Spanish restaurants serve osso bucco to birds

Quebrantaheusos (Spanish), bearded vulture, Lammergeyer vulture (English), Gypaète barbu (French)
Quebrantaheusos (Spanish), bearded vulture, Lammergeyer vulture (English), Gypaète barbu (French)

Photo: Richard Bartz, Munich aka Makro Freak

The French and English names (gypaète barbu and bearded vulture) refer to its distinctive red “beard” but the Spanish name for the Gypaetus barbatus, Quebrantahuesos tells you more about it: the name means “bone breaker”. Continue reading Spanish restaurants serve osso bucco to birds

Strange bedfellows counting sheep… then dreaming of hunting them

New Mexico Bighorn Sheep
New Mexico Bighorn Sheep. Photo by Jwanamaker https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28291925

The debate on the reintroduction of carnivores (think wolves) and omnivores (bears) usually focusses on the polarised views of livestock breeders on the one hand and conservationists on the other. But what about hunters? I’ve just been reading an article in the New York Times about hunting sheep which adds a whole new dimension to the discussion. In the US, receipts from sheep hunting permits are used to finance more sheep reintroductions. Could this idea be applied to the Pyrenees? Continue reading Strange bedfellows counting sheep… then dreaming of hunting them

Mulhacén – the highest point in mainland Spain

Google Earth flyover of route

Aneto, at 3404m may well be the highest point in the Pyrenees but it is not the highest point on the Spanish peninsula. That honour goes to Mulhacén, 3479m, in the Sierra Nevada, within sight of Granada. It is said to be the last resting place of the penultimate Moorish king of Spain, Mulay Hasan. Unlike its Pyrenean rival however, Mulhacén is not a great challenge to climb in summer. From the Alpujarras, to the south it looks like a big potato: locally it is known as the “Cerro”, the hill.

 

Continue reading Mulhacén – the highest point in mainland Spain

Pyrenean Haute Route 2016. Days 50-57 Pla Guilhem to Banyuls

France

Day 50. Pla Guilhem hut at sunrise.
Day 50. Pla Guilhem hut at sunrise.

Normally, climbing Canigou (2784m) is an essential part of the HRP but I have climbed it many times from all sides and know the Mariailles and Cortalets hostels well. But I hadn’t stayed in the new Saint Guilhem hostel, nor at Batère with its hot tub!

Day 51. The Batère hostel used to provide accommodation for miners.
Day 51. The Batère hostel used to provide accommodation for miners.

Amélie-les-Bains is the only significant town on the HRP.

Day 52. Amélie-les-Bains, a spa town.
Day 52. Amélie-les-Bains, a spa town.

Hot day, no rush, cool swim.

Day 53. An isolated pool just for me, near Montalbà.
Day 53. An isolated pool just for me, near Montalbà.

After Amélie I stayed at the Moulin de la Palete which is also a stage on the Pyrenean Way. After it, both the Pyrenean Way and the HRP go to Las Illas but the shortest route crosses into Spain and only the HRP follows it.

Spain

Day 54. Mas Coll de Lli.
Day 54. Mas Coll de Lli.

The Mas Coll de LLi was the last staging post before the border and escape from the approaching fascist armies at the end of the Spanish civil war in 1939.

France

Day 55. Fire salamander on the track above Las Illas.
Day 55. Fire salamander on the track above Las Illas.

The HRP follows the Pyrenean Way from Las Illas to the sea but I wanted to try some new paths and also see the trees planted by Manel.

Day 55. Sequoia planted by the shepherd Manel in the mid-19th century.
Day 55. Sequoia planted by the shepherd Manel in the mid-19th century.

Spain

Requesens is essentially a farm. But the family runs a restaurant (open at mid-day only) and a secret hostel. I discovered the restaurant when I walked the Senda two years ago. But that night I slept in the Forn de Calç hut. There are no signs, absolutely nothing to indicate a hostel, but if you ask nicely you will be admitted into another world, dated c 1960, with one or two anachronisms: a microwave and a posh gas stove. Luxury.

Day 55. Requesens castle from the hamlet.
Day 55. Requesens castle from the hamlet.

France

I had always promised myself I would spend my last night on the HRP at the Refuge Tomy although I could have easily reached Banyuls. The shelter is tucked under the Pic de Sallfort (960m). The overhanging rocks make standing up impossible and it can accommodate a maximum of three people. But every aspect of the construction has been carefully thought. There is a gas stove (please make a contribution to the costs) and water. And a view over Banyuls and the Mediterranean to take your breath away. When the sun emerges, gasping, from the Mediterranean, you know you have arrived.

Day 56. Refuge Tomy on the Pic de Sailfort, within sight of Banyuls.
Day 56. Refuge Tomy on the Pic de Sailfort, within sight of Banyuls.

The sunrise was disappointing but on the way down I had the luck to meet a Pyrenean legend. Maurice Parxes, easily recognisable from his red and black bonnet . Maurice not only created and maintains the Refuge Tomy, bringing fresh water from the spring 130m below every week in summer, but had also competed in the Championnat du Canigou for the last 34 years. He is now 74. This year the race – 34 km, 2180m ascent – took him 5h47. He was first in his category, V4. 250 younger competitors took longer.

Day 57. Banyuls, 10 September. Drinking a Triple Sec on the rocks to celebrate my third crossing of the Pyrenees, GR10, GR11, and HRP.
Day 57. Banyuls, 10 September. Drinking a Triple Sec on the rocks to celebrate my third crossing of the Pyrenees, GR10, GR11, and HRP.

I crossed international borders 23 times without ever being asked for my papers.

Pyrenean Haute Route 2016. Days 45-49 L’Hospitalet to Pla Guilhem

France

The earliest train back arrived at 13:20 so, although the Bésines hostel  was only three hours away, it was later in the day than I would have liked. Inevitably this was one of only two days on the Haute Route that I got caught in a thunderstorm.

Day 45. Before the storm in the Guerboulouse forest.
Day 45. Before the storm in the Guerboulouse forest.

Continue reading Pyrenean Haute Route 2016. Days 45-49 L’Hospitalet to Pla Guilhem

Pyrenean Haute Route 2016. Days 41-44 Fourcat hostel to L’Hospitalet près l’Andorre

Day 41. Pyrenean iris.
Day 41. Pyrenean iris.

France

I had originally planned to walk along the frontier, just in France, heading for the Rulhe hostel but the more I investigated, the more difficult it seemed. So I crossed into Andorra to El Serrat, a village almost entirely made up of hotels and holiday apartments.

Andorra

The Andorran meteorologists forecast thunderstorms every afternoon so I re-planned for shorter days. After El Serrat (Hotel Bringué), staying at the new Sorteny hostel, the Cabaña Sorda hut, and the Juclar hostel. In the event there were no storms at all. On the other hand the claim that even the unmanned huts had mobile phone coverage turned out to be true. Not far from Sorteny, a botanical garden is very useful for identifying the plants seen in the mountains.

Day 41. Sculpture near the botanical gardens above El Serrat.
Day 41. Sculpture near the botanical gardens above El Serrat.

Although there is plenty of water at the Cabanya Sorda, the outflow from the reservoir was dry. A filter or water purifying tablets are a must.

Day 42. Estany de la Cabanya Sorda
Day 42. Estany de la Cabanya Sorda
Day 43. Juclar hostel: crocs and shop-bought logs!
Day 43. Juclar hostel: crocs and shop-bought logs!

France

Day 44. Head of the Morguillou valley.
Day 44. Head of the Morguillou valley.

I had chosen this route to avoid Pas de la Case, one of Andorra’s many towns in this country “dedicated to shopping” as the tourist leaflets proudly proclaim.

From L’Hospitalet près l’Andorre I went home for a week’s rest.

Slow Mountain & Space for Wonder, two recent books with a new approach to mountaineering

Slow Mountain and Space for Wonder. Two guides to a new philosophy of walking
Slow Mountain and Space for Wonder. Two guides to a new philosophy of walking

I haven’t read it yet, but Juanjo Garbizu’s Slow Mountain is on my Christmas wish list.

“The accelerated rhythm of life today is not just confined to the cities. It has been moving into the mountains, and is making them a focus of competition too. But not everyone sees the peaks in this way. Juanjo Garbizu hikes to slow down, creating moments when time is suspended (he walks without a watch). So he can enjoy everything the landscape has to offer, sharpening his senses by observing nature and immersing himself in the stimuli unique to mountains. This is the Slow Mountain, mountaineering at a leisurely pace, which Garbizu has made his own in this book: a manifesto for a return to the original spirit of mountaineering and hiking.” (Free translation of the synopsis; the book is in Spanish.)

I am reminded of Gordon Wilson’s Space for Wonder, a personal take on trekking in the Pyrenees. A highly readable guide to crossing the Pyrenees combining the three classic trails, it emphasises the importance of taking “the time to stand and stare”. Full of anecdotes, it shows that long-distance walking doesn’t have to be a hard slog.

Pyrenean Haute Route 2016. Days 28–34 Bagnères-de-Luchon to Alós d’Isil

France

Returning to Bagnères-de-Luchon, I hitched to the car park at the head of the Lys valley. The afternoon’s walk took me up to the Maupas hostel, 1300m above. Again this was my personal variant: it was my first time at Maupas.

Day 28. The view of the Luchon valley from Maupas hostel.
Day 28. The view of the Luchon valley from Maupas hostel.

I arrived in cloud. Only when the skies cleared after dinner did I realise quite how vertiginous the site is. Continue reading Pyrenean Haute Route 2016. Days 28–34 Bagnères-de-Luchon to Alós d’Isil

Pyrenean Haute Route 2016. Days 20–27 Gavarnie to Bagnères-de-Luchon

France

Louis went home from Gavarnie. I would be on my own for the rest of the hike.

Day 20. Cirque de Gavarnie with the Brèche de Roland, seen from the Espuguettes hostel.
Day 20. Cirque de Gavarnie with the Brèche de Roland, seen from the Espuguettes hostel.

The HRP heads over a pass to the Cirque d’Estaubé and then to the lower reaches of the Cirque de Troumouse, two lesser-known cirques. Continue reading Pyrenean Haute Route 2016. Days 20–27 Gavarnie to Bagnères-de-Luchon

Walking on the Senda (GR11)
Contact: Steve Cracknell +33 (0)4 68 43 52 38    email