We were on our way again by 9am today. We decided to by-pass Puy-en-Velay having visited it twice before. Instead we headed for the scruffy, though interesting little town of Monastier. This was to be Modestine’s day and she has enjoyed it to the full.
On our first year of our travels with Modestine, back in 2005, we retraced the route of Robert Louis Stevenson with his donkey Modestine through the Cevennes. Our Modestine is now nearly 19 years old, a good age for a donkey and even better for a mechanical one! She has carried us over 152,000 miles around Europe since she joined us when she was six years old with 36,000 miles already on her clock. She felt that perhaps our future travels might not bring us here again and she wanted to make her way once more along the route taken by her role model back in 1878.
Over a picnic lunch on the Esplanade Stevenson we sustained a heavily accented conversation with a lady from Monastier taking her cat for a walk. She was eager to tell us of a German couple who had arrived earlier today with a donkey which they unloaded from a trailer and set off with said donkey to recreate Stevenson’s journey.
(I drove Modestine across this on our last visit. Originally intended for a railway it has no parapet!) Monastier, Cevennes
We set off in our own, rather more lazy fashion with our unique donkey. By chance we are travelling at exactly the same time as Stephenson. Both he and we passed through the same little village of Le Bouchet St. Nicholas today 23rd September – but 138 years apart!
Even since we were last here roads have improved and places are less isolated from the outside world. Stephenson talks of residents of the pretty and isolated village of Goudet looking up at the surrounding volcanic peaks “from the threshold of their homes, in isolation, you would think, like that of Homer’s Cyclops.” Our own observation was of a lady standing outside her house with her mobile phone, busy chattering of inconsequential matters to a friend. The house itself may be the very same mentioned by Stephenson but the world has moved on.
We stopped at the mediaeval village of Pradelles, missed last time. It was a delightful, well cared for little place with strong town gateways and steeply rising streets. Wells and fountains, once the sole source of water, were to be found at the various little squares, surrounded by bright geraniums, dahlias and marigolds while the warm, sun-drenched walls supported tall hollyhocks. The church was 19th century and rather misplaced in its mediaeval setting.
We continued to Langogne, and up at the nearby Lac de Naussac we are camped for the night overlooking the wide stretch of the lake. We will continue our route tomorrow.
Tuesday 27th September 2016, Les Rivières, Near Albi
Well Langogne has long gone. We have explored the Modestine trail and are now so far south we have all the windows wide open tonight as we camp, almost alone, on this very pleasant site from where we hope to visit Toulouse tomorrow. The climate here is now distinctly Mediterranean.
The Modestine trail took us through the same isolated little farming villages as last time. However, Stevenson has brought new interest to this stunning area of France and there now seem to be almost as many gites offering accommodation along the trail as we have observed along the route to Compostella! I lost count of the number of villages where there was a “Relais de Modestine” with their usual "formule" menu and, although we didn’t see any pilgrims with donkeys, we did pass numerous groups of hikers and cyclists along the way. The scenery was of course sublime and we stopped at the appropriate places to read Stevenson’s own descriptions. At one point we took the wrong route out of the tiny hamlet of Le Cheylard and instead of coming down into Luc we discovered we were thirteen kilometres away! So we had to retrace our route along the narrow winding mountain tracks back to Le Cheylard to find the correct road.
One hamlet we passed through had three houses - one used as a rural theatre - and a bread vending machine. The entire village seemed to consist of four ladies in nylon overalls each with a mug of coffee, a man with a pitchfork and a couple of dogs. They were all queuing for bread. The fournisseur de pain arrived in his van and filled the automatic vending machine - gadgets have now spread even to the wilds of the countryside. The villagers then fed their money into the machine and took out the bread! It really was rather like watching a reality theatre performance!
Above the little town of Luc we stopped to explore the ruins of the castle and to note the white statue of the Madonna on top of the castle tower. Stevenson mentions it in his account. It had only just been placed there and was to be blessed on 6th October (1878) - a week or so after his visit. In the inn in Luc he was proudly informed that the statue weighed fifty quintals.
We passed the night at Florac, a little town we have used a couple of times as an overnight base – according to the lady at the campsite who informed us we were still in her computer system!