Wednesday, 1 August 2007


Just to confirm that yesterday I completed the GR11. It took 44 days, although my book suggests 46, others have done it much faster with light loads. I had to walk 2 hours to Cadaques to get a bus to Figereus, and got a connecting train the Barcelona.

After writing my last blog I ate in the hotel which played the theme from Titanic on pan-pipes continually, so I ate up and paid my bill smartish as I had another early start. The room was baking hot, and the bed about 3 inches shorter than my body. With this and a mixture of excitement I hardly slept and left around 5.30. I had to wake the owners to retrieve my passport, and they were not at all happy. Ha! I had achieved my revenge ;-)

The walk was still tough, the path having been re-routed several times over the years so confusing and overgrown. Cacti now helped the thorn bushes take their piece of me, however sunrise over the ocean was a sight to remember. The weather again was sunny, clear visibility down the coast and rather warm. I met no other walkers all day. There is a cafe next to the lighthouse at the end, and I drank firstly a beer, then a coffee, and then a coke.

The additional day has allowed me to have a look around Barcelona. I can hardly express the massive culture shock this is after so many days wandering in the wilderness. So I have left my pack in the room, and rather than walk, I behaved like a proper tourist and took the tour bus around town.

Monday, 30 July 2007

El Port De La Selva

I am writing from a cafe on the beach with lovely views of the Med so you would think I have made it but not quite. The GR11 requires me to head back inland down a remote but important peninsular (like the Wirral really) called Cabo de Creus, so another 16km tomorrow. Like software, it is the finishing touches that make the difference.

After my last post I awoke at 5am to escape as much of the heat as possible, and as requested a breakfast was left for me in the dining room. Flasks of coffee and milk, bread, cheese, meat, pastries, juice etc. All included in the price. Try getting that in a travel inn. next time you are in the area.

Then on a tough day through steep, rocky and thorny tracks to Requesens. The old farm house, where I had dinner sits in the shadow of the castle and would once have serviced it. Many remains are still intact, including the fountain which feeds the old laundry washing stones. You can still make out the Latin inscription `Hotpoint´in the stone.

The old terraces where just suitable for camping, and my book mentioned that the resident bull is apparently harmless. This appeared so until another walker arrived with a dog. As we chatted, the bull charged the dog, which ran past my partially constructed tent. Walking poles, pegs and guy lines went flying, but my tent survived. I slept poorly after that.

The following day was more heat (35 degrees in afternoon) and my camping site was in the grounds of an old Monasterio St Quirze de Colera in the shadow of Puig Bonic. Lovely. However a restaurant had been built 200m from the Abbey and I got there just in time for late lunch. When getting water from the old font, I noticed large mother of a wild boar feeding 5-6 young. They seemed to ignore me but I have some good photos I think...

Camping was an issue since the was ground stony, thorny and hot. Animal mess fouled any flat areas. So I climbed into the old Monastery grounds and explored. It had once been fortified, and one old towers with battlements survived. The ground was flat, clean and safe - perfect.

Once the cafe closed I was alone to watch the sun go down and illuminate the hills. Bats came out, and so did groups of wild boar to scavenge around the cafe. The owners had chained 3 guard dogs which made a lot of noise but ran into their kennels when the boar came too close. I felt sorry for them as the pigs fouled the area where the dogs ate, so I chased them away. The dogs did not appreciate this, and chased me away, then fouled the areas again to reassert their domain. Back in my castle I watched the cafe wars between pig and dog and drank hot chocolate from the tower. Two other walkers arrived late on, walking from the other direction on Day 2 of the route, and we chatted for a while.

Today I arose at 5am again, but by 9 it was in the late 20 degrees. I could see distant views of the sea to the East, when I turned around a hill and, below me sat the beautiful, blue Mediterranean. Almost running I got to a rocky beach took off my boots on a waded in. Looking around, I noticed a great deal of female form. In the mountains, any women tend to be sturdy and clad from head to toe in Goretex; these wore no goretex at all - none ;-) Don´t worry Tracey, God knows what I looked like, with dirty dusty trousers, cut forearms with walking poles attached, salt ringlets circling my shirt and hat, straggly beard and back-pack with several water bottles sticking out.

Just checked the BBC news and I can not believe that you all seem to be getting on fine without me. We even have a new PM and I missed the vote!

So I finish tomorrow. Then by several connected buses, trains and planes I will be home and intend to reach my doorstep on Thursday without taxis or collection; I am not sure why it just seems fitting to do so.

Friday, 27 July 2007

Macanet de Cabrenys

Two posts in one day, as I have not been able to find a computer!

The last few days have not been very exiting really. The area is mainly forested hills, and there are few other people to see. The French couple, Alain and his wife, who I usually see at some point during the day have gone, although I think they have had a rest day and are now one day behind. I´ve slept mostly in the tent, and experienced the worst campsite in the world at Albanya, with bored rude staff, pitches made of hard dirt and rocks, phones that cut out as you are arranging your flight etc. Moan over, I slept better the next night in the grounds of a ruined abbey.

I have a challenge for anyone who wants to do this walk. Watch the film Pans Labyrinth before going, then when you get to the Irati forest where there are many remains from the Civil War, find an old defensive line of bunkers, now dilapidated and overgrown by forest and camp alone their overnight. Spooky to say the least.

I have 4 days left so suspect this may be my last post. I am at the lovely town in the title, and have found very nice hostal with great facilities, and the next two nights require wild camping and the days will be long and hot.

Many thanks to all that have made a donation and it was good to hear from you Martin. I am still using your water bottle thanks.

A few observations:

  • Pine cones are like Ninja death stars to the pyrenean walker. The little round hard ones bunch together like marbles and roll you off balance into horrible bushes and trees.

  • A line of ants will pause momentarily as they detect your foot fall, the effect is bizarre in that they appear to be marching in time to your step.

  • Flies will try to hitch a ride on the back of any exposed elbow.


Planoles and Nuria

Hi folks,

I am still going, and it has gone from freezing cold to baking hot.

The big hills are behind me know, but the final ascent of the highest part of the trek was a challenge. The longest day of the walk finished in a town called Planoles. The book warned me of over-grown paths and it did not disappoint. Brambles, thorn bushes etc all took a piece of me on the way down, and I then got lost. Just as I found the track I heard a clap of thunder and the heavens opened. I was not aware that air could hold that much water and still allow us to breath, and the rain stung my cuts! So I decided to avoid the campsite and drop into town. Of course it was a Saturday and all places were full. So back up into the hills to the campsite which was also full. With no other options I looked around the site and found a large pitch with only a medium sized tent, and the adjacent van had Dutch plates. Already having experienced generosity from Dutch travellers, I asked if they would allow me to pitch nearby, if I promised to be quiet. They replied 'Of course, but we can not promise the same, wink wink'.

The next day was a large climb back into high country though still damp. I came to my destination the complex, and decided to put a nice room on my credit card rather than camp again. All my problems from the previous day were washed away in a very un-environmental bath. Well set with a huge breakfast I made my way to the ridge which at around 3000m is the highest point of the walk, and the skies where clear and visibility amazing. Looking West I could see the mountain ranges stretching out into the horizon and was rather pleased to recognise I had covered them. It was extremely windy however, and my walking poles acted more like wind-vanes. I was worried that my new found willowy frame would blow away like a leaf on the wind, but my trusty rucksack held me down. I put the poles on the sac, and remembered to find some stones for my children. After a bit of searching on the main summit I found two lovely flat rocks that look like slate but have a crystal like quality and hope they will take engraving. I have to confess to getting a bit emotional at this point and I cried.

Needless to say reality checked my emotions as I tried to take a photo and the dropped the camera down the mountain. I retrieved it but the LCD display is cracked. All other functions still seem to work such as sound, and it has a view finder. So I am trusting to Canon that the circuit from lens to memory card, does not go via the display!

I will retrospectively add photos to the blog when I get home. Done! The horse at the top is supplying a mountain refuge. Yes, I now feel guilty for drinking that coke!

Friday, 20 July 2007

Guils de Cerdanya

I am in an official camp site I think, it is very nice.

But last night I slept in a Refugio at around 2700m. Amazing views, fresh water and the other guests, 4 Spanish guys used the other room so I had 3 rooms: kitchen with gas, dining area and bedroom (with metal bunks) to myself, until I was cooking dinner. Then a group of 16 Spanish scouts arrived, so I had to move in the other guys who took it in turns snoring.

Back in Spain anyway and Andorra had very well marked and kept routes, with little cafes or water points every few K but the towns are too over developed. One of the most refreshing interests of this walk is the ancient and clean little villages. Encamp were I stayed was large, noisy and the campsite was in the centre of town. I ate well in a splendid little cafe, but the streets were full of euro teens on wizzy mopeds, mullets flying in the wind buzzing around all night. The architecture of the newer buildings was out of keeping with many of the older ones.

Over development will be an issue in future for the Pyrenees I fear. One town had a huge but old avalanche wall. They had built new tower blocks up hill from the wall! I hope that the the authorities do not allow the Pyrenees to become like the Mediterranean coast. I am fortunate enough to witness a change from the old the new in many small towns, and in the north much of the building and modernisation has been tasteful but as I get further south and east I am not so sure.

The area I´ve passed through lately seems to be little Jurassic park, it is full of lizards which change colour really quickly as they skit over the path, snakes, strange water reptiles like the ones from the Guinness advert. Regarding your comment Andy, the Marmots are too quick for me really, and anyway the authorities seem to be wise to such activities and there are signs often saying ´No Molesti La Fauni´ with a pictogram of a human chasing bats!

Just a warning, but the Germans I mentioned in an earlier blog disappeared around the same time as I disposed of the solar charger. I am worried that they have taken it to their underground lair, and having fixed and improved it are powering some new laser weapon or something.

Andorra also has lots of English. Having heard and seen no English for ages I found several at a camp site. One family in a camper looking to buy a place in Spain or France, a younger couple on holiday, an older couple just touring so we all had a few beers. Then two christian Danes arrived with a guitar and started singing. They were all a bad influence on me and any recent fitness developed was lost that evening. The next day was hard going indeed.

Speaking of physical effects, I am able now to deal a lot more easily with the climbs, although the downs always hurt my feet. I eat loads but have a couple of extra inches spare on my belt now. One unfortunate effect is that I often emit noxious fumes from below (I don't know how else to put it). It could be the different climate, food, lifestyle or something but the effects are often perfidious but amusing (for me at least) when in a dormitory of a Refugio. It proves the old adage that absence makes the fart grow stronger :-)

Anyway I have 10 more walking days to go. 4 of them very high and long then the slog to the med with the heat to deal with. One benefit of walking West to East is that in the morning the climbs are in the shad (most massifs run down East to West), but the GR11 has a nasty sting in its tail and when you can see the coast you still have 4 days to go via a do leg up some hills at the tail end of the Pyrenees.

I am looking forward to getting home now. I recall that one aspect of my former life involved a thing called ´posting control´so I guess I used to be a postman. Oh god not more walking!


Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Arinsal - Andorra

Just a quick post before the shops close for Siesta!

I have passed into Andorra, and like when I crossed into France the trail greetings change almost immediately from one language to another!

For those who are reading this that may do the trek the Refuge at Easton is open, although small it is modern, friendly and good value. The longest day of the walk can now be made more manageable.

There are two french guys I should mention that appear from time to time. They are doing this on the cheap, and wild-camp each night living on biscuits and tea. The first time I met them they told me they share a tent but ´we are not homosexual´ and I keep reminding them if this is still the case. They sold there tent peg hammer for 2 beers, and walked for miles looking for somewhere to deposit the empties. I saw them trying to dump them behind a refuge high in the hills when the owner came out and berated them in French. Then humbly picked up the bottles and walked off. The next morning opened the door to the refuge and found the two bottles neatly left on the doorstep.

I met a bright young french girl called Cami walking the other way, who bounced into the campsite having just done about 20k and climbed 1200m. She told me they where still out there but looking very thin.

Last night I kipped in a mountain hut called Refugio de Baiau which is 2600m up and basically a metal box held to the side of a mountain by 10 heavy steel cables pinned into the rock. It has 9 bunks and a little cooking area. Two lakes 70m below provide water and is ringed by several 3000m+ mountains. I shared it with 5 French people and impressed them with my English cuisine. Fresh garlic, tomatoes, onion and pepper lightly fried in olive oil, with pasta and chorizo sausage, followed by bread and cheese. It was good.

My flip flops are the only other casualty since my last post, but duck tape is holding them together. Climbing a large hill I suffered a minor disaster when I realised I had eaten my last werthers original. These splendid little treats from home where a daily pick me up whenever I feel homesick. It was too late to turn back, the nearest town being days away, so I somehow made it to the next town.

Regards to all at home, Barrie.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Update from la Guinguetta d´Aneu

This camp-site has a PC in reception with Internet!

Since my last post I have had 2 rather difficult days suffering from, in polite terms a tummy upset. So far I have sterilised any water not from a tap, or formal Fuente (fountain) but foolishly took a change with one which at the time I did not feel was right. The bug really sapped my strength and I found some climbs dizzy with exhaustion. Having to make emergency stops on the path was awkward too...

Anyway what does not kill us makes us stronger and I kept to schedule, so when I felt better I decided to do 2 shortish days in one to generate a rest day in Espot. This I did when the weather was wet through the national park Aigustotes Estany de San Maurici, which is a lovely park with hundreds of little lakes like Japanese water gardens, snowy peaks (the name translates to the Enchanted Mountains), high waterfalls and pine forests and in some ways similar to the Lakes District in UK. But when I got to the Refuge Colomers it was full of with a happy group of people who looked as though they had parked in the valley below and climbed up for the night. The Guardian looked at me, and despite my pleading pitiful face said curtly ´Completo´, so I pitched my tent nearby next to a young English couple who had had the same experience. That night, being in a valley 2,200m up it froze to -1 inside the tent which was a bit chilly. I even boiled up a cup of tea inside the tent porch at 4:30 am to warm up. The next day was beautifully clear though with a deep frost, which made the area more pretty. If you get a chance to visit this national park do so; the rural houses are good value, with well friendly hosts and well equiped kitchens. The local restaraunts do especially good food with wine inclusive (OK you have to take the smooth with the rough).

After departing I soon met a US chap from New York called Stephen who questioned me on my gear, then promptly told me I had all the wrong equipment, and his was much better. He then asked about my route, and then told me that the GR11 was in fact a poor route and he had designed his own much better one having been all over the world. I got away as quickly as I could. He had a point though as my solar charger for then gave up working and is now in a bin.

ve had a nice rest day now in Espot and stayed in Casa Colom with a newly married couple from Utah and a friendly Dutch couple who gave me food. However I also met a group of Germans earlier in the week at a Refuge where the pushed in front of me at check in. They all looked like Henchmen for some Bond Villain. Just as I was checking in one returned to me to apologise telling me that of the 3 double beds available they have saved me a space in between the 2 biggest of them. When I got to the dorm there where dozens of single beds available and they turned to me an laughed saying ´See, we Germans do have a sense of humour, ho ho ho´.

A cautionary tale: I was having lunch at the foot of the Ordesa valley and spread out my wet tent to dry. The tourists just walked past me surrounded as I was by steaming nylon. 2 hours and 700m further up, I set up my tent, but could find no tent pegs. Imagining some elderly French tourist had picked them up from the valley and was using my UL Titanium pegs as darning needles, I legged it back down into the valley but they where not at the spot where I had lunch. I returned to the tent dejected and put up my tents with rocks 3 hours later. Inside my wobbly tent I unpacked my clothing back and found the tent pegs...

In summary I am still on Schedule, and 2 days past half way. Tomorrow has the hardest day of the trek with 1500m of ascent and I still have Andorra and the largest peak of the climb still to come around day 37. Thanks for the comments; I like to think that somebody at least is reading this!