The plan was simple, to cruise the Baise and Lower Lot that we had been unable to visit due to lack of time when we were last down south . We also wanted to visit the Upper Lot which is close by and finally the Charente as we passed it on the way home.
(Click on any of the images to enlarge them)
The adventure began with the 820 mile tow south from Suffolk to Buzet-sur-Baise, south east of Bordeaux via the Dover to Calais ferry crossing.
Having left Suffolk at about 4pm on the Saturday, we arrived in Buzet ready to launch at about 10.30am on the Monday morning after a trouble free tow.
Each of the 4 stages of the cruise was to be a return trip to avoid the added difficulties of finding extra slipways and transport.We also used the car at times to explore the area, seeing the Neolithic cave paintings at Pech Merle, the pilgrimage centre of Rocamadour, the old fortified port of La Rochelle and the beaches of the Atlantic coast. A grand total of 2300 miles with 1700 miles with the boat in tow. A fantastic holiday.
The following sections show something of each of the rivers cruised. All four were interesting in their own way, but our favourites were the Upper and Lower Lot. The eastern end of the Upper Lot in particular is stunning.
River Baise – (38 miles 21 locks 30 hours return)
The slipway we used at Buzet is actually on the Canal de Lateral a la Garonne which joins the Canal du Midi at Toulouse. We had cruised this route back in 2002 and made a note of the facilities at Buzet as we passed. To reach the Baise you must cruise 200m of the canal and then go down a mechanised 2 lock staircase. Strictly speaking we needed a VNF licence for this section but no one asked. All the other waterways we cruised are licence free.
The first leg of our voyage took us south down the River Baise. This is a relatively narrow river by French standards with quite high banks often lined with tall trees.
Whilst this can be attractive, after a while the lack of any views can become a little tedious. Mooring is limited to the official sites at the riverside towns and villages, some of which are very attractive.
Vianne, is a bastide town, completely surrounded by walls with a fortified gatehouse in the centre of each wall. There is an evening market every Friday.
Nerac is the prettiest town on the Baise. Fees are charged for overnight mooring here, but water can be had for free from the old tap near the large bridge.
Valence sur Baise is at the limit of navigation at the southern end and boast a very good port de plaisance. The 4 euro fee includes free showers, washing machine and tumbledrier – a bargain.
Lower Lot – (31 miles 5 locks 20 hours return)
Due to the draught, we were unable to cross the River Garonne to reach the Lower Lot. Instead we had to use the trailer again to transfer the boat to Port Lalande. The slipway here is free and free parking is available behind the workshop. More secure parking is available for a fee.
The Lower Lot is considerably wider than the Baise and more attractive as a result. The towns are not quite as picturesque but we preferred it overall. The water is much clearer and ideal for swimming.
The river has 2 large barrages used for electricity generation in the winter. Navigation is achieved using very deep locks complete with floating bollards. The deepest is the 13 metre deep lock above Villeneuve sur Lot
The lower section of river below the deep locks has several attractive plages set aside for bathing. The one at Castelmoron sur Lot is particularly nice.
When we visited the limit of navigation was at Lustrac with the old lock waiting for restoration. The guide had suggested that there would be a further 10km of navigation available by the end of 2004, but no progress had been made. This may have changed since.
Upper Lot – (30 miles 14 locks 22 hours return)
The transfer to the western end of the Upper Lot took a morning and by the evening we had cruised to Cahors, a further 18 miles and 4 locks. Cahors is an attractive town but it’s fortified bridge over the river is the star turn.
The Upper Lot was restored relatively recently and it shows. There are very few moorings, particularly at the western end. The best bit is definitely at the eastern end where the river meanders between high limestone cliffs.
We beached Bobbles on a small sandy beach and had a fantastic time swimming in the clear water. The sandy bottom extended more than half way across the river and we were completely on our own.
There are two features of this section that make it rather special. The first is the famous “Chemin de Halage” or tow path. What makes it special is that it was blasted out from the rock face, you can still see the holes drilled for the explosives.
The most stunning part of the whole cruise has to be the section that passes beneath the hill top village of St Circ Lapopie, just short of the limit of navigation.
The village is very beautiful, a sort of medieval version of Robin Hoods Bay. It is very popular with tourists.
The 4 photographs above were all taken in just one 5 mile stretch of river – superb, we will be back!
River Charente – (85 miles 21 locks 53 hours return)
The 210 mile transfer from the Upper Lot to the Charente was undertaken overnight to avoid slipping in the hottest part of the day. We slipped out about 8pm and towed until quite late, staying overnight in a motorway service station. We then completed the tow and slipped in the next morning at Jarnac using the slipway and parking suggested by Bernard and Joyce Snell.
The Charente is wider than the Baise but narrower than the Lot. It’s waters are crystal clear allowing you to see the bottom easily. Sadly it is also weedy, particularly at its eastern end.
Although you see relatively few other boats, some stand out from the rest. The boat in front of Bobbles is a replica Gabare, a traditional French working boat.
The Charente is very pretty in places and ideal for swimming if you can find somewhere without the weeds.
This is the only mechanised lock, the rest are user operated by turning wheels instead of windlasses. I suspect the idea is to make them super safe, you can’t hit yourself with a wheel.
The river gets wider, deeper and less weedy as you approach the sea. The largest town on the river is Saintes which originally stood on a Roman bridge across the Charente. The town still has a number of Roman remains including the arches that originally stood at the end of the bridge and a Roman amphitheatre.