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Canoeing down the Dronne at Brantôme

Canoeing down the Dronne at Brantôme

My father in law is the proud owner of a rural retreat in the wilds of Périgord and so most summers, from a combination of financial, social and gastronomic incentives, we end up spending a week or two lost in La France Profonde far from the digital distractions of the Modern Age. Family tradition has it that at least one day must be spent canoeing from Brantôme 'the Venice of Perigord' to Bourdeilles an amazingly unspoilt picture postcard perfect village 11 kilometres further down the Dronne.

Brantôme is very pretty in its own right although it is a bit of a tourist trap in high summer which adds to the pleasure of canoeing out of it. There are several outfits hawking for ones custom around Brantôme but the biggest, best and most central is Brantôme Canoë whose distinctive banana-like yellow craft distinguish them from their rivals.

Having ditched the car and hired a canoe (there has been much debate about whether the 2-3 person boats are canoes or kayaks but when in Brantôme...) and signed a safety disclaimer you are kitted out with paddles and life-vests and the optional extra of a large water-tight plastic barrel which is essential for keeping wallets, the all important picnic and towels dry - it also serves well as a back rest for the rear oarsman.

The real thrill of setting off from the centre of town is that almost immediately one has to negotiate a steep weir in full view of the aforementioned tourist hoards. Canoeists (the more inept the better) attempting to traverse the weir provide free sport and much hilarity for all but the protagonists themselves. Many hapless vessels approach the weir too gingerly and become grounded midway across. This leaves the occupants only 2 options. An undignified bum-shuffle to try and tilt the canoe over the edge or abandoning ship altogether to tow the canoe downstream. Worse still canoes approaching on an oblique angle have a tendency to capsize and spill their occupants out onto the weir to howls of delight from onlookers. Bitter experience has taught me that the only satisfactory approach is at full-throttle and head-on. It is gratifying to glide over to a cheer from the crowd before heading out of town.

Bar the occasional spot of rapid water and a couple more (mercifully rural) weir descents the rest of the journey down river is a tranquil affair. There are plentiful opportunities for paddling and picnicking and spotting trout and kingfishers and other wildlife. Depending on your level of fitness and amount of support from your shipmates 4 hours of paddling can take its toll on your backside and biceps but there is a decent terraced bar in Bourdeilles which is an excellent place to nurse a drink in the sunshine before the pre-arranged coach comes from Brantôme to take you back you back to your car.