Review: If You Only Walk Long Enough: Exploring the Pyrenees, by Steve Cracknell

A little gem of a book this!

A few weeks ago I received an email from Steve Cracknell. Would I like to review his book? Of course I would I replied. A few days later the book arrived in the post.

“If Only” is unusual in a couple of way. This is a book that has been ‘self-published’ through lulu.com. It is the first time that I have handled one of these books. The book is a quality item, well laid out, well printed with a lovely colour cover. Top quality production. But it’s not only the production that is high quality, for Steve writes exceptionally well and this book is a joy to read. It is one of those satisfying books that can be enjoyed in one or two settings.

The book is also unusual in that it sits between categories and genres. This is no guide book and I guess this is one of the reasons for producing it via. lulu.com. This would simply not sit easily in the current catalogues of the main guidebook publishers. But their loss is our gain!

The book is based around Steve’s walk along the complete length of the GR10 footpath, of the Pyrenean Way as it is known here. This is one of Europe’s great walks. The ‘Way’ starts of at Hendaye on the Atlantic coast and meanders over high mountains, through lush valleys and visits lots of memorable, small villages. The HRP may be better known to hiking’s headbangers, but there is nothing modest about this walk as you’ll learn as you accompany Steve on his walk.

Steve now lives in the Corbieres producing wine and websites. He gazes out everyday (weather permitting) at the mountains and becomes increasingly fascinated. He just has to walk them.

Steve did as many do and tackled the walk in a number of chunks over two or three summers. I think this has helped build a fascinating book. Although most of the action takes place on the GR10 Steve is able to easily take in side trips including climbs up Vignemale, Aneto and Canigou. Steve is a walker and not a mountaineer he’s always worried about heights. But here he goes up summits with guides, roped and using crampons and ice axes! Not bad for a casual walker and he might provide inspiration for others. The winter expedition with a dog slay team is also little out of the ordinary.

The book will be required reading for anyone wanting to walk one of the main Pyrenean routes (or sections of them). Each day’s walk is featured in the book but this is more than a trail diary. Steve was an archeologist or many years and the historical detail here is superb. There’s not too much to detract from the walk, but there’s more here that you will find in any other book on the trail.

I was particularly taken with the details of Basque culture and Basque history. Steve also touches on the exploration of the Pyrenees, and looks at some of the range’s great characters including Henry Russell.

It’s not just history that just featured here. Steve provides a lovely account of contemporary life in the hills. Here you’ll find discussions with shepherds, farmers and those seeking to scratch a living by supporting hiking and walking. The changing nature of the regions are captured well with the slightly ‘difficult’ [Eds comments] locals from the Ariège coming out as unlikely heroes.

And then there’s the wildlife. This book has the best account of the ‘bear controversy’ that I have read in English. Here we learn about the plight of the bear, attempts to re-populate the area with Slovakian bears and the fierce arguments between the locals, some who want the bears removed and those who see their re-introduction in the wild as critical to the survival of the ambience and culture of the mountains. But we also learn much more about the local wildlife and livestock.Anyone who has walked in this area will be fascinated to realise that the marmots we here — once extinct in the Pyrenees — have all been descended from 10 breeding pairs released not that long ago.

I could go on about the background in this book but you should discover it for yourself. All of this detail leaks out as Steve walks and is all the better for it. This is a far more effective way of learning about the mountains than reading a section on wildlife and history at the beginning of a guide book.

Then there is the walking. Here is an honest account of the trial and tribulations of trail walking. There are lovely pen pictures of the people that Steve meets along the way, and of those who live to service the needs of walkers. Anyone who has walked a long distance trail will recognise the logistical problems, the worry about finding suitable accommodation at the end of the day, and the constant fight with knees and limbs that object to such an unnatural level of activity.

It is difficult to categorise this book. In some ways it is very close to the trail accounts that Chris Townsend has written (for example Crossing Arizona). But Steve is a walker like the rest of us rather than a specialist explorer and for that reason the book is welcome.

I’m pleased Steve has taken the time to produce this book. It will be of great aid to anyone planning to walk the GR10, and a source of great entertainment to those who may just dream of doing it one day.

Why did he do it? Why do we walk? One Steve’s fellow walkers, Michele, puts it this way:

“Walking is a primitive activity. Not only have we been doing it since childhood, but it ha also been programmed into us genetically. We spend so much of our lives thinking, analyzing, and coping with new situations tat it is good to return to doing something instinctive”

“Yes, that’s it” says Steve. Quite.

If You Only Walk Long Enough
Steve Cracknell
Lulu.com
ISBN: 978-1-4092-6756-0

Comments

  1. Thanks for the mention Andy. “Specialist explorer”?

    It sounds an interesting book.

    • Well, you’re more of a specialist explorer than most of us!

      This was a difficult book to categorise. It’s not travel literature and its not a guide book. Stylistically, it reminded me of your books — though the walking is much more in the league that the rest of us can cope with.

      I did enjoy it mainly because Steve fills in far more detail about history and culture than you would get anywhere else — in that way it is similar to your books.

      If anyone is wondering how their middle aged knees will cope with the ups and downs of the GR10 — this is the book for you!

  2. Gayle says:

    How could I resist it after a review like that?

    Having missed your Amazon link (too impatient to get a copy, see) I went direct to Lulu and downloaded a copy. Downloading a book – whatever next?!

    • Interested to see how you get on with the download. Must say that I was very impressed by the quality of the book finish — a really good, quality product.

  3. Peewiglet says:

    I’m going to get this. I think I’ll get the paperback version and read it in bed. Thanks v. much for the recommendation 🙂

  4. John Hesp says:

    Ordered. Sounds great.

  5. John Hesp says:

    Finished it this morning. Thoroughly enjoyable. Fascinated that such a well produced book can be self published and sold for £9.50. Oddly it didn’t make me want to rush off and walk the Pyrenees. Maybe if it had had photos it would have done, but I see the cost of publishing such a book would be far more.

    Steve, congratulations on completing the walk and the book.

    John

  6. There are now photos and a blog at http://www.pyreneanway.com. I have just been to Mont Perdu.

  7. Terry Cudbird says:

    Steve Cracknell was recently looking at my website on my walk 4,000 miles around the circumference of France http://www.walkingaroundfrance.com. I include a section of the GR10 and a whole lot more

  8. Just to say that there is now a second revised edition, with 30 black & white photos. And even a French version “Les Pyrénées tout en marchant sur le GR10”, published by Les Editons Cairn (based in Pau), as well as a host of electronic versions. My next project is the GR11. (I have been learning Spanish for the last few years…

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