Well, that’s what it took to recharge the batteries in the Pyrenees – part of a long-held ambition to walk the Spanish side of the mountains from Atlantic to the Mediterranean.

I returned footsore but exhilarated, and who wouldn’t be by the scenery…

… think 10,000+ ft. altitude and check the trees to get the scale.

The mountain-with-cloud is one of the few parts of Andorra not devoted to removing money from visiting foreigners.  Thanks to a quirk of geography I also visited the town of Llivia, a pocket handkerchief-size piece of Spain surrounded completely by France (Catalan required to read their web site).  Eat your heart out Berwick-on-Tweed.

Casting my eye away from the walking towards the Spanish media I was surprised to see their national RTVE 24h news channel live coverage of our own sordid tales of media hacking and the accompanying resignations/arrests.  They even showed Rupert Murdoch being pied in the Commons Select Committee and Mrs M’s robust defence of the old fella.

One of the more obscure issues the whole News International affair throws up for me is the almost complete inversion at national level of the normal relationship between local politicians and local print media.

In my experience councillors (certainly those in a ruling group) often have a highly antagonistic view of their local morning and evening papers.  Many are convinced the local rag is out to get them, that this hostility is peculiar to them and is uniquely bad in their patch.  The truth of course is that this is what it’s like everywhere there’s a local daily paper.  The difference nationally is that the stakes are so much higher – the government of a whole country, the power to determine the major strategic expansion of a global media company.  The power (diminished in England now) to withhold a planning permission for a newspaper publisher isn’t quite the same thing.

Estanys de L Ubago and Gran Collado de Anglos, Aragon

…planning the rest of his Atlantic – Mediterranean Pyrenean walk by the Spanish GR-11 long distance footpath – la senda.  It’s a long-held ambition.  I’ve had years of being preached at by HR colleagues about work-life balance so why not a bit of balance on this blog? 

Proceeding west – east, I hit Catalonia on the last leg.  Just over half-way.  Not quite downhill all the way now but a feeling of the end in sight. 

The cliché “up hill and down dale” doesn’t do it justice.  Last year the highest pass we toiled over was 8,700 ft.  Magnificent scenery.  Days with no clouds and half a day hailing at full pelt.  Fantastic food at amazing prices. 

Work was far from my mind.  Yet as always the similarities and differences struck home. 

Similarities? – immigrants in the smallest places doing the work Spaniards won’t, even with 15+% unemployment – Ecuadorian builders, Romanian shepherds.  EU-funded courses for those sin trabajo in the town hall.  Political sparring between left and right over a councillor in Benidorm who changed sides and tipped the balance of power between socialists and conservatives (now there’s a surprise).  Tensions between different levels of government including the two regions – Catalonia and the Basque country – that would much prefer (maybe) to be independent thank you.

Differences? – four levels of government from local council upwards with up to four police forces.  A weirdly flexible No Smoking policy that means if a restaurant or bar sets aside a smoking area the noxious habit is banned elsewhere in the premises but if they don’t it’s allowed anywhere.  A used battery being snatched by the check-out operator in a supermarket because that’s how they make sure they’re recycled.  The mobile matadero who’ll come and slaughter the pig on your smallholding (what happened to the EU regs there, then?)

It’s all good stuff and leaves me hugely refreshed for the other side of the work-life balance.

  • la senda­ – affectionate name for the GR-11 footpath
  • sin trabajo – without work, unemployed
  • matadero­ – slaughterman