Archive for the ‘Photo Gallery’ Category
Le Pont de Montvert to Florac: Sixth day of the hike. This is going to be the big day! A 28 km hike with an injured right foot. Will I make it? The previous night my French friends came up with a plan to shorten the hike to approximately 12 or 13 km. They apparently had a car close by and one of the hikers was going to transport the vehicle to the exit location. They wanted to do this because of the very long distance and the expected high temperature of 37°C in Florac. They invited me to join them starting at 6:30 AM. I really did think hard and long about joining them. However, despite my injured foot, I was committed to completing the Stevenson trail completely and on my own steam.
In order to accomplish this I would have to start hiking by 6 AM. It was pretty much straight up from Le Pont de Montvert until you reached a nice high plateau and had a pleasant walk amongst “rocks and brooms”. The sun had not yet risen and the temperature was relatively cool at 22°C. Even though there was some pain in my right foot I pushed on. I was rewarded with a nice descent through some lovely foliage but then there was another much more sustained ascent to get up to Signal du Bouges. There were panoramic views all around. There was also an interesting set of cairns which apparently was a favourite meeting place for the Camisards, called Les Trois Fayards, from where they marched on Pont de Montevert in 1702 to ignite the Camisard War. The Signal du Bouges is the highest point of the Massif Bouges which runs parallel to Mont Lozere. Last century, the intensive exploitation of the area by local families led to the immense deforestation and the dwindling of native wild animals. Rural exodus rebalanced things and led, at the end of the 19th century, to a natural and artificial reforestation. Thus, the northern slopes of the massif are practically covered with forest nowadays.
I enjoyed walking this stretch because it was a ridge [I love ridge walks] with panoramic views. From this point, it was going to be a downhill descent of 880 m. The trail was quite similar to our alpine trails and was quite rocky and I had to be quite careful with my injured right foot to not fall or twist it.
For your information, Stevenson did not walk the same route as I did today. He headed out west from Le Pont de Montvert, along a path that is long since tarmaced as the D998, and camped out on a ledge above the Tarn. He slept badly and was later accosted by a beggar woman whom he paid off as if it were for his night’s lodgings. He then meant an old Protestant man from La Florac and opined, “ if the Garden of Eden be anywhere, it is here in the Valley of the Tarn as it goes down to Florac”.
At about the 19 km mark you arrive at a junction where you have three options to get down to Florac. Because I am a sucker for punishment, I took the longest route [which is the new GR 70] which apparently is not the route that Stevenson took [which is now the GR 68]. There was a long and steady descent that challenged the knees through the Cevennes National Park. I eventually exited the park through Bedoues and then had a shaded path to climb and then finally descend into Florac. Yeah!!! I did it. Even my right foot felt okay.
Florac is a town with a population of approximately 2000 people. It is located at the junction of three natural regions: Mount Lozere, the Cevennes and the Les Grands Causses. It is the home to the headquarters of the Cevennes National Park since 1970: it also gave birth to Le Club Cevenol, an organization of eminent locals dedicated to preserving the local heritage and environment. It was that organizations interest in Stevenson’s trek, around the centenary of his trip, that led to the finding of his “Cevennes Journal” in the United States and the launch of the GR 70 as it is known today. What a fitting way to end this part of my blog of the Robert Louis Stevenson trek. It has been most satisfying from an exertion point of view, it allowed me to experience the wonderful French countryside and the hospitality and generosity of the local French people. I feel privileged to walk along the same trails as them as well as Robert Louis Stevenson previously. I plan to take it easy in Florac today except for a nice walk around town. Tomorrow, I have to make my way back to Bormes. I have no reserved bus ticket or train tickets but will hope for the best utilizing my broken and inadequate French. There is always an adventure waiting to be experienced.
Le Bleymard to Le Pont de Monvert. Fifth day of the hike. Today was going to be an up and down experience. By that, I mean the initial part of the hike would require 630 m ascent followed by a 770 m descent. I had a leisurely breakfast and had just exited from the hotel I was staying at when I ran into six of the French hikers I had visited with at the hotel in Chasserades. What a pleasant surprise! I was expecting another day of solo hiking but they insisted that I join their group which I gratefully accepted. They stated that their pace would be relatively slow but that was fine with me and it gave us more time to converse in both my broken French and their broken English.
We started the slow and steady ascent and eventually at about 4 km we reached the Mont Lozere Station de Ski. Certainly, this was much smaller than our Canadian ski areas in the Rockies. One glitch that we had at this point occurred when I was walking in deep conversation with one of the other French hikers and we started up the wrong path on the GR 7. We were happily conversing when he received a cell phone call advising him that we were probably not on the right path from the group who were about 200 m behind us. How embarrassing! We eventually found the correct pathway for the GR 70 but were amazed by the number of hikers on the path that day. On the path we saw and passed many “montjoies”. Some of these bear the Maltese Cross, marking the limits of the property owned by the Knights of Malta of the order of Saint Jean of Jerusalem, disbanded after the Revolution. Think of them as very large cairns. Clearly, this is a very popular day hike as well. You do get up to the highest point on Mont Lozere at 1699 m. There was a very refreshing wind up top which was required to cool us down from the climb.
After we spent some time admiring the views, we descended about 400 m to our lunch spot. we then started to descend a steep and very rocky path. On one of my steps down with my right foot I heard a crack and then developed some sudden pain on the outer aspect of the right ankle. Oh oh! I decided to just continue down even though it was quite painful and I figured I likely tore a small tendon or even sustained a small stress fracture. Such are the adventures of hiking long distances. I was able to keep up a good pace and we eventually ended up at the lovely hamlet of Finiels where the group insisted that we stop for refreshments. These French really know how to hike!
The rest of the way was a continued steep and rocky descent until we reached our destination of Pont de Montvert. It was an absolutely lovely village nestled amongst steep hillsides. I had to leave my French hiking mates as they were staying at a local Gite whereas I was staying at the small hotel on the opposite side of the river. However we made plans to meet up for an aperitif in the centre of town. Again, very civilized.
For your information, Stevenson climbed more or less the same route that we just completed. He apparently met carloads of pine trees en route, cut for the winter hearth. He woke during the night to enjoy half a cup of very cold water and a cigarette. He felt very refreshed and described the early morning as “a perfect hour of life”. This was apparently in contrast to his “night of horror” spent at Chasserades. He apparently left a few coins in the undergrowth in payment for his nights stay.
All in all, this was a very pleasant day despite the injury to the right foot. Ice and Naproxen will be in order tonight! Hopefully, it will be in good shape as tomorrow’s hike is the longest of the trek at 28 km and, as mentioned previously, the high temperature is supposed to be 37°C. Hopefully there will be no more glitches!
Chasserades to Le Bleymard. Fourth day of the hike. This was going to be another relatively short hike of only 15 km with a starting elevation of 1175 m climbing up to a maximum elevation of 1413 m at the Forestry Monument and then descending into Le Bleymard at 1068 m.
You may remember the interesting clouds I had commented on yesterday. I was sure we were going to get rain during the hike day yesterday but it never materialized. That is, until about two in the morning, when there was loud thunder and a downpour that would’ve made Noah take notice. I was quite happy the rain occurred during the night as next morning the weather was much cooler. All hikers from this location had to depart by no later than 9 AM because one leg of the Tour de France was coming by this actual village on its way towards La Bastide and the roads would be completely blocked by the local policemen. I was happy to get an early start but that said actually missed seeing the actual cyclists on the Tour de France. Perhaps next time!
I had a very nice breakfast and wished my French co-hikers all the best. They were actually traveling the same trail I was traveling but I preferred to get a head start to enjoy the hike on my own. There was actually a lineup at the small grocery store as I went to pick up my sandwich. I had to wait in line as the grocer insisted that it be made fresh which was fine by me.
Just after departing Chasserades, there was quite a descent from the village and then the splendid industrial work of art that is the Mirandol viaduct came into sight. Certainly worthy of a picture.
The next stretch was a very pleasant walk on a track through the beautiful and extensive Goulet Forest [which extends over 1250 hectares and varies between 850 and 1416 m altitude] and eventually past the ruins of Serremejan [which means “spring”]. The trail then gradually descended alongside the River Lot which was arguably the day’s highlight. I think it is really stretching it to call it a river.
I then passed through Les Alpiers and enjoyed the final descent to La Bleymard. My gosh! I was getting quicker and got into town by 12:15 PM. Thankfully my room at the La Remise was available. I grabbed my packed lunch and enjoyed it by a local park. I then walked into town to explore the very interesting architecture as well as the local church.
What an easy day and enjoyable afternoon. This allowed me to catch up on some blogging notes, picture processing and relaxing!
La Bastide to Chasserades. Third day of the hike. I stayed up quite late the previous night trying to get caught up on processing pictures and making notes for the blog. The hotel room was almost unbearably hot with very little airflow. Just lying there, I could feel the energy being sapped from me as I typed away on the computer. I eventually fell asleep at about midnight. Thankfully, I was able to sleep the entire night. It was going to be a relatively lazy morning. I did not have to catch the train until 10:24 AM. Unfortunately, I was so relaxed I forgot that my packed bag had to be dropped off by 8 AM. I was in the shower when I heard the phone ringing in my room. At that point, I had not figured out that I had not brought my bag down to be collected. I picked up the phone and heard a barrage of French but was able to pick out the word “baggage!”. I quickly towelled off, packed the bag and brought it downstairs. Numerous “pardons” were uttered.
I had a nice breakfast at the hotel and then made my way to the SNCF train station. No one was there so I just parked myself and enjoyed a break. Unbelievably, over the next one hour a barrage of passengers showed up. I couldn’t believe this small out-of-the-way train station would be fully packed. Perhaps this was the only train of the day. The train definitely arrived on time and left promptly at- you guessed it- 10:24 AM. Now that is service! The train ride to La Bastide was only 18 minutes. By the time I started my actual hike it was already 10:50 AM and the temperature was quickly rising. The initial part of the hike involved a long sustained climb of about 3.5 km. I took my time as it felt much hotter than it did yesterday. I got on top of a large plateau and then had a wide forest track to walk through. Very pleasant. The path took me through Gardille forest en route to the charming hamlet of Chabalier where there is a charming effigy of Robert Louis Stevenson and his trusty donkey Modastine. Very cute. The rest of this very short 12 km hike was very pleasant. I arrived at the charming hamlet of Chasserades at about 2:15 PM. As I was approaching Chasserades I noticed the most interesting cloud formations, a drop in temperature and threatening skies. It really looked like it was going to rain. I quickly made my way into the hamlet but the hotel that I was staying at did not open until 3 PM. I parked myself on the side of the road in the shade and had a great packed lunch. The rain thankfully never materialized. This was the earliest I had ever completed my hike day.
At 3 PM I was greeted by a very friendly French hostess and a fresh glass of fresh, homemade lemonade. Very refreshing! The hotel is very charming with uniquely inspired names and decor for each room. Mine was named “Cocoon”. How fitting! I had a very leisurely afternoon and explored the hamlet. The Saint-Blaise church located in the hamlet dates back to the 12th century and it’s bell tower has been completely restored. On the way into the town I noticed a strange looking brick tunnel. This covered gallery is built along the line of the Mirandol viaduct which is the largest work of art on the Mende-La Bastide “Trans-cevenol” line and stands at a height of 1215 m-second in France only to the trans-Pyrenean. The covered galleries are built along the line and are located in places with high wind exposure that would otherwise cause a build up of snow on the lines.
One interesting story about this hamlet is as follows-apparently Robert Louis Stevenson stayed the night here sleeping in a room with some French railway engineering surveyors working on the Mirandol viaduct. He stated “there were four beds in the little upstairs room; and we slept six- but I got the window open. Hey, Bourgeois, il est 5 heures! was the cry that awakened me in the morning”. The line they were building finally opened 24 years later.
This was going to be a most pleasant afternoon in this charming hamlet and the order of the day was to relax and re-energize after the previous two days of vigorous hiking. The food served at this bed and breakfast was plentiful and excellent. Everything was made that same day from local ingredients. It was a full house but I was the only English speaking guest. This was the first time on the Stevenson Trail that I had seen and visited with so many other fellow hikers. A few of the French guests had some rudimentary English phrases so we were able to communicate. Again, they were most gracious and inclusive.
Earlier in the afternoon I had stopped by the very small local grocery store [which I believe is owned by the bed and breakfast owner] to buy a few items for the hike the next day and also to order a sandwich to be prepared for the next morning. The fellow in the grocery store mentioned a free concert that evening in the Saint-Blaise church starting at 8 PM. Dinner at the bed and breakfast was served at 7:30 PM. Dinners in France are long affairs! I was hoping to get through the meal relatively quickly but this was not to be. All of a sudden the hostess-who had little to no command of English- felt the need to have a long conversation with me. It was quite comical, but again, endearing. Dinner finally wrapped up at 9:15 PM. I quickly walked up to the church and went inside and was greeted by a beautiful scene. An audience of about 30 people were seated in the pews and the inside of the church was lit only with candles and two small strobe lights at the front altar. The performers were two male French folk singers one of whom was playing a guitar and both provided vocals. They were apparently on a tour of old French churches along the Robert Louis Stevenson Trail for most of July 2015. What an experience! The temperature inside the church was cool and the acoustics were amazing. I allowed myself to be enveloped by the music. After listening to one song I grabbed my camera, which thankfully I brought along, and recorded some video. The performance ended by 10 PM and even though it was free I quickly ran down to the bed and breakfast to get my wallet to donate some money to the performers. They certainly deserved it. I finished off my evening with a most pleasant walk through the village and then finally retired to my “Cocoon” and fell asleep reflecting on the amazing experiences I had that day.
Le Bouchet to Pradelles and then Langogne. Second day of the hike. I awoke by 6 AM feeling surprisingly refreshed. I expected to be much more fatigued and sore. After an excellent breakfast I said my farewell to the owner [Jean-Pierre and Chantelle were clearly sleeping in and I did not get a chance to say my farewell to them] and proceeded on my way. The hike today would be approximately 25 km with a start elevation of 1218 m and a final elevation of 920 m. There was much less elevation gain today. The walking would be fairly flat on a high plateau to start. I would be walking between the Margeride and Mezzenc mountain ranges to the west and east respectively. I would be passing several pretty villages that have been affected badly by the rural exodus that commenced just before World War I and has continued to present day. I felt fantastic! Starting much earlier as the temperature was a much more reasonable 22°C and there was a nice wind was a great idea. I was able to stretch my legs and the kilometers just melted away. I quickly got to Landos where I purchased my lunch for the day. Usually, you could find a Boulanger open to provide freshly made snacks/baguette for lunch and a small supermarket to get fresh fruit and vegetables/cheese/meat for self made sandwiches. The food was of very high quality. Surprisingly, on the trail I saw very few fellow hikers but would see more when I stopped in the small villages. Clearly, most of the hikers were not doing the Robert Louis Stevenson trek. There were many other shorter hiking loops that they were likely doing as day hikes. As I found out from the innkeeper the night previous, the peak times for doing the Robert Louis Stevenson trek was May/June and September. The temperatures during these times were much more reasonable.
About halfway through the hike I had a lovely descent through the village of Arquejol and was presented with a lovely surprise of an aqueduct-a real work of industrial architecture- but, sadly no longer in use. The rest of the way was exceedingly pleasant and I must say the 2 km descent from the high point to Pradelles was heavenly. I walked through the fields of brilliant purple flowers and farmers fields and then descended without effort into the lovely, historic village of Pradelles. This ancient “castrum” or fortified market town is mentioned in records dating back to 1043. Its strategic location at the crossroads of ancient trading routes helped spur its growth. Pradelles lies on the path of the Saint-Gilles Way [Regordane]-Christendom’s fourth most important pilgrimage route in the early Middle Pages. It later became a small mountain capital in Viverais of both administrative/legal and ecclesiastical importance. In the town is located Notre-Dame Chapel, dating from 1623, with the retirement home next door, the former hospice from the Middle Ages.
I was thrilled that I had arrived at approximately 1:30 PM. I thought my day was done. When I looked at the name of the hotel that I was staying in for this evening I was shocked to discover it was in Langogne. This town is located an additional 7 km from Pradelles! The temperature was starting to get up to 32°C. I should have more closely reviewed my itinerary before I left. Most of the route descriptions are broken down per day and I had only packed the Le Bouchet to Pradelles notes. Therefore, I did not have a route description to get to Langogne on the GR 70, this meant I would have to walk on the hot tarmac!
I grudgingly started walking towards Langogne on the road. Thankfully, the route was a steady descent. About 1 km down I saw a side trail which appeared to be going in the general direction that I was heading. I decided to take it in order to get off the tarmac. Initially, it was a good choice. However, as I continued I started to notice it was heading off in a direction not matching the highway. I really didn’t know where it would go and there were so many trails in the area I thought I would probably just get lost. I simply hopped off the trail and did some bushwhacking to get back to the highway [I had to jump a couple of barbed wire fences so I think I was actually trespassing on farmer’s property].
I would just have to accept that the tarmac was the most direct route to get to where I needed to go. Of course, halfway down I ran out of water. I simply put the afterburners on and thankfully arrived at my destination at about 3:30 PM. The only glitch was that I had developed a blister on the bottom of the right forefoot. I was wearing hiking socks thinking this would provide additional cushioning in my trainers but I would have to switch to my trusty black running socks which thankfully I brought along.
I found my hotel quite easily and had a nice leisurely walk around this historic town. Langogne was a large market town. It was formally a fortified and walled town and has approximately 1000 years of history behind it. It was continually attacked by the English during the 100 years war of the 14th century, and in 1568 during the Wars of Religion it was ransacked by a Huguenot army of 9000 from Ales. The ramparts no longer exist and the town was rebuilt around 1600 with the Roman architecture being replaced by a more flamboyant Gothic style. Langogne is located at the junction of three departments- Lozere, Haute-Loire and Ardeche-and three regions: Languedob-Roussillon, Auvergne and Rhone-Alps. It lies in the Eastern Lozere a department that has two points of repute: the highest average altitude in France and the smallest population at just under 74,500 people or 15 people per square mile.
I had a nice walk around town before enjoying my meal and then settling down to catch up on some blogging and processing of pictures. I was going to have a relatively leisurely start the next morning as I had to catch a train from Langogne to La Bastide at 10:24 AM [yes, you read that right 10:24 AM, not 10:25 AM] in order to start my hike the next day in La Bastide. It was only going to be 15 km. It was nice to have a shorter distance. This time I bought extra water to supplement my 2L water reservoir that I carry in my backpack. Hard lesson learned twice!
Le Monastier to Le Bouchet. First day of the hike. I awoke quite refreshed in Le Puy. After a relatively substantial breakfast, I was picked up by my taxi driver to be taken to the monastery about 25 minutes away. This would be the start point for my first day. I was provided with a day by day set of extensive and detailed directions so I would not get lost….hopefully! The directions did require some interpretation but were quite clear overall. I was quite careful and initially double checked every turn just to make sure I did not make a mistake. The weather was going to be hot today. The distance to be covered today was approximately 21 km. There was going to be a couple of steep ascents as well as descents. I started at 933 m and ended at 1213 m.
Robert Louis Stevenson stayed one month in Le Monastier. At that time, the town was full of lace makers selling their wares on street corners. The town’s history is intimately linked to the foundation of the fifth century Benedictine Abbey that had an importance at the level of Le Midi itself. In 732, it’s Abbott was killed by the Sarrasins. The Abbey is considered one of Velay’s major works of Roman architecture. Robert Lewis Stevenson began his 230 km trek here. He spent his first night at Le Bouchet Saint Nicholas.
The highlight of this day was descending into the Loire Valley and then ascending up the opposite side. The Loire is France’s longest river at 1012 km with its source in Ardeche to the southeast. Stevenson had lunch at the Hotel de la Loire [called the Hotel Senac at the time] which I passed at the bottom of the valley. Interestingly, Regis Senac emigrated to the USA in 1872 and participated in the American Fencing Championships in New York four years later. He opened a school to train elite American fencing corps and wrote a book on fencing still found in the Congress library. Apparently, Modestine [Robert Louis Stevenson’s donkey] encountered a male donkey near here and Stevenson was forced to “stamp out the nascent romance”. The incident saddened him, reminding him of his estranged American lover.
I was doing quite well and had lunch by a nearby stream. The weather continued to get hotter. I checked my thermometer which registered 37°C! The next section was all uphill and I knew I was going to pay for it. The next 11 km were tough. I was sweating buckets. I budgeted 2 L of water but ran out with 5 km to go. I was starting to slow down and my hiking boots [new… I know!] were really bothering my feet. The last 3 km seemed like 30 km!. I eventually reached my bed-and-breakfast which was completely empty except for me. The owner only spoke a little bit of English. However, over dinner we carried on a conversation for about an hour and a half!. What a nice fellow. He prepared an absolutely wonderful dinner which was preceded by an aperitif of white wine and chestnut. This went down very well. The quality of the food was excellent. Suddenly, two more guests arrived Jean Pierre and Chantelle. As I found out later, they were traveling by car and doing day hikes to complete a section of the complete French Camino trail. They expected it would take six years of their three-week holidays to complete. We then proceeded to chat into the evening even though I was quite exhausted. I was hoping to go to bed early but Chantelle wanted to show me absolutely every picture she and her husband had taken over the last three days!. She was so sweet and passionate about what she had seen that I simply made a choice to stay up until her iPad [thankfully] ran out of power. I finally got to sleep at about 11:30 PM. The room was basic but very comfortable. The owner even accommodated me by serving my breakfast at 7 AM the next morning so I could get an early start. I also decided that evening that hiking boots were not required for this trek. The ground conditions were dry and could certainly be handled by my trainers which I’m very happy I brought along.