A walk through the woods from Le-Perray-en-Yvelines to Saint-Rémy-lès-Chevreuse following route GR1C.  The route was rather longer than the map suggested (thanks to the scenic detours of the way-marked trail) and we were plagued by mosquitoes (thanks to the plentiful woodland ponds) but it was a good day out, just a short train ride from the centre of Paris.

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In 1947 the route of the GR1 sentier de Grande Randonée (or long distance footpath) was the first to be way-marked by the newly formed Fédération Française de la Randonnée Pédestre. This 540km route encircles Paris through a succession of forests just beyond the outer suburbs of the conurbation.  (GR1C seems to be a recent variant for part of the route).  Like all the GR routes it is marked according to a strictly maintained code and each section is walked regularly by volunteers who refresh the way marks and clear obstructions as necessary.  The network now extends to over 56,000 km of paths in all regions of France, so the federation’s 8,000 volunteers have plenty to keep them busy.

The grande randonée network is well planned, well maintained and generally impressive.  The routes (GR1C included) are chosen with care to avoid busy roads and to take in an interesting variety of landscape and historic features.  To an English walker, brought up on ancient public footpaths that stride purposefully from one village to the next, a GR route can sometimes seem willfully convoluted, doubling back on itself to take in another interesting rock or ancient tree. After half a day of meekly following the trail markers it can be tempting to work out a more independent route but short cuts which looking attractive on a map may prove less appealing on the ground. Following the red and white blazes is sometimes a slow way to get from A to B but you’re sure of a good randonée along the way.