SATURDAY 15TH DECEMBER 2012.
LE COLLET-DE-DEZE to CHASSERADES
My day started with cooking porridge at the back of the car. I decided to do so as it was a cold morning and continental breakfasts are not real warming or sustaining. Bev didn’t join me preferring to have croissants in the dining room of the hotel.
Whilst doing a brew-up this beautiful bird came and watched me. Had I not done breakfast outside I would have missed meeting this chap!
Like other villages in the Cevennes the village of Le Collet-de-Deze had a lot of hidden treasures. The following images show what I mean.
Some might think this is no treasure but I think it is. The steel spike was shaped to accept the rafter then a hole drilled into the wall and the spike inserted. To hold the rafter in position a wire hitch was wrapped around the spike and pole rafter.
Another crafty piece of blacksmith work. A piece of flat steel bar has been split and curved outwards to form sharp lance shapes. The piece was then set into the window sill and jamb. In countries less historically aware a pressed aluminium screen would cover the whole window, which would be nowhere as visually pleasing.
It’s hard to imagine the history of this window. I think it may have been a doorway once, but then again, maybe not as the sill seems to have been part of the original structure. Also I am trying to imagine how the sill was damaged and what purpose did the two square holes in the wall to the right of the window play. Were they putlog holes? Holes in walls in which logs were placed were actually called ‘putlog holes’.
Even though the morning was cold and damp the lady of this house had the bedding out airing even though there was no sun. I reckon it was about three degrees and 100% humidity so very little airing was happening.
After leaving Le Collet-de-Deze our next stop was at Cassagnas, a small village on the road to Florac. There was only one smoking chimney in the village so I assumed it was basically deserted. Apparently these days there are few permanent residents in the villages along the RLS trail through winter, they are mostly summer holiday destinations.
In the water world there seems to be a consensus that a creek runs intermittently and has no tributaries, a brook is a permanent slow running water body usually fed by a spring and a rivulet is simply a stream. Then there are becks, burns, streamlets, rills and runs. A river is a body of water confined between banks into which run all the waterways mentioned above.
How simple life must have been in days gone-by… no washing machines, simply front up to the tub, rub away and indulge in social intercourse with a neighbour at the same time.
I fell in tune with the RLS theme and decided we have to come back one day and walk more of the trail.
Next stop from Cassagnas was St Julien d’Arpaon. The road follows the valleys and gorges and there are very spectacular views.
One view from the road was a ruined castle so we decided to stop, have a cuppa and work out the best way of getting there (photo below).
St Julien d’Arpaon castle was built in the 12th Century and abandoned at the time of the French Revolution (1789-1799). The road sign leading up to the ruins indicated it was dangerous and difficult but we had to go. The road turned out to be not so difficult. We left the car in a small car park and walked the last three hundred metres to the ruins.
It’s difficult to imagine the extent of the castle in its heyday as since it was abandoned local house builders have helped themselves to much of the rock in the walls.
Care was needed when walking around these ruins as rocks overhead balance precariously and sinkholes (similar to abandoned mine shafts) drop down into cellars and most likely the castle dungeon below.
The breeding of doves/pigeons was a very common event as they provided a valuable source of meat for the table. The advantage of raising pigeons was you didn’t have to feed them as they flew out each day and fed on neighbouring farmers’ field crops, meaning you were actually getting something for nothing.
From a distance the outside of the church looked in reasonable condition so I thought a visit would be worthwhile. To my surprise the interior was in total ruin.
Many people, like Robert Louis Stevenson, came to the Cevennes to think, walk and attempt to understand its complex religious history and when I stood in the church looking at the decay I too started thinking about the religious conflict of the Cevennes centuries ago. I wondered if the ruins were a result of conflict or was it a simple case of population decline.
The church was obviously a Catholic establishment as they regard confession to a priest as customary. It appears to me that the priest sat in the middle cubicle as there was a sliding door to the left and right. Also of interest are the armrests where the priest sat. The confessors didn’t have the luxury of an armrest. I’m guessing the reason for two confessor cubicles was there was no delay between confessions and no two confessors actually saw each other, as when the second confessor arrived he/she didn’t see who was in already making a confession. The reverse applied when leaving.
Stevenson would have passed within twenty metres of the church (assuming the route markers are in the right place) and he may even have gone in as we did today.
The RLS trail is one of many long distance-walking paths in France called grandes randonnees (literally meaning ‘big walks’), commonly abbreviated to GR. There are at least 48 000 kilometres of paths in France and the network is still expanding. The RLS Trail, Chemin de Stevenson, has been designated the GR70.
After leaving St Julien de Arpaon we headed for Florac, a larger town on the RLS trail. It is at the crossroads of three geological units: the shale of the Cevennes, granite Mount Lozere and the limestone plateaux. Consequently it is situated in a very spectacular landscape. In fact the whole trip so far has been full of spectacular landscapes!
A close up of the windows shows sandstone lintels, jambs and sills. When you look at the windows closely you will see there are two, one shutter open and one closed. I love the texture of the wooden shutters, particularly the one on the right.
From Florac the road to Le-Pont-de-Montvert was narrow and wound upwards through the narrow Tarn River gorge. There is belief that tarn means ‘rapid’ or ‘walled in’, both these suggestions apply as water was fair thundering through narrow gorges is many places.
The above is a cascade as the water is flowing over an irregular surface. A cataract is similar to a cascade but has large more powerful flows of water and a waterfall is simply water falling. So the above is a cascade waterfall.
The bridge was built in the 17th century and it was one of the few we have seen with a defensive tower attached. This is the bridge on the dust jacket of the book Travels With a Donkey in the Cevennes.
Some historians believe the War of the Camisards started at Le-Pont-de-Montvert. The brutal Catholic governor of the district delighted in the torture of Protestant prisoners in the cellar of his house here. In 1702 a gang of about fifty locals set out to free these captives and murdered the governor thus triggering the uprising. The leader of the killing was caught within a few days and his right hand was severed before being burnt alive. From then on Catholic churches were destroyed and priests murdered. Maybe the church we looked into at St Julien d’ Arpaon (the one with the confessionals) was one of them.
After showing this gentleman the map and the route we intended taking from Le Pont-de-Montvert he was, we think, worried that the road would be impassable due to icy conditions and we could easily come to grief.
From what I could gather this gentleman either fought alongside Australian soldiers during WW2 or knew of Australia’s involvement in the liberation of France.
What thrills me about the villages along the RLS Trail is the domestic architecture. Up until the 18th century builders used mostly local materials and it is this aspect that makes every village different. The trail passes through sandstone, granite, basalt, schist, slate, shale and mudstone country, all of which make for interesting architectural features when used as building mediums.
The road at the beginning of the journey from Le Pont-de-Montvert to Le Bleymard (the next town on the trail) did cause us some apprehension as even though the café owner said the road was open we knew that at some point between the two towns we were going to pass near the highest point at Mount Lozere (1699m) and the road could well be icy.
If you are lost it is possible to determine north from south by examining which side the lichens grow on the trunk of a tree. They are denser on the northern side of a tree trunk in the northern hemisphere and the reverse applies in the southern hemisphere. Bark is usually thicker on the cold side of a tree and the tree canopy is usually heavier on the sunny side of a tree as well. There are many examples where nature can be your guide.
Stevenson wrote of this area: ‘An ill-marked stony drove-road guided me forward; and I met nearly a half-a-dozen bullock carts descending from the woods, each laden with a whole pine-tree for winter’s firing. At the top of the woods, which do not climb very high upon this cold ridge, I struck leftward by a path among the pines….’
Stevenson again: ‘…until I hit a dell of green turf where a streamlet made a little spout over some stones to serve me for a water-tap. The trees were not old, but they grew thickly round the glade; there was no outlook, except north-eastward upon distant hill-tops, or straight upward to the sky; and the encampment felt secure and private like a room’.
In our travels we have had the very same feelings on many occasions and this is why we camp free whenever we can.
The trip across the Cevennes today was without event as fortunately a snowplough had been through earlier in the day and cleared the road of snow. Continuing northeast the next town on our must visit list was Le Bleymard.
There is a lot of detail in this photograph, ie, what appears to be a door (the blue one) is probably shutters covering a full length window, the ridge slates are actually keyed into each other and the two steel bars (left) above the gutter are to hold snow back.
What fascinates me about this house is the different window and door shapes, the dormer window, the clam shell roof above the dormer window and of course the wonky chimneys. Note the front door configuration, it has been cut into the corner of the building forming a covered vestibule in the form of a half Gothic arch.
The pieces of slate projecting from the wall are called drip-stones. The purpose is to deflect water running down the wall from entering the joint where the lower roof joins the wall. These days a squirt of silicon sealer would seal the joint and no drip-stones would be required.
With this chimney I suspect the drip-stones came first then the lead flashing was installed later. It’s a very neat chimney top with a rock on top holding the top plate down.
It was getting late by the time we left Le Bleymard. Had we been able to find accommodation there we would have stayed. We had no alternative but to push on to Chasserades where we hoped to find an inn or hotel to camp the night.
Chasserades was absolutely deserted when we arrived and finding somewhere to stay didn’t look very promising, however we found a man hanging Christmas decorations and asked him if there was somewhere we could stay the night. He was very obliging and immediately got on his mobile and rang the Relais de Modestine B&B. Modestine was the name of Robert Louis Stevenson’s donkey.
Our accommodation tonight is very commodious and our evening meal was typical of the area…lentil soup and baked rabbit followed by apple pie and custard cream.
The owners of the B&B rely heavily on RLS Trail walkers and so the dining room interior had an array of RLS material on the walls.
These days it is possible to hire a donkey and have it carry your gear. I have read that it is best to hire a donkey in the south, have it trucked to your north start point and then the donkey is much more cooperative as it knows it is walking in the direction of home. Stevenson didn’t do this and by his own admission he treated Modestine abominably in order to keep her moving.
As I lay warm and secure in our hotel bower I remembered that I had in my notes a copy of Stevenson’s writing describing what it is like to sleep in a field rather than under a roof.
‘Night is a dead monotonous period under a roof; but in the open world it passes lightly, with its stars and dews and perfumes, and the hours marked by changes in the face of Nature. What seems like a kind of temporal death to people choked between walls and curtains, is only a light and living slumber to a man who sleeps afield. All night long he can hear nature breathing deeply and freely; even as she takes her rest, she turns and smiles; and there is one stirring hour unknown to those who dwell in houses….’
I have come to the conclusion that our greatest joy when travelling is to find the things others do not see and to feel what others fail to feel.