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'The GR1: Spain's Sendero Histórico' by John Hayes, a Review

29/12/2015 10:36 GMT | Updated 27/12/2016 10:12 GMT

2015-11-24-1448364141-2172881-TheGR1cover.jpg Photograph by Cicerone

Guides/schmuides. In the digital age we live in, do we really need to reserve space in our luggage for a book? If the title in question's The GR1: Spain's Sendero Histórico, there's a case for making room.

Especially as generally the words are less dry-as-toast text and more dripping-like-butter prose. Except when author John Hayes gets stuck in an adjectival rut of using "pleasant" one sentence and "unpleasant" the next. Although, some blame must lie with his editor for not smoothing his path with less jarring text.

However, I hope the accommodation available at Aragon's Salinas de Trillo is as described. Or could the passage about the Casa Bielsa "which seeks to feed guests entirely on home produce - this includes the wine, a litre of which is provided with breakfast next morning" be another editorial stumble? Or, rather, a winning way of preventing drinking on an empty stomach.

Retired management expert John Hayes certainly put in the legwork in researching this book. After leaving the world of work in 2011, "he embarked on an epic 5000km trek across Europe, walking from Tarifa in Spain to Budapest." Two years later, he'd tackle the GR1 for the first time before making two return trips.

2015-12-28-1451283107-8002157-GR1signpost.jpg Photograph by Cicerone

Hayes' mileage allows him to compare landscapes. And so "the limestone landscape of the eastern Cantabrian Mountains" resembles "the Ardeche in France and includes some of the same distinct features including the deep gorges, natural bridges and underground caves." This is an author who much prefers to rely on first-hand experience as opposed to trawling through the World Wide Web.

After an introduction which traverses the topography of the route, along with wildlife, history, and what to take, the Sendero Histórico is broken down into seven sections. This helps those contemplating the hike to plan their trek. Hayes reveals that attempting the route in one go will take just under two months.

2015-12-28-1451283847-5786599-Thetopofsunkenchurch.jpg Photograph by Cicerone

There's a map of each section. The author then divides these into stages. Sticking to Cicerone's tried-and-trusted format, you'll discover such essential info as where to start, the distance involved, how high you'll ascend and descend, and the time you'll spend walking.

As well as map illustrations, there are numerous colour photos. So, you'll be able to picture the terrain before you walk it. A hike which will take in six of Spain's autonomous regions, starting in Asturias and ending in Catalonia.

2015-12-28-1451287415-7880073-ColladodeCruzArmada.jpg Photograph by Cicerone

Because of Hayes' hitherto mentioned breadth of walking experience, he's able to contrast as well as compare. So, he unlikens the GR1 to the nearby more famous Camino de Santiago. As the author asserts, "The 'Camino' had one aim: to get pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela as quickly as possible."

This "medieval motorway" couldn't be more different to the GR1 which "is a relatively modern invention...designed for walkers." "It meanders through some of the best scenery northern Spain has to offer and, at the same time, visits key locations in the development of modern Spain." Yes, the GR1 offers a beautifully-illustrated history.

There are some interesting nuggets. Green Spain, for example, is less verdant than you think. In common with other countries, Spain's trees became the victims of agriculture and woodburning. However, "because rural depopulation happened so much later trees have not yet returned to cover the mountains."

The relative scarcity of trees provide obvious advantages for the walker. The views, for a start. Your vision is not going to be dominated by dense forest, enabling you to see for miles around than mere metres.

The author marries his outsider's take on the plains in Spain and beyond with native knowhow. For "when exploring new routes in Spain, John enjoys the advice and support of Juan Holgado, whose website JuanHolgado.com is one of (sic) best-known local sources on Spanish walking." Holgado has a lifetime of experience of trekking both Spain's peninsula and its islands.

Easy to digest, The GR1: Spain's Sendero Histórico feels a short 294 pages. Whilst you could read it cover to cover as I did, it's of more use if you dip in and out of it. This is a book, after all, designed for those on the go.

I received a free copy of The GR1: Spain's Sendero Histórico in order to write this review.