Hiking in Andalucia

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.

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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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GR7: Rio Gordo to Ventas de Zafarraya

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

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