GR11: Reflections on a Journey

Sitting at Bassendoga

Words are a poor substitute for experience, but it is our hope that through our blog, we have managed to share some of the joy and trials we encountered on the GR11, and also to have expressed some of the sheer splendour of the trail itself.  The GR11 started with a dream, and through force of will took the shape of an adventure and then a reality. Like most adventures, there were more reasons not to do it, than to do it, and the final commitment to walk the GR11 was a victory of dreaming over pragmatism.

The GR11 I had imagined when we planned it, was not the GR11 we ended up walking, it was both better and harder in ways that I did not anticipate. Walking as we did with just what we needed on our backs, there were few buffers to experience, both good and bad. When things were difficult, and sometimes they were, there was often no door to close to make it ‘go away’, no handy retreat. But when things were good, we were exposed to new heights and, outside our bubble of comfort and familiarity, we felt, saw and drank-in more deeply. There was time to tune into what surrounded us, to open-up to the unexpected, and in return receive the gifts that lay around each bend in the trail.

When I think back to those early GR11 days, the first time we glimpsed the sparkling line of granite spires ahead, and the days that followed as we traced a line right through them, I am still not sure how we actually did it.  Looking at a map now as I write this I am equally at a loss, was it magic or something very simple? It was, I think, a long series of present moments, where the simple power of a footstep enabled us to trace the contours of a mountain range. Perhaps magic and simplicity are not so very different. The details, names and places of 60 days on the trail are already blurring, but what remains is an impression or afterglow of our GR11 journey……

……Silhouettes of great peaks in the light before dawn, tinkle of bells in high alpine meadows, echoes of marmots in stark, empty corries, cold touch of stone on a pass at sunrise, quiet balm of morning forests, dazzling leap of falling rivers, choughs spinning shadows in high, bright air, smell of pine on hot afternoons, waves of cricket song in ripe summer grasses, glory of sunset on bare granite uplands, wind and sunlight on broad golden pastures, sigh of vultures wings and glinting black eyes, waking to mountains washed silver by moonlight, the bright, high silence of peaks and stone………..

The GR11 was the golden thread than ran through all our experiences, it was a trial and a revelation, a barrier and an impetus, sometimes our despair and mostly our ideal, a wilderness and a guide.  Like all hiking trails, the GR11 does not really exist unless it is walked, the act of walking brings it into reality, but not as a fixed entity. There is no one GR11, only each individual’s journey. Most of all the GR11 is an enticement to dreaming and hopefully adventure, an adventure that when we make it is our uniquely own.

So, was the GR11 worth it? Unreservedly Yes! It was a another world, the living-out of an ideal, a time of almost unbroken immersion in nature, where we lived with beauty every day and became deeply attuned to our surroundings. This simple way of life felt like a very natural way of being, nothing else was needed and we came to feel a greater balance with ourselves and the world around us.

Happy New Year and please stay with ‘wildpilgrims’ for more adventures in 2016!

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