Beasts of burden
More medieval folklore today, as we cycled round the land of the Beast of Gévaudan. But unlike yesterday’s tale, this one apparently definitely did happen. Between 1764 and 1770 a bloodthirsty wolf terrorised the area devouring victims and ‘drinking their blood’. Parish records attest to their being 113 deaths and 49 injuries caused by the animal. Many of them were children who were attacked whilst shepherding livestock. At times there was a death a day. It got so bad that citizens eventually shut themselves away, cancelling markets and leaving flocks unattended. King Louis XV even sent the army in. Eventually a local man, Jean Chastel, managed to kill the animal (chapeau!). When they cut it open they found the remains of an old lady in its stomach, eaten the day before (I wonder if that’s where the story of Little Red Riding Hood comes from? Bet she wished she’d waited 24hrs to go for that stroll either way).
Our burdens for the day were nothing to do with the Beast though, which apparently still haunts the same woods, but rather down to a much more prosaic suffering: some no-messing hills, as in total we gained nearly 1000m. Kinda like doing 20% of Everest base camp, but whatever, we don’t like to brag. Please don’t go on about it.
There was a gentle climb straight away as we left St-Geniez-d’Olt and went up into the forested hills above, followed by a slightly stiffer challenge not long after. We then got lulled in by a period of enjoyable flat land, then what I would technically describe as a “long bastard” as the road continued up and the trees started to drop away each side to eventually leave us, slightly breathless, under big skies and in open country. But the worst was saved until last, as we neared our end point of Mende, we were slapped with what is technically known as “a short but fucking steep bastard” which took us up to the high point of the day. Still, the roll down to the day’s destination was a feel good moment.
We were also hit by a burden of guilt. It seems there is a discrepancy between the proscribed route in our lovely France en Vélo guidebook, and the accompanying GPS map. Not realising until too late (there aren’t too many waypoints in mountain forests), it turns out we missed the actual heartland of the Beast’s territory and looped around another way. Perhaps no bad thing, just in case the Curse of the Beast is real. It also turned out we had missed out on the very biggest climb of the day. Sitting here enjoying an early beer in Mende, with the way our legs are feeling as it is, perhaps that’s no bad thing either.