GR249

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. 5/6th SEPTEMBER. ARCHIDONA TO VILLANUEVA DE TAPIA (17+3km) to ATALAYA (17km)

It’s been 3 1/2 months since I left this trail to swelter in the heat of the Spanish summer and there has been precious little rambling since so I approached my return with a little caution, starting with what I thought would be a couple of easy days to ease my way into some kind of track fitness.
As soon as I stepped off the plane I realised that the heat was still going to be a problem. 11 o’clock at night and still 30 degrees and it was somewhere in the 30’s when I passed the thermometer sign we had sweated passed last trip.

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Cap and shades on I set off through town and out onto the sandy track towards Tapia with as much water as I could carry.

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Which was just as well as the bountiful Spring I had noted in the GR249 YouTube film was dry as a bone. Not that I could carry too much as I was travelling with minimal package. In a desperate bid to keep the weight on my back down as I had failed to reduce the weight of my front , I was planning a few nights camping without tent or sleeping bag just silk liner and mat. Even so, with some spare clothes, book, map, electronics, bit of food and my 2 lt water bladder my 25lt pack was bulging.

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The landscape, thankfully, was gentle with only about 200m of ascent and descent to Tapia. The dusty track led me through a “Dehesa” of scattered holm oaks among the olives, almonds and grain fields.

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There were also more rabbits around than anywhere else I’d seen in Spain, evidently many had escaped the numerous cartridges scattered across the ground.
The route went under a railway and motorway in quick succession

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and soon after across another rail line empty of trains but busy with tractors.

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The relatively flat open spaces means the farmers can employ big machines unusable on the rugged mountain slopes the GR had been though in its first dozen stages. Perhaps it was one that had flattened the rabbit that provided me with a “lucky” foot.

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There is a long overlap with the E4-GR7 hereabouts, that, had I followed it, would had led me to Athens and beyond, but in this heat I was happy to stop at a lovely hotel rural for a cold drink but less happy to discover they didn’t serve lunch on Tuesday.

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This threw the timing off a bit and after another weary couple of hours I arrived at Tapia just too late for lunch in the bar and a couple of hours too early for post siesta shop opening. A fountain in the park cooled my head and feet and I rested up. There was nowhere to stay here and I was going to have to head for the hills to find somewhere to lay my mat.

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By the time I’d eaten and restocked with water etc it was 7 and thankfully a little cooler as I clambered up the steepest climb of the day for a few Kms getting increasingly apprehensive at the severe lack of camping opportunity. Steep and rocky, the abundance of ruined and deserted homes declared that this was not an easy place to live, or camp.

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I was a little concerned about wild boar and mosquitos of which there seemed to be plenty.
But the late evening light on this ancient drovers track lent a magic to the land and as it finally faded I at last came to a ruin with an open barn and straw to lie on. With a full moon rising and mosquitos gone it was all I could wish for.

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Next morning I was up by moonlight and on the trail in the gloaming, the olive groves slowly lit by the rising sun. The landscape I’d crossed 2 years ago on the Camino Mozarabe was ahead of me with the head shaped lovers leap and the mountains of El Torcal behind.

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There were well kept farms here with a variety of fruit and vegetables hidden away amongst the vast olive groves. One little finca had the least effective guard dog I’ve ever seen. Unlike most in Spain there was no yapping or growling and leaping up and down. This poor fellow couldn’t do enough to hide away in an attempt to avoid all contact.

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They seemed very “grove proud” in these parts with men and machine watering, feeding, clearing and flattening(!) their fincas. I’d never seen anyone with a leaf blower tidying up around their olive trees before. And why do they need it so flat?

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Eventually my path descended down to a stream bed, passed a ruined mill, and across a lot of the detritus of past flooding.

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I came into Algaidas past the vast olive mill, idle for the moment but awaiting a storm in a few months.

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Stopping for a cafe con leche I google mapped my Air b+b but upon arrival the mailbox was for different names. A very friendly policia local knew exactly who I was looking for and directed me to a village a couple of km further. The route out there was on the Camino Mozarabe and brought back memories of the shady path and bridge, although it looked like there had been some raging waters here too.

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There is a whole load of new signage for the Camino and I saw that it has been given the GR designation.

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And so I will miss out on the next stage of the GR249 to Cuevas Bajas as we did it on the Mozarabe and continue on to Alameda. Hopefully a good rest and an early start will allow me to climb the initial 250m without heatstroke.

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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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.

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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,

IMG_3158.JPG dramatic ridges,

IMG_3162.JPG stony tracks,

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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

IMG_3207.JPG through thick undergrowth

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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

IMG_3238.JPG through prickly gorse

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

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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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