We awoke to a sky devoid of cloud. However, on walking across the road from our lodgings to the restaurant, we discovered that the morning was decidedly cold. Indeed, in the village, in shady nooks, there was frost – in May! After a cursory breakfast washed down with lukewarm coffee (very unFrench), we were on our way.
Today was but a short hop to the small town of Montignac, the home of the world famous Lascaux Cave. Indeed our itinerary meandered in order to push the daily kilometre count into double figures. We kicked off by walking away from St. Amand in a westerly direction, climbing through woodland to pastureland up on a ridge. From here we descended, again through woodland, into a narrow valley running south, bringing us to the D704, the main road between in Montignac and Sarlat. From here we climbed along a narrow lane, underneath an old railway bridge and up to the imposing, but rather ugly Chateau La Filolie.
It might be that my appreciation of the chateau was influenced by the sign that we passed as we approached. It said that the owners would allow people to walk along the path adjacent to their property, but then qualified this largesse with a long list of “do not”s! Gazing at the stolid contours of La Filolie, I can honestly say that it really did not excite any desire in me to trespass.
As if to compensate for the day’s lack of kilometres, there was a steep climb from the chateau up to the hamlet of les Combes. During our huffing and puffing, we were passed by two energetic cyclists. The lanes took us through the farmstead of Les Charoulies, where we met the farmer and his dog. Eighty-six years old, widowed, he was now on his own – still tending his crops; still looking forward to the visits from his children.
We stopped for coffee in a sunny meadow, and lo and behold – we were passed by two walkers, with proper footwear and backpacks! And these were the only rambling types that would come across over the next four days! After our little break, I experienced a sudden searing pain in my back. I thought that I had been bitten by a giant insect! But no…. the top to the Thermos had not been replaced properly, and hot water had seeped through to my torso. I stripped off my tee-shirt only to find an area of unimpressive pinkness. No blisters; all a bit of an anti-climax really.
Our route took us past the original Lascaux, all carefully locked up. Lascaux was discovered in 1940 by a teenage boy walking his dog; the latter fell down a hole. The young man returned with three mates, and they climbed down the fifteen metre pit to discover a network of caves whose walls were covered with paintings of animals. These are thought to be about 17,000 years old; their raison d’être has been the focus of much lively debate and conjecture. And when Lascaux opened to the public in 1948, it certainly created a great deal of interest, with an average of 1,200 visiting each day. Such proximity to humans took its toll on the quality of the paintings, and Lascaux closed its doors in 1963.
This closure lead to the production of replicas. The first opened in 1983, Lascaux II, and is just a couple of hundred metres below the original. It was many years in the making; in the pre-digital age, it required the use of photographs, and measuring tapes to painstakingly reproduce the contours of the cave as well as the paintings and etchings upon them. Lascaux IV, even further down the hill, on the outskirts of Montignac, opened in 2016 and took less than three years to complete. It is the product of digital technology, and reproduces the entire original cave network as we know it. (Lascaux III, if you were wondering, is a mobile exhibition of reproductions of several of the iconic paintings that started touring the world’s major cities in 2012).
We sat down at a picnic table within the Lascaux II complex to eat our lunch. Despite being earmarked for closure within twelve months of the opening of IV, Lascaux II is still open to customers. Indeed, I believe it has enjoyed a resurgence of interest. I wonder whether it’s proximity to the original cave has something to do with this. Or maybe, people sense that II is a product of human endeavour on a scale similar to the prehistoric paintings themselves. IV on the other hand, I think that it would be fair to say, has not attracted the number of visitors that was hoped for. I’ve been a couple of times, and it is undoubtedly an architectural tour de force, cleverly integrated into the base of the hill of Lascaux. But as a visitor, as well as following a guide, you are given a tablet, allowing you to explore the site in more detail. Such 21st century technology feels rather incongruous in what is supposed to be a prehistoric site. It feels a bit cold and soulless.
As we finished our lunch, it seemed to me that the crumbly Lascaux II had settled into its sylvan setting. It’s concrete and wood construction had always seemed a bit brash, but corrosion, rot and weeds had endowed it with a rustic maturity. We knew that we only had a couple,of kilometres left, and they would be downhill. Reaching Montignac, we were surprised but delighted to find the ice cream parlour open! I had always assumed that “Les Glaces de Lascaux” was only open in July and August; it always seemed to be shut. An ice cream is a great way to finish a day’s walk – even a short walk!
We were staying the night but a few steps from Les Glaces. The Soleil d’Or has a reputation for self-conscious, old-fashioned grandeur. But surprisingly, it wasn’t pricey, and even more surprisingly, it turned out to be quite magnificent. Our allotted room was palatial and comfortable. What one cannot see from the road is the garden …. well it’s really a couple of acres of mature parkland, slap bang in the middle of the town, with a decent-sized swimming pool. It might have been cloudless all day, and the ice cream parlour might have been open, but it wasn’t swimming pool weather. Anyway, we hadn’t brought our swimming togs.
We hadn’t seen the River Vézère since the previous morning. As it was the focus of our six-day walk, we felt obliged to pay a visit. So, we wandered down to the bridge, before pitching up at La Chaumière – a restaurant of the Savoie, with food from the mountains – cheese, potatoes, and ham. We have been before, but it is always fascinating. A small room with a few tables, and steps up to a tiny bar at the far end. The walls are festooned with old photos and posters; various trinkets dangle from the beams. After gargantuan salads, we went for the house speciality – Rhum Baba. Returning to the hotel, we contemplated the novelty that awaited us on the morrow; a rare if not unique treat on our walks away from home – we would be cooking for ourselves! And doing the washing up.
Well, well. Another day of spring flowers! I’ve tried to identify them as best I can. But if you disagree with me on any of these, please put me right by contacting me!