When we first dipped paddles into the Loire three weeks ago it was a navigable river. It was wide, deep and wavey, with boats passing along the marked out channel. Starting to paddle upstream paddling was a shock to the body but we learnt the tactics of hiding behind the rocky 'groynes' and avoiding the buoys where the main river flow would be.
By the end of week 1 we were past the confluence wih the River Maine and the buoys and larger boats had disappeared. The river was just as quick as before, but with no groynes to hide behind the quicker waters were exhausting. With no marked channel there came more sand banks and we discovered towing which broke up the days paddling and moved us over shallower sections.
By week 3 the river had changed noticeably. No longer so obviously the longest river in France it had slowed and widened out with numerous islands and countless sand banks. We found slower water far more often but learnt that every bit of slow water is followed by a rapid section somewhere. Quick, quick, slow, became the motion as we moved on dead water but towed on huge sand banks or tough rapids. Towing was no longer the break it once was.
The later weeks on the Loire saw its true beauty as a river no longer altered by humans and instead a site for tourism. Fisherman, searching for the massive fish that jumped around our canoe, and canoeists heading downstream on day trips in the baking French sun. It's not a bad place to paddle, it has to be said.
As we leave the river we know it far better than when we began. It went from navigable and quick to wider and slower and everyday we learnt from it. How to see sand banks, which waves meant it was shallow and which meant it was fast. We learnt not to take risks on the banks and avoid 'sweepers', fallen trees that reach out into the water. We learnt lessons in security and lessons in French. We learnt that everyone has advice and not all of it is useful. We learnt that bridges are funnels and old arched ones are bad. We learnt that the river changes quickly, just as your fortunes as a paddler do. And we learnt that the Loire can be paddles upstream. Slowly but surely, it can be done.