SPAIN

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.

IMG_4177.JPG
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

IMG_4179.JPG
and we moved on down the road surrounded by grain fields and poppies.

IMG_4182.JPG
We took a dirt track leading straight up the mountain ahead of us

IMG_4183.JPG
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.

IMG_4184.JPG

IMG_4185.JPG

IMG_4180.JPG
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.

IMG_4186.JPG

IMG_4187.JPG
There were signs of other outdoor activities in the shape of abandoned loud speakers and campfires.

IMG_4188.JPG
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.

IMG_4192.JPG

IMG_4189.JPG
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.

IMG_4196.JPG

IMG_4200.JPG
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.

IMG_4199.JPG

IMG_4210.JPG

IMG_4208.JPG

IMG_4203.JPG

IMG_4202.JPG

IMG_4204.JPG
Pausing for lunch and self congratulations at the summit we looked westwards along the mountain chain, admiring the rugged splendour of it all.

IMG_4212.JPG

IMG_4213.JPG

IMG_4211.JPG

IMG_4207.JPG
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.

IMG_4215.JPG

IMG_4218.JPG
There were big patches of Dehesa oak woodland and great spots for rock climbing like the imposing Tajo de Madera cliff face.

IMG_4222.JPG

IMG_4225.JPG
We arrived at the little chapel of our Lady of the Rosary just outside the town.

IMG_4229.JPG
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.

IMG_4231.JPG

IMG_4244.JPG

IMG_4243.JPG
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.

IMG_4246.JPG

IMG_4242.JPG
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.

IMG_4255.JPG
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.

IMG_4228.JPG

IMG_4257.JPG

IMG_4260.JPG

IMG_4261.JPG
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.

IMG_4262.JPG

IMG_4267.JPG

IMG_4264.JPG

IMG_4263.JPG
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.

IMG_4269.JPG
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.

IMG_4273.JPG

IMG_4272.JPG
Plain farming folk were here too with their sheep and goats, their grain and their oaks.

IMG_4278.JPG

IMG_4288.JPG

IMG_4279.JPG

IMG_4281.JPG
Some of the olives were looking pretty industrial level Corp.

IMG_4282.JPG

IMG_4286.JPG
We climbed higher, passed the olives, to an area where pines had been harvested from the steep hillsides after a fire.

IMG_4291.JPG
The view back was over the vast prison

IMG_4294.JPG
The view forwards was down into the Hoz de Marin and we climbed along its edge through the strangely coloured gypsum and clays.

IMG_4295.JPG
Before dropping steeply down through a pine forest on a track destroyed by mountain bikes.

IMG_4296.JPG
Our destination came into view between the trees

IMG_4297.JPG
and reaching the valley floor we crossed the river and walked along a lovely shady path before the last gruelling 100m ascent into town.

IMG_4298.JPG
We realised why the last climb had been such hot work when we saw 33• degrees on the thermometer sign.

IMG_4303.JPG
And so a few days rambling over we plan our return to Ireland and maybe our return to the GR 249.

IMG_4287.JPG

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.

IMG_4062.JPG
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.

IMG_4066.JPG

IMG_4069.JPG
The way was lined by the thrusting stalks of agave flowers.

IMG_4071.JPG
Canillas de Albaida came into view with the Maroma mountain range towering to over 2000m in the background.

IMG_4073.JPG
This area is renowned for the grapes grown between the olive trees and dried on netted sloping pens.

IMG_4077.JPG

IMG_4078.JPG
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.

IMG_4085.JPG

IMG_4082.JPG

IMG_4084.JPG

IMG_4079.JPG
The wild flowers were a glory to us and the multitude of bees feeding on their nectar and gathering their pollen.

IMG_4089.JPG

IMG_4086.JPG

IMG_4094.JPG

IMG_4098.JPG
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”.

IMG_4088.JPG

IMG_4090.JPG

IMG_4093.JPG
The grain winnowed here for generations was still growing feral in the deserted fields.

IMG_4097.JPG
Another descent, another ancient bridge and we climbed into the flower bedecked streets of Sedella.

IMG_4100.JPG

IMG_4099.JPG
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.

IMG_4104.JPG

IMG_4101.JPG

IMG_4107.JPG

IMG_4105.JPG

IMG_4103.JPG

IMG_4106.JPG
The lushness was enabled by irrigation channels emerging from a water mill on the hill above the village.

IMG_4108.JPG

IMG_4109.JPG
As we climbed the views opened up eastwards passed the irrigation canals to the mountains and firebreaks

IMG_4110.JPG
and south towards the sea.

IMG_4112.JPG
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.

IMG_4114.JPG

IMG_4113.JPG
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.

IMG_4122.JPG

IMG_4116.JPG

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.

IMG_4131.JPG

IMG_4133.JPG

IMG_4128.JPG

IMG_4125.JPG
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.

IMG_4136.JPG
Passing the traditional graveyard and a very untraditional housing block we found a bar for cafe con leche.

IMG_4139.JPG

IMG_4138.JPG
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.

IMG_4141.JPG
From the mirador del Pilarejo there were views back over the Maroma range and westwards over Vinuela reservoir.

IMG_4142.JPG

IMG_4144.JPG
The concrete track continued for another 5km or so through olive groves and an amusing chameleon juddered across our path.

IMG_4145.JPG

IMG_4149.JPG
On the outskirts of Periana was an area of unfinished development the bubble had burst over. Plazas and plots empty and waiting.

IMG_4150.JPG
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.

IMG_4151.JPG

IMG_4158.JPG

IMG_4156.JPG
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.

IMG_4155.JPG

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.
19th Feb
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.

IMG_3095.JPG
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.

IMG_3097.JPG
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.

IMG_3103.JPG
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.

IMG_3149.JPG
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.

IMG_3099.JPG

IMG_3168.JPG

IMG_3167.JPG

IMG_3101.JPG
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.

IMG_3137.JPG
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.

IMG_3139.JPG

IMG_3138.JPG
A little later I disturbed a mother ibex and her young kid who quickly scrambled away into the bushes.

IMG_3142.JPG
Fine views opened up

IMG_3145.JPG before I descended steeply through the thick vegetation

IMG_3147.JPG passing the impressive canal del chillar which cuts a gash for 6km across the mountain carrying the lifeblood of the crops on the Costa and energy for electricity production.

IMG_3151.JPG
A 200m drop took me down to the river Chillar itself which, after the nights rain, I was glad to see easily ford able.

IMG_3156.JPG
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,

IMG_3158.JPG dramatic ridges,

IMG_3162.JPG stony tracks,

IMG_3163.JPG

IMG_3164.JPG and wide open vistas.

IMG_3160.JPG
There was now more Maritime pine with beautiful coloured bark.

IMG_3166.JPG and I passed the first of many lime kilns in the area.

IMG_3171.JPG
Eventually I saw the gorge of the Rio Higueron below me

IMG_3175.JPG
And clambered down to walk along the river bed

IMG_3180.JPG and into Frigiliana where I carried on for a couple of km to find Trevor and a camper park up for the night overlooking the hills now dotted with a multitude of villas and farmsteads.

IMG_3186.JPG
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.

IMG_3184.JPG
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.

IMG_3205.JPG

IMG_3200.JPG
From there I followed a stony riverbed

IMG_3207.JPG through thick undergrowth

IMG_3210.JPG to reach the first ancient ventas or rest houses that lined these old transport routes

IMG_3211.JPG
The walls of rammed earth still showed the put holes for timber beams.

IMG_3212.JPG
The whole area was thick with flowering rosemary and the buzzing of bees and I passed many hives.

IMG_3216.JPG
The ridges of the hills were often laboriously cleared of befits toon to create firebreaks in this highly flammable environment.

IMG_3221.JPG

IMG_3219.JPG
Deep into the hills were the remains of remote fincas perfect for the off grid survivalist.

IMG_3224.JPG

IMG_3227.JPG
The cortijo del daire’s terraces still had old cherries, walnuts, figs, olives and pomegranates.

IMG_3236.JPG
After passing the farm I was signed up a steep and narrow path

IMG_3238.JPG through prickly gorse

IMG_3240.JPG leading to evermore impressive vistas

IMG_3241.JPG as it led up to the highest point of my trek.

IMG_3245.JPG
The beautiful path took me on a meandering course through maritime pine

IMG_3249.JPG past more ventas

IMG_3250.JPG complete with lime kilns

IMG_3251.JPG and threshing circles

IMG_3252.JPG and along a ridge with views back over my day’s journey.

IMG_3260.JPG
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.

IMG_3261.JPG
Passing beneath a fire lookout station I was soon confronted with the importance of their work. A huge area of burnt and denuded hillside

IMG_3266.JPG on the outskirts of Competa

IMG_3269.JPG where the warren of steep narrow streets brought me down passed many pretty properties much sought after by foreign buyers.

IMG_3271.JPG

IMG_3273.JPG

IMG_3272.JPG
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.

IMG_3011.JPG
The early morning sun shone through the palms as dog walkers and joggers fulfilled their daily routine.

IMG_3014.JPG
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.

IMG_3019.JPG

IMG_3033.JPG

IMG_3022.JPG

IMG_3031.JPG

IMG_3025.JPG

IMG_3034.JPG

IMG_3035.JPG
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.

IMG_3038.JPG

IMG_3032.JPG

IMG_3026.JPG
As I approached Torrox Costa the hulks of unfinished developments again reared their ugly heads above the beach.

IMG_3040.JPG
But back on the prom of the town proper I admired the exotic plantings and the creative pruning.

IMG_3045.JPG
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”.

IMG_3046.JPG
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.

IMG_3051.JPG
Before long I had to make my first river crossing, described in my translated guide as wading.

IMG_3052.JPG

IMG_3056.JPG
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.

IMG_3060.JPG
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.

IMG_3059.JPG
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.

IMG_3063.JPG

IMG_3064.JPG
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.

IMG_3066.JPG
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.

IMG_3070.JPG
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.

IMG_3071.JPG
Passing by a hill seemingly held together by lines of plastic webbing

IMG_3075.JPG

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.

IMG_3076.JPG
The landscape changed again as I started down the long descent with a vista of avocados before me.

IMG_3078.JPG
A little later I came across a grove of the most radically pruned olive trees I’ve ever seen.

IMG_3080.JPG
There were some spectacular villas on the hills here with sea views and very wealthy inhabitants but alongside that , a simpler lifestyle continued.

IMG_3086.JPG
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

IMG_3087.JPG before approaching Nerja on a labyrinth of tiny lush tracks through the crops.

IMG_3089.JPG

IMG_3090.JPG
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.

IMG_3093.JPG

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.

IMG_2926.JPG

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.

IMG_2918.JPG

IMG_2916-0.JPG
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.

IMG_2929-0.JPG

IMG_2928.JPG

IMG_2931.JPG
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.

IMG_2933.JPG

IMG_2935.JPG
Moving out beyond the city limits the surroundings became a little wilder.

IMG_2938.JPG
I found myself on the old Malaga to Almeria train track and past through a number of tunnels on the now pedestrianised greenway.

IMG_2940.JPG

IMG_2950.JPG

IMG_2941.JPG
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.

IMG_2954.JPG

IMG_2964.JPG

IMG_2959.JPG

IMG_2977.JPG
I went from an area resplendent with exotic plantings to one far more prosaic.

IMG_2969.JPG

IMG_2970.JPG

IMG_2956.JPG

IMG_2967.JPG
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.

IMG_2981.JPG

IMG_2978.JPG

IMG_2996.JPG

IMG_2995.JPG
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.

IMG_2983-0.JPG

IMG_2987-0.JPG

IMG_2986-0.JPG

IMG_2988-0.JPG
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.

IMG_2994-0.JPG

IMG_3004-0.JPG

IMG_3005-0.JPG

IMG_2992-0.JPG
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.

CAMINITO DEL REY: The Walkway of Death

img_1609

The somewhat dramatic title of this post, on a hike we did recently ,has been earned over the years by numerous people being killed whilst attempting to complete the original and badly crumbling walkway clinging to the side of a sheer cliff face 100m up above the waters tumbling through the Desfiladero de los Gaitanes gorge northwest of Malaga.

We had visited the area a couple of times over the years and seen climbers clambering about and watched videos posted on youtube by daredevils of themselves teetering on narrow and rusting steel beams supporting patches of crumbling concrete over the sheer drop but were never brave or foolhardy enough to attempt it ourselves.

Officially closed to the public in the 1980’s it continued to be a popular illicit attraction reached by crossing the iron girder railway bridge at the southern end while keeping a close eye out for trains emerging from the tunnels on either side.

img_1630Following a string of fatalities around the millennium , 30m of the walkway were demolished  next to the bridge making access much harder. But still they came, and so plans were made to provide a safer, money making, route to satisfy the obvious demand and it was reopened last year after a €3million refit and we were keen to experience this magnificently engineered path under less nerve racking conditions.

caminito-map

Following the course of the Guadalhorce upstream from Spain’s southcoast the river has cut deeply through the limestone sierras as they rise up from the plains to the north, creating a ravine at some points only 10m wide and 300m deep.The last few km before the huge embalse or reservoir system forms the Garganta del Chorro, a staggeringly dramatic, jaw dropping sliver of a passage between the towering slabs of contorted rock.

The walkway was originally constructed over 7 years to 1912 to facilitate construction of a hydro electric scheme with much of the work being carried out by sailors hanging on to ropes suspended from the top of the gorge. The story is that the most dangerous tasks were saved for prisoners on life sentences with nothing to lose.

The area had already been witness to formidable engineering feats when 40 years earlier the railway from the interior of Spain had blasted tunnels through the sierras on route to the coast at Malaga. The line still serves passengers to Ronda, Seville and Granada and must be a very scenic ride.

img_1603

It was during the construction of the railway that the idea of harnessing the 100m drop in altitude from one end of the gorge to the other for hydro power was first mooted and by 1921 when King Alfonso x111 used the walkway to inaugurate the completed dams (and so giving it the name ” The Kings Little Pathway”) the controlled waters of the Guadalhorce were producing the power for a burgeoning  Malaga.

img_1601

The old path, what’s left of it, has been retained and is just below the new walkway of wooden boarding on a galvanised steel framework anchored securely to the cliff face and with reassuringly sturdy cable and steel post railings.At the southern end a new steel suspension bridge with a metal mesh floor and another section with a thick glass floor allow an uninterupted view to the river below.

Initially the route could be tackled from either end but now can only be done in a southerly direction, presumably to ease the congestion of criss crossing groups on narrow or convoluted sections. Parking at El Kiosko bar and restaurant at the beginning of the 3km trail to the northern access gate we had a pleasant walk through the pine woods with the blue waters of the Embalse de Gaitanejo to our side.

img_1537

As we approached the access point control we could see the gorge opening in the mountain ahead, and a large group of people milling about.The Caminito is popular and even on a September weekday, a year and a half after reopening, with groups leaving every 30 minutes,I was glad we had booked on line as our time slot, in fact the whole day, was sold out.

img_1539

It was with surprise and relief that very soon after our group had been given our safety talk and helmets and been released into the wilds the majority raced ahead and out of sight and we were left to slowly stroll and marvel at our surroundings, with no time limit on our ramble. We were quickly immersed in the sandwich of rock faces.

img_1566

Looking down over the wire railings to the river below revealed the sculptural power of the rushing waters with countless rock bowls turned over eons by their spiralling flow.

img_1567

There were many bits and pieces of hardware left over from the original structure and many pegs, rings, cables and hand or footholds hammered like giant staples into the rock.

After a slow kilometre or so the narrow gorge began to open out ahead of us and the Hoyo valley came into view.

img_1588

We passed by a couple of the maintenance guys working away on the end of a rope. The project must have created some good job opportunities for local climbers.

img_1583

On the other side of the river the railway tunnel disappearing into the mountain came into view. Nowadays the new high speed Malaga-Madrid track has dug a route under Huma mountain, about 1km further east but the original line is still well used.

img_1586

The valley widened before us and we stepped down off the boardwalk onto a trail through the wooded slope studded with Aleppo and Stone pines, Holm oak and Eucalyptuses. Juniper and Mediterranean Fan Palms also thrived in the parched and stony soil and the scent of brooms and rock roses wafted on the warm air. Down along the riverbank the moisture supported rushes, canes, oleanders and tamarisks.

img_1592

Above us many vultures circled in a thermal of rising heat and there are often golden eagles and buzzards accompanying them. Below us an abandoned farmhouse commanded a fine situation looking over the land it once worked, isolated by it’s encircling sierra.

img_1593

We continued for about a km on the level shady path, sometimes alongside the little canal that used to carry water to a turbine at Chorro, and sometimes in it, before scaling steps at the sluice gates.

And then we were back to the boardwalk and approaching the massive bulk of limestone and dolomite whose sedimentary layers have been uplifted over millennia to now stand as vertical slices where fossils reveal their ancient origins.

img_1595img_1612

We were getting to the most dramatic section of the Caminito, the last 500m, where the narrow walkway snakes around a series of acute bends,

img_1611

crossing the suspension bridge,( where the sufferers of vertigo may have a hard time),

img_1605

and following the curve of the sheer rock wall around to it’s southern face towering above the blue water where after a series of steps, we climbed over the steel girder railway bridge to the exit gate.

img_1622

Our return bus was another few km walk alongside the reservoir from which water is pumped by windmills atop the mountain to a high altitude at times of excess energy, to be released back through turbines as the need arrises. The hydro scheme is clever engineering and the Caminto del Rey, both original and modern, was a thrilling walk built to enable its construction and appreciation. Long may it last.

If your looking for any information on how to visit the Caminito a useful english language website can be found by clicking  here.

GR7: Rio Gordo to Ventas de Zafarraya

IMG_0083

On a (too) short break in  Spain last week we tackled the local section of the GR7 route that works it’s way 1900km from Tarifa on the southwestern tip of the country, through the regions of Andalucia, Murcia, Valencia and Catalunya.

And the Spanish trail is only a small part of the International E4 route, starting in Portugal and traversing Spain, Andorra, France, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and finally Cyprus making up an epic 10,500 km. Thats some hike.

Unfortunately we didn’t have time to do the whole thing and so made do with a 500th of it.

IMG_0048

Starting out in the early morning light we climbed a long way up out of Rio Gordo north, over the main road towards Malaga, past a lot of the prickly pears that been struck down with the white fly infestation of the cochineal beetle that is a relative of the one that produces the vivid red dye and ironically the original reason for the introduction of the prickly pear, its home and food source. But for some reason the population of this species is out of hand and has wiped out the iconic pear across a large and growing area of Spain.IMG_0053.jpg

It took us about an hour to climb the couple of hundred mts up into the sun, levelling off at  about 650m with fantastic views back down the sierra and on towards the imposing bulk of Dona Ana.IMG_0064.jpg

The wild flowers were a glory, mid April, and although a good few had obviously gone over there were plenty to admire, and smell, and gather seeds from.

IMG_0063

Even though there had been very little rain all winter the fields of grain and broad beans were green and the hedgerows lush. The colours of the flowers were very vibrant in the sun and the buzz of insects became loader as the heat started to rise.
IMG_0068

The broad open flatish land up on the high ground below the limestone peaks was obviously richer and easier to cultivate than the steep and stony olive groves of the lower levels and it was up here that the oldest and biggest fincas or cortijo seemed to be.We approached the crumbling ruins of one that was supposedly the birthplace of Andalusia’s famous Robin Hood figure Omar Ibn Hafsun whose rebel army controlled a vast territory in the 9th century, but had since been used to house a load of sheep in sheds above some ancient caves in the cliff.IMG_0069

From here a narrow and sticky farm track that gathered on our boots as we went led us between the fields yellow with some weed or old crop (rape? mustard?) , across a little arroyo running with the previous mornings rain, and slowly down again to reach a road.

We hit tarmac for awhile at the Puerto del Sabar at 600m but the wide views and wealth of roadside flowers made it an enjoyable stretch until we crossed a river  and turned up a narrow track and gained height again to reach a little hamlet with a bar and an interesting looking Casa Rural.

Climbing up and away from the houses on a track that heads southeast around the hillside we had our first view down the valleys towards the reservoir at Vinuela and beyond it in the distance the twinking Mediterranean .IMG_0111

Before too long we were approaching another fine old Cortijo, this one boasting a cobbled track and era (grain threshing platform. Not far beyond Sally got a bootfull in a puddle and we stopped for lunch by a fountain on the way into the elevated village of Guaro.

We needed the sustenance to fortify ourselves for a pretty big climb up out of the prosperous looking village and up to the crest of the hill at about 900m where we turned left to join an old railway bed that was built to accommodate mine workings in the mountains and led us eventually all the way to Ventas de Zafarraya.

We had more great views across the sierra and down to the lake and at one point there was strange bridge across the track whose purpose we could not determine.

We crossed into Granada province as we approached the end of our 8 hour 30km journey.The highest mountain in the area , Maroma, at over 2000m, came into view and soon after we passed through a short section of tunnel and through the gap in the ridge thats allows the road up from the coast and into the high plain beyond that is a very productive vegetable growing area. Many of the (presumably low paid) workers on the land here seemed to be immigrants from North Africa and we shared the plaza and bus stop with some of them.

We passed a sign on our way into town that showed we were right on time.

8h. Eight very enjoyable hours on the GR7  E4. Only another 500 days to go.

IMG_0158