It was Vincent Bart, my blogging counterpart over at the rather fabulous Bordeaux2066 , who suggested we team up once again. His idea wa...

Following the Eau Bourde from its source to the Garonne (via Cestas, Canéjan, Gradignan, Villenave d’Ornon and Bègles!)

It was Vincent Bart, my blogging counterpart over at the rather fabulous Bordeaux2066, who suggested we team up once again. His idea was for us to get on our bikes and follow a stream from end to end, the stream being the Eau Bourde, which flows some 23 kilometres from its source in Cestas until it reaches the Garonne in Bègles. The challenge was an interesting one and I was more than willing to be his travelling companion.

We met up on Saturday August 1st in Vincent’s childhood hometown Gradignan and cycled southwards towards the point that we had identified as the Eau Bourde’s discreet starting point, near a roundabout on the Nationale 10 road in the Labirade district of Cestas. But after weeks and weeks of warm weather, the source was dry and instead we had to make do with exploring some enormous pipes that ran under the busy thoroughfare. 

A large pipe that runs under the Nationale 10 near the source of the Eau Bourde.
We cycled along a road that ran parallel to the stream’s course, but were unable to approach it until we reached central Cestas, by which time other arteries had joined it, resulting in the pleasant view of flowing water. The view was short-lived though as, once again, the stream made its way out of sight behind private properties. But by cycling a little further into Cestas we were finally able to join a lane that ran alongside the stream, in an evergreen setting that almost made us forget we were barely metres away from the A63 motorway.

By this stage we had seamlessly shifted from Cestas to Canéjan and enjoyed a section of the ride which, in hindsight, was possibly the most scenic and enjoyable. The only people we met were dog-walkers, anglers and fellow cyclists, and notable sights included a riverside bridge which apparently served no purpose, a sandy stretch which had mysteriously been given the name “Plage Denis”, and an unexpected, unobscured view of the vines of Château de Rouillac, which produces wine under the Pessac-Léognan appellation. 

The Canéjan stretch is where the stream is at its prettiest.
We were edging ever closer to Gradignan, which made Vincent visibly excited. As well as recounting childhood memories of cycling along sections of the very same lanes, he explained how much the Eau Bourde is an immense source of pride for the town. Much has been done over the years to embellish the banks, making them accessible to ramblers and cyclists, and the sections that haven’t been converted yet are likely to be in the coming years as the town council gradually acquires the land that backs onto the stream.

In the meantime, as I was about to find out, following the Eau Bourde serves as an interesting beginners’ guide to the town’s most prominent heritage. It takes in an old watermill, Moulin de Montgaillard; the impressive Prieuré de Cayac, a legendary stop for St James’ Way pilgrims en route to Santiago de Compostela; the modern “médiathèque” and municipal theatre hall, Théâtre des Quatre Saisons; the scenic Parc Animalier René Canivenc, also known as Parc du Moulineau; and finally Parc de la Tannerie which, aptly enough, used to be home to a large-scale tannery. 

The elegant Moulin de Montgaillard in Gradignan.
As we left Gradignan behind us, we had to cross the Rocade ring-road. We tried to work out the spot where the Eau Bourde had been channelled underneath the six lanes of tarmac, and while we were doing so we had a bit of harmless fun waving at people stuck in some seriously heavy holiday traffic. Much to our delight many enthusiastically waved back, unknowingly agreeing to their likeness featuring in a clip available for the whole world to see on YouTube.

Yes, this adventure is also available in the form of an exciting Youtube clip which you can view here:

This took us into Villenave d’Ornon where the picturesque waterside walkways completely dried up. Vincent’s map-reading skills were put to the test and we found the Eau Bourde again as it flowed under a nondescript road. We did our best to stay parallel to the water and in doing so came across a roadside vegetable stall, positioned outside the grounds of local “maraîchers” the Martineau family. 

Some serious vegetable culture courtesy of the Martineau family, available for purchase at markets including the one held Saturday mornings in Gradignan.
Vegetable production being dependent on easily accessible water, we wondered whether the stream ran close to the Martineaus’ grounds. After some small talk we were spontaneously given a guided tour of the establishment, Mr Martineau explaining that over time the Eau Bourde had been diverted away from its original course and now runs some distance away from his land. We thanked him for his time by purchasing some tasty tomatoes from Madame.

From here on the Eau Bourde was arguably at its ugliest, locked in by tall concrete walls and, in some places, also covered by concrete beams which looked as if they may one day be used as means of hiding the river away completely. But as Villenave d’Ornon became Bègles, we were once again able to enjoy some waterside cycling, until a tall fence prevented us from going any further: the water was about to flow under the Bordeaux to Toulouse railway line and, perfectly on cue, a train whizzed past. Vincent booted up a hardcore trainspotting application and quickly worked out it was service number 866835 to Agen (and was six minutes away from stopping at Beautiran). This information made us strangely happy.

Hemmed in by concrete on all sides in Villenave d'Ornon.
We now had no alternative other than to make a detour through the nearby Parc de Mussonville and, once again, follow the Eau Bourde from a frustratingly small distance. By now it had split, forming two “esteys” (the Gascon name for a stream): Estey Sainte-Croix and Estey de Franc. We passed the lakeside “Bègles Plage” and tried to locate the point at which the water again flowed under the Rocade. By the time we met up with the Estey de Franc arm of Eau Bourde, we were deep in the heart of the Tartifume business park, not far from the Rives d’Arcins shopping centre and recent Invisible Bordeaux subject Ateliers Louis Blériot, at a spot which lay between the pretty Port Garonne marina and the slightly less pretty Astria waste processing plant.

The point where the Eau Bourde meets the Garonne (and a waste processing plant).
Our journey, like that of the Eau Bourde, had finally come to an end after its jaunts through Cestas, Canéjan, Gradignan, Villenave d’Ornon and Bègles, with each section offering radically different sceneries, moods and ambiences. We took in the majestic view over the Garonne at low tide, which also made for strangely attractive muddy banks either side of the stream we had enjoyed in its varying forms over the previous few hours. Mission accomplished.  

Farewell Eau Bourde.

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