In the north of France near the city Laon you find the canal that connects the (canalized) rivers Oise and Aisne. It leads across a mountainridge, so there are many locks, and a 2 km long tunnel as well. At the highest point you find the lake Lac de Monampteuil. Several small streams fill the lake so this lake can function as a reservoire to fill the canal as it will loose some of its water every time the locks are opened. Along the lake is a campsite "Camping du Lac" from where you can explore the lake and the canal. The canal leads through a very silent forest area where you can see the kingfisher. The locks are all operated automatically and can not be accessed by kayaks. Two light-beams detect a passing ship and will start operating the locks. A kayak is too small to be detected. As at most locks there is no-one operating, it is for safety reasons strictly forbidden to walk across or come close to the locks. You have to take the kayak out of the water and carry it passed the locks. Often you find a picnic-table and a small park near the locks.
No kayak rentals
Camping at the Lac de Monampteuil:Camping du Lac, 02000 Monampteuil, Phone 0323216073, Internet: http://snlaonnoise.ifrance.com/installations.htm
To the starting point Lat. 49.4676 Lon. 3.553:To get to the highest point of the canal near Lac de Monampteuil exit the A26 (Calais-Reims) at exit 13 Laon. Follow the N2 to the south. Just after the town Urcel turn left and follow the D15. Just before the bridge you find a campsite on your left. The canal is a little further. Across the bridge you turn left to the starting point.
Lac de MonampteuilFrom the campsite you can take the kayak into the lake. You'll have to carry it up the iron stairs to reach the boating ans swimming area. The lake is 2 km long and full of fish. I went up the lake in the early morning when there was a haze over the water. It was very nice and quiet. I saw the sun come up peering through the haze, and the water was stirred from time to time by the big fish under the surface. Along the lake is a small dike which seperates it from the canal. It is not easy to carry the kayak across as the sides are rather high.
To the Tunnel Braye-en-LaonnoisThe tunnel is only 3 km away from the campsite. From the campsite turn left across the bridge and then left again. There is parking space along the canal and a floating pier from which it is easy to enter the kayak. Also you'll find an information board (in French and English) with information about the history of the canal and the tunnel. Although there's no sign indicating you are not allowed to enter the tunnel, I think this is not a wise idea. The tunnel is opened for motorized ship from one side at the time, indicated by lights. A big fan (at the other entrance) moves away the exhaust-fumes.
To the southI made a second trip on the canal starting from the bridge on road D653. There are locks her too, the area is very pretty and yes, there is a picnic-table. I went west towards Pinon. The canal leads through the forest Forêt de Pinon. Along the canal you can see the remains of an old railroad. Until 1960 the boats passing the canal were pulled by a little train. Just before the village you come at another pair of locks. It is very quiet along the canal, but every now and then a corgo-ship passes by. They navigate rather slowly, but mind the tricky small waves and current behind the ship, as there is a diesel engine working very hard to keep the ships hull moving just a few inches over the bottom of the canal.
Braye-en-Laonnois Tunnel at the highest point of the Canal de l'Oise a Aisne.
Lac de Monampteuil.