A Walk through Prehistory and an Ice Age Landscape

The longest day of the year (21 June) seemed an appropriate day to take a walk through prehistory.

My route started from the Laugerie Cliffs across the river from Les Eyzies. Maybe several hundred Cro-Magnon people (our ancestors) had spent a couple of months during the Ice Age winters, hunting, trading, marrying, sharing ideas and beliefs that produced the art at Font de Gaume and Les Combarelles.  From there I walked around the big bend in the Vezere to the oldest site in our valley, at la Micoque. Evidence is there that some 320,000 years ago ancestors of the Neanderthal people had hunted a herd of horses over a cliff and then butchered them. Their larders would have been full that night!

Ice Age Art, La Madeleine

A magnificent piece of Ice Age art from La Madeleine

Another hour through the woods saw me above La Madeleine, admiring the stunning views up and down the Vezere above the emblematic site of the Magdalenian Culture which produced most of the cave art and some of the most stunning representations of the animals of the Ice Age.


Crossing the river I skirted the Parc Prehistorique at Tursac – somewhat surprised to hear the roar of a mammoth – trapped by Ice Age hunters?!  Then onwards and upwards to the highpoint of the walk – views across the river curling through the valley down below on this, the longest day of the year. Stopping to check my route, I realised that I was on top of the limestone pavement that 34,000 years ago would have had a few stunted bushes on it and would have been a lot colder than today’s blistering heat.

Castel Merle, Ice Age Landscape

Castel Merle – remarkably unchanged landscape

Down below in the Valley of the Rocks at Castel Merle maybe some of the earliest humans to visit the area would have been scouting out rock shelters that in a couple of months time would accommodate the tents of the hunters and their families, waiting for the arrival of the reindeer – the event around which their year revolved.  The last great hunt of the year before winter closed in providing valuable life sustaining food and materials for shelter and clothing.  The seemingly endless herds of reindeer went the Vezere Valley from the mountain pastures where they had spent the summer, migrating to their winter feeding grounds on the plains.  From here the older reindeer at the head of the herd would smell and see the water down below.  They would remember that in this little valley they could come down off the high waterless plateau, cross the river and there would be water and fresh grass available.

My walk had spanned tens of thousands of Ice Age years and had crossed the tracks of the Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon people.  I had seen rock shelters where they would have lived during their time in this valley. I had indeed walked through time finishing by coming down a steep cliff track (made by Electricite de France to access their power lines!) through a landscape at first sight very different from the Ice Age.

Nevertheless in its underlying structures it is the same place our ancestors would have known so well as they came back to the Valley of the Rocks year after year.

Macmillan Cancer Support

Steve looking remarkably fresh at the end of his 30 kilometre training walk for his Macmillan trek

My path took me a few more miles up the valley where Judie greeted me with several cold beers!  As I rested my aching feet, I contemplated my 30+ kilometre walk through prehistory in 30O heat and wondered how challenging this walk would have been for our prehistoric ancestors?  They must have been leaner and fitter than the majority of us today!  It was a great day out in the Vezere Valley which not only added to my store of knowledge of the area, but was great preparation for a good cause – my September Challenge in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco when I will be raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support. Every donation, large or small, is appreciated.  As a well known UK supermarket says “every little helps”!

Steve and Judie Burman live in the beautiful Vezere Valley in the Dordogne region of South-West France. Together they run Caves and Castles, specialising in prehistoric Cave Art and medieval Castles Tours. You can join a small group (up to 6) 4 night/5 day Tour based 2 nights each in the medieval towns of Sarlat and Montignac-sur-Vezere or book a custom Tour for a day or more.

Professional archaeologist, Steve loves to share his passion for the ‘Cradle of Humanity.’ World famous sites such as Lascaux, the ‘Sistine Chapel of Prehistory’ and Font de Gaume are close by. Coupled with gastronomic meals and superb wines, your Caves & Castles Tour is really special.

Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.


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6 Responses to A Walk through Prehistory and an Ice Age Landscape

  1. Dave & Loops says:

    We enjoyed sharing your walk and wish you all the best with the Atlas Mountains of Morroco shortly. Dave & Loops xxx

  2. Steve and Judie Burman says:

    Thanks Dave & Loops – Friday is flying out day! The Challenge begins! A bientot. Jxx

  3. Blair Bigelow says:

    Steve and Judie–First, we’re very sorry about the death of Steve’s brother. I have an older brotzher and know that if he went before me I’d feel a grief much, much greater than I felt when my father, mother, and two step-mothers died. Second, your account of your “training” hike through southwest France is compelling. Boots on the ground–now you really know more deeply the place, the caves, the rocks, the long-gone people who though illiterate were in some ways more sophisticated than we are–or think we are. Best wishes from Meredith and me.

    Blair (Pelham MA, USA)

  4. Patricia Hashimoto says:

    Best wishes on your trek thru the Atlas Mtns. I remember your tour of Caves & Castles with much fondness, and would be interested in seeing Lascaux 4 and Chauvet representation when it is open. I went to Russia in May-what a magnificent spectacular trip. I spend 4 nights in Moscow, then sailed up the Volga making many stops, then turned around at Kizhi island and sailed the Neva into St. Petersburg, where I spent another 4 nights. I was gone almost 3 weeks, and had a glorious time.
    Now that you sold Les Rossiers, where do your tour guests stay? Do you provide accommodation, or do guests make their own reservations in Sarlat?
    Anyway, it was great to hear from you, and my very best to you both, Pat

  5. Steve and Judie Burman says:

    Thanks Blair & Meredith – it was tough for Steve and what the trek is all about. It’s got off to an ‘interesting’ start with the lunch mess tent having been blown down on the first day! I guess he’s ok as I’ve not heard further and it’s now a ‘no news is good news situation’.  Hopefully my next message will be to report his safe return!
    Bye for now and best from us both

  6. Steve and Judie Burman says:

    Thanks Patricia – we’ll keep you posted ref. Lascaux 4 and Chauvet. Glad to hear you’re enjoying your travels – sounds fascinating. OUr 4 night 5 day Tours are now based 2 nights in Sarlat and 2 in Montignac. Whether the ‘Reunion Tour’ would be the same format remains to be seen – it’s early days! If you have thoughts on that, don’t hesitate to let us know.

    Meanwhile, Steve’s trek has got off to an ‘interesting’ start with the lunch mess tent having been blown down on the first day! I guess he’s ok as I’ve not heard further and it’s now a ‘no news is good news situation’.  Hopefully my next message will be to report his safe return!
    Bye for now and best from us both

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