La Gran Senda de Malaga

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.

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

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

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

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.



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.


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

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.


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.


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.






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




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.


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


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

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.



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.


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.

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.




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.




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.

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.


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




Some of the olives were looking pretty industrial level Corp.


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

The view back was over the vast prison

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

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

Our destination came into view between the trees

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

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

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



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.

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.

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.

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.

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.




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.

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.


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

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.

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

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_3164.JPG and wide open vistas.

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.

Eventually I saw the gorge of the Rio Higueron below me

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.

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.

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.


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

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

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

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


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


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

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.

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.

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.

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.



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 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.


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.


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.



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.


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

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



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.




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




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.




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.




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.




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.