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 (www.chemin-stevenson.org) 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.