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The 130th Anniversary of the Robert Louis Stevenson trail

The Stevenson Way (GR 70) was walked by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1878, and inspired him to write Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes (1879). That ground-breaking book is considered a classic of outdoor literature and set the standard for travelogues. Moreover, Stevenson was, in many ways, the pioneer of the whole modern hiking movement, as the book presents hiking and camping outdoors as a recreational activity.

This year is the 130th anniversary of the event and the GR 70 has become increasingly popular with hikers wishing to retrace the route Stevenson took. The walking tour fits comfortably into a fortnight’s holiday. 

Above Montvert

The main reason behind Robert Louis Stevenson’s influential trek was the return to the United States in August 1879 of Fanny Osbourne, a married woman with children with whom Stevenson had fallen in love. He was heartbroken so, feeling low, he decided to travel from Paris to the remote and mysterious Cevennes in southern France to get away from it all.

The route you will take in following his progress is that which has been officially established by the Federation Francaise de la Randonnée Pedestre and branded the GR 70. Le Chemin de Robert Louis Stevenson offers a rich variety of countryside to discover all year round, although the seasonal openings of accommodation providers en route mean that in practice walking is only really possible from April to late October.

As Stevenson did himself, the 230 km trek commences in Velay at Le Monastier sur Gazeille. The first day’s walking is anything but flat, for the upper Loire valley has gouged deep into the plateau, making the descent via Saint Martin de Fugère into the valley at Goudet quite steep. The next day starts leisurely enough, as you continue across volcanic plateau via the granite market town of Landos before descending into the valley at Arquejol and onto picturesque Pradelles.

The Gévaudan is a region of open and rolling upland interspersed by thick forest with paths that are rarely difficult to negotiate. The wooded descent to Cheylard l'Evêque is pleasant and the village full of character. Stevenson ate a hearty meal here before pressing on to Luc castle on a fascinating ancient drovers’ trail.

You spend the night in La Bastide before trekking south west towards Chasseradès, where Stevenson had to share a room with five railway engineers. You simply pass through it and enter the third region en route, Mont Lozère. It’s a world unto itself, where the yellow broom announce the start of the earth’s climatic cycle, and that are later replaced by the violet heather and blue myrtilles of late summer. The summit of Finiels is a hiker’s paradise, from where the Alps or the Pyrenees are visible on a clear day.

The summit of Finiels

From Pont-de-Montvert, Stevenson followed the Tarn valley west, where he slept outside for the third time en route to Florac. Today this is the main thoroughfare for vehicles, so the Stevenson Trail takes an uphill detour southwards through the pine forests to Planette Pass, before swinging west to Sapet Pass from where the menhir at the summit provides a fine view of the rolling Cévennes hills stretch into the distance.

We are now entering the fourth region, The Cévennes.  The Cévenols valleys are both deep and full of Mediterranean sunlight. Its schiste paths seem to slide into and out of chestnut forests and down to refreshing riverbeds before climbing once again to tree-covered summits. Homes are normally built out of local materials, but in the Cevennes they appear almost to have been hewn out of the rock itself and reflect the toughness of life that has been a part of this region since long before the Camisard uprising.

On exiting Florac, the trail runs along the Mimente Valley and the path of the old railway. Closed in the sixties, the lines have long been removed, making the trail very enjoyable indeed. Most of the trail from Cassagnas to Saint-Germain is in the forest of Fontmort, along a wide path dug out of the mountain side at the behest of the king of France shortly after the Camisard War.

After Saint-Germain, the trail follows the Gardon valley and after Saint-Etienne Vallée Française, the path climbs towards Saint-Pierre pass, where Modestine and Stevenson had their last meal together. The descent to Saint-Jean du Gard is steep but eases off further down before the GR follows the meanderings of The Gardon River. The market town of St Jean marks the end of a memorable voyage of discovery along a trail on which you are guaranteed to make some instant friends.


©The Enlightened Traveller

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