Pech Merle, Cabrerets and St. Cirq Lapopie
Today we start with a visit to the painted caves at Pech Merle. It’s a short drive from our farmhouse, firstly into the Célé valley at Sauliac at then down the valley to Cabrerets. After hanging around for a little bit we are led into the cave down some steep stairs. It’s like entering the tomb of the mountain king, or perhaps it’s like entering Moria, or as it was known in the ancient days Khazad-dûm. Let’s hope no Balrog lives down here now.
The cave is fascinating and beautiful. The geological aspects are of course stunning. Fabulous stalactites and stalagmites but it is the paintings that overawe. 25,000 years ago a group of people used these caves to draw, carve and paint the animals that meant something to them.
After an hour of so we come stumbling out into the light and spend another half-an-hour or so checking out the museum. Now it’s time to get back on the river.
We decide to walk back down to the village and take the steep track as it descends to the river & village below. It doesn’t take long and before we know it we are marching along the road back to where we have left the canoes. We retrieve our gear from the minibus and flip the canoes over ready for launch. We first have to remove any unwanted passengers: a spider here, a slug there!
A very short paddle brings us underneath the Château where another dam and flour mill are. We have another chute to glide down. I go down first and eddy out to watch the others come down. A big splash heralds the boys and then another as the parents come down. More wobbles but no capsizes.
On we go for an easy hours paddling down to Conduché where Kalapca have there canoe base and where we will finish canoeing on the Célé. The river runs down beneath high cliffs and twists and turns. We dodge the shallows as usual and then arrive at the Pillars of Hercules. Two large boulders have fallen into the river from the cliffs above and I always pretend that it brings good luck to all paddlers to do a figure of eight manoeuvre through them: through the middle, then turn left around one, through the middle, then turn right around the other, then through the middle again. It’s a good exercise anyway. Also I believe the good luck thing because once, shortly after doing it we passed a tree and as we went past it fell down into the river behind us. A lucky escape? I think not.
After the Pillars we continue downstream until eventually we come to the ramp at the canoe base. Steve is there to help haul the canoes up and we get ourselves all sorted before hopping into the minibus for the 5 minute ride over the Lot river to Bouzies. We notice the strange small castles built into the rock-face and drive carefully over the very narrow, single-track suspension bridge.
At Bouzies we picnic beside the Lot river and gaze at the tour boats and hire boats. The Lot is navigable in this section and has numerous locks along its course. We will see this tomorrow when we canoe on her.
After our splendid lunch we start our hike to St. Cirq Lapopie and take the Chemin de Halage along the river bank. This is the path that horses used to use when barges were pulled along the river. We pass under the old railway bridge and come to the place where the path has been cut dramatically into the cliff-face.
Half-way along the path we come to some steps leading down to the water. This is where the boats tie up if they have to wait for the lock gates. Some children are here jumping off the path into the river 10 feet below, and then swimming back to the steps. Our kids want to do it too. Why not? We hang around for a while whilst the children enjoy themselves.
We continue along the path to the lock itself. We are disappointed that no boat is passing and we don’t have the chance to wind open the sluices or the gates. The path continues alongside the canal so boats can get past the weir. We pass numerous fruit trees: apples and plums and many walnuts. Eventually the path turns away from the water, and passing somebody’s immaculate vegetable beds we reach a small country road.
In time we reach the footpath which will climb up to the village of St. Cirq Lapopie. The climb is short and steep, but we take a break half-way up to scramble out onto some rocks and admire the view. When we arrive into the village square we are surprised to see many people. It is a popular spot. I take a break on the hotel cafe terrace and enjoy a long cold beer. The others wander around for a bit.
We then decide to walk down through the narrow alleys of the village until we reach the arched gate at the village entrance. Steve is here to meet us and we soon pile into the minibus for the short 15 minute ride home. Our drive takes us down into the Lot valley, across a bridge, and up to the causse on the other side. We stop to admire the view over the Lot valley and look at where we will be canoeing tomorrow.
At the Métairie Basse farmhouse we relax and loll about as usual. Some of us take a dip in the pool some of us take a nap in the hammock, and try to be nonchalant when we fall out of it. Oops. I hope no-one saw that!
Before very long it is dinner-time again and Richard & Helen do us proud once more. We have a delightfully convivial evening before retiring, once again, for an early night.