Chemin de Stevenson (GR70)

Length — 225km: walked 1987/89

It is over twenty years since I last set foot on this route: it was on a one-day there-and-back-again to the 1700m summit of Mont Lozère. Half-way up from Le Bleymard, I stopped at an out-of-season ski station for a mid-morning chocolat chaud, and that’s when I noticed the natty GR70 topoguide on the bar. I’d completed the course on two previous walks, before it became a registered national route.

Back in the 1980s, I had time on my hands in Edinburgh, and returned to the works of Robert Louis Stevenson (last endured in childhood, now a great favourite). With the help of Edinburgh’s museum service, I managed to find a fold-out leaflet giving a sketchy route for his Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes, a journey he undertook to forget about the lady who would later become his wife. I transferred the route onto the local maps with, to borrow a phrase from the book, “more goodwill than grace”. My route, it turned out, only deviated from the eventual GR70 in very small measure.

I have no pictures extant from my traverse, save those in my mind: the transparencies have faded into the past. The route comes out at about 225km: perhaps a little shorter than Offa’s Dyke Path, but at about the same level of challenge. It crosses the Massif Central from Le Monastier sur Gazeille (with an optional prologue from Le Puy: this is a literary pilgrimage rather than the Camino to Santiago), passing through Langogne and Florac to St Jean du Gard, crossing some mountainous countryside en route. My memories include downpours and drought, fields and fells, the unstinting friendliness of the locals … and even a night sleeping under the stars when the inns of Florac were full of coach-parties.

The website of the Association sur le Chemin de Robert Louis Stevenson is a fine resource. The invaluable topoguide is available from FFRandonnée. Naturally, these two resources are written in French.

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