In 1878 Robert Louis Stevenson went for a long walk in central SW France (120 miles) to get over a broken love affair and to experience a journey. His diary formed the basis for the travelog “Travels with a donkey in the Cévennes”. This is a walk we’ve been wanting to do for ages and finally got round to it. It’s now a well known hiking route following the GR 70.
Stevenson describes Le Monastier as notable for the making of lace and for drunkenness. The night before the walk we tried out the local bars (there are two) but didn’t see any misbehaving! In this little town Stevenson bought his donkey and named her Modestine and began his travels with a sheepskin coat/sleeping bag, joints of roasted meat a bottle of beaujolais and plenty of money.
He wasn’t very kind to his donkey and on reading bits from his book I started to get very very annoyed with him – poor Modestine. It’s a steep climb out of Le Monastier and much worse further along the route into the Cevenne mountains proper, eventually Stevenson beats the donkey so much that he describes her legs as ‘raw beef’. She becomes unfit for travel towards the end of the walk and he sells her at St Jean du Gard.
We camped at Goudet called the ‘Rock and Camp’ site. We wondered why the owner suggested we wait until we liked it before booking another night. We didn’t realise it was a boot camp for budding rock stars including a full performance each night! Even Jon had a go! The swimming pool made up for it and the nice little bar where we got talking to a French accountant who told us about her farming upbringing in the Jura.
Some good reference books to read about this walk are: Long Walks in France by Adam Nicolson, we’ve done a few from this book. And a lovely photographic record with some of the original Stevenson text in French and English – Stevenson en Cévennes Michel Verdier
We are thinking about next year and doing the whole route with a donkey – it would be fun! The route has plenty of Gite d’Etapes to stay overnight where they provide you with dinner, bed and breakfast for about 45 euros. The tourist office provides a great little guide with all the details of accommodation and the route see http://www.chemin-stevenson.org including details on donkey hire.