The Robert Louis Stevenson Trail
The GR70 through the Massif Central
By Alan Castle
A guidebook for walking in the footsteps of Stevenson as he travelled through France's Velay and Cevennes regions accompanied by his faithful donkey, Modestine. At 140km, this route is ideal for people new to walking holidays. Starts at Le Puy, finishes at St Jean de Gard. A great route with a historic and literary feel.
SeasonsPossible throughout the year, although requiring snow skills in winter. Best in spring and autumn, try to avoid July and August.
CentresLe Puy and St Jean de Gard at each end of the route. Also Florac, Fouzillac, La Bastide-Puylaurent, Pradelles, Le Pont de Montvert
DifficultySuitable for a first long-distance walking holiday. Mainly drove roads, bridleways and footpaths. Takes less than two weeks.
Must SeeAncient villages, a sence of history, deep gorges, stunning landcapes.
Early one morning in the autumn of 1878 RLS set out from the sleepy village of Le Monastier-sur-Gazeille with his donkey, Modestine, to traverse the Velay and Cévennes to the small town of Saint-Jean-du-Gard in the south. Robert Louis Stevenson’s account of his 140-mile trek through southern France has long captured the imagination of walkers and lovers of literature alike. Today, the RLS Trail has become a classic route across the hills and along the valleys of this delightful region of rural France.
The route, which is well served by accommodation of all types, is divided into twelve day-stages in the guide, so that the Trail easily fits into a fortnight’s holiday. The book includes details of the facilities for the traveller and places of interest en route, together with a detailed route description and an account of Stevenson’s adventures with Modestine. For those with more time available, trails that link the beginning and end of the route are also described, making it is possible to walk all the way from the historic town of Le Puy to Alés.
Packed with snippets of fascinating information about this historic region, the guide is also of use to cyclists and motorists keen to trace a parallel road route, following in the footsteps of Stevenson and Modestine.
The Robert Louis Stevenson Trail
Robert Louis Stevenson
Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes
First Half of the Trail: The Massif Central – Velay, Gévaudan and Vivarais
Second Half of the Trail: The Cévennes and Le Parc National Des Cévennes
Climate – When to Go
Travelling to and from the RLS Trail
Public Transport in the Velay and Cévennes
Waymarking and Navigation
Public Holidays and Time in France
Stevenson’s Route by Cycle or by Car
Suggested Itineraries for Walking the RLS Trail
How to Use this Guidebook
PROLOGUE Le Puy-en-Velay
Le Puy-en-Velay to Le Monastier-sur-Gazeille
Stage 1 Le Monastier-sur-Gazeille to Goudet
Stage 2 Goudet to Le Bouchet-Saint-Nicolas; Excursion to Lac du Bouchet
Stage 3 Le Bouchet-Saint-Nicolas to Pradelles
Stage 4 Pradelles to Langogne
Stage 5 Langogne to Cheylard-l’Évêque
Stage 6 Cheylard-l’Évêque via Notre-Dame-des-Neiges to La Bastide-Puylaurent
Stage 7 La Bastide-Puylaurent to Les Alpiers/Le Bleymard
Stage 8 Les Alpiers/Le Bleymard to Le Pont-de-Montvert
Stage 9 Le Pont-de-Montvert to Florac
Stage 10 Florac to the Gare de Cassagnas
Stage 11 Gare de Cassagnas to Saint-Germain-de-Calberte
Stage 12 Saint-Germain-de-Calberte to Saint-Jean-du-Gard
EPILOGUE Saint-Jean-du-Gard and Mas Soubeyran, Alès and Nîmes
Walking to Mialet or Alès
Summary Table of Stages
Appendix 1 Gîtes d’étape on or Close to the RLS Trail
Appendix 2 Other Long-Distance Walking Routes Encountered on the RLS Trail
Appendix 3 Stevenson’s Itinerary
Appendix 4 Bibliography
Appendix 5 Useful Addresses, Telephone Numbers and Websites
Appendix 6 Modern Treks Along the RLS Trail
The recommended maps are IGN (Institut Géographique National, the French equivalent of the Ordnance Survey) maps at a scale of 1:25,000. These are high quality and provide considerable detail. Ten maps cover the whole of the route from Le Puy to Alès. The sheets required are, in order:
2735 E, 2736 E, 2836 O, 2737 E, 2738 E, 2738 O, 2739 OT, 2740 ET, 2740 E and 2840 O.
(E stands for est (east) and O for ouest (west).)
A much cheaper but less satisfactory alternative is to use IGN maps at 1:100,000 scale. Only two sheets are required – No. 50, Saint-Étienne/Le Puy (Le Monastier to Langogne) and No. 59, Privas/Alés (Langogne to Saint-Jean-du-Gard) – but they are far less useful than 1:25,000 maps for following an intricate crosscountry route. Some walkers, however, may find them adequate when combined with the route descriptions given in this guidebook and the waymarking. They are certainly ideal for the initial planning of the route at home.
If you wish to take some time off from walking the route to explore the Tarn gorges and the Causse Méjean near Florac, then IGN sheet 2640 OT at 1:25,000 is an essential purchase.
All of the above maps can be purchased from the specialist shops listed in Appendix 5.
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Unfortunately, the cafe in Luc, mentioned on page 105 (RLS Trail, Second Edition) has now closed and so there are now no shops or other places of refreshment on the stage of the trail between Cheylard l'Eveque and la Bastide Puylaurent. Be sure to take sufficient food and drink with you before setting out on Stage 6 of the RLS Trail.
Thanks to Jon Sparks for the information below.
Page 118: It was reported in 2012 that there is, once again, a shop (bakery) in Chasseradés.
Page 159: The route has changed a little in the region of Balazuegnes and the new route is well waymarked and easily followed: bear left before Balazuegnes, descend steadily, cross a lane and keep straight ahead to the main road.
Page 167: Shortly before the 'major Y-junction' (1013m), opposite an area of bare rock slabs, are a small menhir and sepulchre, signposted and about 50m from the track.
Thanks to Roger Mechan for his information below.
page 72 line 12. '...cross a road bridge over the river (the Ruisseauds Fouragettes) and ascend the hill for 20 metres. Look out for a track on
the left signposted 'Stevenson Trail' which rises to a level path that snakes through fields for one kilometre to join the tarmac road through the village of Ussel. Turn left here to arrive at a stone cross in the village'.
Page 73 line 13...'just after a stand of pines on your right you will reach a track T-junction; here turn left'.
Page 82 line 19. '....In a further 130 metres, when the track forks, ignore the left turn and continue straight ahead on the wide track. On reaching a barn complex on your right follow the waymarks and swing to the left.'
Page 88 last line bottom of page. '...Turn left to pass a picnic area....
Page 176 line 9 '....eventually dropping to meet the D984. Turn right and follow the waymarked signs along the road to the bridge. Turn left over the bridge.....'
Page 180 line second line up from bottom of the page.'....before the junction with the D260. Shortly after leave the road onto a signposted path that runs alongside the river Gardon. On reaching the bridge turn right and then left on the far side to follow a surfaced track.....'
November 2010Thanks to Keith Frayn, who walked the Trail in September 2010, for this information supplied to the authors.
Epilogue Part 2, Mialet to Alés
There is now a gîte d’étape at Mazel, very near the Col d'Uglas, and also there are new gîtes d’étape at both Aïgladines and Audibert.
The author wishes to thank both Colin James and Andrew West for supplying the following updated information (October 2008) on the RLS Trail.
Page 72, 2nd para, last line: the D49 has been renumbered as the D491.
Page 73, lines 12–19. The route now cuts the corner. The text should now read:
"reach a track T-junction; here turn right and immediately left along an enclosed track, wall on left and wire fence on right, now heading towards Preyssac. Veer right for about 50m when you enter the hamlet..."
Page 81, route description, lines 5-6. The reservoir is on your left, not your right.
Page 84, para 4, last sentence. The route now goes through a tunnel under the
D40, so it is not necessary to cross this potentially busy road.
Page 100, para 3. The area has now been drained and a forest road laid and well
Page 112–113. One hiker has described an alternative route to Notre-Dame-des-Neiges which is about 2km longer, as it contours around the hill, following yellow and white waymarks, rather than taking the more direct over the hill route, described in the guidebook
Page 122, 2nd para. 'L'Elixir bar' has been renamed 'Le Relais de Modestine'.
Pages 135 and 136. There has been a major re-alignment of the route form just after Finiels to Le Pont-de-Montvert. The new route is well waymarked and much easier to navigate than the old trail and follows for the most part a wide track which is fenced on both sides. The trail keeps relatively high and away from the river and enters Le Pont-de-Montvert on the other side of the valley to the museum.
Andrew West has supplied the following description of the route, which replaces the guidebook description on page 135–6, to replace the three paragraphs commencing “At a junction take a left fork..."
“Take the left track and follow for almost 2km to arrive at a tarmaced lane with a farm on the left. Go straight over on an enclosed path to shortly reach another farm. Turn left in front of the farm and pass through a metal gate. Continue on the enclosed path (walled) and across field to another metal gate. The path, now enclosed again, descends to some trees and turns left to another metal gate. Follow path to yet another metal gate. The route now continues above the valley (on left) with Le-Pont-de-Montvert soon coming into view. Descend to the first building and proceed down the steep tarmaced lane towards the village centre veering left towards the humpbacked bridge over the river Tarn.”
Colin James advises that “On nearing the village and after passing a tin bath on the right, look for waymarking on a wall on the left; this ensures that you drop to a lower path to enter Le Pont-de-Montvert”.
Page 164, facilities, at the end of the paragraph:
Note that there is now a short-cut to the campsite that starts from the lower church in the village (signposted with a “walker and tent” waymark). This passes pleasantly through woodland, so that road walking is not necessary to reach the campsite.
Page 176, line 6. The tip has gone!
Epilogue, page 190, route description, 2nd para, line 3:
"...turning right again at a T-junction (insert: water tap here) heading for a second hamlet..."
“Following closely in the footsteps of the 19th century Scottish writer, Robert Louis Stevenson, the author, well known in LDWA circles, first walked the route in 1988.
Today, a Stevenson Association exists and accommodation and baggage transfer services are readily available. If you really want o follow in the footsteps of RLS you can also hire a donkey, which he did when he walked from Le Monastier-sur-Gazelle to Saint Jean-du-Gard in 1887.
The trail meanders for 140 miles and crosses some of the most remote and finest country in rural France, visiting numerous towns and villages, many having historical importance.
I found the book easy to read, with lots of interesting information and complemented with coloured photographs throughout. There is only one thing left for me to do now – does anyone know where I can hire a donkey?”
(Strider - April 2008)
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Alan Castle has trekked and cycled in over 30 countries within Europe, Asia, North and South America, Africa and Australasia. A member of the Outdoor Writers and Photographers Guild, he has written 18 guidebooks, several on long-distance mountain routes in France. An erstwhile national secretary and long-distance path information officer of the Long Distance Walkers Association, Alan now lives at the foot of the Moffat Hills in Scotland.View Guidebooks by Alan Castle