Day 3: Renneville to Castelnaudary (21 kilometres, 13.1 miles)
The third day of walking along the Midi Canal from Renneville to Castelnaudary brings a change of ambiance. Although much of the canal is well sheltered by the canopy of plane trees, several sections are open and exposed offering views of the surrounding countryside.
Cafés are more plentiful also, with options available at Port Lauragais, Déversoir de Naurouze and Le Ségala (although I ALWAYS carry trail mix, just in case!).
Approaching Écluse d’Encassan
The garden at Écluse d’Encassan benefits from the open skies and oodles of sunshine.
Nine kilometres (5.3 miles) after leaving Renneville, the canal reaches its highest point at Déversoir de Naurouze.
The challenge of supplying this section of the canal with water, kept a final design in the ‘too hard’ basket for several hundred years until a solution was found by Pierre-Paul Riquet in the seventeenth century.
Riquet designed a system to collect water from the Montagne Noire (Black Mountain), channel it into an artificial reservoir (the Saint Ferréol Bassin) and feed it 34 kilometres (21 miles) downstream to what is the Déversoir de Naurouze. From here, the water feeds into the canal in either direction as required to keep the water levels at the correct height. Water can also be pumped from the canal back into the Déversoir should it threaten to overflow the canal.
A Visitor Centre is open during the summer, selling books and other memorabilia as well as snacks and drinks.
Two kilometres (1.2 miles) past Déversoir de Naurouze, the canal reaches le Ségala. This tiny port provided the first opportunity for boats to stop and cafés and other services flourished here.
Lunch is calling at le Ségala.
On the far side of the canal, as you approach the bridge, is a lavoir (wash house) where the local women would gather to do laundry.
Freshly cut hay bales between le Ségala and Écluse de la Méditerranée.
Just before Écluse de la Méditerranée, a converted barge hosts overnight guests.
If you chose to spend the night here, or in any of the converted barges offering accommodation along the Midi Canal, always check where the barge will be moored at the time of your visit. Many barges change location, moving up and down the canal, and while this may not cause a problem if you arrive by car, it can be a nasty surprise if you arrive on foot.
Today’s walk ends in Castelnaudary — a large town located right on the canal. Cafés, supermarkets and ATMs can be easily reached by crossing the bridge and following the main street into the heart of town.
Just beyond the bridge, you’ll pass the docks where the first boats loaded and unloaded cargo. But continue walking for another ten minutes to reach the Grand Bassin—a large reservoir used to regulate the water level of the canal. It was here that early passenger vessels tied up for the first night after leaving Toulouse.
Today, the Grand Bassin is home to dozens of motor boats available for hire to holiday makers headed for the Mediterranean. Perhaps it’s time to give your feet a break and take to the water?
Castelnaudary is a good choice for a rest day. There are many beautiful buildings to explore, including the church of Saint-Michel which dominates the skyline and a museum dedicated to the history of the Midi Canal which is housed in the seventeenth-century jail.
Not far from Castelnaudary (20 minutes by taxi) is Abbaye de Villelongue, a Cistercian monastery founded in 1180. Beautifully restored, but left in ruins, the ancient walls retain a rich sense of history and timelessness. You can take a quick look around Castelnaudary and visit the abbey here.
Enjoy a walk along the Midi Canal from the comfort of your armchair 🙂
Day 3: Renneville to Castelnaudary
Day 4: Castelnaudary to Alzonne
Day 5: Alzonne to Carcassonne