Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Following Stevenson through the Cévennes

The old bridge, Langogne
I’m in Langogne for today’s journey with Robert Louis Stevenson.  In his journal ‘Travels with a Donkey’ RLS states he arrived here in the evening of ‘Monday, September 23rd’ in 1878.  As this was only the second day of his journey he says very little about the town – which is a great shame, because there’s a lot to see here.  But then, on that first day of travel and the preceding few days of preparation, Robbie had had significant trouble with Modestine, fixing his pack on the donkey’s back and generally understanding the relationship between driver and donkey.  Naturally, despite the switch the landlord had given RLS that morning, Modestine knew she was in charge, didn't she!
His journey that day, from Le-Bouchet-St-Nicolas, had not been pleasant.  The temperature was ‘perishing cold’ and he describes the morning as ‘a grey, windy, wintry’ day.  The trek was solitary and the most memorable incident was his sighting of a foal racing through the ‘tanned and sallow autumn landscape.’  A perfect description for the look of the land at that time of year.  As RLS moved across the heights of Velay he looked forward to the ‘wild… mountainous, uncultivated’ land of the Gévaudan.  So, not strictly part of the Cévennes.
Langogne sits astride the Allier, at this point a much narrower river than it’s more mature and wider self at Moulins.  Stevenson descended, probably on a drover’s track, from Pradelles and walked in across the then only bridge spanning the river.  Situated at the meeting of three départements – Lozère, Ardèche and the Haute-Loire - the principle occupation is cattle breeding and rearing (l’élevage).  But the place is also an excellent example of medieval urbanisation.   The modern town surrounds the older, so I just pass through that and go into its heart.
The church dedicated to Sts Gervais and Protais
The original settlement, dating from the 10th century, was built around a Benedictine monastery that was established by Etienne, the vicomte du Gévaudan, and part of those fortifications still exist.  The current church, dedicated to Sts Gervais and Protais and built in the roman style, dates from the 16th century following the sacking of the town in 1568 by the Protestants under the leadership of Mathieu Merle.
Naturally, the building was added to and changed over the years, but the exterior is constructed of a mixture of sandstone and volcanic rock.  The façade dates from the end of the 16th/beginning of the 17th centuries and if you visit, be sure to look at the arch above the main door and read the inscription.  Internally, the pillars in the nave and vaulted ceiling are of particular note, as is the treasury.
I emerge into the sunshine again and the old medieval streets that encircle the church, their houses supporting each other and rising to three and four stories.  I espy ancient doorways that are far too short for 21st century man to negotiate and the remains of one of the gates leading from the old city
to the then, wild and dangerous outside world and much later, the 18th century grain hall.
The Grain Hall and War Memorial
The next day Stevenson left this fascinating little town behind without recording another word in his journal.  I think that was quite dismissive of him because there is so much history to enjoy here.  So, it would appear that Robbie and I are disagreeing again.  But, as I walk across the old stone bridge and then along the path by the edge of the river back to the car park, I know that I can honestly and truthfully say that I have stood where Stevenson stood.  And I kind of think that’s awesome!

There's more from RLS and me here

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