Our third day. First a ‘before breakfast’ walk then breakfast. Then we pack our bags as we leave St. Leon today and Roland, our host, kindly gives us lift down the hill to the village. Nobody is about at the river bank but it doesn’t matter as we can collect our own life-jackets and paddles and slip one of the canoes into the water. It’s a cool morning. A rolling mist drifts along the water surface like ephemeral tumble-weed. We push the boat out and ferry across to the far side to reach the deeper, faster water. Bob spins the boat around and we begin our day.
It’ll take us about an hour to get down to Roque St. Christophe so we gently push on and get ourselves immersed in the quiet autumn feel of the river. We glide beneath the cliffs where we can see the cut-out where we walked yesterday. We watch the birds around us. The loopy undulating flight of the wagtails with a yellow splash. The direct, foot above the water, flight of the kingfisher – a blue flash. Jays always cross the river at right angles at house height. Rooks and crows make a racket as we pass and the song birds play their hidden song. We come to an island and have some fun deciding which channel to take and then make it tricky for ourselves by changing our mind halfway through. A Heron rises and gives an annoyed squawk.
We pull over at Roque St. Christophe. It’s an awkward place to stop as it’s rocky and slippery as well, but we drag the canoe to safety and leave her there whilst we visit the site. This place is a huge cliff face with many grooves cut into it by the river over millions of years. People have lived here for tens of thousands of years. These days it houses a museum which shows how people lived here in the Middle Ages. Bob spends an hour here whilst I have a coffee and read. I also meet a fellow from Australia who is doing a cycling holiday.
Back on the boat we continue on our way. Another forty minutes or so and we come to Tursac and our lunch stop at the picnic site. Back on the river we glide past cliffs and generally just while away the time in silence. The autumns has it characteristic smell. Leaves drift downstream alongside us. A wood-fire somewhere drifts the smell of smoke around us. It’s silent apart from the gentle lap of the water and birdsong along the banks.
Eventually we arrive underneath the cliff-face Chapel at La Madeleine. It is 11th Century and was once visited by Richard the Lionheart on his way to the Crusades. It also has stone age caves and the remains of a Roman fortress above it. Unfortunately it cannot be accessed from the river so we just drift lazily by and enjoy the view.
Another hours gentle paddling brings us underneath the cliffs just prior to Les Eyzies and then under the road bridge to our take out. A beautiful days paddling. A few minutes walk and we arrive at the Passeur hotel. We were only here a couple of days ago but of course the two Jeromes welcome us back as ever.
Bob spends the afternoon perusing the arrow head collection at the Pre-History Museum whilst I nip down to the Pôle International de la Préhistoire which is a Research/Educational Centre where I can access the internet – we take no computers on our canoes!
In the evening we go to dinner in the little restaurant opposite the main square and then retire to our books for the evening.
The next morning we get up for our pre-breakfast walk as usual. It is misty again and our circular walk takes us along the river bank, then across the railway line and then up into the woods and farms above the valley.
Unfortunately I am so busy chatting away that I miss a turning and we end up taking a lot longer on the walk that I had planned. It was a silly mistake and when we get back to the hotel we are short of time to have breakfast, get ourselves packed and checked out. We have a train to catch.
We make it. We stagger along to the station at Les Eyzies and catch the little two carriage train to Siorac-en-Perigord a mere 40 minutes or so. We leave one lonely station to arrive at another. These French rural stations are so evocative, and a century away from the brash TGV stations of the metropolis.
I’m a bit nervous. I’ve arranged a rendezvous here with the canoe outfitters of Siorac Canoe Raid. My friend Eric has assured me that i will be met. We are after a little wait. Our guide is a Brazilian chap and his girlfriend. They don’t have the canoe so we have to go the the canoe base and load up the trailer. Bob decides to leave a bag here to pick up later. He has more stuff than he needs as he’s doing a bicycle trip after the canoe trip!
We are then driven upstream to our first put-in at Cazoules. The drive takes 90 minutes or so. Before long we are alone on the beach with our canoe and all ready to start our three days paddling down the Dordogne.
After an hour on the river we pull over for some lunch. It’s a beautifully sunny day and we laze about in the warmth, before we decide that we’d better get on. We have a long paddle today and in addition, we have no accommodation booked for tonight. Both places I usually use are fully booked. Oops. I’m confident I can find somewhere though. Hopefully I can find somewhere close to the river!
The Dordogne barrels along and I make sure to visit all the little nooks and crannies I know about. You can choose several different ways around the various islands. I always tend to take the smallest most overgrown route. More fun that way.
In time we come to the famous and beautiful castle at Montfort which grandly stands above the river.
When we eventually come beneath the castle I notice a small path leads from the river bank, up the cliff and through the woods to the village above. We paddle over. I can’t believe I’ve never noticed this before. After tying up I ask Bob to remain with the canoe whilst I walk up to the village to find us somewhere to stay. I’ve stayed in a B&B here before and think that their are several in the small village.
After the short steep climb I arrive in the village. I can see why I’ve not noticed the path from this end either as it looks suspiciously like a private path leading to a garden. But now I know.
I follow a sign to a Chambre D’hote and eventually end up in a farm by a large house. I ring the bell. A charming man answers the door and listens to the tale of my predicament with interest. He may have a room. Someone has just this minute ‘phoned to tentatively book his last room. He goes back inside to call them back. I wait outside. When he returns he tells ne that sadly the other couple do want the room but that, not to worry, he has a friend in the village who also has rooms. In five minutes he tells me that a room is available. He insists I look around his rooms first, just in case I come back. I might. It’s a lovely place. Then I walk across the village to meet a couple from Belgium who run another B&B. It’s perfect. I take the room and then hurry back to the river to tell Bob. It feels like I’ve been away for hours but Bob is unfazed.
We pull the canoe up the bank and carry all our gear to the B&B where we throw everything into the room before settling down with a beer with our hosts and having a quick dip in the pool.
Later we wander around the village and take some photographs.
Even later we go out for dinner at a tiny little roadside place in the centre of the village. The food is great and the place, frequented by locals, is very friendly. A full moon rises as we retire to bed.
Even more to follow …