Tag Archives: Siorac

Guest Blog: Day 8: Last day on the Dordogne

Last day on the Dordogne from Beynac to Siorac-en-Dordogne

We started out the day with a buffet breakfast at the Hotel de Chateau – we changed our itinerary a little for the day due to the possibility of rain around 1 pm.  We have been so lucky with only a little rain part of one day of paddling.

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Last day on the Dordogne river as we start from Beynac

First stop this AM was the river for our first of several short paddles today.  We were just out of our put-in spot when we had 3 choices of channels.  Marlee and I were paddling together today (we have gotten into a good rhythm!) and chose the narrow one that Steve suggested that had heron rookeries along the banks high in the trees.  It was wonderful to see the herons flying all about us – not many people go down this channel so we must have surprised them.  In all of our paddles today on the Dordogne we are skirting around islands and checking out narrow passages – following Steve and Annie!  We never got into any trouble, although Steve had to get out at one point when they were stuck on a log – Marlee and I sailed over it!  Too much great food on this trip for you, Steve!

e43 Another view of Josephine's beautiful chateau

Josephine Baker’s beautiful Chateau des Milandes

After about an hour, we take out and are transported by the van up to Chateau Des Milandes, former home of Josephine Baker. Josephine was a former African American burlesque dancer in the US and fell in love with France, moving there in the late 1930’s.  The chateau was built in 1489 and had many owners.  Josephine purchased the chateau in 1947 and called it her “Sleeping Beauty” castle.  We had a wonderful tour of the chateau which contained replicas of many of the same furnishings of those in Josephine’s era.  She had 12 adopted children of different nationalities and several husbands. She unfortunately died destitute in 1975, having been kicked out of her beautiful palace at one point.  She truly was an extraordinary woman, having worked in civil rights with Martin Luther King and also volunteering in the service during WW II along with performing and taking care of her many children.

c23 What a beauty!

A beautiful Eagle Owl at the Chateau des Milandes falconry show

The chateau was magnificently decorated and even had a wonderful Bird Of Prey demonstration out in the garden – one of the best I have seen.  I even got to hold a peregrine falcon!  There was a ferret and several kinds of owls, including the largest owl in France, the eagle owl which magnificent eyes.

Time to paddle another 45 minutes – exploring islands and staying out of the way of nesting swans.  Steve tells us that they can be very aggressive at this nesting time of the year and that we should give them a wide berth.

e45 Our last picnic together...

Our last picnic together, at Allas-les-Mines, Dordogne

Our last picnic lunch today was at a community center that had a picnic table.  Steve (George) has done an excellent job of providing us with a wonderful variety of foods for lunch – cheeses of France, meats, salad (even with avocados!), fresh French bread, gherkin pickles, potato chips and always some type of fruit and the bar of Belgium chocolate!  Of course the obligatory white and red wine accompanied our picnic! The last few days we also had Lu’s, a chocolate covered shortbread cookie.

f53 A garden of potted flowers

A garden of potted flowers at Beynac

Our last paddle on the Dordogne and of the trip lasts approximately one hour – I am very sad to see this part of the trip end as I am so at peace on the river.  Steve has taught me so much about paddling and I feel so much more comfortable about getting out of a tight situation than on that first day!

g63 Patty joins us

Patty, Marlee and Cheryl at Beynac Castle with the chateaux of Payrac, Marquessac and Castelnaud in the distance

One last castle to visit – the Beynac Castle, built in 1238 by the English, which sits high above the town of Beynac where we are staying.  The views from this castle are amazing – we can see up and down the Dordogne where we have been paddling.  This feudal fortress of Beynac is part of the large system of castles along the Dordogne, which was the division line of the English and French possessions during the 13th century.  Much restoration is going on in this castle.  We walked down and down from this castle right back to our hotel.
In an hour we are off to dinner in another larger village, Sarlat.  We stopped for an aperitif at a local bar and then we were on to dinner at a restaurant recommended by the canoe rental company’s owner.  It was one of the best dinners we had!  It was a late night and we had to prepare for our departure tomorrow.

h75 Our wonderful traveling group

Our wonderful travelling group, (L to R), Patty, Cheryl, Paul, Marlee and Annie at Sarlat, Dordogne

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.

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.