Mairie de Cosne-Cours-sur-Loire - Cosne and the Loire, inseparable partners

Cosne and the Loire, inseparable partners

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Cosne and the Loire, inseparable partners

The link between Cosne and the river is an intimate one. It was in the last bend of the Nohain ("Cosne" comes from the Celtic "condate", angle) that the town was born, just before the confluence with the Loire, half-way between its source at Mont Gerbier de Jonc and its estuary in Saint-Nazaire.

Here, in the Nivernais and the upper Loire valley, between Berry and Burgundy, the river hides away from view. It allows itself to be desired and approached gradually, rather than offering itself up immediately as in the immense panoramas downstream.

At Cosne, the riverbed has always been very broad, at about 1000 metres. In the middle, a large island, 6 km long, divides the water into two unequal branches, the Loire at the foot of Cosne's paved quays and the Petite Loire on the Berry shore, more secret and wooded.

The Loire, Europe's last wild river...

For centuries, man has tried to tame the rushing flood, using first mounds of earth, then embankments ("turcies") and finally dykes, or guiding its course using dams ("chevrettes"). But the Loire, both royal and rebellious, continued on its way, imperturbable. So a 200-km canal was built alongside the Loire, with its many branches and bridges among the most famous in France, to enable goods to be transported.

The river, an engine of the economy

Before the arrival of the railway in the mid-19th century, the Loire was a major waterway connecting the Mediterranean with the Ocean and the upstream towns with Paris and the Seine. A real merchant navy of the Loire existed for centuries.

The downstream journey, from Roanne, Digoin and Cosne to Orléans and Nantes and on to Paris along the Briare canal towards the Loing and the Seine, carried mainly wood, coal, grain, wine and manufactured products (such as naval anchors from Cosne and pottery from the Puisaye). The downstream barges were built of pine in Saint Rambard, giving them their names, "sapines" or "Saint Rambertes". With neither mast nor sail, these barges were drawn by the current and piloted using poles known as "bâtonnes de quartiers".

For upstream navigation, barges or lighters built of oak, with a mast, sail and a large rudder (the "piautre"), shuttled along the river, harnessed together from the largest ("la mère") to the smallest to avoid losing the force of the wind. Solidarity was essential. The barges sailed from the port of Nantes to the port of Orléans, loaded with salt, exotic goods, Touraine wines... Upstream from Orléans, where the wind could no longer be relied on, the barges were towed, mostly by human power.

Downstream, depending on the condition of the river, it took three to six days to get from Roanne to Briare. Orléans-Nantes took eight to fifteen days. Upstream, the journey took at least twice as long.

The riverbed represented a vast quarry of sand and aggregates for the construction of towns and villages.

Today, the Loire is a reservoir of drinking water for many human activities. But it is also a vast and beautiful habitat for wildlife.

Wildlife of the Loire


Very common near the river, they form several families.

  • Sedentary birds, such as the kingfisher or heron;
  • Migrating birds that spend a season here, such as terns and sand martins during the summer and the mallards, teals and cormorants that settle in cold weather;
  • Migrating birds that pass through the skies of the Loire twice a year, the cranes in their perfect V formation and the quieter geese. Cormorants are tending to migrate later and later, or even to settle (on the Loire near Nevers, where there are about 6,000).


Several migratory species:

  • eels, numerous;
  • lampreys and sea mullet, rarer;
  • shad;
  • and especially salmon, which swim back up to their spawning grounds on the Allier during the winter.

This migration, in which the fish form into large shoals, begins in early December and continues until late March. A sight to behold!

The sedentary fish include indigenous species such as pike (the king of the Loire), perch, carp, tench, bream, roach, barbel and small fish such as gudegon and bleak. Two introduced species are the zander, a carnivorous competitor of the pike, and the monstrous catfish.

Two mammal species live in the river and on its banks – coypu, which escaped from a farm upstream and tend to proliferate, and European beaver, less common, which have been introduced near Blois and are slowly but surely moving further up the river.

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