a walk to the world's end

John Sutcliffe’s 2018 Spanish backpacking adventure through the Pyrenean & Cantabrian Mountains

PART ONE | The GR-1 Along the Pyrenean Foothills

Section 5: Torre de Anues (Navarra) to Basque Country

Section 1  |  Section 2  |  Section 3  |  Section 4  |  Section 5  |  Section 6  |  Section 7  |  Section 8

Ancient way up to Gallipienzo

The change in province was immediately apparent as the way-markers that had guided me for the last three hundred kilometres, were nowhere to be seen. A few steps into the new province, a weather-beaten signpost unhelpfully directed me to cross a thigh-deep cornfield. I kept to the main track and stopped a young farmer who gave me a heads-up on how to best get to Caseda, ignoring the guidebook’s route that had apparently been recently been lost 19 to agriculture.

After crossing the Aragon river on an ancient stone bridge, I followed the zigzagging cobbled footpath up the hillside to the citadel village of Gallipienzo, Km 724. It was now early evening and, thinking about water for the night’s camp, I spotted a lady feeding her cats. It turned out her husband was a Brit, and they invited me indoors for a beer and a sandwich. Rain threatened as I headed off.

The couple suggested that I might overnight at a shepherds hut at Coral de Lavilla, Km 727 a few kilometres further on. It was a lovely evening and I enjoyed the walk with rain threatening but holding off. The hut was unlocked, but a bit dark and dingy inside. After sweeping the floor a with a cluster of branches, I got a splendid fire going which lit up the cobwebbed rafters and warmed the place up. This was the closest I had found to a bothy on the walk!



June 6 2018

Up early, well before sunrise, I could just make out some lights on the distant ridge that I figured must be Ujue, my next target at Km 735. It was a bit chilly so I raked the fire back to life throwing on a few sticks, and it was away again in no time.

I reached the pretty hill-top town by midday and called at the splendid Meson Las Torres, recommended by my guidebook, for a late breakfast of delicious ham and eggs.

From there on, and not without some regret, I turned my back on the Pyrenean foothills that I had been following for the past 700 kilometres to head down the escarpment towards the plains of Navarro and the small town of Olite, Km 750. Deliberately resisting the temptation to push on for a bed for the night, I camped at the edge of a barley field, just a few kilometres from the town, having found a handy irrigation tap for the night’s water.


Approaching Olite



June 7 2018

Enjoying the lovely sunny morning I covered the remaining 3 kilometres across agricultural land to Olite. I found a pleasant hotel just close to the Gothic Palace of Kings and then set off to explore the town feeling like a normal tourist after a good shower and swapping my boots for sandals.




Olite had been the royal headquarters of the kings of Navarre during the Middle Ages and is a gem of a place, teeming with Gothic architecture and teeming with tourists and visiting swifts and swallows.  After a short visit to the wine museum, I wandered around the town and enjoyed a wonderful lunch in a cider bar, and then found a kind lady who repaired my shirt that had suffered with the brambles.

A kind lady repairs my top



June 8 2018

My guidebook had warned me that Navarra province did not support the GR-1 and that consequently there would be no waymarkers along this section of the walk. It was quite easy, however, to navigate across the plains following the named ancient Caminos that would have been used to migrate sheep and cattle to summer grazing.  Where short sections of the way had been lost to agriculture it was easy to divert around these without the usual nightmare of brambles.

My guidebook had also warned that this flattish 70 kilometre-long section of the Navarra plain didn’t have a lot going for it, but I found these green undulating prairies, with scattered woods and heathland, quite lovely. The ancient ways were bordered with masses of flowers that supported myriads of bees and butterflies. The rolling fields of golden cereals, that stretched as far as the eye could see, were well tended; there was not a soul about, it was as if the bees and butterflies were the sole custodians of this land.


Navarra poppies


I stopped during my first day on the plains for a late lunch at Berbinzana, Km 771, a quiet village partly hidden in a shallow valley, where the Ecuadorian bartender knocked me up a tasty late afternoon ham and eggs ‘brunch’. I had lived and worked in Ecuador for nearly a decade and we swapped stories about the demise of this spectacularly beautiful land. Afterwards, I continued my journey across the plains to Larraga, a dusty town dominated by an enormous Norman tower that overlooks the slow moving, brackish, a slightly sinister-looking waters of the Rio Arga.


June 9 2018

Heading off across the plains I was wafted by the powerful early morning perfumes of wild roses and honeysuckle.  I was really enjoying this wonderfully remote and lonely countryside, with its ancient ways now mostly home, it seems, to just butterflies and bees.

Showers blew in from the south later in the afternoon and my waterproofs were on an off for the rest of the day which was a bit of a nuisance. I found a bar in the small town of Allo, Km 795, run by a Gallego chap, and tucked into a steak and chips. Blue skies returned in the late afternoon and, as I headed off around 4pm, it felt like summer had finally arrived and that I had said goodbye to the sudden drenching thunderstorms that had plagued me during the last few hundred kilometres. Revitalized by the steak and the wonderful perfume of the recently watered roses and honeysuckle, I crashed on to the pilgrim stop-over town of Los Arcos, Km 815, arriving at 7.30pm.

Los Arcos is a busy town being an official stopover on the more popular 20 pilgrim route, St James Way. The main pilgrim hostal was full of noisy pilgrims but I found a bed round the corner in a half-empty hostal for €16, sleeping on a sagging sofa. After a 10 hour, 35 kilometre day, I could have fallen asleep just about anywhere. I had supper in a covered market area with several lively bars but managed to find the only stroppy barmaid in town who served me plastic calamares before I moved on to a nicer bar to rerun the supper.


June 10 2018

The early morning weather looked a bit dodgy with the hills shrouded in low cloud. As I would be climbing back up to 800 metres on what looked like a wonderful section of the walk, I kept a keen eye on the cloud base. Every time I looked out the door to check this, another group of Santiago-bound pilgrim walkers passed by, scuttling off to grab a bed at the next pilgrim albergue (hostel) before the others arrived. According to my landlady, about 300 pilgrims passed through the town each day at the peak of the season. On my entire 1,250 kilometre GR-1 walk I met just 7 other long-distance walkers!

On the way to Codes


True to form, I didn’t see another walker all day and so had these beautiful hills all to myself until I reached the Sanctuary of Nuestra Senora of Codes, at Km 835, in early afternoon after a truly wonderful walk. I struck a good deal on a room at the small hostel and settled down to a late Sunday lunch in the crowded bar area that I soon had to myself after the Sunday lunchers’ headed off for home.

Nuestra Senora de Codes sanctuary



June 11 2018

I had looked forward to this section of the walk with a degree excitement and trepidation as it would now take me over the high Sierra de Codes watershed and on into Basque Country. The days walk got underway with a steep climb up through a lovely oak forest leading to the 1,244m-high coll 22. Somewhere near the watershed I was overtaken by a troop of fast-and-light fell runners and I stopped to watch them disappearing into the mist, striking up a chord from the film, Chariots of Fire.

Approaching Sierra de Codes watershed


...and into Basque country


Then I was once more alone and with perfect timing, the sun burnt through the cloud just as I reached the summit at about 10am. It was in another world, a green plateau crowded with alpine flowers, with signposts along the border ridge written in both Castillian Spanish and unpronounceable, even unreadable, Basque language.

Continue Reading >>> Section 6: Into Basque Country


19  I have the impression that minor paths and tracks in Spain have no legal status.

20  And that many would agree is supersaturated (ie ruined) with flocks of visitors from all round the world.

22  A high level pass

Contact John Sutcliffe - treks@johnsutcliffe.net


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a walk to the
world's end

John Sutcliffe’s 2018 Spanish backpacking adventure through the Pyrenean & Cantabrian Mountains