Tag Archives: Long Distance Walks

GR131 LA PALMA – TO THE LIGHTHOUSE.

Fuencaliente – Faro.

I said yesterday’s walk was the Island’s most popular, well maybe for serious hikers as this morning there were crowds heading to the lighthouse. Not Virginia Woolf’s soul searching one. We had a leisurely start after the usual bar desayuno – freshly pulped orange, tomato tostada and a coffee, not bad for 3euro. The coffee on the Canary Islands varies in quality, I think they grow and roast their own which often has an unusual taste.

Navigating out of town was made easier than usual by heading for a black volcano cone. A large visitor centre has been built here, Volcan de San Antonio which erupted 1677. It looked interesting but only accessible through the centre who charge for the privilege.

We followed the fence around it down ash slopes where vineyards have been established.

Ahead was Volcan Teneguia which erupted as recently as 1971, it makes you wonder when the next one will be. [watch the video below] The path alternated between blocky larva flow and very loose ash, all the time aiming for the Atlantic and the two lighthouses at Faro. The last time I’d seen such young rock was on Iceland from where I picked up a specimen only 2 years old. 

A few fishing boats were bobbing in the waves off what looked an inhospitable coast. We commented on the fact that you hardly ever see a seagull.

The sea was wet as wet could be,
The sands were dry as dry.
You could not see a cloud, because
No cloud was in the sky:
No birds were flying overhead—
There were no birds to fly.

By now there was a steady stream of walkers coming down the paths to join the crowds of tourists arriving by car to look around the salt pans at the Faro. The original basalt lighthouse had been decommissioned following tremor damage and replaced with the more modern one in 1985, but this is automated now.

On the larva beach there are extensive salt pans and today men were working in them, not sure how much of a commercial venture this is or more of a tourist attraction.

We retreated to the pleasant veranda above the shops’ hustle and bustle for a beer and tapas, papas arrugadus and cheese croquettes with mojo sauce.  We were feeling pleased with ourselves for finishing this difficult four day section of the GR131 and planned the next two days. We had descended from 2426m to sea level and in those days also climbed 2200m if you see what I mean – no easy downhill.

Slowly the place filled up with walkers quenching their thirsts before catching the bus back to their hotel or Fuencaliente. We joined them for the bus trip first along the coast through all enclosing banana plantations to a ghastly looking hotel complex in the middle of nowhere then back up the twisting roads to town. We picked up our rucksacs from the pension, yes we had enjoyed an easy morning unburdened, and caught the next bus up to the east coast, Los Cancajos. Strangely it was only when we alighted here that I realised I could hardly walk for pain in my hip. On that recent trip to Cornwall I had noticed pain with all the steep steps but ignored it prior to coming here.  Presuming it was just spasm from sitting I soaked in the bath and had a beer only to find I could hardly walk to the restaurant for supper. Tomorrow was to be another long committing walk down the central caldera from Roque de los Muchachos towards the west coast with no escape possibilities. I agonised over dinner and prompted by JD cancelled the early morning taxi to the summit. Once that was decided we enjoyed a very good local red, Tamanca Negramoll, changed plans and hobbled off to bed.

[ Just a word of praise for our apartment block, La Caleta. The staff couldn’t have been more friendly, they were interested in our exploits and very helpful with our change of plans. The rooms were basic but spacious, lovely pool area, tranquil atmosphere and good dining. https://www.lacaletaapartamentos.com/en/home.html ]

 

What it really was like…

 

 

GR131 LA PALMA – THE VOLCANO ROUTE.

El Pilar – Fuencaliente [Los Canarios]

This is the most popular one day walk on the Island following a ridge of volcanoes. Even while we were packing in the dark taxis were bringing walkers to the start. It is Sunday and lots of young walkers passed us throughout the day. Our plan was to get away early and do the climbing before the heat of the day. We had been told that the excessive heat we were experiencing was due to tropical air and dust from the Sahara – the Calima. Ahead of us in the trees were three seizmologists taking readings on the ground. There has been recent activity under La Palma but these three told us that it has diminished, still it was reassuring to have our personal warning team proceeding in front of us.

Slowly we gained the crest and weaved between volcanic cones on black ash paths.

Most of these erupted back in the 15 -16th century though Monte Negro on our right appeared in 1949.

On the left were seas of black larva flows, dramatic geological features set out before us.

Someone must have time on their hands…

Higher up there was a short detour to the rim of the massive crater of Volcan Deseada. Disappointingly we never had the distant views to the other Canary Islands.

Ahead were more volcanic cones but the track wound down into a large ash area with scattered trees, one of these trees gave us shade for lunch – the last of the tuna!  Still at 1800m.  On and on through the vast ash scenery as the temperature reached the 30’s with little shade from the scattered trees. We marveled at the tenacity of these trees to get a footing in the arid ash. This is dusty walking.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Were walking close at hand;
They wept like anything to see
Such quantities of sand:
‘If this were only cleared away,’
They said, ‘it would be grand!’

 

Some awkward larva rock made walking difficult on the final descent into Fuencaliente [Los Canarios], 780m, 

At the entrance into town there is a statue celebrating all the walkers who come this way and more importantly contribute to the local economy. Glad to oblige we headed straight to the nearest bar for refreshments.  Near the statue we later found plaques recording results from recent Transvulcania Ultramarathons with unbelievable times now below 7hours for the 74km course.

We had a great little pension up a side street for the night. A shower washed off most of the sweat and dirt but when we shook our boots out we were amazed at the amount of black ash that fell out – sorry if we blocked any drains. A hidden restaurant in the lower part of town provided some fabulous food but dubious local wine.

https://www.lapalmahostel.com/

Restaurante la Era

 

GR131 LA PALMA – A BALMY BIVY.

Refugio Punta de los Roques – El Pilar.

We had heard there maybe a food van at El Pilar where we planned to bivy tonight so set off with high hopes. Today was much easier walking with well graded paths and not so much ascent. Steep zigzags below the refuge brought us back onto the caldera rim, though there were still no decent views into it. A late breakfast was taken sat on a branch of one of those magnificent Canary Pines.

A gun shot scared us, today is Saturday and one is allowed to hunt the introduced Barbary Sheep, a large horned goat, Arruis. All along the rim were hunters, presumably waiting for the prey to be driven up the hillside. Later we saw them driving away in their jeeps – I don’t think it was a successful day.

At Reventon there was a tap and a wall to sit on for lunch, we are slowly eating our way through the heavy load. We spent time watching a group of La Palma chaffinches coming to the font for water.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/27/Fringilla_coelebs_-La_Palma%2C_Canary_Islands%2C_Spain-8.jpg

There was a sign announcing the incorporation in 2008 of the GR131 into the European walking route E7.

From here on a dirt track ran all the way along the ridge to El Pilar but the 131 has been diverted off it through the Laurisilva woods. We walked a bit of both as it was so humid and hot on the undulating ridge.

We were glad to arrive in the recreation area, El Pilar, and enjoyed a coffee from the van. There were lots of families enjoying the day barbecuing on wood fires, free wood seems to be provided. We approached the warden about bivying somewhere later and before we knew it had an official camping permit. Well we didn’t actually have it but we had signed a bit of paper. Supper of veggieburgers from the van was taken on one of the picnic tables, washed down by an unexpected bottle of wine, from the van! We even had time for coffee before he drove off. There were free toilets and showers on site. I had to explain to JD that this did not classify as a real bivi. Once the noise of revelers died down we slept fitfully as the night was so warm, no need for a sleeping bag at1500m.

The moon was shining sulkily,
Because she thought the sun
Had got no business to be there
After the day was done—
‘It’s very rude of him,’ she said,
‘To come and spoil the fun!’


GR131 LA PALMA – ROUND THE CALDERA RIM.

 

Roque de los Muchachos – Refugio Punta de los Roques.

The taxi deposited us at Roque de los Muchachos, 2426m, the highest point on the Island overlooking the vast Caldera de Taburiente. I felt rather sick from the twisting ascent. There is a car park, a little information hut and a water tap. The road is maintained to serve the numerous Observatories scattered near the summit. At this height clear skies and lack of light pollution provide astronomers with perfect conditions. The trail, with its usual red and white marks starts along the rocky rim in close proximity to the eerie saucers and spheres.

We were expecting cool conditions up here but in fact the temperature was into the 20’s. Heavily laden with 4 litres of water, food and  bivy gear we stood out from the tourists exploring the area, exaggerated further when within minutes we passed a bikini clad lass. The views into the caldera were a little obscured by cloud and sightings of other Islands likewise. That would be disappointing to the coach trippers but we were staying high for days so expected better to come.

Volcanoes have rough surfaces to walk on so a feature of the GR131 is that it is bordered by stones defining the way, over time the track itself becomes smoother to use. Along here to avoid the road we were led up little garden paths which seemed unnecessarily rough and steep, after a couple of hours we had hardly covered three kilometres.  By the time Pico de la Cruz was reached we were ready for some lunch, the first of our tuna with crisps for me, oatcakes for JD. Whenever we stopped Ravens would appear looking for scraps.

 

‘A loaf of bread,’ the Walrus said,
‘Is what we chiefly need:

Pepper and vinegar besides
Are very good indeed—
Now if you are ready, Oysters dear,
We can begin to feed!

En route JD was learning by heart Lewis Carroll’s  The Walrus and the Carpenter so from time to time I may put in an appropriate quotation.

The path undulated along the crest with surprising amounts of descent and ascent until Pico de la Nieve was reached, we climbed up to its cross but again views down to the caldera were disappointing, however all around were fantastic volcanic rock features in all colours. People were climbing this top from somewhere on the road below.

Better tracks continued down into the Canarian Pines with their burnt and twisted trunks. Zigzags led into a gap, Degollada del Rio, from where a small trail climbed across a rock face to emerge once more on the ridge. By now we were reduced to a snail’s pace and were glad to come round a bend and find the stone Refuge Punta de los Roques, 2040m, next to the path. Before I could appreciate the surroundings I collapsed onto a bunk for half an hour, glad to get the weight off my shoulders. The refuge turned out to be perfect, A kitchen area with tables, sleeping platforms with a few blankets, solar powered lighting and water [needed purifying] in the tank from the roof. Across the caldera rim we had walked could be seen the observatories at Roque de los Muchachos. Way below us in the haze was the town of El Paso which lit up after dark. The night was very warm, probably 15 degrees, but we were too tired to come out for star gazing. We never saw the resident mouse.

 

 

 

GR131 LA PALMA – LOGISTICS.

Continuing my saga of walking the GR131 through the Canary Islands the next venue was to be the volcanic island of La Palma…

For a start flights from Manchester only go on Thursdays so a week would have to suffice.  The route is some 65k long and climbs to 2425m with no real opportunities for restocking or accommodation. I’m not sure I want to carry 4 to 5 days food, plus the necessary water up to those heights.  So JD and I came up with a simple plan, have a taxi to take us up to the top, Roque de los Muchachos, and walk down in three and a half days via Refuge de la Roques, El Pilar, Fuencaliente to the Faro [lighthouse]. Then taxi back to the top and walk down to Puerto de Tazacorte  on the west coast. Even that idea involved bivouac gear and a substantial weight of food and water.

The first day would end at an unmanned refuge, Roques, at 2000m with no suitable water. The second day at El Pilar, 1500m, with water but no accommodation. We would have a pension on the third night in a village, Fuencaliente 780m. A bus would transport us from the lighthouse back to the east coast ready for the next trip to the summit ready for the shorter second leg.    Is that cheating?

Amazingly this is basically the route of an annual 73.3K Transvulcania mountain race with the present record of 6.52.39!

We were booked out of Manchester Airport  just as reports of fresh volcanic activity under the Island were being reported, rather dramatically by some of the red tops – panic on La Palma.      It last erupted in 1971.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SW COASTAL PATH – THE TV COAST.

Port Isaac – Padstow.

This is the ‘Newly wed and Nearly dead’ season according to the locals which explains the large number of tourists still out and about. The two villages linked have a high profile, Port Isaac is Doc Marten country and Padstow is TV cook Rick Stein’s domain, not without controversy. They are both pretty ports best visited in the evenings when the coach parties have gone. Boat trips and shopping have taken over from the fishing industry although local catches are still available but on the whole commercial tourism has taken over.

Walking through the sleepy village, without a sight of the Doc, I picked up a coffee and croissant and carried them up to a seat on the headland overlooking Port Isaac. A great place for breakfast on a sunny morning. The harbour was below me and looking across the bay Tintagel Head could plainly be seen. The first couple of miles was a real roller coaster with the path clearly visible ahead in the rugged scenery. Varley Head and Kellen Head were crossed on muddy paths slippy from yesterdays rain.

Round the corner the inlet of Port Quin was entered. People were parking up and heading for the coastal paths unfortunately the mobile tea van hadn’t opened yet.

On Doyden Point was a folly built by an 19th century merchant to entertain his friends. Nearby were two fenced off mineshafts, previous silver mines. Vapour was rising from one of them and on peering down the sound and smell of the sea came up, the shaft had obviously reached sea level maybe 25m down.

A little further I had a break by a dramatic sea arch, Lundy Hole.

Grassy paths wandered through gorse and people seemed to be coming from everywhere, looking at the map I realised there were many circular walks from nearby Polzeath. A gentle circuit of the rocky Rumps Point and Pentire Head gave good views of rocky islets with speed boats whizzing around. From the point i could see right back up the coast to Hartland Point and Lundy.

Then I was into Polzeath on Hayle Bay with the usual surfing crowd in the waters.The first cafe I came to was in a side street, an old fashioned establishment with home made drizzle cake.The elderly couple gave me a sample of rocky road cake which I’d never come across, very rich and chocolatey. Apparently popularised by Nigella Lawson – another TV link. Next door was a beach house based on an old railway carriage. Third class strangely from the Rhondda and Swansea Bay Railway closed in the 60’s.

Walking past seaside houses I arrived on the beach of Daymer Bay the site of the treacherous Doom Bar now famous as the name of one of Cornwall’s beers. There were lots of people strolling along the beach but as the tide was coming in I kept to the higher signed path up through the sand dunes for a final flurry to the quay at Rock. The small ferry to Padstow arrived and before I knew it was elbow to elbow with tourists shopping in the narrow streets. I had a bus to catch so will leave exploration till next time.

Accommodation was expensive in Padstow so I’d booked into a pub in nearby Wadebridge from where my 10 hour journey back to Lancashire would begin tomorrow. Eight great days of coastal walking are behind me and the legs remind me of the strenuous nature, time for a rest. Not sure when I will be back to finish to Lands End.

 

 

SW COASTAL PATH – AN EXHILARATING DAY.

Tintagel – Port Isaac.

The forecast was dire – rain by 2pm and wind all day. So I set off expecting the worst, you never think about not going. Within 20 mins I was hiding behind a wall at the clifftop YHA putting on full waterproofs. The wind was ferocious and I was very wary of getting too near the cliff edges.The start of the route was above slate quarries and wet slate was not the best footing.

Slate quarries and Gull rock.

Approaching Trebarwith Strand.

On reaching Trebarwith, all of 2 miles, I dived straight into The Port William pub for a coffee out of the wind. Quite an expensive place to stay in, the chatty barmaid said in a whispered voice that you paid over a £100 for the view, obviously way out of her budget. She had walked parts of the coastal path and wanted to do more.

From the steep steps behind the pub I could have a breather and watch the waves in the bay.

There was more evidence of slate quarrying in the next valley.

The route continued in the same difficult manner in and out of small coves. The wind made it difficult on some of the exposed ridges and I was glad to take shelter in one of the bays just above the pounding sea. 

A small snail hitched a ride on my rucksack and another had to make its own way.

Back into the wind and rain I battled over more headlands whilst the waves crashed below. I was beginning to enjoy myself. Port Isaac could be seen ahead.Reaching a road I walked into the little harbour of Port Gaverne, i was dripping wet and didn’t feel I could go into the many starred hotel. So I pushed on into Port Isaac and found a quiet cafe in a side street for my favourite toasted teacake and coffee.

Ignoring the rest of the village I just wanted to get to my airbnb and have a bath. The Coop provided a cheap supper as I couldn’t be bothered to go back down to the restaurants.