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France 2023 Day 11 – Wednesday 7th June Allier by Martin A

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France 2023 Day 11 – Wednesday 7th June Allier by Martin A

What a cracking little river!!

The morning began as usual… with pain au chocolat.

Today we had a plan that potentially involved two sections of the river. First, Chapeauroux to Alleyras, a grade 2(3) described in the book as ‘the jewel in the crown’ for canoe paddling. Second, if there was time, for those in the group feeling brave/foolhardy enough, from the campsite at Monistrol to Prades, a more challenging grade 3-(3+) section.

We dropped a car at Alleyras and continued on to Chapeauroux to launch.

The river winds through a gorge with a train line following high above, disappearing in and out of the cliffs. The gorge is very different to the Tarn or Ardeche, with more trees and less rock, an altogether greener and wilder feeling to it. The noise of the birds followed us all the way down.

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The river itself makes for great paddling, with over 40 rapids in 18km, it really is non-stop fun. The first half of the river is a combination of grade 2 and 3 rapids, ranging from easy shingly rapids to more exciting wave trains and rock dodging rapids. There was lots of bailing to be done and Spongey did almost as much work as anyone else.

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It wasn’t long before Nikki mentioned the lack of “cliffs” and jumped overboard, exclaiming that it was simply too beautiful a spot to not have a little swim.

After more fun rapids and more bailing, we stopped for elevenses on a rocky outcrop under a small “cliff” and Ian, Nikki and Spongey went for a swim. By this point we were all exclaiming over how much fun the river was.

As we approached the halfway point, we passed a little beach. Andy believed this to be the lunchtime beach mentioned in the book and informed us that the rapids get a little easier from this point on. Famous last words. 

A few minutes later, we came across a rapid that disappeared to the left of and behind a big rock in the centre of the river. Nikki found an eddy on river left to get a view of the rapid and called Martin down. As he paddled past, Nikki shouted keep left then right… hard right! Martin broke out on river right to clarify and double check the exit below the rapid, before breaking back in and seeing the hazard first hand.  The water funnelled left of the big rock before being forced immediately right by another even bigger rock that was out of sight from above. The water formed a cushion on the second rock before falling over a short drop into a pool on river right.

Once Martin was safely down, we signalled to Graham to portage his lovely cedar strip boat while the rest of the group followed one by one with Nikki shouting the same instruction to each “come left, then HARD right!”. All followed the instructions… well almost all…

Until you got close to the rapid, it was difficult to spot the small pointy rock just left of the big rock dominating the view from upstream. It was this small pointy rock that Nikki was trying to guide people to keep left of. Mike didn’t see the little rock until it was too late, went straight over the top of it and was swept straight onto the top of the second big rock where he proceeded to flat spin his canoe in what I’m sure was an entirely controlled and planned way and at no point was he in fear of going for a swim, I’m sure. Mike was last seen trying to maintain his balance on that rock and may still be there to this day…

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Shortly afterwards we came to another beach with the remains of an old Roman bridge – this was the lunchtime beach described in the book, so naturally we stopped for lunch.

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The rapids did get easier after this, although they still came thick and fast and remained a variety of technical rapids, easy rapids and bouncy wave trains. One caught Graham out as he leant to avoid his cedar strip boat hitting a rock and leant right over the side. If he’d only said “cliff” as he did it, we would have all believed he just fancied a swim 😉

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By this time, we were all in agreement that between the beautiful scenery and the fantastic paddling, this was probably the best open canoe river we had ever paddled. By the time we finished, we KNEW it was the best river we had ever paddled. Even Spongey agreed.

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We KNEW it was the best river we had ever paddled. Even Spongey agreed.

We had so much fun, that we abandoned the idea of paddling another section of the river today. Besides, it was already rather late in the day and refreshments at a Michelin-star hotel in Alleyras was just too tempting an offer, even if it was only a drink on their patio 😄

Paddlers: Ian, Mike, Ruth, Martin, Nikki, Andy, Graham & Spongy

Click for more photos………….