French Odyssey Part 3 – Kayaks & Gorges   8 comments

The next adventure was a kayak trip down the Tarn Gorge. This area of the Massif Centrale is characterised by Causses, large upland limestone plateau crossed and scarred by deep gorges of rivers such as the Lot, the Jonte and the Dourbie. The Tarn gorge is the longest and deepest and is truly spectacular.

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Tarn Gorge from Point Sublime

Until we decided to pass through this area on our trip last year I’d never heard of it but it’s absolutely magnificent. We did a kayak trip last year and we all enjoyed it so much we decided to repeat the experience. Some of the photos I took last year are better than this year so I’ve cheated a bit and slipped a few of those into this post and the slide show.

The previous day was hot and clear but we awoke to cloudy skies and a cool morning. However we thought we’d go for it anyway on the hope the skies would clear and it the temperature would rise – they did.

We rented a large 4 person kayak from Aqua Loisirs in Les Vignes about halfway down the gorge. Karine, the lovely friendly lady who runs the operation, sorted us out with kayak, paddles, buoyancy aids and the waterproof container to keep our stuff in.  One day I would love to do the full 20km+ route from the far end of the gorge but as we had to move on at the end of the day we chose the shorter route from La Malene through the narrowest part of the gorge

You drop the car at the end of the route at Pas de Soucy where the Tarn vanishes under a chaos of boulders, totally impassable to kayaks. They then take you in a minibus to the start and you paddle down at a pace that suits you and just dump all the equipment on the bank for them to collect later. By the time we set off the sun was out and we were ready to enjoy the day

A wonderful relaxed day then passes with gentle paddling and few small rapids punctuated by sunbathing and swimming stops. The road is quite a way above the river so the only way to see the best parts and the best swimming spots are by boat.

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Looking west

Last year we wasted a whole heap of time trying to paddle a large kayak with me at the front and Jane at the back. Due to my ever so slightly heavier mass this meant that every deviation was exaggerated and we went round in ever frustrating circles. Everyone else had the bloke at the rear and having followed their lead we circled no more. This year we had no such problems and I was pretty chuffed to ride most of the rapids without incident or getting dizzy

We stopped for an early swim to enjoy the cool water as the temperatures were rising.

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Me and D enjoy the cool clear water

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Private pool

There is something about river swimming that I just love, cool clear and refreshing. The greatest pleasure on this trip is simply spotting a particularly attractive spot, haul the kayak onto the beach and take a swim. De-stress, de-tox.

We paddled on admiring the cliffs and crags and watching the eagles and vultures circle above us.

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Les Detroits

The narrowest part of the gorge is called Les Detroits and the river is lined with steep cliffs.

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The crowds at Les Detroits

Like you’d expect you don’t get this place to yourself in August so there is a constant chatter of noise from the other kayaks. All good-natured though and most people seem to respect the majesty and wonder of the place. Alas I don’t think the photos really do it justice.

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The narrowest part

We stopped for lunch in the same place as last year just at the end of the narrow section.

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A time to eat

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Looking back to Les Detroits

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L enjoys the water if not a swim

A nice beach for a picnic with a deep fast flowing section for a swim. D in particular loves river swimming and floating down the fast flowing parts.

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Father & Son

Even Jane went for a dip so it must have been hot!

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Must be hot!

After lunch we continued with the pattern of paddle-stop-swim-paddle-stop-swim.

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Time for another rest

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Our "home" for the day

The section we paddled is ideal for a family trip as there are no serious rapids, just some faster stretches for fun. L gets a bit nervous on the fast flowing bits but a 4 person kayak is so heavy it would be nearly impossible to capsize it unless you really tried.

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Cirque des Baumes

As the gorge heads south the bed opens out and you get spectacular views of the Cirque des Baumes, the deepest part of the gorge.

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Cirque des Baumes

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Cirque des Baumes

It’s almost a disappointment when you reach the end point at Pas de Soucy. This in itself was a nice spot so after dumping the stuff we went back for a mid-afternoon snack, cuppa and swim.

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End of the day at Pas de Soucy

It was time to head to our next and last overnight stop. The Tarn flows under the famous Millau viaduct, the highest bridge in the world I’m told. We didn’t take a lingering look this year but we did the previous year and it’s such an arresting sight I thought I’d add some photos.

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Millau Viaduct from the east

If you are like me a fan of these things then it’s well worth a visit. The best way to view it is by driving down the D41 from Millau to Peyre (itself a lovely village). This takes you right underneath the highest supporting column (higher than the Eiffel tower!|) and the views back from Peyre are awesome.

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Suspended in the air

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Millau Viaduct from Peyre

It really is a structure of great beauty and I think it adds to the landscape and in a way to the heritage of the area.

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Millau Viaduct from Peyre

The only disappointment is the drive over it – I had visions of me getting vertigo as we went over but it’s built in such a way that you get no real sense of the height and it could be any bit of motorway. Still me and D enjoyed it although Jane and L didn’t see the attraction

So our outward journey adventures was almost at an end. Just a short drive to our B&B Hotel in Montpellier for the night and then a cross-country drive through the Camargue, Vaucluse and into Var the next day to reach our holiday home for the next fortnight.

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8 responses to “French Odyssey Part 3 – Kayaks & Gorges

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  1. A kayak down that river looks like a lovely way to pass a day. It looks like a pretty awesome river, although perhaps a little busier than I would like!

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    backpackingbongos
    • One of the prices to pay for having the kiddies is you have to go on holiday when everyone else does! This trip would be superb just before or after the school holidays although it’s popularity does mean that the whole thing is pretty well organised. It is pretty easy to find your own private spot for a lunch or swim but always lots of passing kayak traffic. It’s one of my favourite days of pour trip

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  2. Wow – looks amazing.

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    beatingthebounds
  3. nice stuff… find the bridge appealing myself, must be a guy thing. Saw it on Top Gear last year and so wanted to drive across it. Its a pity you cant get a sense of the height though?

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    • I’m sure I read somewhere that they had to make some changes after they opened the bridge as drivers were getting vertigo driving over it but I could be wrong! If you are interested in the engineering side then this article is worth a read with some good pictures to give an feel for how it was put together:

      http://www.bridgeworld.net/wordpress/archives/docs/millau.pdf

      I was hoping to have a “whoooaaaa” moment when I drove over it but there you go. Still well worth a detour to take a look

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  4. Lovely family-friendly canoeing trip, but with enough to interest the ‘grown-ups’ too. We enjoyed similar canoe/kayak trips in France a decade ago when our sons were school age.

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    • There are loads of rivers down that way for kayaking so I think we may head that way again next year. Always wanted to do the Ardeche but the Tarn gorge area would be a great place for a holiday. A trip down the river with a nice picnic and some swimming is one of my favourite days

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