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The association "Arecabe"

mercredi 18 avril 2012, par Jean Bouguereau

ARECABE – Association for the Re-opening of the Canal de Berry

ARECABE The association ARECABE was founded in 1996 to work for the re-opening of the Canal de Berry linking the Canal Latéral à la Loire to Bourges, Vierzon and the navigable river Cher, with a Southern arm to Montluçon.

The canal de Berry launched central France into the industrial revolution in the early 19th century, carrying local coal, timber, iron ore, porcelain, ceramics and limestone to the new industrial and commercial centres. It led to the creation of a new steel-making town at Montluçon and a shipyard at Dun sur Auron The canal became legendary, giving birth to its own special barge, the “berrichon” and to a distinctive “tribe” of bargees, who could still be seen pulling their barges with horse or harness well into the 20th century.

With the increase in the size of vessels, its narrow channel and locks of only 2.70 meters wide became a serious handicap for commercial navigation and the canal was declassified in 1955. However, its small size confers a particular charm to the canal for water tourists and other holiday-makers.

Scenically, historically and gastronomically, its itinerary is exceptional : from Marseilles les Aubigny on the canal lateral à la Loire the canal follows the river Aubois to Sancoins where the prized white Charolais cattle are sold. Then the Southern arm follows the river Cher upstream to St Amand Montrond, the city of goldsmiths, from where you can visit Noirlac, one of the most perfectly preserved Cistercian abbeys in France. Further upstream the canal passes Ainay le Vieil, a 14th century fortress inhabited by the same family since the XV century, then through the Tronçais Forest and the secret world of Epineuil le Fleury, where the school in the novel “le Grand Meaulnes” was set. Finally it reaches Montluçon, whose high castle overlooks the river Cher and the lower town with its beautifully restored medieval houses.

The northern arm of the canal goes to Bourges via Dun sur Auron, where you can visit the Museum of the Canal de Berry. The canal has been concreted over here but there is a project to use a parallel channel in the river Auron for navigation via a lock. The canal runs through the centre of Bourges, one of the greatest regional capitals of France ever since the days of ancient Gaul and greatly embellished by its illustrious son Jacques Coeur, the 15th century millionaire. From there it follows the river Yèvre to Vierzon via Mehun sur Yevre in whose castle Jeanne d’Arc identified the king Charles VII. Vierzon itself has an impressive industrial history, famous in particular for its porcelain and its agricultural machinery. A few miles upstream are the vineyards of Quincy and Reuilly.

The canal now rejoins the river Cher at Selles sur Cher, where it is navigable down to the junction with the Loire. Two English narrow boats regularly ply this stretch and it is increasingly popular with boaters

AIM The association’s aim is :
-  to promote the re-opening of the Canal de Berry in its entirety, acting as an intermediary between the authorities and the public ;
-  To help bring together people interested in waterways tourism in the area.

-  Working with local authorities : the town of Vierzon has undertaken major work on restoring locks and channels through the “Syndicat Mixte du Canal de Berry ; other local authorities actively participating include Drevant and Montluçon ; a project is started to re-open channel at Dun sur Auron, etc.
-  organizing or participating in demonstrations, shows and other events in order to reach a wider public : annual public meeting at Vierzon ; “péniche d’or” award ; co-operation with cycling, fishing and hiking associations leading to “canal users’ charter” ; club boat ARECABE II ; membership of “Entente des Canaux du Centre” ; sponsorship of “portable boat show” ; participation in “Pâques boat” at St Jean de Losne, etc.
-  developing a network of correspondents to keep an eye on developments at all points along the canal : local representatives in different parts of canal
-  providing its members with information on the canal, waterways tourism and promotion methods through expeditions, a regular magazine “Biefs en Ecluses”, a conference on hydrologie, etc.


After contributing for 125 years to the industrial growth of Central France, the canal de Berry was declassified in 1955.


We believe it should be restored ! The re-opening of the canal to tourist traffic would be a major contribution to the economic development of the adjacent regions and would enhance the value of the local heritage for the benefit of the inhabitants.


If you care for this canal, you will want it to become a living heritage not just a wistful memory. If you believe in its future as a tourist attraction, if you think that a canal can only live when there are boats on it, then come and join ARECABE. The more we are, the stronger we will be.

Ruth Toye