We leave Pommevic on Thursday the 28th July and travel 12 kilometres and three locks to spend a night at Le Noble which is described in our guide as a mooring just after a lock – Big Mistake – firstly we need stakes to secure the boat as there are no bollards or rings, secondly we are next to a road which is very noisy with heavy traffic travelling all through the night and thirdly the rail track is across the canal and we could hear the endless stream of carriages passing by at all hours and I haven’t mentioned the fact that I had to take a leap of faith as I jumped from the boat onto the bank…..rant over!
We don’t linger in the morning and find three kilometres further down the canal a lovely quiet mooring at Mouynes where there is a small cafe/restaurant by the lock – its all part of the learning curve. We arrive in Agen around lunch time, we cannot access the electric as the spaces are for the hire boats plus we are too big for the finger moorings so moor up just before the bridge along the bank – its nice and shady so will help to keep us a wee bit cooler too. Agen is larger than we expected with some lovely shops, little streets and cafes/bars. It lies approximately half way between Bordeaux (132 k) and Toulouse (107 k) and is the head city of the Department of the Lot-en-Garonne. It has a population of 33,620 and is the capital of the prune – sold as a sweet stuffed with prune purée or as an after-dinner treat soaked in Armagnac. Every September the Prune festival organises rock concerts, circuses and of course prune tasting. It is twinned with five towns including Llanelli in Wales – just wondering if it should be ‘quinned’ rather than ‘twinned’. We familiarise ourselves with the town and decide to hire a bike for Laura’s two weeks of her visit – we will worry about returning it at a later date.
Saturday the 30th July arrives and I am feeling very excited as we set off for the two and a bit hour drive to Bergerac airport to collect Laura. Her plane arrives on time at 10.15 am and we drive into Bergerac for lunch. Bergerac is primarily known for tobacco and wine with 12 recognised wine varieties and some of the finest wines in the Bordeaux region due to the soils excellent drainage.
There are two statues of Cyrano de Bergerac subject of a famous play of the same name by Edmond Rostand, though the actual Cyrano never lived in Bergerac. It has an important tourist industry and many Brits live in this area.
We wonder around the streets and make the wrong decision in our choice of restaurant – its always a bit of a gamble in these touristy places but we reckon Les Delices du Batelier may be one of the worse. The waitress certainly had an attitude and was minimalistic in conversation throwing the plates at us without a sideways glance. The food was poor but the beer cold and cheap. The experience concluded by the waiter informing us their card machine was broken and they only accepted cash – good job Laura is with us otherwise I may have been doing the washing up. Returning to the boat we take a walk into Agen and enjoy a drink or two. I take Laura at her word about wanting plenty of exercise by having an early run on Sunday morning followed by 13 mile cycle ride along the tow path for an anniversary beer at the canal side bar we found earlier.
Monday the 1st August – where does the time go? We leave Agen for Sérignac-sur-Garonne and arrive just as a hire boat is casting off following a lunch time stop so take up the last space on the quay with electric and water.
Its nice and shady here and we find a boulangerie, small supermarket and a restaurant in the village about 10 minutes walk away. There is plenty of mooring on the opposite bank but stakes are required and there is no shade from the sun.
On Tuesday we take a long drive through the countryside to Rocamadour set in a gorge above the tributary of the River Dordogne. Now it is very popular with tourists but for centuries has attracted pilgrims to the church of Notre Dame and sanctuary of The Blessed Virgin Mary.
One needs to be fit to climb the steep climb to the village and then continue up stone steps to the churches. We decided not to ascend to the summit of the cliff to the chateau built in the middle ages to defend the sanctuaries. We did however find a lovely restaurant, Beau Site Jehan de Valon to enjoy a leisurely lunch on a terrace with trees providing much needed shade sipping a beautifully chilled sauvignan blanc.
Next we visit the Gouffre de Padirac – another cave I thought with the usual stalagmites and stalactites but this one is different and rightly deserves the title of the most famous cave in Europe with a descent of 103 metres which takes us to little boats and a wobbly cruise along the subterranean river, followed by a guided tour before the return boat trip.We hear from a local about a wine tour on Wednesday evening starting at 6pm at Buzet. Charles books us places and Laura suggests we cycle – it will be fun she says but I don’t think she caught Charles expression of surprise especially when the car is parked a couple of meters away. So we duly cycle the 11 miles or so only to find that a car is needed to drive the 10k to the vineyards! Some kind folk take pity and we are given a lift after which we walk about 6k as we are given a guided and informative tour of Buzet wine – all in French!!! Finally tables are set up and out comes the wine – not the sip you usually get at wine tastings but larges glasses which are forever being topped up and there are three types of wines. Laura is in her element and her eyes nearly pop out of her head….. Local produce of black pudding, sausage, bread, cheese and tiny cakes are then shared out and it is an excellent experience. We chat to many of the 20 other people in the group in a mixture of French and English and I would say it is one of the best wine tastings we have been to. The three hour tour merges into over four so by the time we get back to our bikes its nearly 10.30 pm and pitch black but as Laura said its fun!!
After a morning run on the 4th we take the boat into Buzet – we are familiar with this stretch after cycling it twice the day before and moor in the port with an extremely friendly capitainne.
We have a few energetic days including a 28 mile cycle ride with rewards of beer at the cafes along the tow path. Laura and I set off for our Sunday run with Charles cycling along as motivator together with our water. We do three miles before Laura heads back to the boat as she want to complete a 6 mile run and to collect the bike to catch us up. Charles and I continue to Sérignac (12 miles) when I take over his bike to return to Buzet with Laura who has caught us up while Charles drives back in the car.
On the cycle ride back I upset an Adder when I nearly ran over his (or her) tail and it threatens to bite me although I think it was only a warning – its a shame we didn’t have the camera to capture the moment. Every little rustle in the undergrowth made us both a wee bit on edge after that. Fourth snake we have seen up close in France!
After all that exercise we treat ourselves to Sunday lunch at Le Vigneron – a superb four course meal with excellent wine – the setting on the terrace is lovely and so pleased we booked beforehand.
On Monday the 8th we move to Villeton a remote mooring but with a bar we have previously visited opposite. Run on Tuesday morning and then we are off again to Caumont sur Garonne. There is a fisherman on the pontoon much to Charles disgust but he does move when our 30 tonne boat of steel approaches. Charles is not a happy bunny – there are lots of campervans a stone throw away with yapping dogs and yapping people. We walk back for the car and by the time we get back we decide we better move on before Charles has apoplexy. We are beaten by the clock and the locks close at 7pm so we moor just before Bernés lock. Its remote but pretty and quiet.
I wake up feeling quite unwell so postpone my run. Laura is beginning to feel guilty as she cooked last nights dinner but as I am the only one poorly I think its a co-incidence. Although she did cook a couple of days earlier and Charles was a bit off it – ermmm is she trying to poison us?? We need the car so ill or not Laura and I walk back the 6 miles to collect it while Charles takes his first solo trip on Bluegum down two locks to Fontet – he is in his element and we time it beautifully to arrive in order to help him moor up.
On Thursday we take the train into Bordeaux and have a lovely time wandering around the street trying to avoid pigeons – Laura; you really must sort out this phobia its nerve racking for all of us!!! The majority of the day is spent in The Cite du Vin a unique centre devoted to the cultures of wine. The building itself is something to behold created to depict knotted vine stocks, wine turning in the glass and the swirls and eddies of the River Garonne. The interactive tour is informative and captures the attention.
We complete our visit with a trip up to the eight floor and a glass of wine – an excellent trip. We miss our scheduled train so there is only one thing to do – find a nice bar and then Charles finds a Thai Street restaurant for a bite to eat before returning to the boat. It would seem that we may have done too much exercise as Laura is suffering with a slight muscle injury so instead of running with me on Friday cycles along for our seven miler. She then cycles to the train station and we take the car so we can return the bike to Agen about 75 k away.
Saturday arrives far too soon and with a heavy heart we drive to Bergerac for Laura’s flight back to the UK although she may be thankful that she is going back for a rest!!! The time has flown by and we have had a great and rather hectic two weeks.