Maybe because I was born under the sign of pisces I love being beside the water be it river, lake or sea. Having grown up under two hours away from family favourite beaches in the county that includes most of the Cinque ports it was perhaps odd that we retired to a landlocked department of France. But our commune is bisected by the Cere river and the Dordogne lies just over the hill behind the house. So still a lot of water about for this fishy soul to enjoy. Both the Cere and the Dordogne are home to ‘barrages’, an important source of hydro electricity. These help control the flow of what were once very dangerous rivers which could flood towns along the banks in times of heavy rain or melt water from the Auvergne from whence they both spring. In a civil defence exercise undertaken by our canton a few years ago we were told to be prepared for a disaster. On the allotted day we had a call from two councillors who announced solemnly that the big dam at Bort les Orgues on the Dordogne had burst and we had four hours to evacuate. In reality I’m not sure if four hours would be sufficient for the people ‘of the valley’ as our dance teacher refers to us, to grab precious possessions and head for the hills. Narrow country roads and a weight of fleeing traffic may mean we’d be safer sitting on the house roof and taking our chances!
Anyway, in the context of the picnic days out and the charm of sitting beside the Cele on two occasions meant I set about exploring the lakes of Correze, a department known for its thick forests and multiplicity of rivers and lakes and that starts on the edge of our commune at the top of that hill. I began by searching the department’s tourism site which listed lacs et etangs (ponds). Then it was google earth to see where one could park …or not, and if there was any shade, a priority in July and August.
I came up with two possibilities, Etang de Ruffaud and Etang de Laborde. Laborde looked the more intimate of the two and offered parking closer to the shore. There was information about both of them on various fishing sites but a photograph of people playing on the little beach of Laborde as opposed to a footnote about swimming being forbidden at Ruffaud swung it towards the smaller pond. Google maps showed a route we knew well towards Tulle and then hang a right across country just south of Saint Fortunade. Further websearching revealed another possibility that was probably more interesting scenery wise. Get ourselves to Argentat and then follow the eastern side of the Dordogne up to the Barrage de Chastang, over it and then across in a westerly direction to La Roche Canillac, the nearest village to the etang.
So that is what we did…or nearly didn’t do! We each have our own pet weather forecasters. We had woken up to wall to wall grey as himself calls it and although my forecast said sun by eleven o’clock, his said no sun until two in the afternoon and the possibility of some light rain. Decisions, decisions! In the end we decided to go. This hour from home idea means we could come back without regrets if it all went belly up. The road ‘past the fish farm’ is a favourite of the cycling son and i could see why. It winds through the woods, past said fish farm in its delightful little combe, and then up into the high pastures and the village of Mercoeur. After a few kilometres of flattish land the road swoops down into the valley just along from Argentat. The town is unremarkable but is visited for its stunning quayside lined with picturesque houses. All our visitors get taken there to wander and eat the fabulous icecream on offer!
The road along the Dordogne was new to us and not very busy. It wound around through trees with tantalising views of the river all the way. We passed the Barrage de Argentat, a rather ugly interruption of the bucolic landscape and then came to the Barrage de Chastang.
It was an awesome site and my photograph doesn’t give a sense of how tiny you felt standing below it knowing about the weight of water and power behind it. Lou asked if i wanted to stop on the way over to take another shot but I didn’t. Travelling over dams makes me feel anxious and those expanses of still deep water always seem to me to smack of something sinister. So a quick shot from the car window!
The road on the other side was narrower and twistier than I had expected but not busy which was a relief as I was on the river side of the car as we climbed steadily upwards next to an ever increasing drop to the water but with stunning views glimpsed between the trees. As we neared La Roche Canillac i got a bit confused and therefore not very good with road directions. I knew there was a lower Roche and an upper Roche and it seemed silly to climb to the upper Roche when we would have to come down again. ‘I’m only the chauffeur’ mutters about twisty roads! Happily just when we thought we had taken the wrong road a village sign informed us we were in La Roche Canillac and at the next t-junction there was a sign for the etang.
Down the hill, a turning on the right and we had arrived. And the sun had come out. There was a large grassy car park with just one car but no shade so I directed Lou around the etang to a track under the trees. He was a bit uncomfy about parking there but as there was no one around and no traffic on the track I assured him we would be ok for now…at least until we had a coffee. Table and chairs set up, coffee made, we sat and enjoyed the view despite a rather chilly breeze coming off the water.
A lady cyclist arrived, leaned her bike against a nearby tree, stripped off and slipped into the water. Brrrrr. We watched as she did a slow lap of ‘our’ end of the etang. There was a line of buoys which we assumed demarcated the swimming zone. When she climbed out just below us a conversation started. She told us it wasn’t that cold and she was used to it. She swam every morning and evening and ‘it is my element’. She went on to explain the etang is privately owned but allows the public to use it. A fishing association manages the sale of permits from the boathouse we could see and it would be open in the afternoon as a buvette.
Then she went off to sit in the sun to dry off. We decided that a move into the sun would be preferable for our lunch and so we adjourned to the grassy bank next to the boathouse. By now there were some other swimmers enjoying the water and it was very pleasant to sit in the sun under some very tall pine trees enjoying the relaxed atmosphere.
Despite the sunshine (brownie points to my meteofrance app) the breeze was still fresh so, after lunch and a pause we decided to walk around the pond or as far as was possible. Our local informer had told us the track where we had been parked originally became very wet further on because of the logging lorries. So we made for the other side where another logging track meant it was an easy walk and I soon lost Lou as I stopped to take photos.
It was lovely strolling along next to the water and exciting to see waterlilies blooming. Beside the track were young chestnut saplings and beneath the mostly pine trees not much scrub. Clearly well managed woodland which is important given the incidence of forest fires in the area.
Around the top of the etang the track left the waterside for a short distance but we soon saw where to find it again, negotiating a large tree trunk obviously placed to dissuade quad bikes and the like, I imagine. Here the track was grassy in places and very damp but passable.
We were soon back at our coffee stop and ready to start for home. Back in the car a decision to return via Saint Fortunade was made as the roads were straighter. A peaceful place to visit again but I think I’ll pass on the swimming!