It has not been a year of hikes on big trails, but in the background, I have been covering the miles on days out walking on the South Downs. The Downs have grown on me slowly, but as a I look back on 9 months of walking there, I realise that they have become an important place of escape and an unexpected adventure.
With train tickets booked we are only a few weeks away from starting the GR5. In this post I talk about our preparations for the trail, the options available and my thoughts on section-hiking the trail (as opposed to thru-hiking).
Blessed with two glorious spring days, I set out with a trusty Jack Russell to walk the 39 mile New Lipchis Way from north to south through West Sussex. It was a stunning and diverse journey that took us deep into ancient rural landscapes and through the heart of the South Downs National Park, before descending to the Cathedral city of Chichester and finally the sea at East Head.
The week got off to a difficult start with the shadow of Brexit looming over our thoughts and sapping our motivation. After a wild swim broke the spell, we focussed again and the GR1 treated us to a glorious traverse of the Picos Regional Park before ascending to it’s finale at the pass of Puerto de Tarna.
One of our favourite weeks on the GR1 so far, across stunning limestone landscapes awash with wildflowers. There was a palpable relief to be back on the trail again and far from the world in Spain’s rural depths. The trail and weather were trying at times, but we have returned with a renewed appreciation for the journey and freedom.
In Week 7 we left the broad horizons of Navarra behind, and climbed into the verdant, misty hills of the Basque country. The locals we met were convinced we had lost the Camino, but we were glad to be back on lonelier trails doing our own thing, as is our wildpilgrim way! There was lots of waiting for the rain to stop and plenty of time for tea- drinking and contemplating as we reflected on how the hiking-life deepens our sense of time and the value of unnoticed things.
Week 6 saw us descend from the Sierras of Aragon to the plains of Navarra. The bustle of roads and cities was a shock to the system, but the big, dramatic skies and unexpected birdlife of the plains was a highlight of our walk so far. By the end of the week we finally had some company as we crossed the pilgrim ‘highway’ of the Camino de Santiago’.