SUNDAY 16TH DECEMBER 2012.
CHASSERADES to LE PUY.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Following are a few images of the chateau ruins and the surrounds.
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.
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.
This wall is not likely to crack as not only is this pattern very aesthetically pleasing it is structurally very sound.
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.
Back in Luc we found many little things that took our fancy.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The four front doors indicate that there are four separate apartments here. The second on the left is well and truly hemmed in.
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.
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.