Monthly Archives: October 2012

The mighty mosquito…… conclusion of a GR7 trip.

Today was a short 12k day. We were glad of that after a few long and arduous ones. Now I’m well over 60 I’ve developed a new formula for walking which works well on the continent. In the past I considered a day’s walk with a pack to be between 15 and 20 miles. Keeping to this principle I now happily keep to the 15-20, but now in kilometres! Problem solved without loss of face.   Try it.

We had desayuno in the Spanish bar where we were made most welcome and given home made cake with our coffees – delicious. I suspect that English walkers in shorts are not that common here and we got a great send off. Little did they know we would be back!!

Walking down the street we came across a wholesale fruit ‘shop’. Peering in we witnessed the old man of the establishment cracking almonds with some Heath Robinson machine. [you can see why modern mechanisation has taken over]  Soon we each had a handful of almonds to nibble on, 5 minutes of his work – I’d swear they were the freshest and tastiest I’ve ever had. We bought ourselves a large bag of clementines for very little and enjoyed them through the day’s walk.  Saved H pilfering them from the wayside.

Fruit shop

Almond crusher

Eventually on our way out of town at about  11am we retraced our steps to the bridge where we stopped to consult the map for our continuation. Would you believe it but within 30 seconds our legs and arms were covered this time with mosquitoes – and they bite!!    Being close to the river we had to don full waterproofs to protect us from the attacking hoards [Just like Glen Brittle in August]

Lovely walk along the River Ebro and over a col.

Midge attire

From here there were wonderful views down to the orchards and the winding Ebro.Wasn’t much fun in the heat with ‘anti mosquito’ trousers on. We wandered through old olive and almond groves not wanting to stop because of being eaten by the dreaded mosquitos. Arrived at the small town of Rasquera.  Could not find any obvious accommodation here so we had to head back to Benifallet. Got ourselves to a bus stop for the 15.20 bus, had time for a coffee.

Relaxing before the bus dash.

Within minutes buses started to arrive, we jumped onto each one. At one point we were being driven back to the centre because we were on the wrong bus, thank you Mr Driver! Eventually on the third bus we were heading back to Benifallet. Have you noticed how quickly motorised transport takes you back to a place it has taken most of the day to walk from!!

Next thing we were having a beer in the bar we had left in the morning – I think they were pleased to see us as they gave us  more extra helpings of home made tapas.  Peering at my arms and legs I realised how badly I’d been bitten, my legs were particularly red and swollen. Local opinion was that I should see a doctor.

On our way back to our hotel we looked into an olive oil mill. This one utilised traditional granite stones to crush the olives and the fabric filters for the product were on display.

Traditional Olive Oil Mill

Back again at the Hotel Pepo applied creams to bites, hoping they would be better tomorrow. We had a wonderful dinner and an even better breakfast. Our next problem was to get back to Rasquera for our last day’s walk of 20K to Tivissa, the 7am bus had already departed. The helpful owner of Hotel Pepo summoned us a taxi and within minutes we were sat there drinking morning coffee. Leaving Rasquera took us through cultivated flat land on tracks with distant views of another range of hills, they looked too distant to be tackled today.

How many guard dogs do you need?

We just followed the way-marks even when they seemed to be heading in completely the wrong direction. Before we knew it the range of hills was in front of us and a beautiful winding valley took us into their folds.

Heading to Pena-Roja

We ended up climbing to a hidden pass on a well constructed, ancient, zigzagging mule track. This brought us in close proximity to Pena-Roja crag, the obvious half dome in the photo. There is some hard climbing on this cliff.

Pena- roja

A col at about 600m gave us our first view of Tivissa our destination for tonight. This had been a beautiful afternoon’s walk.

Tivissa

A winding route took us past the Sant Blai hermitage and on between good looking climbing areas [Will have to check them out for a future visit] to the outskirts of Tivissa with lots of barking dogs. Booked into the only hotel and had difficulty getting a twin, rather than a matrimonial, room. What must we have looked like?
Supper in the bar was enlivened by the Barcelona v Celtic champions league match on TV – needless to say we were the only ones cheering, quietly, for Celtic. Good game, Celtic unlucky to lose 2-1 with a last minute goal. Apart from the mosquito bites itching slept like a log.

Nobody at the hotel had a clue about buses out of the town so we opted for a taxi after breakfast to take us down to the coast. A quick train ride brought us to Tarragona with its Roman heritage. More important on a hot sunny day was a trip to the beach for a swim in the Med. Invigorating.

Roman Coliseum and the beach!

Sunbathing over, a Catalan buffet meal inside us, some dodgy bus trips and we were back at Reus Airport for our flight to Liverpool. Can’t wait to get home to the dark nights and cold weather…..        Still itching from those bloody mosquitoes!!

A dose of Spanish fly…. GR7 part4

God in His wisdom made the fly

and then forgot to tell us why.                      Ogden Nash.

The morning showed the promise of a brighter day, which was good for me in view of the deteriorating state of my waterproofs. The floods of yesterday were subsiding. Back to the bar for breakfast and our fond farewells to our Rumanian friends. The bar was full of local Spanish men starting the day off with a tipple or two and all engrossed in earnest conversation. We hadn’t realised it was Sunday, and all the shops were closed, but managed to scrounge a bit of bread. We pass so many tomato growing areas that we are never short of the odd elicit, or should that be forbidden,  fruit.
We soon put drab Pauls behind us and stopped to share a few words with a worker clearing flood water from drains next to a pig farm.  We didn’t notice till a couple of minutes later that we were now surrounded by a plague of flies. OK I know we’ve been on the go for a week now but we don’t smell that bad! Reckon that the pig farm was the source as there hadn’t been any in the town.  Problem was that having picked up the blighters they were reluctant to leave our sweating bodies.

We were on a gently rising track over a col but there was no breeze to deflect them. Of course we had no insect repellent having never had a problem at this time of year. H was getting more and more distraught but to no avail, no amount of arm flailing and running away helped. The day was spoilt by their presence. As we progressed down the next valley it was crossing our minds as to how we would enter any bar with a black cloud round us and nobody else.  Embarrassing.
We were now heading down to the River Ebro and the scenery was improving again which took our mind off our new found friends.

Ebro Valley

The Ebro is the largest discharging river in Spain and starts way up in Cantabria, Northern Spain. It takes a vast amount of water from central Spain and the western Pyrenees.

Now down to almost sea level we found ourselves on what looked like an abandoned railway complete with tunnels running parallel to the river and going in our direction. We blindly followed red and white marks for a few kilometres of relaxed easy walking, helped by the fact that after 15k the flies had suddenly all but gone.

Old Railway

We became a little suspicious when we seemed to have departed company with the river which was nowhere in sight. Out came the compass, a desperate measure, and yes we were heading inland in the wrong direction. Consulting the map was of little use as it did not show the railway ! All we knew is that our destination, Benifallet, was on the other side of the now vanished river.Worse was when we came across a post with a GR99 logo, we had been following the wrong red and whites. Did I mention that we had not met anybody walking the GR7 in the last week so there was nobody to ask now.

GR 99 !!

We decide to give it another 15 mins or so to see if there are any side turnings to the east to bring us back to the river. Lo and behold in a short time we come across an old station converted into a cafe and large interpretation boards complete with useful maps. We were definitely well off course but could see a simple way of remedying the situation without back tracking. What’s more we could have a coffee to celebrate. There were only two flies on me when I went in to order!                                                                                                        Within half an hour we find ourselves back on the river bank with Benifallet on the opposite bank. There is a small jetty and we can see that across the wide river is a ferry boat. But doubtful that it still functions. We head up river through orange trees, some providing ripe fruit.

The man from Del Monte

There is a new bridge over the Ebro which  replaced the ferry in 1991. With a little back tracking  we arrive  in Benifallet and the rather smart Hotel Pepo, just as the clientel are finishing Sunday lunch, 5pm!
The receptionist informs us that the restaurant is closed Sunday nights -a common situation in Spain – they must be exhausted from the lengthy lunch. We take a little siesta ourselves.

Wander into town about 9pm, the usual time for Spanish eating in the evenings. The nicest looking bar only does bocadillos [sandwiches]  of which we’ve had our fill, so we go across the road to sample the next bar. Yes they do meals. Unfortunately we can make very little of the Catalan written menu. The waitress  goes off to find someone who can speak English. A helpful young man with good English arrives but seems to be struggling with the menu also. Turns out he is Rumanian and can’t read Catalan!  Talk about a cleft stick.

Seems that all the staff are Rumanian. What is going on in these small villages if the local bars, centres of the community, are being run by Rumanians? The surrounding area is a large fruit growing area so I wonder if they arrived as fruit pickers initially, stayed on, and made good. Any how I wish them success.

  The only downside to all this language confusion was that we ended up ordering  bocadillos again without realising!! They were good.

The rain in Spain……. GR7 part3

Peering out of the refuge door in the morning was not encouraging, the heaviest of the rain had stopped but there was a swirling mist. Set off in full waterproofs expecting more downpours but as so often happens things weren’t so bad.We were walking on tracks through magnificent pine forests with the occasional tantalising view of limestone cliffs and formations on adjacent mountainsides.

El Ports Path

This is all part of the El Ports national Park.  The maps we had were inadequate [about 1:70,000] for this sort of territory and we were reliant on the frequent red and white way marks of the GR7. These two days also coincided with a five day circuit of the park, called Estels del sud.  [http://www.estelsdelsud.com]  This would give some wonderful walking and I intend to return, if only for the views. The route is well waymarked with blue stars and we found these a great help in supplementing our own GR7 marks in the bad weather.

Estels del Sud Way-mark

GR7 Way-marks

By afternoon we were following an amazing mountainside path below the crest of a ridge with steep cliffs above and below us. Lots of ups and downs but we maintained a roughly 1100m height.  Towards its end we delved into the mountains to cross a pass at 12000m – all very dramatic in the misty conditions. At one point we caught a glimpse of an Iberian Wild Goat with its magnificent horns.

Dramatic mountains

We were virtually dry when we eventually reached the Refuge Caro, run by The Catalonia Hiking Union. In England we don’t often use the description “hiking” any more, a throwback to another age.  Being a weekend the refuge was fully open, the lovely Maria made us welcome and looked after us well. She is the guardian at weekends with her husband and young child. The big problem was the language, we had now passed in to Catalunya and they all speak Catalan which is strange to our ears. Obviously Castellano Spanish is also used but we struggled to understand when they used this – I suspect it is spoken with a strong accent. Despite all this we had a great night, only two other people turned up, with a very satisfying [we were stuffed] meal.

Refuge Caro

Refuge Caro

It rained all night and by morning was getting windy too. We procrastinated over breakfast as to whether to set off in such conditions. The weather was set to rain most of the day and the guardian warned us to be very careful watching out for the way marks. Over a second coffee we imagined an improving of the storm so agreed to set off, after all this is sunny Spain!  We never did see Mont Caro 1447m the highest summit in the area.                                   To be honest there was little rain,by our standards, for the first couple of hours. The obvious problem from the word go was following the way marks in the mist, especially on more open ground where the path was not obvious and only the odd stone had paint flashes. There was a lot of  scouting around to make sure we were on track because as stated our maps were pretty useless.                          Reached a small open refuge where we took an early lunch out of the wind and by now heavy rain. Following this the route left the forest and took us up onto exposed ridges. Here we took a real battering, hardly able to stand up in the gale and all the time aware of the need not to get lost. There would be no escape routes in these wild mountains and in this poor visibility.

Tough Conditions

At one point on the track we came across the largest toad I’ve ever seen, a good 6 inches long. In view of the weather I was trying to keep my camera dry but tried to get a shot of it – see size against basket of trekking pole.

Giant Toad

After 7 hours walking and lots of cols up to 1200m high in the unseen terrain we wound our way down tracks into Pauls, a drop of over 800m. It never stopped raining. This is how Spain makes up for not having had rain for months, only a shame we hit the washout.                                                                                                             Nothing much to say about Pauls, a larger town of 800 people. It was rather dreary and our Alberg not very welcoming. At least we were able to get everything dry by transforming our bedroom into drying room. Rather alarmingly when I was removing my waterproof jacket it literally fell apart at the seams. I  was rather concerned how it would be able to perform for another wet day.

Material Failure

Drying room

The evening was brightened by a good supper and the usual lively Spanish hospitality in the local bar. The only difference was that it was run by a Rumanian lady and her son. Didn’t understand how they had arrived here of all places but they were well patronised by the locals. One of the locals [the chap on the right of the picture] was unfortunately deaf and dumb – I think we could communicate with him easier than in Catalan! Had been a baker all his life and was a charming fellow.

Friendly  ‘Rumanian’  Bar

Quite an exciting two days. Glad to get through them unscathed but they do add to the overall experience and memories of a multi-day trek. To be continued….

Into the mist, GR7 part 2

Another warm blue sky day by the time we had surfaced and had a decent ‘desayuno’  Finding one’s way out of Spanish villages with all their intricate lanes can be a problem, the GR7 way-marks only reappear on the outskirts. As usual we had the locals shouting and pointing to the correct way. An old lane lead up between the cliffs and on up through a large barranca. It crossed our minds if this route would be passable after heavy rain – but how rare is that?

Dry barranca.

Coming out onto a plateau of abandoned terraces there were great views back to Vallibona. Can you imagine the activity when all this land was cultivated, I just wonder with all Spain’s [and the rest of Europe] economic woes if there may need to be a resurgence of such labour.

Distant Vallibona

Abandoned terraces

We enjoyed a picnic stop watching several Griffon vultures soaring above us. My photos of these are poor but if you are interested watch –   http://vimeo.com /3210466  – they are spectacular. Woodland tracks  and open hillsides took us on down to the next village of El Boixar. We passed  several Chozo which we assumed to be shepherds huts.

Chozo – El Boixar

As we approached the village there was an obvious change in the weather with low mist coming and going. El Boixar is small and looks run down, the owner of the casa we hope to get for the night is away and we inquire rather optimistically  at the local bar.  Toni, the bar owner, takes us up to some rooms in the village and invites us for dinner later. All sorted!

El Boixar

Toni’s bar

The bar was very small, only half a dozen people live in the village. Nevertheless it was quite lively [half the village population!] when we returned for dinner. We were treated to a lovely meal and lots of local entertainment.

Cafe dinner

One of the men talking loudly in Spanish turned out to be originally from  Darlington, my birthplace!!! What are the chances of that? He had been living and working here for many years and was obviously well assimilated into the local community. Their main topic of conversation was the lack of water as there had been no appreciable rain for two years. We stocked up with food for the next couple of days ie bread, tuna and tomatoes. Several orujos [strong spirit] later we tried to find our way back up through the confusing alleys to our casa.

Next morning everything looked a bit dull, not just us, as we set off along ancient paths through previously cultivated fields. There was an eerie silence to the place. The temperature had dropped and there was moisture in the air. A small village of Fredes [population of 4 but a retreat from Barcelona at weekends] provided a bar for a drink at lunchtime. We went and sat outside to secretly eat our own bocadillos with our beers only for the barmaid to bring us some olives and titbits to accompany our meagre repast.  Can you see that happening in England – I just love the Spanish.                         Carrying about 3litres of water we set off to the Refugio Font Ferrera at 1200m where we hoped to find an open room as there was only a guardian at weekends. The old track took us up through forests below superb unclimbed crags.

The crack would go at about HVS

By now the mist had descended and we were in a remote world of our own hoping the refuge would appear. We were a little disappointed by the size of  it –

H and the Lilliputian refuge

This one housed a questionnaire on the GR7 – not many people passing through according to the book. An hour later we stumbled across the real refuge hidden in the the mist and trees.

Refugio Font Ferrera

We were relieved to find an open room at the back with decent sleeping platforms and mattresses. There were even some bottles of water left so we needed to have carried any – still it leaves some for the less fortunate.  H realised we had no candles but I located  a switch that provided light!! [Solar panels have arrived in the mountain refuges] The night was foul with wind and heavy rain but we were as snug as two bugs in a rug.

Cozy refuge

The only thing disturbing my dreams was what tomorrow would bring ……….

GR7 Spain.”Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.” – Paul Theroux

Just hop on a plane to Spain and you will find lots of beautiful trails to enjoy. I’ve been walking the GR7 now for a few years – doing a few weeks at a time. The trail goes through the mountains from Tarifa in the SW  to Andorra, about 2000K.

MapasenderoGR-7.png

This last week have been walking between Morella and Tivissa in Catalonia.
 Unable to blog from my phone [technophobic] I’m catching up from home.

Two of us [my cousin H has been drafted in for a trip] flew into Reus with your friendly airline, jumped a taxi to Tarragona railway station to catch a train down the coast to a place called Vinaros.  But at the last minute found out from Tourist Information that there are no buses from there to Morella, our intended destination in the hills. A quick change of plan found us on a slow train to Castellon where there may be a bus.  Don’t know why after two and a half hours I decide to go to the loo just as the train slows down for the next station. Panic sets in when the train stops and I suspect this is Castellon. A quick sprint back down several coaches finds H staring out of the windows unable to see a station name. Grabbing everything we jump out of the train just as the doors close and it speeds off to Valencia – that was close!

After a coffee to calm down we go in search of the bus to Morella – the general consensus of the locals is that there is one later in the afternoon. The journey takes over two hours through unknown villages and a spectacular hairpin road up to Morella.

Approaching Morella

We are the only ones to survive this far and wander off into the labyrinth of lanes to find a place to stay. We stumble across the Fonda Moreno and get a room. It’s been a long day so we go in search of a beer and find an authentic looking local bar. I don’t know what it is but we always seem to attract either the local nutter or a well-drunken stranger. This time it was the latter, speaking rapid Spanish, and it took us some time to extricate ourselves.

Superb supper and  a long night’s sleep found us refreshed the next morning to locate the GR7 way-marks [red and white flashes]

Don’t believe the times!

This is what we had come for – blue skies and warm days. Spent the morning walking up a dry barranca until stopped by cliffs.

Dry barranca.

Climbing out brought us onto a large limestone ridge which we followed for an hour or so. There were superb views back to the castellated hill town of Morella.

Morella in the distance.

A graded descent on an ancient mule track eventually brought us into the small isolated village of Vallibona surrounded by spectacular cliffs, it had taken us 6hrs. We found a very friendly cheap hostale  for the night, enjoyed another tasty supper and quiet night’s sleep. This is how it is in these Spanish mountain villages.  Only a few dozen people live permanently in this village although a lot of the houses have been renovated as weekend retreats from Barcelona etc.

Vallibona

Some of the locals.

Family Celebrations and a New Crag!

The beginning of this week brought some days of welcome warmth and sunshine. On the Sunday  I was in Manchester to celebrate my youngest son’s 39th birthday. Eight of us went out for an Indian buffet meal, greatly enjoyed by the family with ages ranging from 4 to 94yrs. The waiters made a great fuss of the oldest and youngest, whilst the rest of us stuffed ourselves on the delicious curries.

The 4yr old!!

I had only been back home 5mins when the phone went and one of my climbing partners was enthusing about the weather [we have had little to enthuse over this ‘summer’]. It was soon agreed to have a climbing day on the Monday. As we are both long in the tooth finding somewhere new to climb in the area is difficult. He mentioned that on a winters walk in the dry valley above Malham Cove he had noticed a crag with bolted lines, not in any guide book.. This was news to us and a bit of detective work was needed to glean the necessary information. Monday dawned bright and sunny and after coffee we were soon walking through impressive Yorkshire scenery to Comb Hill.

Image

Approach to Comb Hill.

   On the approach we thought the cliff looked a bit short and scruffy but once below  we realised it was about 16m [50ft] high. The sun was just reaching the crag as we arrived. Without all the full information choosing a first route was a bit of guess work. Setting off up the a promising line proved rather difficult and the rock was ‘awkward’ but led to a satisfying steep finale. Encouraged we spent a pleasant afternoon on the face relishing in the warm conditions and the superb Dales limestone scenery. It so happens that the popular Pennine Way path goes beneath the crag so we had a steady banter with passing walkers wondering how we had got the rope to the top in the first place!!!

Image

Give us a clue. 6a+

It’s always difficult getting decent crag photos when there are only two climbing. Anyhow we’ll be back in the spring to explore further.

The next day,Tuesday, dawned sparkling again. This was the occasion for another family ‘celebration’ – 7yrs since my characterful father passed away.To remember the date I took my mother, the 94yr old, out for a scenic drive into the Bowland countryside. We enjoyed a grand lunch at the beautifully situated Inn at Whitewell.  Cheers Dad.

The 94yr old!

The 94yr old!

Three great days with something different to remember and take from each of them.

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It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day.

New Day.

It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day ……….

What a beautiful Saturday morning – this is the view of the Bowland Fells from close to my home. Determined to get a walk in today as the forecast was good. As I said in my last post thinking of of a foreign trekking trip – so I need to get fit. By the time I’d had coffee and done the crossword things had changed – low cloud and drizzle had taken over! Who does these forecasts?  I know it must be difficult.  Another coffee was needed before making the effort to get going, is that a sign of age?

There was some improvement in the skies so set off after midday. Intended on a round of Saddle Fell, Fairsnape and Parlick, normally park in Chipping and walk up through the fields but in view of the waterlogged ground conditions drove higher up to park at the base of Saddle Fell. This circuit of 6 miles was previously a training run for me with a weighted rucksack, now I’m content with a leisurely afternoon stroll. From the road there is a good farm track up to Saddle End Farm, where the sheep dog had just had a new litter of puppies in the outside shed.

Saddle Side

From here you go up through gates onto the open fellside on obvious tracks. I wonder if these were originally for bringing peat down from the tops, there is nothing else up there. Any ideas?

Saddle Side

The tranquility of the day was destroyed by the sound of shooting from the Wolfen Estate below. Beaters were traversing an area of rough ground presumably to raise partridges or pheasants to be shot. Do the participants really need to massacre birds for their suppers! I’ll say no more.

As one gains height on on a well surfaced path you start to approach the wet peatbogs typical of the Bowland Fells. To avoid the horrendous ‘path’ along the ridge an earlier traversing path is taken on a fairly good surface. If one keeps to this one can avoid the worst of the peat hags. To reach the true summit of  Fairsnape Fell at 520+m [359740 447241] you have to leave the good surface and head into the peat bogs. I thought that today that was unjustifiable in the wet conditions, these bogs are dangerous. Retreating I found another way to the summit on newly established flags ,as you find on the worst excesses of the Pennine Way, some authority has been busy in the last twelve months. Wonder how long these will stay on the surface in this harsh environment. Now it was plain sailing to the trig point on Fairsnape, and this is where I met the first people of the day. Lots of walkers enjoying the afternoon sunshine, many of them staying in the area for the weekend – good for the local tourist industry.                     One could see out to the Fylde coast and pick out Blackpool Tower but the most interest was directed to the glider planes circling the thermals close to to the ridge.At one time there were five gliders whooshing past as I walked down the ridge. Normally there are also lots of paraglders in the air on Parlick, but not today maybe  because the wind was too strong. Continued over the ever popular Parlick Fell which gave good views of Pendle and Longridge Fell.

Pendle and Longridge Fell.

A steep descent down to Fell Foot and a gentle walk though Wolfen Estate brought me back to my car. Have accomplished 6 miles this afternoon and feel much better for it – was worth the effort. How uplifting! Why don’t I do this most days when the opportunity arises – sorry to say I’m getting lazy.

……..  and I’m Feeling good!!!                                                   Listen to Nina Simone http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OfJRX-8SXOs