By Blair White, RSGS Collections Team 

The featured map is the 1:25,000 sheet 2740ET, ‘Corniche des Cévennes’, second edition, published by the national mapping agency of France, the Institut Géographique National (IGN), in 1999. It may be of interest to our donkey-owning readers.

[Unfortunately, the map is still subject to copyright law & therefore, I am unable to reproduce images from the sheet. The image at the end of this article is from the 1:50,000 sheet XXVII-40, ‘St André de Valborgne’, Edition 5, published by the Institut Géographique National in 1961 – and is now not subject to copyright law. This 1:50 000 scale map covers the same area as the 1:25,000 sheet and although not having the same level of detail, it illustrates the type of terrain in the region.]

I first encountered the Cévennes in September 1989 when I visited with some friends. Since then, I’ve returned to the area for 4 or 5 holidays, and I’ve never been disappointed.

In 1879 a short travelogue was published – ‘Travels with a donkey in the Cévennes’. It gave an account of a 12-day, 200km journey undertaken by the donkey ‘Modestine’ as she trekked south from Le Monastier to St-Jean-du-Gard. She was accompanied by Mr Robert Louis Stevenson (RLS), a citizen from Edinburgh.

Prior to one of my holidays, I’d picked up ‘Travels with...’ in a charity shop. It’s a short essay of about 100 pages & was quickly read. Travelling through the Cévennes National Park, I realised we were close to St-Jean-du-Gard. I mentioned this to my companion and we agreed that it would be interesting to re-trace part of Modestine’s journey. I was confident that by comparing the relevant 1:25,000 maps with the essay, I could plot the route. The ‘Corniche des Cévennes’ sheet (and for good measure, its southern neighbour) were duly purchased (‘How much?!’ exclaimed my companion).

With great anticipation I opened the folds to reveal the map face – now the challenge was to match the description in the essay to the detail on the sheet. But there was no need – the helpful cartographers at IGN had already done it! There, in bright magenta, the paths & tourist information had been highlighted. Modestine’s route had been designated as Grand Randonée (GR)70 and identified on the map as ‘Chemin de Stevenson’ (no mention of Modestine)

Next day as we were departing for the walk, I heaved our ruck-sack onto my back. My companion remarked,

‘Ah, you’re taking the role of Modestine’.

‘Yes, you can be RLS – you can write the postcards.’

In all honesty we didn’t really go far – we’d started late in the day and the midday sun began to take its toll – also the stretch we were walking had quite an ascent. However, the 6 or 7 miles that we completed gave us a good appreciation of the paths and terrain that Modestine & RLS had walked. Sitting on a rock looking out on the landscape, there was a satisfying feeling that probably very little had changed in the 120 years since the duo had trekked this route.

Now, the truth be told, I don’t particularly like this 1:25,000 scale map. I find the specification quite ‘heavy’ – it appears intense and it’s not easy on the eye. And yet, the sheet to the south is far more pleasing and useable. A quick examination of the 2 sheets’ legends reveals a possible reason – on both sheets approximately 80% of the map face is covered in the colour green – the symbol for woods. But the southern sheet employs a

‘lighter’ green compared to its northern counterpart. In addition, the northern map has a fair amount of hill-shading to aid interpretation of relief – by comparison, the southern sheet’s shading has a lighter touch. As a result, some features on the north sheet are difficult to readily identify, for example place names – the black type face blending with the dark hill-shading.

It's odd that two adjoining sheets in a series, both published in 1999, should have such stark differences.

So, if I’m not that enamoured by this 1:25,000 map, does it deserve to be ‘memorable’? Personally, it helped provide one of the highlights of the holiday and the episode is clearly fixed in my memory. In addition, as the magenta line symbol - ‘Chemin de Stevenson’ - winds its way across the mapped Cevennes terrain, it provides a lasting, graphical record of the memorable journey undertaken in 1878 by Modestine and RLS.

It's worth noting that RLS greatly appreciated maps - in his 1896 essay, ‘My first book: Treasure Island’, he stated:

‘I am told that there are people who do not care for maps, and find it hard to believe.’

If anyone is interested in walking the ‘Chemin de Stevenson’, it’s worthwhile visiting the website .

There is a connection between RSGS and Robert Louis Stevenson. RLS’s father, Charles Stevenson, was first cousin to D. Alan Stevenson (1891-1971) – the latter served as an Honorary Secretary of RSGS and member of its Council.

[I have not sought permission from the Institut Géographique National to reproduce images from the 1:25,000 ‘Corniche des Cévennes’ map. However, it can be viewed on the IGN website.