Tag Archives: Castelnaud

Autumn 2016 Newsletter

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Hand-crafted and Fully Guided Canoe Trips that combine the pleasures of paddling down tranquil rivers with an insight into the history and natural history of the region whilst we enjoy the local cuisine and stay in small Inns and B&Bs as we make our way gently downstream in beautiful & dramatic countryside.

A Green River Canoes Poster: http://goo.gl/GRZBSF © Steven R House 2014

Autumn Canoeing

On the Vézère, the Dordogne and the Célé rivers in France

You still have time to enjoy a late holiday break to the South of France with us. September & October are great months for paddling, and of course these are wonderful places to canoe in the Autumn.

It is still warm: very often it is still warm enough to swim in the rivers. We have the  7 Days in the Perigord and the 6 Days on the Cele trip. Or you can push both trips together for our 12 Days 3 Rivers tour. The rivers are quiet: we are often the only people on the river, and of course the châteaux and castles and restaurants and wines are as fabulous as ever.

The tours include visiting the 25,000 year old cave paintings in these regions at Lascaux & Pech Merle, and we can fit in visits to other caves if we wish: Castel Merle, Rouffignac and Font de Gaume for example.

The number of châteaux we canoe past is almost too numerous to mention: the Losse, Belcayre and Clérans on the Vézère, the castles at Montfort, Castelnaud and Beynac as well as the châteaux of Marqueyssac, Fayrac and Milandes on the Dordogne and also the Devil’s Castle and the Chateau Cabrerets on the Célé.

We also visit and stay in numerous pretty villages – Les Plus Beaux Villages de France – which include Saint-Léon-sur-Vézère, Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, Beynac-et-Cazenac, La Roque-Gageac and Castelnaud-la-Chapelle. With a little bit of effort we can also visit Domme, Cardaillac and Saint-Amand-de-Coly. These are all tiny country villages in stunning settings. We will also visit the regional town of Sarlat-la-Canéda, preferably on market day.

But, of course, rivers are our main focus and the scenery and wildlife are just as stunning in this season and we will have the bonus of autumn colours.

Célé, Inn-to-Inn Guided Canoe Trips

Admiring the cliffs on the Célé river, Lot France

6 Day Célé Tour

A 5 Night, 6 Day tour in which  we spend three days paddling the Célé river and a day hiking a section of the Way of St. James. We also visit the cave paintings at Pech Merle. An extra day can be added if we wish to paddle on the Lot river for a day or we can swap the hike day for a paddle day.

On this tour we will stay in a farmhouse above the Célé for the whole tour. This will save us packing & moving on every night. Every day is but a short drive to the river. Not even 20 minutes drive. Our host Richard & Helen will prepare lovely home-made meals for us and we will enjoy the conviviality of their home.

We will rendezvous with our canoes on the first day and then keep them for the three days it will take us to paddle down to the confluence of the Lot river. We will picnic along the way for lunch and stop at the pretty villages along the route. We will also have ample time for little walks & hikes here & there.

Full tour details are here. The brochure is here.

The Chateau de Belcayre on the River Vezere, Perigord, France

The Chateau de Belcayre on the River Vezere, Perigord, France

7 Day Perigord Tour

A 6 Night, 7 Day tour in which we canoe down the Vézère & Dordogne rivers with visits to caves to see 25,000 year-old paintings, troglodyte dwellings along the river, huge castles and beautiful chateaux.

On this tour we spend two days paddling down the Vézère river and 3 days paddling down the Dordogne river.

The Vézère valley is famous for being the ‘valley of man’. Almost 200 sites of Neanderthal and CroMagnon antiquity have been found here. We will see and explore some of them, including the renowned Painted Caves at Lascaux. But the Vézère is also beautiful for other reasons, including fabulous chateaux, stunning scenery and wildlife.

The Dordogne river is  famous for its more recent history, the 11th and 12th Century for example, which are represented by the huge castles we shall pass, which are reminders of the 100 Years War between France & England. We shall paddle past these as well as numerous smaller chateaux  built for more peaceful times. We shall have plenty of time for visiting some of these as well as the stunning villages along the way.

Full tour details are here. The brochure is here.

Beynac on the Dordogne river, France

Beynac on the Dordogne river, France

12 Day 3 Rivers Tour

An 11 Night, 12 Day tour in which we canoe down the Vézère, the Célé & Dordogne rivers by combining the 6 and 7 Day tours above.

Full tour details are here. The brochure is here.

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Guest Blog: Day 7: Day 2 on the Dordogne

A day on the Dordogne with Chateaux & Castles

I am looking forward to castles and chateaux today – plus our paddle on the Dordogne from Montfort down to Beynac.  Breakfast at the hotel and we are off again at 9am – directly to the river so we start our paddle early today.

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Marlee approaches the riverside village of Roque-Gageac

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Looking down on the Dordogne river at Roque-Gageac

Our first stop is at the La Roque Gageac, a cliff hugging village built into the rocks.  Here we have coffee and then walk up through the village to see where the rock slide occurred in 1952 originally and then another just 3 years ago.  There are still remnants of where the rock slide wiped out some homes and closed down the street though the town for 2 years back in the 50’s.  It is a beautiful little town with steep streets of cobblestone, a beautiful little church and gorgeous roses.

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(L to R) Cheryl, Marlee, Steve, Patty and Annie at Roque -Gageac

On the river we see baby ducks, herons and the beautiful scenery dotted every now and then with a chateau or castle.  There are old fashioned galleon type “tour” boats on this river so we have to watch for their wakes and also their passage.  There are also many places along the river that rent canoes or kayaks – can’t begin to imagine what this river will look like in the summer!

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Approaching the castle at Castelnaud on the Dordogne

Next we leave the canoes for a tour of the English Castelnaud Castle – a wonderful old castle with tight spiral staircases, cases of armor, movies explaining about the castle history starting in the 1500’s and how the catapults worked in defending the castle, displays of old weaponry used in medieval times and even a latrine that was merely a hole dropping down into the surrounding countryside – many stories high!  What a surprise that would have been if you were walking under!

f50 Gorgeous views from the top of the castle

Gorgeous views of the Dordogne from the castle at Castelnaud

Next we traveled by van to a local wine tasting store – tasted some local wines and then ogled over all the various pates, salts, wines, candies etc. that they had.  No room in my suitcase for any purchases…….

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The gardens and chateau at Marquessac, Dordogne

Marqueyssac Gardens were next. This is a wonderful formal garden where all the boxwood hedges are trimmed twice a year.  The hedges were being trimmed as we walked through – they use hand trimmers and a string stretched out tightly to make sure the line is exact for trimming!  By the time they finish trimming everything once, it is time to start over!
It was time for our last paddle of the day – Marlee and I are in a groove paddling together now!  It is approximately ½ hour to the next town of Beynac where our hotel, the Hotel de Chateau, sits across from the river after a 2 minute walk.  It also sits directly underneath the Chateau Beynac.

Dinner was in the hotel (I managed to only eat ½ of everything and am not going to bed stuffed tonight!)  Internet is a challenge here as it only works in the lobby area – but we will make it work!  That is all for tonight!

Green River Canoes Back Book Cover

Details of this tour can be found here: Green River Canoes 12 Days 3 Rivers

Canoeing the Vezere & Dordogne in October 2014 (Pt 3)

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After a leisurely breakfast we returned to the canoes and began our day on the river. We will be visiting castles and villages along the way until we get to our next hotel at Beynac. First of all we slide along the river until we reach the cliff and bridge at Vitrac.

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Then it was the long straight stretch with the village of Domme looming on the cliff ahead of us. A layer of mist hung over the river but we could already tell that it was going to be another hot day. After coming under the Domme cliff we arrived at the Cenac bridge and a stretch of bumpy water taking us along to Roque-Gageac.

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We admired the glistening white cliffs here as we rounded the bend and got our first view of the village.

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At Roque-Gageac we pulled over at a canoe outfitters as some restoration work was going on at the public place. Since a major cliff-fall at the village a couple of years ago they have rebuilt the river wall and road in front of the village. It looks smart too. The only downside is that some parts of the higher village are now permanently closed off – you can no longer walk up to the troglodyte cave dwellings above the village. Some of the cliffs are now also covered with a metal mesh.

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Steve and I did take the time to walk around the village on this visit, something I haven’t done myself for quite a while.

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Some of the footpaths around the back of the village are also impassable these days – as being deemed unsafe. We still managed to see most of it though.

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After some refreshments in the hot sun we got back in the boats to start the next leg of the paddle down to Castelnaud – not forgetting to look back at the picturesque Roque-Gageac as we left.

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In no time at all we were arriving at Castelnaud where we took our guests up the hill so they could visit the splendid castle.

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As we had plenty of time we also took our guests to visit the Chateau Marqueyssac which sits opposite the castle on the other side of the Dordogne. This was built to spy on the first castle but is now home to an extravagant and formal topiary garden. We sat down and had our picnic lunch here too whilst admiring the views over the countryside.

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We walked back to the river from here visiting a cave on the way where we tasted some of the local wines. At the river bank our canoes we still there and we were able to paddle the last stretch of the day down to Beynac. Just another half-an-hour on the water.

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We soon approached the canoe ramp at the end of town and pulled ourselves ashore. Our hotel is just a step across the street so in no time at all we were sitting in the sun having a beer and reflecting on our day on the river.

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In the morning we walked up through the village to visit the castle as soon as it opened its doors. This castle has quite a different feel from it than the one at Castelnaud. They were mortal enemies during the 100 Years War between France and England.

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It was a very pleasant walk in the early morning sunshine as we descended back down the village to the river-side where we began to make preparations for our last day on the river.

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We slipped into the water and immediately took the passage on the right side of the island just below Beynac. This is the quieter, slower side and I always hope to see something. Perhaps a Nutria gliding into the water or some Eagle Owls roosting. This island also has a large Heronry in the centre which can have dozens of birds in the spring-time. Today we see a couple of pairs of Swans and some quite grown-up cygnets.

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As soon as we are back in the main stream we are under the railway bridge with the Chateau Milandes in the distance. In fifteen minutes we approach the ramp here and pull up our canoes for a visit. This is the place made famous by Josephine Baker and it is interesting to visit the castle and gardens and learn more about her and her life.

After our visit we had our picnic lunch at the JB memorial in the lower village which has  tables in the shade of a large tree. It was then time to begin our last paddle by continuing on down to Siorac.

Our guests Nancy & Mitch were in a bit of a hurry so they scootered off whilst Linda and I took every opportunity to explore every island and to take our time on the river. It was a beautiful day for it and though we got into some shallow scrapes as we meandered down the path less travelled we had a very enjoyable afternoon.

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We took a width berth at this place where we saw almost 40 swans gathered in one place.

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It was very beautiful under the canopy of the Autumn leaves in some of the narrower channels.

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At some places I had to get out and drag the canoe ‘African Queen‘ style through the shallower sections. It was fun though and I think Linda enjoyed the Katherine Hepburn role.

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In the end our days on the river were finished and we had to pull up our canoes for a final time.

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A Trip to the Perigord in September 2014 (Part 3)

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A mishap this morning meant we missed each other for our pre-breakfast walk. Bob was apparently somewhere trying to get a wi-fi connection. I just walked a small loop around the villages up to Pech Malet where we usually stay and around the castle in the early misty light. I also went down the cliff path to make sure the canoe was still there. It was.

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At breakfast we chatted to a couple from New Zealand who were on a driving holiday. I suggested to them that they might visit the Cele valley an hours drive further south and told them about the charms of the place and the cave paintings at Pech Merle. I also told them about my friend Richard & Helen at the Metarie Basse in that region. A great place to stay. I had an email later to tell me that they had actually taken up my advice. I was pleased with that.

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After breakfast we packed and carried our gear back down to the river. Ahead of us we had a day of visiting small riverside towns and huge castles before arriving at Beynac. We slipped into the stream and began by disturbing the ducks bobbing about the place. As usual we were alone on the river with not even a fisherman to be seen.

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After leaving the castle and casting a long look back we tackled a series of three islands as we came around the bend. We paddled quietly down the narrow side of the first two and then expanded some effort to cross channels to the quicker water on the far side of the third island. This was just to enjoy the choppy water. After that we took the quiet route again at the island opposite the Plage de Soleil and generally meandered about the river as we saw fit. As usual herons lazily lifted into the air in front of us and the ducks made various complaints. We drifted under the cliff at Vitrac bridge and then took the long straight where we could see the village of Domme towering above the river. I’ve never managed to visit this place as it is a stiff and long climb from the river bank.

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We then approached the bridge at Cenac. This is where Christophe has his canoe base for Canoe Raid. Always feel a bit sad here as we used to stop and visit Christophe’s father George and sometimes have a snifter of Port or Pastis.

The river speeds up a little at this point and on the next stretch it gets a bit bouncy and you have to negotiate some rock fields. It’s no fun hitting a rock head-on and being catapulted to the front of the boat!

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Before long we approach the high white cliffs as the river takes a right-angled bend and approaches Roque-Gageac. As we come into town we have to dodge the famous Gabarre tourist boats which are replicas of the trading boats that used to take the wine barrels downstream to Bordeaux. If they are going fast enough we can have some fun on the bow wave.

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We pull up in the small town for some refreshments. Sometimes a small market is running, but not today. Bob goes off to run around the town whilst I sit down for a beer. The narrow streets off the only road through the village are an intricate maze of steps and paths.

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Suitably refreshed we re-embark for the next leg of the journey down to Castelnaud. It only takes us half an hour but we spend the time spinning the boat around to admire the view in both directions as we leave Roque-Gageac and approach Castelnaud. We also make sure that we are on river left so that we can fully appreciate the size and grandeur of the castle at Castelnaud.

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After we pull the canoe up the beach at Castelnaud we take a break for lunch – the usual kind of picnic. I then show Bob the footpath that leads up to the castle on an ancient Roman road and then leave him to to visit it. I, meanwhile, return to the riverbank to watch the canoe and have a pleasant doze in the sun.

Some hours later we return to the river for the last leg of the day as we paddle the 30 minutes down to Beynac.

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We slip past the castle under the imposing cliff and arrive at the boat ramp at the end of town. We put our canoe out of the way on a grassy bank and slip into the Hotel Chateau where we are staying tonight. In the late afternoon we have time for a quick dip in the pool before changing for dinner on the terrace overlooking the river.

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In the morning we manage not to get confused and go for our regular pre-breakfast walk. We walk along the river front before taking a back road up to the castle. Unfortunately I miss a turning onto a footpath – when I’m back here in October I look more carefully and can see that a sign has been deliberately broken that points the way. Anyway today we just follow the road up the castle and from there we can admire the views up and down the valley.

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We then take the usual route down through the village on the cobbled lanes enjoying the views over the roof-tops as we go.

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After breakfast we re-consider our plans. We have no hotel booked for tonight anywhere downstream. I had thought we might stay in Siorac. My plans are to return to Paris but Bob has to get to the rendezvous on the Loire to begin his cycling holiday. We decide that if possible we will paddle down to Siorac as originally planned but then catch a train late this afternoon and get as far as Limoges, stay the night there, and then go our separate ways the following morning. In view of this Bob decided to forgo a visit to Beynac Castle as it doesn’t open until 10am anyway. Off we go then for our last day on the river.

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For some reason I don’t have many photographs of this last day on the river, but we cruised out of Beynac and took the right-most branch at the island there in the hope of seeing some Nutrias. We didn’t – though we did see some swans – we were careful to keep our distance.

In 20 minutes or so we arrived at the take-out for the Cahteau Milandes, famous for the Josephine Baker story. We weren’t that rushed so Bob had some time to visit the chateau before we continued.

We then meandered down the river dodging in and out of various islands and sometimes taking the fast water as we went. It was a very enjoyable day. I like this stretch. You almost always have the river to yourself.

Finally however we reached the bridge at Siorac and pulled over at the beach at the little hut owned by the Canoe Raid outfitters. Unfortunately they could not rendezvous with us as they had other clients to deal with but they had left Bob’s luggage in the hut and all we had to do was break-in and get it! (Not really – they’d left it open).

We found somewhere to have lunch and then we traipsed up through the village to the railway station. A few minutes later the little train rattled along and we jumped in. The end of a fine trip. Thanks Bob.

28 Reasons to go Canoeing: 12: Follow the stars

Inn-to-Inn Guided Canoe Trips

A night scene from a paddle underneath a full moon passing the Castle at Castelnaud on the Dordogne river in France.

Follow the stars

Have you ever tried canoeing at night? It can be tricky but if you choose a clear night with a full moon and you paddle a stretch of river you have paddled many times before then you are in for a treat.

The water glistens, the stars shine and perhaps a few distant buildings are still lit up. We’ve canoed a stretch of the Dordogne in France where the castles are lit up until midnight. It’s an amazing sight. And then the lights go off and the river regains its own dark beauty.

You have to attune your senses to the sounds of the river as only the faintest glisten gives the movement of the water away. Strange plops and splashes herald some activity by the wild-life perhaps, but you cannot be sure.

Just be careful though and keep a torch handy and I would avoid the rapids!

My photography blog tells the story of a particular night when I went out to take a night time shot of the lights over Beynac castle.

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Details of our Inn-to-Inn Guided Canoe Trips and our brochures.

6 Day Perigord: Day 6: Chateaux and Swans

In which we paddle our canoes home

These are some reminiscences of days on the river in the Perigord region of France. I shall be mixing up stories from my first trip, eight years ago, to the trips we did last summer, about thirty trips in all. This entry is about the sixth day of the Perigord trip, where we canoe on the Dordogne river and pass some beautiful Chateaux  and generally swan about before reaching the canoe base at Siorac.

Some people who come on these trips join me in the morning for a walk before breakfast. I have walks for every morning for those that are keen and depending on the time of year and the inclinations of the guests we choose a time to meet and a length of walk to suit everyone. Some of those that have joined me for walks everyday of the trip have told me at the end that they feel that they have had two holidays. A walking holiday separate from the canoeing holiday that happens before breakfast.

On this morning I try to persuade people to come on an extra special walk which takes about three hours. We have to make an incredibly early start and aim to be out and about by 5.30am or 6am at the latest. The aim is to get back to the hotel at about 9am just in time for a second breakfast. More of that later.

Depending on the time of year the real trick is to get going at sunrise, or slightly after, when the sun is just rising over the castle. You can imagine how early this can be at the height of summer.

I have a surprise for those that do want to come with me as I explain that we will first do a short canoe, of about 30 or 40 minutes and then abandon our canoes on the far bank and walk in a huge loop from the Château Milandes to the Château at Castelnaud, across the arched bridge and back along the bank-side river trail to Beynac. If they are aghast at this then I will encourage them by mentioning that we should arrive in Castelnaud just in time for the bakery to open, where we can buy a pastry, and that the cafe will just be opening and we can fortify ourselves with a strong coffee.

The logistics of doing this can be confusing. We will have to take paddles and life-jackets for the canoeing stretch and our hiking boots for the walking stretch. If everyone comes then we will catch up with our canoes later by driving. If only a a few come then we will have some fun later trying to squeeze everyone into the remaining canoes and worry abut the fact some will have no paddles to help or indeed a life-jacket to wear. We will worry about this later.

So, quietly letting ourselves out of the hotel at an ungodly hour we will fetch the paddles and life-jackets from the van and go down to the water. I mustn’t forget to return the key to the driver! It may be still dark at this point and we will have to carry the boats from the bank and slip them into the water and get aboard with our stuff and probably feeling a bit uneasy wearing our clonking hiking boots in the boat.

The Chateau Beynac at dawn

The Chateau Beynac at dawn

Usually a rolling mist is floating above the strangely calm and quiet river as we set off and we will be talking in hushed voices. Ahead of us I will point out that we have a large group of islands with the main channel on the left, a very shallow centre channel and a quiet channel on the right which is almost hidden from view by an overhanging tree. This is the way we will go, for it is along this channel that we have the chance of seeing some sleepy wildlife.

Being careful as we enter the channel we have to negotiate the bend in the river, the quickening of the current and the tree whose fingers seem to want to grab us. Once on the other side we can see that we have a steep cliff on our right and some muddy banks and grassy verges on our left. Depending on the river levels we can see many smaller channels leading into the interior of the islands though the ways are often blocked with small fallen trees and bushes.

I encourage everyone to whisper as we try to glide noiselessly through. Sometimes we will disturb Nutrias sleeping on the bank and we’ll be able to watch them slip into the water as they swim away. They very rarely dive, as an Otter would, and so you can watch them make themselves scarce.

As usual we will disturb a number of Mallard ducks and as we come out at the far end of the islands where numerous channels come together we usually see a pair of swans whose whiteness eerily becomes more obvious as they appear our of the mist and gloom. We will give them a wide berth, particularly if they have Cygnets and we will creep past the wooded parts of the island before joining the main stream.

It was at this point several years ago when I was paddling with my friend Marc from Canada that we disturbed two huge birds that rose blackly from the tree as we passed. They were obviously Owls and we surmised later that they had been Eagle Owls: Europe’s largest species. They hardly made a noise as their shadow passed over us.

Over on the far river left you can see the river is flowing quite swiftly but to get over there we have to paddle across a shallow and weedy section, being careful not to catch our paddles as we go. As we finally reach into the fast water I tell everyone to look back because we now have a superb view of Beynac castle standing blackly above the village, the river and the mist. If we are lucky with the weather and have timed it correctly the sun will be just breaking over the parapets and battlements.

The river is so fast here that we can just spin our boats around and drift through the rolling mist still circling above the waves and watch the castle gradually distance itself from us. A view that has been possible for a 1000 years.

The Chateau Milandes on the Dordogne

The Chateau Milandes on the Dordogne

Getting ourselves together we turn our boats forward again just as we are approaching the railway bridge. I encourage everyone to change sides of the river again and drift over to river right as we pass under the arches. We are rewarded with a view of the Château des Milandes in the distance as it too, usually, sits above the mist and forest. The château doesn’t have the menace of Beynac, nor its blackness. This Château was built to house the lords and ladies of Castelnaud in times of peace. In this way they wouldn’t have to suffer the sounds and smells of the armed forces that occupied the fortress and would only retreat behind its safe walls in times of strife.

We will visit both of these castles today, but first we must find our take-out point on the left riverbank so that we can start our walk. We are looking for a concrete ramp which is next to a small pumping station. To help us a canoe outfitter, on the right bank, has impaled half a yellow canoe on a pole. Once we’ve seen that we can search for our ramp. When we pull over we jump out, trying not to get our boots wet, and we drag the canoes up the ramp a little and tuck them into the side and hide our paddles and life-jackets underneath. Everything else will go with us, so hopefully we haven’t go too much to carry. By this time almost an hour has gone by and we must now start our two hour hike.

Remembering that we will be back here later in the day we can hurry up the lane to the road and stride past the memorial to Josephine Baker (we’ll have lunch here later) and take a right on the small road that starts to climb the hill as we head towards Castelnaud. As the roads twists and turns and rises we will get another glimpse or two of Château des Milandes. The road then turns away, still climbing, and passes a dark wood in which a house can be glimpsed. Stranger still an outdoor swimming-pool, with a fairly recent plastic dome now covering it is also here. I’ve never seen it in use, though to be fair I only ever pass here early in the morning.

The road takes an S shape here and drops a little revealing a couple of meadows. From time to time we disturb some deer here. To our left a small dead-end road leads to a farmhouse but we turn right as the road continues to climb. Finally we reach the crest of the climb and notice a trail disappearing into the woods on the left. This is not the way. I’ve mistakenly gone this way and been on a massive detour which comes out somewhere near the Château Fayrac. I did this once with a guest who thought I was lost and he got so frustrated that when we eventually stumbled out on a road he waved down a car to ask the way. I was right! Though I was still annoyed that I’d taken the wrong trail.

A few yards further down is another trail leading left into the woods. It is also signposted for Castelnaud, as is also the road, if we don’t take the trail. The path is indicated as being shorter, which it is, as the road has to wind a long way around to get to the village. However this is also the wrong way, and although it’s not as big a diversion as the first ‘wrong way’. I’ve been this way too. More than once and the trail includes a long dark descent through the woods and then a long slow climb out again.

So, safe in the knowledge accrued by getting lost many times, we stay on the road until a third trail appears on the left, just past a small house. This trail leads downhill with the forest on the left and open fields on the right. It’s a pleasant open descent with good views as you pass a sleepy farmhouse, with an old dog with barely the energy to raise a bark.  Just past the farm the road winds down past a wood that has been recently felled and replanted. A huge tower of cut wood sits on the side of the road. It’s been there a few years now.

On reaching a cross-roads we strike straight across and up a steep road with high hedges either side until we reach a crest at another junction and we can see the road sweeping down to the village in the distance. It looks simpler to go this way, but this would mean following the road down. Instead we turn sharp left up a very steep road until we come to a group of houses which are at the very top of the Castelnaud village.

As we come around the corner we are surprised to find that we are looking down towards the top of the Castelnaud castle. Usually it’s still misty at this time and the castle is often floating on a sea of mist. We walk past the few houses, losing sight of the castle, and reach a path that leads to the last house. We have to follow this path and it looks all the world like we will have to knock on the door but just as we approach the gate a small path runs off to the left and ducks into the wood.

This is a fabulous little trail because it follows the edge of the cliff which is high above the Dordogne River and before long we are getting glimpses of the river far below. Or sometimes we do as sometimes you can see nothing but fog and mist and you wouldn’t know what lies below. I should mention that one time I met the lady who lives in the house we’ve just past and she walks every morning along this path all the way down to the castle and then all the way down to the lower village to the bakery and then returns again. That’s a fair hike.

Balloons Drifting over the Dordogne

Balloons Drifting over the Dordogne

As we creep along this wood on the cliffs edge we suddenly breakout at a huge statue of a cross which overlooks the river. The views from here are fabulous. The river sweeps below us, and on its bank is the flat farmland we will walk by later. Further away is the Château Marqueyssac with its famous box hedge topiary and in the far distance the cliffs of Roque-Gageac can be seen.

After admiring the view we continue along the muddy trail until it turns right and start to go down towards the back of the castle which is coming into view. The path is now cobbled and is the remains of an old Roman Road built up to a fort which previously stood on the castle site.

Underneath the ramparts at Castelnaud

Underneath the ramparts at Castelnaud

If we have time we can take a detour here and clamber back out to the cliffs and attempt to scramble out to the front of the castle below its exterior walls. This is not easy and you must scramble into the ditch surrounding the castle and push yourself through some scrubby trees which are blocking the way. It’s a precarious vantage point once you are out there, but the views are wonderful and seeing the castle from this vantage point is unique.

So after a brief flurry of photographs we return to the Roman Road and continue the descent into the top of the village as we come to the level of the castle and finally stumble into the area of the village where we were yesterday when we visited. It’s great to be here this early in the morning. It is empty and quiet. The light is warm and golden (sometimes) and from time to time we are surprised by huge hot-air balloons rising in front of us as they take off from the fields below the village.

The Ceau Valley from Castelnaud

The Ceau Valley from Castelnaud

We quickly drop down through the village following the path we took yesterday. Down past the church and the cemetery. Perhaps time for a quick glimpse over the river and the Ceau Valley before finishing the descent down to the river where we find the bakery. It’s open if we have timed ourselves correctly and it is now 8 o’clock. It is to be hoped that the proprietor of the cafe is awake on time and has the cafe open. We can get a coffee.

After a brief break we ready ourselves for the last leg of our hike back to Beynac. At least it is flat as we will follow the riverbank all the way. So first we cross the bridge and then drop off the road onto the path. At one time this section was unkempt and we had to drag ourselves through a hedge. Now a new path has been made and we no longer have to take a diversion around a farmhouse which sits on the bank.

This part of the walk is pleasant and brisk. The warmth of the day is beginning to rise and everyone, cheered by the coffee and cake, is keen to get back to a proper breakfast at the hotel. After a while our path passes a couple of camp-sites where we can see some early morning risers and perhaps a dog-walker or too. It was along here many years ago that we were surprised by a dog running towards us apparently being chased by another, stranger creature. The dog was friendly and inquisitive but its friend turned out to be a young kid goat, who kept a safe distance, and then rejoined his dog friend when the dog decided to leave us. I’ve always wondered how that goat got imprinted on the dog and where the strange couple lived.

Continuing along the sandy trail we eventually get to the Fayrac railway bridge, through the arch of which we get a perfectly framed image of Beynac Castle. Not far now as we pass some sports fields where once upon a time was camped a World War 2 festival of some kind. A whole sea of Khaki tents and men in GI and French and British uniforms and Jeeps and half-tracks zooming about and saluting each other. Quite a sight it was and it made me smile. No Germans I might add.

Fishing punts on the Dordogne river, Beynac, France

Fishing punts on the Dordogne river, Beynac, France

The trail then gets squeezed between the river and a hedge marking the boundary of the last camp-site before it pops out onto the road at the Hotel Bonnet. When we first started coming here we used to stay in this hotel. It was pleasant, if a little quirky, and a little noisy as it is right on the road. Unfortunately it closed several years ago – we heard due to fire-regulations – and has never reopened. How Marc used to love the girl in the silk dress that used to manage it.

Just here the river turns sharply left and a concrete ramp leads down to the river, where we used to leave our canoes, but where now a whole row of fishing punts lines up. These boats amuse me because they always seem half full of water as they are now and for all the world look quite unfit for purpose. But when I do occasionally see a fishermen prepare one he simple bales it out, unchains it and rows it out to his favourite spot.

We are almost home now as we walk the narrow path overlooking the river with the busy road beside us. If you look closely into the water far below, and if the light is at the right angle, you can see the huge size of the fish down there. Huge black Barbels which are a kind of catfish. And then, before you know it, we are at the Hotel Château and can get to breakfast after a quick wash and brush up. I’m starving.

After a breakfast which offers more than the usual ‘continental’, with boiled eggs and ham and cheese, everyone can prepare for the days proper work.

First we are going to visit the Château Beynac which is looming large above our village. We will walk up through the village on the cobbled lanes and get into the castle when it opens its doors at 10 o’clock. We can wander around the castle for an hour or so where we will probably have the place to ourselves. We will then wander back down through the village and rendezvous at the canoes at midday where we left them yesterday.

The van is driving up to the castle for those that would like a lift and I shall walk up the hill to the castle gates. Usually I don’t go inside the castle; not every trip anyway, but usually use the time to take some photographs. The walk up through the village is beautifully scenic and the views over the river and the valley is fantastic. I remind those that are going into the castle to explore every thoroughfare and make sure they get to the very top. This castle has a very different feeling from Castelnaud. It has a more informal feel and is usually less cluttered with visitors. It’s hard to believe that Richard the Lion-heart was briefly the King here in the 12th Century.

Castle and Cemetery at Beynac

Castle and Cemetery at Beynac

When everyone is done with the castle we meander back down to the hotel to get ourselves organised for canoeing in the afternoon. We muster everyone at the boats and get all the gear necessary. Of course it is highly like that we don’t have enough boats for everyone if some of the boats were used on the expeditionary hike this morning. We will either have some fun with three in a boat or some will hop in the van for a drive around to where the canoes are.

Once ready we will set off and probably take the same route on the right of the islands as we did this morning. We still might see some wildlife as not many canoes go around this side. We’ll probably see the swans again as we pass the island and then spin our canoes around to get a good view of the castle. Before long we are pulling up at the same ramp as we were at this morning. Déjà vu? Here are the rest of our canoes and our gear is still safely stowed beneath them. We’ll tuck the rest of the boats away and stash our gear again before changing into our walking shoes. It is to be hoped that the van is here to meet us and we can decide who wants to ride up to the Château Milandes and who wants to walk: it’s only 15 minutes.

At the castle gates I will make sure everyone gets a printed guide and I explain that you guide yourself through the castle, in a one-way system and that the whole castle is dedicated to Josephine Baker. She was an exotic dancer and singer from the USA who came to France, because her material was too racy, and danced in the clubs in Paris. She eventually married and lived in this castle …. when you can find out the whole story by coming on the trip with us ….or looking elsewhere on the web. It’s a fascinating story and the castle and ground are well worth a look around. As an aside they also have falconry displays in the castle ground and it is possible to visit the birds too.

Whilst our guests are busy here we return down through the village to the smaller Josephine Baker memorial garden in the lower village. We can use a picnic table here to set up lunch in the shade of a tree and our guests can meander down the hill when they are ready.

The Chateau des Milandes

The Chateau des Milandes

Eventually our guests come back and we have a lazy lunch of bread and cheese and fruits and meats, perhaps with a glass of wine or two.

We have had a long day already and we still have an afternoons paddling to do!  Eventually we will get ourselves together and walk back to the river and start our paddle. How far to go though? At the least we will have about three hours paddle to the triple bridge at Le Garrit and if we want to go further it is another hour and a half after that to take the canoes all the way home to Siorac and the base of Canoe Raid and our friend Eric.

We can have some fun on this stretch of paddling because we have several islands to negotiate and we will have the river mostly to ourselves. The crowds of yesterday are well behind us as we continue down the Dordogne whose valley is slowly opening wider and wider. After a short while we will pass the small village of Envaux on river left and almost immediately we will have an island. It looks shallow and impassable on the left side, which it sometimes is when the river is very low, but usually this is the way to go. It’s quiet, it’s overgrown and it’s great fun to wander down this shiny bright stream even if you have to get out and wade for some stretches. Inside here is a different world. Hundreds if not thousands of damselflies all around. Fish skittering underneath the boat in clear water. The ducks will clatter and moan and the Kingfishers will flash. The canoes will graze over the shallowest parts and you’ll be surprised by sudden deep pools. If you are pulling your partner who is staying in the boat it can be fun swimming through the deeper green and limpid pools. It’s all a bit African Queen in here, although without the gin bottles floating by.

From time to time we may have to negotiate a fallen branch until eventually we come to where the channel turns sharply right and heads towards the main river. It is shallow here and the boat will need a sharp tug before finally we nudge the canoes back out into the main stream which seems to be rushing by at quite a pace.

We will now hug the left bank as we continue. For two reasons; first because we are looking for further channels to explore and second because this is the only place to find some shade from the midday sun. Some of the channels on this bank have become overgrown with new willows and the entrances are blocked and from time to time I go into a channel only to find I have to back myself out as the way is blocked by a fallen tree. It all depends on the river levels and the time of year. I’ve been here in the early spring when the river is high and you can practically paddle through the woods!

Just further on comes another choice a long slow meander on the right on a quick zigzag on the left. No choice. The left is more fun as you have to negotiate a series of slightly sharp turns in the quick water.

After this little excitement the bridge at Allas-les-Mines comes into view and we can decide to take a small break if we want by pulling up on the grassy bank. This place has only two things: a working mine which extracts I don’t know what, and a very fancy restaurant, including a menu for 64 Euros! Still it’s a friendly place and if they are still open (it’s mid-afternoon by now) they will serve us a bottle of wine on the terrace. They have some very delicious and crisp white wines which are a great way to celebrate our final day on the river.

A Swan on the Dordogne

A Swan on the Dordogne

So after our short, or perhaps longer break, we are back on the river for the next stretch down to Le Garrit. Again we will hog the left bank looking for shade and channels although sometimes we will cross the river to tuck ourselves into the stream where the water flows faster. In the height of summer this part of the river blooms with a water weed which can almost cover the whole width of the river. It has a white, with yellow centred, flower which covers the river like a carpet of snow. This is a natural weed that grows more heavily in some years than others and which gets swept away every season to re-grow the next. It’s known as Water-crowfoot.

Soon the old broken railway bridge at Le Garrit comes into view and we have to be careful to come down the left bank as it is difficult to cross over if the river is full of weed. Just under the bridge we can pull over for another rest. It’s been a long day so we can decide that enough is enough and we can finish here. But it’s the last day so why don’t we take the canoes home and paddle a little while longer. If it’s hot we can cool off with a swim here and after a short rest we can be on our way again.

Heron on the Dordogne

Heron on the Dordogne

Paddling under the double bridge, one of which is the new railway bridge, the river soon sweeps around a long left-hand bend. We will choose the centre of the river now to take as much current as we can even if this means criss-crossing the river from time to time. That is unless we are looking for shade which is very hard to come by in this stretch of the river.

If we keep a careful lookout we can dodge into a long narrow channel on the right bank and almost disappear from view as we appear to be in a canal. It can be shallow in here, and we may have to dodge some trees and eventually we will have to leave the cool and the shade to join the quick stream as it reaches into another bend as we approach the bridge at Siorac. Just under the bridge on the left side Eric has a shack from which he runs an office in the high season. We can pull over here for a quick chat and to see if he wants the canoes left here or whether we should continue for the last half-an-hour to his real base. Usually this is the case.

So it’s back on the water for the final run with the last few channels to explore on the left before passing an often crowded swimming beach on the right and the wall which signifies the Canoe Raid base. The first time I came here I completely missed it and sailed on merrily downstream for another mile or so before realising. It was hard work paddling upstream to get back here so I’m extra careful these days to make sure I don’t go past.

The take-out can be a bit tricky here as the water is fast and the steps down to the water steep. Eventually we haul the canoes out and dump our stuff in the van – it is here? – before wandering over the road and returning the paddles and life-jackets to Eric. If we are lucky Eric is here himself. In the old days Canoe Raid was run by Eric’s father George, who sadly passed away a couple of years ago. George used to invite us up to his lair, as Eric does today, to sit down with him and have a beer and a chat after a long day on the river. His lovely face and smile is missed, but I am reminded of him every time I come back to the river. He was a lovely man.

So finally we have finished our canoeing and we must get our tired bodies back in the van for the short drive to Beynac. We say goodbye to Eric, hoping that we will see him later in the season, or next season if it’s the end of the year.

Back at the hotel everyone will scuttle off to their rooms. We might just wander out the back to the hidden away swimming pool for a last half-hour relaxing before dinner.

Everyone reconvenes at about 7 30 for dinner. We can celebrate with a few glasses of wine and recall the highlights of our days on the river. I expect everyone is tired and looking forward to a rest at home. I will thank everyone for their company and we will share a few toasts.

6 Day Perigord: Day 5: Castles on the Dordogne

In which we paddle through the 100 Years War

These are some reminiscences of days on the river in the Perigord region of France. I shall be mixing up stories from my first trip, eight years ago, to the trips we did last summer, about thirty trips in all. This entry is about the fifth day of the Perigord trip, where we canoe on the Dordogne river and pass some fabulous castles and villages.

Breakfast is the same as it ever was. Same as it ever was. Who can complain though of fresh orange juice and croissants and bread and butter and jam. And coffee. I wont mention the tea.

Todays canoeing is relatively short and broken up by the visits we make to the towns and villages and castles we pass. It’s good to make an early start though as we have plenty to do.

Back at the riverside we flip over the canoes and slide them down to the waters edge. We have a quick look inside to eject any hitch-hikers. The usual culprits are spiders and slugs. Once it was an Adder, which is a venomous snake, and nobody noticed until we were just about to embark. I just scooped it out with a paddle and it swam off. They are generally only about a foot long and a bite would not be deadly.

Anyway normally a slug is the worst that we encounter. Once everyone is ready and we have what we need in the boats we wave goodbye to Paul, we will see him again at our first rendezvous at Roque-Gageac in  a couple of hours, and start paddling.

If we are early enough and it’s the right season, the river will have a soft covering of mist which sometimes floats on the water like ephemeral beach balls. As we pull out from the bank the current soon picks up and the canoes will rock as they hit the first waves. If I’m lucky no-one will have noticed that I’ve headed for the far bank, on river left, and slipped behind an island. This can be risky sometimes as the channel can be shallow in summer conditions and I’ve had to walk from time to time to get through. Usually it’s fine.

When I come out the other end the other canoes can be some way ahead of me as they have scooted down the faster current on river right. I get myself onto that side too and ride the current underneath the bank as we pass the little used golf course and head towards the cliffs ahead at the Vitrac bridge. We may even see Paul go across in the van.

Inn-to-Inn Guided Canoe Trips: the Dordogne river

Mist on the Dordogne river, near Vitrac

At one time as you approached the cliffs you could see a small sign attached to the river-bank under the cliffs. If you approached it, is said, “Danger, Canoe on the Other Side”! This made me laugh. I presumed it related to the possibility of rock falls, but their is a road between the cliff and the river. Sometime you see people climbing on the cliffs too.

After the bridge the river turns left and another island appears on the river right. If the water-levels are enough then this too can be an interesting area to explore. It is very shallow at the beginning though and it can be hard to get in the correct stream which otherwise means you are pushed down the centre of the river in the main flow.

A long straight stretch appears before you now and you can look far into the distance and see the village of Domme perched on top of a wooded cliff. This is a Bastide town, which means it was fortified and protected in the Middle -Ages. The Knights Templar were imprisoned there and the English captured and lost it several times during the 100 Years War. It also faced turmoil during the Wars of Religion later. As we paddle down we get a good view of the cliff-top strong-hold but when the river turns underneath the cliff it disappears from view, never to be seen again. It’s a sad fact that I’ve passed this way many times and have yet to go up to the village itself. It’s quite a walk from the river. One day.

Inn-to-Inn Guided Canoe Trips: the Dordogne river

Autumn and mist on the Dordogne river, near Cenac, Dordogne, France

The river broadens a little now and still runs quickly in some places. Another bridge comes into view. This is Cenac. This is where Georges our late canoe outfitter had one of his bases. One of his sons, Christophe, now runs it. The base is just before the bridge on the river left. I used to pull over here and run into the canoe place to see if any one was around. I might see Anton who was one of Georges helpers or I might see Georges himself, white-haired, with a cigarette dangling from his mouth. Even though it was barely 10 o’clock in the morning he would entice me to have a little something; a glass of port or a pastis. I would, and did, but I couldn’t stay long as my guests would be disappearing downstream.

Back on the river I’d skip around the little island on the far side of the bridge and then catch a little area of waves where the water started to run quick and soon I’d be catching up as the river again began a long straight run. On this run it is fun to keep changing where you are in the river as the current, which can be quite swift, changes sides quite often. It can also be surprisingly shallow in some places and even more surprisingly even in the deeper and faster water you can suddenly come up against rocks. I once hit one with such a force that it brought the canoe to a complete standstill and nearly catapulted me out the front of the boat. Luckily I was paddling alone and I merely ended up sprawling in the bow.

With a small tented cafe appearing on the right the river approaches some very white cliffs as it turns sharply right. They look chalky but on closer inspection is appears to be a type of Oolitic Limestone. By this I mean a fine type of limestone composed of very fine grains (ooids, or egg shaped) which doesn’t have the horizontal layers and vertical cracks associated with the limestones we have already seen. The white can be glaring on a hot summers day, but it is worth paddling underneath the cliff to admire its colour and structure.

In the height of summer there is sometimes a photographer on a small boat tied midstream under a shade. You can see a table onshore with another man with a computer and a printer which is set up for you to buy the prints he takes.

Inn-to-Inn Guided Canoe Trips: at Roque-Gageac

Roque-Gageac on the Dordogne

By changing sides from the white cliffs on the left to the woods on the right we can get our first glimpse of Rogue-Gageac as we approach. First we see the houses of Gageac and then the brown cliff-face of the Roque comes into view. High on the cliffs you can see the ancient troglodyte caves where once man lived, and below it the rows of house hugging the tiny space beneath the cliff before the river.

Inn-to-Inn Guided Canoe Trips: at Roque-Gageac

A Gabarre at Roque-Gageac

As we approach I remind everyone of the place where we will disembark and how we will pass the dock where the Gabares are. These are boats which resemble little galleons and which are replicas of the style of boat once used to convey wine and other produce down the Dordogne to Bordeaux. These days they are used to ferry tourists between Beynac and Roque-Gageac so that they can enjoy the river, its views and the castles from the water. They are the only powered boats allowed on the river. The sails are merely for show. They do travel quite slowly and generally don’t make much of a wake. All the same I instruct everyone to turn the canoe into the bow wave created by the Gabare so it is at right angles to the wave and this makes the canoe easy to handle. If you are parallel to the wave then it is possible to be tipped over.

Usually we pass several of these as we come into Roque-Gageac and then we approach the stone ramp as the river turns left and slide ourselves in. The river can be busy here with other canoeists as this is a popular stretch of river and it is now getting to the time of day when everyone is ready to do something. In the height of summer it can be a mass of children!

It is with some difficulty then that we pull up at the ramp and drag our canoes out of the way in case other people want to come behind us and use it too. Making everything tidy we walk up the ramp to the village, and agree on how much time we need to look around. Up to an hour if we want. It is interesting to walk through the back lanes of the village. It only has one road, which is busy, but behind are many footpaths which are worth exploring. These days you are not allowed to walk up the wooden staircase to the ledges and caves. Several years ago a large rockfall damaged some of the buildings in the village and the road had to be closed for a while. If you look on the cliffs above you can see that some of them are now covered in wire mesh.

Sometimes when we are here their is a small market in the car-park. It sells home-made produce, like liqueurs and cakes, and some home-grown fruits and vegetables and often some clothes and art-work as well. Usually I just flop down in the cafe and have a coffee, or perhaps the first beer of the day.

When everyone is ready we go back to the boats. It can be really busy now with crowds of kids drifting by and all shapes and sizes and colours of canoes strung out across the river like confetti. We get ourselves underway and drift backwards as the river continues its left turn around a full hair-pin. Looking backwards gives us another view of this beautiful village although we still have to be aware of the Gabares coming through and the hordes of school-children barely in control. It’s only really busy in July though and earlier or later in the season we are practically the only ones on the water.

Approaching Castelnaud on the Dordogne

Approaching Castelnaud on the Dordogne

Passing a Chateau on the right bank we bring our canoes over to river left so that we can glimpse our first view of Castelnaud in the distance. This is a huge castle which sits imperiously above the Dordogne. It is a fortress, the very essence of a castle and the largest we have seen. Our paddle from Roque-Gageac will only take half an hour and for most of this time the castle at Castelnaud will loom larger and larger until we approach the arches of the bridge beneath it and pull over onto the grassy banks on river left.

The castle is famous for being ‘English’. That is, during the 100 Years War, it had its allegiance to the Plantagenet Kings of England and faced the French at the Chateau Beynac, just downstream, which we will come to later.

The castle of course changed hands several times during this war and its defences and weaponry were continually upgraded as war technology and war-craft advanced. By the time of the French Revolution however the castle was a ruin. It has now been restored to its medieval glory and is a museum dedicated to the weaponry of the period. We will have plenty of time to visit it.

First however we should have some lunch. How about another picnic by the river? Why not? Paul will have found us, if he wasn’t already waiting for us. We may, or may not have a picnic table, but if we don’t then we can just flip our canoes and make one. We have toilets nearby to clean up and a bakery, a shop and a cafe too. If we want to we could cool off with a swim in the river as well. In the high season we’ve seen large parties down here with live music and many people. Once we were here on the day they have an annual race for these huge canoes which can hold thirteen people. When we arrived on the beach that day their were huge crowds of people and a brass band was playing loudly. Suddenly however we could hear this strange chanting coming down the river and when we looked we could see a small flotilla of these extra large canoes coming downstream. Each crew was manned by a team of people wearing a uniform and each boat was singing a song to match the rhythm of the paddling. It was quite a sight and the noise grew to a crescendo as the first boat arrived to much cheering.

After our lunch and a quiet doze on the grass it’s time to walk up to the village and visit the castle. We arrange a rendezvous time back at the boats, we’ll need a good couple of hours to visit the castle, and decide who wants to walk up and who wants to be driven. It’s a steep, but interesting walk, for those that want to go. But it is also very hot, usually.

From the cemetery at Castelnaud, on the Dordogne, looking down the Ceou valley.

From the cemetery at Castelnaud, on the Dordogne, looking down the Ceou valley.

The trail up to the village follows an old Roman Road. The castle here can be documented back to the 13th Century but earlier castles were built here and probably forts too. It’s thought the Romans had something here. In any case the Roman road winds up through the village in its characteristic steep fashion. The first  chance for a breather comes when you reach the cemetery. The wrought-iron gates are imposing, but they swing open easily into a cemetery which has outstanding views down the Dordogne, where the canoes look like flies and the Gabares look like canoes. The cemetery also looks down a tributary valley of the Dordogne called the Ceou valley. This is a classic valley punctuated by the tall Lombardy Poplar trees; it is also a valley famous for the Phylloxera aphid which destroyed much of Frances vineyards in the 19th Century. In fact in the square of the village at the lower level is a statue dedicated to the memory of this time. This shouldn’t distract from the beauty of the views from this vantage point though. Across the river can be seen the Chateau Marqueyssac, which was originally built by the French to spy on the English at Castelnaud. You can see, even from here, its famous terraced gardens of topiary. In the far distance you can also see Roque-Gageac.

Also in this cemetery are some Burial Crypts. On of them is for the use of the Bastard family; a name still used in France and a name in England that was brought over with the Norman French. You can go inside and read the inscriptions relating to many members of the family including a Baron.

On leaving the cemetery the trail continues past the church, which is sometimes open, and then up again along a part of the Roman Road that has been restored. That is, essentially, covered up. It looks smart, but doesn’t feel quite right. After some more stiff turns the narrow road comes into the high village, which is barely a single street below the castle. A couple of cafes and tourist shops are here, but nothing too tacky, and this is where the entrance to the castle is.

Inn-to-Inn Guided Canoe Trips: at Castelnaud

Beynac Castle seen from the ramparts of Castelnaud

I think the castle is worth a visit, if only for its outstanding views up and down the river. You can clearly see the Chateau Beynac downstream which is where your mortal enemies the French would have been camped. But this castle is large and strong and seems impregnable to the weapons of the day. Inside the castle is a one way system for getting yourself around. It’s important to follow this as the stairs, particularly in the towers, are narrow and it would be difficult to pass other people coming the other way. You can inspect many types of weapon in the rooms of the castle, and you can watch several small films that explain the history of the castle; they are helpfully sub-titled in English. The most impressive weapons are the catapults or trebuchets which are on the ramparts and walls of the castle. Sometimes one of these will be in use to show how they work as they sling a lump of rock across a field!

The castle museum does give you some insight into what life would have been like during times of war, but I still think the place itself is immense and the views are always outstanding whatever the weather.

Back at the canoes it is probably getting quite late in the afternoon. We only have a short twenty minute canoe down to Beynac so we could still fit in something else if we want to. How about the Chateau de Marqueyssac and its gardens? How about the wine cave for some tastings? How about paddling back to our hotel for a beer?

Leaving the river bank at Castelnaud can be a bit tricky as the river on the left side, where we are can be very shallow. It’s best to paddle upstream a little bit and then swing over to the right side and go under the bridge that way. You still have to watch out for the Gabares though.

Once through the bridge it is more or less a straight run down to Beynac. You should remember to spin the boat around from time to time so that you can admire the Castle Castelnaud from this side. It is still imposing. In high summer though you may have to watch out for the river weed that blossoms some years. It can form a mat of white flowers almost from bank to bank, which can be difficult to cross if you end up on the shallow side.

Approaching Beynac from underneath the railway bridge.

Approaching Beynac from underneath the railway bridge.

As the river approaches the railway bridge the fast water is on the river right, but on the left bank is yet another Chateau. This is Fayrac, which was built by the English, to spy on the French in Beynac. Rumour has it that it is now owned by a Texas Oil Billionaire although I’ve never seen a Lone Star flag flying.

From underneath the bridge the Chateau Beynac comes into view; you can see the dark castle and the church stood imposingly above the cliff and the village. The river swings to the left as we canoe under this cliff and the castle looms above us. At the end of the village we will see the docks for the Gabares and our ramp where we will finish our canoeing for the day. After a tricky disembarkation we will carry the canoes a short distance and turn them over on the grassy bank. We will carry up our paddles and gear to the car-park where Paul is waiting for us.

Across the street is our hotel and we can cross the road, carefully, as it can be very busy, and quickly check-in. Everyone can disappear to their rooms and we will re-convene later for dinner, which is right here at the hotel.