The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Monday, 8 February 2016

Natural Wonders at El Torcal

Parque Natural de El Torcal is described by the Rough Guide as being ‘one of the most geologically arresting of Spain’s natural parks’ and as Colin laboured his way up the roads to get there we could see that it was indeed spectacular – even though the views were somewhat curtailed by virtue of our having ascended into the cloud base.

The usual delaying tactics were deployed and a walk around the visitor centre had (the main point of interest being a small exhibit giving the history of how the landscape evolved) but even so, it was still in significantly reduced visibility that we set out. It was blowing a hoolie too, which combined with the fog and the altitude had us setting out dressed for a winter’s day in Scotland:

There are two trails leading from the visitor centre car park, one of which is 1.5km long with a time estimate of 45 minutes and the other 2.7km with a time estimate of 2 hours. We set out for the longer one … and arrived back in 30 minutes. We immediately knew where we’d gone wrong – we were trying to follow the yellow route, but the park, in its wisdom, had signed the colours at the critical junction in words, not by coloured paint. Not knowing that ‘amarilla’ is yellow, we’d followed the wrong colour.

No matter, we would have some lunch, hope that the cloud would finally lift, and head out for attempt two.

The cloud did lift and the surroundings became even more spectacular. It turned out that the yellow path (which shared the first and last half kilometre with the route we’d taken in the morning) was much more techical and demanding than the short route, adding even more interest and plenty of mud too; they had a lot of rain yesterday, we were told, making the shiny limestone rather slick in many places.

It’s going to be difficult to convey in my snapshots what the place was really like, as I think it has to be seen in person to be appreciated, but just imagine the sort of eroded limestone depicted below stretching out all around, for as far as the eye can see: 

It wasn’t an arduous day’s walking – in fact, the two routes together came in at a total of just under an hour and a half (4.2km), including many a pause to take photos and to admire the shapes, but it really was a fantastic place to visit and a side-trip that I would recommend to anyone.

Friday, 5 February 2016

PR-A 354 - Sendero de Los Molinos y las Fuentes (West Section)

It was gone 2pm by the time we headed out to complete the route we had started yesterday (having done the cultural town tour this morning), making our way first back up to the Erimita de los Santos Martires, where we left the trail yesterday:

On our way there we answered a question that has been bothering us for a few days*: why does almost every olive tree have a plastic bottle, with a quantity of liquid in the bottom, hanging from it? Passing close enough to one of the plastic bottles today to be able to examine it, we found that it had a cap on (thus it wasn’t channeling and collecting sap from the tree), but it also had some holes punched towards the neck of the bottle. “Aha!” I exclaimed. They’re insect traps, presumably for some specific pest:

After a few minutes heading up a track the waymarkers told us to descend some steps, taking us to walk along an irrigation channel. There’s quite a system of them making their way through the terraces and orchards. Some of them look like they have fallen out of use (although I could be wrong there), and we have noted that modern hose-based irrigation systems are much in evidence:

Another surprise picnic area appeared before us, together with some steps leading up to a viewpoint. I visited the latter and can’t understand why they built it there – it must be one of the poorest vantage points in the area. Nevertheless, the Spanish certainly know how to built sturdy picnic sites, this being typical of all of the ones we’ve seen:

To loop back to Abla, down to, along a bit and across the river bed we had to go. A bit of mild directional confusion accompanied that bit; the waymarks were there, we just needed to look carefully for them:

As well as picnic areas abounding (we passed another on our way back to Abla), we’ve also come across a few outdoor gyms (although none as good as the one in Ohanes, which was incredibly well equipped). This one struck us as being oddly located, being about a kilometre away from the nearest house. There’s only three pieces of equipment here, and one of them is a walking machine; who’d want to walk at least a kilometre out and back, just to go on a walking machine?!

An afternoon walk appears to be a very popular pastime in the places we’ve been so far, particularly amongst the older women, and we duly got stared at by a few we passed (yep, Mick did greet them and make them all speak) as we made our way back to and through Abla.

My considered opinion, having now completed this route is that we were spoiled by the Mines of Berja trail the other day, as whilst PR-A 354 does have some good and pleasing sections, overall it just isn’t that interesting.

As for stats, we would have more success in recording them if we’d remembered to stop the GPS before we drove off in Colin… What I can say is that the advertised total of 2500’ of ascent for this whole trail was more like 700’.

(*I forgot to mention yesterday that we had solved another question which had been bothering us. Many terraces and orchards we have been seeing in this region are full of trees in pink blossom, but neither of us was sure what they were. Yesterday’s route took us straight past some which were still bearing a little of last year’s fruit. Almonds was the answer. Everyone seems to be growing them around here, with all of the terraces and orchards we passed over the last few days being planted with either almonds or olives.)

Thursday, 4 February 2016

PR-A 354 -  Sendero de Los Molinos y las Fuentes (East section)

I’m getting better at sussing out where walking trails are available, particularly now I’ve found a couple of helpful websites*. My first knowledge of this one came about as we made our way gingerly down the last section of the pass to Abla yesterday (after a bit of an incident with overheated brakes), when I happened to notice a waymarker and we were going slowly enough for me to see that it was route number PR-A 354. The official route information was found and the gpx file downloaded, but we decided only to do one chunk of the trail today, cutting short by walking down a road (this isn’t a walking holiday after all, so short routes which can be fitted in before lunch are perfect).

After relocating ourselves from one of Abla’s motorhome aires to the other, we were perfectly positioned about ten yards away from the start of the route, which soon had us walking alongside an irrigation channel:

The first couple of kilometres or so were somewhat lacking in interest, taking us mainly through scrubland, close to the motorway. The land the other side looked better, and that’s to where we were headed:

If you ignore all the flyovers in this next snap, then you’ll see that Mick is walking along a dry river bed. All bar a couple of the rivers we’ve seen have been dry, but often very wide with evidence of signifiant water erosion, which suggest that the rain pattern is of the flash-flood variety. When do those rains occur? Is it summer thunder storms, as we don’t seem to be seeing much evidence of winter rain (albeit this winter may not be typical).

Just before finally crossing under the motorway (which, despite appearances didn’t happen where the above photo was taken, we veered off left at that point), there was one of the redeeming features of this section of the walk, in the shape of an old aqueduct, juxtapositioned against the wall of an elevated section of motorway:

The next snap has got itself a little out of order. I can’t remember exactly where it was, but it was definitely before the aqueduct, and it was one of the more attractive areas of the first section of the route, giving expansive views (including of the nearby windfarm). The building remains, at which Mick is looking, was obviously a big, grand place at one time:

This place wasn’t quite as grand, being a cave dwelling with a modern extension stuck on the front:
[Doh! You'll have to imagine it - I don't have access to that photo right now]

Then we were into the hills and climbing, although nowhere near as much as the official information about the trail had stated**, through an area containing an unexpectedly high variety of plant-life.

Having taken lots of photos of the scrubby first half of the walk, I failed to take many of the attractive second half – but it was jolly pleasant. Coming out on a road, right next to a church it was but a stroll back down the road to Abla and our start point. We’d walked 5.6 miles with around 500’ of ascent. Tomorrow we intend to go and walk the west side of the route***.

A stroll around the town/village was had later in the day, before we relocated back to our original aire (it’s a nicer and quieter place for spending the night … I say as somewhan starts beating a drum at the adjacent sports ground!). This snap shows a typical narrow street (this one having a fine view of snowy tops at the end of it). We reckoned we could have got Colin along this road without much bother. He couldn’t have tackled any of the side-roads though.

(* lists all PR-A routes by region, with links to the official data sheet, although I can’t find them depicted on a map, which makes it a bit arduous to work out if there are any in a particular area. Then there’s, which I feel like half the world already knows about and that I’m late in discovering, but it seems to be a fantastic resource for finding other people’s gpx routes.

**The official route information says this trail has 820m of ascent. Looking at a map, I couldn’t see anywhere near that amount. It was as we stood looking at the information sign at its start point that we saw the elevation profile in detail and realised someone had come up with that number based on plotting a line on some electronic mapping and believing the number it came up with without considering the believability of the shape of the elevation profile. The route did not go up and down five feet in every ten paces as that elevation profile would suggest.

***The original text of this sentence said that we were going to walk the east side tomorrow (on the basis we had done the west side today). A debate broke out with my proof-reader, who thought I had those directions the wrong way round. I was so absolutely sure of my correctness that I couldn’t understand how said proof-reader was getting it so wrong. I brandished my phone, with the map and route displayed … darn it, my proof-reader was correct. Don’t you just hate it when that happens?)

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Trail PR-A 336 – Minas de Berja

Our diversion to a supermarket yesterday afternoon took us to the town of Berja, where we pondered over our destination for the night. When it turned out that the coast was a little further than we had thought, I looked at the map again and realised that we were very close to another area highlighted to us by the lady in the Tourist Office in Almeria as being good for walking.

The night was spent in one of the car parks in the big recreation area, just a minute or so down the road from the start of a handful of walking routes. There were various possibilities for combining bits of different routes, but we opted to just follow PR-A 336 in its entirety, which the information sign told us was 8.6km long.

Well, what a fine walk that turned out to be! A narrow path took us via the remains of 7 sets of lead mine workings and an enormous slag heap, all the time giving us superb scenery and views (including the snowy high tops of the Sierra Nevada, to the north).

We retuned back to the recreation area having covered 10km (hmmm, are all of the official distances under-stated?) with just over 500m of ascent and having had such a good walk that I’m now very glad that an earlier error in grocery planning led us to take a diversion to Berja! 

We’re going up there, somewhere

Nice path!

Fine views from the high point of the walk

Crossing the enormous slag heap. You wouldn’t have wanted to fall half way across, due to the steepness, but it was actually very stable to walk across.

Another shot of the slag heap – it must have been a few hundred feet tall and made of the sort of crushed-rock gravel for which people pay good money when they want to lay a driveway

One of the mine entrances. All of the others were just holes in the rock (some vertical, some levels), whereas this one had a constructed entrance.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Laujar de Andarax

The nice lady in the Tourist Office in Almeria, although unable to furnish us with any information as to walking routes in the area, did recommend to us two good walking locations and having spent last night only about 20km away from one of them, that’s to where we headed this morning. I had already downloaded from t’internet a GPX file for one walk in that area, but we arrived to find a sign detailing various different options. Instead of the 16km circuit for which I already had information, we opted for the 7.6km one, with the thought that we could always tack the 4.2km one onto the end of it, if we so fancied.

With the valley in which we parked being steep sided and running north-south, it can’t have seen the sun since the middle of yesterday afternoon and thus, even though we’ve not seen a hint of a cloud for 2 days, I set out wearing three layers and wishing I’d dug out some gloves. My hands were freezing by the time we finally found some sunshine (whereupon we promptly overheated and had to strip down to t-shirts).

What struck me as we made our way along the valley, and then started to climb up its side, was that after a couple of weeks of being surrounded by barren desert, we were suddenly somewhere green. Indeed, the river Andarax, which runs down this valley, is more than just a trickle, and the snow-topped mountain we had spied on our drive in suggested that these mountains see more precipitation than the surrounding plains (disproving the famous saying about the rain in Spain?).

The first half of the walk was uphill on tracks. In fact, technically, I think they are classified as roads, but to me they’re tracks. Then we were onto a lovely path, which took us through pine woods, sometimes descending infeasibly steep slopes via switchbacks and sometimes clinging to the side of the valley.

A worrying bit of uphill appeared before us at the point that we thought we were supposed to be making our final descent, but we were just being a bit impatient. A couple of minutes later, after another excellent viewpoint, our descent did start.

We’d already walked over 8km by that point (and still had a way to go), contrary to the 7.6km declared by the signpost at the beginning. We met another detailed information sign as we joined a dirt track back in the valley, which gave the distance as 9.6km. I measured it as almost exactly 10km.

Being such a pleasing walk we would happily have stayed another day to go and tackle the longer route tomorrow, but the empty state of Colin’s fridge and pantry dictated otherwise. We needed to go and find a proper supermarket.

Friday, 29 January 2016

A Short Morning Stroll By Mojacar

A visit to the Tourist Office in Mojacar yesterday furnished us with a sheaf of papers describing various walks in the area and having spent last night parked right on one of the routes, at the point where it passed through a beachside car park, it was an easy choice as to what to do this morning. Bright and early (does 9.30am count as bright and early, when the sun doesn’t rise until 8am?) off we set, past Macenas Castle and soon turning up hill where a signpost directed us to two ‘Observateria’, one 800m distant, the other 1900m. Here’s a non-illustrative photo, in that it doesn’t show either of the viewpoints we visited, although you can make out in the haziness a big white villa in an enviable position, atop a lump which abuts the sea, and also the tower which we were later to visit:

A reasonably gentle vehicle track (albeit so degraded in places that it’s probably no longer driveable) took us up into the lumpiness (not massive lumpiness; we must have topped out at around 150m), and what should we find on the two summits we visited, but a wooden hide, information signs and picnic benches. The second top also had a big concrete bunker of a building, with the obligatory graffiti on the side, although not as extensive as we have come to expect:

The question is, did the graffitist go up there intentionally to deface the building, or do these people always carry some paints about their persons, in case the opportunity to deface presents itself?

The path down from the second viewpoint was steep with a very loose shaley surface, making us concentrate hard on keeping on our feet. Reaching the dirt road at the bottom with only a few slips (and no trips or falls), around to the 16th century tower we went.

Up the stairs we climbed to gain access, with me making it about half way up before realising: a) it was quite steep and high, more like a ladder than a staircase; and b) I really don’t like ladders. Pushing the thought of the return to the back of my mind for the moment, I willed my quaking knees to still themselves, so as to take to the narrow internal staircase which took us out onto the roof terrace, which was (unsurprisingly, given the historical purpose of the tower) a good vantage point:

It’s quite handy that these cyclists keep getting in my shots, giving a sense of scale!

Both Macenas Castle and Colin were in view when I took this shot, but they’re both lost in the haze in the photo itself.

Happily the return down the stairs/ladder was better than the upwards journey (although it didn’t escape my overactive imagination that if you slipped at the top it wouldn’t be a happy ending), and from the bottom it was a simple, flat walk back along the dirt road to our car park.

Mick the fearless veritably skips down the ladder

The whole outing came in at only 3.25 miles, but with its features and views it was a pleasing way to start the day, before we embarked on our biggest single-day drive since we hit the coast (we went almost 80km today! More of that on

Monday, 25 January 2016

The Hills by Totana

Having decided to travel from Murcia to the hills north of Totana (off the top of my head, I think it’s a journey of less than 30km if the direct route is taken) via the coast, it’s taken us five days to get here, but by mid-morning we were here and ready for a walk. The only complicating factor is that we have no map of this area, so we knew not where the trails lay. Thankfully, after a bit of a stroll around, an information sign was found detailing two walks, one of 7.5km and the other of 2.2km. They would do us nicely, we thought, provided they were well enough marked for us to follow.

We started with the longer of the two and having worked out in which direction we needed to head we soon picked up the markers. Waymarking proved to be good too, even if we did go awry only about half or three quarters of a mile in. Down a road we went, getting increasingly suspicious about the lack of painted marks, until after a few minutes we decided to retrace our steps to where we joined the tarmac. Sure enough, the route was clearly indicated as going off in a different direction, and there we went on good dirt paths, with excellent views behind us and a prominent feature to our left, which we were to see more closely this afternoon:

At the highest point of the walk (that is to say, the greatest altitude, not the best bit) another road was met and we followed it down to where a 250-year-old aqueduct crosses the road to Alede. We were definitely on the right track at that point, but soon afterwards another turn was missed, although we can’t say where as by the time we concluded that the lack of waymarks meant we’d gone awry we thought we may as well stay on the road. It was hardly busy: two cars passed us the whole time we were on it.

Back at our start point, a late lunch was had before we set out again, this time in the direction of the notable statue/monument on a nearby hill which had been visible throughout the early part of the morning’s walk. Stations of the cross were positioned at intervals up the road, leading us up to this:

We could easily have missed a turn on the second half of this circular walk, as it involved climbing over a crash barrier and dropping very steeply down for a few feet to join a good path – not a turn that would be obvious if you didn’t happen to see the mark on the base of one of the barrier supports.

We were back from that outing within half an hour, even having spent some time on the viewpoint platform near to the monument, but added to the morning’s walk it gave us a good bit of pleasing exercise on yet another fine day (about 18 degrees with barely a breath of wind).