ONE OF EUROPE’S GREAT WALKING EXPERIENCES
When it comes to walking, size matters. I offer this observation not in a spirit of witless macho braggadocio, nor as an evocation of those romantic nineteenth century ramblers who would pop out for a post-prandial stroll and only really felt they were beginning to limber up by the time they'd got their first thirty miles under the belt. But no matter how exquisite a short itinerary may be, it can never compare to a really big walk on a long distance path.
This is the sort of walking that becomes a way of being, not only abstracting one from the petty cares of getting by, getting ahead and getting on in the world, but turning into the very reason for life itself, so that one's only concerns are what lies over the brow of the next hill, the only thought as one falls asleep being for the next day’s walking, the next day’s progress, until eventually, when one stops to 'take a day off', a couple of hours idleness are enough to have you asking yourself, "What am I doing lounging about here? Why aren't I walking?"
The combination, therefore, of a long distance path and Europe’s favourite warm island walking destination is enough to excite any dedicated walker, and it's no mere marketing ploy to say that the present publication has come about by popular demand. Time and again, readers of our guidebooks to Mallorca (Walk! Mallorca North & Mountains and Walk! Mallorca West) have asked about the GR221, why it hasn’t featured more prominently in previous publications, why it hasn’t been detailed on the Tour & Trail map, where they can get more information, and so forth.
The simple answer to all these questions is that, though the projected route was known and some of it signposted, there were long stretches without any wayposting whatsoever, several places where the authorities were still negotiating rights-of-way, a couple of instances where access to private land was, potentially at least, sufficiently confrontational to spoil the whole trip, and only two refuges existed along the entire route, a route that a group of local 'walkers' knock off in a single weekend once a year, but which would take most of us at least a week.
Some of these problems persist, albeit to an ever diminishing degree, and there are parts of the present itinerary that will probably change in the coming years, but the path has now developed enough to justify publishing a book about what should, by any criteria, count as one of Europe’s great walking experiences.
GR221 - THE DRY STONE WAY
Anybody who has visited Mallorca, either for a dedicated walking holiday or as a casual tourist, will appreciate the justice of the GR221’s official title and the name by which it is better known on the island, La Ruta de Pedra en Sec, for Mallorca is defined by dry stone. The island itself is the rocky extremity of the Baetic Cordillera, surging out of the sea like the gnarled tip of some petrified sea monster’s tail, and the preponderance of stone has determined a large part of its history, from the Talayotic culture of the Bronze Age with its distinctive stone shelters and weapon of choice (the slingshot, with which the islanders were so lethally adept that one etymological interpretation cites the slingshot as the source of the word balear) to the modern day and the magnificent stone farmhouses that have lured countless well-heeled northern Europeans to the island in search of their own particular place in the sun.
Following ancient bridleways along the length of the Tramuntana range, from Port d’Andratx in the southwest to Pollença in the northeast, the GR221 touches upon dry stone in its every manifestation, from the raw rock of the peaks and sweeping fields of karst to the tailored stones that have always been Mallorca’s natural building material. In some cases, we use immaculately paved trails, notably on the famous pilgrims' paths around Mallorca’s spiritual heartland at Lluc (Stages Seven & Eight) and on the classic donkey trail up the Barranc de Biniaraix (Stage Six), at other times we walk along bare rock below looming cliffs, and everywhere we cross the rocky passes that have always been the portals between the island's otherwise isolated communities.
En route, we pass the remains of the stone huts and the stone-clad firing circles used by charcoal burners; we see dry-stone springs, dry-stone cisterns, dry-stone snow-pits, dry-stone retaining walls, dry-stone drinking troughs, dry-stone limekilns, dry-stone byres, dry-stone stiles, dry-stone bread ovens, dry-stone wells, dry-stone sheepfolds, dry-stone aquifers, dry-stone threshing circles . . . basically, anything you can prefix with 'dry-stone', we get it. Perhaps most remarkable of all are the boundary walls dividing the great estates, often as not raised in places so inaccessible and on such steep gradients that it’s hard to believe people were willing let alone able to get there, and the notion that they were both willing and able and then still had the insouciance to hang about piling stones into a straight line that would hold fast for centuries, well, that’s strictly for the birds . . . and us.
That, of course, is the distinctive appeal of the Ruta de Pedra en Sec, the fact that it takes walkers into places most tourists never see and offers us a bird's eye view of this magnificent landscape, giving visitors a complete picture of the Tramuntana range in a single holiday, freeing one from the commonplace constraints of time and transport, and lending a coherence to the experience that day walks can only achieve over the course of a far longer and far more costly trip.
And if, after the dry-stone catalogue above, you're beginning to think you're going to have dry stones up to your eyeballs, which would inevitably be a bit of a pain in the neck, never fear because there is enough adventure and variety crammed into this trail to keep one entertained on an itinerary twice as long, the many manifestations of dry stone being broken up by plains of citrus groves, terraces of ancient olive trees, fabulous forests of Holm oak, exquisite pastoral enclaves tucked away in secluded corners, and spectacular valleys and ravines laced with the glittering threads of mountain torrents, all of it backed by the broad blue palette of the Mediterranean.
To buy The GR221 Mallorca’s Dry Stone Way from the publisher – click here.
To buy The GR221 Mallorca’s Dry Stone Way from Amazon – click here.
To see a synopsis – click here
To read an outtake – click here.
To see some photos of the route – click here.
Causes Charles Davis Supports
Oxfam, Amnesty International, Greenpeace