Friday, 4 June 2004
Distance 16 km
Duration 4 hours 5 minutes
Ascent 634 m, descent 144 m
Map 59 in the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
We had decided to leave Robert Louis to his rambling and head south. It was a long crossing with no villages until l’Esperou, on the far side of Mt Aigoual, so accommodation would be difficult. Before we set off in the morning, I rang the gîte at l’Hospitalet, which did not answer, then the one at Aire de Côte, at the foot of Mt Aigoual, and was told that they were booked out for the following night.
As we walked into town for our second breakfast, I found I was once again crippled by blisters. It was all I could do to creep crabwise to the avenue of cafés. Over coffee and pastries, we agonised about whether to press on southwards, finish the Stevenson walk, or call the whole thing off. The indecision was the worst part of it.
In desperation I rang l’Hospitalet again and spoke to a woman who agreed that we could eat there tonight and pitch our tent next to the gîte. This gave us our first night’s accommodation and we decided to give it a go. My blisters were still bad, but not as excruciating as they had been earlier, so we made reasonable progress.
There was a long stage on a dirt road rising above the Tarnon, then a series of steeper and steeper tracks until we gained the plateau. We had re-entered the National Park of the Cévennes, having left it briefly at Florac, but this part had none of the wild beauty of Mt Lozère or the Tarn valley.
Bare fields, fences, occasional houses and a tar road with telegraph poles were the elements of this landscape. After three hours, we paused for lunch under a pine tree, beside a flowering bush that looked suspiciously like a noxious weed to Australian eyes.
From there it was only a few kilometres to the gîte at l’Hospitalet. An isolated stone building, ravaged by time, housed both the gîte and the hotel. The sign hung faded and crooked from its post, the yard was a weedy wasteland and nobody was about.
Stepping into the dark bar, we discerned a woman and I introduced myself as the person who had telephoned about camping. The only other occupant of the room was a paunchy old fellow reading the paper.
We sat down for coffee and as our eyes adjusted to the gloom, we saw that our hostess was a stoop-shouldered, lank-haired, shifty-eyed young woman, seemingly the wife or daughter of the fossil in the chair.
When we asked about showers, he suddenly began shouting “Only with a room! Not with camping!” The woman shouted back with a will and led us firmly upstairs where we had the finest, hottest showers we had had for weeks. She had no idea what to charge us for this so I suggested €6, which seemed to satisfy her.
Outside in the sorry, neglected yard, we began pitching our tent, when the old man waddled out and began shouting again “No camping! No camping!”, shooing us with his hands.
We obliged him only to the extent of moving to the far end of the yard, which we suspected would have been a car park if there had been any guests. The shouting continued during the afternoon while we rested, probably centered on the rights and wrongs of our camping. Looking back, we probably should have left them to it and struggled on to the next gîte, but the blister problem held us back.
In the evening we presented ourselves at the bar again. The TV was absorbing the attention of the angry old man and the woman had a customer – a skinny, broken-toothed local man, whose charms, while invisible to us, caused our hostess to simper and giggle. Good luck to her, poor girl. God knows what sort of family hatreds were festering in that house of horrors. We beamed encouragingly at her at every opportunity.
Protected by the television, we had a surprisingly good meal cooked by the woman – a ham and tomato dish to begin, then steak with little squares of potato, then cheese and icecream. The wine was “Cuvée de l’Hospitalet”, bottled especially for this derelict dump, presumably in happier times.
During the night, we almost expected to be murdered in our tent, or to hear a murder being committed in the house. The ground was lumpy and we spent an uncomfortable night.