The decline

In spite of developments intended to facilitate navigation on the Dordogne, such as the construction of the Lalinde canal which came into service in 1846, the arrival of the railway gradually led to a sharp decrease in river traffic (69 boats in 1897). The railway reached Libourne in 1852. Five years later, the railway became the main transporter of wine. Faced with competition from the railway, this decline was inexorably confirmed. The train linked Bergerac to Bordeaux in 1872. The train arrived in Sarlat in 1882, then in the rest of the valley a little later. This bought navigation on the upper and middle Dordogne to an end. Particularly since in 1878, phylloxera devastated the vineyards of Domme, Castelnaud, Daglan and Saint-Cybranet. Some boatmen acquired motorised “gabares”. Others continued their activities by specialising in the extraction of gravel from the river. In the lower Dordogne, navigation continued until the 1940s.

train-vapeurThe “gabariers” of yesteryear would no longer recognise the Dordogne of today after the construction, in the 20th century, of the Marèges Dam (between 1930 and 1936), the Bort-les-Orgues Dam (1942-1952), the Aigle Dam (1935-1948), the Chastang Dam (1942-1952) and the Sablier Dam (1951-1958). These works regulate the river, preventing it from bursting its banks unduly… as at the time of the exceptional flood of 1783, which was so strong that the Bergerac Bridge could not withstand it!

From then on, some “gabares” transported tourists on the River Dordogne (five on the dams of the upper Dordogne and around ten between La Roque-Gageac and Sainte-Foy-la-Grande). The boats were manufactured onsite, at the initiative of certain local communities, by marine carpenters or at Gujan-Mestras (Gironde) by shipyards specialising this type of construction.