A Paddle on the Lot river
Today we are going to paddle on the big river. After breakfast we bundled into the minibus and trundled down the hill and then down the valley to the Kalapca canoe place to meet Didier. He arrived and we followed him as he drove the canoes up the Lot valley. We drove up the winding main road which crosses the now sadly defunct Quercy Railway. We crossed the river at St. Martin-Lebouval, drove beneath the Château de Cénevières and on beneath the ramparts of Calvignac until we returned to the river at Larnagol. We unloaded the boats and were ready to launch.
The river is fat and wide and we have plenty of room. In my hand I have a roughly drawn map of the 5 weirs we have to get past with instructions of which side of the river the chute is on, or in one case where we have to portage.
After briefly admiring Larnagol we wave farewell to Steve and begin our long day on the river by curving around the bend, noticing the canal coming in on the right and then seeing Calvignac high on its rocky perch in the distance.
Before long we find ourselves back underneath the Château de Cénevières and approaching the first weir. It looks ominous as you cannot see the chute until you are quite close. I wait for a while for everyone to catch up and then slither down. Everyone follows without mishap and we are on our way to the next bend.
We pass the strange architecture of the houses in Mouylac. Some are carved into the cliff and one is perched right in the water. Around the bend we come to the road bridge and the railway bridge at St. Martin-Lebouval and then a long stretch of river before we reach our next weir. The three boats get stretched out at one point and the other boats look faraway. I wonder if the boys are getting tired, but I need not worry. Soon they catch up and we are slipping down the next chute.
Before very long we are thinking of lunch, which is just as well as we are approaching Crégols. Steve is there at the beginning of the village but the take-outs are on wobbly floating platforms and in any case have nowhere suitable for a picnic. Instead I suggest the island just ahead which I’m hoping he can reach with the picnic things.
We pull up at the portage place and drag our canoes aside in case anyone else comes down the river behind us. We then clamber through the woods and up a path to find that Steve has found a suitable picnic table. Excellent. We settle down for the usual fare.
After lunch we return to the boats and drag them over the short portage to the passage beyond. We find we are on a smaller branch of the river which gives us a sense of intimacy that we’ve not had today when paddling on the broad expanse of the main channel. We have to duck under a fallen tree before we eventually come out again in to the main stream.
A short while later we approach the bridge at St. Cirq Lapopie and pull up on the beach on the other side. There is a huge camping site here and they have sectioned off a part of the river for a swimming-pool. They’ve also dumped a lot of sand to make a beach. We stop here for an hour or so whilst everyone, including Steve, has a swim and cools off under the hot sun.
Back in the boats we continue downstream with the cliffs to our left and the high village of St. Cirq Lapopie to our right. Another weir apporaches and we again congregate before taking the chute. We paddle on. It is a long day. The river is even broader now and again we drift apart as some take this side and some take that.
Eventually we reach the last weir and chute. Didier has told us to be careful of this one. I go first and can see why as the chute drives you directly towards the cliff-face. It’s hard to avoid a bump. I don’t but the boys do well. Soon we are drifting underneath the cliff and dodging fallen trees and sticking our noses into small caves. In the end we reach the confluence of the Célé but decide to carry on as we are going back to the place on the Chemin de Halage to meet Steve and do some more jumping and swimming.
Things go a bit awry here as firstly Steve can’t reach us as the minibus can’t get close enough and a man complains about him parking, secondly the parents slip whilst getting out of the canoe and fall in the river. The first dunking of the trip. I only smile and don’t laugh. Everything is fine and no-one is hurt and they can sit on the path drying off. The boys jump overboard and swim to the steps. I drift on the water holding the three canoes together.
The boys do the jumping and swimming thing for a while and then they manage to wriggle themselves back in the canoe. I pick up Mum in a more civilised manner and we paddle back to the Célé and have a short little paddle back upstream to the canoe base.
After putting the canoes away we bundle back into the minibus for a short drive upstream. We decide we have more time for swimming and so stop off at Sauliac on the beach for ice-creams and beers. Of course our evening ends the same way with a relaxing evening at the farm and another scrumptious dinner.