Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Even more on the Loire

The Way to Montsoreau

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Kristine was up very early, about 5am, before day break and went out on a walk. She circumnavigated the island and saw the sun rise and early morning mist rolling over the river. When I finally roused myself, around 6am,  I was feeling a bit grubby and so decided to bathe in the river. Steve joined me and it felt good to get wet and clean in the fresh morning air. We got another fire going and cooked up some sausages for breakfast. As usual Steve prepared the coffee.

After breaking camp we were soon on our way. We were aiming to arrive in Montsoreau about 3pm, in plenty of time for our rendezvous with the outfitter at 4pm.

We moseyed along in the warmth of the morning sun looking out for a riverside village to take a break. Eventually La Chapelle sur Loire hoved into view and although we had to take a long detour around a very shallow sand-bank we eventually came to an access ramp below the walls of the village. A fisherman was here blocking the way but he didn't seem perturbed that we need to get access here and eventually he did move his stuff out of the way without complaining. In the village itself we found a solitary cafe and managed to order a coffee and a croissant. It was pleasant sitting in the square under the sun. We visited the 'Chapelle' itself too.

Back at the dock a local style of boat had appeared. A sailing boat with a low draft used to ferry people across the river. Another couple we here too in a heavily laden canoe. They said they were headed for the ocean! We set off and paddled steadily for an hour or so before a huge Nuclear facility came into view and came closer and closer. It was not clear whether this was a Power Station or a research place. We slinked past it as best we could until it disappeared off out stern.

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After passing under a bridge we began looking for somewhere to stop for lunch and eventually settled on a beach on the left bank just beyond the town of Chouze. Of course we had the usual fare for lunch. and very nice too.

Back on the water we had an easy last stretch of paddling to do as we passed where the River Viennes joins the Loire at Candes-St-Martin, and then the very final piece as we arrived at Montsoreau underneath its Chateau. It was getting on for about 2pm so we were in plenty of time. After disembarking Steve and walked along the river front and found the camp-site and determined where we would be pitching up. We then went back to the boats and paddled the last 100 yards or so to the closest access to the camp-site. here we unloaded and carried out gear through the camp-site. Unaided, I should add by the sons of my friends, who were too busy playing tennis. At least they said hello eh!

It was in fact a little disappointing to reach our destination, even though we had friends to meet and a party to go to later. The good news is that Steve and Coral enjoyed their first experience of canoe camping and might give it a go again.

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Monday, 20 August 2012

More on the Loire

Day 3 Head-winds and 3ft Waves

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The day begins with breakfast as expected. Steve brews some coffee with the maker that he's thoughtfully brought along. Unfortunately we don't have much water as we lost our supplies in the river yesterday. With this in mind we intend to stop off at a village as soon as we can and get some more supplies. It doesn't take long to break camp and get everything packed into the canoes and we are on the water well before 9am.

Before long we approach a long thin island and take the narrower side on river right. As we make a bend we can see a church tower in the distance. It doesn't look too far to walk and after passing a couple of fishermen we pull over. I decide to wait by the boats whilst they explore the village. I amuse myself by taking photographs of the damselflies that are around. I guess they are gone about half an hour, but they do return with some goodies and we are back under-way again.

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When we get back into the main channel we find that we are facing quite a head-wind and have to battle our way ahead. The river widens out again too and it's like paddling on a lake at times. It gets worse because as we approach a corner near the village of  Cinq Mars le Pile as the waves start to build up and it gets decidedly choppy. This is pretty weird for a river expedition. At the end of the bend though we head to a small beach and take a well earned break. Kristine and I decide to walk into the village to see what we can get. It turns out to be a long, tedious, hot and wasteful walk as the village is more or less closed.

On our return we discover that Steve and Coral have enjoyed the rest, have had a swim and are now asleep on the beach. We have our lunch now after being pleasantly surprised that they have waited for us to return.

After another couple of hours canoeing into the wind we arrive at the town of Langeais. Again we beach up and this time it's me and Steve who walk into town to get some provisions. It's a beautiful little town with a castle in it's centre and lovely medieval streets. It look like a nice place to hang too. Plenty of restaurants and cafes. It also has everything we need and after hitting the epicerie and the boulangerie we stagger back to the boats laden with stuff. Now it's time to find an island for camping for the night.

We get past the bridge at Langeais (all bridges now being associated with rapids), and come across another island fairly soon. It's rejected however as still being in sight of the town. We continue. The consensus is that we will paddle for another hour with the intention of making the paddle tomorrow shorter. In the end however we paddle on for two hours and its after 6pm before we find somewhere suitable. The island is mostly flat and beachy but on the left-hand side we find a row of trees and a grassy bank which will do nicely as a camping spot. As we arrive a whole host of bird-life takes flight. There are Gulls and Terns and Herons which are the birds we've been seeing all the time, but I also suspect that we out Cormorants, Storks and Ibis into the air too. They don't return so I suppose they went off and found another island. Sorry about that!

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The camping spot wasn't great, but beggars can't be choosers when looking for an island as the evening draws in, and Kristine had to clear away a few brambles before we could pitch the inner. Pretty soon however we were all set and Steve once again got the dinner on. This island was also loaded with fire-wood so we got another huge camp-fire burning and revelled into the night (sort of?).

Sunday, 19 August 2012

On the Loire

Day 2: The Canoeing Starts

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On our first morning we take our breakfast in the cafe at the camp-site and then break camp. Kristine and I walk around to the canoe outfitters and try and get ourselves sorted for the canoe trip ahead. The guy doesn't speak English but eventually he figures out who we are, recognises that we have actually booked boats for a few days and then calls to get Cyril over. I don't know where Cyril is but he's the guy who we arranged via email for the hiring. It takes an age for him to get over here, but meanwhile we get some gear organised and arrange all our stuff in an assemblage of water-proof tubs. We get our life-jackets sorted too.

It turns out Cyril is keeping us waiting because we kept him waiting yesterday and he remarks that we should have called to say what time we were going to arrive. It's a bit mean of him to take umbrage like that but what can we do? I'm hopping about impatiently but Steve and Coral zoom off in the car to get some provisions. Eventually Cyril turns up and we eventually jump into the van to drive to the put-in. This turns out to be 200 yards down the island, but it is beyond a little set of rapids that run under the bridge.

We unload the canoes, good ol' Old Towns, and load them up with our gear and strap everything down with a variety of bungee cords. We've had a brief look at the map of the river and decided on a strategy to spread our journey over 3 days canoeing. Today we will attempt to get past Tours and find an island to camp on. In our keenness to get going I omit to do the safety drill and neither do I give Steve and Coral any rudimentary paddling advice. We'll do it as we go and practise when we get to an island or something. It's about 11am now and we have a long way to go. On the other hand the evenings are long and we can stretch our paddle into the cooler part of the day. In fact we are lucky with the weather as it is warm but not unbearably hot as I feared it might be. No sign of rain either.

So we pull out into the stream. I say stream, it's a massively wide river. The widest I've paddled on and sometimes it seems we are paddling in the middle of a lake. Underneath us the current is running quite fast and I estimate we will be doing about 6km an hour. We've got 80kms to do over the 3 days, so about 30 a day gives us about 5 hours paddling a day.

At first we paddle relatively close to one another as I try to give some basic instructions, on the paddling strokes, on keeping one on each side of the boat and on trying to keep the boat straight. It's inevitable that they zigzag a bit but they don't seem to mind and are soon getting the hang of things. After a hour we come across some small sand-banks and islands and decide to pull up on one for a spot of lunch. We spring into action and soon have a picnic spread all laid out on a blanket. Everything we need we have: Bread, Cheese, Sausage and Kristine's pickles. We also open a bottle of wine. This is the life.

After lunch we continue our drift downstream past the villages of Montlouis on one side and then Vouvray on the other. We get glimpses of small ch√Ęteaus and houses built into the cliffs (Troglodyte buildings). We've also been paddling for a while so we pull over on another small island. Steve complains of a sore bum He's not used to this canoeing lark!

We paddle on for a couple of hours until we reach the large town of Tours. Cyril had warned us that there is a small rapid at the Wilson Bridge and that we would have to portage around it. He'd given us a set of wheels to helps us do this. We passed under two other bridges before the old stone bridge came into view. Kristine and I paddled gingerly down the left bank as we approached it and then decided to back up to a ramp where we could start the portage. I decided to go and have a look at the rapid whilst the others sat in the boats and waited. It didn't look too bad to me and I thought it would be OK to run it. First however we could paddle down to a rocky beach just before the rapid and start the portage from there. It would be shorter! This would have been OK apart from the fact that a row of fishermen had lines out into the water and we have to paddle around them ... getting perilously close to the rapid as we did so. The fishermen inevitably shouted at us for disturbing their sleep! One of them even came across to us to shout. I shouted back that it was dangerous to expect us to give them a wide berth so close to a rapid. He turned back. I was expecting to take both boats through on a solo run but when I turned back after a pretty straightforward run through the rapid I saw that Steve had also decided to do it! And he did too! Even if he did spin out at the end. Eventually both boats were safely at the ramp on the far side of the rapid and we decided to take a break and sat down and had a beer from the conveniently close bar. Kristine and I also took a small walk into town to get some provisions and some sun-block stuff.

Suitably refreshed we started off again to find an island for the night to camp on. First, however, we had to get past the next bridge. I'd been told that this also had a small rapid but that it was usually passable on the right-hand side. Kristine and I approached it and I thought that the rapid didn't look like much. certainly not like the Wilson rapid. I chose the 2nd arch from the right and took our canoe down the V, but half-way down a smooth under-water rock almost tipped us and we rocked a bit before sliding away. I turned around and indicated frantically to Coral and Steve that they should try the right-most arch but it seems they were already committed to the same arch as us. We turned around to wait for them and they were almost through before that rock turned them sideways and spilt them into the river. Oops!

Luckily a handy sandbank was close to our boat and we paddled over and run our canoe aground before I hopped out into the stream to catch the debris! Coral was swimming in front with her paddle and came nicely around the back of me before it was safe for her to stand up and wade to the island. She was laughing and didn't seem too fazed by the experience. Steve meanwhile was swimming behind the boat (good man!) and gently pushing it towards us. Fairly soon we had the boat on the sand-bank, removed all the tied in tubs, and emptied it.  It looked like nothing was lost but later we discovered that a pack of water had gone overboard and that some loose clothes had drifted off too. Not a bad result though. It's a pity we got no photographs of the mishap.

So after a short break we got back on our horses and continued on our way. It's always a shock to find yourself in the river unexpectedly but at least the water was warm and they soon dried off in the sun.

We came across one island fairly soon but rejected it as being too close to the bridge and paddled on a little bit further before rounding the point of a tiny island and finding that there was space enough for a camping spot. This was it then. Beaver Island, as it came to be known. We unload the boats and choose our camping spots. We are on the point and Steve and Coral under the tree. The canoes are pulled up beyond our tent where the point narrows to about a yard. As long as the river doesn't rise in the night we'll be fine. Steve decorates the tree with some wet clothes. It seems one of the tubs leaked a little during the dip.

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When we are all set up Steve gets out the cooking apparatus and we get an instant meal going. I can't remember what it was. Pasta and Rice I think, but it's good, and we have wine and bread and cheese too. After our repast Coral decides that a fire would be a good idea and dives off into the undergrowth to find some fuel. It's easy to find. Winter debris is suspended in the trees a couple of yards high and it's bone dry. After making a hearth with a few stones a fire is soon blazing. As the sun goes down we watch an almost full moon rise. This is magical.

Steve H. in his wisdom decides to take a canoe out in the dark to photograph the moon and the camp-site from the river. Kristine is not impressed, but I don't stay out long and quickly rejoin the fireside party which is now aided by having some of the home-made Walnut Wine that Kristine has brought.

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After the fire burns low we retire to bed. In the night we hear some ominous splashes in the waters around the point of the island, just outside our tent. In the morning we decide it must have been beavers; hence the naming of the island. More prosaically they could have been large fish!

Friday, 17 August 2012

On the Road to Amboise

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Kristine and I were up at 5am to catch an 8am train to Lille Flanders. After some initial worries about missing the bus to Sint Niklass we made the train on time. At Lille we waited for Steve and Coral to arrive from Kent. They'd made an even earlier start to catch the ferry from Dover to Calais and then the drive to Lille. It was about 11am when we met and after a coffee we set the GPS to Amboise. In fact Steve says "I'll just punch Amboise into the GPS" and I reply "I'll punch you in a minute". This becomes a set phrase for the holiday. Eh! I know? We start our 5 hour drive.

The drive didn't start well with traffic problems outside Lille but soon we were pushing on through Picardy and onto Paris. The Peripherique  around Paris was it's usual pain but it didn't take long before we were speeding south again. When the mileage indicated we had less than 100 miles to go Steve decided to pull off the motorway for a break. We chose a small town called Allainville. This was a waste of time as the village had nothing! Not exactly nothing. It had Ennio Morricone music playing and tumbleweed rolling down the street. It had a giant tractor and massive Combine Harvesters. This place was, in fact, Nebraska. It had nothing. It was back on the highway for us and a stop at the next Service Station for a sandwich.

When we rolled off the motorway to get into Amboise we faffed around for a bit but eventually found our way onto the bridge and the L'Ille D'Or island where our canoe outfitter and camp-site was. It was about 4pm now so I wasn't really surprised to find that our canoe outfitter, Canoe Aventure, was unmanned. This was a pity as it meant we would have to camp in the town tonight instead of getting on our way. Never mind it was a pleasant Municipal Campsite. It didn't take long to get our tents up, although the neighbours had a laugh as we messed around with deciding where to put it. Steve and Coral had a Quechua pop-up tent a thing I'd never seen before. It really did only take two seconds to put up! It was small however. Kristine had insisted that we took our bigger tent, a Vanga Omega 350, the biggest tent I've ever owned. It's massive, not too heavy and ideal for a canoe camping trip.

After cleaning up we set off into town to explore and find somewhere for dinner. We passed a statue which I believe is a copy of a Leonardo de Vinci sketch on the banks of the river, and took some photos.

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We wandered around the small town admiring the ch√Ęteau and the castle walls before settling on a restaurant with an open terrace beneath the castle walls. Needless to say we had a great meal with plenty to drink.

Not counting the baby crying, the wood-pigeons cooing and someone pumping up a mattress in the middle of the night we had a good nights sleep!