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 have limited my climbing recently – but I still hobble up to Craigy for a short session. I was surprised therefore to find on my pinboard 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…….
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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. Supper 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.
Forgot to mention the two German men I met on the road yesterday.They have been travelling around Europe for a couple of years now to promote ecological charities. They are each pulling a trailer containing their belongings and are an obvious sight on thr road. They will be in Andorra a day before me but though I admire their commitment I don’t envy their treck on tarmac for thousands of miles. I’ll be on the footpaths having a completely different experience. Each to their own.
Getting out of Solsona was pleasanter than getting in. Almost immediately onto tracks by a stream which soon entered woodland. The usual groups of mushroom gatherers were out, one family were just starting and the kids each had a small basket, start them young.
One section of track was on bed rock and a ‘drainage’ channel had been cut down the middle, presumably an important route at one time.
This path brought you out onto the road at a couple of houses named Lladurs on the map.the principal attraction hereabouts is the XI century castle high on a promontory. As my day was short decided to explore. I found a way, not necessarily the correct way, up the very steep hillside only to be confronted by high barbed wire fences. I realised later that these were to prevent visitors who’d come the approved way from straying onto dangerous ground. Utilising some Colditz style crawling I found myself inside, I know that sounds perverse. What a place- the ruined castle and attached chapel have sheer drops on two sides no health and safety barriers or handrails here. I was free to wander at will. And the views!
Lunch was taken in my temporary eerie. The way off was straightforward along a grassy track to rejoin the GR7. It was along here that the route ahead up to the mountains became evident.
An old cattle trail brought me to the isolated Hostal del Pla. Across from it were views to white limestone cliffs above conglomerate grey buttesses. Looks as though there must be climbing here, must check in the Lleida guide book when home.
Despite its name the hostal has no accomodation. Forewarned I had arranged a taxi and was back in Solsona in 20 mins. The taxi driver was learning.English using Skype to a tutor in Barcelona.
I had time to wander the narrow lanes of the old town and enjoy a plato combinado in a local bar before an early night.
Yet another beautiful day in prospect, how long can this weather last.
Keep plastering my troublesome, left, little toe up each morning to alleviate the pain, it has never really recovered from my GR70 trip a couple of weeks ago. Still not suitable for public viewing in the raw. Have butchered my insole to try and give it more space. Hoping for a miracle cure – maybe today?
Struggled with the ploughed fields and scambly thickets to get back on route again, don’t know why I retraced last nights mistake. Head high brambles claimed my glasses at one point. I think my concentration was disturbed and I looked for a track off the road on the left whilst it had been on the right I found out later.
Passing stone crosses on the way I arrived in El Miracle. This a large sanctuary dating from the 16th century. There is a grand monastery for 5 silent monks, an old church with the most amazing Baroque altar and lots of other religious buildings. Unfortunately the cafe was closed. I spent some time wandering about the place and marveling at its past grandeur. It is perched on an escarpment with wonderful views of that Serra de Cadi range.
The walking improved in the afternoon, on small paths through oak woods, past old farms, across ploughed fields and over little brooks. A couple of hours past unnoticed, I was enjoying myself so much. A great stretch downhill on heathland with views to the extensive town of Solsona. Then I got temporarily lost at a worn stone riverbed. The route through the outskirts of town was not well way marked and I found myself walking up a busy ring road. Things were safer in the historic centre. The whole place has gone mushroom mad this weekend with displays, markets and fungi inspired menus in all the bars.
My hotel turns out to be an impressive Modernist building on the tourist trail, with prices to match.
Can’t believe this weather, very hot and sunny for October the locals tell me. And it’s set to continue.
Oh and by the way – no miracle toe cure is apparent yet.
The discussion in the bar last night wasn’t overenthusiastic regarding a taxi for this am but I was pleasantly relieved when he arrived on time. So I was back in Sant Pere faced with the first steep climb through the woods to reach a col next to the prominent Castle Boixadors. Sant Pinos at 900m is 300m higher than Sant Pere but to reach it I climbed 800m which gives you an idea of the switchback ridges I had to cross. Cars were everywhere on the poor forest tracks, people out collecting mushrooms. Couldn’t believe where some people will take their family saloon. From the next ridge I could see Pinos village and the sanctuary on the hill behind.Sorry about the pictures, I’m using my phone for everthing and it is master of none.
Unfortunately the route was on tarmac which despite being surrounded by beautiful scenery was not the best walking. I did however travel along accompanied by the Travelling Wilburys. The village of Pinos looked interesting, virtually one building of church, castle, and houses combined.. It probably was better viewed from a distance, the climb up to it was a mistake as I lost all the height on the hidden side. It became a slog climbing up to Sant Pinos in the heat of the day.A bonus was a cafe on top, busy with the usual Spanish lunch. However a coffee boosted me for the afternoon. The Serra due Cadi range of mountains is looking closer, still don’t know where I will be going through.
Down the other side new tarmac seems to have swallowed up the tracks taken by the GR7. The way marks are also very poor and faded, maybe the two go hand in hand. Eventually enjoyed some woodland trails through oak trees with acorns dropping all around me. The oaks here are diminutive and when young resemble holly, except for the acorns. Managed a bit of off route (ie lost) scrambling and ploughed fields to reach Su. Have an apartment for tonight in an upmarket country house and very smart it turns out to be. The village itself is again all joined up and has only 3 families resident. I was the only resident in the hotel and was duly spoilt.
An excellent simple breakfast. People were arriving for a session of fungi hunting. Overnight specimens pushed their way through the earth. A steep scramble down through the woods brought me back onto forest tracks and the GR way marking. Prominently ahead was the hilltop tower of St. Marti de Macana backed by the Serra due Cadi range which are to be crossed in 3 or 4 days. They look impressive. The track bypassed St. Marti but took me to the pretty little St. Maria hermitage. Close by here I noticed a large boulder with a coffin shaped carved out hollow, learnt later that is precisely what it is and there are more in the area. ? The dating. The rest of the day was simply following the well signed tracks, no need for the map. Easy walking making for fast progress. I strolled into the small hamlet of Sant Pere Sallavinera (quite a mouthful). No accomodation here, so I was hoping to catch a bus at 2.30 according to the timetable outside the ‘town hall’ – but the girl inside knew nothing about it. She closed up at one and disappeared. Lunch was taken in the little park, no matter how small a village is in Spain there are good communal facilities, I sometimes wonder who uses them. As a bonus I found an open restaurant and was able to enjoy a coffee, the staff here were unsure of any bus. Came out of the cafe at quarter past and strolled back to the bus stop just as the mini coach came racing through, obviously not expecting any passengers. Managed to stop him and we were in Calaf before half past. Could still have waiting there. NobodyRacing coach.t my hotel, so looked round the old part of town – a poorly restored castle, the usual large church but more interestingly a multi-arched market square. My hotel room was 1st class but my dinner in a cafe across the road decidedly average.
Clariana – Ref. Mas del Tronc.I was up early as a taxi was booked to take me to Clariana Castle to renew my walk on the GR7. See posts March 2013
A sign set me on the route….
… unexpectedly scrambling down a steep and slippery limestone path. It has been dull and damp here for a few days but the sun is out now and the forecast good. Pleasant lanes led me past scattered farms, there seems to be more barking dogs than humans. Leaving the lanes a path through woods brought me to a natural gap with the old road and now a motorway to cross. Motorways in Spain fill me with navigational dread, often little provision has been made for the walker, give me a mountain top any time. I spotted a fading mark in time and dissapeared under the road. Good walking on woodland tracks took me up to a higher farming area with views up to Rubio castle up the valley and all those wind turbines!I was soon up to the deserted village, there was water and the terrace of the closed restaurant was as good as any for lunch.Now roads not shown on the map threaded through the eerie whirling turbines.Up on the ridge a fierce wind was blowing, they have chosen well! It certainly was a case of hang onto your hat, or better still remove it. I had my last view of the Sierra de Montserrat serrated skyline.A well signed and cleared path dropped down to the the refuge Mas del Tronc, the dogs gave me a great welcome as did Raquel the guardian.
.This building was originally a farm, it was restored in 1969 to be used as refuge.There is a standard dorm and a spacious dining/common room. There is only minimal electricity from a solar panel. It is ironic that the place is surrouned by electric generating turbines. For supper we had a wild mushroom stew, it is to be hoped Raquel knows her fungi. This was followed by fresh figs in yoghurt – delicious. We were the only two but people kept dropping in from nowhere for a chat in this remote spot. Slept for 10 hours.
Quite a busy day. The M6 was at a crawl but I managed to escape onto the M57and reach the airport at Liverpool in time. Sneaked into one of the extra leg room seats by the emergency exits.
Luxury for £30.
Despite missing our take off slot we arrived in Barcelona to the new Ryanair fanfare. My plan of catching an early train was somewhat dented by my checked in rucksack not appearing on the carousel. Frantic enquiries at various desks didn’t help. One’s whole trip depends upon your rucksack and its precious contents. The lady at the Ryanair desk came to my aid and located said sack lying somewhere in the docking area, a close one!
Found at last.
Exiting this large airport and locating the shuttle bus isn’t easy, but jumping on to a train with a minute to spare in Placa Espanya made up for it. The journey starts as a busy metro and eventually emerges into the hills north of Barcelona. My destination of Igualada has been visited before on the GR7, I think I had exactly the same hotel room last time. (Posts in March 1913.) Being tired after the journey here I came to the restaurant just after 8pm – of course being Spain I was the only one eating at this early hour – was becoming busy as I retired to bed.
Recuperated from the French GR70 trip, my blistered little toe is on the mend, the garden back in some sort of shape and the family checked over. So what next? It doesn’t take long to get restless.
The weather has been good and dry until now and I have been tempted to go bouldering again. Started off with an easy hour up at Kemple End one misty morning doing the usual traverses. On arrival in the quarry I often disturb deer but today it was a pair of Barn Owls swooping between the trees like white silhouettes.
A misty Kemple Quarry
Another morning was spent in Crowshaw quarry on a low wall to the left of the main face. Some good problems are emerging here but I need a spotter for my best project.
A sunny Crowshaw Quarry.
I recently received a video from Robin Mueller highlighting some of the harder problems on that main face, quite an artistic effort.
A couple of visits to Craig Y had me feeling fitter and the big left toe didn’t feel too painful. I caught up with the chat and felt more positive about further climbing. Of course the weather has now taken a turn for the worse, heavy rain most days and Dianne’s forecast is not good…
So out come the sunny Spanish maps and a little planning sees me booked on a flight to Barcelona to hopefully complete my marathon, 2000k, GR7 walk up to Andorra before the snows arrive. I’ve only about 10 more days of walking and I’ve spent a lot of time this last couple of days trying to break them down so that I should have accommodation every night, as I want to avoid carrying camping gear. It’s not been easy as Catalan is the language of this area and my simple Spanish doesn’t seem to get me far over the phone, thank heavens for email and booking.com! I shall see how successful I’ve been once on the trail. There look to be some interesting Catalan villages and some fairly high mountainous passes to cross. Watch this space.
Take me to the station and put me on a train, I have no expectations to pass this way again…
We knew there was a station halt just up the road but enquiries at the hotel for the timetable to Valencia produced the usual Spanish shrug – No lo sé. Even the local Police having their morning drink in the café had no idea. There was some suggestion that there may be a train at 9.30. So we rushed our coffee and walked up the road to the station/halt. The train arrived at 10.30! Thank god it stopped.
Within an hour we were climbing out into the beautiful city of Valencia. This is one of my favourite places in Spain. All the interesting areas in the old city are within easy walking distance making it a great place to get lost and explore.
Station and bullring.
Everywhere you look there are outstanding buildings.
We dumped our sacks at Pension Paris http://www.pensionparis.com in the centre of the city. Lunch was a great squid bocadillo. Went exploring, climbed El Miguelete Tower in the Cathedral for fantastic 360 degrees views of the city and beyond. Wandered into the Barrio Carmen, the historic centre of the city, but now a Bohemian experience. Sat at a café, amidst the perfume of marijuana, enjoying a good coffee and the ambiance. Back at the hostale for a rest before dinner. There is only one place to dine in central Valencia – La Utielana. You will have to find it yourself in the backstreets. Home cooking from a wonderful family. Fish specials every night. The pieman was impressed.
In the morning I wanted to find a bank that houses temporary art exhibitions. Couldn’t remember where it was from the last time but the helpful man at the pension suggested the Bancaja nearby. Would you believe it there was a Picasso exhibition on. Faun, Centaur and Minotaur. Sketches from the1930’s exploring mythology and man’s relationship with animals. At the centre of the exhibit was a running video of a Ballet choreographed by Nijinsky with Nureyev performing – L’apres midi d’un Faune. Fantastic interpretation of Picasso’s images.
In some nearby plazas were magnificent large trees, Ficus Macrophylla, over 180 years old with their sculptured barks and roots.
Into the city we were ready for a sit down and found the celebrated Santa Catalina horchateria in the backstreets.
Horchata is a drink made from Tiger nuts and used as a refreshing pick-me-up. You dip fartons into it!
We made our way to the market, a fantastic mixture of colours and odours, with the locals buying their suppers of meat, vegetables and fish. We stocked up with dried fruit and nuts for presents at home.
Made the effort to cross town to the beautiful stylish old market which is being reinvented as a shopping /café mall.
Time for lunch at an outside café near the station – paella of course. 10 euros for three courses and drinks.
Sadly back to the elegant station for the train to Alicante and the flight home.
A beautiful morning with a touch of autumn. We climbed up the ridge in the trees and within the hour had reached Las Moratillas recreational area. Because of the financial restraints in Spain this has officially been closed which meant that all the water taps have been cut off. There is a grand old house here with a fantastic drive approaching it. I’ve done some research but cannot find who it belonged to before handing over to the Valencian state.
We had a good look around in the capacious rooms, what a place this must have been in its heyday.
We had brought some figs along with us but when we unwrapped them they were covered in hundreds of ants, so we were unable to enjoy them. Whilst on the subject of wild fruit there was a tree in the grounds which bore strange green fruits, they were hard and obviously not ripe but had a distinctive taste. Found out later it is a Persimmon and should be yellow/orange to eat.
Onwards, on the road there were no signs and we of course took the wrong turning to the left which ended as a dead end above a steep cliff above the valley we wanted. No alternative but to reverse and start all over again along the road until we found signs pointing us in the right direction. We quickly lost height into the valley which was a beautiful nature reserve.
It was hot down here, the Fuente Roses was bone dry, the refuge was locked so we sat by the trail eating our tuna. Climbing up forest trails was hard work in the afternoon heat. Down the other side we had our first glimpse of El Rebollar in the wide valley. Now we were walking through vineyards of the Utiel-Requera wine which we had been imbibing the last few nights. The Bobal grapes are grown low and unsupported in this area.
The village of El Rebollar didn’t offer much and we were directed over the motorway to a motel. There was some difficulty crossing the motorway. At one point we thought the safest way might be underneath through pipelines. Ended up climbing over and walking down the slip road!!
The motel on the service area turned out to be a pleasant hostale. The room was OK, as was the food and wine. We slept well before the lorries thundered out.
I didn’t fall of my ‘table’ in the night. As we were going down for breakfast the Sunday motorbikes from Valencia were pulling into town for coffee. The locals were already installed at the bar for a wine and bocadillo breakfast. We had the usual tostada and tomato. Having said our fond farewells to the whole of the village we were on our way up to the Sierra de Martes. This is named locally as El Crocodrilo because of its silhouette. We climbed up and then traversed in to the snappy end.
Once over the snout we were in a vast undulating upland area, the paths wandered in seemingly haphazard ways. Amongst the shrubs were a few Strawberry Trees [Arbutus unedo] the fruit is edible but rather bland and seedy.
We meandered around the hillsides through various cols until a steep downhill took us to the flowing Rio Magro and the Tabana recreational area. Lots of Spanish families out enjoying a Sunday picnic.
Nobody seemed to know where the GR7 went and we lost the waymarks. Ended up walking the minor road for 3k in the heat of the day to pick up the signs again near Mijares. Another flowing river was crossed, unusual to have so much water in the rivers at this time of year.
The village of Mijares was deserted, only a dozen houses. But we found a lane signed to the Fuente Olivera and were glad of the good water obtained for the night.
A little further on and we came to an abandoned grand mansion with a ‘lawn’ for camping on. Luxury. I noticed my 35year old Saunders Backpacker tent was starting to disintegrate at the seems, will be sad to see it go. We drank and ate the last of our food and sat and watched the stars. Not a sound in the night save for some owls.
Cortés is hemmed in by cliffs and the lake. There is a great deal of mundane industrial infrastructure associated with the hydroelectric set up. The map showed several Kilometres of road walking, including busy tunnels, to get out of the vicinity. So at breakfast we made an arrangement with the hotel owner to drive us 4 or 5 k up the road later in the day, there being no taxi in the village. Thus, the morning was free. A small market with the usual stalls was occupying the plaza but was fairly quiet.
We stocked up with food for the next three days in the tiny shop. Relaxing over a coffee we people watched as the morning trade increased. Being a weekend, the motor cyclists were out and a large group of gleaming Harley Davidsons were parked up. The bars were full of leather clad enthusiasts.
Back in the hotel bar we enjoyed a tortilla for lunch and then were driven along the road in the owners van. We had made the right decision, as it looked quite dangerous for walking on. He took us further than expected, to where the GR7 left the road, and then refused any payment.
From the lay-by we were straight onto the route which on the map only looked about 8K for the afternoon. It turned out to be one of the toughest of the trip! The track quickly faded into a small path through the undergrowth.
The red and white marks were difficult to follow and quite a lot of backtracking was done. It was impossible to penetrate the prickly undergrowth. We were climbing quite steeply alongside a large rocky ravine, the map was of little help.
At one point we hit a forest road but it went nowhere, we had missed our turning onto a smaller track. The afternoon wore on.
We arrived at the rim of the ravine at a cave [?Cueva del Moro] only to lose all waymarks. I scrambled/climbed up above the cave to find cairns on a forest track, but no red/white. Encouraging The Pieman to follow we were soon walking along the track. No waymarks appeared so we just kept going in the ‘right’ direction. Junctions were a point for debate/argument but eventually the Sierra de Martes was in view ahead and we had something to aim for. Amazingly, after a couple of kilometres the waymarks reappeared from the right and goat tracks were followed into a gully and back up to the crest and a view down into the Gaeta Valley.
Venta Gaeta consisted of a dozen or so houses. We knew of a possible café here, but it all looked unlikely from above. We scouted for camping spots as we approached the village. The noise of Spanish families drew us to the restaurant in the middle of town. A large crowd were finishing lunch in the square. We presented ourselves at the bar/butchers and after a drink enquired about rooms in the village. As is usual this produced much discussion amongst the regulars and we were soon trying to gain entry into the schoolroom, the keys didn’t seem to fit.
Eventually we were installed in a large room which we soon converted into a dormitory. Rudimentary, but it saved camping. I preferred a table to the cold marble floor.
Dinner was arranged for 9pm in the restaurant. The village was originally a staging post on a route into Valencia. Now only 5 people live here permanently. The restaurant and attached butchers shop seems an anachronism but must get sufficient trade to exist. Apparently it is popular with the Valencians at a weekend who appreciate the locally selected meats. The bar was busy when we came for supper, the usual family groups watching the football.
We had the recommended house speciality. A starter of delicious fish flavoured mash, meatballs and mixed olives followed by lamb and various home-made sausages with potatoes and egg. Filling, especially for a vegetarian.
This was washed down with a couple of bottles of Utiel-Requena wine. This is the local wine made from bobal and tempranillo grapes.
Today’s walk was one of the most spectacular on the GR7 for scenery.
An early morning stroll down the valley through olive trees below the cliffs brought us to the Fuente Sacaras with a good water supply. We were caught red-handed knocking walnuts off a man’s tree!!
There was a way marked route up through the cliffs onto the plateau which looked exciting but ended up on roads.
Alternative route up ravine.
We wanted to follow the GR7 above the dammed Rio Jucar, and we were glad we did. The path became narrower as we rounded the nose of the cliffs and views started to open into the Rio Jucar valley.
The river which has been dammed for hydroelectric purposes is hemmed in by cliffs up to a 1000ft high. All very impressive. The castle of Chirel on the far bank was always prominent as we made our way along the valley. To our right were cliffs of smooth limestone [difficult to photograph against the sun] To our left was the view down to the Rio Jucar and cliffs beyond. The odd tourist boat appeared on the lake below.
The track was quite narrow and had recently been cleared to make it easier. Thank you. Not that many people come this way.
We followed the trail below cliffs, in and out of ravines, to eventually climb out onto the plateau above.
Now on a road we made our way down to Cortés de Pallas to find accommodation for the night. We went into the bar of Casa de Fortunato ordered a ‘zumo de naranja’ and asked for a room. Surprised to be taken up to the top of the village to our rooms in an apartment block! No problems with the room but not exactly convenient for a hotel. They did make us a good evening meal along with the family. We are always the only foreigners in town for the night. Lots of young children and babies eating after 9pm, don’t know how they manage.
I managed to leave my jacket with camera on the chair but it was still there next morning’
We were not in a rush to get away in the cool morning. It was not light till 8, so a brew in the tent was appreciated before packing up. Well-marked trails took us towards the summit of Caroche which looked like something out of Monument Valley with its rock towers. A lot of weaving about eventually saw us at the Collado Caroche where we expected to find water. There was a large collecting tank and feeding it a sparkling fuente, possibly even blessed! – time for a snack and drink.
There seemed to be lots of tracks converging on this spot which is in the middle of nowhere and miles from any habitation. Despite the isolation and rugged country we never saw a raptor all day.
Having topped up with enough water for the night we climbed over another col into the next valley which was lined with cliffs as far as the eye could see. More visions of Colorado. We were walking along the left-hand rim with great views down into the now uninhabited valley.
Along the way we spotted lots of ‘praying mantis’ type insects…..
The dirt track kept high until it met a road coming from nowhere and apparently going nowhere. This zigzagged down into the valley of Canadas which at one time must have been a thriving agricultural area. Now only a few olive fields and walnut orchards survive. There were however some fig and almond trees by the roadside to provide us with some snacks on the way.
Getting tired as the day wore on, this valley goes on for miles, we spotted a suitable flat piece of land next to an old casa for camping, The Fuente Sacaras would have to wait till the morning, we had enough water for the evening’s cooking.
Unfortunately the ground we had chosen was full of those very prickly, round, mine-like burrs which are not good for pitching on. As it happened I came across the key to the rat infested house and we salvaged some plastic proven bags to underlie the tent – problem solved. A couple of chairs and a table also proved useful for supper! A Beautiful sunset over the cliffs, and soon the full moon was illuminating the valley.