Magazine article Geographical

Pyrenees: They Rise as a 400-Kilometre Wall Dividing France from Spain, Clothed in Forests on Their Northern Flanks and Riven with Canyons to the South

Magazine article Geographical

Pyrenees: They Rise as a 400-Kilometre Wall Dividing France from Spain, Clothed in Forests on Their Northern Flanks and Riven with Canyons to the South

Article excerpt

One end of the Pyrenees rises from the muscled swell of the Atlantic and the other drops to the soporific Mediterranean. Winding along this thin range are some of Europe's most challenging long-distance walks and any number of shorter outings.

Almost 200 years have passed since the infamous Frederic Parrot completed the first recorded end-to-end traverse of the Pyrenees, in 53 days. Nowadays, the 'end-to-end' is offered in three standard, epic variations. Along the French side of the crest is the GR10, or 'Sentier des Pyrenees'; along the Spanish side is the GR11, 'La Senda' or the Track. Both involve around 800 kilometres of walking, a distance covered by the relevant guide books in 40-50 days. Higher than the GR10 and GR11 is the shorter, much tougher Haute Randonnee Pyreneene. My own Pyrenean end-to-end was a hybrid that combined the best elements of all three. I joined the range at Roncesvalles and left the mountains after around 50 clays at Canigou.

With forward planning, an itinerary can be devised that makes best use of the mountain huts and shelters that are scattered throughout the range. Painted waymarks help with route-finding on the GR10 and GR11, although it must be emphasised that any Pyrenean traverse requires a high level of navigational ability. Midsummer storms aren't uncommon and seething mists can reduce visibility to a few metres.

From the Atlantic, this grand traverse unfolds with narrative drama. Above the Basque foothills, the trails snake through forests, and gorges to the limestone plateaux below Pic d'Anie, a pathless tract that requires clear conditions. After this, the mountain village of Lescun appears cradled in its cirque. Eastward lie peaks that build in scale all the way to Vignemale, the high point of the French Pyrenees, and its dramatic neighbour, the Cirque de Gavarnie. Leaping skyward in colossal tiers of granite and limestone, this great cliff curves in a semicircle around the head of Gavarnie's glaciated valley. At the centre of the cliff, hanging like spun silk, is an exquisitely slender waterfall.

At the back end of Gavarnie village is the most famous hotel in the Pyrenees, the Hotel des Voyageurs. Napoleon III is believed to have been conceived in one of the Voyageur's creaking bedrooms and the Livre d'Or contains the signatures of Victor Hugo, Flaubert and two pioneers of Pyrenean exploration: the Leicestershire squire Charles Packe, whose Guide to the Pyrenees was used by Hilaire Belloc for his Pyrenean tramps, and Count Henry Patrick Marie Russell-Killough, the Irish-French philosopher who lived in a cave on Vignemale, and who made 16 fist ascents at a time when the wilder parts of the range were known only to boar hunters and shepherds. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.