Crossing the Pyrenees, Gavarnie-Ordesa Circuit
Icon: Guilin, China
Walkopedia favourite: Limenas walls, Thasos, Greece
Photo Essay: Mount Meru, Tanzania
Vignette: Tibetan lavatorial habits, Mount Kailash
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Crossing the Pyrenees on the Gavarnie-Ordesa Circuit

Across Glen Muick, Lochnagar cliffs appearing far off
Breche and glacier from shelf

This great barrier between France and Spain, spanning the 400m between the Bay of Biscay and the Mediterranean, is almost shocking the first time you see its snowy peaks looming high above you on the plains of south-west France, with apparently nothing in between - no foothills in the traditional sense. While it is not like this when you get close up, and it has a rich and varied selection of foothills on both sides, the range is still remarkable for the steepness of the French side in particular, and the rapidity of its rise through forest and flowery pasture to crag, ice and high, rocky ridge-tops.

You will find overwhelming beauty in its peaks, lakes and forests as well as geological wonders, an abundance of floral delights and animal life, and thrills and challenges galore both in its harshly beautiful uplands and its lusher foothills.

East from Sarradets ridge across top of
Cirque de G -that waterfall

Moraine-ridge trail toward the Breche

Features to relish include the struggling remains of the mighty glaciers that gouged out the famous cirques such as that at Gavarrnie, needle peaks and serrated ridges, deeply-hewn canyons and lovely alpine valleys.

The range supports a rich variety of animals, include the izard (the local chamois), deer, some recently re-introduced brown bears and hordes of endearing silly marmots. Raptors and vultures head up an extravagant birdlife, especially at migration times.

The floral world here is gloriously varied, with plants usually found further north and south mixed up with hardy Alpines and a large number of Pyrenean endemics.

Across Glen Muick, Lochnagar cliffs appearing far off
Tough Spanish side with Izards

The consensus is that, if you had to identify a finest single walk in the Pyrenees, it would be ascending above the extraordinary Cirque de Gavarnie, crossing the high ridge (and national border) through the famous Brèche de Roland high above the even more famous Cirque de Gavarnie, then wind through – or along the side of - the spectacular Ordesa Canyon. You can then return to Gavarnie on the third day or make a longer circuit, or loop back into France via a further-away pass to create even more variety. And you can of course make this circuit from Spain, the obvious start/end being the pleasant town of Torla.

This is tough walking in high, and at times remote mountains. Come prepared.

Best heather ever...
Drama below high ridge

By the lodge, east shore
Ordesa fm Goriz, afternoon light

Best heather ever...
Descending into Ordesa from Goriz

Best heather ever...
Morning sun

Best heather ever...
Lower canyon round the bend

Walkopedia rating: 91 - Top 100

More information on this walk
William Mackesy’s full account of this walk
More on the Breche
More on Ordesa Canyon

Best Books:
Walking in the Pyrenees – Cicerone: the essential book to Pyrenean walking, with an excellent selection of routes. Doesn’t cover the eastern Pyrenees.
Trekking in the Pyrenees – Trailblazer


Icon: Yangshuo, Guilin – hazy late afternoon light, 1990s

Guilin’s limestone spires rising from the paddy-fields around the Li River have been famous for millennia, nourishing the great traditions of Chinese landscape painting.

The market town of Yangshuo is at the centre of some of the finest scenery. Strike out along trails from village to traditional village, beside the Li River or out among the crags and fields.

These pictures were taken in hazy afternoon light in the mid 1990s, so are now heading for historic.

Walkopedia rating: 90 – Top 100
More information on this walk



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Walkopedia Favourite: Limenas walls, Thasos, Greece

Across Glen Muick, Lochnagar cliffs appearing far off
The mole of an ancient harbour

This is an exceedingly delightful exploration of the walls of Limenas, ancient Thasos, capital of the eponymous island city-state just off Greece’s northern seaboard. The city had a long and prosperous history, and remains from nearly 1,000BC until Genoese times are on show. .

Start with a delve round the fantastic museum just above the ancient naval harbor, its entrance dominated by a 5m tall unfinished C6 kouros, one of the most thrilling we have seen of a thrilling, sometimes almost abstract, species. Then it is off, past a sanctuary of Poseidon, along a delightfully pine-shaded track just above the ancient commercial harbor (you can see its just-submerged mole circling out into the turquoise waters), to the start of the walls as they climb the craggy, three-peaked ridge that protects the eastern quarter-circle of the city.

After a little chapel on the ruins of a classical sanctuary overlooking the island’s east coast, the city walls, of dressed stone, a beautifully regular later (classical) layer above earlier monumental “cyclopean” blocks, the remnant of earlier walls destroyed by the invading Darius, climb steeply through mixed forest to the theatre, which commands a panorama over the city and harbours which is so beautiful you wonder how any audience would ever have concentrated.

Across Glen Muick, Lochnagar cliffs appearing far off
From the theatre

You are now in lovely stands of pine and holm oak. You reach a platform just below the Acropolis, with a mouth-watering view south down the coast. The Acropolis has been many things, including sanctuary to Apollo, its extant form a Genose castle which has classical fragments built into its rubbly walls.

Further along the ridge is the high platform of the Temple of Athena, enjoying huge view across the fine and varied trees to the ancient harbours and the modern town with its busy ferries.

A steep, dappled olive grove gets you to a little Sanctuary of Pan. Then it is down some secret steps hewn into the rock, faintly reminiscent of Petra, to spectacular gate, lintel still in place, in the olive groves above the town.

The walls swings on round through the suburbs to the sea, but the best is done. Wonderful.

From the castle

Genoese castle on Temple to Apollo

Genoese castle

From temple of Athena

Walkopedia rating: 94
More information on this walk


Photo essay: Mount Meru, Tanzania

Perfectly sited pavilion on the summit plateau
Ranger in cloud forest inside the crater

Cloud forest inside the crater

Summit ridge from crater floor

Kili pre dawn

Kili at dawn

Kili from rim

Down onto the ash cone

Across the crater and summit ridge

Descending crater rim

Perfectly sited pavilion on the summit plateau
Looking back from way down

Climb this extraordinary horseshoe of cliffs around a chasm created by a cataclysmic explosion of this once vast volcano. Two days of ascent through outstandingly beautiful and interesting forest, then heathery shrub, then alpine plants, onto raw rock and ash. You should meet a lot of interesting animals: buffalo, giraffe, bushbuck, colobus monkeys, maybe an elephant or two. Struggle to the 4,566m peak for a pre-dawn view across a sea of clouds to the vast bulk of Kilimanjaro silhouetted against the eastern sky.


Walkopedia rating: 94

More information on this walk

Vignette: Tibetan lavatorial habits

I see a man in perfect silhouette, squatting by a boulder, as A Thing detaches itself from him and drops neatly off. He stands up and walks on. No doubt some group's cook. At least he made no effort to wipe his backside, so his hands will be clean. As places where you can defecate - or even fart - on sacred Mount Kailash are heavily prescribed, I wonder how he knows that this spot was acceptable. I don't go to investigate.

William Mackesy

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