Southwards from Le Puy along the upper Loire. Suddenly a dog charges from a hedge. Prepare to sell my life dearly: he bounds past, looks back, waiting. An hour later he's still leading the way. Christen him Dog Friday. Then the Kamikaze Collie. He attacks anything, even a 52-seater bus. Eventually he takes off after a 2CV, snapping at its tyres. I wait. He doesn't reappear.
Continue alone along dusty trails. This feels like the south: brown, bony, dry, stony. Scent of pines fills the air. Robert Louis Stevenson came here once with a donkey. Locals still remember it. Every second house has a donkey for hire. Half the walkers battle a beast of burden, following "le chemin Stevenson". Track crosses the moors, drops into the precipitous Borne gorge. Hamlets cling to ancient terraces. Grapes, chestnuts, blackberries, apples spill on to the road. River tumbles over granite boulders. I camp by a 14th-century chapel on a rocky spur, trombone to the rising moon. Echoes drift down the valley. Life doesn't get better than this.
Below the gorge, a friend from home waits: Ant, working in an English- run holiday activity centre, where anarchy reigns. The first day off in a month: party started at 10 am. A stereo blares. Casualties sprawl everywhere. Survivors go round shaving off their eyebrows. Manager sits at the bar hurling cheery abuse at allcomers. Food fights erupt. Ant is welcomed with a faceful of shaving-cream. We flee the carnage. A hundred yards away, wild boars forage, oblivious. Bewildered locals hurry by. Ah, the British abroad.
Woken by shouts. "INCOMING!" Yesterday's casualties sprint past, eager- faced. One ducks behind a bush to retch. Two coachloads of tourists are swept into a festive maelstrom: scenic walks, rafting, silly games. Staff water-bomb rafts, guests, each other. In the evening, treasure-hunts, disco, live-action Cluedo. I'm placed on a pedestal and trombone as detective teams hurtle around. Finish with the National Anthem: chorus shakes the night. Eventually guests retire, happily exhausted. Staff convene - to nurse the day's hangovers. More power to their livers. VCs have been awarded for less.
The Cevennes National Park - mile after mile of ridges, ablaze with flowering heather. Walk in a happy daze. Joined by a friendly local. Chat, then: "Where are you sleeping?" "Camping somewhere, why?" Opens map, indicates the perfect campsite, complete with fireplace. "Fire? Won't the warden mind?" Huge grin. "I am the warden!"
Now that's service.
For more information on the charity trombone walk, visit the website at www.net playcafe.co.uk/bonewalkReuse content