Up shit creek with too many paddles

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When you live in a family that has never understood the concept of ‘relax’, holidays tend to fall in the category of ‘adventurous’. Brought up on a diet of tents, wildernesses, mountains and lots of laughing, it appears my siblings and I were nostalgic for the less refined holidays of our childhood. Discarding the pattern of the last few summers (where sun and pools FINALLY reigned), we were returned once more to the great outdoors. 

Still heading south, in the hope of sun, we spent two weeks down in the South of France, in the relatively untouched region of the Ardeche. A river region that runs south between the Cevennes National Parl and the more tourist-dominated Provence, the Ardeche is characterised by dramatic gorges, beautiful rivers and big ‘ol green mountains. 

The madness of my own family spreads to our extended family too, and in typical fashion, the large 60th birthday we were attending would involve a two-day kayak down the Gorges de l’Ardèche. In trepidation we set off, having been given one of the briefest set of instructions I’ve ever had. Rapids were apparently too easy to need explaining, and the idea seemed to be to take them with a pinch of joie de vivre. Being in the same kayak as your brother results in being repeatedly overturned, very untrusting but also laughing most of the way. White water is not as nerve-racking as anticipated, as long as one of the pair is strong enough to steer, and by the end we were choosing riskier routes, which made for more fun, except when your fellow paddler thinks he’s good enough to fit through the rocky outcrops, and ends up getting you wedged.

Despite our family group ranging from 5 years to 60, everyone loved it. Uncles became childishly reckless and the younger cousins desperately tried to keep up with their older counterparts. Everyone’s highlight was a particularly competitive member explaining to everyone that the next set of rapids was known for its ability to overturn kayaks so we should all follow him. He promptly disappeared beneath the water. He did re-emerge, and unscathed, but definitely not allowed to forget it.  

As you move down the river, through 54m high natural arches (pont d’arc), beaches and huge natural diving platforms, you can’t help but feel tiny and realise that there is no other way than this to see the gorges in all their beauty. 

The whole region is defined by its untouched nature, and for the whole two weeks, we only spotted about 7 other British cars. It’s too far from transport links to have been populated by the tourists, and that’s where it’s charm lies. 

For the next week and a half, the region provided enough to keep everyone busy. The local food, shops and mountain-side towns kept me and my camera occupied, and my sister in constant supply of ice cream. The crazier half that had decided cycling up Mont Ventoux was a good idea returned later that day, exhausted but at the same time forever proud. The hectic atmosphere soon wound down, and by the end we were back in a house, reading, swimming and cycling. However, it helped that when you walked out onto the balcony, you looked out from the top of the mountains over three beautiful valleys.

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