Matt Kelly writes:
At 9am, after driving along a spectacular mountain road with the rising sun, our mighty Laguna pulled majestically into the Vallouise campsite, nestled in the French Alps where the Gyr and the Onde coalesce into the Gyronde – because the French are creative like that.
Eighteen hours of driving, ferrying and snacking (along with the occasional unplanned excursion due to sub-optimal navigation) had landed our group of four in a well-known paddling hotspot around the Durance drainage. Better still, eight of Southampton Uni Canoe Club’s alumni and friends were there to meet us in the morning sunshine for breakfast, before planning out the first day’s paddling.
A gentle warmup on the Gyronde gave the three Alpine first-timers a flavour of what was to come. The slalom course was quickly followed up with a blast down the Onde, taking just fifteen minutes, with no trouble – things were starting well.
Our first evening, like those after it, found us taking in the stars and numerous stubby beers. Twelve hours in, I was already loving it – great food, spectacular continuous III-IV rapids, fine company and breathtaking scenery.
In the days that followed, our tour took in the Durance Gorge, the Middle Clarée, several runs of the Lower Guisanne, the Lower Guil, the Gyr, and countless runs of the Onde (well, when the get-off is pretty much in your campsite, you would too!). Rivers generally passed without incident, though the author took a couple of rolls on sections a little shallower than is ideal… See the video above for headcam evidence, along with a sphincter-loosening capsize on the incredible Gyr!
France was serving us well; our French car, however, was not. Eight days after our arrival, half way to the Ubaye, disaster struck:
A French mechanic echoed the diagnosis of our friend George: “Turbo… kaput.”
All was not lost. Though the last of our holiday companions were departing as our car gave up the ghost, we met four top guys who adopted their fellow British paddlers, taking us to some get-ons over our last couple of days in their van. Their kindness was repaid, as we spent a day and a half dislodging a pinned boat of theirs from the Gyr – long live the paddling community!
Sadly, our time was drawing to a close. To cut a long story short, our journey home took 36 hours, involving a taxi driver who firmly believed he was at leastas good as Colin McRae, an absolutely gutless Vauxhall Astra (though we at least convinced the hire company not to give us a Twingo) a second taxi driver who smelled awful and rudely got a flat tyre a mile away from the ferry port, a walk, a ferry ride, a couple of hours at Dover whilst they found a replacement for our hire car (which had been given away) and a weary arrival in Southampton, were John and I didn’t have any keys to any house anywhere in Southampton.
As for the car, boats and paddling gear…? We’ll let you know when they make it back to the UK.