist. I now understand the myth. The meandering lined by plane trees provide to the Canal du Midi a special charm, attracting and far from boring … While the thaw begins, the plane trees, before disappearing eaten by their cursed mushrooms, try to knock out me sending huge cold drops falling on my nose or neck …

Canal du midi

Then suddenly, after wearing Lauragais, plunging into a small wood and then leaving the Haute Garonne, passing under a bridge, it is the beginning of trouble. It is here, that if you want to continue the journey and join the Mediterranean Sea, you must be careful, especially if you are traveling with children.

I draw your attention to the fact that I have traveled the Canal du Midi during winter, with gels and consecutives thaws and the path were probably in a terrible state that you will never experimente if you cycling along the Canal in summer … but … if you go in the summer after a period of consecutive days of rain or a strong rain storm, it could be that you ended similar conditions, especially in the summer, the repeated passage of cyclists must heavily damage the path …

At this point in your ride, you enter the department of Aude … and very quickly, you arrive at the lock of Ocean. You must then move to the right side of the canal.
The path radically changes of appearance. You spend from asphalt maintained to dirty path … the Canal du Midi in the Aude department is wild. For a long time, I asked to myself if it was voluntary on the part of local officials to let the path natural without unrolling the red carpet for cyclists or if it’s a lack of budget. A local people give to me that the following answer: ” the department does not seem to have considered the matter …” (which I doubt).
Meanwhile, we must ride here and nature lovers like me will enjoy, while sunday’s cyclists will suffer !!!

During the first hundred meters, no choice. You must cycling near from the canal, sometimes too close to the water. Thereafter, it will happen that you have the choice between ride the edge of the water, which you will surely give a few scares, or take the path that overlooks the canal, but that doesn’t always exist. At the time of my tour, this last one was often too muddy for me to borrow it.

Choix du chemin

I recently met a French family traveling by bike with 3 children, and they give me the thought that the only wheel trace on the path makes very difficult the access for a 2 wheels trailer allowing small children to be comfortably seated during the trip … they will suffer of the incessant and violent ballotages as stones, roots and holes will make. It’s already bad enough for the cyclist himself after a few time.
Furthermore, considering that some cyclists may be rolling in the opposite direction, I can’t imagine the difficulties that may arise.

Boue

This the toughest and dirtiest part only lasts one dozen of kilometers. The pottery “NOT” mark the end of the flooding path and bring you to a small village called La Planque, with its magnificent house on your right. In these places, live 4 siblings at the head of a family of 70 people (all of them occupying the entire village), heirs of the former mayor of the town of Castelnaudary in the sixteenth century. That was his hunting lodge …

Day 6 : From La Planque to the town of Castelnaudary, there is a few kilometers more on a better path. The city and its port welcomes you and you will find a very poorly maintained asphalt …
On leaving the port, you pass left side of the canal for a long day most of the time on a rugged terrain and fraught with pitfalls … Think about getting something to drink because the water points will be virtually non-existent now …
A strong tramontane helped me to move forward, but either way on this stretch, it’s difficult to ride fast. It’s necessary to take your time, enjoy nature, but mostly remain attentive to detail. Again, the best option for me was to follow the path bordering the water often very close and dotted with large roots and stones, which can be concealed under a carpet of dead leaves and slippery depending the season. Fortunately, sometimes the track is improving somewhat to let you blow and resume your minds, but it never lasts long. The passage on the D71 for a few hundred meters offer you a short respite and you will feel to have wings so much riding on asphalt will seem easy. Sometimes between two locks, on the other side, there is an asphalte alternative, but it’s rare and short.
Suddenly, a sign indicates the end of the track and you come to a bridge that tells you that you are on the Canal du Midi if you do not know it yet. You approach Carcassone, courage. At this time, if the path was right to your will, you can take the road that will bring you for 15 kilometers in Carcassone and lavish medieval city. If the tramontane will help you, it will only take a few pedal strokes. However, the cars also seem hurry …
Because it will need more to break my determination, and to be able to finish this post, I chose to stay along the canal. On its end, this stretch is certainly the most beautiful and wildest … Enjoy these last few kilometers, because if you get to Carcassone in the summer time and want to visit the city medieval, you will require to be patient and find your small way through the mass of people flowing through the narrows streets … Personally, in full winter, I was able to ride my bicycle without any difficulty in the city, and I could appreciate the true its vastness that surprised me …

Day 7 : I had decided to ride in the nearby mountains, and it’s for this reason that this day marked my last kilometers on the Canal du Midi. I left him in Trebes after only eight kilometers on a track in a suitable condition … You can join the city of Narbonne that evening, and there are even opportunities to rally Perpignan crossing the ponds of Ayrolles and Berre …

For many hundreds of kilometers, I spent my days well alone along the Garonne Lateral Canal and the Canal du Midi, just crossing some local cyclists and walkers … in summer time, it will may be important to take into account the fact that you ride a path teeming of cyclists attracted by the myth …

All things considered, it’s only a few days alternating hard time and pleasure, but you will come back without doubt proud and happy to have ride the Canal des Deux Mers, and so the Garonne Lateral Canal and mainly the Canal du Midi …

Be careful, respect environment and enjoy these beautiful canals.

For me, the road continues to assault of the Pyrenees, direction Spain …

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