… as messing about on the river. Especially when you do it with friends and family.
Yesterday, seven of us went canoeing down the Charente. The Charente isn’t a well-known river, like the Loire or the Seine or the Rhone. It’s got a quiet beauty and it is such a very leisurely river, meandering this way and that through the local area. It’s not the jaw-dropping Amazon, which so amazed me in Brazil that I must have stood for a good half hour wondering just exactly how anyone might get across it. The Amazon is a nation in itself.
I spent a bit of time
destroying the silence in the Pantanal on a boat. We went fishing for piranhas. I flung my piranhas about like you wouldn’t believe. You’d have thought I’d have caught Jaws and that he had the power to move and chomp me at random. Still, it was quite lovely.
I managed to catch a few, and it was definitely one of my highlights of Brazil.
^ This picture is one of my favourites from Brazil. We were heading up into the biggest waterfalls in the world (widest? longest? Definitely not the highest!) and it is one of my all-time favourites of me full stop. Nothing beats exhilaration like the kind of exhilaration Mother Nature gives you. You can keep your theme park rides. Nothing is as fun as taking on a big river. I wonder what ever happened to that corduroy hat though. It was one of my favourites. I’ve not seen it for ages.
But the Amazon is just in a world of its own. It’s magnificent. Nothing compares to it in terms of jaw-dropping wonder.
And so the rivers of France, by comparison, are less dramatic maybe, though perhaps a little less wild and frightening, and a little more refined. So it feels to me, anyway. And you don’t have caiman sitting on the banks waiting for a snack, or a river filled with piranhas who’d like some lunch.
In many ways, the Charente is my first real experience of the area in which I now live. We’d stayed at the Beau Rivage in Mansle, which is, as its name suggests (Beautiful Shore) on the bank of the river. And it is beautiful. Whether it’s riverside castles…
Or quiet days alongside the river at Jarnac
… the Charente is a gorgeous river.
Yesterday, though, it was nearly the scene of me almost wetting my pants.
Opposite the Beau Rivage is a canoe and bike hire place where from time to time I think ‘it would be quite nice to potter about on the river with a little canoe’ and so I find some people to go down the river with. It’s quite lovely. Usually.
So yesterday, my sister, Madame V, Mme V’s daughters, Mme V’s friend and son, we all went down the river. Firstly, it was much more successful than any canoeing I’ve ever done. I’d say this is because it was 6:1 female:male ratio. Secondly, Mme V’s friend seems to have been a gold medallist in some Olympic rowing or other. Third, we’d done the sensible thing and all children were in with an adult, and we didn’t bring argumentative people with us, like I did when I took Jake and Steve and the three of us blamed each other for why we zig-zagged all over the river. Mostly, we went in straight lines on the easy bit.
Then we got to a weir.
“Oh, we can go down this,” said Mme V’s middling daughter. “We’ve done it in school. You just pull yourself back up by pushing along with your hands. It’s very easy.”
So we went down it. Cue some merriment. It was as sprightly as the Charente gets. Then we seemed to get bogged down in a lot of reeds and duckweed, which reminded Abi of rivers in Southern Africa, and me of rivers in the Pantanal. And plus, it twisted. A lot. We ended up in a lot of trees.
And whilst boys might have got frustrated by this, we laughed and laughed. Mostly because every single one of us ended up in duckweed, or in a bend we couldn’t get out of.
And, in a very beautiful spot at St Groux, we stopped. There was a low-low bridge and we had a little paddle. The kids splashed about.
Steven said “See ya, suckers!” and tried to dive in to swim off, only to be held in position by the current. Cue more laughter.
Then some other people came along. Some went under the bridge, by lying back in a kind of limbo position. I think some of us thought we could do that.
“No.” said I. “My boobs would get in the way.” And I’m sure they would. I’d be stuck there, pinioned by my life jacket and my boobs. And to be fair, most people in the canoes got out, lifted the canoe over the bridge and then carried on.
We decided to paddle back. It was harder going than it was coming. Especially when we got to the weir.
“Well, this isn’t like the weir we went over with school.” said middling daughter. After discussion, it was a ‘get out and pull it up’ decision. Only that was fine on the weir itself. It even had little inverted Vs so you didn’t slip back.
Not so fine on the drop on the other side, where middling daughter went in up to her shorts, then Mme V seemed to drop down about three feet further, above her chest. I nearly died laughing. I know it’s not kind to laugh when your friend drops three feet down into fast-flowing water, but it was funny. What was more funny is that it’s the closest I’ve come to wetting myself laughing in all 40 years of my existence. I had crossed legs and everything.
It was as much her expression of astonishment at where the river bed had gone than anything else. And the fact we’d struggled to get the canoes back up the weir in the first place.
Next time, we’re going down to the nearest town and getting a minibus back. Forget any turning around to paddle back upstream. It wasn’t that it was hard going, more that going up a weir, well, it’s not the way you’re intended to go over it.
But it was a lovely, lovely day and except for the bit where I nearly wet myself, we didn’t run into much trouble at all. Plus, we went twice as far as I ever went with moaning men. Not only is Abi an instinctively good navigator, she’s also pretty good at steering when we’re heading towards trees. But even if you’ve had a twenty year hiatus between going in a canoe, the Charente is a very easy place to do it. Just don’t go down the weir.