Thursday, 3 June 2004
Distance 26 km
Duration 5 hours 25 minutes
Ascent 188 m, descent 538 m
Map 59 in the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
Topoguide (Ref. 700) le Chemin de Stevenson
We had a relatively luxurious morning, with fruit and yoghurt enlivening our spartan muesli, and then showers, as the water had warmed up overnight.
We could have paid for this pleasant stay by following Robert Louis’ example and casting some coins onto the grass, as he did on the side of Mt Lozère, but in the event we just wandered out past the empty reception.
Picking up some bread and pains aux raisins at the boulangerie on the corner, we crossed the bridge to take our morning coffee and pastries at the old bar.
It boasted of being 100 years old in 2002, which made it far too young to have served the needs of our literary guide, but it was lovely nevertheless and seemed to convey the atmosphere of his time.
Presently we set off, not on the GR, which was doing strange contortions in the high hills, but down the valley road, the way Robert Louis had gone. My blistered heels were feeling much better, perhaps because of the downhill gradient, and we flew along in a beautiful chestnut forest, with the Tarn tumbling far below us over whitened slabs of stone. There was hardly a car on the road, but our British cycling friends from last night came sailing past, having barely turned a pedal. We promised to meet at Florac but we never did.
The descent was rapid and sometimes the road embankment jutted out from the slope, overhanging the steep fields. We saw a little old woman with coils of white hair over her ears emerge from her cottage, almost vertically below the roadside, and into her lettuce patch. She did not seem worried by the thought of a car landing on her roof.
By the time we got to the tall château of Miral, I was wilting and one foot was aching from walking too much on the left camber of the road. So it was delightful to arrive at the elegant hotel of Cocurès, with its long porch flanking the road.
We drank our coffee, served in dainty cups, on the porch instead of indoors, in deference to others’ sensibilities, as we had removed our boots. Across the road was a walled orchard set out as a dining area for summer visitors. It looked charming but we noticed that the menu was very expensive.
The rest of the descent was easily accomplished. We joined the GR as it came down to the river at Bédouès, and carried on past a series of camping grounds until we met the large tributary, the Tarnon, where the town of Florac lies, squeezed thin between bulging cliffs and the river.
It was lunch time, which meant that all the shops were closed and so were the Office of Tourism and the National Parks office.
We trudged the length of the place, as we had decided to stay at the camping ground at the southern end of the town, which seemed to be the best place for our onward journey.
As it turned out, this was the only one that was closed, with the usual depressing signs of dead grass and litter. We were homeless, foodless and fading fast, so the only thing to do was to go back to the tree-shaded double street full of cafés, and sit down for a couple of pizzas, a most enjoyable little meal.
With vigour renewed, we visited the Office of Tourism, where the staff seemed astonished that we were asking about walking tracks, although Florac is on one of the most popular walking routes in the country. The National Park office was little better, but we got some brochures that we found useful.
Passing by the lovely spilling cascade, we went back to the nearest of the camping grounds at the northern end, where there was quite a bustle of people, including the novelty of someone on the desk. The showers were tepid, as we have come to expect.
Most French camping grounds have push-button showers with a timed cut-off and no temperature control, and they are often barely distinguishable from cold. These ones were certainly refreshing, and so was the little nap we had afterwards.
In the evening, with our feet in sandals, we retraced our steps over the bridge to the arcade of plane trees and chose a bar for our apéritifs. As we sipped our pastis and rosé, we watched the news on TV for the first time in weeks.
The main item was that George Bush was coming to France for D-Day celebrations. On the way to dinner we saw an internet cafe that was about to close. We just had time to send a very short email.
At a pleasant outdoor table, Keith had a fat local sausage with a mountain of green beans laced with garlic, and I had a Poulet Basquaise with ratatouille, both washed down with the customary half-litre of red.
According to Robert Louis, the women of Florac are famous for their beauty, but we saw a lot of coarse-faced, mannish women there. Tastes may have changed, or the women have, it is difficult to say.