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      September 2014 > Une petite ballade en Dordogne

Une petite ballade en Dordogne

Fr. ballade – ‘a song or narrative poem, a walk or outing’.

The thunderstorms of the night had cleared, leaving a cool morning mist hanging over the turquoise waters of the Dordogne. Leaning over the bridge, I watched the white Water Crowfoot* respond to the first rays of light, forming a floating lacework across its surface. And soon, as the rays intensified, the mist dissipated, leaving views to the rich orchards and heavily wooded hills.

On this tranquil morning, we took the gabare** at Beaulieu, and listened to stories of former times – of how this boat had once ploughed the Dordogne, supplying wood to the coopers of Bordeaux. In spring and autumn, when the river was full, even cruder craft were built, loaded with timber before making their hazardous journey towards the sea. At Port de Gagnac, now a forgotten backwater, the river had been the sole transporter of wood, logs floated and steered downstream until they careered and crashed to finally pile up at the port and wait for onward transport. Arriving at Bordeaux, it was the end of the gabare's journey. Too difficult to navigate a return journey through the Dordogne’s steep, winding gorges, the boats were dismantled and sold for wood. And now with pockets lined with gold, the gabariers made their way on foot, back home. We heard stories of dwindling fortunes as the men spent their way upriver; stories of liquor, brigands and wild, wild women...

It was the coming of the railway that ended the era of the boatmen, silencing the ports and leaving behind today’s quiet, riverside havens. It had been fascinating hearing the ballade, illuminating our way as we made our own ballade between Beaulieu and Gagnac, a brief reminder of a time when the valley sides sang with an altogether different way of life.

Self guided walking holidays in France

*Water Crowfoot grows in still or running water; its dainty white flowers appear above the water in summer.
**La Gabare is a traditional, flat-bottomed wooden boat.
Posted: 12/09/2014 16:29:42 by Peter Williamson, Inntravel | with 0 comments

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