Posts Tagged ‘Retirada’

Footprints on the mountains… the news from the Pyrenees

Monday, May 2nd, 2016
Footprints on the mountains... the news from the Pyrenees

Footprints on the mountains… the news from the Pyrenees

My new book on the Pyrenees and walking

From the back cover: The Pyrenees are by turns beautifully natural and bleakly austere; shaped by centuries of labour… and scarred by human suffering. In the valleys, Steve talks to locals and meets an eccentric cast of hikers. But on the heights he is alone with marmottes and sarrios. He listens to protagonists on both sides of the argument over the reintroduction of bears. And goes searching for ibex imported as part of a rewilding programme.

Sario (Spanish) or isard (French), a common sight in the Pyrenees

Sario (Spanish) or isard (French), a common sight in the Pyrenees

 

My new book on the Pyrenees is about to be published. This time I’ve been walking on the Senda Pirenaica, the GR11.

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21st-century Pyrenees (ii): border crossings

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2016
Romedo de Dalt on the new chemin des Montagnes de Liberté

Romedo de Dalt on the new chemin des Montagnes de Liberté

 

Seen from a distance, the Pyrenees are timeless, an archetype of what mountains should be. But I recognise how much my personal travelogue is full of romantic clichés. So I’ve been thinking about the reality: the ‘news from the mountains’. This is the second in a series of close-ups on how the Pyrenees are changing.

Putting aside the TGV high-speed train (2013) and the THT high tension electricity cable (2015), thankfully both underground, what is the other news?

Way of St James

Church in Roncevaux

Church in Orreaga/Roncevaux

The Way is no longer a just a long-distance walk; it has become a social phenomenon. Since the turn of the century the number of walkers crossing the Pyrenees on the Way has increased more than five-fold. This leg of the walk, from St-Jean-Pied-de-Port (France) to Orreaga/Roncevaux (Spain) is reputed to be one of the hardest of the trek. In 1999, 9,318 walkers had their credencial (pilgrim passport) stamped in the French office before setting off. Fifteen years later they were 53,972. [Statistics] If that figure doesn’t surprise you, consider this one: in 1978 only 13 pilgrims crossed the threshold of the cathedral in Santiago. [Historical statistics] Nobody in St-Jean-Pied-de-Port was even bothering to count.

Passing through the town once, I asked a man in the office why so many more people had taken it into their heads to walk the 800km. It isn’t that people have become more religious, he replied. It is partly the inclusion of the Way on the World Heritage List (1993), partly the shorter working week in France (2000), and partly a snowball effect: more walkers means more hostels, means shorter days, bringing in even more walkers. (more…)

map of GR10

 
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