Walking the St Cuthbert’s Way

Opened in 1996 St Cuthbert’s Way is usually tackled in 4 – 6 days and to be honest that’s a really good idea. Over the course of three very long days Sharon, Ted and I tackled the route and discovered that pilgrimages don’t always have to be religious.

The route

The St Cuthbert’s Way winds for 100km from the market town of Melrose in the Scottish Borders, to Lindisfarne Island on the North Sea coast. It crosses through the Cheviot hills in the Northumberland National Park, takes in Roman roads and endless woodlands, riverbanks and open moorland. 

The route starts in Melrose, where St Cuthbert started his religious life in 650AD and ends in on Holy Island, at Lindisfarne Priory, his eventual resting place.

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Planning your walk

There’s a plethora of companies willing to sherpa your bags around and book you accommodation, but its not difficult to sort out yourself. The official route website provides fantastic links to accommodation along the route, but popular accommodation search engines are also useful. Decide how far you want to walk each day and plan your accommodation accordingly.

Starting in Melrose we found accommodation easily as there is a range of pubs and B&Bs available, with plenty taking dogs. Ideal places to stay, depending on how many days you wish to complete the route in would be: St Boswells, Harestanes, Morebattle, Town Yetholm, Hethpool, Wooler, Fenwick and Beal.

Depending on your fitness its possibly to carry your own kit and not have your baggage transported. We packed light with little spare clothing, and bought food en-route in the variety of local shops. Sharon even managed to carry food for Ted and we both carried knitting for the evenings (albeit we never actually did any!)

The real planning challenge with this route is dealing with how you get from the start and finish. We decided to drive to Melrose and leave our car. When we finished we caught the bus back from Beal, via Berwick upon Tweed to Melrose. This is straight forward but takes about 2 hours depending if you make the bus connections (we didn’t and had to have lunch in Berwick!) Bus timetables can be searched for via traveline.

It’s important to carry maps, although the route is very well sign posted with way markers, so we didn’t struggle to find our way. As a rough guide the Scottish section of the walk is really dog friendly, with all of the fences cross through gates. Once in England Ted had to clamber or be picked up over stiles.

Day 1: Melrose to Morebattle 40km (25miles)

Melrose is a lovely market town and worth a visit in its own right. We arrived on Thursday evening and only saw the Abbey in the dark so we intended to spend some time there when we returned.

The route starts from the town centre and heads immediately uphill to the Eildon Hills. These hills would be a significant feature of our first day as despite our progress along the route they remained visible for most of the day. This is the high point of this section.

Crossing through Bowden and into St Boswells the route follow the path of Bowden Burn till it reaches the River Tweed. In hindsight St Boswells would have been a good place to get lunch as there’s a range of lovely cafes and bookshops. But we were on a mission to walk 25 miles so pressed on.

From here the route winds along the River Tweed till it reaches Maxton and meets the Dere Street Roman Road.

Dere Street was a surprise. I expected a surfaced track, perhaps suitable for bikes but this section of the Roman Road is given over to woodland and is a beautiful walk between fields and trees. Eventually the route meets woodland and Harestanes Visitors Centre. We had planned to get a (very) late lunch here. The cafe is advertised as open till 5pm, but stops serving food at 4pm – worth noting if, like us, you arrive late. We luckily managed to get left-over sandwiches from the fridge and had to keep dreaming of soup.

From Harestanes we continued on. If like us you stop at the visitors centre it does mean circling back around through the woodland north of the Monteviot House and Gardens in order to get back on to the river.

Here you cross a suspension bridge and follow the river before getting back on Dere Street Roman Road – here it is a stony track. Continuing to follow the route along through woodland and fields we continued on, the miles slowly making our feet tired. Despite the late hour the walk through the rapeseed fields and woodland was magical, with deer and badgers appearing in the dusk.

The route eventually ends up on country lanes as it leads to Morebattle, and passes the impressive Cessford Castle, a huge ruined tower.

We had called ahead to the Temple Hall Hotel to pre-order food and they obliged by providing hot pizza when we arrived.

Day 2: Morebattle to Wooler 32km (20miles)

After a great breakfast and a visit to the community shop to find lunch we left Morebattle a little later than intended. The route starts by walking along the lanes before heading uphill to Grubbit Law. Its worth noting that on the map it looks like you need to ford a river to head uphill but there is in fact a wooden bridge just beyond the ford, making crossing easy.

It was a hot day and while not high it was a pleasure to be done with uphill and walk along the top of the fell to Wideopen Hill summit. The summit at 368m is the highest point on the route and is marked as the halfway point on the St Cuthbert’s Way. It definitely provides fantastic views across the Borders.

Once in Kirk Yetholm we enjoyed the shade and had lunch where the route joins the end of the Pennine Way. It was interesting to find myself back here, having completed the Pennine Way in 2004 and not expected to find myself in the tiny village of Kirk Yetholm again.

From Kirk Yetholm we walked along the road to head up the fell to the Scottish/English Border. Here the division in the countries follows the fell top ridge line, and while marked by a gate and a signpost, you’d be forgiven not realising there’s a border.

Crossing through the gate the landscape of the Northumberland National Park did seem different, as if the requirement to mark access land and the appearance of sheep somehow transformed the feel of the landscape.

We followed the route downhill through fields, a felled woodland and onto a long and tedious farm track guarded by sheep before reaching the quiet village of Hethpool. Ted hadn’t had that many opportunities to bark at sheep so far and so appeared to ignore the yank of the lead to keep him quiet.

From Hethpool the route heads East along the side of Wester Tor before briefly being redirected around the farm at Torleehouse, and heading uphill to grouse moorland and a landscape similar to our own Peak District. The moorland track continues for nearly 5km over Gains Law before finally dropping down towards the market town of Wooler.

We arrived late on Sunday in Wooler and the Black Bull Inn didn’t do food, but thankfully the Milan restaurant next door served food till 10pm so we had time to shower and make ourselves look tidy before we headed out for food.

Day 3: Wooler to Lindisfarne 29km (18 miles)

We managed to leave at 9am from Wooler and headed along the roads on to Weetwood Moor. I confess that I’d looked the map and decided it was entirely possible to miss this uphill and down hill diversion by walking on the road. However it is a lovely stretch of moorland with great views and provides a great aspect to see the Weetwood bridge from. The road is also quite busy and frankly this final day of walking has more than enough tarmac already in my opinion.

From Weetwood Hall the route takes in country lanes and track for around 8km, even when it crosses fields it’s still a stony track. In the hot sunshine this became a bit of a tedious walk with our tired feet. When we reached the woodland we sat in the shade to have lunch, a lovely spot for a break with a view across the fields.

Further on we came to St Cuthbert’s cave. The Cave is an impressive overhanging sandstone rock supported by a single piece of stone, making it look precarious. According to legend, monks carrying St Cuthbert’s body from Lindisfarne took refuge here.

From the top of the hill above the cave the path winds down through fields and the Sheillow woodland before it reaches the village of Fenwick and the busy A1 road.

We continued on from here, taking care to cross the mainline railway and wandering through fields the reach the end of the Lindisfarne Causeway. The traditional route follows the posts across the sands to reach Holy Island. We did follow them as we had a few hours before the tide started to come in, however the sand is really estuary mud and so is very sticky and unpleasant in places. Ted’s feet were also sore on the sand so we bailed off to walk the rest of the way on the causeway.

We’d luckily arranged a lift back from the lovely Fred at Brockmill Farmhouse where we were staying for the night, so we had an hour to have food in the Crown and Anchor before we had to leave and beat the incoming tide.

Reaching the priory, the end of the route, felt like a great place to end a tough 3 day walk, and we were pleased to arrive in Holy Island at the end of the day when it was quiet.

Finding our pilgrimage

Walking the St Cuthbert’s Way turned out to be a pilgrimage for us both after all, even if it wasn’t a religious one. It was a journey which tested our ability to walk long distances to reach our destination and provided opportunities for us to explore a new landscape, cross boundaries and see Roman and Christian history.

I’d definitely recommend this route – the variety of terrain as it winds through the Scottish Borders into Northumberland makes it worthwhile.

GetOutside and explore the Dales Way

Sometimes in life the best adventures are those you don’t choose for yourself. The Dales Way doesn’t involve bog trotting or peak bagging, but instead winds through picturesque valleys and villages following the rivers. It was a beautiful weekend; full of wildflower meadows, sheep and sunshine. Except for the day we got thoroughly soaked in a thunderstorm, but more about that later.

The suggestion for Sharon and I to do a long distance walk together was first uttered over beers at Christmas (were we drunk?) and despite the potential for it to be forgotten about after the hangovers had vanished we committed to completing the Dales Way – a route which could be done over a long weekend.

Covering 80-ish miles (that’s the official length!) the Dales Way passes through villages as it follows rivers from Ilkley to Windermere.

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From Dalesway.org

Day 1 – Ilkley to Kettlewell – 22 miles

It was a very early start to get to Ilkley – Sharon’s dog Ted was as excited to be on a train journey to Ilkley as he was about the long walk ahead. Sharon and I were excited too but also aware we’d set the challenge of a 22 mile hike to Kettlewell and it was a very hot day.

The route from Ilkley winds along the River Wharfe northwards, through little clusters of houses and cross under the busy A59 as it reaches Bolton Abbey. This 6 mile stretch felt harder than it should as Ted was busy keeping cool in the river and we were baking in the sunshine. So arriving at Bolton Abbey at lunchtime we decided ice creams were in order.

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Bolton Abbey is hardly a hidden delight as it is  popular tourist attraction, but its the first delight you pass through on the Dales Way. The grounds of the 12th Century Augustinian monastery are worth a visit in their own right but provide a spectacular back drop to the walk and the route winds through the grounds woodlands as it crosses the River Wharfe.

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Eventually we reached Burnsall, a usual stop over on the route but for us a quick stop before we carried on to the suspension bridge over the river at Hebden.

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The narrow suspension bridge across the River Wharfe at the tiny village of Hebden was built by the village blacksmith, William Bell in 1885, with 262 yards of redundant steel rope. It is quite narrow so you might have a tight squeeze if you’re carrying a very large rucksack!

From here our next big stopping point was Grassington – at which time it had also become late enough to justify a stop at a pub for food and drink. This was a great idea but did make it very difficult to start walking again to reach our final destination for the day at Kettlewell. It was tempting to keep drinking in the pub!

Out of Kettlewell the Dales Way heads on to the fells of Lea Green, past old hut circles and across the limestone pavements above Swinebar Scar. As we started to descend into Kettlewell the sun was setting across the River Wharfe, making for a magical finish to our walk for the day.

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Day 2 – Kettlewell to Gearstones – 16 miles

Our overnight stay at the Bluebell Inn had set us up for a day of walking, a good sleep and good food. It was such a good morning we didn’t start till 10.30am and following the river we meandered through wildflower fields towards Buckden, the sun was shining and Ted was having fun playing in the river.

Reaching Buckden it started to cloud over and as we joined the road at Hubberholme we could hear the thunder in the distance. By the time we got to Yockenthwaite it was already raining heavily. From there it rained on and off until the heavens opened at Beckermonds and we got totally soaked as we crossed the river and started to head along the road. With heads down we trudged along.

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The route to Oughtershaw was a plod along the road, but once there we started heading along a track past Nethergill and Swarthgill farms before heading out on to the fellside.

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Heading up to Cam Houses and onto the hill top to join the Pennine Way the rain started to come down heavily and we were totally soaked on the plod down the track to Gearstones.

This isn’t the most inspirational part of the route at the best of times, I’ve walked this previously when doing the Pennine Way and thought then it should only be tackled on a mountain bike. So to trudge down the hill in the heavy rain was a bit of a demoralising end to the day.

 We’d been unable to get accommodation locally so we were lucky to hide in the hostel out of the rain while our taxi arrived to take us to Hawes. There seems to only be two taxis locally, both very competitive with each other but thankfully one was happy to pick up two soaked women and a damp dog.

Carrying all our own kit and travelling light, we were very grateful that the White Hart Inn in Hawes let us dry our clothes in their drier.

Day 3 – Gearstones to Sedbergh – 16 miles

Thankfully the rain held off for the route out of Wharfedale and into Dentdale as we headed across the fields and down the road under the Dent Viaduct.

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This section of the route includes a lot of road walking on country lanes and so we were pleased to reach Ewegales and start to head through the wildflower meadows towards Dent. Late spring is definitely the best time to walk this section of the route to see field of Bistort, Eyebright, Buttercups, Yellow Rattle, Red clover and Meadowsweet.

The fields in Dentdale are not bounded by dry stones walls like elsewhere in the Yorkshire Dales, but by laid hedges creating habitats and making the valley look softer and much more picturesque.

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After food at Dent we continued down the valley along the river and on country roads, eventually heading over the hill towards Sedbergh. By now Ted had worked out how to tackle the ladder stiles too. His first was a bit of a panicked scramble, a bit like me when I’m rock climbing!

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Day 4 – Sedbergh to Burnside – 16 miles

Breakfast at the Wheelwright Cottage was an experience, sat with two ultra runners completing the route in 3 days we stuffed ourselves with a full English breakfast on fine china plates. Ted got leftovers too.

The route out of Sedbergh was a contrast to Dentdale – gone were the wildflower meadows as the path follows the river under viaducts and past farms.

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The viaducts in this area are part of the former Lune Valley railway and would make fantastic cycleways if there was money to invest in them.  The Lune viaduct is made of Penrith stone with a huge cast iron central arch which carried the track 100 feet above the river.

After a morning of drizzle the weather did as predicted and stopped at 2pm so we had a pleasant afternoon walk through fields, eventually crossing the M6 and into Cumbria.



We arrived in Burneside tired and pleased to be stopping at a pub for the night so we didn’t have to travel far for food, and the Jolly Angler certainly didn’t disappoint.

Sharon and Ted pleased to be nearing the end

Day 5 – Burneside to Windermere – 10 miles

We’d planned to set off walking for 9am so that we wouldn’t have to rush our last day reaching Windermere station with plenty of time for the 3pm train we had booked.

However we both overslept and so had a mad dash out for breakfast and so we didn’t get going until 9.30am. Despite being tired we managed a decent pace to leave Burneside.

The route isn’t pretty as it heads out of Burneside around the back of the large Mill, but it eventually leaves town and heads through fields along the River Kent to Staveley.


This is an area of Cumbria I’ve never explored due to the lack of mountains and fells, but it is worth a walk through the farms and fields to see a quiet side of Cumbria without the crowds.


We had decided to branch off at the bridleway to finish at Windermere station making it easy for our journey home.

The Dales Way isn’t an adventure I would have chosen for myself, but was an opportunity for me to enjoy an adventure with a friend something I’ve not done often. What I learnt is that adventures don’t have to include mountains or extreme endurance to be achievements and the Dales Way is a fantastic route, accessible for all at whatever pace you wish to complete it.

Where the Fife Coastal Path meets the sea

I have to be honest, when my friend suggested walking part of the Fife Coastal Path last weekend my initial reaction wasn’t joy. If I’m going to go walking in Scotland surely it has to include mountains?

Pursuaded by the promise of an amazing chocolate cafe in neighbouring Pittenweem (which is definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area), we headed to the coast at Elie.

Beaches are beautiful in Scotland and the Fife coast is idyllic. Having parked up at Elie near the golf course we headed west along the rocky beach towards the cliffs. I’d been warned in advance that the walk would include scrambling and chains, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The chain walk along Elie’s rocky coast is a short via ferrata and while not technically part of the Fife coastal path, for its 0.5km length it is certainly worth the detour from the main route on the cliff tops, which provides a good route back to Elie. A nice short walk before chocolate cake.

Not realising how close we would be to the sea it didn’t cross my mind that checking tide times would be required; we were lucky to have avoided high tide.

The chain walk isn’t difficult and can reasonably be done by anyone who has the nerve to cope with the  heights. Both the descents and ascents have clear places for feet and the chain is big enough to get a really good grip. All you really need is fearlessness as some of the chains are quite vertical and others very close to the water. It did remind me of hiking in Corsica last year.

Once at the other end of the chains, the walk back on the Fife coastal path along the cliff tops is a nice route back to Elie.

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Chunks of the Cleveland Way

I rarely go to the beach. Even abroad I’m not that bothered but certainly in the UK I wouldn’t go – its not that the coast isn’t beautiful but it doesn’t drive my need for adventure in the same way as a hike through fields or up mountains would.

However, I’ve been dog sitting for a friend and thought a trip to the beach would be a nice change. Via a hill I’ve not been up before, of course! Which provided a great chance to do chunks of the Cleveland Way national trail a 110 mile route around the North and East edge of the North Yorkshire Moors National Park.

First stop was Roseberry Topping just outside Middlesborough. It is only 320m high but is still a steep climb. Caused by a geological fault and a mining collapse it is a distinctive hillside and a major landmark on the trail. It is also very popular being so close to Middlesborough. Which Ted thought was fantastic as there was lots of other dogs to say hello to.

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From there we headed to Saltburn-by-the-Sea to wander along the beach to the imposing Saltburn Scar cliffs and back along the Cleveland Way through the Victorian gardens where a band was playing. Ted loved the beach but embarrassed me with his little dog syndrome, fighting other dogs whilst we were listening to the band.

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From there we headed down to Whitby for a long walk along the beach from Sandsend into town, which at least knackered Ted out. On the way back we followed the Cleveland Way National Trail back to Sandsend.

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GR20 – days 11-13 – the end is in sight!

The last 3 days of the GR20 seemed to whizz by. That said it was still a mental challenge; the weather was scorching hot and become hotter as we lost altitude each day, my ankle started to complain about walking and we were starting to play the food game too early in the morning (what do you hope we’re getting for dinner tonight? I really hope its a huge salad with cheese and a massive chocolate dessert. No I really fancy ice cream, a huge bowl with chocolate sauce – you get the picture).

Day 11 – Cozzano to Crocce 8 hrs 45

Distance 17km approx and 1230m ascent and 315m descent

The ascent out of Cozzano village was brutal and we’d had to wait til 8am before we could leave as one group member wasn’t well enough to join us for the day and transport needed to be organised. So it was scorching hot as we tackled the track through the woodland out of Cozzano. My ankle was already not happy and while I’d been using poles up to today just to get down hill safely, now I was using them uphill too.

I have to be honest it seemed a bit unnecessary to have to regain over 1000m ascent back up to the GR20 path, just for a night at Cozzano. But we did, but not before we’d battled through waist high undergrowth and said hello to more wild pigs. So when we got onto the ridge we were pleased for a break, thankfully the path across the top is easy to follow.

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Actually we didn’t stay on the GR20 for long as we were staying at a private refuge at Crocce. So when we reached the plateau at Bocca di L’Agnonu we stopped for a long lunch in the shade just near the water source and then followed the path by the river (another stop to cool feet) before heading for the refuge at Matalza for a cold drink. The terrain across the plateau is nothing like the rocky terrain in the north and if you do only half of the route you are certainly missing out on the stark contrast between the rocky mountains surrounded by pine woodlands in the north and the pastures and pinnacles in the South.

The route from Matalza to the Bergerie de Crocce is a wide track suitable for vehicles and so was easy to follow.

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While Crocce is a private refuge it is clean and in a great location and even has hot showers which was a novelty for such a remote place. We had great views of the sunset as we relaxed with beers and later that night when nature called I had fantastic views of the stars and milky way.

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Day 12 – To Bavella 9 hrs 35

Distance 13km approx and 1140m ascent and 1470m descent

After a false start this morning when our guide left his mobile behind and realised half an hour into the walk and had a mad sprint back for it, we had a relatively easy ascent up to Monte Alcudina from Crocce, reaching the peak from the south west direction rather than non the GR20 path. The sun was already hot and the views amazing.

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The descent down to the refuge d’Asinau across steep rock and boulders shattered morale as much as knees as we lost 600m in a short distance, so a drink was needed when we reached the hut at 11am.

From there we continued to descend the steep path to the river where we stopped to cool feet and have lunch. Eventually the path becomes easier to walk as it winds through the woodland, that is until we reached the junction with the ‘alpine’ path.

Once again, we took the higher level option rather than staying on the main GR20 route which headed through the woodland all the way to Bavella. The ascent of the alpine route was steep and not really what any of us fancied in the afternoon heat as legs were tiring. But it was worth it when we got to the top. The path zigzags up the hillside towards to towering Pinnacles of Bavella.

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The path eventually heads right around the rock towers and we stopped on the small plateau top for a break at the foot of Punta di u Pargulu. From the plateau the path then starts to descend down a boulder path.

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Once we reached the tree line we had one final chain to use to ascend a rock slab and then continue our descent down to Bavella.

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We stayed in the Gite below the restaurant at Bavella which in all honesty was a very small room for 5 people and despite the location (next to a road and in a popular spot for short walks) it was not one of the better places we’d stayed. However it was a bed and a hot shower and the food at the restaurant was plentiful and good. As you reach the road there is a large statue of the Notre Dame des Neiges.

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Day 13 – last day to Conca!!  9 hours 15

Distance 19km with 700m ascent and 1670m descent

We started our last day heading for the village of Conca at the end of the GR20 in a good mood and not at all bothered for once that we were off walking at 7.30am.

The route initially follows the track past the refuge at Bavella and through the woodland, and while it heads uphill it is an easy path to walk. In fact the path was easy all the way to the refuge di Paliri.

The path remains easy to walk for much of the day, although don’t be fooled that you are heading downhill all the way to Conca. There is in fact three ascents today and in the scorching heat we didn’t appreciate them.

The views however were amazing, but with little shade as we walked through the ankle high scrub either side of the narrow path it was hard to appreciate it properly. We stopped at the river to cool and have lunch and enjoy the shade before a steep ascent to squeeze through the rock gap at Bocca di u Sorta.

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Eventually the path starts a gradual but endless descent down to Conca which lies at an altitude of 250m. Even though the path is easier to walk than some encountered the descent is still tough on the knees. We were very glad to reach Conca even if we had walk through the village to the campsite to meet our minibus and had to rush our ice cream to start our 3 hour drive to Bastia for the night.

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I thoroughly recommend the GR20 but would seriously advice reading the Cicerone guide to the route properly before heading off (unlike me who just looked at the pictures!) as the route is very challenging. I’ve done a lot of scrambling and long distance trails and I found this easily the toughest walk I’ve ever done. I also recommend walking poles to save your knees!

Days 9-10

Day 7-8

Day 5-6

Day 4

Days 1-3

GR20

GR20 – day 9 and 10 – and then it rained

We knew once leaving Vizzavona that the days would be longer and have to be at a faster pace, but that the walking would still be tricky with huge ascents (and descents) and just as much rock.

But, having slept well at the gite, (well except for the unfortuate one who got bitten by bed bugs!) we didn’t expect to wake to the deluge that faced us. So the next two days were to be a challenge not just for the terrain but also for finding the will to boost morale when faced with being soaked to the skin and blow to bits in the wind. Being British at least prepared half of the group for the weather!

Day 9 – Vizzavona to Col de Verde 4 hours

Distance 30km with 1320m ascent and 955m descent

This section combined two days worth of walking into one day. Ok, so the astute among you will have realised that its not possible to walk 30km in 4 hours. You’re right. Unfortunately it rained so heavy right from the start of the day that by the time reached the refuge at the half way point at Capanelle we could go no further. At least we’d walked one days worth of walking in 4 hours on the easy forest tracks and paths. In the rain even the ascent up to Bocca Palmento didn’t seem important, its not like we had a view. When we reached Capanelle at 10.30am it was already full of GR20’ers that had made the same decision as us; to sit for a while, have a few hot chocolates and coffees and wait to see if it was going to stop raining.

It didn’t.

And the reports from walkers having arrived by vehicle to Capenelle from Verde reported that two rivers that the path crosses were in spate making them impossible to cross and the two we’d already crossed to get to Capanelle hadn’t exactly been fun.

There is an alternative, higher route, but in the rain this wasn’t really an option either as the wet rock slabs wouldn’t have been safe.

So deciding that it was ok to miss a bit of the route only on the grounds of atrocious weather and that it would have been a boring march through the woodlands anyway, we caught a minibus down to the gite at Verde.

Wet weather and being totally soaked to my skin despite waterproofs also meant that I took only these pictures all day. Salamanders are common in the woodland in the south and were all over the path in the heavy rain. The gorgeous dog belonged to the refuge and had been wandering (as refuge dogs do) between Vizzavona and Capanelle – so we briefly had an extra member of the group as we brought him back to Capanelle. The refuge at Capanelle services a ski station so food and drink are easy to get hold of, good job as we were there a few hours waiting for a lift!

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I should add that the gite at Col de Verde was just what we wanted for the night, a shared hut to ourselves and a lovely little restaurant with a roaring fire to dry our boots and amazing food.

Day 10 – to Cozzano 8 hrs 45

Distance 19km with 1345m total ascent and 1905m descent

Another day, more cloud. At least the rain had stopped.

We left the gite at Verde at 7.30am having had a very good breakfast (bread and jam – but by now we had standards of what was good and bad) and our boots dry from being left under the fire grate overnight. Perfect. We were walking a bit more than a leg today as we were descending all the way down to the valley into the village of Cozzano.

The day started with a swift walk through the woodland and up to the ridge. Again the track is very easy to walk along through the woodland and despite walking uphill it doesn’t seem an effort as there’s no rocks to scramble over. We reached the refuge di Prati at 9,45am and stopped for a hot drink. Already the wind was enough to chill us and we could see the mist sat along the ridge we were heading towards. At least we’d managed to get a great view of the sea, it was certainly the last view we’d have that day!

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After a hot french (weak) tea at Prati we headed up on to the ridge and into the cloud. The Brits among us found it funny that our Corsican guide was so concerned about the weather and us being safe, frankly mist was what we’re used to, so it wasn’t an issue at all.

So as we walked along the ridge, crossing from left to right along the way, it did start to feel like we were walking in circles. There’s some scrambling along the route, but nothing challenging.

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We reached Bocca di Laparo and had lunch sat in the trees. From here we took the route down to Cozzano and our gite for the night, a lovely place with home grown vegetables and hot showers. I’ll be honest, the Cozzano gite is a great place to stop, but for the massive descent required to get there, snaking through the woodland on dusty forest tracks, and then tomorrows massive ascent back up to the route – it seemed a bit unnecessary when there were refuges we could have stopped at along the route.

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Day 7+8

Day 5+6

Day 4

Day 1-3

GR20

The GR20 – days 7 and 8 – half way at last

As our trip was planned as 13 days of walking, we technically passed half way on our way to Petra Piana in terms of time, but there was still a long way to go.

The town of Vizzavona marks the halfway point in the GR20 due to easy access by road. Therefore it also marks the point where a significant number of people drop out, largely those undertaking the challenge without a guide. Its just to easy to stay in a hotel in Vizzavona and decide that the beach is a better choice for the rest of your trip.

We however did not have that luxury, or any luxury at all as it happens…… from cramped tents and rubbish food at Petra Piana to bed bugs for one of us at Vizzavona. But we have to get there first…..

Day 7 – Manganu to Petra Piana 8hrs 15

Distance 10km with 980m total ascent and 740m descent

We left Manganu at 7am and immediately headed uphill. The path is steep and bouldery but not really challenging and there’s even a lovely flat plateau half way up with our first sign of mud on the route.

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The route heads for the large notch you can see in the first photo and as it gets nearer to the top it becomes scree and boulders. Its worth the effort though as this is Brecche du Capitellu, the highest point on the GR20 at an altitude of 2225m.

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Across the other side of the Brecche there is an amazing view which called for a second breakfast stop, which of course was shared by lizards. From here we could see Lac de Capitellu and Lac du Melu below and then onwards to the rest of the GR20 beyond. The route continues on, scrambling over boulders and rock slabs to circle around below Punta a e Porta’s rockface.

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To reach the rocky notch which is the next col to cross, we had to scramble down a steep gully which has a chain added and then back up the other side.

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From the other side there is a yellow flash marked on the rock which indicates a diversion route down to Corte, a popular stopping place for some groups. However, we continued to follow the white and red markers of the main route, which crosses a ridge and ascends up to Bocca a Soglia before the descent down to the refuge at Petra Piana.

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By the time we reached Petra Piana the cloud had descended and the temperature had dropped, which certainly added to the disappointment at finding the area surrounding the refuge was a sea of tents all very close together. Ear plugs were a definite must to get through the night!

Petra Piana is also the only refuge on the whole route where as a vegetarian I really struggled to eat well. The rest of the refuges we stayed at were generally fine at providing an alternative evening meal (the same food minus the meat). Petra Piana however, outright refused to do an alternative, so the two of us who were vegetarians were extremely grateful to a lovely french couple who gave us pasta and sauce so we had food for the night. So be warned, the guardian of Petra Piana is not friendly to non meat eaters! We also had to sit outside the very tiny refuge building to eat, and in the mist it was very cold and therefore a quickly eaten meal and an early night.

Day 8 – To Vizzavona 10 hrs

Distance 19km approx with 1060m ascent and 1980m descent (!)

It was dark when we awoke at Petra Piana, neither of us had slept well in our cramped tent and we were keen just to get moving and warm up as it had been a cold night. Breakfast was the usual bread and jam but thankfully we were able to sit in the tiny refuge kitchen to eat.

We set off walking at 6am as not only were we taking the higher level route across the ridge, but we were also carrying on to Vizzavona, making this a day of 2 legs of the route condensed into one. The higher level route is shorter and actually involves less climbing so if you’re going to combine two days into one this is an excellent spot to do it.

The higher level route is an alternative path to the main GR20 and while I’d booked this particular trekking company for it being the only one which did the whole length of the route, it was certainly worth taking the ridge route for this section as the views were fantastic and much better than any woodland would provide.

From Petra Piana we followed the yellow paint markers up to Bocca Manganellu, and along the way to the ridge we saw the sun rise and the view across the ridge we where to walk along.

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The ridge is easy to walk with little scrambling and little exposure, although it was quite windy. We stopped briefly along the ridge for second breakfast out of the wind and to admire the view and the rest of the route we’d be taking.

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The ridge is a fantastic walk and provides the first point on the route where you can see the sea on both sides of the island. Taking this route also provides an opportunity to bag the peak of Punta di I Pinza Corbini at 2021m.

The path descends gradually to the point where it meets the main GR20 route, just above refuge l’Onda which took us about 4 and half hours. We didn’t head down to the refuge but picked up the main route and headed upwards for our strenuous ascent of the day to skirt around Punta Muratello.

It seemed straight forward as we headed from l’Onda up the ridge, but the path is steep and winds through juniper and shrubs and eventually becomes rocky and scrambly as it turns left and heads up through bare rock to the pass. Along the way you pass a memorial to a fallen mountaineer.

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As the path descends down the other side there is a lot of bare rock but nothing which really requires scrambling – and by this point we had perfected walking like Charlie Chaplin down the slabs.

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The path continues down to follow the river where we crossed a bridge, before heading through the woodland on an easy path to the road.

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We stayed at the Gite Monte d’Oro just by the roadside in Vizzavona, another lovely place were we had rooms between three of us, with private bathrooms. The food was also amazing and a lovely bar for drinks and our nightly pint of Pietra beer. Unfortinately the only man in our group was the victim of bed bugs at Vizzavona but thankfully this was the last time any of us were so unfortunate.

Its certainly easy to see why many GR20’ers decide to finish their trek at the half way point in Vizzavona. For us we had a nice bed for the night and another early start.

The GR20 – days 5 and 6 Onwards to Manganu

After the excitement and hardwork of the Cirque de Solitude we assumed that the hardest part of the route was behind us. In terms of technicality we didn’t come across anything quite as difficult, but the pace was to pick up and the distances lengthen, tricky to maintain over bare rock, loose scree and still scrambling for the majority of the day.

Day 5 – Vallone to Castel di Vergio 8 hour 45

Distance 15km approx with 850m ascent and 870m descent

The pop up tent and thin mattress didn’t provide a good nights sleep on the bare ground at Auberge de Vallone. So I was almost glad breakfast was at 6.30am, and it was a nice surprise to find that this morning’s bread and jam was much nicer than we’d had so far at the refuges.

We set off on the trail at 7.15am heading through the woodland and contouring around the hillside gently ascending. Eventually as we left the trees behind the path steepened to ascend to the high pass of Bocca di Foggaile, thankfully scrambling up rock was limited to near the top.

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At the top of the pass you can see the route onwards. There is a short cut path now descending straight from the pass down to the river below but we stuck to the trail and contoured around the top of the Golo valley to Refuge de Ciottulu (the highest refuge on the GR20) for a well earned drink.

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The route on from the Refuge down the Golo valley is pretty easy walking until it reaches the river, but in the scorching heat we couldn’t resist having lunch by the river and dipping our feet.

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From the river the path becomes rocky and hard on the knees until we eventually reached the woodland and crossed two bridges and reached the Bergeries de Radule where it would have been rude to not stop for another drink, so we stopped.

The path extended onwards through the woodland and the views become limited but there are plenty of opportunities to see the wild pigs common in Corsica. In the woodland the GR20 also crosses the Mare a Mare Nord route (sea to sea north). DSCF6810 DSCF6807

We were all very relieved to reach Castel di Vergio as it is a fantastic hotel with private balconies, white fluffy towels, great views and ice cream!

Day 6 – To Manganu  6hr 45

Distance 17km and 670m ascent and 475m descent

It felt like a treat to lie in a real bed until 6.30am and have a breakfast that wasn’t rushed in 30 minutes. We left Vergio at 8am and headed at a fast pace through the woodland on a really easy track which was virtually flat. An odd walking sensation after days of scrambling over boulders. We reached the Bocca San Pedru in an hour and a half and had great views back to Vergio and the previous day’s walk. DSCF6817 DSCF6820 DSCF6824

The path continues to be easy as it ascends and then descends gradually to the Lac du Ninu and a perfect spot for a very long lunch. As we sunbathed we could almost pretend we were on holiday! Especially with the visiting wild ponies.

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As we continued on, the path remains level through scrubland and woodland until it reaches the Bergerie de Vaccaghja where we stopped for a drink. From here we could see across the valley to Manganu, across the plateau.

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Whilst the route continues to be relatively flat across the valley there is a short ascent to reach the refuge at Manganu. There is dormitory accommodation here but we were staying in tents, which were much more roomy than those at Vallone, with super thick mattresses. Food here was plentiful but similar to the other refuges, this time pasta and soup.

Whilst we had a girly moment having discovered an earwig under the mattresses which had been there a while, that was to be the least of our problems at the site in terms of wildlife. Here’s our visitor who we named Betty. Despite our tents being tucked in the undergrowth this didn’t stop Betty coming to say hi. Thankfully as the sun set she moved on.

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Day 4

Day 1-3

GR20

The GR20 – Day 4 The Cirque de Solitude

Everyone who’s made the effort to read about the GR20 before heading out to Corsica has heard of the infamous Cirque de Solitude, the most technical day on the route.

And while looking down into the bottom of the Cirque from the Col Perdu it certainly feels like you’re staring down a rocky cliff into an abyss, it is certainly achievable if you can hold your nerve.

Day 4 – Asco to Vallone  8 hours 45

Distance 9km approx with 1000m ascent and 1000m descent

We left the lovely hotel as Asco filled with the first decent breakfast in days (and real coffee!) and headed up the track early. We set out at 6.30am to make the most of the day, and to ensure we were in and out of the Cirque before the predicted bad weather arrived. As the route through the Cirque is entirely rock slabs with chains to hold it is not to be attempted in wet or stormy weather.

The path from Asco starts out as a woodland track which heads uphill until it finally becomes bouldery.

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As we got closer to Col Perdu the path becomes more rock slabs and requires hands to ascend.

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When we arrived at Col Perdu just before 10am, a lot of walkers were already en route and had stopped for a break. Spotting that many of these were from large groups our guide insisted we continued into the Cirque right away to get ahead of the bigger groups, which was certainly appreciated.

The descent into the Cirque de Solitude begins as a scree path and quickly becomes steep rock slabs with the flashes of paint marking the route and leading to the sections of chains. Without these chains the route would certainly require rock climbing skills and rope, but with the chains all you really need is a bit of bravery, good footwork, a tight grip and encouragement!

Being a small group we managed to descend the Cirque at a relatively good speed, though its hardly quick scrambling and abseiling down rocks and chains.

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DSCF6729 the bottom of the Cirque – a rocky abyss with no escape routes out

We had a short break at the bottom of the Cirque to collect nerves and have something to eat before we started the ascent back out.

The ascent up the other side was very similar in terms of technicality although there was one short ladder to ascend.

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As the route gets closer to the top of the col it reverts back to bouldery rocks and scree before you appear at the Bocca Minuta where we stopped for a well earned rest. Getting from Col Perdu on one side of the Cirque to Bocca Minuta on the other took us about 3 hours.

The descent down to Vallone is not exactly much quicker as it continues to be a rocky path of boulders and bare rock. So when we reached the Refuge de Tighjettu we had to stop for a well earned hot chocolate.

From here is was only another half hour to reach our refuge for the night at Auberge de Vallone. This was our first night in tents on the GR20. Tent accommodation along the GR20 is variable, tonight we were in pop up style tents which had clearly been up since the start of the season. The mattresses are foam and so were comfortable and aren’t left in the tent so they do get aired. Toilet and washing facilities are limited with only one toilet and one shower to cater for everyone. So we were happy we were off to a hotel the following night.

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Days 1-3

Tackling the GR20

The GR20 – the first 3 days

Heading South on the GR20 is the direction most people travel, and while you could go against the flow I preferred this direction for getting the difficult bits out of the way first. Or at least the most difficult, as there isn’t exactly anything easy about the GR20.

The first three days on the route are useful for testing skills in the group and for working out a suitable pace to be able to ascend 1000m+ each day and not end up out of breath.

We had to carry over night kit (sleeping bags etc) on these days as the two refuges do not have road access.

Day 1 – Calenzana to Refuge Ortu di u Piobbu 6 hours 15

Distance 10km approx with 1295m ascent and 50m descent

We left Calenzana at 9am collecting fresh bread from the bakery en route out of the village. The route starts to climb almost immediately as we left and zig zags through woodland with great views out to Calvi and the coast to distract us as we walked. DSCF6546 DSCF6547 DSCF6550

We stopped in the woodland for lunch and then continued up, crossing the col at Bocca a u Saltu. From here the path becomes more rocky and requires a bit of scrambling – it seemed a bit daunting to the novices in the group but considering what was to come, this was only a simple test. There is no exposure though on this scrambling so its relatively easy going.

As the path crossed a small gully the first chain of the GR20 is here to aid a down climb of a small rock.

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There’s not much downhill to reach to the refuge d’Ortu di u Piobbu, our first stop on the route. We arrived at 3.15pm having spent quite a bit of time having lunch and breaks throughout the day.

Quite a few tents were already pitched when we arrived but having gone with a guide we already had bunks in the dormitory booked. The refuge is basic but clean and as with all refuges on the route, had thick mattresses.

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The only downside to the refuge is the long walk to the toilet from the dormitory, but the food was good and the bed comfy. I’d packed a 3 season sleeping bag thinking it would get cold at night. Sleeping in the dorm this wasn’t the case at all and halfway through the night I found myself grateful for having carrier a thin liner with me too.

Day 2 – To Carrozu 7hrs 45

Distance approx 8km with ascent 750m descent 1050m

We took the high level route to Carrozu from the refuge. Having started walking at 7.30am after a breakfast of stale bread and jam (get used to it!) we weren’t exactly set up for the days walk.

The route heads through the woodland before contouring around the hillside to the Cirque de Bonifatu. Already the walking had turned into picking our way through rocks and scrambling upwards, but thankfully there wasn’t a great deal of ascent today.

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The view across the valley was amazing as we contoured around the Cirque.

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In the summer you will see lots of lizards around who scavenge for crumbs.DSCF6616

There’s a few awkward steps to do here but nothing too challenging, but it does slow you down.

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The descent down to the refuge at Carrozu is a steep scree path which is rocky and bouldery and is a good initiation into the descents to follow on the GR20.

Carozzu hut is tucked away in a clearing in the woodland and with its balcony overlooking the valley below and the smell of incense it felt a little more relaxed than the previous night. Again, a long walk to the loo from the dorm passed the camping area, but at least they are entertaining eco toilets with a very interesting cartoon to read describing how they work. (I should have taken a picture!)

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Day 3 – To Asco 7 hours 15

Distance approx 6km with ascent 860m descent 710m

We awoke early and set off walking at 7.30am, which was a blessing as the sun was scorching hot very early in the day. Straight out of the refuge we headed through the woodland, scrambling over rocks and using chains to head around to the river and crossing the suspension bridge.

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Once over the other side we continued to use chains to ascend the valley up the Spasimata gorge, a really spectacular valley. The chains seemed a little unnecessary in places but the slabs are huge and in wet weather I can imagine are treacherous.

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The ascent became slower as we reached the top – out of the shade and into the hot sunshine and had started to have to pick our way over the rocks. So it was a welcome relief when we reached Lac de la Muvrella for a lunch stop and to dip our feet.

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Asco felt like a treat after 2 nights in refuges as we had twin rooms with hot showers and an indoor loo! As well as great food and an opportunity to wash clothes. Discussions then turned to the day ahead of us and tackling the infamous Cirque de Solitude.DSCF6687