Tuesday 27th September 2016, Les Rivières, Near Albi continued
Next day, 25th September, we continued the Stevenson trail through forests of chestnut trees following winding roads down through deep gorges and up to tiny hidden villages in the mountains where the Camisard, or Huegenot protestants hid and practiced their religion in the face of the ruling of Louis XIV revoking the Edict of Nantes in 1685 thus outlawing the Protestant religion.
Here in these wild mountains the Camisard practiced their religion in the open air as their protestant temples were banned or burned. They launched attacks on the Catholics, hid in caves, gathered weapons, clothes and food stores while the village women secretly nursed those injured in skirmishes with the soldiers of the King. None of the villagers became Catholic despite perpetual persecution.
Eventually Louis XVI invoked the treaty of Toleration in 1787 whereby the Protestants were permitted to practice their Christian faith in their own way. This was really a compromise as it was perfectly apparent that persecution increased the fervour of the Protestants and they would never convert to Catholicism. In the village of Saint-Germain-de-Colbert, we climbed up to the cemetery at the side of the Protestant temple. Here we discovered a tomb to the Bazalgette family. (In London the sewers were designed and installed by Sir Joseph William Bazalgette (1819-1891), the grandson of a Huguenot immigrant. So many persecuted Huguenots ended up in London and brought Britain so many benefits.)
While we were in the churchyard a lady and her dog arrived and we stopped to chat, asking her if the village was still protestant today. She replied that over 200 years later it was still a hundred percent Protestant. “Oui, c’est toujours le même, rien n’a changé”.
During the afternoon we reached St. Jean du Gard where Modestine and Stevenson parted company. He sold her for 25 francs and took the diligence to Allier. Only on that journey did he realise how close he and Modestine had become and he shed a silent tear for parting with her in so callous a manner. For our part, we left Modestine in the shade at the top of the tiny town and explored its uninspiring streets, took a coffee on the square and crossed the bridge over the Miment to see the steam trains running from the railway station.
Modestine had enjoyed following in the hoofprints of her namesake and willingly undertook to return us back to Florac following the Corniche des Cevennes. She coped with the long, slow climb up to the ridge along the crest, struggling gamely up with a long queue of irritated drivers in their modern vehicle tailing back behind. It’s unnerving and some French drivers can be very intolerant. When we could eventually pull to one side to let them pass we were treated to several Gallic gestures by rude and impatient drivers. Modestine can get anywhere, she just needs a bit more time than modern 4x4s to do it.
We stopped somewhere along the ridge to gaze out over the surrounding landscape. The sky turned an inky black, there was a humungous crash of thunder that reverberated around the hills and we could see a torrential downpour over one area of the landscape. Our ridge stayed completely dry, the rain falling entirely over that area.