Pilgrims, golondrinas, refugees: crossing the Pyrenees

Fourteen routes over the Pyrenees

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.

Paths linking GR10 and GR11
Paths linking GR10 and GR11 (click to enlarge)
Louis Ramond de Carbonnières
Louis Ramond de Carbonnières

[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.

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The Senda Pirenaica or Spanish GR11

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.

Twisted geology above Góriz in Aragon
Twisted geology above Góriz in Aragon

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.

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Ticks and Lyme disease in the Pyrenees

tickForget 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

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