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Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes

When Robert Louis Stevenson’s mistress Fanny Osbourne returned to the USA in 1878 he was heartbroken. His affair with a married woman had estranged him from his family and Victorian London expected such impropriety to be kept well under wraps.

So, feeling low, he decided to travel to the remote and mysterious Cevennes of southern France. Ostensibly he was travelling to see the land of the Camisards – a bloody feud in the 1700’s between Catholics and Protestants, but in reality he was lovelorn.

He kept a diary of his 220km trek through the sparsely populated mountainous Cevennes, an adventure that was to change his life. Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes was published the following year and became his first best seller and a precursor to the thousands of copycat travel books that line our shelves today.

I was surprised to discover a Robert Louis Stephenson festival ( in the Cevennes, part of the beautiful Languedoc-Roussillon Region of France. I just had to follow in his footsteps.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous donkey was called Modestine and mine was called ‘Comme-vous’ which turns out to be a French joke as it means ‘like you’. I’m a bit cautious around horses but the donkeys were lovely creatures, so friendly and willing and not in the least intimidating.

A few useful tips when walking with a donkey: allow plenty of stopping time, beware sudden deposits from the one in front, to a donkey the grass is ALWAYS greener on the other side of the path and if you don’t lead your donkey it will lead you.

In case you’re wondering, RLS followed Fanny to American where they married and eventually became reconciled with his family. He went on to write a string of best selling books and moved to a South Sea tropical island.

More than a century and a quarter later, that’s still a plan that sounds good today.


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I’ve been writing about travel for the past 14 years and have travelled extensively from [A]ustralia to [Z]imbabwe. I’ve been around the world a few of times and have written widely for the international press in America, Australia and the UK, for newspapers, magazines and websites.I am also the author of a definitive guide to Wildlife Conservation Volunteering (Bradt, 2012) and have worked on volunteer projects in South America, Africa, India and Europe. Working from a riverboat on the Amazon has to be my favourite conservation project – a bit of comfort and luxury at the end of the day after getting filthy ploughing through the muddy jungle.I think the best way of getting around is travelling by train, not just because it’s eco-friendly but because I enjoy the journey as much as the destination. I’ve written a lot about train travel and am a contributing author to Great Railway Journeys of the World (Time Out 2009). My enthusiasm for travelling on trains culminated in 2011 – 2012 when I travelled around the world by train - from London to Sydney. This was the most amazing trip I’ve ever done and I spent three months because I couldn’t stop myself getting off to explore what couldn’t be seen from the window.Naturally it’s now a book!

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