GR34 — Sentier des douaniers

Alternatively, the Brittany Coast Path (c2000km).

  • Walking the Brittany Coast Path, by Carroll Dorgan (Cicerone, 2022)
  • Walking Brittany, by Andrew McCluggage (Knife Edge Outdoor, 2020)
  • GR34 topoguides (FFRandonnée)
    • Côte d’Émeraude (2022)
    • Côte du Granit Rose (2022)
    • Les Abers, l’Iroise et Crozon (2022)
    • La pointe du Raz et les Montagnes Noires (2020)
    • Le littoral et les îles du Morbihan (2022)
    • De la Vilaine à la Loire par le littoral, la Brière et les marais salants (2018)

For sheer length, the GR34 knocks the South West Coast Path into a cocked chapeau, and this coastal walk, like its counterpart across the Channel, is based, in significant proportion, on the trods of the customs officers. Two recent volumes in English caught my eye, and there are the reliable topoguides (en français, naturellement) from FFRandonnée, the French national walkers’ association. So, how do they stack up?

First to fall, I regret to say, is McCluggage. I liked his book on the Hadrian’s Wall Path, though the detachment of “walk the other way” notes from the relevant mapping in that volume still grates. In this case, I failed to read the small print: this is a selection of 32 circuits (from 1.5km to 26km in length) scattered round the coast. It is not “walking the GR34”. Maps are IGN.

Dorgan covers each step, but only from le Mont St Michel to Roscoff, the England-facing part with a ferry at each end. Unless this is just Volume 1 of his series on the GR34, this is a regrettable limitation. His directions are clear, and the maps (plain, not IGN) are, shall we say, adequate. I’d still want IGN-level maps in the backpack to look for diversions and escape routes, but the route is easy to follow from the directions.

These maps are printed in all their pomp in the topoguides: you will see that they are all recent editions. The first two cover the stretch in Dorgan. The maps are by far the clearest of all the books, and they are very useful for finding diversions and escape routes: many of these are marked on the maps, which take the full verso of a spread of route directions (on the recto). These route directions are comprehensive, with special sites of interest and all facilities for overnights, transport and refreshment noted wherever they are. There is abundant material on the natural and built environment, history and wildlife against each section of each book, with good introductory information. All in all, these are the gold standard for the path. The French of the route directions is pretty easy (after all, its vocabulary is limited to technical terms such as gauche and droite); the freer text of the discursive pages may exercise the anglophone brain a little more robustly.

Prices for the books are comparable: this means, therefore, that the topoguides come in at twice the price per kilometre as Dorgan. In my view, they are well worth it. Alongside Dorgan.

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