September 9, 2013

Pech Merle Cave

Photos are of course forbidden in the cave, so here is one from the museum

Papillon and I covered 45 miles this morning, 3,000 feet of climbing. And we made it on time to Pech Merle Cave in Cabrerets, where I had a reservation for a 2:15 tour in English. To hold the reservation, I needed to be there to pick it up by 1:30. Breakfast started at 8:00 in last night's b+b.

Now, if I just do the arithmetic, that sounds easy enough. But this last week of wonderful riding has reminded me of something that  wasn't focused clearly right in the front of my mind when I planned my route. This isn't like riding Pinarello around the Berkshires. Add, probably, 25 pounds of panniers, handlebar bag. Add Papillon's extra weight. Add my being unfamiliar with the routes, so spending time at intersections, making decisions, route finding. Add my rubber-necking. Not to mention photos. Mostly, add my taking photos. Touring is an entirely different mindset, time an entirely different phenomena.

Papillon and I have a great time touring. We can travel in all sorts of fabulous places, on various road surfaces, climbing, descending safely, windy or not.We are both sturdy. We are not fast.

I tell you this partly because I knew the trick to making the ticket cutoff time would be not stopping. Keeping the feet clipped in and moving. That meant no pictures. The landscape, geology-wise, was rolling, open fields mixed with forests. Small villages with one or two small cities. For readers at home, much of it was on a road as well surfaced as the Ashuwillticook mixed-use trail, with smooth pavement, about as wide, and with a similar amount of motorized traffic.

Close to the end of the ride there was a fun, long, descent off the Causse (best I can translate is plateau) into the gorge dug by the Célé River. Rounding a bend, some of the most spectacularly rocky, cliff-y scenery I have ridden through in a long time was in front of me. But .... I was committed to no pictures. Broke my rule, and stopped for one, which didn't come out very well anyway. To approximate the top of the cliffs and sky, I lost detail in darker areas.

My road, and the first cliffs I saw above the Célé River

The human eye is very good at instant refocusing, letting us see color in the sky and detail in the world on the ground round us. There are ways to do this with cameras, but I just started learning them, and don't think the most effective are possible with my camera.

After the descent, the ride following the Célé River to Carennac was equally beautiful, and I reached the village with adequate time, but still I had to find the cave. Following signs to the cave, and the road went up. And up. And up. I am certain it felt like much more of a climb than it actually was. With my concern about not losing my ticket, I was worried about the deadline. Although I do not find the word in modern dictionaries, I am told that pech means hill, and this cave is high on the hilltop above the river. In the end I made it on time, with more than a few minutes to spare.

These few images are from the museum. Photos were of course forbidden in the caves. There is one carbon drawing in the cave that can be dated to 26,000 years ago. There are limestone formations dating from 50 million years ago. It is an extraordinary place to visit, both for the art and for the geology. Human footprints in mud (now hard like rock) dating from more than 10,000 years ago are right next to the visitor's path..

Spotted horses. Archaeologists now know that some of the horses alive when the caves were painted were indeed spotted.

Images of cave bears, bison, mammoths, horses, cows, reindeer, people. This image of a wounded man is strikingly to others found in caves not too far away. Scientists believe the lines represent spears. 

This is a cro-magnon site, and they were essentially just like us. Scholars, scientists, the general public wonder why man made these drawings. Well, why do they ... then or now? Of course, there are no definitive  answers. There is something peculiarly haunting about the images of hands. These were made by putting one's hand on the wall and spraying paint around it (using some straw like device and mouth-power.) There were six of these hands, surrounding one famous image of horses. Felt like a signature, a mark of ownership.

Recent science, using DNA evidence, shows that there were spotted horses in the environs of the people who made these drawings. Like many of us, they were most likely drawing what they saw.

View Carennac to Cabrerets in a larger map



  1. I so love living life through your journey. Thank you.

    1. Hi Marguerite,

      Glad to know you're along! Hope all's well there.


Please leave a comment, it's great to hear from you and makes the site more fun and informative for other readers!