09 June 2014

Back Down the Lot

On Tuesday, 27 May we turned in the increasing current and began our descent of the Lot. We had come to the final narrow buoyed channel below the weir at Saint-Vite, seventy-five kilometres up the river from la Garonne. The lock at the weir has not yet been restored and this is the end of navigation on the lower Lot.

It was still heavily overcast, cool and threatening to rain as we retraced our way down through Écluse les Ondes and Lustrac. We were once again in down locks, so the process was simpler. There having been no traffic since our ascent, the locks were in our favour and we didn’t have to stop to drop Edi off on the quai before the locks. 

The air was still and offered wonderful reflections of the passing scene, here Château Rogé midway between St-Sylvestre and Villeneuve-sur-Lot.

A short distance downstream of Rogé we were challenged by a swan. 

As we approached, it swam across toward us with raised wings and lowered head and then turned parallel to our track and beat the water.

It then turned and did the same in the opposite direction, moving quickly astern of us.

We thought it had quit, buy shortly it began a low level kamikaze run toward our stern, veering at the last moment, just as I was ducking. 

Edi shot a beautiful photo of it slowing to veer off.

It did another challenging run, this time making foot stomps in the water on its approach.

Just to make sure, it did a similar run down our other side.

Satisfied that he had scared us off, he headed back up river while we continued down. We shortly came to the waiting wharf for Écluse Villeneuve and secured to wait for the chamber to fill.

In the embankment above the wharf is a planting of wild flowers, including roses

and poppies

and some pretty yellow blossoms. We didn’t need to be reminded to take the time to smell the roses.

Within twenty minutes we had cycled down the thirteen metre lock and were heading out to continue down the river.

By the time we reached Villeneuve-sur-Lot, the clouds had cleared to the southwest and it looked like we might have a rare sunny afternoon. We hadn’t felt good with stopping on our way upriver and we thought we would give it another look on our way back down. As we passed under the old bridge, we still felt uneasy about the place. The stories of rocks thrown at visiting barges and of mooring lines being cut certainly influenced our thinking, but in the end, it was our gut feeling that told us to continue on past.

As we passed through the gap in the weir at the old lock, the current in the river seemed a bit quicker than it had been on our ascent.

We arrived in St-Sylvestre at 1225, just five minutes before most of the supermarkets, grocery stores, butchers and bakeries close for lunch throughout France. We stopped anyway, just to check incase this town had some liberated shopkeepers that allow reason to defy tradition. It doesn’t, so after watching all the hoardings come down and shutters close, we continued downriver. Along the way we passed the thirteenth century Château Favols.

At 1540 we secured to one of the two fifteen-metre wooden wharves in Casseneuil. The €5 moorage includes water and electricity.

The moorage is at the junction of la Lède, a tributary to the Lot. We strolled along the track that follows la Lède past the bases of ancient fortification walls. Among its early history, the town was a Roman settlement called Cassinogilum, from which it derives its present name. Because of its strategic location, the town was a frequent target, having been sacked and partly destroyed by the Normans in 848 and repeatedly during the Cathar crusades, the Hundred Years War and the Wars of Religion. The walls look a patchwork of frequent repairs.

In the town are many medieval buildings along the narrow, winding streets and hanging over the banks of la Lède. 

Église Saint-Pierre was destroyed in 1214 and was soon rebuilt as église Saint-Pierre et Saint-Paul, which still stands. It is reputed for its fine fifteenth and sixteenth century frescoes; however, the church was not open when we were there, so we didn’t see them. 

At 1015 on Wednesday morning we slipped and continued downstream. Along the banks we saw many pigeonniers, some restored and others converted to feature towers on homes.

We descended the ten metre lock above Castelmoron…

… and swept past the town on the rising current as rain came and went in frequent showers.

We continue to be amazed by the French fashion of shutting everything down for lunch. They even close the river to waterskiing at noon. We saw many signs along the river marking the start and end of watersport zones and giving the hours: 10H to 12H30 and 16H to 20H. Why they need to shut down waterskiing and fast motorboating for lunch makes as much sense to us as does shutting down nearly the entire country for a lunch break.

We motored past Clairac and into the narrow canal bypassing its weir.

The ‘lock-from-hell’ at the mill in Clairac was easier on the descent, but it still spoke loudly of having been designed by someone with absolutely no knowledge of boating.

At 1448 we secured to the dilapidated wooden wharf above Écluse Aiguillon. After we had settled-in, I phoned the listed number to arrange for lock keepers and pilot to lower us to la Garonne, guide us up the river and lift us into la Baïse on Thursday morning. The person who answered the phone said: “C’est impossible, demain est un jour férié”, Eet ees impossabeel, tomorreau ees a oliday”. I further learned that it is the day when everyone in France is supposed to sit around assuming that Mary is in heaven. We quickly changed plans and organized the Lot-Garonne-Baïse transit for Friday.

With everything closed on Thursday, and many others closed on Friday to ‘make the bridge’ to the weekend and the some continuing the closure through the weekend to keep the momentum going, we scrambled to restock our fresh provisions. We walked across Pont Napoleon and through town to the Intermarché, returning in a heavy rain that increased to a downpour by the time we made it back to Zonder Zorg. Fortunately, the free moorage includes water and electricity, so we took long hot showers and enjoyed the dry cabin warmed by our electrical heater as the level and current of the river slowly rose.

On Thursday everything was closed as we walked through the town between rain showers. It was Edi’s birthday and we thought it nice for all of France to take the day off to celebrate with her. We added to the festivities at dinner with a bottle of Champagne Veuve Clicquot, a birthday gift from elder daughter, Amy.


  1. I can see you're annoyed about the shops shutting over lunch. I guess that doesn't happen in Canada and neither does it in the UK. But now I've lived over here for 17 months, I've got used to it and the French definitely have a better rhythm of life as a result. The day is divided into two clear halves. There is the opportunity to enjoy a really good lunch before going back to work.

    And hardly anything is open on Sundays, which makes it a family day.

    1. Yes at first I was annoyed that nothing was open during those periods but after awhile I began the thought 'maybe the French have it right and we approach life from the wrong direction'. Still not absolutely sure but it did get the brain cells working!