The Travel & the Getting There
I’ll keep it brief. It was a long day! Steve & I got up very early to catch a ferry at Dover with concerns about the industrial action taking place at the docks. No worries, we were delayed only 20 minutes or so. A good start, and a good breakfast on board.
We then had to rush onto CDG Airport in Paris to pick up Marco. More slight delays meant we were an hour late here. No worries we press on.
After that it was a 4 hour drive to Limoge Airport to pick up Kate and the boys, Leonard & Federico. The delays were stacking up now and we were a couple of hours late here. Thank goodness everyone was patient and not too rattled.
On again for another 2 hour drive down to the Célé valley to arrive at Métairie Basse in the countryside above Sauliac. Richard & Helen were of course their to welcome us. We were late for dinner but they were prepared for that and before long we were sat down to a fine Cassoulet supper, with plenty of wine to ease the exhaustion of a long day in the saddle.
Other guests were staying so Steve & I were going to camp outside. In the end we slept under the stars by the swimming-pool.
I’m very pleased to be here after missing the last two summers, and of course, the last time I was here was under trying circumstances. Here’s to the memory of Carolyn, who found this place for us, and with whom I came here on many happy occasions.
First Day on the River
What a fine day. As usual the communal breakfast was lively and fun. We are all set for our first day. The sun is shining and we quickly have everything we need in the minibus and we are off for the short drive to Marcilhac. We hang around for a bit and the Didier turns up from Kalapca Canoes. It’s great to see him again. Without further ado we drive upstream to Eulalie where we are dropped off with the canoes. We shall be keeping them for three days whilst we paddle down to Conduché at the confluence of the Lot and the Célé.
Before long the canoes are launched, we wave farewell to Didier & Steve (though we will see you in a minute!) and are off downstream. We’ve had our safety talk, a few reminders of about paddling strokes and it is as if we were only on the river yesterday rather than about a year ago. And then, bump, we skitter underneath the bridge, and run up the beach beside Espignac.
This lovely little village is on the GR651 long distance trail, a branch of the Way of St. James. We look around the ruined Priory, with the exotic tower, the church and the hostel where the pilgrims can stay. Five minutes later we are back on the water and heading for the first of a series of weirs which will punctuate our day.
The river is narrow & shallow, but we have enough water to pick our way downstream. The trees offer some welcome shade as those at the front see the looping flight of the Wagtails and, from time to time, the iridescent flash of a Kingfisher in flight as we push them downstream. Their flight is characteristically fast and straight, about a foot above the water.
At the first weir we pull over to the right. We decide to push the empty boats over and catch them on the other side. It saves dragging them. Soon we are on our way again, lolling about, dragging our hands in the cool water. from time to time we threaten an all out splashing war but we are not hot enough yet.
In time we reach the second weir at Brengue and this is where Steve is waiting for us with our lunch all ready. Our first picnic. Fantastic. Everyone is hungry and ready for bread & cheese & salad & fruit & all the usual things. After lunch the kids relax by swimming in the river.
In the afternoon we are back on the river and back dodging the shallow places and avoiding getting caught up in the overhanging trees. It’s warm, it’s pleasant. We are already damp from our swim. Time to practise our water shovelling? Not yet. Too many responsible adults about!
We get past the third weir without any problems and continue on our way. The river winds its way through the deep valley. We can see high cliffs above us. Sometimes we can see troglodyte buildings built into the cliff. We have already passed the mysterious ‘English Castle’ perched high above us. We will explore that another day.
Towards the end of the day the river slows down a little. It is approaching the big dam at Marciilhac where a Flour Mill still operates. The river gets sluggish just as we are getting tired. We pass the place where the frogmen are. It’s hard to believe that underneath us is an underwater cave entrance and these divers can swim inside and explore inside for over 1km. I don’t think I’d fancy doing that.
At last we come around the last bend and find the grassy bank where we are to finish paddling for the day. I go over and explore the chute by the dam as tomorrow we can go down the chute if we want. A thrilling start to the day. I’m just checking that it has enough water and is not blocked by a fallen branch or anything. It looks good.
At the river bank we pack out water things away and leave our canoes tucked into some bushes and flipped over for tomorrow. No-one will take them. We then stroll over to the village cafe to visit my lovely old friends there. I’m so pleased to see them after a break of three years. Hugs & kisses all round. I have to pass on the sad news of Jim passing last summer and Cecile insists I must not come back next time with more sad news. I promise. After a couple of beers we hop in the minibus and return back to base.
We still have plenty of time for a swim in the pool and a nap before dinner. We all sit down for a lovely evening dinner and long chats about this and that. Steve & I have a room tonight. Bliss.