Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Following Stevenson through the Cévennes

River Lot and wier at Bagnols-les-Bains
For my last post in this series I’m going to continue my journey from La Garde-Guérin along the D901.  I still have Mr Stevenson’s book with me, but I need to confess that he didn’t actually take this route.  Nor would he have done when you consider where he had stayed the previous night – Trape de Notre-Dame des Neiges, just to the northeast of Chasseradès – and his destination, Le Bleymard.  My final destination today is Bagnols-les-Bains, but I have a little surprise for you along the way.

The D901 follows the valley of the river Altier and twists and turns through rugged scenery all the way to Bleymard.  Robbie took the more direct route across Mont Goulet and not without difficulty.  He states that there was ‘no marked road – only upright stones posted from space to space to guide the drovers.’  Modestine was not happy with her master’s choice either, as she ‘backed, she reared’ and ‘actually brayed with a loud hoarse flourish’ her protest at being made to walk cross-country.  But arrive in Bleymard they did, and like me, they didn’t stay either.  A little further along the road is St Julien-du-Tournel.

Ruins of chateau St Julien-du-Tounel
The chateau was built by the Tournel family (one of the eight barons of the Gévaudan) and it became their baronial seat sometime before the 13th century.  The chateau was at the heart of their territory, which stretched from Mont Lozère to Mende along the valley of the Lot.  Around 1307, the fort at St Julien was abandoned by the family in preference for the more comfortable surroundings of the Chateau du Boy.  Sitting as it does, on a high rocky outcrop, the Chateau du Tournel was of great strategic advantage and also considered to be impenetrable.  Throughout the disputes and skirmishes of medieval Gévaudan, the fortress was maintained even though it was not lived in.  But in 1337, the commencement of the Hundred Years War, the family put all their effort into fortifying the chateau at Boy.  The castle at St Julien was destroyed for the first time around 1500.  Later it suffered at the hands of Mathieu Merle and his Huguenot army until the Baron liberated his property.  Since then it was left as a ruin but is now maintained without restoration.  I’m left wondering why Stevenson, as he crossed Mont Goulet, did not see the chateau.  It has a very imposing prominence for miles around, but he makes no mention of it.

Monsieur Hibou
A little further on is Bagnols-les-Bains.  A spa town that sits on the river Lot with origins from roman times.  At an altitude of 913 metres above sea level and surrounded by forest, the village has hardly grown and supports just over 200 residents.  The hot spring, which has a steady temperature of about 40 degrees, has been in use since the roman era, and still is today.  And if you take a walk along the banks of the Lot at one side of the village you will find hand carved sculptures like this one of Monsieur Hibou!

Unfortunately, I have to leave this fascinating part of France and move on.  So my Stevenson is going back on the bookshelf for the time being.  But other musings about France will be appearing on my blog for a new series of posts that will begin in October.

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