Author: stevesally55

LA GRAN SENDA DE MALAGA: GR 249. 16/17th May. Alfarnatejo to Villanuevo del Rosario (22km) to Archidona (23km)

After a day off the trail we got a lift back to where we had walked to last time we were here together and promptly went off route somehow. Instead of a level hike around the hill between Alfarnatejo and Alfarnate we followed the path that went over the top of it. So we found ourselves looking down on the town we were supposed to be climbing into.

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After the huffing and puffing of the climb we needed coffee when we got down there and so we gate crashed what turned out to be some old folks day centre thinking it was a bar. They didn’t seem to mind, I guess we fitted right in.
It was a funny old town anyway

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and we moved on down the road surrounded by grain fields and poppies.

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We took a dirt track leading straight up the mountain ahead of us

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where traffic is banned and the rocky slopes are being planted with oak. The air was thick with the scent of Spanish broom and a wealth of wild flowers grew despite the dry conditions and an altitude of over 1100m. The views back over towards the south and the flat high plains were impressive.

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After cresting a pass and passing down through Aleppo pines we stumbled upon an old campsite, accessed from the north, that was now an outdoor activity centre with tree walks, zip wires and climbing walls.

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There were signs of other outdoor activities in the shape of abandoned loud speakers and campfires.

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From here we began to climb to the ravine at Llano de la Cueva, the highest point at 1385m of the entire 660km GR249 route.
A delightful path led us up through woods of oak and hawthorn with more Aleppo pine and Spanish Terebinth to little fields cleared of stones where small herds of sheep sheltered from the sun.

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There were the tell tale scuffling and rootling of wild boar too but no signs of the Ibex or Roe deer that live here.
We climbed past another old threshing circle marvelling at farming grain at 1200m. Looking eastwards from here we could see the empty quarter of the Central Limestone Arch and in the far distance, snow on the Sierra Nevada’s.

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Climbing up out of the woodland towards the pass at 1385m it remained lush, with a plethora of colourful or spiky plants still roughing it out. There was also a stone construction we thought must be to catch water.

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Pausing for lunch and self congratulations at the summit we looked westwards along the mountain chain, admiring the rugged splendour of it all.

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To the north we could see our destination but had to follow a long looping track down past the Mirador de Hondonero and another picnic site and bird observatory.

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There were big patches of Dehesa oak woodland and great spots for rock climbing like the imposing Tajo de Madera cliff face.

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We arrived at the little chapel of our Lady of the Rosary just outside the town.

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After collapsing in the plaza for awhile with cold beer and crisps and shopping for dinner our kindly Air b+b host Gustavo picked us up and whisked us in minutes to a lovely old cortijo set in the olive groves.

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A restful night under the ancient beams and we were off down a track through the olive groves back to the village/town. The flowering is dramatic this year and I pity those with a pollen allergy.

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A cafe con leche and tomate tostada set us up for our last days hike this trip. 23km to Archidona across a different landscape to the mountains so far.
We left the town by a gentle waterside path leading us through the huerta, a fertile area of crop growing.

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This was the humble beginnings of the mighty 166km Guadalhorce river and the path gradually moved away from it along a constant corridor of flowers.

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Soon enough the surroundings moved from the poetic to the prosaic as we passed under the motorway to a landscape of abandoned developments and collapsing fincas.

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But before long we were walking away from the mess of man and up into a wilder space, a big area of shrubby Dehesa with cistus and potentilla.

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It was a beautiful area and I could see why some obviously wealthy finca owners had chosen it to make their gardens and erect their tents.

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Plain farming folk were here too with their sheep and goats, their grain and their oaks.

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Some of the olives were looking pretty industrial level Corp.

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We climbed higher, passed the olives, to an area where pines had been harvested from the steep hillsides after a fire.

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The view back was over the vast prison

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The view forwards was down into the Hoz de Marin and we climbed along its edge through the strangely coloured gypsum and clays.

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Before dropping steeply down through a pine forest on a track destroyed by mountain bikes.

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Our destination came into view between the trees

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and reaching the valley floor we crossed the river and walked along a lovely shady path before the last gruelling 100m ascent into town.

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We realised why the last climb had been such hot work when we saw 33• degrees on the thermometer sign.

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And so a few days rambling over we plan our return to Ireland and maybe our return to the GR 249.

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LA GRAN SENDA DE MALAGA: GR 249. 13/14th MAY COMPETA TO CANILLAS de ACEITUNO (22km) to PERIANA AND BEYOND(29 km)

Continuing my circulation of Malaga province for a few days Sally and I spent a night in a Competa townhouse with views over a jumble of interconnecting roof terraces.

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Leaving the village in the morning past the Ermita de San Antonio, we were startled by the surreal sight of an ostrich beside the log railed path.

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The way was lined by the thrusting stalks of agave flowers.

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Canillas de Albaida came into view with the Maroma mountain range towering to over 2000m in the background.

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This area is renowned for the grapes grown between the olive trees and dried on netted sloping pens.

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We entered the wild and forested Naturel Parque de Sierra Tejeda, passed the deserted Casa de Haro and down to the old Roman bridge at the start of a long steep climb up to Puerto de la Cruz del Muerto.

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The wild flowers were a glory to us and the multitude of bees feeding on their nectar and gathering their pollen.

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A long drop down to the hidden village of Salares over another Roman bridge and a quick coffee break was followed by another steep climb past an old threshing circle or “era”.

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The grain winnowed here for generations was still growing feral in the deserted fields.

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Another descent, another ancient bridge and we climbed into the flower bedecked streets of Sedella.

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Our last big climb of the day led us past a series of narrow terraces of neat vegetable ridges and grain crops surrounded by more wild flowers.

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The lushness was enabled by irrigation channels emerging from a water mill on the hill above the village.

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As we climbed the views opened up eastwards passed the irrigation canals to the mountains and firebreaks

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and south towards the sea.

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At the summit was the well equipped recreation area with camping spots, showers, toilets , water taps, barbecue pits etc and Sally rested briefly on the designated bench.

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From there a long descent past impressive holm oaks took us finally to our accommodation for the night and a very welcome but chilly dip in a pool.

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The next morning we started by climbing down a steep path into the Rio Almanchares, up into the village and down again on a woodland path to the caves of La Fajara which have tunnels and passageways of 1500m.

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A 3km climb on a track with the forested Natural Park on one side and clumps of waving grasses on the other was followed by a steep clamber down through an olive grove into Alcaucin.

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Passing the traditional graveyard and a very untraditional housing block we found a bar for cafe con leche.

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From there a concrete track took us down down to the riverbed and up again to cross the road leading to the Boquete de Zafarraya, the gap in the mountains that led towards Granada.

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From the mirador del Pilarejo there were views back over the Maroma range and westwards over Vinuela reservoir.

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The concrete track continued for another 5km or so through olive groves and an amusing chameleon juddered across our path.

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On the outskirts of Periana was an area of unfinished development the bubble had burst over. Plazas and plots empty and waiting.

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We were soon climbing away from the town on the bed of the old railway which ran from Malaga to Zafarraya till 1960. Steep enough to need a cog system to draw the trains up the slopes the track makes for a fine walk under bridges and through cuttings to the high point at 875m and fine vistas westwards across the yellow rape fields.

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We stopped at the spot we had reached from the other direction last year and after relaxing in the shade from our efforts and soaking up the views we returned the 5km to Periana and a lift to dinner, beer and bed.

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Stepping Stones – the Burren Way

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In the northwest corner of County Clare, halfway up the Wild Atlantic Way coastline of Ireland lies a unique environment.

250sq km of a glaciated karst landscape, with swirling terraced hills of limestone rising up from the ocean to the west and standing guard over the plains to the east. Scoured clear of earth and vegetation by ice age, erosion and man, the pale grey rock appears otherworldly and from a distance, denude of life.

But the naked stone stores and radiates the suns heat, the grikes or narrow channels between the slabs or clints provide shelter and the calcium rich soils undisturbed by the plough all make for a botanical wonderland and botanists and plant lovers from across the globe come to marvel at species from arctic-alpine and Mediterranean habitats living happily together in the west of Ireland.

The rock has discouraged intensive farming and this has helped to preserve ” a vast memorial to bygone cultures”, with the stone itself used over the last 6000yrs or so to create the tombs, cairns, homesteads, forts, castles and churches and holy wells that litter the maps like freckles on the face of the land.

The Burren Way meanders for 100km, with additional spurs to towns and villages, with Irelands most famous natural attraction- the Cliffs of Moher forming a southern gateway.

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Setting off from Liscannor I planned to take 4 days to cover the route, ending my ramble in Tubber to take in the splendours of Mullaghmore in the Burren National Park. The first leg was 20km to Doolin and the long straight road headed west past field walls made of the flag stones the area is renown for. The movements of sea creatures millions of years ago are etched into the surface of these slices of time as a record of the oldest journeys on earth and the flags are used as hardwearing floors and heavy roofing.

300 million years ago the Burren was the floor of a tropical ocean, and the Cliffs of Moher were formed by layers of shale and sandstone building up and up in a vast river delta. As I climbed up from the coast past the last farm with its brimming car park supplying a modern cash crop I was joined by others on the way towards the tower at Hags head.

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There is a cliff face here that supposedly resembles a womans head where, the story goes, the hag Mal crashed into the cliff while pursuing her love interest, Cu Chulainn, who stepped across the sea stacks to escape her advances.

As we reached the tower the dramatic views opened up and the number of people drawn in to the area by the successful marketing of the Wild Atlantic Way since my last visit became apparent.

Moving on along the cliff path I past a Liscannor flag quarry producing the stone for the nearby walls and a public gallery of miniature sea stacks in a dramatic setting.

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The nesting seabirds were a constant distraction as they wheeled around the cliff face with perfect timing and grace and I stopped to watch their acrobatics and spy on their domestic activities.

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Living as I do in a very quiet rural pocket and not getting out among mass humanity much, I found the antics of my species nearly as fascinating and spent a while photographing them photographing themselves. The ‘selfie’ phenomena .

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My favourite selfie photos were many years ago and accidental. A friend working in a photo lab had developed a roll of film taken on a tour of Europe’s top tourist destinations and was puzzled to see pictures of only bits of head and ear and crowds of people before realising that the hapless photographer had held the camera the wrong way round.

At the highest point in the cliffs, near the car and coach park and the “visitor experience”, is a tower built as a viewing platform in 1835 by local landowner, M.P., and descendant of Brien Boru, Sir Cornelius O’Brien. He once fell very ill in London and asked for some water to be sent over from St Bridgits well near the Way at Liscannor which he attributed to his recovery and payed for the construction of a well house, still much used today.

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700ft below me the atlantic rollers crashed onto the base of the cliffs and it would certainly be the spot from which to watch the worlds top big wave surfers try their luck riding Aileen, the 50+ft wave that can form here.

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It was a beautiful sunny day and I certainly didn’t begrudge sharing the natural splendours with so many people but by the time I had had my lunch around O’Briens tower I was ready to escape the hordes and carry on towards Doolin another 8km away.

Although Doolin is another of Ireland’s tourist hot spots and the coastal path goes all the way there this was definitely a quieter section, allowing more space for contemplation of the surroundings and take notice of the birdsong and wildflowers.

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In a couple of places streams tumbling over the cliff edge were being blown back up on to the top creating a kind of natural perpetual motion of water as it tried to reach the sea.

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The Aran islands were visible to the north west, strung out in a line towards the mountains of Connemara and as I approached Doolin the first sight of the rounded grey hills of limestone made me keen to get amongst them.

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The path descended to near sea level and continued along the shore past strange diamond shaped rock formations and blowholes to the colourful shops and pubs at Fisherstreet where a ferry goes to the nearest Aran island, Inisheer, and people come to swim with Dusty, a dolphin that likes to hang out with humans.

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Back on tarmac I made my way past the 16th century Doonagore tower house on the outskirts of Doolin to my bed for the night at a friends house.

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The next days stage was a 30+km hike, mostly on ancient green roads, into the Burren uplands where I planned to meet Sally and the Trusty Tranny camper van at the top of Corkscrew Hill above Ballyvaughan.

But first I had to make my way along about 10km of country roads through a sometimes gorsey and rushy landscape under a leaden sky, which coupled with a number of neglected and abandoned homesteads made for a slightly melancholic atmosphere.

Climbing up the backroad from Ballylacken castle at about 200m the tarmac gave way to track and the green road leading over the shoulder of the Burren’s highest hill, Slieve Elva, began.

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There was a stiff wind and from the look of the contorted vegetation there usually is. The lack of shelter on this exposed hillside must have made it a tough place to live and the remnants of stone cottages told their own tales of hardship.

Finally moving beyond the sandstone and shale and onto the limestone the track became stripped for awhile as it revealed the underlying formation of clints and grykes in the adjoining fields(?).

After roughly 8km of the high plateau I was led down into the Caher valley where the only surface river in the Burren to make it to the sea runs down to the beach at Fanore. The porosity of the limestone means that water easily eats it’s way through to create a network of underground caves and tunnels, another feature of this area that makes it special and contributed to the famous saying by one of Cromwell’s generals that ” it is a country where there is not enough water to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury them”.

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Up and over the long southern plateau of Gleninagh Mountain on another green road and I landed back on the tarmac of a cul de sac backroad running down the Feenagh valley.

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A couple of kms later I was off up another ancient green road, lined at first by another section of river, then hazel scrubland,and winding past megalithic tombs, ring forts and enclosures with fantastical views of the surreal landscape surrounding me, to eventually, and suddenly, leave the limestone and find myself atop an upland of turf bog and forestry.

The wind was still blowing and now as evening approached it was cold so, getting to our meeting point early after 30km, I was happy enough to do an extra couple of km down Corkscrew hill to the warm embrace of the Gregan House hotel bar and a pint of Murphys while I awaited the arrival of Sally in our mobile kitchen and bedroom.

We woke the next morning to a nasty drizzle blowing in on a horizontal wind and with only about 20km to do that day we decided to trust the forecast that the rain would clear in a couple of hours and take a quick spin to Kilfenora, location of The Burren Centre and   cathedral ruin.

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The Catholic cathedral, part of which is used by the church of Ireland has a glass roofed transept, built to protect some ancient high crosses and there are other fine carvings.

Back on track we had a fair bit of road walking to do but it was pleasurable hiking along tiny backroads through a varied landscape dotted with megalithic and early christian sites, including an impressive baptismal font in the ruins of Kilcorney church.

Crossing the high ground above Carron it started to drizzle again and we ducked into Cassidy’s bar for a drink in the dry before carrying on along the eastern shore of the turlough, or seasonal lake. These loughs are another unique feature of the area, with the groundwater beneath the limestone rising and falling with the water table and creating what can be huge areas of flooding in the winter and rich grazing land in the summer.

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The hazel woods were thick alongside the road and rich with wood anemone, ferns, sorrel and mosses and lichens. All of which make good feeding for the herds of feral goats that keep the vegetation in a bonsai condition and sometimes end up as burgers in Cassidy’s when the population is deemed in need of a cull.

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To end the days hike we had another green road stretch, leading us eastwards into the National Park. The sun was out and it was a truly beautiful path, a match for anywhere in the world in weather like that. A little over halfway along is a charming cottage in what has to be one of the finest locations in the country. (Teas available in the summer).

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Another good dinner and comfy bed courtesy of friends just off route and we were ready and able for our last day on the trail. I had walked nearly all of the Burren Way previously but not continuously and I had never walked one section of the days route so it felt like the highpoint of the Way to be climbing the iconic terraces of Mullaghmore and gazing at the virgin territory ahead.

We were a little early for the glories of the wildflowers for which the area is famous but we were lucky enough to have early purple orchids, wild garlic and gentians strewn around our feet that day.

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As we climbed above Lough Gealain to the summit at 200m the full effect of this special place became tangible. Feeling deeply connected to the surroundings and yet looking out onto a strange and foreign land, it’s no wonder the area has attracted “outsiders” for many years with the magnetic appeal the landscape holds.

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Clambering down the rough stony track on the north of Mullaghmore we turned to follow a wall below Slieve Roe down to a crossroads at Cooloorta where some of the pre mentioned “outsiders” have created homes for themselves.

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3km up the road we turned to come 3km back down on another green road through an area of limestone canyons studded with ash woods until, passing through a swing gate, we walked towards Lough Bunny on a long straight and flat track to the grassy farmland.

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Surrounded by green fields and grazing cows again, with the bare grey stone of the Burren behind us, it wasn’t long to the end of our journey where friends conveniently living right on the Way supplied tea and biscuits and a lift back to the Tranny.

LA GRAN SENDA DE MALAGA: GR 249. 19/20th Feb Nerja to Frigiliana to Competa

The next 2 stages took me away from the hustle and bustle of the Costa and the busy A7 motorway and deep into the Natural Parque around the Sierra Enmedio.
The first, from the Nerja caves near sea level involved an ascent 765m over 15km and back down to 300m at Frigiliana. The second day was the toughest and last of the trip, climbing to nearly 1200m before dropping to 685m at Competa 27km later.
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Leaving our park up in the grey blue steely light of the early morning there was still some moisture in the cloud covered sky. We had been forecast a lot of rain for the morning but it seemed to have run out overnight and I set out with my fingers crossed and waterproofs packed.

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It felt good to be finally heading for the hills but I was also aware that these mountains, though popular with walkers, are not to be underestimated and remembered a story of a German woman a few years ago who headed up this track for a stroll and got lost in the wilds for days before reemerging shaken and stirred.
The route started with a 5km gravel track to the picnic Area de Recreativo del Pinarillo and from there was mostly narrow paths over the wild and rocky terrain.
I joined a line of pine processinary caterpillars following their leader to a new lifecycle.

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The female of the moth lays hundreds of eggs in the pine trees which develop into caterpillars that build themselves cotton wool like nests and feed on the leaves- seriously defoliating them.

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The little critters have hairs with a very toxic irritant which are easily airborne and they can, if stressed, fire out like harpoons. Dogs getting them on their paws and then licking them have had to have their swollen tongues amputated to prevent choking to death.

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I passed by some of the caves in the riverbed below me, occasionally occupied by nature loving hippy types of which I saw no sign. The mountain slopes were filled with Alleppo pine, box, broom, juniper,fan palms and assorted and unknown to me, flowers.

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At the slightly dilapidated picnic area I moved on to a path that wound its way down into a barranco before starting the climb to the Collado Apretaderas, my high point of the day.

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The clouds that dropped some light spittle on me roved around the peaks as I passed the first of only 2 people I saw all day.

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A little later I disturbed a mother ibex and her young kid who quickly scrambled away into the bushes.

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Fine views opened up

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A 200m drop took me down to the river Chillar itself which, after the nights rain, I was glad to see easily ford able.

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All the calcium in the Limey water left Tuffa deposits and strange colouring to the riverbed. The next 4km were a series of ups and downs, passing rocky outcrops,

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There was now more Maritime pine with beautiful coloured bark.

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Eventually I saw the gorge of the Rio Higueron below me

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And clambered down to walk along the river bed

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20th Feb
Up early to tackle the long stage to Competa I started on the 18km slog uphill to Collado de Los Hornillos. From there it would be kinda levelish for 6km and then a steep descent for the final 4km or so.

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Having left the houses behind I was now on a track leading to the “lost village” of El Acebuchal where the inhabitants many of whom were guerilla fighters in the civil war were driven out by Franco’s men. It lay abandoned for decades until about 20 yrs ago when settlers and some of the original families started to return. It is now a beautifully restored village in an awesome setting with what is reputed to be the best bar/ restaurant in the area.

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From there I followed a stony riverbed

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The walls of rammed earth still showed the put holes for timber beams.

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The whole area was thick with flowering rosemary and the buzzing of bees and I passed many hives.

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The ridges of the hills were often laboriously cleared of befits toon to create firebreaks in this highly flammable environment.

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Deep into the hills were the remains of remote fincas perfect for the off grid survivalist.

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The cortijo del daire’s terraces still had old cherries, walnuts, figs, olives and pomegranates.

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After passing the farm I was signed up a steep and narrow path

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The beautiful path took me on a meandering course through maritime pine

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The walls of the Cortijo Maria Dolores told the tale of years of occupation in layers of lime wash built up on the stone walls.

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Passing beneath a fire lookout station I was soon confronted with the importance of their work. A huge area of burnt and denuded hillside

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At the edge of town I reach the end of my trip on the GR 249 and a cold beer in the camper.
A very varied few days hiking that only wetted my appetite for more, although it’ll be tougher without the support of Trusty Trev.

LA SENDA DE MALAGA : GR249. 18th Feb La Capeta de Velez to Nerja

I managed to get 2 stages completed today, a total of 28 km altogether which according to my computations was the same as yesterday, the difference being that today involved my first real climbs and first contact with the wilder side of the Costa.
I started from our quiet seaside street and continued along a paved beachside promenade.
I’m always impressed by the facilities provided on the Spanish beaches with changing rooms and showers every 100m or so.

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The early morning sun shone through the palms as dog walkers and joggers fulfilled their daily routine.

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The high rise apartment buildings and tourist bars and restaurants ran out as I came into Lagos, a small scale traditional settlement without the sandy beaches that fuelled the development elsewhere. The simple seaside dwellings around there continued through the busier town of El Morche, sometimes with large tower blocks behind them.

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There were a series of fortified watch towers keeping an eye out for pirates and privateers along the coast and the route led me through patches of flowers and cactus past the winches used for hauling the boats out of the sea.

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As I approached Torrox Costa the hulks of unfinished developments again reared their ugly heads above the beach.

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But back on the prom of the town proper I admired the exotic plantings and the creative pruning.

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Just before the lighthouse was a strange construction with a glass floor built out over the ancient ruins of a necropolis and fish salting factory where they also made the unappetising sounding ” Garum sauce” whose chief ingredient was “guts”.

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This was the point where I finally left the Costa behind and headed for the hills. I started up a track beside the dryish river bed with irrigated fields to one side.

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Before long I had to make my first river crossing, described in my translated guide as wading.

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I climbed up and up, the track getting smaller and smaller towards the humming edifice of the A7 motorway that strode across the valley on giant concrete legs.

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Strangely some youth had decided that the undercarriage of this alien environment was a good place to have a good time and declare so in graffiti.

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Incongruously, as I passed under the most modern transport route I started down the days oldest, a mule and walkers track that wound down to the valley bottom and over a tiny old stone bridge.

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The vegetation was lush and small little subsistence farms plots were still tended in the shadow of the gigantic motorway structure, the slow movements of the gardener in contrast to the rushing traffic above.

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Climbing back under the A7 on the other side of the valley I rose up on higher ground until I was looking down across it, to another huge area of unfulfilled property speculation. We’d seen the signs for years as we sped down the motorway, advertising houses that never got built, but now I could see the extent of infrastructure that had been put in. Roads to nowhere.

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I’d been hearing the noise of the motorway for too long and was relived when the traffic was swallowed up by the gaping mouths of tunnels that I climbed high above.

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Passing by a hill seemingly held together by lines of plastic webbing

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IMG_3074.JPG I finally came to the peak of El Puerto at 265m where I sat by an ants nest and had my lunch gazing at my destination , Nerja , a long way below me.

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The landscape changed again as I started down the long descent with a vista of avocados before me.

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A little later I came across a grove of the most radically pruned olive trees I’ve ever seen.

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There were some spectacular villas on the hills here with sea views and very wealthy inhabitants but alongside that , a simpler lifestyle continued.

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As I walked through a tunnel under the motorway for the last time I found more graffiti evidence of youth seeking freedom in unlikely places

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Just before I emerged into the town proper with its roundabouts, shops , bars, and general busy 21st century life I passed another reminder of simpler times, one that is still managing to co exist with the present.

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LA GRAN SENDA DE MALAGA: GR 249 16/17th Febuary Malaga to La Caleta de Velez

A little while ago when we were hiking a bit of the GR 7 in southern Spain, we discovered we were also on the GR 249. A bit of research showed that this was a new route that circles the entire Malaga Province, a distance of around 660km. Very tempting.
Although I’d have loved to set out to do the whole thing over a month responsibilities did not allow such wanton walking but I have managed to slip away for a week to tackle the first 120 km or so.
After a night trying to sleep on a bench at Dublin airport McDonalds and an early morning flight I arrived into a barmy 17′ degree and made my way to the seafront where I had to walk about 5km west to get to the start of the grand circle at a bizarre sculpture.

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Immediately turning on my heels I returned eastwards along the prom, my anal instincts for starting at the beginning satisfied. It was a fairly blowy day and the waves were crashing on the seashore while people watched and surfers retreated.

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The first days hike took me about 20km eastwards, all of it along the coastline, past the marina,
the old brick chimneys and the Pomidou centre.

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All along the prom for miles I past the enticing smell of woodsmoke and grilled fish from the string of beachfront chiringuitos but the urge to keep going towards my rendezvous kept me from indulging.

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Moving out beyond the city limits the surroundings became a little wilder.

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I found myself on the old Malaga to Almeria train track and past through a number of tunnels on the now pedestrianised greenway.

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Eventually I came to the outskirts of Rincon de la Victoria where another few Kms of prom brought me to where my friend Trevor had his support vehicle camper wedged in between a bunch of others on a patch of waste ground.
After a long day and night the food and drink and general hospitality were most welcome and set me up handsomely for a continuation of my seaside ramblings the following morning.
After a couple of hours along the coast, sometimes on the beach , sometimes on little paths and sometimes on the side of the busy N340, the route turned inland along rutted tracks through the vegetable fields.

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I went from an area resplendent with exotic plantings to one far more prosaic.

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This was part of the intensive cultivation zone that feeds the habit of Northern Europe for summer veg in their depths of winter and that was supposed to have failed recently leading to shortages and panic buying.
There was no signs of it here although the methods and suspected chemical additives were a little unnerving to this organic smallholder.

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Arriving back at the coast I found myself surrounded by a failed development at Niza Beach where abandoned plots and dumped rubbish were all that was left of property dreams.

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After a while I was back on the old railway line passing a station and bridge across the arroya before passing under the motorway, skirting an obscenely green golf course and more colourful chemical avocado plantations.

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I’d arrived at La Caleta de Velez after moving on beyond the days stage end at Velez Malaga ,hoping to shorten some long climbs ahead.
I met trusty trev and we parked up on the seafront, wined and dined with old friends before retiring with the sounds of the waves soothing us to a state of unconscious.

Walking the border:Cavan and Fermanagh

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Watching an episode of Canal Journeys with Prunella Scales and Timothy West last night, when they travelled by barge on the Shannon Erne Waterways, reminded me that I hadn’t posted a blog on our trip there a couple of weekends ago.

After all the years living in Ireland we hadn’t really spent anytime in the North, only passing through on our way back from Donegal once and catching a ferry to Scotland from Belfast. We’d had plans to hike the Causeway Coast Way and the adjoining Moyle Way as we’d heard that they were both dramatic and dog friendly but when we had a weekend free we realised that it would take us too long and so struck out for the nearest bit of the UK to us, the lakeland area of Fermanagh.

Being the depths of winter still, we decided against Trusty Tranny camper van, and found an Air B+B place on the shores of Upper Loch Erne. The OS map revealed a complex maze of rivers, canals,lakes big and small, islands and peninsulas-and near our destination, Crom Castle, as appeared on TV last night.

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Not too much remains of the original plantation castle, scene of bloody battles in the Jacobite rebellion when the water of the lake are said to have turned red with the blood of the slaughtered. The nearly 2000acre estate, seat of the Earls of Erne, is now run by the National Trust, although the “new” 1860 castle is still in private ownership.

Although supposedly closed for the winter we’d been told it was fine to walk the grounds and it was a pleasant contrast to the hassles of “no dogs”rules in the south to be directed through sheep fields with a polite request to keep our hounds on leads. Fair enough.

On an ancient formal lawn next to the old castle were a pair of conjoined yews, a male from the 19th century and a much older and bigger female, reputedly the oldest in Ireland at 800yrs. They have a combined circumference of over 100m and ouse history.

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The paths took us along a stately avenue of lime trees, across the deer park and alongside the castle gardens. It was a watery world, with islands strewn across the loch, some lived on, some farmland and one tiny one hosting a little folly of a round tower where estate workers would spend their wedding nights. A fine Victorian wrought iron bridge led us passed some fiery red willows onto Inisherk Island where the grand walled garden was sadly unused.

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There was a rustic summerhouse, lovely ornate lodges and the old church and schoolhouse. A lot to keep together but the National Trust are a huge and wealthy organisation and seem on top of it. They rent out holiday cottages, run boat trips and a campsite, put on all sorts of activities and I’m sure the visitor centre gift shop and tea rooms pull in a few bob over the season. It would be nice to visit the place by boat and tie up at the Irish Waterways Jetty. That cross Border agency took advantage of a lot of post “Troubles” grant aid to restore the canal system leading into the loch and I hope that the Brexit decision does not adversely effect it in any way.

Another National Trust property was on the schedule the next day, but first we wanted tackle a section of the 65km Sliabh Beagh Way that runs over the high ground to the south and east of Lisnaskea, the biggest settlement in Fermanagh next to Enniskillen. The Way is itself a part of the 1000km Ulsterway that encircles the entire province and includes the Causeway Coast and the Moyle and will have to be added to the “must do one day/month”list.

We didn’t get very far or see very much of it when we ventured out into the Jenkins Lakes and Woods looped route along the Way and could only imagine the described views from the bogland boardwalk and lakesides.

We cut the 12km walk a little short and descended to lower ground, clearer skies and the landed gentry civilisation of Florence Court, another grand 18th Century house and estate in the care of the N.T. This one also had miles of dog friendly woodland, parkland and garden paths and again, although the house was closed for the winter, the extensive grounds were welcoming.

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The walled garden here was very productive, supplying plants for the grounds and food for the cafe and a nice working environment for the gardeners.

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On a long loop across the estate we stopped and paid homage to another famous yew tree.This was literally the mother of all Irish yews.

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In 1740 a local farmer discovered a pair of strangely upright yew saplings growing on the slope of nearby Cuilcagh mountain and presented one to the Florence Court landlord, the Earl of Enniskillen and planted one at his own place. Unfortunately his died about 80 years later while the other lives on and has provided the cuttings to grow all the Irish Yews since. Wherever in the world a Taxus Baccata “Fastigiata” exists it is a clone of this venerable great great great etc..grandmother tree. Not so upright herself now ,due to hundreds of years of gardeners taking cuttings, a crime I am now guilty of myself, she stands modestly in a woodland clearing with some progeny around her roots.

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At the end of the forest park we turned away from the rugged and wild Cuilcagh Mountains looming above us to the south and returned to the  tamed nature of the gardens, where we admired the ice house, the waterpowered sawmill and the hydraulic ram pump that supplied water to the “big house”before sitting in the ornamental summerhouse to view the mountains from a safe and civilised distance.

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We discovered the next day that even the inhospitable and desolate vastness of the 2500 hectare Cuilcagh Mountain Park, with a” county high top” for both Cavan and Fermanagh at 666m, could be domesticated.

We were up early to drive the 25km to the Park, gladly watching the misty cloud rise from the lakes and exposing the mountains as we approached. The sheer amount of waterways and lakes in the area must produce a lot of mists, fog and general overall damp even by western Ireland standards. But it makes for an moody and placid atmosphere at sunrise.

We’d been assured by our landlady that it was fine to take our dogs on leads so we tried to ignore the “No Dogs” signs as we left the empty car park and headed up the gravel track towards the now cloud free table top mountain.Empty and long abandoned cottages with their potato ridges slowly being swallowed by the returning bog dotted the lower ground.The protected landscape has meant that turf cutting has been stopped and the rangers spent years in the construction of 1000’s of little dams to block the drainage ditches dug by previous generations of fuel gatherers, in an effort to raise the water table and speed the restoration of the Blanket Bog. It is a fragile environment and so to protect in from the erosion caused by the many walkers on this popular route, a long stretch of boardwalk has been built at the end of the track.

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This took us all the way to the base of the cliffs where a series of 36 flights of steps, complete with banister railings began. A fellow walker told us there were 450 of them and after climbing over 100m of height gain up the to the summit plateau my calf muscles led me to believe him. There’s been some criticism of this construction by hill walking purists who refer to it as a scar on a pristine landscape that allows the unprepared to reach a potentially dangerous environment but it’s costly build (£250,000) was purely to protect the environment and the walkers on what was a delicate and steep and slippery path.

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It has certainly improved access to the mountain top and over the course of the day we witnessed dozens of folk young and old heaving themselves up the steps to the tabletop where many could go no further across the wet and rugged terrain in their inadequate trainers. But i wouldn’t begrudge them the opportunity or the reward of the view from the top and the stairs and boardwalk meant you couldn’t get lost if the cloud came down.

We headed along the ridge with one foot in Cavan and one in Fermanagh, a walk in both Northern Ireland and the Republic simultaneously, to the Bronze age cairn on the summit.Supposedly, on a clear day you can see both the  Atlantic and the Irish sea, as well as counties Tyrone,Donegal, Cavan, Leitrim, Sligo and Roscommon. As we had our sarnies I wondered what the view was like 4000 years ago when the cairn was built.

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The whole area around us was part of the Marble Arch Geopark, made up of 34 sites of geological interest, and since 2008 when it was extended into Co Cavan, the worlds first cross border Geopark. After returning to the now full carpark we continued on past the closed Marble Arch Caves centre to explore the Cladagh Glen below and more flights of steps leading us down past limestone sculpted by water over millenia and the Marble Arch itself, to a lovely waterfall cascading into the deeply cut valley ravine.

We’d been lucky with the weather as it started to rain on our return to the car, the mountain now completely lost to the low lying cloud, and it wasn’t much better on the following day when we finished our exploration of the Geopark before driving home.

We couldn’t resist a visit to the Shannon Pot, where the waters of Ireland mightiest river rise from the ground into a small pool before starting their journey to the Atlantic ocean 360km away.

The pool has been explored by divers to a depth of 14m and it is now thought that some subterranean streams from the slopes of Cuilcagh 10km away flow into it. I wondered how hard it would be to follow all the way to Limerick.

A few km away was our last port of call, the Cavan Burren Park, another area of interest in the Geopark. This “relict” landscape is not as impressive or large as the Co Clare burren (meaning “rocky place”) but features an unusual number of different types of megalithic tombs as well as habitation sites and prehistoric field systems and a promontory fort. Geologically it boasts sinkholes, karstic limestone pavement, dozens of large erratics left lying about after the retreat of the glaciers in the last ice age and a pre-glacial dry river valley.img_2752

We followed a looped walk around the park, abruptly coming across its exhibits through the misty vista.

But the weather wasn’t in it for a protracted visit or picnic amongst the tombs so we turned our backs on the past and started the long drive home with ideas of returning while we’re still all Europeans and we can be Walkers without Borders.

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