Vezere Verses Visitors
Dip toes in – Montignac 2016
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Forcing the issue and at my insistence we embarked on a new experience – canoeing. Last year he had prevaricated and generally showed absolutely no inclination to board the icy clear mountain water and paddle rather than walk, drive, train or fly across the countryside.
Ever mindful of the potential dangers present in foreign places, sudden thunder storms blowing up unexpectedly from blue skies, deluges, streams becoming rushing torrents in a flash not to mention whirlpools, maelstroms, water snakes and electrically shocking eels, I carried out a considered risk assessment.
The owner of the river canoe company assured me that the river Vezere was at its lowest level, there had been no bad weather for weeks but yes, our feet would get wet at the exit point when we were to row to the bank at ...... this was not a problem as I was wearing waterproof flexi sandals. So, we paid our euro’s, riskily discussed European politics in fractured Franglais and on the basis of absolutely no information at all, chose our paddles.
He nominated me to sit at the bow and for no intellectual or practical reason I chose a single oar paddle. He was to sit at the stern and chose a manly double oared paddle.
Pascal or Pierre and whatever his French Apelete may have been graciously held out a hand for stability as I made my transition from terra firma to terror aqua. Our red plastic vessel contained a sealable barrel into which we stowed our precious water vulnerable possessions.
I should be noted that for over half a century – yes 50 years of observation – canoes move in a straightish progression along water courses aided of course by the current unless one chooses to row upstream which we were most definitely not. Of course, this is variable in the presence of rapids and other sharp declines but Pascal or Pierre had in the course of my risk assessment assured me in clear fractured Franglais that there were no such perils along this stretch of the river Vezere and that it was Class 1, the best most gentle classification of rivers in France.
Have you ever noticed the delicate water daisies which proliferate little shallow chalk land streams? They shimmer across the crystal ripples their delicate filigree of stems and petit leaflets intertwined to form a floating floral raft clinging tenaciously to the pebble and sand riverbed inches below the surface.
It seemed to start well. His manly self started the rowing which we agreed should be shared on our journey. It may have been two or possible even three complete moments before the first row started. Why it was necessary to steer our vessel towards the pale grey stonework of the bridge peer support rather than between the arched gap was beyond me. With all my creative genius I cannot conjure up a single sensible rationale for taking this course. He made manly grunts as the red plastic grazed the ancient Roman stonework in full view of Pascal or Pierre and the seasoned canoeists watching our initial and highly erratic and irrational progress.
The final property fronting the river on the western edge of Montignac marked the start of the wilderness beyond the waters edge. Some 15 Kilometers in length, Pascal or Pierre had provided us with a simple plan of the route and clearly pointed out that we must pass under three bridges. The third of which indicated the point at which we should prepare to land the canoe on the right bank which, he said in fractured Franglais would be signposted. I trusted him. After all we had shared opinions on European politics albeit discussed in a shared vocabulary of few mots.
I settled back to be Meryl Streep's Karen Blixen to his Robert Redford's Denys Finch Hatton in our version of Out of Africa, Shout of France. Dragon flies darted across the river and hawks, herons and harriers hovered in the thermals. Actually herons do not do this but unless you are an ornithologist you probably would not know this. Rowing was going well with very little rowing until it was my turn to row.
In retrospect and in hindsight I should have insisted on sitting at the rear. Life is so easy in hindsight but rowing with a single paddle oar in the front of a canoe certainly is not. To add to my difficulties each time the canoe veered – and it did a lot of veering – himself would put his oar in and over correct my steering misalignment and as a consequence my steering was over corrected by his manly intervention and the canoe which had been heading directly for the left bank was suddenly180 degrees adjusted so we headed directly for the right bank. Thus, on my turn at rowing, the canoe lurched in zig zag fashion along the river. Thoroughly irritated by an inability to control, steer, manoeuvre and out manoeuver himself I stopped rowing and we again started rowing.
And so we proceeded in turns rowing and rowing and on occasions rowing and rowing simultaneously.
Pascal or Pierre had robustly assured us that the river was at its lowest point and therefore completely safe for the beginner canoeist. As the base of the red plastic vessel rasped against the pebbles of a shingle bank in the centre of the river we were reassured of his wisdom – and mine for predicting the hazard ahead and pre warning himself to steer clear, all of which he ignored and beached our craft as a consequence.
If you should follow in our oar strokes look out for the Chateau built on the outcrop of .... rock overlooking the river A fairy tale confection then occupied by
.....work in progress
What is it with you guys? I am sorry honey, it’s not just you, it’s all macho, he man, masters of the universe types. As soon as there is any hint of uncertainty that you may be just the teeniest bit lost instead of slowing down and checking for signs to confirm the present direction or heaven forbid stop the car and ask a local, no you just ramp up the power and hurtle with no clear plan into the great unknown. Apparently this is a transferable skill and you can do this in a canoe too. More lost, more strokes in this instance these are oar and not piston.
Its not a recent thing, this is a pre historic man thing only then we women were busy hiding in caves and protecting our offspring – no anti-bac then girls.
Third bridge passed at Saint-Léon-sur-Vézère, the double ended oar went into overdrive and combined with a nifty current which appeared in the company of an adjoining rivulet the canoe raced towards a tiny sign with an arrow indicating the disembarkation point on the right as predicted by Pascal or Pierre.
Turning to himself who was by now furiously rowing with a gusto previously reserved for fast spin bowling, I pointed to the sign. His eyes had glazed over, muttered something about seeing no bank and paddled even faster.
Ridiculous in the extreme it was time for some reverse action to be implemented so I stuck my oar in at right angles to the hull. This worked extremely well as the speed bled or more accurately haemorrhaged away and the vessel slowed…… momentarily….. before spinning on its virtual axis and turning 180 degrees around to continue down river..... backwards.
He countered my well intentioned, well executed but unhelpful intervention and back on course and on speed we moments later came to a spit of tree lined land which obscured from view the tiny landing area on the banks of which seasoned French canoeist were enjoying their plein air déjeuner and generally taking in the ambiance of a pleasant chaude jour de soleil. At the edge of the river posed a beautiful 8/10 size lady in heels her perfect body clad in a royal blue bikini and her L’Overall bouffant shaded by a wide brimmed matching blue hat. She could have been the model for the poster by ….. but instead of walking along the Cote D Azure with a black cat, this beauty was holding hands with her equally gorgeous enfant .
And into the view of the assembled came two aruging, raging, aging Brits in a boat.
Turning to see if he had clocked the bank I saw he was eying up the local totty!
Clearly there was no hope. If action was not taken our craft would continue down the Vezere. According to the tourist map provided by Pascal or Pierre the known French world ended at this point with the river then entering unchartered territory much as the Zambesi would have been to Livingstone.
Rivers inevitably grow as they progress to the sea, becoming deeper faster and with undercurrents impossible to navigate with three paddles. Images raced of this red plastic vessel traversing Departments reaching Lemeuil where the Vezere would join the Dordogne, passing Bergerac to the confluence with the Garonne to be finally spewed out north west of Bordeaux at Royan into the Atlantic Ocean. With only two 50cl plastic bottles of French Eau de Montagne and no snacks for sustenance, how would we survive the crossing to America?
Three meters from the river edge I decided enough was enough. My feet were going to get wet and it might as well be here since quite clearly we were not going to make the bank having passed the event horizon and point of no return. As gracelessly as any middle aged, middle spreaded woman could do, I tipped myself over the rim of the canoe and feet first into the Vezere.
Feet, followed by:-
- personal areas,
- bottom cheeks,
- waist – all of it –
Aghast and in a state of shock he looked over the edge of the red plastic canoe to see his harridan of a wife, victorious in her achievement in halting the vessel, up to her neck in river.
Undeterred by the unexpected depth and with a sudden and sodden Lady Maud determination, pulled the canoe to the river bank to be faced by a final challenge. Because the river level was really so low, it was .5 of a metre below top of the concrete jetty. It would be difficult to get her own hulk up and onto the landing point let alone a three metre canoe, waterproof barrel containing possessions and himself who was still speechless.
To our rescue came the counterpart to the lovely Parisian lady who grasping the prow pulled all three cleanly out of the water and then in an act of supreme chivalry pulled a drenched self out of the eau too.
Defending his final actions or lack of them, he said that he fully intended to ram the canoe up the little bank but “that silly bloody French wench just stood there with her child blocking his way”.
C’est la vie.
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