Brown bear – ursus arctos, ós bru (Catalan) oso pardo (Spanish)
Catalonia has just announced [TV interview in Catalan] [report in French] that it will release a male bear from Slovenia in the Pyrenees this May. The aim is to widen the bear population’s gene pool: at present most of the thirty bears have the dominant male Pyros as their father or grandfather (sometimes both). The project has been on the cards for many years but the PirosLife rewilding project is being cautious.
Before the 1970s only a handful of walkers had crossed the Pyrenees from E–W but hundreds of thousands had done it from N–S or S–N, and not just at the ends near the coast. Hannibal and Pompey; pilgrims on the Way of St James; Cathars; pedlars; shepherds; Napoleon’s armies; smugglers; Ramond, Russell, and other explorers; golondrinas; priests with Spanish religious statues; political refugees; the entire Spanish government with its paintings and gold; Jews and pilots; maquis; economic migrants; terrorists… All crossed the Pyrenees.
[Note: some of these routes are not particularly recommended for walkers but are included for their historical interest. Each route includes practical information for those who wish to cross from the Senda Pirenaica (GR11) to the Pyrenean Way (GR10).]
Many of these crossings are now celebrated by official treks, mostly created in the last fifteen years, with interpretive panels and museums by way of explanation. These are known as Grand recorridos transfronterizos in Spanish and Sentiers de randonnée transfrontaliers in French.The Aragon government has just launched a project [Spanish text] to develop them.
The Senda is a long walk. Like its elder sister, the Pyrenean Way (GR10) in France, it runs from the Atlantic coast to the Mediterranean, taking in the entire length of the mountains. With over 950km to hike and around 42000m of climbing it is a serious trek. Kilian Jornet may well have brushed it off in eight days but ordinary humans will take at least six weeks.
Yet there’s more to the GR11 than the one and a half million footprints and the encounters with other nomads. It is also a window on a way of life. The last vestiges of the Old Mountains are still visible in recently abandoned hamlets and overgrown hedgerows. And the New Mountains are moving in, bringing with them infrastructures and ideas conceived on the plains.
Forget bears and wild boar; the walker’s greatest enemy in the Pyrenees is only 2mm across. I know three people who have had serious problems after a tick bit. One was temporarily paralysed from his toes to his neck and given a 50% chance of survival; another was diagnosed with depression for many years until tested for Lyme disease; and a third was too ill to work and had to retire ten years early. The long-term symptoms are very varied and diagnosis difficult. Continue reading Ticks and Lyme disease in the Pyrenees→