GR1 - the Sendero Histórico, early feedback

The GR1 guide (Spain's Sendero Historico: The GR1: Northern Spain - Picos to the Mediterranean (Trekking) has been out there over 6 months and hikers from all over the world have been using it to find their way across northern Spain.  A number of them have been kind enough to get in touch with me describing their experience.  Reading the emails and comments is just great.  Not only do they bring back wonderful memories of my time in Spain (I walked most of the GR1 twice) they add new insights, often spotting things that I just didn't appreciate myself.
My first trip on the GR1 - snow in March

Particularly reassuring is the positive response I've received from everyone who has walked the GR1.  Of course I always thought that the GR1 was special, really great walking, but now I know that others think so as well.  I'm not mad after all!
A GR1 shepherd
The GR1 is 1250kms long and not everyone who contacted me has walked the whole thing, but I'm surprised how many have (some have even extended it to a full coast to coast).  Most of those who walked one or more of the 7 sections now seem committed to finishing it and intend to go back.
Lonely GR1 towers
I've used the comments to update some of the more detailed posts on the GR1 section of this blog, particularly the blog on accommodation and the blog 'route updates', and will continue to do that as they come in (if I'm not out on a trip!) but there a few general themes or lessons coming through which are worth highlighting here.
Friendly GR1 hoteliers

The guide is designed to help people explore northern Spain by walking from one place with accommodation to another.  That's the way I walk and to be honest, I'm not a wild or any other form of camping expert.  The good news is that some wild camping experts have used the guide to plan their walk and have made a great success of carrying their own accommodation with them.  Thanks to these GR1 wild camping pioneers, answers to very specific wild camping questions are now beginning to emerge.  If you want to read a really fabulous account of wild camping on the GR1, then please go to the Wild Pilgrims website.
GR1 ghost villages
Most people were surprised to discover just how quiet and empty the GR1 countryside is.  Despite never being more than half a day away from a bed the gaps between them are usually people free. Compared to England at least, and most of Europe, this is wilderness walking.

I had comments from people who didn't use a GPS, had purchased local maps, and relied on the directions in the guide to find their way.  As far as I can tell they all got home safely but, to reiterate, it is not my recommended approach.  Spanish maps are poor compared to those available in the UK maps and route information on the maps is very limited and often wrong.  Although much of the route is way marked, it is sometimes overgrown and going the wrong way on what are sometimes long days can be frustrating.
Good weather on the GR1

Most of my trips to Spain are either early or late in the year.  If I'm going away in the summer it tends to be in the Alps and in May I'm busy on UK trips.  Like the UK the weather in Spain does vary from year to year and early season walking conditions will be influenced by how much snow or rain there has been in the winter.  Based on the feedback though I'm beginning to think, desperate to escape grey England, that I tend to go Spain a little early and that May is a wonderful time to be there.  
Michelin star food on the GR1

For me the accommodation: the hotels, bars and casa rurals; is a key part of the Spanish walking experience.  The feedback I've had about the accommodation has been great and it seems that, like me, everyone has been surprised at how much fun it is to stay in these places.  Perhaps even more rewarding has been the feedback I've had from the hoteliers themselves pleased to see GR1 hikers even if they are a little dusty after a day on the trail.  Although wild camping works for some, the viability of the GR1 for most means staying in hotels and bars.  It's great to think that the Guide is bringing a little more business to these places and they might still be there in a few years for others to enjoy.  By the way there are lots of examples of hoteliers away from the trail offering a two way taxi service and although the choice of accommodation is good, if asked helpful hoteliers will make it better still.

Finally, as well as sending me comments and emails, GR1 walkers are starting to publish accounts of their trips.  I have already mentioned the Wild Pilgrims website but for another excellent description about life on the GR1 than have a look at Debby McColl's blog - it's brilliant.

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