Tag Archives: Montfort

Autumn 2016 Newsletter

NewLogLemonBalmCanoe100x100

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.

GRC_2015NewsletterFooter

Guest Blog: Day 6: Day 1 on the Dordogne

A long day on the Dordogne river, from Cazoulès to Montfort

Sadly we leave the farm today and say good-bye to our wonderful hosts who have provided us with excellent home cooked meals, wine and homemade aperitifs!  We are off at 9 AM on our adventure on the Dordogne River.

It is approximately a 90 minute drive to the river but we make a few stops along the way – explore another little French village, have coffee, & hit the grocery store (Steve needs to stock up for another wonderful picnic lunch).

a6 Getting ready for our adventure on the Dordogne-start at Cazo

Getting ready for our adventure on the Dordogne at Cazoulès

The canoes arrive at the put-in spot promptly at 12 noon and we are off!  This river is much wider and quieter than the Célé – we see several types of birds along the shore and in the water – even a blue heron that we chase down the river and then he flies back over the top of us.

b11 Ready to paddle again!

Ready to paddle again after lunch at Saint-Julien-de-Lampon

There are purple marten nests built into the sand and this is the first time we have seen cormorants also.  We are paddling from Cazoulès to Montfort – we pass by a magnificent chateau high on a hill near our take-out point which is rumored to be owned by a Saudi prince.

b16 Interesting caves and crevices

Interesting caves and crevices on the Dordogne river

We meander past limestone cliffs and marvel at the ferns and other plants growing out of the rocks and we even explore a small cave via our canoes eroded into these rocks. We arrive in the town of Montfort and to our hotel, the Plaisance for our one night stay here.  We relax out on the patio before dinner – it is delightfully warm, a real treat!

c29 Relaxing on the patio

Relaxing on the patio at the Hotel Plaisance, Vitrac

Dinner is at the hotel and a 4 course extravaganza!  I should have had ½ of each course – hate going to bed on such a full stomach – but I am exhausted….  Good night to all!  Another day on the beautiful Dordogne awaits and will be full of castles and chateaux along the river tomorrow!

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 2)

House_20141016_D_000015.jpg

After breakfast we strolled down the lane into the village of St. Leon and back to the canoes we had left on the river bank. In no time at all we have got out life-jackets and paddles, have loaded up our canoes and are on our way.

House_20141016_D_000007.jpg

It’s a beautiful Autumn morning, a little cool, but with a promise of some warmth later in the day. We are surrounded by the subtle fall colours of the leaves and trees around us. Mostly pale yellows and golds and browns. A small flotilla of floating leaves accompany us downstream.

House_20141016_D_000006.jpg

After an hour or so we pull over at Roque St. Christophe to visit the museum cut into the cliff. The old grooves in the cliff cut by this river millions of years ago were once used as shelter by various peoples – even as late as the Middle Ages – even as late as World War II as it is reputed that contraband was hidden here even then.

House_20141016_D_000021.jpg

An hour later we are back on the water and making our way to Tursac where we shall stop for a picnic lunch. Steve has got there ahead of us and the table is beautifully set with all sorts of goodies when we arrive. It’s warm enough to have a glass of cold wine or two as well.

House_20141016_D_000033.jpg

With some reluctance we leave the comfort of the picnic stop to continue our paddle. Our next destination is La Madeleine – a famous Chapel which clings to the cliff above the river. King Richard the Lionheart of England is reputed to have prayed here on his way to the Crusades. It is also the site of a Roman Fortress and of some ancient Cro-Magnon dwellings too.

House_20141016_D_000045.jpg

Another couple of hours on the river brought us around to the small town of Les Eyzies where we are to stay the night.

House_20141016_D_000036.jpg

It didn’t take long to stow the boats and walk around to our hotel. We still had time in the afternoon for a lounge around or a snooze and later, in the evening, we wander to a local restaurant for dinner.

House_20141017_D_000010.jpg

The next day we took a short drive to rendezvous at Cazoules with our next outfitter. We are to start here on our three day paddle down the Dordogne. Today we are aiming for Montfort. The Dordogne is a larger river than the Vezere, both broader and faster, but it does have plenty of islands to explore and we spend some time on our meander downstream ducking and diving down some of the smaller channels.

House_20141017_D_000015.jpg

After an hour on the water we stop for our usual extravagant picnic on the bank. Steve had once again rustled up something special. It was hot too and me and one of the guests took a quick dip in the river. I must admit it was quite fresh!

House_20141017_D_000024.jpg

After lunch we continued our sedate paddle downstream, dodging in and out of several islands and slipping into a little cave at one point.

House_20141017_D_000046.jpg

We have the river entirely to ourselves, not another canoe to be seen and all the fishing punts are tied up on the bank. Some of them look in a right state but I’ve seen fishermen use these. They just bale them out and drift out to mid-stream baling and fishing as they go. No motors are allowed.

House_20141017_D_000055.jpg

Eventually we get to the big corner in the river where the Chateau Montfort looms over. It’s an impressive sight.

House_20141017_D_000074.jpg

We negotiate three more islands after the castle, taking the quiet side on two of them and then slipping over into a bouncy faster stream for the last gallop home before we arrive safely at the beach by our destination. Steve is there to meet us and before long we are trundling along the narrow lanes back to our hotel.

A Trip to the Perigord in September 2014 (Part 2)

House_20140905_D_000009.jpg

Our third day. First a ‘before breakfast’ walk then breakfast. Then we pack our bags as we leave St. Leon today and Roland, our host, kindly gives us lift down the hill to the village. Nobody is about at the river bank but it doesn’t matter as we can collect our own life-jackets and paddles and slip one of the canoes into the water. It’s a cool morning. A rolling mist drifts along the water surface like ephemeral tumble-weed. We push the boat out and ferry across to the far side to reach the deeper, faster water. Bob spins the boat around and we begin our day.

House_20140905_D_000006.jpg

It’ll take us about an hour to get down to Roque St. Christophe so we gently push on and get ourselves immersed in the quiet autumn feel of the river. We glide beneath the cliffs where we can see the cut-out where we walked yesterday. We watch the birds around us. The loopy undulating flight of the wagtails with a yellow splash. The direct, foot above the water, flight of the kingfisher – a blue flash. Jays always cross the river at right angles at house height. Rooks and crows make a racket as we pass and the song birds play their hidden song. We come to an island and have some fun deciding which channel to take and then make it tricky for ourselves by changing our mind halfway through. A Heron rises and gives an annoyed squawk.

We pull over at Roque St. Christophe. It’s an awkward place to stop as it’s rocky and slippery as well, but we drag the canoe to safety and leave her there whilst we visit the site. This place is a huge cliff face with many grooves cut into it by the river over millions of years. People have lived here for tens of thousands of years. These days it houses a museum which shows how people lived here in the Middle Ages. Bob spends an hour here whilst I have a coffee and read. I also meet a fellow from Australia who is doing a cycling holiday.

Back on the boat we continue on our way. Another forty minutes or so and we come to Tursac and our lunch stop at the picnic site. Back on the river we glide past cliffs and generally just while away the time in silence. The autumns has it characteristic smell. Leaves drift downstream alongside us. A wood-fire somewhere drifts the smell of smoke around us. It’s silent apart from the gentle lap of the water and birdsong along the banks.

House_20140905_D_000011.jpg

Eventually we arrive underneath the cliff-face Chapel at La Madeleine. It is 11th Century and was once visited by Richard the Lionheart on his way to the Crusades. It also has stone age caves and the remains of a Roman fortress above it. Unfortunately it cannot be accessed from the river so we just drift lazily by and enjoy the view.

Another hours gentle paddling brings us underneath the cliffs just prior to Les Eyzies and then under the road bridge to our take out. A beautiful days paddling. A few minutes walk and we arrive at the Passeur hotel. We were only here a couple of days ago but of course the two Jeromes welcome us back as ever.

Bob spends the afternoon perusing the arrow head collection at the Pre-History Museum whilst I nip down to the Pôle International de la Préhistoire which is a Research/Educational Centre where I can access the internet – we take no computers on our canoes!

In the evening we go to dinner in the little restaurant opposite the main square and then retire to our books for the evening.

House_20140906_D_000003.jpg

The next morning we get up for our pre-breakfast walk as usual. It is misty again and our circular walk takes us along the river bank, then across the railway line and then up into the woods and farms above the valley.

House_20140906_D_000001.jpg

Unfortunately I am so busy chatting away that I miss a turning and we end up taking a lot longer on the walk that I had planned. It was a silly mistake and when we get back to the hotel we are short of time to have breakfast, get ourselves packed and checked out. We have a train to catch.

We make it. We stagger along to the station at Les Eyzies and catch the little two carriage train to Siorac-en-Perigord a mere 40 minutes or so. We leave one lonely station to arrive at another. These French rural stations are so evocative, and a century away from the brash TGV stations of the metropolis.

I’m a bit nervous. I’ve arranged a rendezvous here with the canoe outfitters of Siorac Canoe Raid. My friend Eric has assured me that i will be met. We are after a little wait. Our guide is a Brazilian chap and his girlfriend. They don’t have the canoe so we have to go the the canoe base and load up the trailer. Bob decides to leave a bag here to pick up later. He has more stuff than he needs as he’s doing a bicycle trip after the canoe trip!

We are then driven upstream to our first put-in at Cazoules. The drive takes 90 minutes or so. Before long we are alone on the beach with our canoe and all ready to start our three days paddling down the Dordogne.

House_20140906_D_000006.jpg

After an hour on the river we pull over for some lunch. It’s a beautifully sunny day and we laze about in the warmth, before we decide that we’d better get on. We have a long paddle today and in addition, we have no accommodation booked for tonight. Both places I usually use are fully booked. Oops. I’m confident I can find somewhere though. Hopefully I can find somewhere close to the river!

House_20140906_D_000018.jpg

The Dordogne barrels along and I make sure to visit all the little nooks and crannies I know about. You can choose several different ways around the various islands. I always tend to take the smallest most overgrown route. More fun that way.

House_20140906_D_000024.jpg

In time we come to the famous and beautiful castle at Montfort which grandly stands above the river.

House_20140906_D_000033.jpg

When we eventually come beneath the castle I notice a small path leads from the river bank, up the cliff and through the woods to the village above. We paddle over. I can’t believe I’ve never noticed this before. After tying up I ask Bob to remain with the canoe whilst I walk up to the village to find us somewhere to stay. I’ve stayed in a B&B here before and think that their are several in the small village.

After the short steep climb I arrive in the village. I can see why I’ve not noticed the path from this end either as it looks suspiciously like a private path leading to a garden. But now I know.

I follow a sign to a Chambre D’hote and eventually end up in a farm by a large house. I ring the bell. A charming man answers the door and listens to the tale of my predicament with interest. He may have a room. Someone has just this minute ‘phoned to tentatively book his last room. He goes back inside to call them back. I wait outside. When he returns he tells ne that sadly the other couple do want the room but that, not to worry, he has a friend in the village who also has rooms. In five minutes he tells me that a room is available. He insists I look around his rooms first, just in case I come back. I might. It’s a lovely place. Then I walk across the village to meet a couple from Belgium who run another B&B. It’s perfect. I take the room and then hurry back to the river to tell Bob. It feels like I’ve been away for hours but Bob is unfazed.

We pull the canoe up the bank and carry all our gear to the B&B where we throw everything into the room before settling down with a beer with our hosts and having a quick dip in the pool.

Later we wander around the village and take some photographs.

House_20140906_D_000039.jpg

House_20140906_D_000051.jpg

House_20140906_D_000066.jpg

Even later we go out for dinner at a tiny little roadside place in the centre of the village. The food is great and the place, frequented by locals, is very friendly. A full moon rises as we retire to bed.

House_20140906_D_000076.jpg

Even more to follow …

6 Day Perigord: Day 4: First Day on the Dordogne

In which we negotiate islands and discover a castle

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 fourth day of the Perigord trip, where we canoe on the Dordogne river for the first time, negotiate some islands and discover a fairytale castle.

At breakfast the next day we all re-convene. Today is a day of two halves; first we will drive to Sarlat and visit the market, and then, in the afternoon we will begin the first of three days canoeing down the Dordogne..

Before we leave however their is just time for a flying visit to the National Pre-History Museum here in Les Eyzies. When I first visited this museum many years ago I thought it was a bit fusty and dry. Old-fashioned essentially. Just how many arrow-heads can one look at? These days I’ve heard that the experience is a bit more dynamic. It’s still all in French however.

A new museum has open in town called the Pole something or other. It’s a fantastic new white, aluminium and glass build. It doesn’t have much for the casual viewer. A few short films and an interactive map of the Vezere valley indicating all the Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon sites. However the facility is designed more as a research centre. There is an extensive library and bookshop as well as a bank of computers for anyone to use for research purposes. These computers have access to thousands of documents about pre-history and a huge array of image and video materials too. Some of these include full length films and television programmes. You can access the internet too which is handy for to catch up on some emails!

Anyway so the bags are packed and loaded into the van and we are off to Sarlat. A mere twenty minute drive. We drive up the hill in Sarlat and try and find a place in the parking just beyond the cemetery. The place is heaving with cars and camper-vans parked everywhere. a little note about the cemetery though. As is usual in this part of France the graves are raised sarcophagi, presumably used to bury the remains of a sequence of family members. The strange here though is that some of them are covered in small greenhouses. Nobody has any idea about this. Are they locked? Further investigation is required.

After parking Paul and I accompany the guests down to the market. The idea is to lead the way so they can make their own way back to the van later. They can wander around the market themselves. We have agreed to re-convene at 1pm. On the way down we pass a row of Red Cherries. I mean an ornamental cherry tree with red leaves. One year we picked a bag of cherries from these and Paul got himself sick by eating them. Someone later told us ‘Never eat fruit from a red leafed tree’. This can’t be true. I have a red leafed hazel nut tree at home and the nuts are fine.

In town we reach the beginning of the market close to the Cenotaph. Usually I have to explain what a cenotaph is. Apparently it’s a monument to the dead where the bodies are un-recovered or buried elsewhere. Of course in Europe they have been built in most villages and towns to list the fallen in the the two World Wars. At least that is the case in Belgium, France and Great Britain. In Germany? I don’t know. May be the Cenotaph is not big enough to remember as the place to turn up the hill top get back to the car pack. May be the huge frying pans of the stall selling paella is a better sign. In any case we pack them off with brief instructions of how the land lies in the market and where to find the old town. I suggest they loop around the market twice if they are planning to buy anything to compare prices. I also suggest they might want to buy something to add to our picnic on the river tomorrow. I’m hoping that we don’t get a selection of twenty of so dried sausages and three kilos of cheese.

Paul and I have some of our own errands to run and we skip through to the usual sections of the market and get a few things for the picnic tomorrow. Sometimes I run around the old town and take pictures. It can be difficult with so many people around but it does always seem possible to find new nook and crannies in the back streets that you’ve never seen before. It’s always a pleasure to stroll through the cathedral too. Sometimes the light streaming through the stained glass windows cast beautiful colours on the stone walls and floors inside. Sometimes a choir is rehearsing.

Inn-to-Inn Guided Canoe Trips: at Sarlat

The Cathédrale Saint-Sacerdos de Sarlat, in Sarlat, Perigord, France

The market itself can often be a bit overpowering. It can be cram packed and heaving with people. Mostly English by the number of voices I hear. Personally I think its over-hyped and over-priced and a bit of a tourist trap. I think it would be more pleasant to come here on a non-market day and appreciate the town on a more normal day. How normal it is though is difficult to say. Too many cafes and restaurants. Too many ‘Art’ galleries and shop selling knick-knacks and other shops selling ‘local’ produce. It’s a relief to be only spending a couple of hours here.

A house in Sarlat

A house in Sarlat

Eventually Paul and I gravitate to a local cafe run by a Dutch woman who makes a great hamburger and fries. It makes a change from the regional cuisine forced on us at all the restaurants in the area. We sit down in a quiet courtyard and watch the hustle and bustle of market life beyond the gateway. In this quiet refuge we can enjoy our lunch before we have to get back on duty.

Rushing back to the van to get there on time we are pleased to see that everyone else has made it. No need to hang around and no need to send a search party out! Jumping in the van we start our short, half-an-hour drive to the river.

We arrive at the river bank at Cazoules where we rendezvous with Eric our canoe-outfitter. He arrives with our canoes, paddles and life-jackets and we help unload them and get them ready for our paddle.

Having got ourselves ready we slip the boats into the wide river, and after a brief review of the safety procedures, we begin our long paddle down to Montfort. The river runs at quite a clip and we are soon on our way. I’ve reminded everyone that the Dordogne is a much larger river than the Vezere and is very wide in places, runs quite quickly in some places and has many islands to navigate along the way. I’ve explained that it is not always necessary for our whole flotilla to follow on another and if some want to go one side of an island, and some the other, this is fine. Usually the narrow side is the more interesting as this is where the wildlife hangs out; on the other had the wider side is usually swifter and more fun if you are looking for speed!

One particular concern on the Dordogne is what are called ‘strainers’; that is fallen trees, or over-arching bank-side trees where the water makes its way through the branches and roots, but where a canoe can get trapped. We must give these a wide berth. I remind them that should they find themselves in the water and approaching one of these then they should turn around and face them and attempt to climb out onto the branches. normally if you are in the water you should go feet first, on your back, so you can use your feet to push off rocks. I remind them too that you should allow the canoe to float in front of you so that you don’t become squashed between the canoe and a hard place. Luckily capsizing doesn’t happen very often.

One final point to remind them is that of course, if they are in front on the river, they have to make their own decisions about which way to go when a choice becomes apparent. remember cutting the inside of a bend is not always wise as you can run aground. besides the river runs faster on the outside of a bend. Just keep away from the overhanging trees on the bank. Also, if you are in front, look back from time to time and if you haven’t seen anyone for a while then slow down or wait. Wait where you are sure you are not opposite an island or wait at the downstream end of an island so that we don’t go sailing past you!

Almost immediately we come across an island where a choice has to be made. At this point I often tease everyone by pretending to be heading one way and then change my mind and quickly change course. depending on the current this may need some work and if others are trying to follow me they may not be able to change tack in time. It’s good to be out on your own sometimes. Depending on the water levels, this island also has smaller channels running through tall reeds, which I’ve attempted to paddle through on occasion. It hasn’t always worked and I’ve run aground before and had to drag my canoe out. So the others have the last laugh.

When the canoes emerge from beyond this island then we can be very far apart. To far apart to even shout at one another. A wave will have to do.

Before long we pass under an old railway bridge and approach another, very long and thin island. The branch on river left (that is, on the left when facing downstream), looks fast and narrow, with a few riffles, but this is the way I usually prefer, as you get a nice fast ride and you feel cosy and enclosed along the narrow stream. The outside is faster and wider though. If we go separate ways here then we may not see each other for twenty minutes.

Shortly after that the river takes a big left turn and we have no choice but to take the outside lane as the inner route has become overgrown with new willows and silted up. then the river straightens for a while before an entrance to a lagoon open up on the left. It can be interesting to glide into here as very often you can see swans take advantage of the calm waters. Usually some dead bones of trees are blocking the way so you have to steer carefully in the slow water. You have to come back out the same way too as their is no through passage.

A heron standing in the flowers of Water-Crowfoot, on the Dordogne

A heron standing in the flowers of Water-Crowfoot, on the Dordogne

After that, another island, and then a sharp turn right where sometimes, depending on the water levels it’s possible to slip into a narrow channel on the right. This then leads towards the bridge that marks St. Julien where you can see camp-sites on both banks. Depending on the season we are here we may see Water Crowfoot growing profusely in the river where it is slowing down. Sometimes it can blanket the river from bank to bank and it is difficult to paddle through. We stop here for a break on river left, so if you’ve taken the right side of the small island here you will have to cross back to the left smartly just before the bridge. Not always easy if the weed is profuse. The water Crowfoot , by the way, is a naturally occurring river weed here. It has a bright white flower, with a yellow centre and the flowers sometimes carpet the whole river. Very picturesque. It’s also very popular with damselflies and we will often observe the bright metallic blue bodies, with black-banded wings, of the Western Demoiselle (male). The females, also here, have green metallic bodies and golden wings. An example of sexual dimorphism.

Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens)

Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens)

If you slide you canoe into the weeds you can take a moment to watch the damselflies and observe their behaviour. The males may be defending females or territory and the females may be laying eggs (ovi-depositing). We may also see them flying in tandem. Other damsels will also be around; the pale red Orange Featherlegs, which has blue eyes, the pale blue, Blue Featherlegs (the female is brown), and the White-legged Damselfly (also blue). We may also see the larger dragonflies cruising around such as the Pronged Clubtail, which is yellow and black with blue eyes, or the Small Pincertail, which is also yellow and black but has grey eyes. Both Damselflies and Dragonflies are predators and catch other small insects whilst flying.

At St. Julien we take a break. Sometime we have lunch here, if we haven’t already had lunch at Sarlat. After this we paddle a long straight stretch of the river, where if we look back we can see a Chateau poking through the trees. After a little while the river narrows and start to flow a little fast again. As it turns left we can see a place where the right river bank is a wall of mud. This wall is dotted with small holes. This is where the Sand-Martins nest. However this has reminded me that up ahead is an obstacle to get past.

The underlying geology here has narrowed the river and it goes over some hard rocks which are angled in such a way as to cause a standing wave to form on the surface. As you approach you can see a wall of waves breaking in white horses. You can hear it too. The waves can sometimes be a three feet high and roll on for about thirty yards before they dissipate. If you take your canoe hard over to the left you can go around them. It’s more fun however to head straight for them and do a little bit of river surfing. The trick is to approach the waves at the highest point and keep your canoe at right angles to the wave, and paddle your way straight through them. You may get wet. Don’t change your mind or direction half-way through and keep paddling. It’s fun, and soon over. We’ve never had anyone tip over here though we did have someone once turn in the waves so the canoe was in the trough. They rocked a lot, but they didn’t fall out.

Once the excitement has died down we approach a close knit group of small islands where we can make various choices. I usually go for the narrower inside channels on the left where once again you have to negotiate the collection of fallen trees brought here during the winter. This is also where a great number of ducks and swans hang-out.

The river then swings right and then left where we cruise fairly tightly to the left bank looking for a narrow channel. Slipping into this channel we come across a small open beach on a promontory and we can pull up here for another break and a swim, if we are hot enough. The swimming is fun because the narrow channel has made the current faster and, because the faster water runs so narrowly you can easily swim into and out of it. the fast water halts abruptly where it runs into a slower stream coming in from the left. It’s a great place to take a break.

This is also the place where, infamously, two fellows in a canoe, on one of our trips, fell out. These guys were both called Jack, were both in their 70’s, and were both Irish-Americans from New York. They both always wore black clothes. On this day I came down the channel first in the fast water and then was careful as I turned to the right into the slower water. As I came down I noticed two girls sunbathing topless on the beach. I turned around in my canoe to watch the two Jacks as they came down. To my amusement they both swivelled their necks to look at the girls and the canoe ran quickly out of the fast water and into the slow. This had the effect of stopping the canoe very suddenly whilst the fast water behind swung the boat around and they both tipped out. I had to go back and drag the canoe ashore to empty it and get them both going again. They were slightly mad at each other for the mishap, but they both claimed, adamantly, that the half-naked girls had nothing to do with it.

When we get back into the canoes again after our break we take the right turn into the slower water with some care. if you then go over towards the left bank then you can examine the strange rock formations, and its associated plants, which are visible. The limestone has become heavily eroded both by the river and by water percolating through the rock from above. Limestone is porous, is mostly calcium carbonate and soluble to water and weak acids. For this reason it erodes easily. Most cave systems, for example, are through limestone bedrock. At this point on the river the limestone has been eroded such that sharp clefts have been cut into the rock. These have become overgrown with a variety of ferns and mosses, and sometimes some flowering plants too, such as bed-straws.

Undercliffs on the River Dordogne, France

Undercliffs on the River Dordogne, France

As we are passing these formations where little rivulets of water run down the cliffs and tree roots entwine themselves in and out of the rocks we come across a rope dangling from a tree above down to almost the surface of the river. Usually I just grab hold of the rope as I pass by and swing my canoe around. Once, just once, as a pair of my guests went underneath the rope, the gentleman at the back grabbed the rope and proceeded to climb it. His wife seemed quite unaware until he shouted when he had reached the top and she had paddled away. When she turned around in surprise he let go of the rope and fell into the water, and then subsequently swimming back to the canoe. he managed to get back in it too without tipping it over. I was quite impressed as it was quite a rope climb. It was a very hot day so I imagine the swim was refreshing.

Just after this the river passes under a suspension bridge which is notable in that the suspension cables are hidden in concrete boxes. As we pass under the bridge you can read a sign that says refreshments are available in the village. They are not. I fell for this sign once and disembarked to look for a cafe. Nothing is available; I’m guessing you’d have to walk further to the village proper a mile or so further up the road. I wonder how long that sign has been there?

Almost straight away we pass under an old railway bridge which has been converted into a rail trail for cyclists and pedestrians. There is then a long stretch of river which can be tiring if it is hot, or if the wind is against us. Usually it is the middle of the afternoon when we are here; probably the hottest part of the day with the sun beating down on us. With any luck we might just be able to grab a little bit of shade if we tuck ourselves into the left bank. Hanging your feet over the side from time to time can help too.

Eventually we reach a point where the river swings around to the right and on the inside of the bend is a beach, which can be very busy with families and children in July. We take the deeper water to the left and head towards to far bank where the water is running faster. Over here we can see that the limestone has been eroded in similar ways to what we have seen before. However some of the crevices cut into the rock are quite deep. In one of them, if the entrance is not snagged by a fallen tree, you can take your canoe right into a small cave. Depending on the water levels you can also get out of your canoe inside the cave. It’s a bit damp and smelly and covered with scratched graffiti, but it’s worth a look I think. The cave also has a window; a hole in the rock above the water-line.

Kim and Ted in a cave on the River Dordogne, France

Kim and Ted in a cave on the River Dordogne, France

Leaving the cave the river now enters a huge meander, called a ‘cingle’ in French. If we were to walk a kilometre here, dragging our canoe, we might save ourselves 8 kilometres of paddling. No-one has ever actually tried this. So we continue paddling down the river heading for another set of limestone cliffs ahead of us. I encourage people to slide over towards the right bank, because, if you look carefully, you will see the huge fairytale castle of Montfort appear between the trees. if you are on the left side you can’t see it because the bank-side trees are obscuring your view. We will now have to follow the full sweep of the meander before we eventually find ourselves below the castle. As we get to the cliffs at the apex of the bend it’s best to go right up to the cliff and get in the fast stream. The castle is looming dead ahead of us now, but we have to negotiate some islands first. taking the inside route seems like the easiest, but it means losing sight of the castle. I’d take the outside water which is running faster and from here you can just drift and take photographs as the castle looms larger and larger. Opposite the castle on the left bank is pebble beach, so we will pull up here for a break, and so we can look at the castle properly. A castle has been in this position for a thousand years. It has been built and destroyed at least three times and the present incarnation, in its slightly fey and whimsical style was built in the 19th C. It’s still impressive to look at though.

Inn-to-Inn Guided Canoe Trips: at Montfort

The Château de Montfort, Dordogne, France

Back in our canoes we drift backwards down the river so that we can continue to see the castle as we leave it behind. We only have a short while to go now before our day on the river is done. We just have a string of three islands to get past. I usually like to take the inside track on the first two islands on the right side as they are narrower, shadier, and more fun. The river is running quite fast here so you have to keep away from the large trees overhanging the riverbank. After the second island the trick is to cross over to take the third island on the left side. This sometimes takes some work as you have to cross a channel of water trying to push you the other way.

The Chateau de Montfort on the Dordogne river.

The Chateau de Montfort on the Dordogne river.

if you are successful then you approach the last bit of fun today and a string of waves in front of you indicates that the water is speeding up even more. Ride these waves as before with a straight canoe at right angles to the waves, keep away from the cliff and watch out for any stray fallen trees in the water.By the time you’ve run these waves a grassy bank appears on the right side, often with people on the beach and children in the water. You might see a stack of bright yellow canoes parked above and you’ll see opposite this, on the other bank, a small restaurant. we’ve now reached our destination for the day and we take out on the right bank.

We need to unload everything from the canoes and take them up to the van which should be waiting above the beach on the lane. We’ll tuck our canoes away on the edge of the beach where we will find them, hopefully, tomorrow morning. We flip them over as well so they don’t fill with rain in the night! usually they don’t. Often the only extras we get are slugs and spiders!

Once the van is loaded we can decide who is going to walk and who is going to ride. It’s a short ten minute walk to our hotel. A little bit up hill. For those that walk I take them through the camp site, past the cornfields, and then up through the Walnut Orchards and finally up a narrow pathway which brings you out next to the garden of the hotel and restaurant where much of the produce are grown.

Inn-to-Inn Guided Canoe Trips: at Montfort

The Pech de Malet

When we stumble onto the terrace of the hotel, Thierry will hear us and find us and I can introduce our new host. We will then sit on the terrace under the shade of the Wisteria having a drink or two, before we find our rooms. This small hotel is a converted farm overlooking the valley. The flowers in the garden are always beautifully colourful. The hotel is in acres of walnut trees between the villages of Vitrac and Montfort. If you just walk out the front gate and down the little lane for five minutes you will come over a small ridge, and below you, is the Château de Montfort, the very same castle that we just canoed by. Sometimes, if you walk this way in the early morning, all you can see are the towers of the castle rising above the mist.

We have dinner this evening at the same terrace.