Monthly Archives: April 2013

CHANGEABLE WEATHER. A RURAL REPORT.

Since my return from Spain don’t seem to have achieved much.

I missed the March  snow. The weather at the beginning of April was very cold but dry, perfect conditions for bouldering at Craig Y Longridge, 5 mins up the road. This proved great for quick [I only need half an hour there!] visits in the afternoon. Lots of others were venturing out after winter to test their fitness. Some are fitter than most….

Adam Jeeworth. Cruising 8b

Adam Jeewooth. Cruising 8b

I always seem to climb better after time away trekking so was pleased with my moderate regimes on the crag. And the sun shone.

The irony of this dry spring weather is that most of last year the fields were waterlogged and unwalkable. I arrange a Spring sponsored walk for a local charity [Bushell House Residential Home – to give it a plug] raising money for extra benefits for the elderly residents.

Bushell House.

Bushell House.

At the beginning of the year I decided to postpone the event till later in the summer in view of the state of the dire paths. On one of the recent sunny days went out for a walk around my planned route and all the paths were in near perfect condition – too late now to rearrange. Enjoyed the walk and was pleased to see some rotten stiles had been replaced, well done the local authority. So no great problems but why do people dump building rubbish in the country, this lot was on the right of way….

….and you don’t mess with this chap                                                                                         new 026

Most of the barns around here have been converted into expensive living properties. Passed one in the process of conversion.

Presumably the ‘window’ disguised as a wall was to comply with planning regs. I wonder how long it will be before it is opened up or am I just cynical.

Whilst passing a woody vale I was lucky to see a pair of Roe deer with a fawn, they all rushed off as I retrieved my camera. Further on a fox stood for seconds in the path ahead, again no picture.

Hopes of continued good weather surfaced as I passed this cottage with it’s cheery cherry blossom.

Deepest Lancashire.

Deepest Lancashire.

The next few days brought gale force winds, so it was back to the climbing wall. A long strenuous day at Stockport played havoc with my arthritic toe and at present the thought of a rock boot makes me go pale. So have been resting up, sorting out the garden and taking short local walks. Nothing much of interest except the new born lambs  appearing in the fields.

Racial harmony.

Racial harmony.

Within a couple of miles of my house I feel I’m back in South America

Local Alpaca

Local Alpaca

The alpaca has eye lashes to die for…..

                                Live flash – the swallows are back.

By now it has started to rain again – for how long we don’t know.

Anyhow I’m as happy as a pig in  …………..

THE GR7 BACKWARDS! Vuitena i última part

Colldejou – Tivissa

March 26 -27th.

Knew today was a long way so was up early, having some coffee and cake in the hotel lobby. The owners had also kindly left me a wrapped sandwich. Went out about 6.30 to rendezvous with the turbine man. His pickup was still parked so knew I hadn’t missed him.

He duly arrived and I was back up at Colldejou by 7am, still nobody about.

A good track led out of Colldejou past the usual barking dogs locked up in  small holdings. The morning was sunny again.  The Coll del Guix, 625m, was soon reached with good early morning views back to Colldejou and the coast.

On the forest track down the other side I met this rather sleepy chap…….….. a good 6 inch of fat toad going somewhere. Out of interest in the eight days of walking didn’t meet another walker on the GR7.                                                                  Soon I was climbing on an old path up to Lo Portell 800m, a pass over the shoulder of the hill near the golfball. Sandy tracks led down through gorse and then into the village of Llaberia, houses seemed renovated but nobody here. ?weekenders.

Llaberia

Llaberia

Sat by the font and ate my donated sandwich. Tracks led out of the bottom end of the village and dropped into the impressive Barranc de Torto. A long line of 40-50m limestone cliffs with some impressive tufas. Spotted one line of bolts so some climbers must venture here despite its isolation.

Tracks wandered through the forest and onto a lane by a river, I was becoming a little disorientated and the map not good enough to sort things. As usual just follow the markers which are very good. Another problem is that my altimeter has given up the ghost today [battery?] and I tend to rely on it to aid mountain navigation.

I now followed a minor road for a few kilometers until a sign sent me up a side valley on a pretty awful steep stony path. At the top great views of cliff-ed and wooded hillsides confused me even more. This is a wilderness!

Widerness

Widerness

Followed yet another valley down past a ruined house to meet up with a forest road at the bottom. Could have sworn I should turn left here, from my intuition and the map, but no the signs pointed right! Seemed to walk on this rough road for ages going in what I thought was maybe the wrong direction. But the red and white marks kept appearing. There was eventually an old sign pointing to Tivissa but I did for a while consider just walking on to the nearer village of La Sena d’Almos and getting out from there.

Nearly there.

Nearly there.

All the distances this afternoon seem to have magnified. Felt I was in a time warp not really getting anywhere. Obviously tiring. Onwards through more gorges and wooded hillsides, past abandoned farms, desperate for the red and white markers. The time on the last sign 1hr30min was way out and I was relieved to reach my last col at fields of cultivated hazel nut trees. A little patch colour from wildflowers seemed to say the worst was over.

Over the next rise I was glad to see Tivissa only a few kilometers away. It’s backing of cliffs was familiar to me from my last visit here on the GR7 in Oct last year [see post – The mighty mosquito……  conclusion of GR7 trip. Oct 2012]  The weather seemed to be changing, with rain in the air. Having said that my new [see post – The rain in Spain…….     GR7 part3. Oct 2012]  waterproof past its test with flying colours – never once having come out of the rucksack in 152k !!

TIVISSA

       Within an hour I was in the town and as I’d arrived a day behind schedule I was.keen to get out tonight to Reus for my plane tomorrow. A quick call for a taxi and it appeared, like a genie, pleased to see the same driver who had transported us last year to the coastal rail line. Everything happens quickly once you are on the move. Soon on a train to Tarragona, then a bus to Reus and installed in a hotel by teatime, or in this case coffee time. A little bit of modernism in this vibrant city the next morning then back to freezing Liverpool.

THE GR7 BACKWARDS! CATALUYA Setena part

Coll de la Teixeta – Colldejou.

March 25th

Sign on windy ridge!

Sign on the windy ridge!

Breakfast was at the Catalan time of 9am. David was going out to his fields first and would be back later to take me back up to the coll. Perfect sunny morning for breakfast on the terrace!

Leaving the road I was glad to be underway at 11am.

It was a very windy morning but I was sheltered from the worst by the Serra del Pradell hillside I was traversing under. The hillside consisted of a lower red sandstone conglomerate topped by the limestone escarpment.

The track, lined with gorse, rosemary and tree heathers, dropped into a village, l’Argentera. Small place but a few people about and I arrived at the bar just as it was opening for my Morning coffee! From here I had to climb back up onto the ridge passing abandoned mines – silver – hence the name of the village. As I gained height there were views back over l’Argentera to Reus and the coast.

On the ridge, Serra de l’Argentera, was the largest wind farm I’ve seen. The original trail across the ridge had been disturbed by the road for the turbines so it was easiest to use the latter. There was a constant whirring noise and I had visions of one of the blades detaching itself and decapitating me.

The wind was gale force making walking difficult but interestingly the turbines turned at the same speed as in yesterday’s breeze, must have some regulating system to stop the bearings burning out. A white pickup passed me on the top, checking on the turbines. I was feeling rather battered as the road wound down to meet a public road at a col under the Mola hill 859m and to its left I could see a ‘golfball’ communications installment on the hill behind La Miranda 919m.

Mola and 'golfball'

Mola and ‘golfball’

Leading off the road an old path wound down to Colldejou where everything was shut at 3pm. There is no accommodation here, so I was hoping for a bar from where I could arrange some transport down to the town of Mont-roig. Decided to hitch down but very little traffic about. Had just got onto the road when the white pickup appeared and stopped for me. The turbine worker was going home to Reus via Mont-roig – perfect. He explained about the turbines and said there were 200 under his remit. He dropped me off at an hotel in Mont-roig, this is where he leaves the works van and goes home in his own car. He did say he would be going back up the 10k in the morning about 6.30 – sounds rather early. First things first was to book in at the  hotel, a modern building run by a delightful couple. The room was fine and there was a lounge with drink making facilities. However I went out to the cafe round the corner for a coffee and ordered a tortilla bocadillo for tomorrows lunch. Asked about taxis to Colldejou and was quoted 20euro so thought I would probably get up early and catch my lift. Tomorrow was a long day’s walk anyhow so an early start wouldn’t go wrong. Came back out to the bar in the evening for a beer and a ‘plato combinado’ which was very filling for 5euros.These are never high cuisine but always good value when walking.

Plato combinado

Plato combinado

Told the hotel I would be leaving early and was in bed by 10.

THE GR7 BACKWARDS! CATALUYA Sisena part

Arboli – Coll de la Teixeta

March 24th

Was feeling really fresh this morning, had to wait till 9am for breakfast in the bar. The F1 motor racing from Malaya was on the wide screen and a couple of blokes were installed for the duration – already through their first bottle of wine  and ordering food. Alonso the local favourite has just crashed out!  Thanked my hosts and staff for their help and kindness, and was away about 10am. Climbers were arriving in the village [its a Sunday] for a coffee before heading to the local cliffs. Fancied a climb myself.

Arboli climbing

Arboli climbing

Small tracks led out of the village and down terraced, cultivated, fields into a valley and ford by an old mill. The day was sunny and warm.

A forest track wound around the hillside taking forever to hit the road at Coll d’Alforja. A cyclist from Reus was struggling up the hill and proudly announced he was 60 – I said nothing. A rough forest road was signed to Sanctuary de Puigcerver 6k away. Effortless walking for the next hour and a half as the road snaked through the forest. There were good views back to the Musssara cliffs of a couple of days ago. A couple of mountain bikers whizzed past going down.

Sanctuary de Puigcerver

Arrived at the sanctuary about 1 and pleasantly surprised to see it was open [Sunday] with a cafe/bar. Felt I had to patronise them, I was the sole visitor, and have a coffee and piece of tortilla. Got chatting to the volunteer workers, it turned out the woman’s sister lived in Preston. She is married to someone from the university – I got a contact number thinking there may be a possibility of some Spanish conversation lessons. Had a look around the rather spartan chapel [17 century] and was on my way again.

Inner Sanctuary

Inner Sanctuary

Happy Volunteers

Happy Volunteers

An unmarked track seemed to be going downhill in the right direction with views to Reus, Tarragona and the Med.

Costa Durada

Costa Durada

Was walking towards a group of wind turbines which were soon reached and navigated between with way marks taking me down to the Coll de la Teixeta.

I could see the busy road through the col and a lot of complicated roundabouts and a confusion of interlinking minor roads.   Think spaghetti junction.

The accommodation I’ve arranged is in the village of Pradell  about 5k to the west and I was intending to walk down the road to it. Looking at the speeding traffic that idea didn’t look so good and I was not going to be able to hitch easily. So I phoned the casa and eventually was able to explain where I was – Coll is not pronounced col and as for Teixeta! Within minutes an old battered car pulled up with the David and Marta, stopped on the way back to the house to gather fire wood.

David and Marta

David and Marta

The village of Pradell has about 150 inhabitants but seems a lively place – shop, bakery and bar! It is in the Priorat wine area and there are a lot of hazel nuts grown in the area. Had a wander around, popped into the community centre for a coffee where the locals were putting the world to right. Lots of little public areas and parks, no doubt paid for with European money but they give the place a homely feel. That’s the other thing you notice in Spanish villages – lots of young children out playing without the restraint we succumbed to in Britain.

 

 

 

GR7 march2013 626                                                                                                                                                                       David is basically a farmer with vines, hazel nuts and his own vegetables. The house he has done up as a casa rural was from the family. It is massive with about 8 guest rooms and lots of lounges etc. Marta has decorated in an early 20th century modernistic style with lots of original pieces. Not to everyone’s taste but it gives a certain atmosphere to the house. More like a museum!

They were very welcoming and I ate a good Catalan supper with them, accompanied by their own wine. Had  a tour of the cellars later.  Couldn’t have had a more peaceful nights sleep.

This place is made for relaxation, though they work hard all the time – a Catalan characteristic. These are the unique places I find myself in and are the reason I love rural Spain.

THE GR7 BACKWARDS! CATALUYA Cinquena part

Mont-ral to Arboli.

March 22 – 23rd

I knew today would be a long walk but was looking forward to it as it traversed the Serra de la Mussara where I had often climbed. Was up fairly early, at least before the French lads. The guardian had left me breakfast as he had gone off even earlier to work as a mountain guide. Lots of coffee and bread/jam. Left some for the late risers.  Good sunny clear morning – I always seem to be lucky with the weather on these trips. Not so lucky with the navigating early on, got lost on the multitude of paths leaving the village. Didn’t feel right in the head somehow.

Leaving Mont-ral

Leaving Mont-ral

Soon I was ascending steeply through trees to gain the ridge and had to be attentive to the red and white waymarks. I was now on the Serra de la Mussara, maintaining a height of 1000m for several kilometres, but views were restricted by the trees. At one point I climbed up for better views and was rewarded by a superb vista to the East with Mont-ral prominent.

Onwards along the forest track with lots of cliffs to the right.

The forest road kept to the ridge but no views were to be had and it seemed to go on forever. At one point new forest clearings had altered the track considerably and way marks were obliterated.

GR7 ?

GR7 ?

After a long time on the ridge the path started to drop down towards a road I could hear. Crossing this and then quickly going down to the left towards a valley.

I was ready for a rest and somehow I’d got it into my mind there  was no accommodation in the next village, Arboli.  Sat for a while and contemplated my situation over a banana! Nothing I could do but continue and hope things would work out but the day and my pace was affected by my mood. Dropped down further into a gorge with dramatic falls and some awkward scrambling in the depths.

El Gorg

Steadily the track improved as it climbed out of the gorge. Ahead was a large ruin of an old farmstead on the col at 900m, this must have been a grand place at one time. Last inhabited in the 1960s.

Gallicant

Gallicant

From this ridge there were views across the valley to the cliffs and village of Siurana, another climbing area visited in the past. GR7 march2013 475Now it was all downhill on an old paved track into the small village of Arboli……

…..with my doubts about accommodation bothering me again as I was feeling shattered. Was I glad on rounding a street corner to see a Hostal open.

L'Hostalet

L’Hostalet

After a  coffee I rested up in my room and by the time supper time came around realised my stomach and guts were in a bad shape. Maybe water from the fonts?? No wonder I had struggled all day.Managed a small bowl of soup and was flat out for the night. Next morning was no better so I arranged to stay another night and spent most of the day in bed. Ventured out late afternoon and found a climbers bar for coffee and cake. By evening I was on the mend and had an enjoyable meal with a couple from Reus. What a difference the rest made!                                                  It was my birthday after all.

THE GR7 BACKWARDS! CATALUYA Quarta part.

Vilaverd to Mont-ral.

March 21st

A good nights sleep on the adjustable orthopaedic bed and I was ready for the off. First there was the small matter of breakfast. Carlos, my host thought it highly necessary that I ate well for the day’s walking. There was a healthy bowl of fresh fruit and natural orange juice. Then Carlos gave a demonstration of how to prepare the perfect pa amb tomaquet toast rubbed with garlic and tomato, dribbled with lots of olive oil and then converted into an entrapan [sandwich] with goats cheese.

Carlos

Carlos

This is a Catalan special – I was stuffed and could taste it all day. Followed by coffee, croissants and home made jam! Certainly no need to pack any lunch for what should be  a short walk.

Luckily the first 100m walking was only down to the bus stop to catch a bus back to Vilaverd where I would rejoin the GR7.

The bus was busy with chatty women shoppers going down to Reus for the day. Bus fares are very cheap in Spain and the service excellent. Didn’t seem to be anybody about in Vilaverd  as I crossed the river onto the original way down valley.

Peaceful Vilaver.

Peaceful Vilaver.

A well constructed limestone path wound between shrubs. Met an old man picking herbs to make country soup, but didn’t stop to enquire which – kicked myself later.In 3k I was crossing the busy road into the small town of La Riba where I found a friendly cafe for a coffee. The day was by now hot and sunny as I started the uphill bits. La Riba has built itself on paper mills established in the 18th century because of a good water supply. You pass many old ones, as well as modern units, as you climb steeply through the town and into the open countryside.

Looking Back to La Riba

Looking Back to La Riba and beyond.

The track gained height and there was a view across the valley to crags of La Riba which I’ve climbed on in the past when visiting the Costa Durada. In fact the next few days will take me past many of the well known crags of the area, memory lane.

La Riba Crag

La Riba Crag

Topped up with fresh water at Font Pasqual  – “flavour of the rock, pine, lavender and rosemary from the depths of the mountain”

Font Pasquel

Font Pasqual

The track now left the forest road and headed straight into the thick, prickly, undergrowth. Seemed to just plough it’s way through on stony ground – not very pleasant at all. There were signs of wild boar activity but unfortunately [or perhaps fortunately] one never see them in the day. Hot and sweaty, with few views.

After about an hour of this I came up against a rock spire given the name of Castell Dalmau.

Castell Dalmau

Castell Dalmau

This was apparently one of the first climbing venues in the Prades mountains, over 50 years ago. There are the remains of rusting bolts and pitons visible, and some of the largest name plaques I’ve ever seen on rock. Suspect a lot of the climbing would have been artificial in those days.

Wouldn’t think anyone ventures here nowadays.

Battling on through the never ending forest I eventually came out at a col onto a forest road which dropped into a valley and a confusion of other rough roads. None of these seemed to fit with the map so I needed to be careful not to miss the faint waymarks at junctions. Came past an isolated holiday house and a handy font somewhere along the way. Didn’t see a soul!

Expected to keep following the forest road out but the path kept heading off into the scrub and re-emerging onto road. I’m fairly sure it was the same rough road all the way and I could have followed it. The day seemed to be getting longer and I was glad to see the church spire on its hill at Mont-ral. Here there was a climbers’ refuge [Refugi Muste Recasens] which I knew was open and it didn’t take long to find it in the small village.

Refugi Muste Recasens

Refugi Muste Recasens

Friendly warden and it looked like I had the dormitory to myself. Rested up and then enjoyed a simple refuge supper of omelette, beans, salad and chips. Just as I was going to retire two young French climbers came in for the night so chatted to them about the climbing in the area. Not a noise in the night.

THE GR7 BACKWARDS! CATALUNYA Tercera part.

Cabra del Camp – Vilalaverd                                                                                                 March 20th

Was up early and made breakfast before leaving the casa which had been home from home. Rather cloudy morning and cool to start, was glad of that extra thin fleece I’d packed. I must say the GR  signing in Catalunya has been good and even getting out of the villages in a morning has been easier than usual. Walking towards the hills I had to pass under the motorway via a tunnel with excellent graffiti.

Motorway tunnel

Motorway tunnel.

From here my ‘up to date’ guide and map said turn left but the GR7 way marks said right so that’s the way I went. I learn quickly to follow the signs despite my ‘up to date guide’.

Early mist on the Serra de Jordn

\view back to Cabra and the wind turbines.

\view back to Cabra and the wind turbines.

Soon I was on an obvious track going round the north of the Serra Carbonaria. Views started to open up across the wine country of Barbera de la Camp and up to Montblanc [ my hotel for tonight]

Montblanc in the distance.

Montblanc in the distance.

The forest track climbed and then traversed above the village of Prenafeta, now below some impressive looking limestone cliffs. I think this area gets a higher than average rainfall ….

….the track continued to traverse around the hill side and then dropped abruptly into the village of Lilla. There was nothing open here so I stopped for a snack below the village.

Lilla

Lilla

Setting off again the signs don’t match with the map – so I follow them religiously on an unlikely path through  a quarry and on down the ‘wrong’ side of the valley. This proves to be the right way and soon approaches the reason for the change of route – the new high speed train route goes across the hillside. The high speed routes are fenced off completely so you have to find a permitted way across or below them.

As I continued down into the valley I knew there was a train at about 02.50 from La Riba to Montblanc, it was obvious I wasn’t going to make it. I approached another town, Vilaverd, and I banked on there being a station there.

Approach to Vilaverd

Approach to Vilaverd

Luckily there was and the train [not the high speed version] arrived within 5 minutes.

I was soon wandering into the maze of the old town of Montblanc to find my hotel.

Hotel Fonda Cal Blasi

Hotel Fonda Cal Blasi

What a great place it turned out to be. Friendly hosts, comfy room with orthopaedic adjustable mattresses  and great food. After a rest had a wander around the walled town, quite impressive with all the main gates into the town well preserved.

Walls of Montblanc

Walls of Montblanc

It is said that in front of the tower of Sant Jordi that St. George killed the dragon! There were good views over the town from the ruined castle on top of the town.

\view south over Montblanc.

\view south over Montblanc.

Back at the hotel a good evening’s Catalan meal was taken along with conversation with a delightful Canadian couple exploring the hills in the area.