Author: stevesally55

Bush Walking / Perth

Exactly 5 years after we ventured a couple of hundred Kms down the Bibbulmun track from Perth, we have returned.
The plan is to drive coast to coast in a vintage Mazda van, a journey of 5000km over two weeks, hopefully having time out of the driving seat to do some hiking along the way.
In between searching for a van and recovering from jet lag we had a trip out to the John Forrest National Park just 25km east of the city.
This 2700 hectare park, named after a famous Australian explorer is in the northern Jarrah forest on the crest of the Darling Scarp, the mountain ridge where we started our Bibbulman trek.

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Being so accessible from the city it’s a popular destination for daytrippers with a number of trails of different lengths,picnic and barbecue areas and even a pub and tea rooms. So civilised.
After registering at the Rangers office and a quick look at the Walkers Log we headed off on the longest route, the 15km Eagles View Walk.

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We passed under one of the three wooden trestle railway bridges in the park that carried the rails of the Eastern Railway, the line built at the end of the 19th century to open up the vast forests for exploitation. Built with hard labour, picks , shovels and horsepower vast amounts of rubble was moved to create embankments which are now used as a trail.

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Western Australia’s first tunnel was also blasted and bored here, through unstable granite that kept collapsing, leading to it eventually having to be lined with brick. The 350m tunnel was still not a success though, as the poor ventilation and noxious fumed meant the drivers and firemen were often overcome by the fumes and when one died of carbon monoxide poisoning, an alternative route was opened up.
Those days are long gone however and the hot and sultry air was full of a scent that transported us back 5 years to our days hiking through these gum forests.

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It seems an environment particular to Australia especially under a cobalt blue sky in the shimmering heat of summer. It was a little too hot for us folk fresh off the plane from Ireland and we remembered why we would start our Bibbulmun days in the cool of daybreak around 5am.

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The track makes a circuit through the parks more remote northern half, through a mix of heathland, open wandoo woodlands and forests of jarrah, marri and lord know what.
We recognised the big seed heads of Banksia and the familiar grass trees.

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We didn’t see any wildlife apart from a bunch of Roos hanging around the bar ( literally) and various birds with exotic song. No snakes or spiders, nothing to prevent us falling into a false sense of security. It’s all out there somewhere.
But this was just a gentle little warm up for the great outback journey starting tomorrow, and passing earth art on the granite outcrops

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we made our way around the man made pond to the safety of the pub.

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KEENAGH LOOP :Into the Wilds of Mayo

Last weekend we headed off in the camper to tackle a hike that i’ve been trying to get to for a while. Listed in the “1001 Walks you must experience before you die” book, and also  perhaps more surprisingly, ” The 50 Greatest Walks in the World”, the Keenagh Loop does a 12km circuit into the vast and empty blanket bog of Mayo.

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We’d parked up for the night at Windy Gap, atop a pass on the hills to the southeast, and indeed it was. The misty, murky morning cloud slowly rose to reveal the hills we were heading towards.

By the time we got going it was, at Met Eireann had promised, turning into a fine day.

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Nephin emerges from the cloud

The road from Castlebar to Bangor passes along the shore of Beltra Lough and alongside the beautifully wooded Boghadoon river before passing between the solitary bulk of Nephin mountain and the peaks of the southern end of the extensive Nephin Beg range. The trail starts where Bellanaderg Bridge spans the river and heads south down a tarmac boreen for a couple of km through the townland of Dereen.

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We had started out with the dogs as the notice at the trailhead had only asked for dogs to be on leads but annoyingly after awhile we came to the all too common NO DOGS sign so had to retrace our steps to leave them in the van before carrying on again, complaining to each other about the severe lack of dog walking opportunities in Ireland and the general lack of access for people too. Having just returned from the 650km Gran Senda de Malaga in Andalusia which, typically, crosses all kinds of farmed land with open access and no dog restrictions it was frustrating to be confronted with this attitude of landowners again. But it seems we must be grateful for any ability to stray off public roads or forest tracks.

Many Mayo landowners may have a much bigger problem than walkers and their dogs. The threat of foreigners. Invaders. Of the flora variety.

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We had passed dozens of these signs and their associated clumps of noxious weeds as we drove alone the highways and byeways of Mayo and this one was deep into the hinterland, past the only farmhouse on the boreen, just as the tarmac ran out. And Knotweed was not the only rampant plant taking over the land. Rhododendron ponticum is marching across the bogland of the Wild Nephin Wilderness Area, a huge tract of land where a “hands off” land management approach to “rewilding” the landscape could see it buried under the smothering blanket of the evergreen leaves of a bullyboy shrub that takes out any competition with toxic chemicals. Giant rhubarb, gunnera tinctoria, has also taken over large areas of once productive arable land with well over 1000 sites recorded on Achill alone. The speed with which it can take over is understandable when you know that one plant can produce 750,000 seeds and a square metre of ground can have 30,000 seedlings crowding out any other species.

We were accompanied for a while by a farm dog that was seemingly surplus to the requirements of the farmer and top dog herding some sheep around a derelict cottage.

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The black road became a green road, the old route to Newport, and we passed more forlorn and abandoned homesteads, still containing remnants of their previous occupation including an old bed heaped with sheep wool.

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As we climbed to a rise on the shoulder of Letterkeeghaun an amazing view lay before us southwards down the wide valley of Glen Hest, beside Beltra Lough, all the way to Croagh Patrick whose pyramidical summit was still hidden by clouds on the far side of Clew Bay.

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The old road was slowly disappearing under a layer of grass and moss, the mountains reclaiming the hard won mark of mans toil through the ages. In places it was now wet enough ground to warrant the placing of wooden bridges and boardwalks, although they didn’t stop me getting a wet foot at the bottom of an unnoticed bog hole.

We followed the ghost of the old way for about 3km under a big open sky until we reached the somewhat surreal edifice of a concrete waterworks where we stopped for a time to soak up the peace and have a sandwich, the only sound that of an unseen waterfall.

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We left the track here, as we approached a large block of forestry, and followed a line of fencing towards the sounds of running water. The erosion of delicate vegetation by overgrazing had caused big areas of waterlogged turf to be exposed, that plentiful rain and the padding of hooves were, bit by bit, sending sliding into the river and off into the lower lakes and sea. Since the end to headage payments, which saw the marginal hillsides covered by overstocked flocks of sheep, the numbers of animals has certainly reduced, but once uncovered the turf takes an age to repair itself and the presence of even a few trampling hooves can slow or stop the regeneration of a covering blanket of grasses.

It was still glorious out there, despite the signs of environmental degredation, and it got better as we reached the river and followed it upstream into the remote Glendorragha valley with the summit of Birreencorragh as a magnificent backdrop.

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Ahead of us a lone tree stood out, a surviver in its youth of the grazing sheep that have kept any of it’s prodigy from surviving. It’s not the climate, or even the waterlogged conditions that stop the expanses of western Ireland returning to forest, it’s the nibbling teeth of a livestock that makes little economic sense. Maybe we should pay the landowners more to grow hardwoods rather than undervalued wool and meat.

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Under the deep blue sky the mountains looked inviting and the thought crossed my mind that from here you could wander for days towards the west and north without seeing a soul. You could head out across the entire Nephin Beg range and work your way along the old Bangor trail or across the bogs of Ballycroy National Park to the sea. Tempting enough under these conditions but I knew what it could be like in the wild west and thought better of it. (See other posts on the Bangor Trail)

Instead we turned away from the river to follow the line of a disused fence passed the patches of scree on the flanks of Knockaffertagh towards a pass on it’s shoulder at about 250m.

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It was a fairly long but gradual climb across the tussocky grass and heather and a pleasure in the sunshine, to be savoured with repeated stopping to turn and admire the landscape we were leaving which seemed to glint in the crystallised light. Food for the soul. Another stop for edible nourishment at the pass and a different view to the north, of Nephin and passed our starting point towards the forests of Tristia and the sea at Killala bay.

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It seemed like we were rejoining the civilised and tamed world as we climbed down on the sheep paths to join a farm track and eventually a tarmaced boreen. A couple of red jacketed hikers passed us on their way into the wild and we hoped they had time to finish before the light went. The days were getting shorter and the clocks went back in a few hours time. Summertime was over for the year and with it the likelihood of any long hikes into the hills. The Letterkeen Loop was a nice one to finish with and the autumnal colours in the trees along the boreen made the new season welcome.

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As summer ends in the northern hemisphere however, it starts in the southern, so my next posts- while visiting family in Australia- will continue in the sun.

 

LA GRAN SENDA DE MALAGA: GR 249. 21st OCT. JIMERA de LIBAR to BENALAURIA ( 17km)

Our last days journey along the trail for this trip was going to take us through the Rio Guadiaro valley on fairly flat ground for about 8km and then on a long steep climb up and over Penon de Benadalid at over1000m before a steep descent a couple of km into the Rio Genal valley.
We set off under a clear blue sky luckily on the shady side of the valley, stopping to admire the Fuente and washing house on the outskirts of the village.

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We were again passing through the Natural Parque de Sierra de Grazelema and after following a little cobbled path through patches or parcelas of vegetable gardens we crossed a cattle grid and entered a vast area of cork and acorn covered Holm oaks, perfect for raising pigs, but here sheltering herds of impressively horned cattle, flocks of sheep and a lot of goats all seemingly free to mix and mingle.

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The freshly peeled cork oaks were a beautiful bloody shade of red in the early morning light.

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As we climbed higher we crossed grazing lands, leaving the oaks and coming to walnut plantations.

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Further on the landscape changed again to a mix of low shrub and more open grassland where the path was lined by stone markers.

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Sally let out a shriek when a little adder on the path struck out at her.

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As the sun climbed higher so did we and we reached the little gaggle of buildings at Siete Pilas, named after the natural spring Fuente that made this an important intersection of ancient paths.

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A cobbled path took us up away from the village and we were joined by a tabby kitten who followed us for 3 km to the peak.

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There is an abundance of powerful springs in the area which makes farming possible to a great height as the rain filters down through the limestone until it hits the underlying clay and emerges from the ground. The fuente near the top which we were very grateful for was dated from the 1700’s.

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Finally, hot and sweaty, we clambered the final few steps to the top where we discovered a car full of a young family that had come up the easy way, a steep concrete track on the eastern side. The towering slab of Penon de Benadalid was impressive and offered a couple of via ferrata routes. We preferred to rest and soak up the views.

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I’m pretty sure that view included the Rock of Gibraltar and the Morrocan Atlas Mountains.
We left kitty to walk with the other family and hopefully avoid the soaring vultures and started down the track. Crossing a main road at the bottom we were suddenly into chestnut country, an important crop over a huge area here.

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Briefly getting lost when our usually reliable markers abandoned us on the last leg we made in down into the attractive village of Benalauria with spectacular views of the surrounding hills.

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Our friends were waiting in the plaza for us, so we settled down for some cold beers and tapas, with the publican teaching us how to use an acorn cup as a whistle.
A great weeks walk, very varied,was over and the GR249 will have to wait till next year for me to complete it.

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LA GRAN SENDA DE MALAGA: GR249. 19/20th OCT. EL BURGO TO RONDA(27km) to JIMERA DE LIBAR(26km)

The loud pitter patter of raindrops on clay tiles lasted most of the night but by dawn had gone silent. Not because it was dry but because, as we discovered on leaving our shelter, the fine misty drizzle made no sound. Draping the surrounding hills in a gauze of grey it seem to impose a quiet over the river valley we started up out of town.

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Everything was coated in sparkling shiny water droplets and the air had been washed of all haze creating particles leaving what could be seen below the drifting, swirling cloud to stand out in sharp relief.

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It was all about the water. The river was below us, winding through the walls of layered and undulating seams of sandstone and bursting from dams.

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It also burst from the ground next to us in “Fuentes” nicely planted and with seats that would have tempted in sunnier conditions.

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And it also covered our heads in a ceiling that rose and fell and drifted around us on unfelt currents.

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Although we were wet and a bit chilly and had concerns that it should improve before we got too high, it was very calming and a silent beauty pervaded the vast forests of the Sierra de las Nieves Natural Parque.

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We left the forest track to descend on a trail to cross the river and clamber up a steep and rocky slope past the ruins of old cortijos that once clawed a living in these wild spaces. The landscape opened around us as we climbed out of the forest and up into the high plateau guarded by the remnants of a cliff top fortress.

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The flat ground, at over 1000m high, was occupied by a working farm of grain and sheep. A lonely spot to be sure, we followed its track up to the pass at 1160m and then down towards their nearest neighbours 5km away.

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As we got lower the flat plain around our objective, Ronda, revealed itself.

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The rain / drizzle/ damp was long gone by now and after reaching the cortijos lower gate and starting across the agricultural land ,that now did not seem so flat after all,we began to feel the Kms covered and anticipated our arrival

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in Ronda.

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Glad to have arrived we had to negotiate swarms of meandering tourists to get to our bed for the night and climb into the shower before taking to the streets again in search of a back street local frequented eatery before collapsing wearily into bed.
Up and out before the sightseers clogged the streets we crossed over the famous bridge and down the beautifully cobbled path into the gorge, only making way for a mass of runners with an axe to grind.

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The path was magnificent. The cobbling superb. The light a delight.
What’s not to like.

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A couple of Kms out out town we turned off onto an old dirt track that serviced a small group of houses and a gaggle of rough and ready farm buildings. After the swish 5* buildings of Ronda this was a forgotten outland or edge town.

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At the edge of edgetown we joined the railway track that was to accompany us all the way the to JIMERA de LIBAR.

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It became the day of the insects with the air full of flying ants, the vegetation full of snails and busy dung beetles crossing our path.

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We left the railway to climb a beautiful ancient cobbled path up over the mountain, passing a flock of sheep on the way.

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From the top of the pass and down into the town of Benoajan we unfortunately passed some animals not best looked after. A horse tangled on a few inches of rope, sheep grazing on layers/ stratas of rubbish and one of so many dogs we heard chained and wimpering.

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Perhaps ironically, the town is famous for its pork products. Supposedly made from free ranging pigs happily gorging on acorns in the holm oak forests. We have our doubts.
Moving on through town on an old track past the station we continued on a beautiful riverside trail.

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The valley was spectacular, and just the railway and our track ran through it.

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Our views alternated between far reaching vistas of the railway, river and mountains and intimate ones of trees and trail.

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Eventually we crossed the railway on an elaborate bridge and walked alongside the river before starting the final climb towards our days end.

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Stopping briefly at a Fuente beneath some towering and randomly decorated palms

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we climbed our last hill of the day, a 2km, 150m ascent to JIMERA de LIBAR.

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Tomorrow is our last leg of this trip. A hopefully relaxed 17 km walk to Benalauria.

LA GRAN SENDA DE MALAGA: GR249. 17/18th October :El Chorro to Ardales (16.7km) to El Burgo (25km)

We thought we might not make it.
Booked to fly from Shannon to Malaga the day that Hurricane Ophelia swept across Ireland and all media were constantly telling everyone to stay at home, we didn’t think we’d be taking off at all.
Miraculously though,our plane was still not cancelled as we chain sawed our way through fallen trees on route to the airport through the maelstrom.
As we approached we saw the first post cancellations jet wobble its way down onto safe ground, and we knew we’d be off soon.
And so it was. After a remarkably smooth flight we landed into a barmy still night on the Costa del Sol, seemingly on a different planet to the storm tossed coast we had escaped.
Here for another week on the GR 249 trail, continuing the circumnavigation of Malaga Province for just over 100km over 5 days hiking and finishing with a bit of R+R.

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Studying the map board at El Chorro station, where I’d finished up last time, we were disturbed to see the route had been changed from all the info we had and now went 6 km longer past Carratraca before turning towards our objective, Ardales. However the GR7 still went along the original route so as it was already nearly midday we decided to stick to that.
It was a bit daunting to look up at the tower atop the hill we had to climb.

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The tower was connected to a reservoir 350m higher than those below, and water is pumped up at times of surplus energy and allowed to run back down, through turbines, at times of need.
We climbed relentlessly for over 4 km, passed some interesting looking rock formations with life clinging to it precariously.

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The higher we climbed the better the view, and after an hour or so we arrived at the wall of the reservoir and the tower with it’s resident vultures/ eagles and many more riding the updrafts around and above.

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From this vantage point we could look down on a line of people crossing the new bridge at the end of the Caminito del Rey gorge, and continuing along the cliff side walkway.

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We were now on a high plateau with extensive views over the surrounding Sierra , a landscape of pine trees and herbs which supplied a glorious scented background to our walk.

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After a couple of km along a forest track along the ridge we joined the Tarmac road that serviced the high reservoir briefly and passed by the entrance steps up to the 9 / 10th century fort of Bobastro.

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This was where the Mozarab rebels led by Omar Ibn Hafsun hung out and built an impressive citadel complete with this church and subterranean cemetery.

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Off on tracks again the next couple of hours took us across an empty quarter of sparsely populated farmland of sheep and grain ,now mostly within a Natural Paraje or park. There were a few tasteful finca to holiday home conversions but mostly simple farm worker ” navvyies” or houses surrounded by stock sheds.

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The subsistence grain growers had left the old cobbled threshing grounds, or “eras” behind, for the few passers by to admire the view from.

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The ringing of bells heralded a large flock of sheep minded by dog and man.

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A little earlier we had passed a long water trough with an elaborate welded cage around it and been puzzled.

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Looking back as the flock surrounded it we could see it was to allow the sheep to drink without climbing in and fouling the water.
Another flock was being minded by a large but mild mannered dog who seemed to let them wander at will.

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The last 4 km were downhill through open country until Ardales came into view on the other side of a busy road.

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We found the stage end and sign board for the next leg and bought the makings of a huge tuna salad to fortify ourselves for the following day.

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The night was full of thunder and rain and , as forecast, the next day dawned drizzly under leaden skies. We dressed for rain and headed out under the ancient hill top castle and down to the Roman bridge over the Rio Turon.

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Fair play to the Roman builders, that bridge has been carrying traffic for 2000 years.

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We now had 10 km of ascent ahead, taking us from 350 m to 820m. As we climbed, the view back over the mountains we had climbed from El Chorro was of darkness and light, with white clouds rising from the gorge.

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Atop of the first ridge was a medieval fortress from the war between Granada and Seville kingdoms.

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We climbed up into the vast public forest, 1000’s of hectares planted to help with erosion and as an amenity, although this is a little known and remote area- we saw no one all day.

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The rain started to come down relentlessly although the trees gave us some respite for a few hours until we reached more open ground of deep soiled mixed crop farmland. Luckily, at more or less the same time the rain became drizzle, then stopped, and then the sun came out for awhile and we stopped to dry out.

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A long line of bee hives were laid out next to the track and a copse of fine eucalyptus soaked up the rain from the arroyo.

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We were now back down to Rio Turon level. While the river had meandered its way through the mountains we had gone over them. As we neared the town we passed the fertile riverside gardens and a little shrine to the saints

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And finally, still pretty wet, a couple of km further than expected was El Burgo with its welcoming streets and hot shower.

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The cloud is well down again and tomorrow we have to climb, over 25 km, up to 1160m and back. So I really hope the forecast is right and we can stay dry.
But now some internal liquid is required.

LA GRAN SENDA DE MALAGA: GR 249.10/11th SEPTEMBER. CAMPILLOS TO EMBALSES de GUADALHORCE and beyond (32.5km) to EL CHORRO (13km)

I immediately took the wrong way out of Campillos in the pre dawn gloom but soon the sun was lighting my eucalyptus lined road past some big industrial chicken “farms”.

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Some fields were turning from brown to green with new life while on their edges the dry seed heads ended that cycle.

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This area is famed for its many lagoons, some no more than a patch of damp ground at this time of year, others a much prized habitat for wildlife, birds in particular.
Pink flamingos tiptoed in the shallows of this one as the squealing of pigs broke free from the unit behind.

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The land hereabouts was good quality with an amazing depth to the soil.

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A shepherd led his flock to graze the stubble of grain near a huge cortijo which had done lots of tree planting and landscaping.

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A beautiful place that looked like they loved the land.

The mountains to the south were looming larger and after another stretch of road I entered a forest of pines and a first view of the destination of the day, the reservoir of Guadalhorce.

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To get there I crossed a large area of land being grazed by sheep- complete with guard dogs but no shepherd .

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The track turned back into woodland and followed a winding path that gave me enticing views of the cool turquoise water that I was too hot to resist clambering down to for a swim.

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Refreshed, (briefly), it was off through more thankfully shady pine untill the red and white blazes led me across a tricky rock face where the weight of my water filled pack threatened to full me off onto the rocks below.

With the heat building towards the daytime maximum I emerged onto the road at the dam wall between the two reservoirs of Guadalhorce and Guadalteba- two huge bodies of water.

I had a few km of road walking on the other side of the dam before I started to climb into the mountains that were my final hurdle. This point was usually the end of the stage from Campillos, having already covered 23km, a lot of it on tarmac. But I was anxious to leave as little of the final stage for the last day as possible. I knew it would be an uphill slog for 500m ascent, followed by a long fairly steep descent and didn’t want to do it all in the heat so decided to carry on for awhile. After another half hour or so I was driven into the water again by the blazing sun and then sat out the worst of it feeding the carp.

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I could see a bunch of vans and cars high up on the track into the sierra and after turning back onto the trail and starting to climb towards them I saw why. The sheer limestone walls of the towering cliff faces are a magnet for climbers and I watched with bated breaths tiny dots scaled their heights with and without ropes. Major cojones.

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The views over the reservoir and the hills to the north opened up more and more as I slowly made my way up through the landscape of boulders and scrub. Passing through the Puerto de Ramos the vegetation became increasingly given over to Juniper, a forest of it, and laden with berries.

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With the light starting to fade and keen to find somewhere to camp I came to an isolated plantation of young olives with a nearby old stone barn that looked inviting but a couple of chained and barking dogs put me off and carried on into more and more unsuitable surroundings with very thick juniper shrub and rocks and boulders in any space between.

Eventually I ended up in a drain for the night. Not as bad as it sounds with a flat smooth surface, shelter and privacy, not that there was anyone for miles.

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And the view wasn’t bad.

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It was however pretty cold at that altitude without a sleeping bag and I had a fairly restless night listening to strange sounds of birds and unknown wildlife and what I was sure were trains running through tunnels that were somewhere deep deep below me in the mountain, before dawn gave way to another clear blue sky day and I set off early for the final 250m climb, with the landscape i’d covered over the week laid out below.

On a plateau at 830m was an extremely remote farm with hundreds of goats and extensive tillage of which not an inch was wasted amongst the rocky crags.

The inventively recycling farmer not only used bedsprings for fencing, but a multitude of baths for water and feed- however he got them up there.

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Suddenly I was on the downhill stretch, passing my first asphodel

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and my first other GR249 user this trip.

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Watching him cycle up this steep track towards me made me feel as inadequate as the climbers had. He was escaping from a Torremolinos holiday to mountain bike in the wilds and was loving it.

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The vista before me to the east was of the area i’d be hiking through on my next trip on the GR when the route goes to Ronda and the Parque Natural Sierra de Grazalema.

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Lower down an old finca still supplied almonds

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and a newer homestead sported a yurt, a pool and a riding stables.

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Before too long I was surprised on the wooded trail by my second GR user of the trip- presumably from the attractive property nearby.

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Huge eagles or vultures circled above more climbers I could just make out high above on the cliffs surrounding El Chorro, hopefully not in anticipation of rich pickings.

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I could see the beginnings of the gorge of the Caminito del Rey, the scene of our previous adventure and another site popular with dare devil climbers for years.

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I arrived at the journeys end with time, water and food to spare and awaited the train to emerge from the tunnel into the mountains I had slept on the previous night.

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My third instalment of the Gran Senda over, I was happy to have visited the vast olive plantations and wide open spaces of the grain growing areas but more happy to anticipate the sierras and natural parks to come — next month— when it’ll be cooler.

LA GRAN SENDA DE MALAGA: GR249. 8/9th SEPTEMBER. ALAMEDA to FUENTE DE PIEDRA (16.5km)to CAMPILLOS (19km)

Walking out at dawn I realised I’d been on the very edge of town and skirted around it through an industrial area. I was taken by the artistry of the car breakers.

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The first olive groves actually had grass between the rows. Was this the work of some radical organic farmer or merely sensible intercropping.

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The land here was very sandy leaving tracks of wildlife and tractors.

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An hours climbing to the high ground of the day and I was pleasantly relived to finally come to another species of tree. Aleppo pine and plenty of herbs, the scent of which filled the still morning air.

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The previous morning, surrounded by mile upon mile of olive I was sure I could smell the oil, a not very pleasant odour normally only noticed around the mills at processing time.
Another change of crop was a plantation of almonds, although the eagle eyed reader may have spotted a picture in the last post of rows curving over a hillside.

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And then for the first time this trip I was off the farm tracks and on a woodland one, running down between the pines and past a strange enclosure that looked like it had been used for pigs.

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It was literally and figuratively downhill from there and back to the olives before a break in the form of an remote controlled aircraft landing strip. These toy flying zones are immensely popular in Spain for some reason and I’ve come across them in many of my ramblings here.

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Kenny and friends seem to enjoy their time here, flying high maybe.

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I had to cross the AVE high speed train line which although not pretty is a monument to Spain’s love affair with mega infrastructure projects. They seem to have the space to push these things across the country with gusto.

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And then on the last leg into town across another area of flat arable land I past the ruins of the big watering infrastructure of the past. Huge pump houses now derelict.

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I arrived to find the place just setting up for a weekend of fiesta revelry.

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The campsite I’d booked for a shower, phone charging, clothes washing etc was rammed and no quiet corners for me to bivvy in so they lent me a tent complete with mattress for 2€ and erected it next to an extended family and all their mates intent on partying.
Before I left home I’d discovered that the Donkey Sanctuary charity for whom we foster donkeys had a affiliated Spanish branch here, so I hiked over for a chat and look about.

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An interesting place, if your interested in donkey sanctuaries. Almost a reverse situation to Ireland in terms of donkey care. All feed brought in, dry paddocks, hot conditions, actually an environment they are genetically designed for. About 80% of their funding comes from England and they( and their new sister sanctuary in Extremadora) take in donks and mules and the odd horse from all over Spain as well as Italy and France.

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That poor specimen wouldn’t have made the grand in the flamboyant display of horsemanship that went on in Piedra that evening.

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Macho posturing and horse grooming at their finest, and the señoritas weren’t to be outdone.

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The Main Street was closed and the riders had to pelt up the hill and catch a steamer rolled on a wire with a little wooden pin, presumably to catch the eye of one of the exquisite beauties watching from the sidelines.

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It went on for hours.
The weary walker couldn’t stay up for the late night procession of the Virgin through town, but I got a sneak preview in the cathedral of her flower bedecked podium(?)

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Of course there was no rest to be had at fiesta camping and me and my outsider neighbour, tossed and turned through the hilarity till they collapsed about 2am.
Up at 6am and thinking of singing loudly I instead snuck quietly away to join a track alongside the railway.

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Passing a goat “farm”

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I carried on beside the railway into the rising sun and , at last, towards the mountains.

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It was more of them

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And more of that

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With the occasional building to add interest. Some old and abandoned, some old and refurbished, and one a bizarre mix.

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I got as close as I was going to get to the famous lagoon. Still horizontal smudge across the background there was no chance of spotting the pink flamingos.

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Then came the tough part, though thankfully the sky clouded thinly, as I made my way across a vast rolling ocean of earth.
It reminded me very much of crossing the Meseta on my first Camino. Mind numbing. But lacking visual stimulation I added aural and the music filled my mind, my body and my soul and I fair flew along to the tunes of the maestro who is Baramus.
You need a zen like state at times to be happy covering distance where the horizon never seems nearer.

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Shaken out of my reverie by the sight of Campillos on a now changing horizon I was able to leave inner space and Evie’s details like the mud cracked ground.

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Entering the town I passed the grand cathedral where a wedding was taking place.

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Unfortunately the edifice viewed from my hostel room didn’t mimic the finer architectural details.

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And so I prepare for the hardest two days of the trip. Long stages, nowhere to get food or drink and big mountains.
And a tight deadline. There’s a plane to catch.