The mighty River Loire is known as the last great untamed river in Europe. It has dangerous shifting sandbanks, frequent flash floods in the winter, and in the summer, it's so shallow that commercial navigation is all but impossible. And so it was that in the 1820's, work started on a Canal Lat?ral, which ran parallel to the Loire, running more or less around the edge of it's flood plain.
The Loire valley is stunningly beautiful of course with its wooded slopes and elegant chateaux. The magnificent Ducal Palace at Nevers is one of the finest in France. At La Charit, the video takes you on a tour of the abbey, now a World Heritage site, and at Cosne-sur-Loire, the camera takes you through a busy French street market, buzzing with activity.
We associate the Loire Valley with fine white wines, of course, and the video includes a visit to the Marcel Gitton vineyard. The proprietor Pascal Gitton takes you on a fascinating tour of the cellars, and the fermentation vats, an area not normally seen by the public. We take you to the ancient city of Sancerre, perched on a hill top at the heart of the wine making region, with magnificent commanding views of the Loire and the vineyards.
150 years ago, the Loire was a centre for heavy industry. There was a major iron works at Beffes, which made heavy use of the canal. A quarter of the whole of France's output of iron in the nineteenth Century came from Beffes. On the video, we tracked down those original furnaces, now hidden away in some woodland, but in surprisingly good condition. Fourchambault was another centre for heavy industry. The skilled labour required to run the steel furnaces here was recruited from Staffordshire and South Wales.
There's very little remaining commercial traffic on the canal, but we filmed two 300 tonners, carrying grain bound for the Netherlands. The Canal Lat?ral makes three spectacular river crossings. It crosses the Loire on a fine old stone aqueduct at Digoin. It crosses a major tributary of the Loire, the Allier, again on a stone aqueduct, this time a magnificent 18 arch structure. At Briare, it crosses the Loire again on the longest aqueduct in Europe. Built in the 1890's, it was the first major structure anywhere to be built in steel, and like all three aqueducts, it can carry 300 tonne barges to the Freycinet standard.
But perhaps the most memorable feature of this canal is it's amazing wildlife. In and on the water, on the banks and in the air, we filmed an abundance of species that many of us just hadn't seen before.
Running Time: 60 minutes