Stage 9, from Lodeve to Villefort takes you through the Cevennes and the Cevennes National Park. The Cevennes are on the eastern side of the Massif Central and run from the Montague Noire (Black Mountains) already crossed in Stage 8, through to the Monts du Vivarais. If you drive through France it's the place where signs on the side of the motorway point out the watershed between the rivers which flow west to the Atlantic (the Loire and Allier) and those which flow into the Rhone and south to the Mediterranean. With its limestone geology the area is also famous for its massive gorges in particular the Gorge du Tarn.
In France the Cevennes have a reputation as a hard and austere place. Some of this is to do with the geography, with the limestone producing dry, sometimes barren uplands (known as the causses), and some of it is to do with the people. The locals are mostly Protestant with a history of conflict against the Catholic French majority. Indeed there are definite echoes with the Cathars (see Stage 7) further south with the Camisard revolt (an Occitan word for shirt) a less bloody version of the Albigensian crusade.
Legends also reinforce the feeling that the Cevennes are really another place. La Bete du Gevaudan was a wolf-like monster (a she monster) that terrorised the area, killing 100 people, between 1764 and 1767. This is a huge story in France, possibly an influence for the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood, and which has not secured the international reputation it deserves. Despite the best efforts of the French Dragoons, the monster was never captured or killed and its precise nature remains a mystery. Thanks to Adam for spotting the connection with the film "Brotherhood of the Wolf"
Although the E4 route crosses the famous Stevenson trail it is generally some distance from it (further to the south in the Cevennes). It's a shame because "Travels with a Donkey" is a classic long distance walking book, the first perhaps to promote hiking as a recreational activity. It also established the Cevennes as one of the world's iconic walking destinations.
Stage 9 goes from Lodeve, which is about 20 kms outside the national park on its southern border, diagonally across the park to Villefort which is just inside the national park on its north eastern border. The route continues along the GR7 until Pont du Tarn where you walk along the GR 72 into Villefort. After Villefort you head east on the GR4. The Stage is 164 kms long, goes from 163 metres at Lodeve to a high point of 1543 metres at Mont Aigoual before dropping (eventually) to 550 metres at Villefort. In total you climb 5100 metres, loose 4600 and the plan is to complete the walk in 6 days.
Leaving Lodeve, the walk takes you up from the valley into gentle wooded countryside. Your heading north mainly along a ridge which at times reaches 500 metres before arriving at La Vacquerie St Martin after 17 kms. There is accommodation there but the plan is to go on into the national park to Saint Mauric. As you approach St Mauric the landscape gets more "causse" like and the trees all but disappear. St Mauric Navacelles is 30 kms from Lodeve and about 700 metres higher. It's a small village with a choice of accommodation..
Day 2, heading north, you drop down 250 metres into a dry valley, walk along the bottom of the valley (gorge?) for several miles to the small village of Navacelles. After Navacelles you climb a zig-zag path back onto the plateau at 600 metres onto the villages of Blandas and La Lavagne and then after about 10 km Montardier (which has accommodation). After another 7 kms or so you descend sharply from the causse into a wooded valley, down through Aveze and, after a total of 30 km for the day, into Le Vigan. Le Vigan is a small town with a range of accommodation to choose from.
Day 3 is a shorter walk (20 kms) to L'Esperou but it does involve a 1300 metre climb. From the bottom of the valley at Le Vigan (at about 160 metres) you walk up the wooded side to about 800 metres where the landscape starts to open out but you are still climbing. Not until 1,200 metres does the path start to level out a bit peaking at Montague de Lesperou (1305 metres). You then drop down to the village of L'Esperou which has a hotel.
Day 4 involves an initial climb over the Pic de L'Aigoual, which at 1541 metres is the highest point on the stage, and then on for a total 32 kms walk to L'Hospitalet and a Gite d'Etape. Much of the walk looks like a ridge with the ground falling away on one, sometimes both, sides of the trail. The landscape again looks "causse" like, exposed, dry with just some vegetation.
Barre de Cevennes
Day 5, via Barre de Cevennes and Cassagnes involves a 32 km walk with 1,000 metres of climb to Pont de Montvert where there is plenty of accommodation.
The last day is 28km walk to Villefort. The first 10 km involves a 700 metre climb, more classic "causse" countryside, but after that it's a sharp descent, sometimes a steep down hill, into Villefort. Choices of accommodation which means I won't be staying in a gite d'etape.