Florence from North Carolina (the lady who made the famous Tomato Pie) is staying at Acanthus in St Chinian again this year, and yesterday, on the spur of the moment, we went canoeing together. We had both done the run from Vieussan to Roquebrun before, so decided to explore a different stretch of the river this time. We ended up at Réals Canoe Kayak for our adventure.
The departure time for the 5km discovery trip was at 11am, and all was beautifully organised. The receptionist opened the car park barrier for us, and once we had the car tucked away we filled in the paperwork at her desk. As soon as that was done we went down a flight of stairs to get kitted out with life jacket, waterproof drum and paddle. Since we were getting a single-seater kayak each we also got a drum each for the things we wanted to take along: sun screen, water, mobile phone and watch (both inside a zip-loc bag), towel, etc. Here’s a tip if you are going to do this – the larger drums make great back-rests!! Once everyone had arrived and been kitted out we had a briefing session about the route, and then Olivier, the manager, took us on board the minibus and we were off, with a trailer fully loaded with canoes and kayaks coming along with us!
Our starting point was along the road to Roquebrun, just after the newly painted bridge across the Vernazobre river. Olivier expertly reversed the trailer as close to the water as possible, and held another briefing session, explaining how to manoeuvre the boats and how to paddle. And then we were off and right away there was a fantastic rapid – more of a waterfall really, but not too challenging! The boats soon spread out, and as ours was only a small group we soon had the river more or less to ourselves.
And it’s a beautiful river – until we got to Cessenon there were hardly any people along the banks, and even in Cessenon the beach was not busy. We pulled up for a break there, and a drink and a dip in the river. The water was pleasant and refreshing and definitely not cold!
After Cessenon there is a set of gentle rapids and then a long stretch of calm water – the pond for the Moulin Neuf hydroelectric power plant. There was a fair bit of paddling, but it was so still and beautiful. We saw a heron and some egrets, and, perched on a bit of wood in the middle of the river, a seagull. As we approached the Moulin Neuf dam we started to look out for the flourescent orange markers Olivier had told us about – the entrance to the water slide. I must say I had very mixed feelings as I tried to steer my kayak into the channel, remembering to hold my paddle above my head as I’d been told. But oh what fun – and oh how quickly it was over!! We both agreed that if there had been a way we happily would have carried our kayaks up for another go 🙂 but alas…
Once past Moulin Neuf we had the joy of a few more rapids. At one of the rapids people had built cairns in the water – beautiful and somewhat otherworldly.
We soon got close to Reals where our adventure was to end – we’d been warned to look out for the stop sign, and were on no account to go further. Going past the stop sign would have brought us into the slalom parcours which is used for international competitions. Neither of us felt up to that quite yet, although the rapids did look very exciting and inviting. We pulled our kayaks onto land, and then walked to the base with our paddles and drums. Back at the base there were changing rooms and showers, both of which were very clean.
The 5km route is supposed to take 2 hours and that’s about right – we were back in St Chinian at 2.30pm
The other unexpected pleasure that day was in the evening – a visit to Causses-et-Veyran for a performance of Boo Cosa Vostra, by the CirkVOST company of artists. Our friendly postie had tipped us off about the show in the morning, telling us how fantastic it was. We headed right for the stadium to have a look at the set-up.
I think you’ll agree that the set looks impressive – a 15 mt high structure, entirely made of bamboo! The performance was due to start at 21:45 and we had arrived early enough to grab a bite to eat at the Guingette del Catet, a temporary tavern set up in the bouledrome next to the stadium.
Two stalls were doing a brisk trade: La Carriole Gourmande offering quiches, savoury tarts and crepes; Le Traiteur Sagne had a mobile wood-fired pizza oven and grill and was offering a range of food such as regular burgers and duck burgers, several different kinds of pizzas (one with strips of duck breast, creme fraiche and cheese – yummy!), and a plat du jour of strips of grilled duck breast with a peppery sauce. We placed our order, got our bottle of rosé wine and found seats at one of the long tables. Soon enough our food was ready, and not long after we were joined at our table by a couple from Beziers. We had a wonderful chat, they offered us a taste of their duck pizza, and we shared our desserts with them. You couldn’t imagine anything more congenial!
Soon it was getting dark and it was time to bid our new friends farewell and head for the stadium (they were waiting for friends to join them). On the way I spotted this lovingly decorated bicycle – and couldn’t resist a picture!
Once inside the stadium we grabbed some folding chairs and found ourselves a strategic place from which to watch the show. The sunset was particularly beautiful and made the set look even more dramatic.
And once everyone was settled the show began: almost unnoticed the acrobats had climbed up into the structure, and when the lights came on there they all were, perched perilously high up!
One by one they fell into the net below, and then climbed up again in a choreographed kind of way, and then the real acrobatics started. A duo of ladies in long dresses on a trapeze, which oscillated around the central area, all the movements incredibly slow, and beautiful to watch. More daring hand-to-hand acrobatics up high, and then the ladies came on again, this time on two separate trapezes.
The grand finale came with some incredible flying trapeze stuff, people flying through the air and being caught, all done with incredible precision that must come from endless hours of practice! I managed to take a few short videos to give you an idea of the amazing spectacle (e-mail subscribers, please visit the page to watch the videos).
All too soon it was over 😦
And as we walked back to our car we caught a last glimpse of the Guingette