Back to Camping Maisonneuve

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Looking down on the campsite – our tents are in the trees, right of the buildings.

Long-suffering readers of this blog may remember that in 2018 we holidayed in the Dordogne and Tarn valleys in France with some old friends. This summer, we repeated the trip. Once again, the whole thing was meticulously planned and booked by The Shandy Sherpa, whose attention to detail is staggering. For example: scoping all of the Aires on the drive down, in advance, using Google Maps to see whether they had large enough parking spaces for cars towing trailer-tents. As they say, the devil is in the detail, and Andy’s careful planning ensured that the whole trip went smoothly in potentially trying circumstances. Awesome.

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Castelnaud-la-Chapelle

This trip is a very laidback affair with certain key elements – a morning walk to the bakers; plenty of reading; meals together, often revolving around a barbecue; games of Kubb and Mölkky, usually continuing when darkness made accurate throwing next to impossible; lots of swimming, canoeing and floating down the river on inflatable rings; and short, steep walks up to the limestone cliffs above the campsite.

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Castelnaud-la-Chapelle seen from hills above the Céou valley.
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TBH in a cave mouth.
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Little’ S finds a ‘window’.

TBF had a potentially nasty fall in one of the caves, but, sensibly, used Little S to break her fall. Fortunately, neither were hurt badly, just somewhat shaken.

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We’d brought three different hammocks with us, which all got a lot of use. They all belong to TBH, presents I’ve bought her over the years. Why does she need three? Because that way, there’s at least a chance that the kids will leave her in peace in one of them, whilst they argue over the remaining two. We probably need another one!

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Upstream of the campsite, there’s an excellent swimming hole; downstream there’s a bridge over another deep spot – perfect for jumping in. Trips, with or without inflatables, between either of those pools and the one by the campsite were a significant feature of the trip. Of course, we could and did do the whole trip from the upstream pool to the downstream bridge, but the Céou is surprisingly cold, so that trip was a bit long for comfort.

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GR64, one of the amazing network of long-distance paths in France, passes close to the campsite. On a couple of occasions when the others were floating downstream, I took off for an out and back wander along the route. It was pleasant woodland walking, with occasional tantalising views of the Dordogne valley…

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Les Jardins de Marqueyssac

TBH and I visited the gardens on our last visit.

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Château de Beynac
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Chateau de Bonaguil

We did occasionally stray a little further afield, including a trip out to this magnificent castle. It had drawbridges, towers, winding staircases, caves below, lizards on the walls and even a bat hanging from the ceiling in one of the rooms.

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I didn’t see the montgolfières as often this trip as I did last time, but I did frequently hear them flying overhead early in the mornings whilst I was still tucked up in bed. This photo shows the beginning of an afternoon flight which was very dramatic since the balloons flew very low and continually flirted with a collision with a tree, without ever quite hitting one.

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Pain au Noix et Pain de Campagne.
Back to Camping Maisonneuve

Back to High Dam

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Low Dam.

I’ve just found this post lurking amongst my drafts. I seem to have chosen the photographs I wanted to use and then forgotten about it, so that this post is out of sequence. I don’t suppose that’s likely to upset anyone but me!

Anyway, the photographs record a trip from the tail end of May, when it was still hot. We had a theory about another way to sneak in a very quiet swim.

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Foxglove.

It was a Saturday morning and, once A had finished her paper rounds, we were off very early, a bit of a rarity for us, the whole family ready, kitted-out and in the car for an early start. It wasn’t that early mind – when we reached the car park, there were already three cars parked ahead of us, but I think that they all belonged to local dog-walkers. Certainly, we were the first to arrive at High Dam reservoir for a swim.

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High Dam.

The whole journey, drive and walk up the hill to High Dam, took almost exactly an hour.

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Rusland Heights just visible above the trees.

The water was cold, obviously, but not too bad and we had it to ourselves!

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Briefly. Another family soon appeared, but there’s plenty of room here. As has become our habit, we swam across the lake to the two islands which are in the photo above, although not obviously so. The attraction of the islands is a fallen tree trunk which juts out over the water, making a good platform for jumping in.

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Because the water was cool and also because we could see more and more family groups arriving, we decided to make do with just once across the lake and back. By the time we emerged to get changed, we were being asked whether we were about to vacate our prime spot on the shore by a group hoping that they could have it.

We walked around the High Dam before descending to the car. There were no end of dragonflies, but no photos on this occasion, because I only had my phone with me. Returning to the car park, we found that it was full, so much so that it was quite difficult for us to manoeuvre our way out. There was also a queue of around half-a-dozen cars waiting for a parking spot to become free.

The whole thing had worked out very well for us. I have several ideas for other swims, either in further ‘dawn raids’, or at lonely spots where I think we might not need the early start. Sadly, the weather hasn’t really been suitable since, well not at the weekends when we’ve been free anyway.

High Dam scrubs up rather well doesn’t it?


Loudon Wainwright III is, younger readers, the father of Rufus Wainwright, Martha Wainwright and Lucy Wainwright Roche, and also one-time husband of Kate McGarrigle. Not only that but he’s a phenomenal songwriter too. Here’s another, depressingly appropriate example:

Back to High Dam

A Picnic and a Swim.

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Around when the rules got really silly, well, when they started to get incomprehensible, I wouldn’t like to pretend that they are any more intelligible now, anyway, when they first stopped making much sense, we decided that if we could meet a parent singly in a garden, and, as we had been doing all along, could go for a walk as a family group and bump into another family group and then stand and have a socially distanced natter, then bending the rules a little to meet both of my in-laws together for a socially distanced picnic would be okay. We met at Tebay, where we were very politely, and understandably, ejected from the truck stop car park, which turned out to be a blessing, because we found a parking spot which, after maybe a 50 yard walk, brought us to an idyllic spot on the banks of the River Lune. Admittedly, we were very close to the M6, but the sun was shining, we had the place to ourselves and it was very pleasant.

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There were lots of white flowers at the margins of the river. I’d left my camera in the car, but I suspect a close up would have confirmed that they were Common Water-crowfoot. No photographs here of the focaccia I’d made to take for the picnic, which, due to an oversight on my part had turned out more like salty biscuits.

I’d held out the possibility of a swim after the picnic to the kids and they were very keen, A and B anyway, S had elected to stay at home and exercise his thumbs on his XBox. Now I needed to find somewhere that we could stop which was not too far off our homeward route. Luckily, I stumbled upon this blog post, which hinted at a perfect swimming hole in the Lune Gorge, so perfect, in fact, that the location is withheld, but which also has photographs of two bridges either side…

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…which rather gives the game away, with the aid of an OS map and a bit of patient sleuthing.

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It really was a great spot and clearly not well known; the only drawback was the stuff floating on the water, I’m not sure what it was, some sort of vegetation I think, perhaps due to the unusually dry weather we’d had? TBH chose not to join us, but three of us had a marvellous, refreshing dip and B even managed to find somewhere to jump in from, so he was happy.

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Goldenrod.

The next day, S, now, I think, regretting his previous decision, was keen to get out for a swim. I took the kids to Levens, for a dip in the Kent. We’d heard that it was busy, so we went late in the day, hoping that the crowds would have dispersed. I think they probably had, to some extent, there were very few people actually in the water, but the banks were exceptionally busy with some large groups obviously making no attempt to socially distance. In the end, only S and I swam – A and B were so incensed by what they’d seen that they decided to wait whilst we had a very brief dip.

Where could we go locally to avoid the crowds?

A Picnic and a Swim.

Kite Flying and Other Fun at Towyn Farm

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We were at home briefly after our trip to Germany and Holland, but no summer is complete for us without a trip to the Llyn Peninsula with our Camping Friends and so we were soon packing our trailer tent and driving down to Towyn Farm. All of the usual fun was had: barbecues, camp fires, mass games of cricket and kubb, and frequent trips to the beach. At the beginning of this visit, the sea was like the proverbial mill pond and we had, I think, the best snorkeling we have ever had there. There were so many fish to see, including Dogfish and, I think, a Plaice and lots of Wrasse. Later in the week, the winds picked up and so did the waves, which always makes the kids (large and small) very happy because of the opportunity for some body-boarding.

The winds also encouraged us to dig out TBH’s parafoil kite. She’s had it for years, from before we met, which is over 20 years ago, but it needed new lines and it has sat neglected in our garage.

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It’s a stunt kite and remarkably easy to crash. I blame the variable winds. A was the most successful of the kids at keeping it aloft. B’s reactions were hilarious, he got very excited and usually over-compensated for the movements of the kite.

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TBH demonstrates how it’s done. Perhaps.

I’ve always enjoyed flying kites. I once entertained the whimsical idea of flying a kite from the summit of all of the Munros. I think I managed about four. I’ve often carried a pocket kite on walks however. But I don’t have a pocket stunt kite….hmmmm.

Kite Flying and Other Fun at Towyn Farm

Lauenburg Lakes

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Look a map! Let’s get oriented: the big lake south of Lübeck is the Ratzeburger-see and the blotchy red bit across the bottom of that lake is Ratzeburg, where we were staying. Actually there’s the Ratzeburger-see, the Dom-see (Cathedral Lake), the Küchensee and the Kleiner Küchensee, but they’re all linked so who’s quibbling? Ratzeburg straddles both banks of the lake(s) and also an island in the lake which is connected to both banks by causeways. Another glance at the map will reveal that the area is riddled with lakes of various sizes.

My aunt and uncle have lived in Ratzeburg for as long as I can remember and my cousins grew up there. Swimming in the lakes has always been a prominent feature of our visits over the years. This trip was no exception.

Here’s Little S in the Pipersee..

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My brother and his family had driven up from Switzerland in their campervan, en route to a holiday in Denmark, and were camped by this lake.

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Actually, that day we were a big family party, with three of my cousins and their families and a couple of sets of aunts and uncles with us too. A gaggle of us, of various ages, swam well out into the lake.

This…

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…is from an evening visit to Garrensee.

And this is the kids walking through the woods for an early visit to the same venue…

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It was our favourite swimming spot. Perhaps you can see why.

Through the summer months my uncle, now in his eighties, cycles here for a swim most mornings. We were never early enough to catch him, but he did join us, along with my aunt, for a later swim one day.

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My first visit here was during the hot summer of  1976, when I was a bit younger than Little S is now. We spent a day here. I remember a snake swimming on the water; unsuccessful attempts to build a raft of sticks and my cousin K, whose house we were borrowing this summer, briefly going missing, until we realised that she had swum across the lake (I think she would have been around 5 at the time). TBH saw a snake here this summer – it was when she was running around the lake, whilst the rest of the family were swimming.

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I’m pleased to say that the kids loved Garrensee, but the Ratzeburger-see had its own attractions…

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This was an evening swim, when the sky turned a bit threatening as the sun set…

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We also swam one more time in the Küchensee, in a spot with which I am very familiar. It’s close to where my aunt and uncle live and, when we visited, I used to love getting up early with my uncle to walk down the hill, past the hospital where he worked, for an early morning dip.

During one of our visits to the Garrensee I got chatting to another swimmer. After he had, rather inevitably, asked about Brexit, he told me that he lives in Hamburg and that all of his Hamburg friends would head to the Baltic coast if the they had a day off and the sun was shining, but he comes here instead.

“My friends from Hamburg don’t know about this place, how did you find it?”

Apparently there are 40 lakes in total in the Lauenburg Lakes Nature Park, maybe someday I’ll come back and swim in them all.

Lauenburg Lakes

The Party by the Küchensee

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Since my last post finished with an old, old photo of Little S and his cousin L, here they are again, this time from this summer, swimming in the Küchensee.

And this…

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…is a wider view of the lake and, this time, B in the rubber ring.

The party was terrific. First and foremost it was great to catch up with my relatives. The food was out of this world. And, once we’d eaten, we got to swim in the Küchensee. (My rusty German suggests that translates as ‘Cakes Lake’, but that can’t be right surely?)

My brother and his family and some of my cousins and their families joined us for a dip. Some of the other guests too, I think.

I didn’t take any photos of the party itself: too busy eating and nattering.

Ten years ago, my aunt’s birthday party was in the same venue and I did take lots of photos, but chose not to share any of them on the blog. These days I worry less about ‘going off topic’ – I’m principally writing for myself after all. I’ve been looking back through those 2009 photos, which was a bittersweet experience: the party was great then too, and the food, and it was one part of a terrific holiday; it’s interesting to see how we’ve all changed, but sad to be reminded that some of the guests from 10 years ago are no longer with us.

As people started to leave, I chatted to some of those, like us, who were staying the night at the hotel. Some of my uncle’s cousin told stories about growing up in what became the DDR and how they eventually escaped. Fascinating stuff.

Oh – and Brexit. Wherever we went in Germany, people wanted to ask about that. In every case they initially wanted to enumerate their connections to and express their fondness for the United Kingdom (or, on reflection, to England for the most part), but then went on to explain that they were baffled by and concerned about our desire to leave the EU. Could I elucidate? Nope.

 

The Party by the Küchensee

Harter Fell and Birks Bridge.

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On the Saturday of our Easter weekend I stayed at home with TBH, who, unfortunately, was suffering from her worst bout yet of labyrinthitis. Most of the rest of the party went for a swim in the Kent at Levens. It really was that warm, which is hard to believe now that it’s late May and the wind is howling outside beneath grey skies.

Easter Sunday was B’s birthday. How to entertain a teenager on their birthday? Fortunately, B was happy to fall in with our plans for a shortish walk up Harter Fell, followed by a swim in the River Duddon. TBH was feeling much better, but not well enough to want to join us.

This…

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…is Birks Bridge, where we planned to have a dip after our walk.

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You can see that the water is crystal clear. Deceptively deep too, it was possible, we later found, to jump from these rocks into the water without hitting the bottom.

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River Duddon.

First of all though, we had a hill to climb. The initial ascent was very steep and it was unseasonably hot. Here we are…

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…resting after the first steep pull.

This rocky tor…

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…is Maiden Castle. It’s very imposing and we’d picked it out from the car park as somewhere worth visiting. Actually, around the far side it can be easily scaled via a grassy ramp. That’s be sat on the top.

From this point on, not only did the angle ease, but there were lots more rocky knolls, so that a variety of different entertaining options for scrambling to the top were available. Andy and the DBs were in their element. I followed on more slowly, picking my route and avoiding some of the steeper sections they sort-out.

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At the top itself, there were plenty of sheltered spots for some lunch and a sunbathe…

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But also lots more rocky knolls to enjoy…

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B tells me that this photo…

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…gives a misleading impression about the route he is climbing, which, apparently, was “much steeper than that!”

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A and B have been up here once before, although I’m not sure how well they remember that visit , it was a long time ago after all.

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Hazy view of the hills around Upper Eskdale.

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Bird’s-eye view of Hardknott Roman Fort.

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We chose the simple option of retracing our steps down to the valley. By this time, the haze had begun to clear and the views were improving.

The others were setting a cracking pace, no doubt eager for the swim to come, but I was distracted by the great number of Peacock and Orange-tip butterflies which were flying.

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Orange-tips are one of those species of butterfly which rarely seem to land, at least when I have my camera handy. Fortunately, there were other distractions…

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…I love the way the almost lime green new Beech leaves complement the layer of old orange leaves which always blanket the ground beneath Beeches.

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They look pretty good against a blue sky too.

Eventually, a couple of Orange-tips decided to oblige and pose for photos…

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All that and a swim still to come!

Andy has photos of us swimming (as well as lots more pictures of the DBs scrambling). The water was refreshing of course, but not as cold, frankly, as I thought it might be. My theory is that the rivers are a good bet after prolonged dry spells, which is exactly what we’d just had. Once you were immersed, it wasn’t bad at all, and even Little S, who has no padding whatsoever and often suffers with the cold, managed a good long swim.

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Little S and I both like to climb a hill on our Birthdays if possible. I think this might be a first for B, but the combination of sunshine, old friends, some scrambling, and a swim is surely a hard act to follow.

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Harter Fell and Birks Bridge.

Kayaking Down the Tarn.

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Another excursion, this time on the River Tarn, which was faster flowing than the Dordogne, less busy and more dramatic, especially in Les Détroits, ‘the straits’, where the ravine narrows and is closed in by cliffs on either side…

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Once again, we stopped regularly to swim, including a stop at the campsite which was conveniently situated for lunch.

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This time the younger members of the party each had their own boat, which was definitely a better arrangement, and they enjoyed larking about standing in their kayaks and rafting up to traverse across the front of each others boats.

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If anything, this was even more enjoyable than the Dordogne paddle and unlike that trip, when I was tuckered out by the time we finished, I would have liked to continue, although that’s not possible because the river enters a dangerous jumble of boulders downstream.

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Once again, I only took photos when we stopped, whereas Andy has more photos, including many excellent ones of our respective kids. You can find his post here.

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Kayaking Down the Tarn.

Three Weeks Under Canvas: The Tarn Gorge

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After our week in the Dordogne, we drove to the Tarn Gorge for another week’s camping, this time at Camping La Blaquiere. Even more so than at Camping Maisonneuve, we spent a great deal of our time on and around the campsite, particularly swimming in, or jumping into, the Tarn.

This is limestone country, like the area around the Dordogne, but very different scenery; the Tarn cuts deeply into the Cévennes and the steep sides of the gorge are girt with crags and huge towers.

This…

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…is the stretch of the river where we did most of our swimming. It was deep, crystal-clear, fast-flowing and absolutely full of a wide variety of fish: I took to wearing goggles whenever I swam, so that I could dive below the surface to observe them.

This…

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…is the only photo of the camping site I took. It shows the small cafe, where we ate twice, memorably watching a three-piece band segue from The Ram-Jam Band’s ‘Black Betty’ into the Eurythmics’ ‘Sweet Dreams’, an unusual combination.  As the light faded whilst we ate, I watched Alpine Swifts, which are larger than those we see at home, hurtling along beside the cliffs across the river.

I was endlessly fascinated by the way light changed with the time of day and the weather. This photo…

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…was taken relatively early in the morning. Just right of centre, you can see a rock formation poking above the horizon….

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The kids decided that it was a man and a woman. Later in the week we travelled past the campsite in a bus and I’m pretty sure that the driver pointed out the same rocks and said that one was Louis XIV, the ‘Sun King’. Presumably the other is one of his wives, or many mistresses.

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Later in the week we had several afternoons which brought dark clouds, rumbles of thunder and sometimes rain.

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Which really added to the drama of the views…

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This stretch of the river…

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…is just downstream from the campsite. It was favourite with the Dangerous Brothers because the rocks on which I was standing to take the photograph had several spots from which to leap into the river, some of them really quite high up. That’s two of the DBs talking on the far bank: DB Senior, our B, and ODB – Old Dangerous Brother, or Andy, who is an honorary member of the team. I think he was quite chuffed to have somebody with him who shared his appetite for reckless self-enganderment. I know our boys certainly enjoyed it. Little S climbed to the highest jumping point numerous times, but in the end, on our final day, it was B who actually jumped.

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The photographs were taken from the far side of…

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…’le champignon’, the mushroom rock, another landmark which the bus driver identified.

Morning walks for bread only went as far as the campsite reception; the villages up and down the valley from the campsite were both a little too far away for a morning croissant and baguette walk.

This is La Malène…

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Which was upriver.

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And which has a bridge over the Tarn, handy for taking photos…

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The village in the other direction was Les Vignes, where we did most of our grocery shopping. It was almost as picturesque as La Malène, but I don’t seem to have taken many photographs, preferring instead to concentrate on being fleeced by a consummate salesman who lured me in with a complimentary glass of peach wine and samples of his wares, before ruining me financially by selling me some of what was surely the World’s most expensive salami. It did taste good though.

Three Weeks Under Canvas: The Tarn Gorge

Canoeing on the Dordogne.

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One given of our trip to France was that it would include some canoeing on the two rivers we would be staying close to. This is something Andy has done on his previous trips and promised to be a real highlight of the holiday. In the event, the whole trip was great and it’s quite difficult to choose a favourite part, but the canoeing certainly didn’t disappoint.

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Actually, this spot, featured in the first three photos, is a strong contender for favourite for me. This was the same day that Andy and I had walked, in clearing mist, to the bakery together, and, whilst we were there, we found a canoe hire place and booked four three-man boats. Later, we were all back in Castelnaud for a bus ride to our start point, near a village called Vitrac if I remember correctly. This shingle bank was the first of many places along the river where we stopped for a cooling swim and the warm honey-coloured rocks, the incredibly clear water and the numerous fish we saw made it very memorable. We watched a couple of fish which were really quite large. I think they were Barbel, although any opinion I give about fish must be taken with a huge pinch of salt. One of them was persistently shadowed by a much smaller, stripy fish – a perch perhaps? Although, why a perch would trail alongside a much bigger fish I don’t know.

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The river was quite fast flowing here and we found it best to swim downstream and then walk back up before heading back down again.

This…

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…is another one of our stops. The river was even more powerful here, but the main current was on the far bank, under towering limestone cliffs. On our side the water was heavily silted and very warm.

The Dordogne was generally very warm. When we stopped at Castlenaud Andy and I had a memorable demonstration of just how warm whilst the others went off into the village for ice-creams.

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We swam upstream to the mouth of the Céou. The water flowing into the Dordogne from the Céou felt positively icy and the Dordogne like bath-water by comparison. It was a strange experience, since you could swim through alternate pockets of warm and cold water.

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The mouth of the Céou is just about dead-centre of the panorama below.

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From Castelnaud we paddled on, to eventually stop between Beynac and Les Milandes. I think there was some talk of the whole route being 16km. Regardless of how far it was, I know that I was very weary that night on the campsite. Missing from my photographs and description is some of the spectacular scenery we canoed past: Beynac was stunning and Roque Gageac even more so, but I didn’t have my camera with me, relying on my phone which, most of the time, stayed safely inside the watertight plastic barrel which had been provided. Andy has a waterproof camera and has more and better photographs, so I’m looking forward to his post of this trip on his own blog.

Canoeing on the Dordogne.