Monday, 31 May 2004
Distance 22 km
Duration 5 hours 5 minutes
Ascent 482 m, descent 371 m
Map 59 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
Topoguide (ref. 700) Le Chemin de Stevenson
After Langogne we would be leaving the Velay and entering the Gévaudan, even wilder country, notorious for the great wolf that had terrorised the people there in the eighteenth century.
Because of my foolish loss of a trouser leg, we needed to find a clothes shop before setting off, which was not going to be easy on a long weekend. Otherwise I would be walking through the high country with the tent wrapped around my legs like a skirt.
We packed with our usual speed and as I lifted my bedroll I saw a scrap of cloth lying beneath it – my missing trouser leg! Great jubilation and relief.
On the way into town we took a short-cut through an area of vegetable plots, lovingly tended by people having a day off. The weather was far from hot and we had only a short way to go, so we treated ourselves to coffee near the halle. I was suffering badly from blisters, but I felt happy because of the trouser leg.
The first part of the walk out of town was hard and I fell behind, but then the pain seemed to fade and I was able to step out again.
Instead of following the route of Robert Louis (who surely must have been lost), we took a short-cut along the ridge on a small road, leaving the GR to dip across the valley in the direction of Saint-Flour-de-Mercoire.
One of the mouldering hamlets we passed through, le Choisinès, had a strange ruined piece of wall jutting out of the brambles, and we later found out that the lords of le Choisinès were one of the most powerful families in the region, with castles and domains stretching to Luc and beyond.
They, with many other nobles, were victims of Cardinal Richelieu’s demolitions.
At les Pradels we rejoined the GR70 and went along it on a grassy path into the forest, where a little lake lay like a jewel amongst the pines, with seats and a jetty.
Not long afterwards we plunged down, crossing and recrossing the road, into the valley of the Allier at Luc.
The ruins of the château were on a green knoll above the village. It had been the centre of power on this part of the Allier and had consequently been destroyed on the orders of Richelieu.
There were remnants of walls, a dormitory and the keep, the latter topped by a vulgar white Madonna that was being erected when Robert Louis came past.
The grass beside the inner wall provided an atmospheric lunch spot and we felt that a knife blade plunged anywhere into the turf would strike the bone of a dead soldier.
The actual village had no attributes worth mentioning, except a bar down on the main road in the wrong direction, so we kept going.
For a brief period we were on the ancient pilgrim and trade route known as the Régordane, which joined northern Europe with Saint-Gilles and the Mediterranean through the high country.
We crossed the river on a stone bridge and in so doing, entered the department of Ardèche for the first time in our lives.
After Rogleton we forsook the GR, which seemed tortuous, and took the river road, but it was a mistake, as the road was surprisingly busy.
It was a joy to arrive at la Bastide, our destination for the day, but that joy was severely tempered when we saw the sign “Camping 3 km”. It was time to rethink, and rethinking is best done at a bar.
This excellent little town had two of them face to face, so we chose the shadier one, attached to a hotel, and were served by a very small man with waxed silver moustaches and a merry smile.
We were weighing up the competing attractions of walking the three kilometres or trying the nearby gîte, when we noticed a sign on the wall advertising a room and a shower for €28. We suddenly and unanimously decided to take it, to the delight of our tiny host and his large, well-upholstered wife.
The room overlooked the street and was as clean as a pin. We had scalding hot showers and then slept for two hours in the almost forgotten luxury of a real bed.
When we descended for apéritifs, our elfin host, now wearing white high-heeled clogs, was helping his wife fold a basket of sheets – tough, sunshine-smelling white sheets of the sort that we had just been lying in. The only other guests at the bar were a dessicated couple on a driving tour.
A woman walked in and asked for a room with two beds, one for her and one for her dogs, and was quickly sent out the door again.
In the old-fashioned dining room, we chose the €13 menu. You get a lot for €13 in the provinces. We started with salads, then I had a steak and Keith had sausage and lentils (we were still in the land of the lentil, although its centre is at le Puy).
The delicious sausage was the creation of the butcher next door and included young cabbage from his garden. Thirdly we had little white cheeses adorned with red fruits and we finished with crème caramel.