Wednesday, 12 August 2015

The Ardèche Gorge - where we touch prehistory

North of Avignon, the Ardèche River, which gives its name to the whole region, finally reaches the Rhone.  Before it does so it carves its way through limestone crags up to 1,000 feet high, forming the largest natural canyon in Europe (left).

On another day I might have liked to join those brave members of our group who took on the challenge of canoeing down the gorge.  It may or may not be the case that the 'other day' referred to was a score or more years ago.

I contented myself with the slightly less strenuous task of descending (and of course subsequently ascending again) the innumerable steps that form the path down to Grottes de St-Marcel d’Ardèche.  This is not the famous Grotte Chauvet, discovered in 1994, where the walls are home to the art of our distant ancestors of thirty millennia ago.  For obvious reasons that is not open to the public. Nor is St Marcel the recently opened replica cave.  It does however, for the truly desperate, include a reproduction cave painting (right).

Far more impressive is the remarkable natural architecture of the caverns themselves.  Rimstone pools, stalagmites, stalactites and imaginatively titled sculptures created over centuries by the action of water upon the living rock.

Even amid a heatwave, the underground chambers are cool and relatively quiet, although for those who like that sort of thing you can enjoy a son-et-lumière show at the rock waterfall (above).

The most famous natural landmark of the Ardèche Gorge is Vallon Pont d’Arc where the river has undercut the cliff forming a great natural bridge. Sadly there are things that you simply cannot do on a day trip, except perhaps in the mind's eye.