Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Corte between a rock and a hard place


The commune of Corte on Corsica comes, if you are walking the GR20 North to South, as something of a blessed relief. The GR20 is widely-known as one of the toughest long-distance walking trails in Europe and, if truth be told, I had not prepared adequately for it and was enduring rather than enjoying the experience. The GR20 runs from Calenzana in the north of Corsica, to Conca towards the south east coast, is around 112 miles long, and is relentlessly tough and, at times, miserably strenuous. Well, maybe that's not quite fair, but you certainly have to be in the mood for it, and it became increasingly clear to me, after several days of trudging over mountainous passes and sleeping in accommodation that was little more than sheds, that I simply was not.

By the time we reached Corte, a beautiful little outpost of civilisation somewhere towards the middle of the island of Corsica, I had long-since realised that I was much more in the mood for spending leisurely afternoons in glorious French caf├ęs, restaurants and bars, possibly with a gentle wander along to a pool or the sea, for a soothing swim. In fact, after several days of hard walking, and frequently extremely uncomfortable sleeping (when such a thing was even possible, in the company of extravagantly-snoring walking companions), the idea of a swim proved tantalising to the point of torture.

The GR20 is frequently beautiful, and n another occasion, I can imagine dedicating myself to the task of exploring it with great delight. On this occasion, however, I missed my girlfriend and, bar some very good friends with whom I had come on the trip, and some other like-minded walkers, was accompanied by slightly too-eager fellow-hikers, who were getting on my nerves. For me, a good walk is something that takes as long as it takes. You enjoy the views, you take your time and, provided you're not still walking late into the night, you arrive at your destination eventually, with a pleasing sense of a day well spent.

Other walkers, and I am not claiming that they are necessarily wrong (although, obviously, they are), see a long-distance walk as a challenge to be be attacked with something of a joyless vigour. They have to be at the front of a group, ideally disappearing off far into the distance, as if they were in a race, leaving others (usually including me) watching them almost running off, somewhat bemusedly. Some people enjoy racing, I recognise, but I fail to see the challenge or enjoyment in behaving like that, when nobody else is taking part in the race. Despite that, they go haring off, as if reaching the end point before the others, usually without having noticed much, if anything, of their surroundings on the way, is in some way an achievement worthy of praise.

These people drained my enthusiasm, such as it was. I wasn't in a race, I just wanted to get from A to B, with as much enjoyment as possible in between. In Corte, I found some of the things for which I had been longing - good wine, good cheese, omelette et frites... I am a simple soul, at heart. After a couple of nights in Corte, in a pleasant hotel, with a comfortable bed, we resumed our walk south, but I had been teased by thoughts of what might have been, and my heart really wasn't in it.

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