Trail Update: Return to the GR1


All set with new shoes for the final 400miles.

Observant readers may have noted the lack of updates from the GR1 recently, this is because of a last minute decision to return to the UK to explore a couple of opportunities that came up….which didn’t amount to much for various reasons. We have now travelled back to Spain and can’t wait to resume our GR1 journey. 400 miles of mountain and forest trails remain to us, and the knowledge of it fills us with a mix of relief and joy. After the horrible negativity and inwardness of ‘Brexit Britain’, returning to the GR1 feels like an escape but also like going home. Sometimes when we feel so alienated from the culture/society around us, we need to make our own world and define our own reality.

Returning to Britain has had its plus points though, not least the chance to spend time with our lovely Oscar and also to recuperate a bit. By the end of Week 7, I was suffering continuous joint and tendon pain, and just the thought of climbing up into the mountains of Cantabria made me feel tired. I feel much better after the rest, and we are both now refreshed, well fed and ready to go again. The time off trail also gave us a useful mid-trip break to repair, clean and review our gear too. We made a few gear tweaks to reduce more weight, including:

  • Swapping our Hubba Hubba tent groundsheet for a sheet of superlight Polycro from Wickes (double glazed window insulation film)…sounds weird but lots of hikers seem to swear by it. This cuts out about 150g.
  • Amalgamating all our separate USB plugs into a single, more powerful 4 outlet plug (made by Syncwire), which also has a European adaptor. This enables us to charge all devices very efficiently in a short time.
  • Swapping our (pretty useless) Karrimor pack raincovers for durable bin liners inside the packs instead.
  • Leaving our mid-layer fleeces behind and using just a warm baselayer + down jacket as insulating layers instead (good bulk reduction too).
  • Swapping the last remaining and pretty knackered Rab Alpine 600 sleeping bag that Barry was using, for a Western Mountaineering Megalite, cutting a decent 350g from his base-weight and freeing up loads more space in his pack. This also avoids sleeping bag envy on his part as he watches me snuggle into my (nearly new) WM Ultralight!

Over 600 miles into the GR1, our shoes (Salomon 3D Pros) were nearly worn out, plus the Gore-Tex was getting too sweaty and contributing to blisters. Walking into the rising heat of the Spanish summer over the next few weeks, Barry has swapped to a non Gore-Tex pair of Salomons and I have returned to using those tried and tested trail classics, Brooks Cascadia 9’s.

At the time, it was a big decision to interrupt our GR1 journey, because 7 continuous weeks of walking through remote landscapes and living simply had resulted in a progressive deepening of our experience that we did not want to loose. But we needn’t have worried. During the time we were away from the trail, our minds would always drift back there and in a strange way we stayed connected to it. The long and subtle GR1 has slowed us down and shifted our perspective in quite a profound way, creating a psychological distance between us and the so called ‘real world’ that we returned to for 2 weeks.

So, after 22 hours spent crossing the rolling swells of Biscay and watching dolphins stream through the blue-green waters, we arrived back in Spain yesterday, where it was raining and the cafe lights shone on the wet streets of Santander. Tonight we’ll be back in the cozy Hubba Hubba, after travelling by bus inland to rejoin the trail at the village in the Basque hills where we left it. The GR1 is pulling us seductively back into its current, and willingly we let go, to be lost in the landscape as the hills close behind us again.

Next up is Week 8 and we hopefully regain our trail-legs and start the climb through flower- rich limestone hills to the heights of Cantabria.


4 thoughts on “Trail Update: Return to the GR1

  1. How sensible to deal with upcoming issues (otherwise they fill your head), to rest aches and to update your kit. It’s even more sensible to head straight back. It’s cold here, and has rained non-stop since first thing – no let up at all. You’re in the right place. I hope it’s not too hot. Sx


  2. glad your back on it 🙂 we are busy cutting labels out of stuff and trying to get pack weight down to about 13kg with food and water .. can I ask what temp rating your bags are , and what altitude you are sleeping at , i’m trying to decide if my cumulus -12 is a bit over the top for the GR5 …. valleys defiantly but not sure above 2000 meters …. dilemma ..


    • Hello
      Yes, sleeping bags are always tricky :/ For the GR11 in the Pyrenees last year, which is more comparable to the GR5, we used our RAB Alpine 600’s (rated to -7). Like most bags however this rating was overstated…they were more like 0 degrees. We camped between 1000 and 2000m most of the time and were usually warm enough until Sept when we started to get nights at or just below freezing…then we got pretty cold.

      Recently swapped to Western Mountaineering Ultralight. Rated conservatively to -5 the quality of the down (850+ fill power) and loft of this bag gives me great confidence for 3 season mid level mountain trips in Europe, and gives me my perfect balance between weight/bulk/warmth. The bag is overkill for the much lower GR1 (500-1000m) in the summer, but for the GR11 or GR5 or early/late season low level hikes, I would feel very happy with it.

      Barry has a WM Megalite, rated to -2. He would not trust it for 3 season mountain hikes but could ‘top up’ the rating by wearing thermals etc. It packs really small though and is brilliant quality bag again. Both WM bags have a continuous baffle which allows us to move the down fill on top for extra warmth.

      So, hope that helps a bit, I think the weather on the GR5 is more variable than the Spanish Pyrenees, with the possibility of late/unseasonal snow…so that needs accounting for too.

      13kg total is pretty good going! We seem to have hit a wall with our baseweights now (around 8/9kg)…and not sure how to really improve with doing something drastic- like swapping to a tarp 🙂

      All the best



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