Canoeing the Semois/Semoy on the Belgium/French Border in the Ardennes

This is a nice river to do, similar to the Wye and about 160 km in total length, best done before June as it does get a bit shallow. We did it in May after some heavy rain and the current was fast, about 4mph. Lots of bouncy water and small weirs to shoot. We started from Jamoigne, but the official start is Chiny. We started late on a Wednesday afternoon after driving nealry four hundred miles from Hertfordshire, but mangaged a good two hours plus of paddling to reach Florenville and a convenient campsite.

This is an account of that trip.

Starting at Jamoigne (you can unoffically start a bit furhter upstream at Tintigny according to the French river guide) The river is shallow, but was moving quite fast. At times we came across large areas of weeds, but usually found a gap down by the river bank. We saw lots of ducks and ducklings resting on the weeds. Our first stop was at Chiny. Where the canoe is on the bank, here is the first of the canoe hire places, but we saw none on the river until the Saturday. the village itself was about 300metres from the river. The river is heavily wooded with steep hills and cliffs to the sides. We eventually arrived at Floreneville, where you just see the top of the church steeple.

After the first day and some light rain, the second day turned out to be really hot and you can see some of the fast water we came across, followed by stretches of tall weeds and reeds, though these did not slow us down due to the power of the current. We had a lunch stop at Chassepierre in a rather good little restauarnt. Some of the incised river bends meant we often paddled for an hour or more, only to be a kilometre from our start point! We were going to stop at Herbeumont, but it was hidden from the river and we missed it. Paddling on, we eventually came to a large weir across the river. Not bothering to check, we decided to shoot the channel.

Unfortunately it was about a four foot vertical drop and we went down it rather quick and although not capsizing, we shipped a rather large amount of water and we had to empty everything out of the canoe before we could get rid of the water and set off again. Our final stop on this was at a little village called Mortehan. Again, more hire canoes, but no activity. We had to walk about a mile and a half to the nearest hostlery. A super day, we got very burnt and has we went to bed, it started to rain. In fact it absoluely poured down for the next 18 hours non stop.

We started off very wet and paddled to Bouillon, a very picturesque town with a huge castle occupying a complete bend in the river. After a lunch stop and two portages to get through the town, (You can actually hire pedalos here) we decided to paddle on until about seven in the evening, it did not seem worth stopping in the rain.

We stopped in a little village called Poupehan, where we were made very welcome on the campsite and we were allowed to dry our sleeping bags in the bar next to the wood fire. In the morning It had stopped raining and even our tent had dried out. This being Saturday, there were lots of weekend fishermen about, either wading in the river or paddling about in little boats. Some villages appeared on tops of the bends, such as the one you can see above called Rochehaut. The sun got hot very quickly and we set off at a fast rate down to Alle where there is a large activity centre and we started to overtake one or two hire canoes, then onto Bohan. At this point we moved off the map and could not get another one, so we paddled on as we though we were near the end. No. Another three hours paddling and we reached a little village called Tournavaux. In fact this was only 6 km from the end, though there would have been one more portage round the hydro electric dam before you reach the Meuse. But we were getting tired by now, haveing paddled for nearly seven hours, so we decided to call it a stop.

In all, great river to paddle, though we rushed it three and a half days, five would have been more sensible, but we were short on time. Again, best to be done in spring when river levels are high.

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