Author: stevesally55

THE FISHERMANS TRAIL2: Barranco da Fonte to Aljezur 2 days

Leaving the luxury of our stay in the middle of the long 22 km stage between Carrapateira and Arrifana we only had about 10 km to go with one serious up and down. It was our last day with our friends and the penultimate one of the trip for us. We took off down the wide solid track which soon led us into eucalyptus plantations which afforded us welcome shade. The weather had been perfect the whole trip, with our rain jackets remaining at the bottom of our packs.

The trail was soon quite busy with hikers coming the other way, from Arrifana, so it could only be a few hours away. Some people I spoke to said there were no soft sand sections to come and I warned them of the slog they had coming. They needed an early start and plenty of energy to complete the whole section in one.

Emerging from the plantation we crossed a long high shoulder of rocky ground covered with low lying cistus and lentiscus with lusher valleys below. We shared the track with determined surfers in 4×4’s who risked the steep rutted track down to the boulder beach of Praia do Canal where we stopped for snacks and a breather before tackling the equally steep and rutted track up and out of the beach. The long climb was rewarded, as usual, with fantastic views back along the coast.

The rising ground eventually levelled off in more eucalyptus forest where we rested again and watched easier methods of transport go by. But we didn’t have far to go, the last few kms had Arrifana in view and before too long the final sting in the tail of a steep roadside climb into town was done and we were drinking refreshments poolside at our hostel high above the surfers beach from which plastic trash had been collected and made into art.

I don’t know if was the sun or one of my ailments but that night I retired early with a fever and high temperature which had gone down by the morning but still leaving me feeling weak. So after much soul searching we decided to be prudent and rather than tackling the 17.5km coastal route we would take the Historical Trail to Aljezur. And as our departing friends were driving off that way we’d take a lift a few kms too leaving us only 6km, which I figured I could crawl in the time available if need be.

It was luckily a gentle route, with only one real descent/ ascent, on solid tracks through woods and farmland.

We passed some pretty sickly looking cork oaks and an alpaca farm where one of the beasts seemed to have escaped the fencing. The way crossed and followed a road a little way before again turning off on a dirt track that afforded fine views of the river valley from the coast towards Aljezur.

The final downhill inflicted on Sally’s knees took us past a strange hamlet of restored or built holiday houses which although fairly new looking were worse for west and unused. The path took us through the complex along a little lush valley complete with ancient moorish well and up the final uphill to be inflicted on my lungs. And then we were there, at the church, with not enough puff or desire to climb the extra distance to the hilltop castle.

The river had, in the 15 th century been navigable all the way from the sea to Aljezur, giving the only spacious safe harbourage for miles of west coast. The town lies on the fertile plain and is famous for its sweet potatoes. With a couple of hours before we could check in the our hostel we visited the market where our first adventure on the Fisherman’s Trail started 4 years ago and then strolled to the riverside to relax and watch the crayfish.

We’d made it to the finish. Another beautiful route completed. The trail network has obviously been a huge success judging by the number of hikers we’ve seen and goes to show what can be achieved when tourist bodies, marketers, commercial interests and the public work together to create a heathly and sustainable hiking and holiday option.

One final selfie, one final Portuguese sunrise and the journey home begins. Bom dia.

THE FISHERMANS TRAIL 2: Vila do Bispo to Barranco da Fonte 2 days.

Three of us headed off from Vila do Bispo, a climbed out of the town and then a stretch alongside the road, accompanied by some turkeys and windswept trees, before turning off on sandy tracks towards the coast.

Patches of eucalyptus sheltered us from the strong wind now and again as we crossed wild and high shrubland on wide gravel tracks with the sea on one side and thickly vegetated hills and valleys on the other.

The plant life was again varied and beautiful, sometimes growing in a pure gravel bed.

We reached the sea cliffs and climbed down into a glorious remote valley with a spectacular beach. Steeply down and steeply up again. Hard going but awe inspiring scenery all around.

Then after a stretch along the cliff top it was another climb down to sea level to Praia da Murracao where we had a rest and admired the rock formations and I had a cooling dip in a pool sheltered by rocks from the crashing waves.

What goes down must go up again so another brutal climb up away from the beach was followed too soon with another descent to yet another huge expanse of sand, Praia do Amado, where we met our other two friends and we all carried on to the stages end at Carrapateira and our hostel, glad to arrive after 15.5km.

A great spot, a well designed modern hostel and a friendly and delicious restaurant next door made for a good night before we headed of again at the leisurely hour of 9.30 with only about 10 km to do that day. An easy day we thought, having broken the 20 km stage to Arrifana in half. It was uphill all the way mind you but 150 m over that distance should be easy peasy. But very soon after starting we were slogging along tracks of deep soft sand, always a energy sapping surface.

Across the Sahara like dunes to the hard wet sand of the beach at Praia da Bordeira where a class of surf schoolers were trying their luck in the mushy waves.

At the end of the beach the climbing began, first up to the cliff top and then turning away from the sea on a succession of soft soft sandy tracks up and up to a trig point at 158 m. The treasure trove of plant life in my eyes , the heady scent in my nose and Eddie Kendricks ” Keep on Trucking” in my ears kept me going along with my desire to get the top.

The narrow soft track became a wide hard one and with the climbing done and some resting in the shade of eucalyptus coppice before too long we were walking through fields of grain and enjoying our just rewards in more lovely designer accommodation at Barranco da Fonte.

Another fine day on the Fisherman’s over.

THE FISHERMANS TRAIL 2: Zavial to Vila do Bispo 2 days

We enjoyed our night at the funky Hostel on the Hill and a drink and meal around the corner at Favo’s where a band played to their hippie blow in mates and in the early morning we headed off to rejoin the trail at Praia do Barranco, another hippie surfer hang out. So rather than go back down the tarmac road from Hortas do Tabual to Zavial we struck southwest on some dirt tracks that wound through mostly abandoned farmland ( but we saw some signs of caravan homesteads. Maybe someone from the night before).

Even quite far out in the campo there were some smart houses with smarter gardens but mostly the way was wild and getting wilder as we approached the coast.

There were maybe half a dozen live in vans of surfers parked up at the beach and one very smart, very big German campervan that headed off soon after we got there. Maybe they went in search of more amenable neighbours. We stopped to chat to a young fella ,( they’re all young to us), who was going from Sagres to Burgau that day god help him. That’s 8 tough km more than the already toughest day of the entire trail.

He pointed out our route, a long sloping rocky path leading to a flat prairie land high above the beach. A very different zone

It was more abandonment. I don’t know if this was grazing, grain or grassland but the imposing farmhouse was long empty and the dirt roads led hither and thither to no obvious purpose. The nasty looking thistles were taking over. Maybe the butterflies liked them.

Crossing the headland we came slowly back down to the coast where fierce erosion had left fluted sculpture in the clay. The clay here had supported a big Roman industry of amphora potteries for packing fish in for export around the empire.

The coast under us was more rugged here with rocky coves and the Martinhal islands just off the shore. There was lagoon resounding to the call of the frogs hiding under a skin of algae, a smart resort with trackside loungers and then, blessed relief, a beach bar on the outskirts of Sagres.

Google maps devised an interesting route to our bed. On salted tracks past rivers of dried algae, up narrow paths between the flowering storks of agave and through development zones. All worth while when we got there and cooled off in the pool.

A cab ride out to the lighthouse on the Cabo in the morning bypassed 5 km of roadside trail and shortened our days hike from 20km to a more manageable 14km. Too early to be open it was nice to be there without the tourist crowds. This place has been special and sacred to many peoples over millennia. There is a rich concentration of Neolithic menhirs in the area and both the Greek and the Romans had temples here. In fact Sagres is derived from Sacrum meaning ” sacred place”and the body of the martyr, St Vicente , whom the cape is named after were supposedly washed up here. A shrine guarded by ravens was built over the grave till the body was moved to Lisbon in 1173 still accompanied by the ravens.

We had to turn back up the road for a little ways before turning onto the track heading north up the Wild West coast from the most westerly point of Europe. The thick rich vegetation was as we remembered from our previous trip and the stony track too.

This whole area , the Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina, is famous for its bird life and there is a birding festival in Sagres every October. The flora is also particularly spectacular with hordes of species endemic to the area. Im afraid I can’t tell you the names of them but I recognise many from home and also our last trip here. There were so many beautiful little natural rockery gardens all around us it was stunning. Some of the miniature gorse had grown as if a gardener had lavished hours of topiary upon them.

The roar of the ocean was a constant companion and we had many opportunities to marvel and the multi hued rocks, geological splendours , fine sand beaches and crashing waves.

The wind however was blowing hard enough for official weather warnings. With the strong wind from the north we remembered why the official advice is to walk north to south. The low growth and sprawling habit of the plant life attested to the prevailing conditions.

Eventually we came to where we joined up with the Historical Way, another network of trails that works its way up and down the west coast of Alentejo province. This coincided with major track ” improvement” and a newly laid thick gravel surface.

A few strange things came and went. Boars jaw, hi tech structure, dust clouds and a field of goats and sheep with no fence to restrain them. A wind formed wood and poor crops led us into Vila do Bispo.

Here we meet up with 3 friends from Spain who join us for a few days walking.

THE FISHERMANS TRAIL 2: Lagos to Zavial 3 days

Back in Portugal after last years Camino and back on the Fisherman’s Trail after 4 years. Since then the trail has been extended along the south coast to Lagos so this time we’re starting there and going around the Cape of Sao Vicente and north up the west coast to Aljezur where we started last time. This trip is only about 120 km over 9 days but with the condition our bodies are in and the rugged up and downs of the trail it’ll be enough of a challenge.

And back to the Portuguese cobbles. By plane to Faro, train to Lagos, and cab out of town to the trail at Praia de Dona Ana where after the starting line selfie we clambered onto the boardwalk steps to begin a long stretch of timbered trail past a dazzling selection of rocky coves lapped by crystal clear emerald waters.

The geology was impressive sandstone , limestone, and otherstone in layers and whorles, caves and arches in a colour palette of earthy hues as we crossed the headland to the old lighthouse at Ponta de Piedale ( Point of Mercy) admiring the flowers huddled dry and hot in the forceful winds.

Passing through an enclave of posh villas we came down to a busy Sunday lunch time at Praia de Porto de Mos where we joined the diners at Antonio’s before scaling the path to the cliff top and continuing high above the beautiful beaches to the dramatic black and white monument above the beach of Luz.

A long clamber down into the popular town with its beach and cafe restaurants both of which we enjoyed at leisure before continuing up the cliff top path at the western end of town, passing ever more grand building dreams to our more modest space for the night, although we did have the cool pool I needed.

Next morning we retraced our steps to the cliff top path to carry on west, warned by a local ,(German), to keep away from the crumbling cliff top as every year some folk are lost, in fact just 2 weeks ago- and still no body found. The sky was blue and clear again and we were glad to have made an early start as the temperature rose. A lovely path past many old lime kilns and across high ground full of flowers before a descent to Burgau where we stopped for breakfast at a very good bakery, cafe and supermarket. A popular place we were surrounded by ex pats of many varieties.

Exiting the town through a rather surreal mix of controlled and wild landscape of multicoloured rock, we again climbed up to the high cliff top plateau and continued past what I guessed to be some old mine workings before dropping to another pristine beach where I could no longer resist the cooling ( seriously cooling!) waters.

Another steep climb up away from the beach and along to the 17c fort built by Luis de Sousa in an attempt to protect the coast from pirates and privateers before we again dropped down on a steep and slippy path to Boca do Rio where a snake slithered back to the river as we passed. Once more we ascended on weary legs with panting breath to gain the heights for the final time that day, grateful for the level cliff top but wary of the inevitable descent. Happy when Salema came into view, happier still to discover a fine old “era” or threshing circle nearly lost to the plants.

Before long we were down among its charming streets and making ourselves at home on our top floor balcony (second from left!) before an invigorating dip in the still flat calm sea.

Our third day on the trail was the toughest so far even though we only managed about 9 km. We had split the 20km stage from Salema to Sagres into two, booking a room at the Hostel on the Hill, a couple of km in land from Zavial beach. An easy day we thought. An easy trail altogether we thought. We had studied the altitude profiles of all the days from the comfort of our sitting room and it had all looked benign. Looks can be deceiving.

We were warned by a lady at breakfast in the hotel “It’s horrible”.

“So steep and slippy”

“It’s dangerous, be very careful”

Mind you perhaps we didn’t make it as easy as we could for ourselves by following some shortcut Wikiloc trails and not the official Fishermans but after climbing out of town in the road we veered off on a narrow cliffside rather than cliff top path. It had some challenging sections we’ll say.

There were a few stretches that reminded me of the clambering on the rocky Lycian Way trail but after we rejoined the “official Fisherman’s” things calmed down and we romped along for awhile till we had to tackle another near vertical ascent on rock and tree roots. But the views of the untouched looking beaches and the wild flowers were enough to keep us going.

Another descent another ascent and another unofficial shortcut, that luckily ended well, and we were on the final leg, on a lovely high rocky plateau full of flowers. This led to the Ponta de Torre where suddenly we heard the sound of crashing waves and the wind, as we gained the high point, was a different beast. Things had changed. The calm had gone. The surfers were out.

A much needed drink and food at the beachside restaurant and we started up the hill towards the Hostel on the Hill. Sticking our thumbs out was rewarded by a smart white Range Rover picking us up.

So now we are done for the day. 6 more days to go. It’s going to get easier.


In a few days we are off to Portugal to attempt to complete the Fisherman’s Trail, the top half of which we enjoyed nearly 4 years ago but before I write about that I thought I’d just throw in a quick missive on our last outing.

We’ve explored the 70 acre Mount Congreve estate near Waterford a couple of times over the years, (the last time during its extensive 1 1/2 year closure for renovation when we couldn’t resist sneaking in through an open fence) and hearing it had reopened this spring we headed off to feast our eyes on the floral splendours.

Recognised as “One of the Great Gardens of the World” it’s magnificent collection of Azaleas, Camellias, Magnolias, Pieris and Rhododendrons make it a particular joy at this time of year but the walled garden, avenues and lawns contain mass plantings of interest throughout the seasons.

Left to the State by Ambrose Congreve when he died in London on his way to the 2011 Chelsea Flower Show at 104 years old, the family motto ” He does not die whose good name lives on” seems very appropriate as does the place of his death, although it’s a pity he didn’t make it to the show first.

Ambrose was the last of 6 generations of Congreve to live on the estate since the house was built in 1760.

In the 60’s when Ambrose moved in he employed Dutch horticulturist Herman Dool who transformed the woodland gardens and set about creating the gardens as they are today including raising hundreds of Magnolias from seed collected in the Himalayas.

We followed the 16 km of trails laid out through the over 3000 species of trees and scrubs, meandering off on little side tracks leading hither and thither. Sweeps of bluebells and white three cornered leek filled the spaces between fine mature trees from the original planting and a carpet of frittilaria lay beneath an avenue of magnolia.

Ambrose and his wife were lucky enough to both be buried in their beloved garden, something that Galway Council have forbidden me, and their final resting place beneath a classical temple has a fine view down to the sweep of the River Suir.

The Georgian glasshouse is in a bit of a sorry state but plans are to restore it next year as well as get a Masters QQI level 5 gardening course up and running in the west wing of the house. It seems that nearly all of the €7 million spent on the estate went into the House, Gift Shop, Visitor Centre and Restaurant with precious little for the gardens or gardeners. Many of the loyal and long term gardening team are about to retire and fear for the future if the plants are left in the care of students and volunteers.

But such is the scale and grandeur of the gardens that although I can imagine some wilding going on I think that Ambrose’s creation will endure for future generations- climate permitting.

We headed off to spend the night in another grand house, Faithlegg, on the other side of Waterford city above the meeting of the Three Sisters, the Nore the Suir and the Barrow.

As is unfortunately often the case the houses parklands had been given over to a golf course but I was able to get down to the tidal river lands in the early morning to explore before we headed off to the Mountain of the Women.

The 720m Slievenamon summit rises isolated from the flat river plain of Tipperary between Carrick on Suir and Clonmel. I had my eye on it while hiking down the Suir a few years ago and have always noticed it’s imposing bulk while driving past on the way to Rosslare ferrys.

So with a fine sunny day forecast and returning home past it- no better time. Except of course my health and fitness are not what they were and all recent hikes have been pretty flattish so with 475m elevation gain it was going to be a challenge. Listed as “Hard” on AllTrails even though our planned route was only 6 km it was a pretty relentless uphill slog.

After a quick sandwich we started up the stony boreen to be greeted higher up by a lovingly created mini garden for insects, flowers and fairies. Maybe because the mountain has been associated with witches, fairies and mythical women or maybe just a farmers child creative display.

Soon after a gate allowed us access to the 5000 acres of open mountain comonage and a chance for a rest on the ” memory seat” before starting the long slog up beside a well worn track eroded into the shaley ground.

It’s a popular route and the good weather had drawn out groups and solitary walkers and more serious fell runners. It seems to be a popular training ground and one diminutive fellow who offered encouragement as he overtook us on his way up was coming up again as we went down. Could have been at it all day.

There was a race in folklore when the fastest woman up won the hand of Fionn MacCumhaill who cheated by helping his favourite, Grainne to the summit. It didn’t do him much good in the end though as she eloped with Diarmuid and the pair of them went on to have rocky “beds” on many an Irish mountain.

After multiple stops to catch my laboured breath we approached the large summit cairn or passage tomb reputed to be an entrance to the Celtic underworld. It’s also where the diminutive and magical race the Tuatha De Danann retreated underground when overcome by the physically superior Milesians.

From the top of the cairn the trig pillar and a standing stone were visible across the rounded mound of the summit. The leaning stone thought to be from monastic period was carved with the date 1848 in commemoration of Thomas Francis Meagher’s rebel rousing speech to 50,000 people on the mountain in support of his Irish Confederation. Following the failure of the Young Irelander Rebellion he was sentenced to be ” hanged, drawn and quartered” but this was commuted to Penal exile to Tasmania.

Time for the descent. The easy bit for me the tough bit for Sallys knees. The views all around were worth the effort of achieving them. The Comeraghs, Knockmealdowns and Galtees ranged away to the south and west whilst the rich farmlands of Kilkenny spread like a blanket to the north.

The day was still cloudless and with a fair few hours of daylight left there were people on the way up as we retraced our steps back to the Memory Seat and the stony boreen to the car. I was pleased to have made it up there. Life in the old dog yet.

WALKABOUT 3: Yanchep National Park

Just 50 km north of Perth is the 28sq km Yanchep National Park, one of nearly 300 Bush Forever sites, an initiative in WA to protect and preserve important landscapes. Important due to the loss of much of the natural environment of the Swan Coastal Plain to urbanisation and agriculture.

A wonderful mix of sedate lawns and “heritage” buildings from its days as a resort from the 1930’s, to wilderness of kwongan heath, towering forests of Tuart and Jarrah, lush wetland vegetation and species rich Banksia woodland.

We headed up there to camp out in the jeep and tackle a couple of the longer trails that the park has to offer. With temperatures in the 30’s we wanted to avoid hiking in the mid day sun so leaving Perth early we were on the 14km Yanchep Rose track by 7, enjoying the light of the ” golden hour”.

The beautiful grass trees , Xanthorrhoea, can live to be 350-450 years old growing at a rate of about 2 cm a year. It takes them 20 years before they even form a trunk but they are made of strong stuff, able to withstand the inevitable bush fires, in fact often flowering profusely after burning. Much valued by the Aboriginal people for food, fire sticks, fish spears, nectar and glue they can grow in very nutrient poor ground thanks to the mycorrhizal network of symbiotic fungi amongst its roots helping to take up nutrients.

We had to cross a main road before heading off on sandy tracks through the banksia shrub to discover a couple of WW2 radar bunkers recently well graffitied to commemorate that history.

After a drink and a snack we moved off again, crossing a wide sandy track, meandering slightly up and down and twisting this way and that through the varied, but usually prickly, vegetation towards a limestone outcrop in the distance.

Climbing up allowed us a fine view over a huge area of untouched vegetation. Worryingly though we could make out a forest of cranes towards the coast. One of the biggest threats to the park and its fauna is the continuing fragmentation and loss of habitat due to land clearance for infrastructure and housing.

With temperatures rapidly rising and still before 9am we carried on round the loop, marvelling at the variety of plant forms and thinking how special it would be in the spring when so much is in glorious flower.

There were usually signs of the prescribed or planned burning done to reduce the amount of dry wood fuel on the woodland floor and so avoid catastrophic fires like the ones in 2019 that swept through the area. Burnt gum trunks sprouting vigorous suckers and blackened grass trees. You could tell how long ago the fire was by the length of the ” grass skirts” billowing out from below the fresh fronds.

Crossing the public highway again we were soon back in the Park centre, passing one of its tourist attractions the Cabaret Cave, a large limestone cave rentable for functions for up to 200 people since the 30’s and one of 450 known caves in the Park.

After a cooling shower at the parks camp site we explored the central area. Like all good tourist honeypots, and this was one – attracting over 250,000 visitors a year, there was a tea room, ice cream parlour, gift shop, masses of picnic areas and even a pub, restaurant and hotel – which was heaving by lunch time, banging out the roast beef and yorkshire pud buffet carvery.

There was also a non native koala compound with their non native gum food source, an area that hosts Aboriginal culture talks and demos and a tree-top adventure centre. All very unlike the usual Australian Parks wilderness approach. Formed in 1969 from the pre existing hotel resort they decided to roll with it and now have a golf course and even helicopter rides on site.

The 255 ha Loch Mc Ness wetlands area is a particular treasure with big areas of sedge swamp, Yanget ( the Nyoongar peoples name for bulrush and source of the Park name), 50ha of open water and swamp Banksia and Paperbark edging woodland. Seemingly shallow the bottom is an unconsolidated peat mass through which water flows to a depth of 6m. Many other wetlands have either been filled in or subjected to pressures of pollutants and clearing.

We are not good at spotting birds but the wetlands and woods are home to many. Grebes, swans, pelicans, cormorants, egrets, parrots, honeyeaters and kingfishers can all be found. There were plenty of Western Grey Kangaroos on the lawn of the campsite when we set off on the 12.5km Ghost House Trail early next morning.

This walk was through a different landscape than the day before, being predominantly forest of big Jarrah and Tuart with lots of she-oak, paperbark, mallee and banksia with a verdant understory.

About half way round we overlapped for awhile with the Coastal Plain Trail a 52km linear walk that has 4 huts along its length to overnight in. We came to one, the Shapcotts Campsite complete with rainwater tank and long drop toilet. Soon after we came upon the supposedly haunted ruins of an old house but no history was supplied.

The walk continued in a loop back through some more open heath then a rising and falling lumpy limestone track above the wetlands before finally contouring the top of Loch McNess on boardwalks over the lush and verdant vegetation.

In no time we emerged onto the manicured lawns of the Yanchep Inn and hurried back to the campsite to shower away the sweat and dirt of the trail. With the temperature set to rise higher into the 30’s and the sea only 15 mins away an easy decision was reached.

Yanchep lagoon was a safe spot to chill. With a reef just offshore to calm the waves and a life guard station supplying ample shade it was an ideal ending to a couple of days hiking in the heat.

WALKABOUT: Wanders in the Wheatbelt

Visiting our son and partner and their new born daughter on the other side of the world in Perth, Western Australia, we went still further out for a few days.

Out into the vastness of the ” Wheatbelt” of W.A., an endless landscape of low rolling hills studded with little patches of forest remnants, reminders of the country that used to be. Between and surrounding the green trees is a desert like prairie of grain fields, won by the settlers of the 1920’s by the body and soul breaking work of clearing the ” unused” land of its flora and fauna.

The Wheatbelt covers an area of 155,000 sq km, about the same as England and Wales, but has a population of only 75,000 as opposed to 60,000,000 in England and Wales. And nearly all of them live in the 200 towns and settlements in the area- which means that on the 4 hour drive out to Hyden we didn’t pass many farmhouses or farmers.

Hyden is pretty central Wheatbelt. A town pioneered by sandlewood cutters around 1900 it was producing wheat by 1927 although the railway for exporting the harvest didn’t arrive till 1930. By this time there were 60,000 sacks of grain waiting in storage. Nowadays the silos and grain stores have a capacity of over 60,000 tons.

Although it’s a dry area with only 325mm of rain a year ( at home in western Ireland we have at least 5 times as much) it manages to produce huge amounts of grain, lupins and field beans and peas each year, along with cattle and sheep.

But we were here to see some natural attractions- first up was Mulka’s cave, a sacred and significant aboriginal site at the base of a big granite monolith called The Humps.

The cave, a special place for the Nyoongar people for many 100’s of years, has been found to contain 450 hand stencils and other motifs in a variety of styles and colours.

There were a couple of trails that led up and around the Humps to see the rock basin waterholes ( gnamma holes) and the stone walls that led water runoff into a reservoir but it was too darned hot so we went to our cabin accommodation passed the salt ” Magic Lake” to partake in a bobbing session in the man made gypsum spa pool- a cool and refreshing float.

After caking ourselves in the healing mud and attempting weightless swimming in the salt rich waters for awhile it had cooled enough for us to explore the areas main attraction, Wave Rock.

Formed over 2.7 billion years of weathering and erosion above and below ground level the granite edifice is 15m high and over 100m long. As the name implies and Sally’s amusing surfer pose indicates it resembles a giant desert wave about to break over the campsite and picnic area.

It’s sited at the bottom of another huge bare granite hill which also has a snaking line of wall to funnel rain water into the reservoir that serves Hyden and made settlement of the area possible. Originally constructed in 1928 the dam was extended in the 50’s to hold 30,000 cubic meters collected over a catchment area of 30 hectares. We followed a trail up the rock to explore.

The height gave us a fine view of the surrounding plain, forest and salt lakes and as the sun began to sink to the horizon it gave a warm glow to the sculpture like rock forms.

Making it down the steep slope of the Wave before dark we retired to the cabin and were greeted by a similar glorious sky in the morning when, after an early morning float ( the pool is floatier than the Dead Sea), we returned to Hydens Rock for another walk. This time north along its base to Hippo’s Yawn on a path through the Mallee, Gimlet, She-oaks and Salmon gums. The Earth at the base was rich after millennia of nutrients washed down the algae covered rock.

Time to head east for a couple of hundred km for a night in Dryandra Woodland, a fragmented but critically important area of remnant vegetation and a biodiversity hotspot where more than 850 species of plant can be seen.

To get there we drove down a road known as the Tin Horse Highway, a 12km stretch leading to the small town of Kulin where the local community decided in the mid 90’s to promote the annual Bush Races by building some horses out of farm scrap and erecting them on the road to the Jilakin race track.

Since then more and more have been added and now number over 70 and have become more of an attraction than the races themselves. With places to go and so many horses to see we couldn’t stop at them all but I give you a sample.

And as I’m writing this on the 17th of March …… Happy Paddy’s Day

Stopping again for a cool off in Wickepin community outdoor pool, ( admission $1 for OAP’s ), we reached the Dryandra Woodland Village mid afternoon. Since 1972 the collection of 8 wooden cabins, large ex airforce Nissan huts and a study centre have been run by the voluntary group Lions International and we were greeted by Les and Julie the caretakers who gave us a bit of the places history.

From the early 1900’s till the 1960’s the Forest Dept ran a Mallet bark harvesting operation for the tanning industry. It set up the settlement of cabins for the workers and their families in the 20’s and following the collapse of the business the village was abandoned until the Lions took it over with the intention of providing a holiday camp for disadvantaged children.

Now popular with tourists and study groups the cabins are usually booked out by people keen to switch off from phone, TV and internet and enjoy the many hiking trails. The woodland was designated National Park status in Jan 2022.

Just back from a hike through the wandoo, kwongan, mallee, sheoak and mallet Les called round to tell us to come down to his cabin to see a python who was digesting a parrot. Not an everyday invite.

Apparently a weekly occurrence the python that lives in their roof would hang out (literally) under the bird bath and grab a parrot, squeeze it to death then swallow and slowly, slowly, with the help of a narrow fork of branches, force the bird down through its guts. A protracted dinner time.

Les invited us to come down again in the early morning when he feeds the Roos that live in a group around the village. In the meantime we were going to go on a nighttime walking route with reflective signs for torchlight in the hope of catching sight of one of the 24 mammals that live here, many rare and nocturnal.

Unfortunately we had no luck spotting any bilby, boodie, mala, woylie, quenda, marl or possum but we did nearly get lost.

In the morning we joined Les and watched as the Kangaroo mob warily came to his back porch and enjoyed a breakfast that as Les admitted, he shouldn’t really supply, but that may save a hungry Roos life if he strayed onto the surrounding grain fields and got shot.

After breakfast we headed off on the Woylie Walk, a 5.5km trail through the powder bark, jarrah and rock sheoak. There were little holes in the ground everywhere, the workings of woylies, and signs of numbats digging for termites, but no sign of the woylies or numbats themselves. Nor did we see any echidnas, wallabies, bandicoots or possums but it was enough just to know that such exotica was out there somewhere.

Great to have experienced the Aussie woodlands again, and feel again the vastness of this continent driving for hours through the open landscape. And get in touch again with the feeling of an ancient spirituality that can come from the Aboriginal idea of personal connection to “country”.

A place that can feel like home even though it’s the other side of the planet. Small world I guess.

CAMINO ESTRECHO: Between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic 2

The skies were clear and the air crisp and cold when we set off at dawn from the campsite and returned to the beach. The skyline of Moroccan mountains were sharp behind a gentle mist rising from the sea as we climbed the mountainous dune to reach the road recently cleared of sand that threatened to bury the trees.

The road crossed the top of a forested peninsular that was or had been abandoned to the military although still part of the Estrecho natural park our whole journey was contained within. A really attractive stretch of wild country that was spoiled somewhat at the end of the cul de sac by the deserted military buildings.

Surprisingly, beyond the military flotsam was an enclave of fincas and villas and a couple of restaurants with wonderful views across the straights. The road became a sandy track that wove its way over the headland between the pines with their rounded pincushion canopy.

The cloudless sky had warmed a lot and, exiting the shade of the trees into more open country, we took a drink and snack break after about 10km in El Lentiscal, another favourite camper parkup.

The sea here was calm again. We had been blessed with slight breezes since arriving on the coast famous for its strong winds beloved by kite and wind surfers. We hadn’t wanted to be struggling against a maelstrom of sandblasting particles.

A little out of the village we called up to the imposing visitor centre building for the equally impressive Roman ruins of Baelo Claudia. In fact the 2000yr old archecture was fairing better than the modernist structure. Inside the towering exhibition spaces were lines of buckets collecting drips from yesterdays rain and streaks of water stains marred the plain white walls. Many of the digs finds were in other museums and the display barely warranted such an ostentatious edifice but I admired the donkey head jug handle among other relics.

Realising that a track leading off from the back of the site would save us a circuitous loop around on a steep road we snuck over one fence, wandered through acres of scattered Roman stonework, and scrabbled under another to gleefully regain the trail having ” beat the GR system!”. But our smugness was short lived as we still had a long climb ahead to take us way up above the famous Bolonia sand dune and over the Punta Camarinal peninsular, home to another military exclusion zone. Work was ongoing on the trail with new signage, car parking and concreting.

It was a spectacular section of trail , worthy of upgrading to attract more visitors, through a tapestry of rock and palm and pine and flowering scrub with views to the sea and Africa in the distance. Some goat farmers were privileged to live here overlooking the 500 year old Torre de Cabo de Gracia, whose lookouts warned of Barbary pirates back in the day and whose light protects seafarers still. The beach below, accessible only by foot or boat, is reckoned to be the finest on the coast.

From the tower it was a short walk to a shock. From an empty and wild natural environment we emerged to a view of a controlled and subdued one. One where mankind had definitely made his mark. Mostly in the form of the kind of macho but minimalist architecture that would feature in a Bond movie. Our last bed of the trail was here somewhere and we walked a long way on broken and weed choked paving to find it. Obviously not a place where people walked. No shops, restaurants, bars or social hubs to walk to. Just multi million euro villas to drive into through electronic gates.

As it happened our place in Atlanterra, a suburb of Zahara de Los Atunes, was more modest and rustic although part of a Finca on the market for €5 million.

Lovely gardens and views more than made up for the lack of dramatically cantilevered roofs and floor to ceiling glass walls.

The complicated bus and train timetable homewards meant we didn’t have any time to walk further up the coast and Jesus, the gardener, would give us a spin to the bus stop in the morning.

Time to chill and take stock of our hike. That day we’d covered over 20 km of ups and downs and although the last steep climbs were a struggle we were pleased with our efforts and the scenery, weather and slow motion discovery had, as usual, made it a joyful experience. The Parque Natural Estrecho had been yet another wonderful ingredient in Spains diet of delights to sate our hunger for rambling riches. And in the morning we walked onto the beach at the trails end in the town that celebrates – the Tuna.

CAMINO ESTRECHO: Between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic 1

On a quick escape from the frozen north we decided to tackle a few days level(ish) trekking as far south as we could get in Spain. I had discovered a Camino route from Algeciras westwards towards Cadiz that also mainly coincided with a couple of coastal GR routes, the GR 92- Sendero Europeo Arco Mediterraneo to Tarifa and the GR 145 Arco Atlantico from there onwards to Zahara de Los Atunes where we intended to finish.

After a beautiful train journey from Antequera to Algeciras along many of the routes previously walked on the Gran Senda de Malaga we hopped in a cab and alighted on the trail at Las Pantallas leaving another 10 km or so to do. The strange construction was a wall built in 1942 to hide a military road up to the gun emplacements from prying eyes on Gibraltar.

The surreal oddly artistic military defence continued off and on as we continued uphill into the Natural Parque de Estrecho, named after the Straights (of Gibraltar). After 5 bouts of Chemo (with added Immuno) therapy I wasn’t able for too much too steep or too long and Sallys knees etc have been in better shape so it was a relief to gain the plateau summit at about 250m and stop for the view and snacks.

We turned off the tarmac and continued on a potholed track across glorious country with free grazing cattle and views across the straits to Africa before a final cruel ascent off trail to our cabin for the night at the Eco Huerta Grande park in El Pelayo.

Rain in the night and more promised meant we didn’t take time to explore the extensive gardens of La Huerta in the morning but carried on down the trail through verdant country with cork oaks and herbage running wild. We turned off the main track to head down to the sea past long abandoned fincas.

From here we followed the GR 92 along the shore line up and down on slippy muddy tracks between beaches littered with the tragic remains of immigrant inflatables.

And unfortunate cattle.

We reached the Torre de Guadalmesi where the car tracks continued to Tarifa but we stayed with the GR/ Camino route which followed an interesting geological line of uplifted rock and scattered WW2 concrete bunkers.

It had been raining for long enough to have us soaked and cold by the time we reached the outskirts of Tarifa and,weary of the ups and downs, we were glad to finally, after about 19 km altogether, reach our posada for the night and hang up all our clothes to dry.

In the morning we hit the market for breakfast before heading off from the signboard on the prom westwards on the GR 145/ Camino de Estrecho with blue sky ahead and dark, threatening clouds behind us. We were led onto a long section of wooden boardwalk before a protected area of dunes meant the trail was diverted alongside the busy main road.

We were grateful when we were led away from the road through pines towards the shore again. This stretch of coast attracts a huge amount of campervans and there were many parked up where we took advantage of shelter when the rain came again.

We abandoned the GR when it returned to the roadside and continued along the beach, facilitated by the low tide, past more crumbling bunkers, interesting rock formations and art, to reach our A frame tent on a campsite at Valdevaqueros after about 13 km.

After an afternoon/ evening of eating, drinking, washing and watching camper antics we hoped for dry conditions over the next two days of trail and retired to our surprisingly delux boudoir for the night.

LAST LEGS: Sierra de Gredos

The Sierra de Gredos mountain range and Regional Park, about 150km west of Madrid, is a beautiful area of towering peaks, glacial lakes, oak woods and river valleys that we had explored once before- in the snow- and had always wanted to return to. So when Jill, Sally’s sister, asked for a suggestion for a walking holiday destination in the region of Madrid and Salamanca it was an obvious choice, especially as we were invited to join them.

Problem was an ever increasing series of tests, scans and consultations had resulted in an ever decreasing picture of good health and the closing of windows of opportunity. We managed to get there though, about a month ago, unsure of my hiking ability but sure of the restorative power of being out there in the wilds.

We stayed in an eco airbnb in the little hamlet of Navacepeda de Tormes on the northern side of the range where I thought the trails alongside the clear rushing waters of the Tormes river would make for leisurely strolling. The ancient buildings in the village of 160 inhabitants were sadly in decline as depopulation continued although the area is popular for summer holidays with Madrilenos seeking cool mountain air.

We discovered the bear paw nailed to the church door- carbon dated at 400 yr old, making it possibly the last bear in the Gredos. Hemingway, who came to the area, had written of it and a street in the village is named after him.

On our first evening we walked down to the river and up the Garganta del Barbellido to a lovely natural swimming pool overlooked by a picture perfect medieval bridge. Although the water looked and was very cold I couldn’t resist immersion into the picture myself

I knew from our last visit that there was a road that reached way up towards the peaks on this northern side – to a car park “La Plataforma” which saved 11 km and 500 m of ascent- to gain access to the high altitude trails. I was happy to hear that Jill and Ralph were keen to take the hire car up there in the morning from where we would attempt the well worn route up to the Laguna Grande.

So, starting out from 1750m in the crisp mountain air, still in the shadows of the surrounding ridges but under an immaculate blue sky, we joined the stone laid path and started our ascent into the sunshine – slowly but surely.

The autumnal browns and greys of the grasses and rocks were dotted with the shocking crimson pink and purple flowers of crocus which surprisingly seemed to fair best on the well trodden path.

We were on one of the traditional paths that cross the mountain range used for many centuries. There is a long history of transhumance here, the seasonal moving of cattle to and from the high pastures, and availing of the climatic differences of the north and south facing sides of the range. These old paths were also used to exchange goods, as the economies of the different sides were based on different products, and reached their peak in the 15th and 16 th century. I wonder how our current road systems will be used 600 years from now. We crossed paths with a man with pack horses coming back from supplying the Refuge high above us, continuing the centuries old ways.

We came upon a large group, herd, cluster,??, of male Ibex. A semi-protected species they seemed to be doing well, with an estimated 5000-8000 in these mountains. The Gredos are one of 4 species of Iberian Ibex , 2 of which, the Portuguese and Pyreanean are now extinct. Along with the other surviver, the Southeastern, their greatest threat now apart from loss of habitat and illegal hunting is sarcoptic mange, a deadly disease.

After an hour or so of gradual climbing we stopped at Los Cavadores spring for a drink and snack break before continuing a little further to the high point ridge at 2200m.

Crossing the broad flattish area of Los Barrerones we started to descend and the awesome views of the Circo de Gredos made the effort of the climb a very reasonable price to pay.

From here we could see the highest peaks of the range, La Galana and Almanzor, at nearly 2600m. We could also see, in the distance beneath the peaks, the Laguna and the refuge beside it, a truly spectacular setting in which to stay. Making our way down the rocky path others joined us- it was obviously a popular destination, with beds for 65 and meals and drinks available.

Hard though it was to tear ourselves away from the hospitality and the view of the cirque towering above we had to make the return trip, with a slower, more gentle, ascent this time. We passed a lot more hikers heading for the Elola refuge for the weekend and the pack horses returning again with more supplies for them. When we stopped at a fuente we were surrounded by ibex, this time females and juveniles, seemingly well used to people on their patch and unperturbed.

Back at La Plataforma, and pleased with our efforts, we decided to return the following day- Jill and Ralph to ascend to El Morezon and us to descend via the Garganta de las Pozas and Garganta de Gredos to the river Tormes.

It looked like it was going to be a busy weekend at the Refuge when we arrived at a nearly full car park in the morning and a stream of fit looking folk snaked their way up the rocky road before us. They included a team helping to transport a young fella in an off road wheelchair contraption – determined and vocally animated they left us in their wake as they forged ahead on route to some peak. Fair play.

At the top of the rise above the car park Jill and Ralph set off south on an old path that led to a pass at Puerto de Candeleda while we turned north across the grazing area of Prado de las Pozas to find the river we were to follow down stream for 15 km.

Another glorious day of sunshine and blue skies was now enhanced by the sounds of gurgling and gushing as the crystal waters gravitated down through the glacial moraine, accompanied by the occasional clank and clonk of cow bells.

When we stopped for a pool side break I couldn’t resist stripping off and becoming one with the mountain stream- but not for long. Bracing could describe it. We crossed over to the eastern bank and carried on down through concentrations of crocus, passed an old farmhouse turned refuge, to merge with the Garganta de Gredos and its rushing waters coming down from the Laguna Grande.

After a restful lunch on the Puente de Roncesvalles we rambled on, stopping for a peek into another farmhouse Refugio where a family had taken up residence for the weekend. We were now below the 1500m tree line and oak woodland lined the valley walls.

The well made stone path took us down into lush farmland of grazing cows and pine plantations before merging with another river and PR walking trail to the Cirque. Now back in ” civilisation”, a road of giant stones led us to the best of it – a friendly bar beside the river Tormes.

As a herd of free range horses joined us on the river bank we luxuriated in the lushness of it all, accompanied by flowing water all day, at the end of summer, so different to the parched south of Spain with its dry rivers and empty reservoirs.

It had been wonderful to be out in the wilds of Spain again. So many trails- so many beautiful spaces. It would certainly take more than a lifetime to know but a fraction. But I would urge anyone to e