Trekking the GR1, the Sendero Historico: A Trip Report
Tarjei, a keen trekker from Norway, recently finished the whole of the GR1 (the Sendero Historico) with the aid of John Hayes' guidebook. Here he shares his trip report and some marvellous photographs.
Trekking the GR1 through Spain
There’s a world of walking opportunities out there, but what led me to a remote pass in the Parque Regional de Picos de Europa in Spain? Some years ago, after walking the Camino Frances to Santiago de Compostela, a spark was kindled inside me. Other trails followed, the GR20 on Corsica, the GR10 crossing the Pyrenees, the Baekdu Daegan in South-Korea, the list goes on. Always looking for new trails, until one day a series of pictures flickered across my screen. Pictures of abandoned and remote villages in Spain set in stunning locations.
The abandoned villages were tempting and haunting at the same time, but best of all, they were all located next to a trail, the GR1 Sendero Historico. It did not take long before I sat with John Hayes’ guidebook between my hands, reading expectantly. Days went by, weeks went by, months went by. Thoughts, plans and concerns about things were all shuffling around in my head. And then one Friday in September, I stood at Puerto de Tarna, ready for my adventure on the GR1. The air crisp and clear, not a cloud in the sky in the direction I was going, a tiny bit chilly. Expectations high.
One Friday in September, I stood at Puerto de Tarna, ready for my adventure
Now there is always a degree of anticipation in taking the first step (of very many) on a long journey such as this. With an initial 1250km laying ahead of me, it is fair to say that I had some doubts of what I was really doing. However, I was soon immersed in the beauty of the trail, for better and worse. The trail started off in a stunning manner, within the magnificent limestone landscapes of the Picos de Europa, the views rich with contrasts. As I got further and deeper into northern Spain, the scenery changed. Not always exciting, but it was varied, and sometimes it was amazing. From remote forests and valleys, to flat and dusty plains, to lonesome ridges, through paths carved out of the mountains, beneath stunning cliffs, fields of sunflowers and more.
Over the forty-nine days it took me to walk the trail, there was one thing that really stood out. It was how solitary a walk this was. Being so long, I had not expected to actually meet any other hikers walking the whole trail from west to east as I did. However, what I had expected was to meet people doing sections of the trail or out for a day. After almost two weeks, I met the first other hiker on the trail, going in the opposite direction. It was a far cry from what I had experienced on my previous walks. It then felt ironic that the day I met the most other people, was the same day as I was passing by the most abandoned villages.
A solitary walk - it took nearly two weeks to meet another walker
However, how solitary it was, it did not take away the wonders of the walk. To truly grasp the significance of what you see, you have to look back at the history of the places you come to. It is a trail lined with history, a walk among the ghosts of Spain. I walked through narrow medieval streets in Sos del Rey Catolico, gazed up in marvel at the twin towers of Sibirana, explored the Castillo de Loarre, were haunted by the ghosts of Baigorri, got lost in the fairytale castle of Olite, drank a beer to the splendid views from the Castillo de Samitier and Ermita de San Emeterio with views of the Pyrenees and the sunken church of Mediano and crossed amazing bridges in Besalú and Oix. I could go on forever (almost).
And still, it was the abandoned villages that gave me the biggest goosebumps. Walking through so many ruins and remnants of homes where people once had lived was truly amazing. With Nazare and Bagüeste making the biggest impressions, both set in marvellous locations with the Pyrenees as a backdrop. Just to think that in 1940 there were 32 people living in Nazare, in 1950 none and in 1960, 27 people lived in Bagüeste, none in 1970.
Some people and some hospitality
Even though people a long time ago had abandoned these villages and I met few other walkers on the trail, I was not without human contact and hospitality. There were many places where the people did their best to make me feel at home and comfortable. Such as in Navagos, where two women let me camp in their garden, and invited me in for a shower and meals.
And of course, there were times when things weren’t as good, and I felt frustrated. Sometimes I felt I was almost walking on a dead trail. Some sections of the trail are badly waymarked, or not waymarked at all, and it’s almost impossible to navigate without a GPS. When my GPS failed, as they do, I often found myself lost, knowing I had taken a wrong turn and had to turn back. This led me to become more and more uncertain whether I was on the right way or not, and that was not a good feeling. But I persevered and I'm glad I did.
I arrived in Sant Martí d'Empúries to the sound of waves crashing against the shore. I was tired, my feet ached, but my reward were all the memories that I’d brought with me from the walk. With the sky blue and sun shining above me, I had to go swimming in the Mediterranean.