Tag Archives: GR7 Spain

GR7 TRIP. Mariola – Alcoi and home.

Another stone animal.

                                            Horse’s head, Barranco del Sing

 Up about 8am and forced my way through four pots of Caramel Flan – the shop didn’t have yoghurts. Tidied the cabin as instructed and left about 9 feeling a bit queezy.

 I had a choice today, over or round Montcabrer. The forecast was for possible heavy rain this afternoon and I had a long narrow gorge to descend. Could envisage possible problems with flash floods and I had a bus to catch to Alicante. So – round.

 It was a beautiful morning for walking.

 A kilometer on the road brought me to Font Mariola where others were leaving cars for a bit of walking. The short cut  I had spotted on the map turned out to be a locally signed PR57 marked with yellow and white; makes for a change.

  The track through the woods was easy but after some time started veering too far south for my liking. On the map there were other paths going due east; so back a couple of junctions and I headed off on a decent forest track in that direction. This progressively got narrower and less used as I climbed further into the hills. I was having doubts but continued till I was going north up the slopes of Montcabrer.

                                                      Montcabrer.

 Wishing now I’d kept to at least one of the marked routes! But suddenly a large farm appeared which placed me on the map and I was soon heading for the Barranco del Sing. Not a rain cloud in sight!

                                                  Barranco del Sing.

 The gorge started gently but you could already see the tall cliffs demarcating it. A well used track dropped me to the base. Remarkably there has been agriculture down here. At one point halfway along someone has built/restored a few ‘shacks’ and is living a simple existence. There were a couple of mules tied up – presumably for transporting his goods along the steep narrow path.  The heat was quite oppressive down here and with the sounds of all the insects buzzing and clicking it felt tropical. One of the  clicking insects, ?Cicada, landed on the path in front of me. It was about an inch and a half long – any ideas?

 Overhead vultures were circling in the afternoon updrafts. Have lots of pictures of blue sky with the odd black blur, this when you miss a view finder on the camera. The path wound around and became really hemmed in in the lower reaches and on past the horse’s head before opening out directly above Alcoi. A superb end to this week’s walking.  A short walk into Alcoi brought me to the bus station just in time for a coffee before catching the bus to Alicante, the beach for a swim and the plane home.

GR7 TRIP. Bocairent – Mariola.

                                                                              Covetes dels Moros.

 I had a short day ahead of me, achieved by splitting a long day into two and by staying on a camp site this coming night. There was a lot to see in Bocairent so after breakfast set off to explore. Narrow medieval streets and steps, gateways, fountains, unique bullring, gardens all featured on a marked walk around the town. But there are also two important sites  across the valley outside the town. On a rocky hilltop at 750m is the 16th century Chapel of Santo Cristo reached from a bridge below the town by the winding ‘Stations of the cross’ path.

Chapel de Santo Cristo.

                                                     Chapel of  Santo Cristo.

Too soon after breakfast to tramp up there.

Instead I was more interested in Covetes dels Moros a series of caves and windows carved into a rock face as seen in the heading photo. [don’t forget to click to enlarge] I arrived at the steps down to the ravine only to find them closed off today – Monday. As are most other things in Spain on a Monday! Undeterred I made my way over the barrier and up to the rock face for a closer view.

There are 53 windows and ‘rooms’.  Their origin seems to be obscure and they are difficult to date [?11thcentury]. Their purpose also is only speculated at – granaries, monastery or funeral chambers are suggested. Obviously today I couldn’t gain access. Will have to be content with  —  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xi7A8MSLwwY

Back up to the square for a coffee and bocadillo before setting off towards the Sierra De Mariola to the south. The GR7 seems to take a circuitous route on roads but on the map there seemed to be an old way up to Ermito St. Jaume. And so it proved – a lovely, obviously ancient, winding path gradually gaining height through the trees and limestone bluffs. I was quite pleased with my find.

 Came out onto the  high plateau of Mariola, rejoined the GR7 and strolled along to Ermita de Santa Barbara. Here there was a fountain of good water, Font de Pla, and an amazingly old black poplar tree propped up by masonry. The hermitage was extensive and ornately decorated with a little chapel at one end. Lovely place for a break and an orange.

                                                       Ermita de Santa Barbara.

                                            Ornate window.

 The path now passed through a forest of oak and pines undulating along the Sierra De Mariola at just under the 1000m mark. The sun continued to shine and keep up the temperature. There was a touch of autumn colour appearing.My lodging for the night was not the best but there was a half decent shop; so I ate well and then slept warm under a clear starry night.

                                        Camping Mariola.

GR7 TRIP. Morera – Bocairent.

The day dawned bright, but being a Sunday an early breakfast was impossible. I’m in no rush anyhow, and the homemade produce was intended to be enjoyed. Left K10 sign and wandered up easy lanes past farms towards the range of hills separating me from Bocairent. Met a helpful Spanish dog walker who gave me complicated directions as well as several alternatives which he thought superior. He also warned me of stormy weather approaching in a couple of days. As I started to gain height there were good views back across the fertile valley to yesterdays hills with that awful descent route a prominent scar. Click on photo to enlarge.My route today couldn’t have been better in comparison. A well constructed mule track zigzagging up through the hills and across numerous barrancas. This whole area had suffered severe fire damage a few years ago, rumoured to have been started by a disgruntled fire fighter.  New growth is soon establishing itself.

As I crested the hills there was some mild rain in the air. Christened  my new ultralight-weight waterproof for 20mins. Not entirely confident it would cope with a great deal more. A short stretch on a road past a large finca produced lots of warning signs; this is partridge shooting country and season. Warned not leave the road. Of course my red/white flashes guided me straight into the rough hillside, unable to hear any obvious bangs I decided to risk  ‘imprudencias’ and follow the waymarks.

Sign of the hills.

                                                         Sign of the hills.

First impressions of Bocairent were not good as I was walking through industrial areas. Some of the fairly run down.

Sign of the times.

                                                      Sign of the times.

Then came the dreary, gated, private villas on the outskirts……

……. at least someone has more flare.This hapless guard dog never barked or twitched a muscle when I rattled his fence. I began to wonder if he was a plastic imitation.Bocairent turned out to be a fascinating place to explore, an old fortified town which became prosperous through the wool trade between 14 and 19th centuries. But this afternoon nothing much was open as it was Sunday. Even my hotel had a deserted look to it and I had eventually to phone a man to come and open up for me.

“Oh and by the way our restaurant isn’t open this evening” !

 A local bar however produced an excellent simple meal with wine for 8euros.

Bocairent.

                                                                         Bocairent.

GR7 TRIP. Vallada – Morera.

if you go down to the woods today....

   if you go down to the woods today….

Leisurely breakfast in the apartment, then I left the village at 9am. Had found my route out of the village last night – this is always the most difficult bit of the day! So marched up a minor lane with purpose only to find at the top that the GR signs seemed to take me in a different direction to my ancient map. But as I’ve said so many times before “if you find a marked track in Spain – follow it”.  So I did. There is a castle above Vallada and the track I was following was heading directly for it. Not what I expected.  Kept scrambling up the track hoping it would veer off in the direction I wanted to go – but no – it persisted towards the castle. I had no option but to follow. The views back over Vallada and it’s valley became more impressive by the minute.

Vallada

Vallada

Yes and before you knew it, at 10am, I was at the castle. Not too bad a place to be.

The track onwards became clearer as it traversed the mountain below El Penen towards a minor road.

A short stretch on the road and I followed a sign up a forest track. Easy walking now and the kilometers flew by – but without any paint marks at any of the junctions; It all seemed to fit with the map though. The scary bear coming out of the woods looked quite life like from a distance!!  See heading photo.

Just as I was having doubts there suddenly appeared a flash of red/white in a completely random spot. The track continued in a large loop but the short cut would have been impassible. One of the prickliest bushes in this area growing at knee height was the dwarf oak disguised as a holly –

prickly oak

Prickly OAK               – it has the acorns to prove it.                                                                                                                                                        

Climbed up to a small summit; Figerols 896m. Ideal spot for lunch with wide ranging views. There were some large impressive mountains over to the NW, possibly the Sierra De Alcaraz. Spain’s a big wild country. I often think the Spanish do not promote their wilderness areas for walking /cycling sufficiently.  I haven’t seen a sole in the mountains this week. The way down into the valley was a most unpleasant straight,steep, stony and slippery path cut into the hillside. Could be seen for miles and would have been a horror to ascend.

A delightful walk through vines, olives, orange and peach orchards took me to the CV655 road where my lodging for the night, Casa Morera, was apparently situated at K10. According to my map that was a kilometer down the road to the east. So turned left and trudged along the road ending up at Ermita Morera at K11. Obviously another K. but in which direction? A quick phone call directed me back west to where I had previously reached the road. 20m out of sight round the next corner was K10 and the house! Didn’t enjoy the extra road walking in the heat but could only blame myself. Well  actually I had a good go at blaming my out of date map and the fact they had re-calibrated the road and modernised the K signs.

The new road sign next to the GR7. I was round that corner.

The new road sign next to the GR7! I was round that corner!

Casa Morera turned out to be a lovely place to stay, deep in the countryside and surrounded by hills. An old farmhouse with cellars for making olive oil and wine. It has been beautifully restored and has every modern facility and comfort. The owners were good hosts and a pleasant evening spent with some visiting Spanish couples.

Casa Morero.

     Casa Morera.

GR7 TRIP. Tinterero – Vallada

                                                                  Famous view.

  The forecast was for high temperatures and as I knew I would be in a deep canyon [barranca] for several hours hoped to get away early. But the taxi couldn’t come till 9 so I was able to enjoy a full fuel filled breakfast. The gas cylinder was safely left with the manager for my return in a couple of weeks. Was soon stood at the lonely roadside I’d left yesterday as the taxi disappeared. Tinterero was in the mist and as I walked down the track it felt just like the moors back home.

                                                                   Misty Morning.

  Except the temperature was already in the high 20s – I had plenty of water with me. Water becomes more important than food on these sort of days. Strolled along until a path diverged off to the right and started descending steeply into the Barranca Boquilla. The waymarks here about seemed more related to mountain biking than walking – signs of the times?  Anyhow you couldn’t go wrong, just keep going down for 400m. Past the famous rock arch pictured above. There seemed to be a whole series of barrancas cleaving into the hillsides. This is a spectacular place.

Now down at the bottom a decent track snakes along the bottom of the gorge past an abandoned farmhouse  – imagine living down here.

As the barranca runs in a north/south axis the sun was shining directly into it so most of my pictures were looking back! This was just an amazing place to be in, a wonderful walk but also a fantastic nature environment. When you stop there is time to appreciate the variety of flying insects around you – including the biting variety! Time to put on trousers again. What one didn’t see were any raptors soaring above. The locals love to shoot anything that moves. You have been warned.                                                                            The track twisted and turned probably doubling the horizontal distance traveled.   There was a  great deal of variation in the limestone walls of the gorge.

                                                               

The track became rougher and eventually ended up in the steam of the gorge; don’t know how you would get on after heavy rain. Saw a wild dog and a group of rebecos [the Spanish chamois]

                                                                    Uno  Rebeco.

I spent almost three hours walking down the barranca with little shade. I was not looking forward to the crossing of the valley floor to Vallada in this heat. Went under roads, motorways , old and new railways in this busy artery of central Valencia. What a contrast to half an hour ago.

Met a French couple walking the pilgrims route from Valencia city to Santiago de Compostela. Wished them well as they have an awful long way to go.

                   Scallop shell – symbol for the pilgrims to Santiago.

My pilgrimage was to an apartment in one of the cluttered streets of Vallada.

Vallada

                                                     Lovely colours in Vallada.   

Did a bit of re hydrating in one of the bars in town, full of unemployed men playing dominoes. The churchyard contained some good interpretative art.

A good meal was taken in a local restaurant and I slept well. What more can you ask from a days walking.

GR7 TRIP. Benali – Tintorero.

Casa Benali.

Casa Benali.

Today was supposed to be an easy 10/12k warm up [although the temp was climbing into the 30s]. This is very rural Valencia and the 18k taxi ride into the hills seemed to emphasize the isolation. I’m walking south on the GR7 for six days. I was dropped off at the few houses of Benali,  originally an Arabic settlement. There is a fuente [spring] at on end and a chapel at the other.The houses have been restored as a Casa Rural, though one would get a surprise at the remoteness if booked for a week’s holiday. Nobody about today. I quickly picked up the familiar red and white flashes denoting the GR7 …

   … setting off along an old lane leading from the houses. It was great to experience once again the heady scents of rosemary, marjoram, sage and pine drafted up to me as the heat rose. Tree heathers were in full bloom and attracting the bees.

There were a few early Autumn Crocuses bursting out of the stony path.

                                                                                                                                                           In the background was the peak of Caroche 1126m, which has to be tackled next time when going north.

Caroch

Caroche

Well marked tracks took me quickly south past a few abandoned farms until above a limestone cliff. I lost the waymarks here and spent a lot of time wandering on false paths with no paint marks. In this type of country you can’t go off track, the vegetation is so dense and prickly!  Hot and frustrated I eventually found the onward path down a rock step in the steep limestone. It had been there all along.

I thought I was on my way into the next valley until stopped by a further band of overhanging rock which proved to be very beautiful but stubborn to give up a way through. Notice the prickly pears. The day was disappearing.

   A very steep and slippery path took me down towards a forest track and on to an old farm. I was greeted, as usual, by the sound of barking dogs – there were up to twenty, thankfully, behind a fence. The way round the farm wasn’t obvious but a young lady appeared and explained that the farm was being used as a dog rescue sanctuary. That could be a big ask in Spain!! She was pleasant and offered me water and pointed me in the right direction.

Sanctuary.

                                                              Sanctuary

Unfortunately her directions didn’t work out too well and I was soon criss-crossing the rough ground looking for waymarks. Cursing I eventually found my way down to a series of barrancas. In the shade of a rock wall I was glad of a rest and some food. Now a way had to be found back up through the thick vegetation to my destination at the peak of Tintorero 765m. This next couple of kilometers must be some of the worst I’ve experienced in Spain. Steeply upwards all the way through the thickest of prickly plants. When I’d stopped earlier I found I was being savagely bitten by mosquitoes so I donned my over-trousers to stop the assault.Despite being hot and sweaty I was glad my legs were protected from the thorns. This path needs some attention otherwise it will disappear into the hillside.

‘Way’ up to Tintorero.

Glad to reach the road next to the peak’s trig point.  Not a car to be seen on this desolate road for 20 minutes.

Where's my lift?

                                         Where’s my lift?

But then the first appears, stops and takes me back, 20K, to my hotel!

In the pool before you know it.

Out for 5hours on a 3 hour walk!!

GR7 TRIP PRELUDE. It’s a gas.

Back into Alicante airport after my last disappointing trip  [see post 8th May 2013 A DAY TRIP TO SPAIN].
What I didn’t mention in that post [guilty conscience and risk of arrest] was the problem with the gas cylinder I had bought innocently earlier in the day. About to check my bag in I realised I still had the said gas cylinder, aka bomb. Tried the Information Desk but they threw their hands up in horror. Tried to leave it somewhere in the airport but security cameras everywhere – imagined the airport being evacuated. Eventually walked out up the road from the car park and well away from cameras hid the canister behind a drainage pipe. Glad to have rid myself of it but also thought I may reclaim it on my next visit!!
So having landed this morning to those annoying trumpets I set off to find the gas. I was however confronted by a vast convoy of police cars on the road where it was hidden. How did they know I had returned?  

It’s  all to do with football – Real Madrid had just landed and their coach was ready to whisk all the stars off to Elche for tonight’s match. A substantial crowd had formed to see their favourites – hence the heavy police presence. I already have a mild ‘criminal’ offence in Spain [camping illegally in a National Park – I was totally innocent but received a 60Euro fine!] so was not keen to cause more problems.  Went for a coffee and waited for the next bus into town.  However by now the entourage had moved off with police sirens blaring. able to creep up the road and would you believe it recover the gas. Mission accomplished.

Soon on a train to Xativa which I reached mid afternoon with temperatures hitting 35C.  The place was in full siesta mode and there was not much to see apart from the castle up the hill, but no way was I going to walk up there.

The castle.

The castle.

The bus station was deserted and my connection to Enguera not for a couple of hours. Not a sole around.

Help!

Help!

Jump a taxi for 20 Euros  and I was delivered to the uninspiring doors of my hotel, Portal Del Caroig, in the middle of nowhere. Who designs these places?

Portal Del Caroig

Portal Del Caroig

But found friendly staff, my room was OK and there was a swimming pool!

The evening’s meal wasn’t bad either.

Walking in the morning if I can get to the start.

A DAY TRIP TO SPAIN!

Jet2ing away.

I was out several days at the end of April walking with a pack to try and achieve some fitness for a further trip along the GR7 in Spain. I am hoping to finish the route this year. After May it gets too hot in Spain for comfortable walking. So last week my son dropped me off at Manchester airport [he only lives 10 mins away] for an early morning Jet2 flight to Alicante.

I have to say flying with Jet2 is far more pleasurable than with some other well known cheap airlines. Friendly staff, sensible boarding routine and good leg room. As usual the plane was full of noisy stag and hen parties on their way to Benidorm, they drank the plane dry! My sympathies go out to the air hostesses who have to cope with this crowd, but I do wonder about the wisdom of all the commercially driven alcohol sales in the airport and on the plane. I was mentally comparing my imminent trip into the mountains with theirs into the clubs.

We arrived on schedule, thankfully no trumpets, and I caught the cheap bus into town. It stops at the train station so I bought my rail ticket for the afternoon train to Xativa.

Wandered into the town to a useful climbing shop I know  to buy some gas for my stove. [www.elrefugiodeportes.com]  Then found a cafe for lunch and realised I wasn’t feeling too good, hot and flushed with a racing pulse. I hadn’t been rushing around so couldn’t explain why my pulse wouldn’t go below 100. Returned to the station and sat outside, but my pulse wouldn’t come down. When the the departure time came I decided against traveling to the interior.   What to to do next?  Stay in Alicante for the night and possibly have to seek medical advice or get back to England. Jumped onto the airport bus and was soon buying an expensive ticket back to Manchester! Fortunately there was an evening flight. My pulse eventually returned to normal. The new terminus at Alicante is quite comfortable for waiting around in.

Alicante Airport

Alicante Airport

Landed in Manchester at 9pm and returned to my bemused son’s house. Quite a day really – but one I could have done without. Back to square one and apparently no worse for wear.

To get back to an outdoor theme it was a lovely bank holiday weekend, who needs to go to Spain. At a loose end, and with the garden up to scratch, I did some local walks through the fields which are starting to green up.

Longridge Fell with Pendle behind.

Longridge Fell with Pendle behind.

I always find something to complain about on these local walks – not the scenery or the wildlife – usually the abuse of the environment by persons unknown.

Quite a collection.

Quite a collection.

With the weather being so dry and warm I couldn’t resist some bouldering despite my painful toe. I thought a short session would do me no harm. So had a trip up to Kemple End quarry for some morning sunshine, actually very warm on Bank Holiday Monday. The rock was in perfect condition for some traversing and easy soloing – felt much better for that.  ‘Feeding the rat’  if you know the connection.

Bit of a mixed post but next week off to Scotland so should be more interesting.

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.

THE GR7 BACKWARDS! CATALUNYA Segona part.

Bellprat – Cabra del Camp.

March 19th

No hablo Catalan.

Having returned to Igualada I had to work out transport options back to the GR7. A taxi would be prohibitive but there was a bus back to Santa Coloma. The timetable at the bus stop showed two morning buses 06.45 and 08.15, had asked two drivers the night before and they assured me they both ran. But there was an asterisk against the later bus and I couldn’t interpret the footnote. You can get away speaking Castellon Spanish in Catalunya but everything written down is in Catalan which is impossible. The hotel desk couldn’t help. I decided to get up early  Foregoing breakfast I was sitting in the cold waiting  for the first bus to be sure of catching one. It arrived and I was soon back in Santa Coloma, the driver explained that there was no later bus because it was the Easter holidays. Thankfully there was a bar open and I was able to get coffee and croissants, order a taxi and warm myself next to the strange heating apparatus in the centre of the bar.

Bar heater.

Bar heater.

Turns out it is fuelled by the olive stones from the local oil crop. Very efficient. With the aid of the map I was able to explain to the taxi driver where I wanted to be, but when we got there I couldn’t understand his insistence we go elsewhere. Turned out he was giving me a guided tour of some local beauty spots at no extra cost!

Drove into a deep gorge with a unique Moresque,three sided tower and a church perched atop a small village Santa Perpetua. [population 3]

Sancta Perpetua

Sancta Perpetua

He soon had be back to the GR7 and I walked through fields to Pontils another small village with nobody about except barking dogs. Had a second breakfast by the font. The day was warming and redstarts were everywhere alongside me as I climbed a forest track up to 750m. There were great views back to the Pyrenees.

Well signed GR7.

Well signed GR7.

Now it was downhill through limestone bluffs to another ancient deserted village, Vallespinosa.

Vallespinosa

Vallespinosa

There was a font with drinking water so I took the opportunity for an early snack lunch and a water refill, relaxing in the sun. Houses here had been renovated presumably for weekend and holiday use. Walking out of the village was attacked by a, thankfully small, dog – ski sticks prove their worth in these situations.
The way went up a valley on a lovely old path just inside the trees to reach the Coll  De Valls 720m the hills opposite were crowned with wind turbines which were to become a common feature in the week. Smaller paths took me steeply over Coll de Romigueres and on through fields and then vines to the village of Cabra del camp where I had booked a casa rural for the night.

Camp wine fields.

Camp wine fields.

The wines of this area are DO Conca de Barbera and the village of Cabra has its own wine cooperative. Called in there to buy  a bottle of the local dark red  [Tempranillo, Garnatxa and  Merlot grapes.] to accompany my own cooked bean pasta.

Modernistic cooperative.

Modernistic cooperative.

Went into the local bar for a coffee and it turned out that the man stood next to me owned the house I was looking for – saved me a lot of wandering.  Whilst in the bar I was given a bowl of ‘music’ a Catalan serving of raisins, almonds and hazel nuts accompanied by a glass sweet muscatel. Delicious. Arrived at my rented house for the night in a little side street.

My casa on the left.

My casa on the left.

Proved to be a large house with god knows how many rooms. The owner was very helpful and had lit a log fire for me [little did he know of my escapades with fires]  I settled in, cooked supper, enjoyed the wine and had an early night.

Warming the wine!

Warming the wine!

THE GR7 BACKWARDS! CATALUNYA. Primer part.

Clariana – Bellprat

March 17 – 18

Plane, bus, train and taxi….. and then walk

Left Liverpool in the early morning on my ‘favourite’ airline to arrive in Barcelona, caught the cheap airport bus into the centre of the city. The Barcelona marathon was just finishing so the place was packed with athletes in various stages of recuperation, clutching water bottles. No time for sight seeing as I disappeared underground to catch a train to the nearby town of Igualada. This is where I had planned to start an eight day trip along the GR7, 150K. For reasons of transport and accommodation availability I was walking back south to Tivissa, my last stage – see previous posts October 2012.

z

So my first night was in Igualada a town built on the leather industry. This is where your luxury handbags originate, as well as your Buff headgear!

Enjoyed the semi luxury of a four star hotel …..

GR7 march2013 080

…. and ordered a taxi [20 Euro] for the next morning to get me to the start of my walk at a diminutive hamlet called Clariana. Straight away found a GR7 signpost and set off in high spirits.

GR7 Way-marker.

GR7 Way-marker.

For navigation I had maps from the latest edition of the Federacio de Catalunya for the GR7. So following these I disregarded the red and white way-marks down the road and soon found myself confronted with definite no passage signs as opposed to the common no hunting signs.

Private Hunting

Private Hunting

No Way!

I’ve only been back on route this year 10 minutes and have forgotten the golden rule – always follow the red and white markers of the GR7 no matter what your intuition or inaccurate map tells you!! So back down the road for half a kilometre and sure enough there was a sign off to the right for the GR7. Who’s to say why this differs from my map! Now on tracks through the fields and the sun was getting warm. Buzzards flying above. After a further navigational error [NW instead of SW!] I managed to get myself onto the minor road leading to Bellprat. Passed the turning to the small hamlet of Fillol, decided there would not be much in that place.Now there were great views back to Montserrat above Barcelona and to the east end of the snow covered Pyrenees.

Fillol and the Pyrenees.

Fillol and the Pyrenees.

Montserrat.

Montserrat.

Walked on to the hamlet of Bellprat where nothing stirred.

Bellprat

Bellprat

From the road here I managed to hitch a lift into the larger town of Santa Coloma de Queralt. The hotel here had closed down. Just missed the 13.45 bus back to Igualada so passed some time in the interesting old town, mainly drinking coffee in the square.

Santa Coloma Placa

Santa Coloma Placa

Caught the 15.30 bus back to Igualada. glad of an easy 14k first day and a good night’s meal and rest in the hotel.

Hake and black spaghetti.

Hake and black spaghetti.

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 ……….