On our fourth day we drove into the Cevenne Mountains north of Les Vans and found ourselves at the foot of the Signal de Ventalon. A stiff hike brought us to the summit where a gale was blowing. We could hardly hear ourselves think. After a stumbling off-piste descent through the heather we finally regained the trail and continued our hike along the long-distance trail called the GR7. It was hard going and I thought the young boys might falter. They didn’t. At the half-way point we bumped into Steve who, as if by magic, conjured up a picnic lunch. Superb. The GR7 then merged into the GR70 trail, more famously known as the Robert Louis Stevenson Trail. We came across some ancient Sepulchres.
At the end of the days hike we came to the monument erected to the protestant Commusards. They were heavily persecuted during the religious wars. A short drive took us to the lovely farmhouse chateau of Le Cauvel where we would be staying for a couple of days with the charming Amboise, his brother and their wives.
On the following day we again did some hiking in the mountains on the GR70 and GR7. After a short drive to St. Germain-de-Calberte we soon found ourselves on a beautiful circular trail with fantastic views over the Cevennes. We turned around at a Menhir where we were also surprised to find some hikers were actually using donkeys as RL Stevenson did all those years ago.
Later in the afternoon we tried to do another hike, this time on the Corniche de Cevennes, but the weather came in and we got briefly soaked in the rain that lashed down in the swirling wind. We rushed back to Le Cauvel instead to curl up with books.
After this we left the mountains to return to the river – a long drive taking us to Balazuc where we prepared to paddle the Ardeche Defiles (Narrows). We had lunch by the river before setting off and paddled down to Pradons. It was a lovely stretch of river but the little rapids were tricky in places. Luckily we had no accidents.
Later we travelled to the small town of Vallon Pont D’Arc where we treated ourselves to ice-creams and visited an exhibition about the Chauvet Caves. The replica site will open next year in 2015. Looking forward to it.
We stayed the night in the Le Belved hotel very close to the Pont D’Arc itself and had time in the evening to make use of the swimming-pool.
Our next day was our last day on the river. It was the big one. A 32k run down the full length of the Ardeche Gorge going through the famous natural arch at the Pont D’Arc and riding a series of rapids along the way. We made an early start and got in some practise on the minor rapids as we approached the arch.
After that it was a matter of sticking together and watching out for each other through the rapids. Inevitably we had a couple of mishaps, but it was a hot day and after the initial shock it didn’t take long to empty the boats and continue on our way. When we pulled up on a beach for lunch we set up our picnic in a little shade and then were surprised to see our canoes going downstream by themselves. The wind had flipped them over and rolled them down the beach to the river. Oops.
At the Black Tooth rapid we decided to portage. It was narrow and a bit too technical for the young boys. They moaned but we were soon on our way and soon had other rapids to worry about. In fact we had a major spill at the Templars Rapid where it took us some time to get ourselves together. We were on our way soon enough though to tackle the last stretch around Windy Point and the final run down to Sauze.
All in all it was a very successful paddle and we rewarded ourselves with beers and ice-creams at the pretty village of Aigueze. From here it was just a short drive back to La Bastide for our last night. We wrapped the trip off with a lovely dinner outside where we were splendidly entertained by the boys giving us a rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody.
The next morning we ran our guests back to the airport at Nimes – with a little scare as the motorway was closed. Fortunately we made it and we waved them off. Happy days. We then faced the long drive north ourselves …