The untamed – discovering France’s River Cele and Lot

Words and pics: Stephen Hale

‘Turbulent and untamed, it is only navigable by canoe in spring and autumn. In summer, the waters tarry and the valley invites you to discover its charms on foot or horseback, bike or car’. That’s what they say but could it be paddled by SUP with a last minute home brew, flip up skeg?

Stephen Hale River Cele and Lot

The week before I was due to head off I was frantically bandsawing, milling and turning in the workshop so I could have a midweek test session and iron out any faults… I took to the river and shot my local weir a few times. It worked a treat, the 9” fin flipping up to allow a smooth passage over the shallow weir then dropping straight back down again to allow speedy paddling on the slower, deeper sections.

The board, paddling and camping gear was quickly packed and I was almost ready… fingers crossed the campsite food would be ok as I had run out of time and space for food.

I packed a couple of wetsuits and a choice of footwear, not knowing what the water temperature would be. As it turned out shorts and T shirt was too much; it was so hot I found myself jumping in off the board for a cool off!

Stephen Hale French River Cele and Lot SUP

Alarm set for 3.45 am, left the hotel room at 4.30 am for the 6.10 shuttle. All going smoothly so far. Into France and onto their mile upon mile of perfect tarmac – I wish I could say the same about the onboard technology which took us on a 750 mile joyride around France.

Arriving at Brengues many hours later, the campsite Camping Le Moulin Vieux was lovely, nice and shaded and right next to the Célè. Although that shade was not needed as the lovely sunshine

had turned to rain by the time we arrived. Oh well, camp set it was time to sample the campsite food and wine.

I was glad I never did pack lots of food, the campsite food was great and very reasonably priced.

Stephen Hale river SUP France

The river Célé flows for 136km, rising in the Massif Central 713m above sea level in Calvinet and joins the river Lot at Bouzies, near Saint Cirq Lapopie. Indications and forecasts on the water level are given by the “Inf’eau loisirs” bulletin (phone number 0805 46 46 00).

Day one started wet, but as soon as we started taking in the views from the river the light rain was soon forgotten. The river was fast flowing, bendy and shallow, and my flip up skeg was working like a dream.

SUP River Cele and Lot

The whole area is very canoe-focused, with purpose built put in points that are all very well signposted and kept. The portages are very well made too and as you travel further downstream you come across the glissière’s; big concrete canoe passes that are very easy in canoe but on a SUP…? I had to try it. There was quite a crowd as it was a popular spot to have a swim and a very hot day. The glissière was at a slight angle to the main flow of the river so the flow of water going down it was not nice and flat but sloshing from side to side as it flowed down.

It was, shall we say, an “interesting” ride down and when the board hit the white stuff at the end it skimmed crossed the surface, which almost took me by surprise. I stayed on and even got a few cheers!

Stephen Hale River Cele and Lot stand up paddle

After a few days and 34.5km of stunning scenery and winding river we reached the confluence with the river Lot. Paddling upstream we came to a rocky weir which we scrambled over, then continued upstream with a backdrop of amazing sheer rock faces until we reached the lock. A very hot walk followed to the top of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, which is perched on top of magnificent limestone cliffs, overlooking unspoiled views of the Vallée du Lot. It was voted France’s favourite village in 2012 and it’s not hard to understand why. Definitely worth a visit.

River Cele and Lot, France


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