Slow Travel, Slow Canoeing

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Approaching the Château de Belcayre on the Vezere river, Perigord, France with Nancy & Mitch

The Slow Movement

The Slow Movement began from Slow Food which is an international movement founded by Carlo Petrini in 1986. It was promoted as an alternative to fast food,  and it strives to preserve traditional and regional cuisine and encourages farming characteristic of the local area.

Its goals of sustainable foods and promotion of local small businesses are matched by a political intent directed against globalization and particularly that of agricultural products.

What started as a philosophical stance against the onward rushing of modern life and the general speeding up of busyness and business has become a paean of a new approach to living based on sustainability, localism and the environment.

The objectives can be summarised as:

  • celebrate local foods and the traditions that go with them
  • preserve heirloom varieties of foodstuffs by creating seed banks
  • organize regional cuisine festivals
  • promote “taste education” and educate about the dangers of agribusiness, monoculture and fast food.
  • develop various political strategies to preserve family farms and encourage organic farming
  • lobby against government funding of genetic engineering & pesticides
  • teach gardening skills and encourage ethical decision making

This cultural initiative has since grown into a way of life known as the Slow Movement, which emphasizes connection – connection to food, connection to families and, in the case of travel, connection to local peoples and cultures.

Beynac on the Dordogne river, France

Beynac on the Dordogne river, France

Slow Travel

Slow travel is not so much a particular mode of transportation as it is a mindset. Rather than attempting to squeeze as many sights or cities as possible into each trip, the slow traveller takes the time to explore each destination thoroughly and to experience the local culture.

The key is slowing down and making the most of each moment of your holiday.

Going slow is not about doing everything slow it is simply a  reminder  that we need to stop rushing through life so fast that we lose track of ourselves. We need to stop applying the same high speed to everything that we do.  Certain things are not meant to be rushed. Learn to slow down when life really matters. We need to stop doing everything at once. Less multitasking – more present and mindful. Focus on the now.

Skimming through life on the surface brings little meaning and leaves us feeling empty and without a purpose. Go slow and deep.

We need to slow down and find the energy to get involved with the world that we live in. In our high-speed society we barely have the time to get involved with our own lives let alone the neighbours or the communities. But there are real problems that need to be addressed and we should all find the time to contribute.

Perhaps the defining elements of slow travel is the opportunity to become part of local life and to connect to a place and its people. Slow travel is also about connection to culture and nature.

In addition it is about not letting the anticipation of arrival undermine the pleasure of the journey. By choosing to travel slowly, we reshape our relationship with place and with the communities through which we pass on our journeys.

Linda and the Chateau Milandes on the Dordogne river, France

Linda and the Château Milandes on the Dordogne river, France

Slow Canoeing

Canoeing, of course, isn’t necessarily slow, as anyone who has been white-water paddling can attest. And this is of course invigorating and exciting and thrilling and slightly dangerous too.

Green River Canoes however generally do things the slow way. The green in our name is the opposite of white. We paddle calm and tranquil rivers.

Everything we do is slow, and calm.

Especially the rivers. Our aim is to immerse ourselves in the countryside and watch the world go by like Ratty & Mole in Wind of the Willows. The river essentially does the work and all we have to do is keep the boat from spinning and knocking into the banks and otherwise getting into a muddle. Our tours are eminently suitable to those who have never paddled before, those who didn’t even know they wanted to paddle and children.

Even if we do take things slowly however I should point out that we do take things seriously & safely too. We give elementary paddling lessons if required and a reminder every morning about being careful on the water. It’s important to us not to neglect these things.

So even if we are drifting casually downstream our guides on the river have one eye open (at least) for possible surprises. Not that these are very likely as we have paddled our rivers many times over the years and we think we know every nook & cranny. We don’t however and rivers can always bring a surprise.

So we are drifting and casually paddling and letting our minds drift as we listen to the ripples and the birdsong. The heat bears down and we balance it with a hand in the cool river, letting some drops trickle down the paddle onto our bare arms.

The smells and sounds of spring, or summer or autumn, lull our senses and our enjoyment of life in the slow lane is suddenly jolted by the flap of a heron rising, or the flash of a kingfisher or the rush of a flight of ducks coming in to land.

Eventually the river meanders around a bend that brings our attention from nature to culture. A beautiful and ornate château perhaps or a splendid castle, grim on the cliffs. And then we’ll have some stories to tell of past tales of war & passion. We have plenty of time to casually paddle to the bank and pull our boats ashore.

A slow walk up the hill – these châteaux and castles are always on a hill – gives us time to admire all kinds of things. Firstly the houses and gardens of those that live in these tiny villages. Then the sequence of history that we pass. A Roman road, a Romance Church, a graveyard with 19c monuments and crosses, and then the place itself with evidence of its 11c beginnings, its medieval fortifications and its 17c ornamentation and refinement and finally the 20c accoutrements of modernness: telephone wires and satellite dishes. These places are always worth a slow visit. Especially if it is hot.

A short while later we will perhaps take a short break and sit in a cafe with a cold drink or an ice-cream and watch the world go by. It is summer in France. Somehow it seems natural to do things the slow way. Everyone here seems so natural at it.

And so it goes. A lazy picnic lunch. A long slow evening meal in the long evening light of a local restaurant. Our evenings are relaxed and informal. We stay in ‘not quite’ remote places in small villages and with hoteliers that we have known for many years and that have become friends.

Even the museums and caves (where the 25,000 year old paintings are) we visit are guided by familiar faces. The same can be said of our canoe outfitters. On the first trip to every river in the season it is like meeting friends again after a winter break. Everything is easy and routine. A hug here and a kiss there. Perhaps a stiff shake of hands. A few brief remarks about adventures taken during the winter months and then the inevitable chat about how the river has fared: the rain fallen, the floods, the trees down and all the slow rest of it.

It is the general case that nothing much seems to have happened at all. But of course it has. The seasons have rolled around and things are much as they ever were. The same and yet not quite the same. Just like us really.

Célé, Inn-to-Inn Guided Canoe Trips

On the ‘English Trail, in the Célé valley, Lot, France

Slow Principles

Notwithstanding the fact that nobody should prescribe how you  travel. Here are some thoughts which might appeal to those interested in exploring slow travel.

Start at home. The key to slow travel is a state of mind. That can be developed at home.

Get there slowly. Avoid flying if at all possible. Travel the longer slower way. Use ferries, buses and trains (and not always the high-speed trains). Slow travel restores the connection with landscape.

Don’t let the anticipation of arrival eclipse the pleasure of the journey.

Use the local markets and shops.

Use the local cafes. Sitting in a café, you become part of the community and not merely a passing observer.

Try the local languages and dialects and learn a few phrases. Try reading a local newspaper.

Choose accommodation and eating options that are appropriate to the area where you are travelling. Try the regional specialities.

Do what the locals do, not only what the guidebooks say, and look out for local events, fetes, fayres, concerts, films and shows.

Savour the unexpected. Delayed trains or missed connections create new opportunities.

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