MansleIn the early summer of 2002 I travelled to the Cognac area in France to explore the river Cherente. I really had no idea what to expect. On the way south I made a few short trips on the Canal de l'Oise à l'Aisne and Canal de l'Ourq. When I finally headed south I was approached by e deep ocean depression. The rain poured down and gusts of wind shook the kayak on top of my car. So I slowed down to 90 km/h most of the time enabling me to keep in the right lane between the trucks. I had no idea where to start kayaking on the Charente, but I decided to exit the highway at Poitiers, heading further south on the N10. According to my camping-guide there should be a camp-site directly along the river at Mansle. Because they have kayak-rentals I figured it should be possible to kayak on the river from here. So I turned right from the main-road and found the camp-site just before the town on my left. At this time of year (June) the barrier is open from 8 am to 8 pm. Fortunately I was just in time so I could enter the site by car. There were not many people camping here, most of them were British. I found a nice spot in the far end near the river. Unfortunately I discovered there was a gate between the camp-site and the river, so starting my kayak-trip here would not be possible. When I walked into town I passed the kayak-rentals. It was situated on a small arm . It appeared to be a ver small white-water play-area. Not suitable for people who want to kayak a distance on the river. There was a lot of current, and the water-level was high. At some places the quays were flooded. I estimated the current at 5 to 6 km/h, so paddling upstream would be a very difficult job here. The next day I decided to drive to Angoulême, hoping that there would be less current where the river widens. Current here was about 4 km/h. I drove further downstream to Fleurac.
FleuracThere is an old paper factory here which is a museum. It is worth a visit. there is a French spoken tour, but they hand out a written English version. Website: http://www.moulin-de-fleurac.com . There are several islands in the Charente, and they are connected by wooden bridges (see photo's below). On the other side there are locks, and the pier is a good starting point for a kayak trip. But as I found carrying the kayak across the bridges too complicated, I decided to drive my car to the other side of the river. It was not so easy to find the exact spot, but finally I found a small sign "ecluse" directing towards the locks. I estimated the flow of the water about 4km/h, so it should be possible to paddle upstream from here. There is a walking route along the river towards Angoulême (10 km), but I hoped to reach the town by kayak. I never kayaked on a river before, so I started out very carefully from the locks towards the river. Indeed it was possible to kayak upstream here, but the moving water beneath the kayak was a very strange experience. The current was rather unstable because of rocks and things on the bottom of the river. Also the kayak tended to move from left to right and back. Something like driving driving a Volkwagen beetle in a storm. So I had to keep my hands on the paddle to keep control, and there was no time to make a photo from the kayak. I made very slow progress, sowhere around 3 km/h. After an hour I reached a factory along the river, and there was a weir in the river. The locks were in a far corner to the right. But I decided not to paddle throught the narrow passage underneath the weir, because the water was moving too much. If anything would go wrong I would end up in the bushes on the other side. So I turned around and returned to the starting point in about 10 minutes. Wow, I never travelled so fast in a kayak!
Jarnac and FleuracAfter this experience the bad weather returned. Lots of wind and rain kept me from further exploring the river. I made a few short trips between Angoulême and Jarnac. There are many places where you can take the kayak into the water. Usually near bridges, and often at the locks. I had some trouble with the high water, sometimes the sides at the locks were flooded. I also found out that Sunday is not a good day for kayaking, as on this day practically every spot where you can reach reach the river is occupied by fishermen. If you visit the Cognac-area you must visit at least one of the distilleries. As a terrible rain kept me from kayaking I went to the Courvoissier distilleries at Jarnac, but only to find out that that they have tours during office-hours, not in the weekends. But the riverside behind the distillery is very pretty (see photo). So I drove further towards Cognac and visited both the Martell and the Hennessy distileries. Websites: http://www.courvoisier.com http://www.martell.com http://www.hennessy.com .
Port-des-BarquesI concluded my exploration of the Charente with a visit to the place where the river flows into the ocean, the peninsula Port-des-Barques. From here a submersible road leads towards the island Ile Madame. The high-tide combined with a southwestern storm made the road very much disappear beneath the waves. Towards the north I overlooked the river on the sheltered side of the peninsula. To my surprise I discovered a group of kayakers in the distance. They came right towards me, and I was even more surprised to see there were even some children among them who had the courage to paddle this rough sea (photo below).
My final conclusion is that the Charente was not what I had expected. But probably the river is a lot friendlier when the water level is lower. Also some nice sunny weather may help to make kayak trips on the Charente enjoyable. I think from Fleurac towards the ocean it must be possible to make many nice kayak trips, if weather and river conditions are good. The river looks very attractive when I spotted it at Jarnac, Cognac and Saintes. Another ocean depression made me decide to look for some more sheltered waters, so I went to the Marais Poitevin - in the same area a little to the north- before I returned home. See elsewhere on this website.
Fleurac near Angoulême.
Fleurac near Angoulême.