River Tarn (and the Tarn ‘Ring’)

Information about the 38km of River Tarn from its junction with the River Garonne at Saint-Nicolas-la-Grave (near Moissac) to Corbarieu (near Montauban). Plus 3km of River Garonne at St-Nicolas.

As can be seen from the map below, it is planned to create a complete navigation ‘ring’ comprising part of the River Tarn (this page), the Canal de Garonne and the Canal de Montech/Montauban. The complete ‘Boucle du Tarn’ circuit would provide a fascinating itinerary of 62km, plus a 3km River Garonne section at the Western end and a further 8km River Tarn branch to the South-East.

One river section of this ring, at Moissac, has been open for a few years and is regularly used and well appreciated. A second river section, at Montauban, was opened in Spring 2011, reached at the end of the Canal de Montech-Montauban. The remaining 24km of river, including five ecluses is planned for restoration to a navigable condition, but this will take some years to achieve. We have explored the Western section by boat; and the Central and South-Eastern sections by car. We hope to explore the South-Eastern by boat in 2011.

See also general notes (foot of page).

Map – The ‘Tarn Ring’

Red dots indicate ecluses, in service or awaiting restoration. Where traditional ecluse names not known, asterisked* names are the nearest villages to the lock or barrage.

1. Descent au Tarn, Moissac – In Service

2. Ste Livrade – Unrestored

3. Riviere Basse – Unrestored

4. Lagarde – Unrestored

5. Montauban – Palisse – Unrestored

6. Montauban – Sapiacou – Unrestored

7. Descent au Tarn, Montauban – In Service

8. Corbarieu* – Unrestored

The three River Tarn sections in order
- (1) the Western (Moissac) Section
- (2) the Central (Closed) Section
- and (3) the South-Eastern (Montauban) Section.

1. Western Section – open to navigation

See Breil pilot guide #12 Aquitaine.

Moissac – River Tarn (west)

Ecluse 1 – Moissac – Descent au Tarn

Two chamber ecluse from the Canal de Garonne (between Moissac ecluse and the port de plaisance) descends to the river. Arrangements to use the lock need to be made with the eclusier or VNF office immediately adjacent Moissac ecluse.

Turning west (downstream) there is a long section of good moorings on the very pleasant town quay (water and electricity, and managed by the PdP) (photo, right). Beyond the quay it is imperative to proceed through the open flooded ecluse by the Moulin de Moissac (photo, centre), and not across the lock barrage which lies just below the surface by it. Then under the Pont Napoleon (photo, left) and along 4m of river. Depths are 5-7m all the way to the Garonne confluence.

Saint-Nicolas-la-Grave – River Garonne

There is a wide 400Ha ‘lake’ at this point, created when the power station at Golfech was built and the Garonne level was raised by a barrage. Depths however are variable and can be very shallow in places, in the centre where reeds and rushes can be seen. A safe 2-3m deep route lies by keeping to the ‘outside’ (i.e north bank then west bank) to arrive at the watersports centre of St Nicolas. Moorings are available, but there are small yachts and dinghies to avoid. Facilities and activities at the centre (swimming pool, dinghy hire, mountain bikes, etc.) are open to plaisanciers.

South of the centre itself, the River Garonne is navigable for a further 4km; one must cross over and keep to the east bank past a delightful wetland nature reserve full of wading birds and ducks, finally reaching la Cassine (that is, in first sight of the autoroute bridge but no further) where depths become too variable for safe onward travel.

Moissac – River Tarn (east)

From the Descent au Tarn ecluse turn upstream for 2km and under the impressive C19th brick pont-canal carrying the Canal de Garonne over the river (any of the central arches can be used, but beware of logs and branches that can collect against the upstream supports). This section is well used for water sports and there are often rowers, dinghies, pedalos and ski boats to keep clear of. One then passes under the railway bridge, built following the destruction of its predecessor in the terrible flood of 1930 and then the new (2009) Moissac by-pass road bridge.

There is a safe depth of 5m all the way up the river, to the current limit of navigation (2m depth) at Ste-Livrade ecluse and barrage. An impressive chateau (de Saint-Paul) overlooks the river at this point and the mill on the north side of the barrage has recently been renovated and provides hydro-electric power.

Ecluse 2 – Sainte-Livrade – (limit)

The ecluse itself (on the south bank) is basically in good condition. There are two side-by-side chambers: the outside one, which was the main one, has a series of cross walls in it to provide a fish ‘ladder’. The inside one, which is narrower and has a low original-looking bridge at one end, has gates that rotated and rose to close the chamber; presumably this controllable channel helped in managing the passage of boats through the ecluse.

2. River Tarn central section – closed to navigation

Ecluse 3 – Rivière Basse (Lafrancaise)

This very rural location is heavily overgrown with steep bank-sides, but the ecluse and barrage can be seen reasonably well. Although the chamber is full of branches, etc. the masonry of the ecluse itself looks in quite good condition. To one side, the barrage looks like it has three ‘flash lock’ passages or perhaps these opening were closed when the lock was in service to restrict the weir’s overflow in the vicinity of the ecluse’s downstream entrance/exit. Downstream of the ecluse, the river looks to have shallows that will need dredging or otherwise marking.

There was formerly an ecluse at Pointe de l’Aveyron, assumed demolished to create greater hydro-electric river power at Lagarde. This means that some serious dredging would be necessary from here to Lagarde.

Ecluse 4 – Lagarde (Barry-d’Islemade)

The ecluse, which has obviously been altered and covered in recent years, is beside an unattractive mill/turbine building. However, the small village is very pleasant, with a boulangerie, bar-restaurant, etc. and more particularly a long stretch of quayside upstream of the ecluse (right, in the photo), suitable for creating moorings on. Once again, there are significant indications of shallows below the barrage.

Very pleasant long vista looking south along the river towards Montauban.

Ecluse 5 – Palisse (Montauban North)

The ecluse looks to be in very good condition. It is adjacent an elegantly curving weir, an attractive large mill building on the opposite bank, and an almost equally elegant classically styled brick mill or river management building, set on sturdy arches.

A small blue plaque some distance above one arch (between it and the window above) gives a powerful clue to their purpose, as does an inscribed stone by the road entrance that marks a rebuilding in 1767. The stone commemorates the destruction, by flood-waters, of a mill on this site in December 1766. The plaque gives the March 1930 flood height; it is twenty metres above the current river level and appears to indicate a height somewhere near the top of the very high brick arches supporting the adjacent railway bridge. The implications of this height of flood water, its extent and consequences are quite terrifying. The river rose a cataclismic 17m (55 ft) in 24 hours with a flow rate three times that of the Rhine.

Just before the next ecluse, set in a small park, is the heroic sculpted bust of Adolphe Poult who, in that dreadful situation, saved the lives of 317 of his fellow townspeople before himself drowning.

Ecluse 6 – Sapiacou (Montauban Centre)

This is possibly the next ecluse to be restored to navigation (it lies very close to the Canal de Montech-Montauban Ecluse 7). It would provide access to the centre of Montauban, to a mooring by the historic Museé d’Ingres (built on the remains of the English Black Prince’s castle). A very memorable cruise – when it happens.

The ecluse is currently in a state of picturesque and somewhat dangerous decay. Work to renovate it – and probably to continue the demolition of the unsightly large old mill building by it – would appear to be both extensive and expensive. Another problem to be addressed would be the tremendous side current at the downstream end, coming from the large weir .

3. South-Eastern Section – open to navigation 2011

Ecluse 7 – Descent au Tarn

This gives access to and from the Canal de Montech-Montauban. The ecluse was completely restored in 2010, with new gates and operating mechanisms. At the upper (canal) end is the Port de Plaisance de Montauban, which was itself completely renewed in 2007, with a new capitainerie building. At the lower (river) end the junction has been dredged clear and provides access to 8km of upstream river. There will be a mooring pontoon opposite the lock entrance, on the river’s north bank (unknown if there will be water and/or electricity) and waiting pontoons on either side of the ecluse.

The vertical height of the two chambers of the ecluse is significant and ascending the lowest chamber will need care. (see above – an experienced eclusier at the controls but the incoming water is extremely turbulent – this degree of care might not always happen and the flow could verge on the dangerous if the sluices are opened too much, too fast).

River Tarn

This will provide an interesting short cruise. A number of pontoons have or will be constructed to give access to places of interest.

Within 1km of the canal ecluse, west bank, lies a large restaurant (Italian), once a favoured place for river pleasure craft to stop and enjoy (inside there are photographs from the 1930s showing this). No doubt this will happen again. Further on (approx. 3km), the village of Bressols is attractive, with lots of facilities, boulangerie, bar-restaurant, supermarket, etc.

Ecluse 8 – Corbarieu – Limit of navigation

The lock looks to be in good condition (although it has some fish ladder walls in it and a low footbridge across it) and it has a superb brick wall on the downstream side, protecting the entrance/exit from the weir and providing a safe place for waiting craft to tie up. If opened it might provide another 6m of navigable river.