River Lot : Cruising in Detail

Information about the 75km of navigable river (the lower section of the River Lot, France’s seventh biggest river) between Aiguillon/Nicole (at the river’s confluence into the River Garonne) and Saint-Vite.

Access to this beautiful and quiet waterway from the Canal de Garonne is via the lower River Baise, then a 5km section of the River Garonne and then onto the Lot. See here for specific information about the ‘Garonne Crossing’. The River Lot is currently divided into two disjointed sections – the Lower Lot (the subject of this page) and the Upper Lot.

In former times the river was navigable for hundreds of kilometres upstream eastwards towards the Massif Central but it was closed to navigation in 1926, ecluses were abandoned to decay and then two large hydro-electric power station barrages blocked all access. This situation started to change when the separated upstream Upper section was opened again to pleasure craft and then in 2002 the Lower section was re-opened following the digging of an access channel in the Garonne’s river bed and the investment of a great deal of money on two deep ecluses to one side of each barrage and the rehabilitation of the remaining smaller ecluses. Environmentalists prevented the digging of a river channel deep enough to ensure a full-season traverse of the Garonne, which means that access is often not possible during July and August. Navigation is otherwise closed between November and April.

Whether one visits for a truncated stay, nipping back across the Garonne before it gets too shallow, or whether one stays on and waits for September (or beyond) this is a very delightful waterway. It is wide, peaceful and quiet. There are many places to moor, including many with free water and electricity; there are beaches where one can swim and the river is exceptionally clean – abundant fresh water bryozoa Pectinatella Magnifica (they look like gelatinous blobs) are a firm indication of this. There are villages, small towns and one larger town – Villeneuve-sur-Lot. There isn’t a lot of ‘excitement': there are very few (four) hire boats (one small hire base), which is in itself both good and bad.

The drawback is that the huge investment in re-opening the Lot currently looks like a white elephant because of the lack of river tourist activity; small businesses that were initially encouraged have seen trade dwindle to nothing as two larger hire bases closed. Nevertheless, work currently proceeds to re-connect the two sections, with additional locks and biefs being reinstated downstream from Cahors/Luzech every year. One wonders if they will finally meet: when they do two superb cruising waterways will consolidate to create an exceptional, unique, resource.

There are new times to transit the Garonne to the Lot in 2011. Monday – 09:00 – 12:00  13:00 – 16:00 Tuesday – 09:00 – 12:00  (morning only) Wednesday – No passage Thursday – 13:00 – 16:00 (afternoon only) Friday – 09:00 -12:00  13:00 -16:00 No passage on Saturday or Sunday.

See also general notes (foot of page).

Basic Information

  • River Baise section – 1.50m minimum depth, 3.50m headroom.
  • River Garonne traverse – 1.20m minimum depth, 6.00 headroom. In fact, when the crossing is open the depth is required to be not less than 1.5m. However, the push-tug that will almost certainly be necessary for the return journey tends to push a boat’s stern down in the process. Hence the ‘safe’ practical restriction to 1.2m.
  • River Lot – 1.50m minimum depth, 3.50m headroom. The minimum depth most particularly applies to the first 3km ‘canalet’ (canalised) section from the Garonne at Nicole to Aiguillon. Elsewhere the river is often 7m or more deep, sometimes right up close to the bank-side.
  • There are (currently) 5 smaller locks and 2 deep locks. The smaller ecluses are self-operated using a magnetic card that is provided by the eclusiere at Buzet. The card may need to be ‘jiggled’ to get it to read, or in extremis try turning the stop button a quarter-turn (anti-clockwise?) to release it. The deep locks, which each lie to one side of a hydro-electric barrage, are eclusier operated.
  • Like many mountain-fed waterways (Tarn, Garonne, Rhone, Saone) the River Lot used to be difficult – shallow and potentially impassable in summer and subject to rapid-rising, fast-moving water in winter. This is not now the case, the hydro-electric schemes provide fairly complete control, but one down-side is that when it rains very heavily in winter sluices are opened well in advance to preclude any flooding, which means that river levels can drop significantly (although fairly slowly and steadily) and craft may be grounded for a while.
  • The speed limit is 10kph, 6kph within ecluse channels. There are a number of water-skiing areas where fast(er) moving boats and their skiers must be avoided.
  • In season, the two manned locks open from 09:00 to 19:00.
  • The river is not part of the VNF network. No vignette need be purchased for the period of time one spends on it.
  • Using a pilot-guide book is strongly recommended: Breil Guides or Fluviacarte (Navicarte) Guides.

Security

There are a number of village moorings on the River Lot that are both delightful and also public. We have heard reports of boats being untied for devilment, particularly (exclusively) late on Friday and Saturday nights and on Fair days – exactly when one might expect some ruckus. Some peace of mind in these circumstances can be got by using a padlocked chain or wire rope loop and/or deploying a midships holding anchor on the ‘outside’ side of the boat. Or by being a bit savvy and avoiding those places on those days/nights.

That said, it’s never happened to us and we moored at one place (Campagnac) for two weeks when small groups of young people came down some evenings, to sit around and let off steam. A little bit noisy, but they never bothered us (it is a secluded spot and we were the only occupied boat), they did (had done) no harm to an unattended yacht that was obviously moored there long-term, and they cleared all their rubbish away into the poubelle (bin).

PK136 Canal de Garonne – Buzet

A double lock leads off the canal down onto the River Baise. The current (2010) eclusiere is a cutie, make sure she gives you your magnetic ecluse card!

PK56 River Baise – Buzet

Almost immediately after joining the Baise and heading downstream, a weir and an ecluse off to one side. Waiting pontoon to land your crew who will operate the ecluse using the magnetic card. Slidey poles. There is also an excellent mooring pontoon (one boat only) above the lock and a quayside mooring opposite that. Then 5km of the River Baise, thick Amazonian vegetation on both sides.

PK61 River Baise – Saint-Leger

Waiting pontoon above the lock; walk to the portacabin office to register, arrange and pay for your Garonne traverse. When it comes to thinking about your return journey, the chaps here can advise on the Garonne situation. Tel: 06 08 02 32 15. The ecluse down to the Garonne is fairly deep, with hanging ropes, but the normal summer water drop is just 1m.

River Garonne 5km Traverse

Depending on your craft (and your preference) you may either be accompanied by a pilot boat, be pushed or be towed (alongside) a passenger boat. The latter options are obviously relevant when returning up the river, which can run fast and strong. The ‘touer’ is adequately powerful. There are buoyed channel marks to keep between. The trip goes past the confluence of the River Lot proper to the side canal at Nicole. Even if you don’t appear to be going that fast the turn to the ecluse is tricky and it is easy to get swept down onto the concrete wall and bouldered banks of the short approach channel. Keep your power on, keep wide and turn early and hard. There is a pontoon to drift onto, but the pilots will have gone ahead and opened the lock gates.

See here for detailed information.

PK0 Nicole

The ecluse is quite deep (4m) but the pilots will take ropes, etc. so your crew can stay aboard. There is a pontoon immediately through the ecluse, but it is adjacent a busy, noisy road and a railway line – and there are no shops, etc. at Nicole itself. Whilst it might make a temporary, catch-your-breath, stop it is advisable to keep travelling up the canalet. This 3km by-pass channel is quite narrow, with fallen branches at its edges. However, you are unlikely to meet anything coming in the opposite direction (so we are told) – access down onto it through the Aiguillon ecluse is appropriately controlled.

PK3 Aiguillon

Pontoon before the ecluse to drop crew and magnetic card off, to operate it, then a tight channel by the large (derelict) mill building into the 2m ecluse. The water flow into the ecluse is quite fierce. Mooring pontoon above the ecluse, 2 boats, water and electricity (free). Beach by the weir.

PK10 Clairac

Pontoon below the ecluse for crew drop-off. This 3m ecluse is one of the trickiest we’ve encountered. Crew has to be ‘up top’ to insert the card, but there is only a short section of lock-side for them to use and no convenient bollard to take advantage of for their bow line. The rest of the lock becomes unavailable when the lock gates open (for you to enter) and because elsewhere the ancient mill building comes right up to the lock edge. Beyond that there is no way to exit the lock-side and walk around the mill, other than by ignoring ‘keep off’ signs and climbing over sluice gate machinery and fences. Which is what we ended up doing. And then the water enters the ecluse very strongly indeed at first. There are hanging ropes, but quite how one is supposed to use them, we know not – they are not fixed at the bottom, so one can neither loop a securing line around them nor easily use them around one’s own cleats and bitts.

Channel beyond the ecluse leads to Clairac bridge, go through and turn back through the central span into the River Lot above the barrage, good quayside moorings on the north bank. Free water and electricity. Showers below the (disused) capitainerie, access using the ecluse magnetic card. An attractive little town. Big sandy beach below the barrage. Walk into the town by turning left above the quayside, past an historic, pretty, public spring-water source. Excellent modest (pizza, etc.) restaurant in the main old town square. Carrefour supermarket (fuel) just over the bridge.

At PK17, a long floating pontoon (no facilities, but a peaceful rural situation) for the Musee du Pruneau. Which we have now visited twice in one year – it may not sound it, but it’s fascinating.

PK19 Granges-sur-Lot

A great pontoon (floating, piles) above the village at PK19, with water and electricity (free). Very nice spot, lovely walk along the river to the attractive little village (good small supermarket and boulangerie). By the village quayside (now left high and dry) is a flight of steps leading up to a garden door, halfway up which are two flood marks. A very long way above the current river level. At PK21, an old ecluse and barrage, now submerged, buoyed channel through.

PK23 Castelmoron

Quayside moorings by the handsome Moorish mairie building and by the impressive concrete bow-string bridge (not everyone will find it as impressively handsome as we do). Free water and electricity. Big sandy beach opposite, pedalos and electric whale-craft in season. Pretty nice town, although the epicerie/supermarket is not well-stocked. Hydro-electric barrage with futuristic (for 1948) concrete watchtowers.

The ecluse is 11m deep and has slidey bollards. Very easy, although the initial inrush of water is noticeable, as are the two places in the base of the ecluse where water also enters and fountains up.
Crossing your lines
around the bollards is a good idea, to prevent them slipping off. You may have to hoot to wake the eclusier up to let you in – not many boats to keep their attention sharp, but they are very pleasant and friendly. Above the ecluse the river is wide and open.

PK24 Port Lalande

An excellent inland harbour, off the river (although for mooring we like better the Port’s river quayside). Fairly new and very well looked after. Safe. Facilities and services include lifting-out, yard storage, maintenance and repair. The capitain/harbourmaster is English, friendly, helpful and very experienced. Nice surroundings and plaisanciers have use of the swimming pool and laundry in the (quiet, discreet) holiday village adjacent. Good potential overwintering place. Tel: 06 78 46 39 59 (Robert Graham). Castelmoron Nautic / Port Lalande website.

Opposite, a floating pontoon (2 boats, no services) at the hotel-restaurant Rives du Plantier (closed 2012) – pleasant surroundings.

PK25 le Temple-sur-Lot

Quayside for two boats, often occupied because this is another excellent place. Free water and electricity (not 2012). Adjacent one of France’s national sports centres, specialising (naturally) in water sports including rowing and kayaking but also a place where basketball and judo teams train and where groups of children try their hand at various activities such as having fun in Optimist dinghies. The small village has a supermarket, boulangerie, bar, smart restaurant ‘la Commanderie’ and a famous aquatic plants nursery, where Monet got his water lilies from.

PK26.5 Caillac

Pontoon alongside their orchard, serving a first-class farm shop, visited by Rick Stein in one of his TV programmes. Very friendly and very good produce including special home-made tarts, a famed local delicacy.

PK27 Fongrave

It’s a bit repetitive to say that this is an excellent place, but it is. Wooden pontoon for two boats, free water and electricity. Nice little village surrounded by fruit orchards, with a boulangerie-post office-bar-restaurant. Farmer’s market on Thursday evenings in the summer. The mooring is by the town square,  next to a memorable chateau. It’s also in a water ski zone: this implies some occasional rocking from the speedboat’s wake, plus some entertainment. Best not to moor there when the annual village Foire is on – a little too lively.

PK32.5 Saint-Livrade

Long timber pontoon but no services. A good small town with a big market on Friday mornings. A short walk from the pontoon is France’s biggest (and presumably oldest) plane tree.

PK35 Hauterive

Two very good boat-sized pontoons, no services but a very delightful location. The tiny village (hamlet) is pretty enough but has only a farm shop, that’s nothing special.

PK39 Casseneuil

(pron. Cass-noye) Two moorings under the willows, free water and electricity. The old part of the village follows the course of the small tributary River Lede that joins the River Lot here. Ancient buildings that lean and hang over the stream.

PK41 Gaillots (vineyard) and PK 43 Favols (ancient chateau) have moorings that appear in the chart-guide but which are unfortunately now unusable in reality.

PK45 Campagnac

Timber pontoon with space for about 4 boats, free water and electricity. Water taps are press button type and do not have threaded spouts. Quiet rural location, a steep walk up to the ‘village’ (10-12 houses and a smart new coiffeur housed in a converted barn) past the little chapel. 5km cycle ride into Villeneuve, along a fairly busy road.

PK47.5 The old (looks completely unused) private boatyard for the large chateau on the hill above. A rusting crane appeared once to be able to lift in and out, the cute river launch that sits in the yard under its own wrought iron canopy. Twin boat-house vaults set into the bank. Followed by a buoyed channel through a former barrage, by an old disused lock, with an old disused mill on one side and an old disused foundry on the other.

A little further on, PK48.5, set above the river’s west bank is a wonderful old ‘pigeonerie’ loft set on four columns. Delightful and crumbling. The right to keep pigeons and doves was a landowner privilege – valuable for their meat but most of all, for their manure for the vineyards. There are hundreds in Aquitaine, each has its own unique style and architectural merit.

PK50 Villeneuve-sur-Lot

A large town, built new as a Bastide in the C13th following the destruction of Pujols (its inhabitants followed the ‘wrong’ religion) on the hill about 2km away. Lots of facilities. The old town, within its old walls, is attractive and the old bridge spanning the river is memorable, with two narrow pointed arches on one side and a wider span on the other, replacing the two narrow ones that got swept away in the C17th.

There are two places to moor, neither of them particularly recommendable for an overnight or Friday-Saturday night stay. The most obvious is a quayside in front of a modern ‘amphitheatre’ used for entertainments, very ‘public’. Almost opposite is a more modest pontoon nearer the ancient bridge, less public but with a steep climb up steps to the bridge. Both apparently have water and electricity, but we cannot confirm.

Beyond the town, PK52, is Villeneuve ecluse. 13m deep, by a hydroelectric barrage. The entrance is ‘hidden’ off to one side and once again you might have to hoot to attract the eclusier’s attention, but don’t do so unnecessarily. A smooth ride, with slidey bollards.

Beyond the ecluse, PK53 – Parasol, is a timber pontoon in a suburban setting – not sure of depth immediately adjacent it but the river is (somewhat obviously) 13m deep hereabouts. Its potential value is that it is less than a kilometre from a large LeClerc bricolage (DIY store) and a large LeClerc hypermarket. Go north up to the main road and turn right along it.

PK57 – The home of a well-known cob (male) swan. Irrespective of the difference in scale between him and your boat, he is quite likely to ‘see you off’ when his mate is hatching or has cygnets to protect. Keep calm and Carry on. We did not have the temerity to take his picture.

PK59 Saint-Sylvestre / Port de Penne

These two villages face one another across the river, both have serviced quayside moorings. St Sylvestre is the larger of the two, with a supermarket by the river and fuel pumps closer than the shop. Very convenient, as well as being a pleasant place to stop. Port de Penne has a hire base; the capitain also looks after the St Sylvestre moorings and collects the payment. Equally pleasant, possibly a bit noisier. There are also simple modern floating pontoons on the St Sylvestre side, downstream of the quay and upstream of the bridge.

Above Port de Penne lies the pretty bastide hill village of Penne (there is also a railway station nearby) and above the village is the landmark 100 year old basilica – not that special except that its silver (aluminium) clad domed roof can be seen sparkling for kilometres. Chateau de BonaguilA car journey beyond Saint-Sylvestre, near Fumel, lies the stunning Chateau de Bonaguil (click on the link for more photos from our visit), just about everyone’s romantic notion of what a castle should look like and very well worth seeing.

PK60.5 Bayle, a small quay, south bank, used by a former river-crossing ferry. Chateau de Ferrassou immediately alongside the river, very attractive.

PK63 another disused flooded ecluse.

PK64 (left) another former river crossing point, useful quiet grassy quayside on the southern side. Farm shop.

PK67.5 Lustrac

A memorable location – a beautiful restored former mill building, a large chateau and a pretty, small, village (no facilities but there are some at Trentels, a kilometre walk away). Few boats pass the recently restored and re-opened ecluse (magnetic card) and it’s just about possible to moor at the waiting pontoon there for a night, as we did, getting ‘moved on’ later the following morning. As a longer-term alternative there is a good timber pontoon under the trees just downstream from the ecluse. A place to linger and reflect.

PK71 Les Ondes – recently restored, modernised (magnetic card) and re-opened ecluse.

PK75 Saint-Vite – current limit of River Lot navigation at the unrestored ecluse and barrage, a very pleasant village but there is currently nowhere to tie up and the last kilometre up to PK75 is a fairly narrow buoyed river channel that some might find it difficult to turn around in.