A Grande Randonnée on your doorstep

Published 12 July 2017

A footpath sign with the red and white Grande Randonnée stripes

Clear and obvious - the red and white stripes of a Grande Randonnée walking route

You may have noticed a slight absence of new content posted here recently. The reason for that is that I’ve been on holiday in France. Normally when I go away, I schedule some stuff to post up so that you don’t even know I have gone. However, this summer I found myself just days from departure, staring at a screen with the dawning realisation that not only did I have to pack, but that the site had absolutely nothing written and ready to go. Worse, I only had time to sort out one of those things. So sorry, but putting shorts and t-shirts into a suitcase was deemed to be far more important. And don’t ask what I was doing when I got back, either.

The holiday itself was a family one, full of small children, beaches and water slides; the kind that would normally not get mentioned at all on a site like this. But just by the entrance to the camp-site I happened to spot a familiar set of red and white stripes.

It turned out that a Grande Randonnée passed right by our front door.

For those not familiar with them, Grande Randonnées (or GRs) are a series of trails that cross France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, Portugal and Luxembourg. Each has a number, and there are (if I’ve counted up correctly on Wikipedia) 54 of them in France alone. I’d walked along bits of a couple many years earlier on a walking holiday in the Queyras Alps, and had seen those stripes a couple of times since.

We were staying near the GR34, a trail that follows the coastline of Brittany. Funnily enough, two weeks spent in the town of Bénodet didn’t give me much time to explore it, although I did get chance to walk the short section that ran near the campsite several times whilst pushing a buggy, attempting to get a hot and bothered one year old child to sleep.

Red and white Grande Randonnée stripes on the side of a bench

The red and white stripes denoting a Grande Randonnée, on the side of a bench

And it was lovely. Gorgeous golden beaches, the sun shimmering on the sea, all that kind of thing. Despite not being a massive fan of coastal walks, that section of the GR34 had me rather enchanted; a rather idyllic stretch of coastline, coupled up with an easy, yet rather rewarding patch of scenery. There seemed to be plenty of people walking it too, although how many were doing the full 360 miles was rather unclear. On the several times I pushed a buggy along that two mile or so stretch, I saw several large groups of French walkers, equipped with sturdy boots and rucksacks. And whilst I doubt the buggy would have been particularly easy to push on the sections that go across sandy beaches, frankly it was hard to resist throwing on a backpack and joining them.

On the other hand, at 360 miles long, the GR34 is a big undertaking requiring probably a month to walk it. And certainly anyone thinking about walking every single GR had better have plenty of time on their hands. France alone has 37,000 miles of Grande Randonnées to walk, and anyone wanting to do them all will need to set aside several years to do them.

Perhaps sticking to British trails is a better idea after all.

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