Our first stop today was the weekly Cenac market. We’d decided last night that we would buy the makings of a picnic and stop somewhere nice to eat it at around lunch. So we bought some pretty good cheese, tomatoes, baguettes, cakes, olives, apple juice, food umbrellas, tea towels, fruit…the usual stuff.
We then headed off for the wonderful Roque Saint-Christophe. It was quite a long drive but, boy was it worth it. An incredible place; just turning down the small road that skirts it, was amazing.
Formed by an accumulation of marine sediments starting 80 million years ago, this giant rock has been home to humans (and possibly Neanderthals) for the last 55,000 years. Before we even existed, successive periods of intense cold and heat over millions of years created in the rock long ledges, big caves, and tiers of rock shelters.
From early humans living in caves to the Middle Ages when this ledge was filled in with buildings, the people of the rock have managed to make a rather odd place, inhabitable. We wondered why you’d bother but one look at the view and you realise it would have been a total ‘dez rez’ whatever the epoch.
It (sort of) came in handy being up so high, when the Vikings came a-raping and a-pillaging down the Vezere River. Stones were thrown, denting a few horned helmets. Eventually, though, the hordes managed to climb up and massacre the sitting tenants. Presumably the Norsemen didn’t move in and the rock ledges remained empty for a bit.
This didn’t last long because the local real estate agents realised that once the occupying invaders had gone elsewhere, the place would be snapped up. And so it was, growing and developing over the years until the Wars of Religion started.
For reasons more to do with spite than anything else, a bunch of Catholics in 1588, under the command of the sensationally named Seneschal of Aubeterre, ripped everything out and had it destroyed. Actually, he told his commanders to get every peasant in the region, able to stand, to do the foul deeds he felt that his god wanted him to do.
And so La Roque remained, largely forgotten until 1938 when archaeologist, Gabriel Tournon, intrigued by a hole in the ground, managed to uncover it all. He worked at explaining the various occupations and occupants and has left us with a unique site of human ingenuity.
All three of us thoroughly enjoyed La Roque and eventually settled down by a waterfall and stream to enjoy our picnic repast.
Before moving on, I feel I have to comment on the incredibly rude guy in the shop. He sort of served me when I was buying the guide book and a few other bits and pieces. He didn’t once acknowledge me, he continued a conversation with a colleague while taking my money and working out the change, he didn’t bother saying thank you…all round he was appalling.
We’ve been subjected to the legendary French rudeness in the past (though not this trip) and generally just ignore it, assuming they don’t know any better, but this behaviour smacked of a big tourist site where they don’t HAVE to be pleasant because millions of visitors will still come. If I ran the organisation these awful people would be replaced by workers who actually deserve a job.
That unpleasantness over, I shall return to lunch.
We’ve been seeing some glorious picnic spots all around the country this trip, which was one of the reasons why we decided to try one today. It would seem that the designated picnic spot at La Roque is possibly one of the worst. The waterfall is a trickle coming out of a pipe, the stream appears to be a trickle running into a brackish pond and the tables and chairs are made of concrete. Even so, we enjoyed our rather odd collection of food before heading off for our next incredible site, the Proumeyssac Cave.
For a long time, there was a hole on top of a hill which the locals would use to dump rubbish. It seemed impossible to fill it, so they kept doing it over the generations. Then highwaymen would rob lonely travellers along the road and dump their (pointlessly) beaten bodies down the hole. A little later, a chap decided to fill it in and ordered the locals to start filling it with rocks and dirt. Before long, the locals had completely dug away a neighbouring mountain but still the hole wasn’t full.
Annoyed, the locals built walls around the hole, effectively keeping it safe and inaccessible.
Fast forward to 1907 when the structure collapsed, revealing the hole once more. Up stepped a chap called Gabriel Galou. He was a well maker and the owner of the hole had engaged him to go down the hole and check it out. And it was Gabriel who was the first to see the amazing cavern which had formed over millions of years.
When we saw it today, we were but three of millions who have seen it since. Even so, it’s incredible. There’s a rather kitsch sound and light show but that tends to somehow enhance the experience of standing before the most amazing rock formations I think I’ve ever seen.
There’s a sign that puts the visitor in no doubt about taking photographs…
…though apparently this doesn’t apply to all visitors. One of our group (the whole experience is in groups led by a tour guide) was happily snapping away with her smartphone, ruining the experience for everyone else with her incessant flash. Eventually, our guide told her to put it away, restoring the cavern to a more collective appreciation.
The stalactites and stalagmites are amazing, filling the chamber with the sort of ethereal beauty that only millions of years of dripping calcium can produce. Clay items are placed under the constant dripping for a year. This gives a strange sparkly finish, ripe for selling in the gift shop.
The cavern is an extraordinary place, highly recommended. It’s not difficult to get into (sloping tunnel) or around (some stairs) however, if a visitor isn’t concerned with heights, the gondola entry would be pretty spectacular. Having witnessed it, I really wish I taken it. Next time there’s a gondola on offer, I’m taking it.
Having filled ourselves with enough underground beauty for one day, we headed home. We had a brief stop at the Medieval town of Audrix so I could check out the wonderfully simple 12th century church of St Pierre but, basically, we just headed into the unavoidable peak hour traffic around Sarlat.
Upon arriving back at the cottage, I decided I didn’t like walking anymore and fell over instead, giving myself a horrendous graze just below my left knee. There was a lot of blood and quite a few ‘bloody’s but, with the aid of warm water, cotton wool and an old ripped up t-shirt, I was soon happily ensconced on the terrace outside the main house, adding photos to Flickr.
We enjoyed an al fresco dinner of leftovers and, not finding any football on the TV, went to bed.