If you only walk long enough: Exploring the Pyrenees

Cet article est également disponible en: French

[read extracts] [read reviews]

Just as doctors have stethoscopes better to examine their patients, walkers have the GR10, the Pyrenean Way, when they wish to examine the heart of the Pyrenees.

Pierre Minvielle


Walking in the Pyrenees

If you only walk long enough: exploring the Pyrenees

In a sweeping panorama which takes in everything from hot pepper ice cream to the legacy of the Romantics and the future of the European brown bear, If You Only Walk Long Enough is a portrait of the French Pyrenees as they move into the 21st century.

It is also the story of a solitary walker and a long-distance footpath, the Pyrenean Way (French GR10). When he set out from the Atlantic coast, Steve Cracknell thought he was heading for the Mediterranean on a trail which ambled through the foothills. He ended up with crampons on his boots crossing glaciers to tackle the highest peaks of the range.

On the way he met a trainee priest relying on God for orientation, an electrified walker, a precision parachutist, a veritable flock of shepherds … and struggled to digest garbure, the ubiquitous Pyrenean soup.

In a book which is by turns witty and thoughtful he treads lightly across the landscape, concluding that the Pyrenees are changing rapidly. Now is the time to discover them.

Preview the book on this site.

buy from amazon.co.ukbuy from amazon.com [available as print or Kindle]

If you are walking in the Pyrenees, sample copies can be seen at the hostels at Esbintz and the Rulhe in the Ariège, at Planes, Mariailles and Mantet in the Pyrénées-Orientales, and at Ituren in Spanish Navarre at the Pyrenean Experience.


The FrenchPaper Book of the month

How wrong can anyone be? This English author who now lives south of Carcassonne wanted to walk the easy way across the Pyrenees – of which he has a splendid view from his home. He chose the ‘gentler’ route of GR10 but finished up using crampons and crossing glaciers to tackle the highest peaks of the range. This is a very humorous tale of adventure, but there is also a lot of extra information about local customs, history and information aplenty surrounding the trek from the Atlantic side of the mountain range to the Mediterranean. I would have loved more photos, but there are five on the back cover, and an excellent map for the trek inside.
Sandie George

[author’s note: the second updated edition includes 30 photos]

From Strider, the magazine of the Long Distance Walkers’ Association

This book is about one man’s journey along the Pyrenean Way, the GR 10, in France, from Hendaye on the Atlantic to Banyuls on the Mediterranean.  Though it is self-published this is far from a vanity publishing project.

This is one middle-aged man’s need to complete a long, day-after-day walk.  He does plenty of that and though the book forms a continuous narrative actually he did the whole walk in what I worked out to be three stretches over about three years.  He says he needs to walk not just for a couple of hours but day after day but he doesn’t know why… I think there will be many in the LDWA who feel the same.  At the end he says, quoting a friend “Walking is a primitive activity.  Not only have we been doing it since childhood, but it has also been programmed into us genetically.  We spend so much of our lives thinking, analysing and coping with new situations that it is good to return to doing something instinctive. Yes, that’s it.”

But don’t buy this as a guide book it is not anything like that.  Nor is it, thank goodness, the account of yet another middle-aged man finding himself.  Buy it because it is a superb and unique addition to books about the Pyrenees.

Here he writes beautifully about language, though English he lives in France and speaks and reads French fluently, so he can question locals, other walkers and has access to many sources denied to those without French.  Consequently he provides us with much material on Pyrenean flora, fauna, geology, history, politics, economy and many more aspects.  All woven into his walking.

He misses Rosemary Bailey’s Love & War in the Pyrenees about the second world war (it may have been published to recently for inclusion) and doesn’t spend any time on why the Pyrenees are so called but these two quibbles aside this is a superb addition to writing on the Pyrenees and at £9.50 great value.

He claims the FFRP (French ramblers association) Guide is the best (it’s very good if you speak French) but makes no mention of Paul Lucia’s Cicerone Guide which I think is excellent.  Given the quality of the book though, this oversight is trivial.

Review by Justin Gutmann

Great way to learn about the Pyrenees Mountains *****
“Many travel books tend to be either dry and merely descriptive, or overly florid in prose. Thankfully, this book avoids both … We learn much about the natural world of the Pyrenees … there is a very large emphasis on the human element of the mountains. Very well written, the book reads much like a novel.”

Review by Bilahn – Amazon reviewer (USA) – read the complete review

Amazon review by Jenny Harrison

Col de la Lhasse

Jenny Harrison at the Col de la Lhasse with a copy of If you only walk long enough

For those who have a spirit of adventure the GR10 long distance footpath and this book is for you. I just loved it and have recently finished re-reading it.
Not only could I picture exactly where and what Steve Cracknell is describing, but I also greatly enjoyed his humour and all the extra information regarding local customs, history and general explanations surrounding the trek from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean along the French side of the Pyrenees.
I would recommend it to anyone who has or intends to attempt this hike, as the book brings it all back to life, without the pain and exhaustion!

From Andy Howell’s Walking and Trekking pages

This book is a joy to read … the historical detail here is superb [but] it’s not just history that is featured here. Steve provides a lovely account of contemporary life in the hills. Here you’ll find discussions with shepherds, farmers and those seeking to scratch a living by supporting hiking and walking. The changing nature of the regions is captured well.
This book has the best account of the ‘bear controversy’ that I have read in English. Here we learn about the plight of the bear, attempts to re-populate the area with Slovakian bears and the fierce arguments between the locals, some who want the bears removed and those who see their re-introduction in the wild as critical to the survival of the ambience and culture of the mountains.”

Review by Andy Howell – read the complete review


Buy it at Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk (available as print or for a Kindle)

About the author

Steve Cracknell at the summit of the Carlit (Pyrénées-Orientales)

Steve Cracknell at the summit of the Carlit (Pyrénées-Orientales)

Below the shoulders? I’m only prepared to write about my legs – which for a rambler are the only things which count. They are best at the top, good strong thigh muscles. But then it all goes downhill. I have knobbly knees – winning first prize at the age of 15 in my scout troop’s annual competition. And my graceful ankles would be more appropriate on a young woman.

More seriously: born in Yorkshire, now a French citizen, living in a village near Carcassonne. Studied engineering, became an archaeologist. Started a typesetting business, ended up in website design and programming.

Some degree of stability and happiness are assured by my wife Veronica and long walks in the mountains, alone or in good company.

I grow grapes for a hobby, drink wine for pleasure, and and help organise the village social club because somebody has to do it.

Motto: Carpe diem – seize the day.


5 Responses to “If you only walk long enough: Exploring the Pyrenees”

  1. Anne Jeton says:

    Hi! Thanks for all your great info and effort to excite the rest of us to hike the Pyrennes! I will be in France this summer for the women’s world cup and am thinking of walking a few sections. I live near the Sierra Nevada in NW Nevada so we have great mt hiking as well as well as conditioned for altitude and mt hiking. Do you have posted somewhere a proposed itinerary or a km guide between lodgings? I may do the sections in the eastern end as I will heading to Nice for the first set of games in late June. Thank you!! Anne

  2. steve says:

    Hi Anne

    See here for a basic guide to the GR10 including GPS tracks. And just in case you are interested, I also have a site on the Spanish GR11 also in the Pyrenees. For more details, see the Cicerone guides to the GR10 and GR11.

    The eastern end of the Pyrenees is fine, but not high mountains until you get to Canigou. So if it is that you are looking for, get the train to Villefranche-de-Conflent and start from there.

    As it happens I am passing the winter on the other side of the Sierra Nevada, on the coast, but we did a walk down from Beas de Granada to the town a couple of weeks ago.

    Happy planning!

  3. Stuart says:

    Great. Thanks for that Steve. Really looking forward to it. ????

  4. Bruce payne says:

    If I start on the gr11,can I easily get to the gr10 before pied de port.

  5. steve says:

    Hi Bruce
    You can go from Bera to Zugarramurdi (a great place to visit) and then it’s a short walk to Ainhoa. After that the best option is the Camino.

More on walking in the Pyrenees

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