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Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes (1879) is one of Robert Louis Stevenson's earliest published works and is considered a pioneering classic of outdoor literature.


Stevenson was in his late 20s and still dependent on his parents for support. Travels was both meant to raise money he needed to be with the woman he loved, and provide the adventure he craved, having been sickly much of his life.

Travels recounts Stevenson's 12-day, 120-mile solo hiking journey through the sparsely populated and impoverished areas of the Cévennes mountains in south-central France in 1878. The character of Modestine, a stubborn, manipulative donkey he could never quite get the better of, is memorable. It is one of the earliest accounts which presented hiking and camping outdoors as a recreational activity. It also tells of commissioning one of the first sleeping bags, large and heavy enough to require a donkey to carry.

The Cévennes was the site of a Protestant rebellion around 1702, severely suppressed by Catholic Louis XIV. The Protestant insurgents, a minority population in the region, were known as the Camisards. Stevenson was well-versed in the history, romantically imagining scenes from the rebellion along the way. He notes that the Catholics and the Protestants, at the time of his travels, lived peaceably but with an absolute divide between the two communities. A young Catholic man who married a Protestant girl and changed his faith in the process was unanimously condemned for this breach of loyalty, an example of the sentiment "change is not good" which pervaded the countryside.

Stevenson himself was Protestant by upbringing, and both the geography of the Cévennes with its barren rocky heather-filled hillsides, and the history of religious strife that lay over the land, were familiar ground for the Scot native.

The book appeared the following year, 1879, and is dedicated to his friend Sidney Colvin, a cultured man who had befriended him when he was still unpublished.

Main parts of the journey

Today Stevenson fans retrace the route Stevenson took on hiking paths (GR footpath GR 70), some of which are transhumance routes taken annually by shepherds and their flocks. Asked why this "Ecossais veritable" continues to have such an impact on the identity of the people of the Cevennes today, a local politician and historian at St Germain de Calberte told the contemporary Scottish writer, Alastair McIntosh, in 2007, "Because he showed us the landscape that makes us who we are."

In the arts

  • In the John Steinbeck novel The Pastures of Heaven, one of the characters regards Stevenson's Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes as one of the single greatest works of English literature and eventually names his infant son Robert Louis. Later on, Steinbeck and his wife Elain were inspired by Stevenson in choosing the title Travels With Charley.

  • A section of Richard Holmes' book 'Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer' chronicles the author's retracing of Stevenson's journey.


  1. According to Pauline Pearson of the National Steinbeck Center (June 5, 1990), "Elaine provided the title Travels With Charley because both Steinbeck and Elaine admired Robert Louis Stevenson's Travels With a Donkey". National Steinbeck Center


Sources Footsteps
  • Stevenson Trail GR70, includes map of route.
  • John Alexander Hammerton. In the track of R. L. Stevenson and elsewhere in old France. Bristol, J. W. Arrowsmith; etc., 1907. From Internet Archivemarker. Romantic and delightful views of the trail taken by bicycle about 25 years after Stevenson's trip.
  • Christopher Rush, To Travel Hopefully (2005), ISBN 186197793X - powerful personal memoir by Scottish novelist who re-traces Stevenson's journey.
  • Hillary Macaskill and Molly Wood (2006). Downhill All The Way: Walking with donkeys on the Stevenon Trail. Two British ladies tackle the trail in stages with often humorous results.


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