Stevenson Trail – Chemin de Stevenson, 2021

Cet article est également disponible en: French



The Stevenson in question is the Scottish author Robert Louis Stephenson, best known in anglophone countries for Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde. In Monastier-sur-Grazeilles, in the French Massif central, however, he is principally known as the author of Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes.

Stevenson spent some time in the small town of Monastier-sur-Grazeilles before setting out on his walk across the southern half of the French Massif central. Despite the title of his book, Stevenson set off from the Velay area, crossed the Gévaudan, and climbed Mont Lozère before even entering the Cévennes.

For 21st-century walkers, the trek normally starts in Puy-en-Velay but we skipped the first stage, leaving Monastier one misty morning early in September. This year, we walked half-way, as far as Le Bleymard. Next year, we expect to reach the end, at Alès in the Gard department.

Goudet and the Loire

The Stevenson crosses the Loire at Goudet

The Trail follows the route Stevenson took with a newly acquired donkey called Modestine in 1878. A century later, with the anniversary in mind, the Club cévenol decided to waymark the route with light-blue flashes, in homage to the Scottish flag. Soon afterwards the route was adopted by the French walking organisation, the FFRP, and became the GR70. Before Covid-19, the trek attracted 11,000 walkers annually.

Stevenson Trail just before Pradelles

Approaching Pradelles, through open countryside, walking shoes dusted red

Although Stevenson was little known here forty years ago, his name is now everywhere. There must be more streets and avenues named after him than there are named after literary giants like Victor Hugo or Émile Zola. I would bet that Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes is better known here than in Stevenson’s native Scotland.

Pradelles in the morning

Pradelles in the morning

The donkey, Modestine, has her streets too and many, many path-side statues and paintings.

The book is often cited as one of the first modern examples of travel writing. The author’s own values are made clear. Objectivity and statistics are not welcome. Stevenson is clearly a foreigner, and not always sympathetic to the locals.

View from Luc castle

View from Luc castle

I was with seven walking friends, normally accustomed to the summits of the Pyrenees. For us, the walking wasn’t particularly strenuous, more a social and gastronomic event than a serious trek. There were not many others on the route, but there is limited accommodation and most of it was fully booked months in advance.

Railway viaduct near Chasseradès

Railway viaduct near Chasseradès

If you are looking for a bucolic stroll across fields and through forest, the Stevenson is easy to access by public transport and fun to walk.

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