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The GR20 in Corsica - July 2008


In 2005 I began to think about extending my walking horizons to warmer places. I love walking in the UK, but in darkened bothies at the dead of night I'd heard tell of walks in high mountains with sunshine! and no midges!, and the idea of waking up warm and itch-free in a tent grew increasingly alluring.

I'd learned from many hours spent idly mooching about in uk.rec.walking (or URW, the UK walking newsgroup) that in other parts of Europe there exists a whole network of long walking routes, each named GR (or Grand Randonnée) followed by a number: a bit like a series of motorways, really, but more scenic, and without the petrol fumes.

Because I'd seen others discussing them in URW, the French Pyrenees sprang immediately to mind. (Andy Howell--this was your fault :) The GR10 follows the line of the Pyrenees across France, and on the Spanish side there's a corresponding route known as the GR11. I duly flew to Pau in August 2005 and travelled to Lescun for a bit of a look around, and it quickly became clear that The Gods have been holding out on us Big Style over here in the weather and food departments...

I returned to France in 2006 and 2007, and on each occasion I walked part of what's known as the Haute (or High Level) Route, which traverses the top of the mountains between France and Spain. It was mind-bogglingly beautiful, and it was there that I first encountered the fabulous French and Spanish Pyrenean mountain Refuges, where it's possible to sip a cold beer in hot sunshine surrounded by snow-capped peaks, and then enjoy a hot meal (and a bed, if desired), all for less than £20! We don't have an exact equivalent here because we don't have the weather, but start by imagining a typical British Youth Hostel transported on a typical British summer's day to the top of a typical British mountain. Then imagine the exact opposite of the mental image you've just created, and you've probably got it just about right :) It was in the Refuges that I first had an opportunity to practise my fledgling French on unsuspecting European tourists over dinner, before returning like some sort of semi-geriatric Hobbit to my little tent outside on the mountainside.

Not long after my first return from the Pyrenees I read, or otherwise heard about, the exciting GR20 in Corsica, and I've been wanting to go there to do it for about 3 years now. It stretches for approximately 180km along a line of mountains which snakes down the centre of Corsica, from Calenzana in the North to Conca in the South. It can be conveniently divided into 15 daily stages, although many people choose to walk only half of the route (having started from one end or the other), finishing in Vizzavona at what is approximately the half-way point. I actually did the walk in 14 days rather than 15, simply (and rather embarrassingly) because I hadn't read the guidebooks carefully enough in advance to realise that 15 days was the norm. I'm not sure how I managed to make that mistake. Hmmm... Anyway, the northern section is the more challenging of the two, but neither section could in any way be described as easy.

The walk is commonly acknowledged to be the most rugged and challenging of all the GR routes, and it's famed for its vertiginous, scrambly sections. It was, in fact, the famous scrambly sections that prevented me from making an earlier attempt, because I'm scared shitless nervous of heights, and I wasn't sure that I'd be able to negotiate them on my own. Summer storms can also be a significant problem, and I was concerned to read that lightning strike is the most common cause of death on the route. This summer, though, I finally decided that life's too short for endless vacillation and so I set aside my doubts, booked my flights and prepared to venture forth.

It's possible to fly directly from London or Manchester to one of various airports on Corsica, but I found that I could do it at approximately half of the price of a direct flight by going with EasyJet from Liverpool to Nice, and then with Air France from Nice to Calvi. Naturally prices will vary from year to year (and from month to month), but the combined cost of my two return tickets in early July was approximately £200.

I've set out a detailed account on these pages of how I got on, mainly because I like to re-read these things later but also in the hope that others might enjoy it; those who've already been, those who might be thinking of going or possibly even the terminally bored. If you read it then I hope you enjoy it, and please drop me a line in my Guestbook :)

I've also made a Top Tips page, which sets out an up-to-date version of the stuff I'd have liked to know in advance. Much of it was in the guidebooks, but the authors can't get out every year and so this is a July 2008 version, from my point of view.

Finally, I've also made a Kit List page, which sets out the things I carried with me, the things I forgot to take, the things I didn't need and the things I'd take with me if I was doing it again.

In conclusion, then, Salute! to all of the great Corsican, French, Dutch, German, Italian, Swiss, Australian, English and Scottish people I met en route :) You all helped to make this one of the very best holidays I've ever enjoyed. Love and kisses to Annie, Freddy, Jacques, Veronique, Ursula, Ulla and Lene, John from Milano, Alan from the Challenge (and friends whose names I've mislaid), Bernadette and her sons, Jean-Marc and partner, Gerry and sister-in-law, Patrick and the others I had lunch with in Bavella, Simon from Calenzana, the Australians, the bunch of friendly young French students, Ann-Marie and her friend, Lee and all the others whose names I didn't learn or have forgotten :)

The Route
Day 0:
Chez moi to Calenzana

Day 1: 12.5 miles/20k Calenzana to Refuge d'Ortu di u Piobbu
Day 2: 5 miles/8k Refuge d'Ortu di u Piobbu to Refuge de Carozzu
Day 3: 3.75 miles/6k Refuge de Carozzu to Haut Asco
Day 4: 5.5 miles/9k Haut Asco to Refuge de Tighjettue
Day 5: 9.5 miles/15k Refuge de Tighjettu to Hotel Castel di Vergio
Day 6: 10.5 miles/17k Hotel Castel di Vergio to Refuge de Manganu
Day 7: 6 miles/10k Refuge de Manganu to Refuge de Petra Piana
Day 8: 6.75 miles/11k Refuge de Petra Piana to Bergeries de l'Onda
Day 9: 8 miles/13k Bergeries de l'Onda to Vizzavona
Day 10: 18.75 miles/24k Vizzavona to Bocca di Verdi
Day 11: 10 miles/16k Bocca di Verdi to Refuge d'Usciolu
Day 12: 10.5 miles/17k Refuge d'Usciolu to Refuge d'Asinau
Day 13: 8.5 miles/13.5k Refuge d'Asinau to Refuge d'I Paliri (via Alpine variant)
Day 14: 9 miles/15.5k Refuge d'I Paliri to Conca

Day 15: Travelling to Bastia en route for home
Day 16: Travelling to Calvi from Bastia, and then home

Total distance: 122.5 miles or 192k (ish...)
Bites: Just 1 until I got to Bastia on the way home. Then 78...
Blisters: 1 teensy one near the start
Ticks encountered: 0 spotted...

Top Tips: Click here for Top Tips
Kit List: Click here for Kit List

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