Cenac & St Julien 21/05/2015
Many of you will know the next line of this Al Green classic is ‘drop me in the water’. Firstly, I prefer the Talking Heads version and secondly, you have to read on to get the full story. In the meantime we are camped down here in Cenac in what appears to be a brand new Aire with leccie and Free Wifi. We have managed to bag the best pitch, not difficult as we are the only people here, and that is the way we like it. So all the toys are out, the chocks are on and the Wifi is getting a caning.
Since we left Fraisse Sur Agout we have had a few disasters, mostly caused by our stupidity, in fact, all caused by our stupidity.
Here we are at Cenac:
Our route to the L’Aveyron Gorge took us through the ancient city of Albi. With its riverside location and terracotta roofed buildings Albi gives a supurb impression of a scaled down version of Toulouse, a fine city in its own right and one we had not planned to visit. The main difference between Albi and Toulouse is the humungous Cathedral in the centre. Some claim this to be the largest brick building in the world, some do not. Even the consistently unreliable Wikipedia offered no help. It is big. Take our word for it.
We went for the customary walk around the ‘big church’ gawping and gaping at the now so familiar stain glass windows and hanging crucifixes. But here Albi strays from the norm. The external structure might look like a first attempt at Battersea Power Station but the inside is painted wall-to-wall by some Italian artists of note from days gone by. Unfortunately only half of it is open to the public at the moment as is it is having a refurb.
Here is a small video of the inside with a sing-a-long-song for you. Albi Cathedral
There is a great Aire in Albi, right next to the Cathedral where you can park for free. We did contemplate visiting the other attraction of Albi, the Toulouse Lautrec museum. However our decision was made for us by it being shut for lunch. Shame, however I do not see the Tate in London following these work practices.
Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val 16/05 – 19/05/2015
After Albi we had another exhilarating drive that including being bounced from pot-hole to pot-hole, our air suspension passing a most robust test. To the left and right Cows roamed freely amid fields tended by tractor driving farmers. This is a beautiful part of the world that seems largely unchanged for centuries. The town of St. Antonin-Noble-Val is picture perfect. It sits within the gorge of the L’Aveyron river and is an absolute stunner. Terraced restaurants adorn the riverbank, elegant shops lead off in all directions through narrow streets and alleys to meet in a delightful medieval square.
We pulled into the free aire and thought we like it here, let’s stay a while.
And here we stayed:
The first night was a quiet affair as Tracy cooked some succulent lamb steaks we had purchase from an artisan butcher and as expected they were fab. The next day we had a wander around town and a couple of beers in the square. Here are some pictures for you of St Antonin.
Fully recovered from our driving over the last few days we got the Barbie out and chilled by the van. Somehow, and we can’t remember how we ended up sharing drinks and idle chit-chat with most of the French campers around us. Funny how a couple of Bergers can breakdown all barriers between race, creed and gender. We had a good evening with some rather unfortunate dad dancing to finish off with. We also agreed with one of our new friends to come up pick us up 10Km down the river the next day. As the weather was set fair we planned to get in the kayak and drift gently downstream. For the uninitiated; Berger is a rather pleasant brand of Pastis, far superior to Ricard or Pernod and we quire like it.
Disaster Day 1 18/05/2015
The weather forecast was fine, wall-to-wall sunshine, our pick-up from the end point was arranged, the kayak was inflated and checked, GoPro securely strapped to head, map of route acquired, state of river confirmed with experts, valuables secured in waterproof bag and placed inside seat pocket. All except the van keys that wouldn’t fit and they were placed not in a waterproof bag, but just zipped inside the life jacket. But nothing could go wrong, we were experienced kayakers, our sink rate was 50% of outings. This was different, this was a river and a route that could be achieved by a five year old with a responsible parent. Being over five we decided we didn’t need a responsible parent. How wrong were we?
After a quick acclimatisation we headed towards our first obstacle; a weir. We had never been down a weir before. To be honest our experience of a weir was looking at the one at Marlow from The Complete Angler while knocking back a cider. So with some trepidation we approached, picked our spot, straightened the boat and. Nothing, we had run aground on the concrete. We were now clueless of how to do this. Luckily another couple showed us the way and we somehow managed to go down sideways without major mishap. Never mind, we thought, we have video editing software and at will all look super in the end.
We decided as the other couple had an idea about this kayaking that we would follow them down. Much to their annoyance as the chap did not seem fully focused on the rowing aspect as he adopted some strange positions within the boat in respect to the female’s station.
So a Mexican stand-off was starting to develop. When they stopped paddling so did we, when they wandered from side-to-side, so did we. This for us was a great strategy as we shot our next weir and safely negotiated our first two sets of rapids. Fit for five year olds? This was now child’s play, we didn’t need any love-struck lothario to show us the way. We were experts. We sailed on by when they stopped for lunch
We sat back, let the current take us, we were drifting backwards and we didn’t care. We shot larger and larger rapids and we didn’t care. We were explorers discovering new worlds in our teeny blow-up boat. This regime repeated itself until the endpoint. Here we got a bit confused because our map showed the terminus to be at the next bridge. There was a sign saying keep right hanging from the bridge, which we believed related to the bridge arch. There was a small stretch of water we paddled up. It came to a dead-end we thought. So we now knew we had to shoot the last rapid and we would be home.
As experts we relished shooting the turbulent water we could hear crashing to our right. By the time we saw it, it was too late.
We were thrown with considerable force down the cascade into the swirling mass below. We were thrown from the boat, spun around like the inside of a washing machine and dumped on a bank 30 Metres down river. The kayak was stuck at the bottom of the waterfall, being endlessly flipped over and over. The bag holding all our goodies including wallet and iphone had been stripped out of the boat and sunk. Our sunglasses and newly acquired GoPro camera were stripped from our heads. Tracy’s shoes and silver bangle were wrenched off and never to be seen again. Thank God for the life Jackets. Without these we might not be here. They got us upright and help float away from the disturbed waters.
We next needed to get the Kayak back. This involved Tracy hanging on to my Life jacket while I stretched into the maelstrom trying to hook one of the handles with a paddle. Finally after about twenty minutes of trying we captured it and managed to let the air out before heaving it ashore.
All we did next was to lie on the bank and look on the bright side. We were still alive. I went for a walk and managed to find a pair of flip flops estranged on the bank, a sure sign we were not the first people to try and shoot this rapid. We also managed to cadge a lift back from a canoe hire company. And for the record, the dead end stream was where you end the voyage.
When we arrived back at the Aire we told our new French friends what had happened and with deepest sympathy, they laughed. So this is why we have no pictures of this trip. We went into to town and got a take-away Pizza.
The weather was rubbish and so Tracy suggested we go to Toulouse and get a replacement camera. So we did. This was complicated by Toulouse not having anywhere to park a motorhome. Nowhere. Somehow we ended up in a Shopping Mall somewhere near the airport.
Success was achieved and a brand new GoPro Hero4 Black was in my possession. While there I took the opportunity to purchase a cheap phone and sim card. Happy as Larry we bombed back up the Autoroute to our planned stop at Bouzies on the river Lot.
This was not as easy as planned as we were too wide to get across the bridge and had to make a detour via the village of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie. And we are glad we did. A beautiful drive on a road heaved out of the limestone gorge. The village itself looks like the inspiration for those Lilliput Lane models that adorn many a UK mantelpiece.
Often quoted as the most beautiful village in France. A claim we cannot dispute.
Disaster Day 2 20/05/2015
Back on track we decided not to push our luck by sailing down the Lot and headed for the hill-top village of Rocamadour. As we passed through the town of Soulomes we spotted a Carrefour and pulled in for some supplies. Not only was there a fully-stocked shop but also a Motorhome service point with free drinking water but also a laundrette in the car-park.
As we waited for the Dryer to finish I noticed I had left my passport back in the phone shop in Toulouse. The rest of the day was spent driving the 400 miles to Toulouse and back to retrieve the passport. Tired and exhausted we parked up in the hilltop town of Belves for the night. This being a Wednesday everything was shut apart from a Pizza restaurant. I am a man of principle and do not like to mix my fast food. I do not have chicken nuggets in McDonalds, chicken is the realm of KFC. Etc. So imagine my disgust and subsequent delight when I was talked into and scoffed a Pizza Kebab. Yep, Italy and Turkey’s food gift to the world fused on a cheesy base. Recommended to all.
We spent a lovely morning exploring Belves and went for a tour in the troglodyte houses that sit in caves under the town square. Some pictures
And from there we headed along the Dordogne to Cenac without too much trouble. Time for a rest.
Love to all