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Destruction of pilgrim trails in France?


Veteran Member
I thought I'd get involved in marking (balisage) the way- the GR, in France and then I remembered that the marked footpaths are being destroyed by offroad motorcycles. These motos use the GRs, and I wont take part in helping them ruin the paths. I saw a magazine which wrote of riding up from Spain to northern France by GR footpath alone - no roads involved. "Great Fun" it said.

A long time ago on the GR65 I saw the start of the destruction, where as many as 14 motos in a group blasted along the footpath. The result of that is serious erosion or destruction of the paths by cutting through tree roots and exposing those roots, by ripping up the surface of the path and exposing the stones below, which are then difficult to walk on, over a distance. The path then has a channel which gets bigger and deeper each time it rains, carrying away the earth. I've seen in Morvan V shaped channels a metre deep, because it was on a slope. I've seen such channels on minor paths too. Just as bad are the shallower channels which make for a very uncomfortable walk, as you are forced to step in a sort of concave path underfoot. I've seen them gun the throttle just to make a shower of mud and stones fly out behind. They do more damage than a tractor tyre which has a very large footprint, and usually are on farm tracks anyway, which is a different matter.

I spoke recently to a French walker of Les Amis de St Jacques, who agreed about the damage and who said that the police arent interested. One problem is that control of the paths falls under the local mairie, and if they dont want to act then nothing will be done. There are also local motor cycle dealerships which will pressure to keep on selling their bikes.

I guess that many pilgrims are first time walkers who are unaware of how the path should be, and dont realise that it neednt be such a mess. They also pass through an area and are gone, understandably wishing to move on. Many of these paths were built for footpath or mule path, and used to be maintained by communities, but no longer. I saw, between Le Puy and Conques, a section of medieval path utterly destroyed by motos - a sea of mud and upturned paving stones. I've encountered a whole hill section of the GR65 cordoned off for a moto hillclimb, its path obliterated, and a new, worse path indicated to avoid the muddy chaos.

I foresee a time when French trails will become unusable in certain areas, and unpleasant to use in others; by then of course it may be too late. The paths will not be rebuilt, and tourism will suffer, which will matter. Its a great pity because France has a superb network of GRs, carefully planned by the Randonneur Associations long ago.

In Spain I saw moto tracks and quadbike tracks on the CI, but nowhere near as much as in France. A German offroad m/cyclist once told me "We can't go offroad at home so easily, so we come to France with our bikes - you can do anything there".

It's not good.........
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Veteran Member
Past OR future Camino
Frances('05, '07), Aragonese ('05), del Norte / Primitivo ('09), Via Tolosana (Toulouse '05), Via Podiensis (Le Puy '07), Via Lemovicensis (Troyes '09), VF ('12), Winter Camino ('13/'14) Cammino d'Assisi ('14) Jakobseweg (Leipzig - Paris '15) San Salvador/Norte ('15) Ignaciano ('16) Invierno ('16)
It's not good.........
.......but...... a lot of the French paths are not only GR paths. For example on the Vezelay path there are very few GR signs to follow - most are the Amis yellow and blue arrows / shells, unless you are following the topo guide (and even the Lepere guide) both of which purport to be the Camino. They use the GR signage, but the "Amis" path doesn't, as a general rule. The Le Puy path, however, is a different kettle of fish - from what I remember it is only the red and white GR signs that one follows, with only the occasional shell putting in an appearance. The path from Toulouse is a mixture of both tyrpes of signage and the path from Bayonne to Irun is the yellow Camino sign. A member of that "friends" group was telling me that the signage on all the paths was becoming uniform and indeed in 2009 I noticed quite a few yellow signs from Larribar (near the Stele Gibralter) that I didn't notice in 2007. Janet


Veteran Member
Past OR future Camino
Frances('05, '07), Aragonese ('05), del Norte / Primitivo ('09), Via Tolosana (Toulouse '05), Via Podiensis (Le Puy '07), Via Lemovicensis (Troyes '09), VF ('12), Winter Camino ('13/'14) Cammino d'Assisi ('14) Jakobseweg (Leipzig - Paris '15) San Salvador/Norte ('15) Ignaciano ('16) Invierno ('16)
The problem of destruction is not confined to off road bikes. In Australia off road cars wreak havoc on extremely fragile environments. Sadly, this destruction is not confined just to ancient paths! The problem is that many people with machines want to go out into what they see as pristine, or alternatively challenging environments, and use these vehicles in the way they were made for - all for testing man and machine! This can be done in hours and days, rather than the challenge one faces when walking for weeks at a time over such distances. Sad, I know, but I don't know what the answer is. Janet


Jakobsweg Junkie
Past OR future Camino
Le Puy 2010-11, Prague 2012, Nuremberg 2013, Einsiedeln 2015, Geneva 2017-19
Yes there are several very gnarly stretches of chemin on the Le Puy - Conques segment. Very hard on the feet. And I passed at least one hillside with bicycle-cross jumps myself.

I understand the phenomenon of small, thinly-resourced local governments being reluctant to take on yet another problem (this is typical here in the States as well). Local government here was very reluctant to take on a similar problem (clean-up of local waterways) some twenty years ago. But the citizenry got themselves organized in local non-governmental organizations to improve the environment. Local everyone-lend-a-hand projects on annual Clean Water days made a slow but steady improvement. So now there is a mixture of government enforcement of pollution regulations, organized non-governmental action, and self-policing (reluctance to dirty up a spot that's currently clean).

Perhaps this approach would work in France also.
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Veteran Member
Past OR future Camino
Pamplona-Santiago, Le Puy- Santiago, Prague- LePuy, Menton- Toulouse, Menton- Rome, Canterbury- Lausanne, Chemin Stevenson, Voie de Vezelay
This is definitely an issue to worry about. I have not seen many motos in France myself, though part of last years Menton-Arles- Toulouse route went through a motocross course.

Much of the Trans-Canada Trail in British Columbia has been destroyed by quads. It is one long route of plowed up sand and gravel, miserable to foot or mountainbike. The normally obediant Canadians ignore the closure signs and the local police are no help at all.

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