Canoeing the Gorges of the Tarn

Thursday 29 August 2013
We make an early start on the bikes with rucksacks full of spare clothes and shoes. Travelling up the Tarn Gorge, we go as far as Les Vignes where the canoeing centre is. From here we get a lift with the canoes to La Malene, our starting point. This is the spectacular Gorge river trip, passing through some of the narrowest and deepest parts of the Gorge.

We are dropped off and left to set out at our own pace from the pebbly beach. Needless to say I start off upstream mistakenly and we have to spin round ingloriously as our first manoeuvre of the trip. The sun is shining and the wind is behind us, water clear and full of big fish, maybe barbel and myriad swarms of tiny ones darting from the shadows as we glide above them.

There are some exciting passages; one where we find ourselves being swept fast round the outside of a bend and into a rock wall at face height so we have to lie down and fend them off with the paddles. We bash into the rocks with the boat feeling relieved that it is not our heads that are getting bashed. Already we are thinking that for a novice trip this is pretty exciting and not quite so easy as we might imagine.

There are long tranquil sections when all you need to do is lie back and watch the tall vertical cliffs slipping by under the blue sky with streaming leaves and swooping swallows in the summer wind. Coming up to fast channels we find it very difficult to ‘read’ the water, in fact its difficult to even see the water,- all we can see is a horizontal line, with no indication of where the channel might be.

As before we accidently slide beneath overhanging trees close to the water, which pull our hats off, and spray our faces with flies. There is the usual banter. Jims favourite of the trip is “Why don’t you steer instead of looking at the f***ing climbers?” coming from me as we clatter once again into a sheer rock wall. There are indeed great views of the terrific climbs and climbers on them.

We float through Les Detroits, the scenic and most narrow part of the gorge, where the water seems quite calm.
We pass beneath a bungy jumping site, and as we do so the first jump of the day has just begun. The poor lad is upside down, boinging up and down for ever, and his possessions fly out of his pocket and into the river. We paddle to rescue them for him, expertly turning, then paddling upstream to the bungee gang on the bank with it.

When we arrive close to our stop point we start to feel nervous that we have gone past the sign, (these are of various designs and quality and handmade, their location being described in French.) If we have overshot we are going to enter the fearsome and impassable Pas du Souci a serious wilderness of huge limestone blocks spread across the riverbed with very fast whitewater. People have died in this area of the river.

At each increase in speed of the river, at every bend we crane round nervously to see if we are about to be sucked into the defile of death. After what seems like a long time, we see the sign where we nave to stop and with relief pull the boat up onto the pebbly riverbank to wait for our lift.

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