110km, 60 litres of water, 25 wild horses, 20 camping meals, 3 adder snakes, 2 happy campers, 1 wild boar and an EPIC adventure along the GR10 trail!!
Fitness comes in many guises. Some people can be considered fit because they can run 100 mtrs pretty fast. Others because they can do a marathon in no time at all. And then there’s the fitness required to keep you going for days on end.
It’s not about the huff and puff and the pounding heart. It’s sore legs, mental fatigue, and the wherewithal to push through when giving up is easier. And for days on end!
Sorry, Ma’am, but the extra day hols gave the perfect excuse to get away from it all. And escape the weather so it would seem!
We took a rather disappointing train from St Pancras to Banyuls-Sur-Mer on the Med coast near the French boarder with Spain. It’s an overnight journey and we harboured hopes of Gallic buffet carriage complete with crusty bread and rustic Cotes du Rhone. Not to be. We arrived in Banyuls on Sunday morning tired and under refreshed, and keen to crack on with our adventure.
So off we set on the Monday morning. This was along the GR10 route which runs through the Pyrenees along the French / Spanish border, providing a 900km 50 day route which is considered a French classic. People do it in one fell swoop, but limited time meant only a 5 day section without interruption. We’ll be back to conquer the rest!
The route is traditionally started on the Atlantic coast and walked from West to East until finally arriving at Banyuls on the Med coast. But our 5 days started in Banyuls and were to end in Vernet Les Bains; a lovely spa town in the Pyrenees for some well earned R&R after the trek.
Each day we covered approximately 22km over a period of 7-10 hours. Having a full 70 litre rucksack, complete with your ‘home’ for a week is heavy and results in pretty slow going! However, as we munched our way through our food over the week, the packs got lighter and the going in theory should’ve been quicker!
Although fatigue set in and long stops put to bed any thoughts of making time each day. But that was fine; weather was good and with nothing to do in an evening there really was no rush to get anywhere in anytime at all. And that felt good. Mobile reception was limited and phones mostly off over the week to conserve battery life. So it was just us, our thoughts and conversations and fine fresh air and healthy mountain sunshine
We’d typically finish each day’s walk at 6-7pm. A nip of brandy was the reward and then the gas burner would go on. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the luxury of taking healthy green food so were subject to camping meals in need of rehydrating. They actually taste pretty fine after a hard day yomping and I can heartily recommend them for camping and backpacking.
A double thick hot chocolate (with more brandy!) and then it was lights out by about 9pm. Well, in fact it was generally light before sleep arrived but that didn’t stop a good night’s rest in the peaceful mountains.
We had some great experiences as well as the walking over the week. We saw all sorts of wildlife you wouldn’t expect in the UK. Ok, so seeing 3 snakes in the week might not be everyone’s idea of fun, but they were pretty harmless and were keen to get out of our way as we were of getting out of theirs! A wild boar was seen scurrying up a hillside into the bush and there were a fair few impressive birds of prey swooping about as well. They have vultures there, but thankfully we saw none of these….!
The only hiccup was pitching the tent in a field on night 4 when 25 or so wild horses thundered in 20 minutes later to our surprise! So we zipped up the tent, held our breath for what seemed like forever and listened to them snort and paw at the ground around the tent. After a little while they moved further up the field, giving us enough time to pick up the tent with all the belongings and high-tail it further up a ridge and re-pitch where we could watch without disturbing them!
Some much needed stretching out!
After a few days, hiking up and down hot trails it was clear that personal hygiene might become an issue! There’s only certain levels that a bit of under arm and a wet wipe will cover up and without nose pegs we both decided we’d need to find a place to freshen up. So we struck out on day 3 with the intention of pitching near a stream. This meant that the day was longer than anticipated and we found an overgrown riverbank which we cleared out and set about cleaning ourselves in the fast flowing Pyrenean stream. Let me tell you, it might be sunshine and 30c in the mountains, but high mountain river waters are quite the contrary and it was the coldest experience and quickest wash I’ve had. The brain freeze experienced when dunking my soaped up head under the water was akin to eating the coldest ice cream. Ouch!
But we went to bed refreshed and renewed, having that feeling that a good shower after exercise gives you. Marvellous.
Pitching by a stream, night 3: although mosquitoes also love water!
By day 4 we were pretty pooped and faced the longest day yet. This involved a 1200 metre ascent in the afternoon to get to our pitching spot. This particular mountain was arid and offered little to no shade and we went through our water reserves at an alarming rate.
A potentially fraught afternoon was rescued when we stumbled across another refreshing stream and plunged in without a second thought. More brain freeze, but cool bodies resulted and we were able to drink to our hearts content after purifying the water. The day finished a few hours later high in the hills and we were rewarded with a campsite over a cloud inversion and a stunning view with our (packet!) meal. This was after rescuing ourselves from the snorting wild horses tho!
Day 5 was a limp to Vernet Les Bains. By then the weight of the backpacks had taken it’s toll on our limbs, but we were rewarded with a cooler, misty, mountain day. The fresh air was so tangible you could almost taste the goodness in it and we limped down to Vernet and to the welcome of a warm shower and a big fat bbq feeling like we had been cleansed from the inside out.
Overall a cracking trip. The Pyrenees are often overlooked in favour of their more famous Alpine cousins, but in the 5 days on the hills we probably happened across 10 other hikers. Total solitude and a chance to iron out the crinkles from the city living. So, sorry Ma’am for missing your big day, but I’m sure you didn’t miss us!