Cevennes, France. Chasserades to Le Puy

SUNDAY 16TH DECEMBER 2012.

CHASSERADES to LE PUY.

1 map

Sunrise from our bedroom window in the Relais de Modestine hotel.

Sunrise from our B & B bedroom window in Le Relais de Modestine, Chasserades.

The carpark early this morning. Our Fiat is on the right.

The carpark early this morning. Our Fiat is on the right.

No matter where I park I always point out because if it rains overnight and there is a chance of getting bogged it is always easier to drive out forward. In this case, if the car park turned to ice I would rather be going forward in an attempt to get traction.

Our dinner, bed and breakfast stay in Le Relais de Modestine  last night was very satisfactory, especially when considering we were bordering on sleeping in the car.

There was a complication this morning with payment of the bill. Bev was going to pay with the card but there were no card facilities and we were a few euros short so it meant a drive twenty kilometres to the nearest large town (Langogne) to access a ‘hole in the wall’.  This sounds easy enough but the road was icy in parts and on a couple of occasions it was down to a first gear crawl.  Part way along the road there was a sign which said ‘Road Open With Special Equipment’. I assume that meant snow chains or studded tyres. However we kept poking on and made it through safely and got the cash.

On the icy road to the hole in the wall.

On the icy road to the hole in the wall.

With cash in hand we returned to Chasserades, finalised the bill and took a walk around the village. We found a couple of RLS track markers and, as usual, other things of interest.

Fancy bit of ridgecapping work.

Fancy bit of ridgecapping work.

A well-engineered timber cartport.

A well-engineered timber cartport.

Special edition short wheelbase Landrover.

Special edition short wheelbase Landrover.

Back in the 1960s the most common 4WD available was a Landover even though they had a lot of misgivings with heavy suspension and steering. But, prone to breaking axles, they got you there.  Unfortunately they were in short supply and when it came to building the Snowy Mountains scheme where a lot of 4WDs were required, Thiess, the construction company imported a number of Toyota Landcruisers (Japanese Jeeps we called them) and once they became known 4WD enthusiasts turned to Toyotas.  Toyota now dominates the 4WD market in Australia.  Aboriginal people have even included them in their dreaming!  However I still like the look of the boxy Landrovers like the one shown here.  This one, with independent suspension, diesel motor, power steering, air conditioning and all the other attributes of a modern 4WD, would be a pleasure to drive.  Landrovers are the only cars I know that have an aluminium body.  The aluminium body came about after WW2 when Landrover was developed and there were a lot of aluminium warplanes lying around in England, so it was an obvious choice to use them in car bodies.

Off on the early morning constitutional along the RLS Trail.

Off on an early morning constitutional along the RLS Trail.

Trail sign in Chasserades

Trail sign in Chasserades

After the walk it was back a couple of kilometres to Mirandol to get a close look at the village and the monumental stone railway viaduct.

Circular arch railway viaduct at Mirandol. The viaduct is actually built over the village.

Circular arch railway viaduct at Mirandol. The viaduct is actually built over the village.

The viaduct was commenced some time prior to 1878 and opened in1902. In those times there was limited lifting technology or machines for handling heavy chunks of rock and stone infill.  If I had the opportunity to offside to Dr Who the time traveller, I would have him take me to the Mirandol Viaduct during the time it was being built as it would be an amazing sight to see.

The viaduct, towering over the village and rivulet.

The viaduct, towering over the village and rivulet.

Looking straight up at the under the arch (soffit). I wouldn’t fancy this over the top of my house, not that I think the bridge would collapse but, you never know, a train could derail.

Looking straight up at the under the arch (soffit). I wouldn’t fancy this over the top of my house, not that I think the bridge would collapse but, you never know, a train could derail.

Close up of the viaduct stonework.

Close up of the viaduct stonework.

The stonemasons who built this bridge were more than just skilful as they managed to mesh pentagons (5 sided) and hexagonal (6 sided) stones together as if they were of equal sides. An amazing achievement when you consider the size of the bridge. This bridge should be classified as an engineering wonder of the world.

Remarkable stonework.

Remarkable stonework.

At the base of the viaduct was a memorial stone inscribed (as best we could translate) with a dedication to four workers who died after falling to their death during the viaduct’s construction.

At the time of construction Robert Louis Stevenson met with some of the engineers who were building the viaduct.

The village of Mirandol. Every village has a guardian dog. Above the blue car the village guardian was sitting on a wall.

The village of Mirandol. Every village has a guardian dog. Above the blue car the village guardian was sitting on a wall.

The guardian of Mirandol.

The guardian of Mirandol.

A wintery view in Mirandol.

A wintery view in Mirandol.

From Mirandol it was back along the road in the direction of Langogne but this time we called at Luc village, another RLS port of call. Luc’s claim to fame is the ruins of a castle which overlooks the town.  By accident we found the pathway out of the village to the chateau/castle, so in the very footsteps of RLS we climbed to the top.  In his journal there is reference to the fact he passed in front of the castle. We both felt chuffed about the fact that we actually walked on the same track as he did in 1878.

Track up to Luc Castle

Track up to Luc Castle

White Madonna keeping watch over the ruins of the Chateau de Luc.

White Madonna keeping watch over the ruins of the Chateau de Luc.

I’m not sure who this personality is but being a sculptor I appreciate the craftsmanship involved in its making.

I’m not sure who this personality is but being a sculptor I appreciate the craftsmanship involved in its making.

In 1878 Luc parishioners converted the old chateau dungeon to a chapel and erected the statue of the Madonna on the terrace above and placed the figure above at the entrance.

Madonna.

Madonna.

Following are a few images of the chateau ruins and the surrounds.

Bird’s eye view of Luc from the White Madonna’s feet.

Bird’s eye view of Luc from the White Madonna’s feet.

Stevenson was not impressed with Luc:  ‘Why anyone should desire to visit Luc or Cheylard is more than my much-inventing spirit can suppose.  Luc itself was a straggling double file of houses wedged between hill and river.  It had no beauty, nor was there any notable feature, save the old castle overhead with its fifty quintals of brand-new Madonna’.     A quintal is an old unit of mass and assuming Stevenson was referring to an English quintal the Madonna weighs approximately 2500kg.

Hole in the chateau wall.

Hole in the chateau wall.

Precarious balancing rock in the chateau wall, not a good place to sit for a rest.

Precarious balancing rock in the chateau wall, not a good place to sit for a rest.

Crack in the wall.

Crack in the wall.

The crack here is due to poor workmanship.  If you look closely it’s easy to see that the stones were not laid in a running staggered pattern, had they been it is unlikely the wall would have cracked.

22a Luc castle herringbone bricks

Herringbone pattern wall

This wall is not likely to crack as not only is this pattern very aesthetically pleasing it is structurally very sound.

The castle well behind the kitchen.

The castle well behind the kitchen.

In front of me, although it’s hard to see, is a small window and when a bucket of water was drawn from the well (the circular hole beneath my feet) it was passed through the hole to the workers inside the kitchen.  Neat idea, it saved the cook’s helpers staggering around to the entrance of the kitchen on the far side with full buckets.

Coming down from the chateau in the footsteps of Stevenson

Coming down from the chateau in the footsteps of Stevenson

Back in Luc we found many little things that took our fancy.

A Luc loo. The small hole in the wall was probably where the candle was placed when in the loo at night.

A Luc loo. The small hole in the wall was probably where the candle was placed when in the loo at night.

A squeeze stile.

A squeeze stile.

 Squeeze stiles are gaps that are narrow enough to keep stock from passing through but wide enough to let humans squeeze though sideways.  Normally they didn’t have a gate.

From Luc we passed through Langogne (the ‘hole in the wall’ town) and onto Pradelles where we thought we might get something to eat.  On a Sunday there is not much open in the towns, no supermarket and few eating establishments.  One café was open but we were turned off eating there because of the carpet of cigarette butts at the front door.

In light of there being nothing open the only alternative was to cook lunch for ourselves and the only place I could find to park where the snow was not knee deep was at the entrance of a new housing estate.  Fortunately we had a packet of potato pieces, a zucchini and a carrot so I cooked them up into a fine brew. The temperature gauge in the car read five degrees but because there was a cold front approaching and there was a stiff breeze it felt more like minus two or three.

Cooking lunch. To stop the gas stove from blowing out I stacked cardboard boxes around the stove.

Cooking lunch. To stop the gas stove from blowing out I stacked cardboard boxes around the stove.

A storm about to envelop our lunch spot. This image has not been doctored, it was really black.

A storm about to envelop our lunch spot. This image has not been doctored, it was really black.

From our lunch stop near Pradelles we pushed on north towards Le Monastier-sur-Gazeille, crossing the Loire River and passing by the road to Le Bouchet-St-Nicolas, another overnight stopping point on the Stevenson Trail.  Unfortunately we didn’t get there as we were not keen to head into the storm front. We were now travelling in the Haute-Loire area of France. We had successfully passed through the Cevennes.

Loire River.

Loire River.

Countryside on the road to Le Monastier-sur-Gazeille.

Countryside on the road to Le Monastier-sur-Gazeille.

Fortunately we skirted around the storm. All we experienced was a little rain.

Le Monastier-sur-Gazeille was where Stevenson commenced his travels in 1878.  Once again we were open-mouthed as we drove through the town and came upon an ancient and impressive building that is  the Abbey Saint-Chaffre, an amazing construction built from ironstone and basalt. The church and its associated buildings presented us with unbelievable photographic opportunities and it would be remiss of us not to give you a fair viewing. It was somewhere near this monastery from where Stevenson commenced his walk with Modestine.

The Abbey Saint-Chaffre, Le Monastier-sur-Gazeille.

The Abbey Saint-Chaffre, Le Monastier-sur-Gazeille.

For me it’s the  shape, variation, colour and texture of the stones and the way they have been laid that inspires me to use the word phantasmagorical.  Some of my friends and Bev, who are serious students of English, won’t like me using the word but it’s the only word I can think of that suits.

Phantasmagorical is quite simply the BEST word ever devised. It’s a mixture of the words, fantastic and magical all in one little package, it is derived from “phantasmagoric” meaning being completely and utterly awesome.

Awesome. Enlarge this one and enjoy every stone.

Awesome! Enlarge this one and enjoy every stone.

At the rear of the Abbey Saint-Chaffre. Enlarge this one too.

At the rear of the Abbey Saint-Chaffre. Enlarge this one too.

An amazing wall.

An amazing patterned wall.

Close up of abbey wall.

Close up of abbey wall. What a variety of colours!

Massive flying buttress.

Massive flying buttress.

A colonnade outside the part of the abbey complex that houses a museum.

A colonnade outside the part of the abbey complex that houses a museum.

Close living.

Close living.

The four front doors indicate that there are four separate apartments here.  The second on the left is well and truly hemmed in.

Beautifully weathered stable door at the abbey.

Beautifully weathered stable door at the abbey.

For those of curious mind there is no other architectural feature more intriguing than a door. For centuries doors have occupied people’s minds so much so that a myriad of superstitions have built up around them.

It was considered to be unlucky to enter and leave a house by different doors. It was also unlucky for a redhead to cross the threshold first if in a group, as it would bring bad luck to those who lived in the house. Every effort should be made not to slam a door as it could pinch the soul of a wandering spirit and a howling dog at a door was a death omen.  The list goes on.  In Ireland and Scotland one superstition is still held to this day and that is the first person to grace your doorstep on New Year’s day should carry a piece of coal and this will ensure there will always be sufficient fuel to heat the house for the following year.

Another superstition relates to carrying the bride over the threshold.  There are a number of explanations as to why this was done but they all related to bad luck. In Roman times it was believed that if the bride stumbled when entering the newlyweds’ home for the first time it would bring harm to their marriage.  Carrying the bride across the threshold was thought to prevent this.

Most walkers embarking on the Robert Louis Stevenson trail these days enter the Massif Central Region at Le Puy rather than at Le Monastier-sur-Gazeille, Stevenson’s departure point.   It was pure luck that we found the spot as there are few leaflets relating to his journey in english and it really was a case of trying to guess where he may have started.

Departure point for the Stevenson Trail, GR70.

Departure point for the Stevenson Trail, GR70.

Buildings at Chateauneuf on the outskirts of Le Puy.

Buildings at Chateauneuf on the outskirts of Le Puy.

It was dusk by the time we left and the next action was to decide where we were going to sleep the night.  No snow or ice on the ground so with the temperature around 4 degrees I thought we might manage a free camp in the car tonight. Not so as Bev spotted a hotel sign (the only one for miles) so here we are in another hotel room.  No evening meal tonight as we exhausted our stocks of food at lunchtime and all we had was cornflakes and milk.

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About tbeartravels

It's been said that I know a little bit about a lot of things and a lot about little things. I hope I can share some of this knowledge with you as we travel.
This entry was posted in Odyssey Part 1: 2012. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Cevennes, France. Chasserades to Le Puy

  1. Peter Phillis says:

    Hi Fred, great blog, Dick Holroyde pointed me to it to read about Cinque Terre, where my wife Sharon and I are heading for 5 days in late August this year. One thing I wanted to comment on was the wonderful viaduct at Mirandol. As an engineer I agree what a wonderful structure. I read somewhere that the Greeks and Romans had mechanical cranes with gearing and ratchets, so I guess that sort of equipment would have helped with medieval construction. Cheers anyway, haven’t seen you for decades. Peter Phillis

  2. surget says:

    Fred and Bev,
    beautiful photos and great comments, thank you the globe-trotter
    heartily
    Patrice and Gigi
    ” le Relais de Modestine”

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