Category Archives: GR7 Spain

A LIST.

I used to have a list of ever increasingly harder, but modest, climbs to do. Lead E2 on my 50th, E3 on my 60th etc etc….Looking back I’ve achieved an awful lot and can’t complain – so I’m not going to.  I’ve pushed my limited physique to enjoy a few good decades of climbing, first traditionally in Britain and many places abroad and more recently sports climbing in the latest hotspots. My well documented problem with my left big toe and its associated pain has limited my climbing recently – but I still hobble up to Craigy for a short session. I was surprised therefore to find on my pin board a list of to dos  – without a single climb. The list had been concocted last year whilst I was recovering from a toe operation and hopeful of some easy rehabilitation and was entirely composed of straightforward walking routes. There must be a link here to my recent post on what motivates me.

As you can see I’ve already ticked off some of the list at the end of last year, most satisfying was the completion of the GR7 through Spain. This route has given me many weeks of superb walking and immersion into Spanish society that I’ll never forget. But onwards I go and now I find myself starting on the GR131, a linear walk recently discovered in the Canary Islands. One has to fit the season to the walk [or vice versa] and now is the optimum walking time out in the Canary Islands.

The other listed walks can wait for suitable times and companions.Maybe I’ll find mine…….

………….watch this space for more list ticking.

GR7 in Northern Catalunya – complete.

La Seu d’Urgell  –  Andorra.

Yet again a beautiful dawn for my last day.  Didn’t have great expectations for the quality of today’s  walk as it looked hemmed in a narrow valley with a very busy road up to the border with Andorra. Getting out of town was easy even though there didn’t appear to be any waymarks. I was soon on a quiet country lane through farmland. The track soon became grassy and passed a ruined hermitage which still exhibited some lovely stonework.

I had one of the worst experiences of the whole of the GR7 a few hundred metres further, how ironic that it was the last day. Walking past some open barn doors two loose dogs suddenly rushed me. One was an aggressive Boxer and the other a snapping ‘healer’ type. For this mornings leisurely stroll I hadn’t bothered with my walking poles and they were on the back of my sack. I kept backing away from the growling Boxer ignoring the little one’s snaps at my heals. This had no affect and he or she kept coming at me. As I was trying to retreat backwards out of their yard I fell down a 4ft embankment back into trouble, how I stayed on my feet I don’t know but thank heavens I did. The dogs showed no sign of calming and I was relieved when a lady appeared, no doubt alerted by all the barking. Unfortunately she had no control over the dogs at all but the slight diversion allowed me to back further up the track. By now we were all shouting or barking! The Boxer would not retreat but at least I got a safer distance away from the farm and had time to grab a rock which seemed to slow him down, the woman was useless. Having made my escape I calmed down and planned a route well clear of the farm as I could still hear the barking and suspected the dogs would be loose. Not nice.

I came unexpectedly to a small hamlet and then to a large church. Work was being done inside  so I was able to gain access. A leaflet explained this was the site of a 9th century monastery, a new church was built in 1040 but closed in 1592. There has obviously been much restoration over the years and it remains an impressive building. The two builders inside were erecting some wobbly, unsecured scaffolding which looked in danger of toppling over every time a new level was added. Time to go.

The track was now by a river in the valley bottom and various water channels connected to a nearby power plant. The sound of flowing water was everywhere.  Guess who I bumped into again making their way up to the border…..

The main road had been invisible all this time, partly in a tunnel. However after a grassy track section I emerged onto the busy route at a bridge which I had to cross. Safely over I escaped the highway and took to the old abandoned road. This took me further up the narrow valley to link up with a path on the other side. There were a few views to Andorran hills at the head of the valley but these were limited.

Before long I was back on the road and at the Spanish – Andorra border post, a customs man waved me through so I took a couple of steps into Andorra and then retreated back to Spain, much to his amusement.

The GR7 through Spain has been completed.  The 2000k has taken me six years in bite sized pieces each year. I will post a resume of the whole route with my thoughts once settled back home. I am trying to ignore where it goes next through Andorra and across France!

The cafe near the border that I’d hoped to celebrate in was closed so I caught one of the regular buses back to La Seu d’Urgell and by mid afternoon was on an express bus for a 3 hour journey to Barcelona… see next post for pictures.

GR7 in Northern Catalunya – across the Serra de Cadi.

Fornols  –  La Seu d’Urgell

The Serra de Cadi, which I’ve seen ahead of me for days, form the last barrier before Andorra and the Pyrenees. They are an extensive range of hills reaching 2647m and stretching for 40k W-E. No significant roads breech them and to improve northern access a road tunnel has been built through them.

My early morning walk started today by heading up to the Coll de Bancs above Fornols at the western edge of the range. It was a joy to follow ancient walled lanes out of the village, they make best use of the rocky terrain and weave naturally across the hillside. How different to roads we create now by just blasting our way through the landscape. Not far on the way I passed a kennel with about 8 or 9 dogs who all started to howl, this set off all the dogs in the village – no chance of anyone enjoying a lie in.

At the col there were a couple of minor roads and voices in the woods, ladies with baskets appeared with their wild mushrooms.

Ahead the land looked very convoluted and complicated and I had to pay great attention to navigating to avoid getting lost in this wilderness. First was a downhill stretch through forest to a stream in the valley.  Two wooden poles had been placed across it but felt very precarious. The scattered poplar trees giving brilliant Autumn colour. [see opening photo]

Up the other side brought me onto a subsidiary ridges. A further pass was reached and here the rock changed character to a reddish shale. In parts this had been eroded into weird forms with quartz ribs showing through. It was not easy to walk on where it steepened, giving no sense of traction and there were one or two hairy traverses over steep drops.

The Pyrenees and Andorra in the background.

This terrain went on and on with the path winding seemingly randomly through.  Now there were backward  views into the northern side of Cadi. Ahead were the Pyrenees as yet clear of snow, Pic Carlit, 2921m, was prominent.The broad ridge I was on included more cols with lots of ups and downs. It was well on into the afternoon before I had a view down into the River Segre valley and the town of La Seu d’Urgell. It was even later and hotter when I was stood on the bridge over the river at the gateway to the town.

This was a busy place with an air of prosperity, you can tell where the money comes from, The old part of town was as always the most interesting to explore.Only one more day to go!

GR7 in Northern Catalunya – abajo abajo.

Coll de Port  –  Tuixen  –  Fornols.

Another so peaceful night’s sleep in this backwater. A late breakfast was no problem as I had an easy day downhill day ahead of me. The cold view from the col over my next valley was clear this morning, a statue celebrated 40 years of national park.It was straight into the cold forest for the downhill bit, the temperature was just above zero. After a couple of hours downhill i reached the village of Tuixen.

The village square was quite ‘lively’ with two bars, I sat down at one for a quiet coffee. Within minutes a coach load of kids arrived and seemed to want to talk to talk to me in English. They asked the most lovely of kids’ questions – like “how old are you?”, “do you like chocolate?” and “what is your favourite word in Spanish?” Had to think about that one.They were here for three days of what looked like fun. Could you believe it but the only local shop where I was hoping to buy supplies was closed for refurbishment so  I used the other quieter bar for a bocadillo and cerveza. What looked like an easy stroll down the valley turned out to be a hot and sweaty afternoon. Across meadows which had a feel of home to them…. …and then a couple of miles of forest track marching brought me out at a renovated mill by the roadside. My village for the night, Fornols, was perched on its hill above and seemed to take ages to reach in the heat. I arrived in a sweaty mess at the local bar where I was to pick up keys for my apartment, unfortunately lunch was still in progress [4pm] and there was only the one lady serving. So instead of a needed shower and rest I ended up sitting in the bar for an hour twiddling my thumbs over an orange juice whilst the diners enjoyed their prolonged meal. Eventually I was installed in an apartment which seemed part of the church tower higher up the village in a maize of streets. There is a lot of renovation into holiday homes going on here with what I think is Andorran money. There are only 6 permanent residents.

The long awaited shower turned into a fiasco – I took ages to work out how to switch the water on in the fancy contraption. I’m not sure which combination of buttons and twists got it going but I certainly could not switch it off!!  The tray was slowly filling up and starting to leak into the bathroom, I kept diving in and out of the shower to fiddle with the controls, to no avail. Panic was setting in as water was going everywhere. Searched for master water knobs in vain. Thankfully my brain went into action and I was able to detach the shower hose and the head stretched into the toilet bowl where at least the water flow was contained. This gave me time to get dressed and go red faced for help, needless to say the lady when she had marched back up the hill with me switched the contraption off in a second. Still not sure of the sequences needed and I wasn’t willing to try again. Needed a lie down after all the excitement before returning to the bar at nine o’clock for an excellent meal. By now they were treating me as an imbecile. I certainly didn’t dare try pouring wine into my mouth from one of those flasks things I was given. Managed to find my way back through the warren to my room unaided.

 

GR7 in Northern Catalunya – arriba arriba.

St. Llorenc  –  Coll de Port.

Spent the day walking uphill!  When I looked at the map my heart sank because the GR7 seemed to be so close to the road all the way and that often makes for poor walking but it turned out to be excellent for the most part with stunning views.

An early coffee in a bar set me off for the day, a pleasant stroll out of town along the road past a Roman bridge. The sidewalks [I know an American term but precise here] were installed with spaces presumably for trees which had never been planted. Maybe the European money went elsewhere.

After a mile I left the road round a campsite onto a surprisingly fine track beside a river. This took me further up the valley to a fuente with hills all around. Continuing in the same manner I arrived in the village of La Coma, restoration work was going on at the local church but the bar was closed. Walked on to the next place Fonts del Cardener where there was an excellent hotel, had coffee and bocadillo on their terrace, relaxed and enjoyed the ambiance. Jpeg

Followed the river up the valley amidst Autumn colours and then things got steeper. The road zigzags upwards in a series of Tour de France hairpins. My path went more or less straight up cutting off the corners – hot work today. At one point near a farm from the past I was at a loss as to my continuation until a toothless old lady [from the farm] appeared from the woods and pointed me on a minute track onwards. From here on I followed waymarks steeply up a dry stream-bed as views back down the valley disappeared.

Came out onto the road within 100m of the Coll de Port where my Refuge for the night was situated. The friendly chap in residence was Argentinian, had come to Barcelona and learned Catalan and then had worked in Manchester! Later that night the rest of the family appeared and I enjoyed a typical Catalan meal with them. I’m about a 1000m higher than this morning and it feels a lot colder up here.

GR7 in Northern Catalunya – una dia preciosa.

IMG_20141020_115635_992Hostal del Pla – St Llorenc.

Have had problems with decent Wifi and WordPress on my phone, so I’m now catching up with the trip.

Was up early to enjoy the buffet breakfast before my taxi man arrived to take me back to the Hostal del. Pla. Naturally went in for a coffee, the place was  busy with blokes having breakfast. This consisted of bread and gruesome looking sausages.They try to pour as much red wine down their throats as possible at this time of day.

Hostal del Pla

Hostal del Pla

From the hostal the route went straight up the ridge on an old cattle road, this was on bare conglomerate rock which had the look of precast cobbles. I was to remain on this type of surface all day.A curious incident happened shortly after entering the woods. A pair of underpants and a sweater were lying on the path and within seconds two large dogs came rushing at me, fortunately their bark was worse than their bite and they retreated. I couldn’t help wondering about the fate of the clothes’ owner.

There have not been a lot of flowers evident at this time of year so I was particularly pleased to come across these gentians.Losing the way a little in the woods, who cares, I followed what were probably goat tracks until I was stood suddenly at an abrupt drop into a fantastic valley of conglomerate rock disappearing into unknown depths.
I found a way along the crest to drop down to the road again – time for lunch. Above me choughs were chee-owing but didn’t land for tit- bits. There were views back down the Solsona valley and its cliffs. Few cars passed on the road which I had to follow a kilometre to a turn off onto an old track that headed along the edge of the conglomerate valley. I was delayed for some time whilst watching a couple of vultures wheeling around the head of the valley – magic.
The track then found its way subtly down into a couple of side valleys, in evocative scented pine trees, surrounded by magnificent scenery. There were views into the St. Llorenc valley with mountains all around.
At one point I backtracked through a ?natural gap in the rocks heading into yet another valley. This was signed as the Lords Way! It lead me down to a lane which I followed into St. Llorenc. The temperature was 28C.

Jpeg
The outskirts of this mountain town made me feel I was in Switzerland with cowbells clanging and chalet styled houses.
The old town was thankfully typically Spanish with an imposing church, beautiful cloisters and all the usual alleyways to explore. Interestingly I came across a GR1 sign in town, this is another superb long walk in Northern Spain for which John Hayes is writing a Cicerone guidebook.
JpegSupper this evening in a local bar was mainly wild mushroom based yet again – pasta with fungi and then fungi fry-up, they couldn’t get them into the dessert.
Yet another great day’s walking in fantastic scenery and in the most perfect weather.