SPAIN

Sierra de Aracena

The largest Natural Park in Andalucia, the Aracena y Los Picos de Aroche is 184,000 hectares of prime walking country.

100km northwest of Seville, in the province of Huelva, this is where the cross Spain ridges of the Sierra Morena finally run out and the Atlantic weather systems drop their water bombs after crossing Portugal unchecked. Lush, green and 90% forested, the softly rounded hills, covered in their blanket of oaks and pines and chestnut are less rugged and wild than many higher, steeper and rockier Sierras but the Aracena is a hikers paradise with long or short walks on moderate gradients winding along the wealth of old drovers that string the pueblos and villages together.

We did 5 long looped rambles over 5 days, and felt we could have lost ourselves in the shady valleys and over the high ridges for months tramping the cobbled mulo trails.

Our first couple of days were spent around Aracena town itself, a charming centre famous for its fantastic cave system right in the middle of town. Supposedly discovered by a shepherd and first opened to the public in 1914, the km or so of passageways and caverns visited on the tour feature a truly awesome ( not a word I use lightly) display of all forms of stalactite and stalagmite, the likes of which I have never seen before. Unfortunately no photography was allowed so I can only illustrate by showing a poster of just one interesting element.

We started early on our first 11km walk on a misty and then drizzly day, a loop to Corteconcepción. The moisture was a good illustration of how the region is seemingly so fertile and lush. Most of the fincas had fine huertas, or garden areas, which even out of season had a wide variety of fruit and veg, irrigated by various systems of water control, including one way stream gates.

A very catholic rural people, there was an abundance of roadside shrines and gatepost tiles depicting the Virgin Mary, and the entire landscape was dotted with chapels, churches, convents, monasteries and hermitages.

Passed the gardens of brassicas, root crops and the last remains of peppers, tomato etc and the orchards of orange, lemon, chestnut, pomegranate and persimmon was rich Dehesa country. Tracks lined with Arbutus, the strawberry tree, their fruit littering the ground, their flowers decorating the branches in a fitting Christmas style, were surrounded by oaks of every kind, under which the Iberian pigs snuffled and snorted, hovering up the plump and plentiful acorns.

Unlike a lot of our Spanish treks we were often accompanied by the gurgling and burbling of running water and had to ford streams on a variety of stepping stones and bridges.

We spent the drizzly afternoon in the caves and in museums of jamon (ham) and setas (mushrooms), both of which, along with chestnuts, the region is rightly famous for. Autumn is the time to be here with a rich harvest going on and the chestnuts turning golden brown. The huge variety of mushrooms is amazing with many kinds gathered for the kitchens and tables.

And as for the jamon, as much as we relished seeing the pigs enjoying their free ranging freedom, ( indeed we came upon many living feral in the open hills) the sad truth displayed in the museum of jamon was that it all ended in butchery.

But at least the end product was treated with a reverence rarely seen bestowed upon food unfortunately. There are many outlets in the area and indeed across Spain that are akin to cathedrals of pork, with the Iberian acorn fed pigs from Jabugo and the Aracena area on the high alter, and the jamon costing many hundreds of euro.

Next day was brighter and drier and we took off on another 16km circular route from Aracena west to the village of Linares de la Sierra.

Finding or way out of town past the sports arena , swimming pool and football pitch we soon found ourselves among the freshly peeled alcornoques or cork oaks on a path shared with walkers and riders.

The amount of material gathered sustainably from the cork oaks is very impressive and must involve some hard graft with ladders and mules needed to harvest the trees across the hard to reach sierra. Although the wine industries adoption of plastic corks created worries for the indigenous industry there seems to be a big revival of other cork products and an impressive selection of goods are on sale in the area.

The trail climbed a ridge and then descended towards Linares, tucked deep into the folds of the green hills. We walked on sandy tracks, rocky trails and cobbled paths accompanied by birdsong, cowbells and snorting pigs.

The village itself was an exhibition in the art of cobbling. The houses had individual designs in black and white marble cobbles at their front doors, the streets were intact and maintained and there was new and restored cobbling going on around the church.

On our return to Aracena we passed through some more open country with big fincas, the gate posts displaying the hieroglyphic initials or signs with which their stock was branded. There was also one signed with the distance to Santiago de Compostela, presumably a returned pilgrim. And then on the approach to town some tasteful and expensive looking holiday rentals.

Finishing our circle we drove to our next days starting place outside Alájar, another attractive town in a beautiful setting with towering peak of Pena de Arias Montano rising sheer above it. We drove to the chapel of Our Lady of the Angels half way up and hiked up to the mirador for mighty views across the Sierra.

A shortish 12km loop with plenty of ups and downs circled from Alájar back to Linares by way of the once abandoned but now being resettled hamlet of Los Madroneros.

A new concrete track covers most of the distance to the isolated hamlet where solar panels and mobile phones have made living or staying out here a more viable option. There has been a fair bit of reconstruction going on and there are places to rent for anybody looking to avoid the rat race for awhile.

Our route now lead us through an area with broken down walls where the resident pigs had access to miles upon miles of open territory and even abandoned houses. Remarkably tame they joined us for a picnic.

Our approach to Linares was marked by a lot of wilder, less managed Dehesa with horse and scrub replacing the grazing grasses.

After a couple of cafe con leches in the bullring bar we climbed back up towards the camper on a steep track past the poolside Riberas recreation area where a dammed stream has become a popular picnic spot.

Alájar was busy with visiting school kids and people preparing the village for Christmas so we headed for the hills to stay in Castano del Robledo, ready for an 18 km circle from there to La Pressa, Alájar and back.

From our fine (and quiet) park up next to the cemetery we descended in the morning through a misty mixture of chestnut and pines with views out across the forested slopes.

Coming to the valley floor we crossed various streams many times and on one I came a cropper and ended up on my back in the water.

The riverside walk was obviously visited by school kids who had left pictures and poems celebrating nature along the route and even had a little library in a grove of trees.

It was here we met a bunch of escapee piglets who showed no fear as they rootled past.

Past an enclave of holiday haciendas built by Dutch settlers, on a lovely track into Alájar and then up a cobbled way past the hippy hamlet of El Calabacino.

Abandoned and then squatted the community has now been regularized and some of the houses/ fincas look very settled and established.

Above the hamlet the cobbled gave way to a concrete track that turned into a rutted sandy one that climbed up through our first large scale chestnut groves. Brought to this part of Spain by settlers from the north and Galicia after the reconquest the ancient and venerable trunks, pollarded for hundreds of years, have born witness to many changes to an area which on first impressions seems timeless.

The final leg back to Robledo was down through deciduous oaks where the wildlife was dangerous, and into the town square woolbombed for Xmas.

More knitted decorations at the start of our last days loop, from Almonaster La Real, up the Cerro de San Cristobal mountain and around through Arroyo and Acebuche, a distance of around 14 km.

Looking back towards town on our steep onward bound trail the 10th century hilltop mosque was impressive with its adjoining bullring.

More glorious tracks, chestnut groves, clear streams, happy pigs, settlers idylls and forested slopes marked our last day in the Aracena.

Before setting off southwards to Seville at van speed we soaked up the view of the Sierra from its highest point on San Christobal. From a tad over 900m the whole landscape looked glorious.

We had discovered it looked just as appealing when deep down within it and vowed to return.

Parque Minero de Riotinto

A few days work done on the finca and time to head off in the camper on another hiking/ exploring trip. This time we were off Northwest, to Huelva province and only about 60 km from the Portuguese border.

The hiking around the Sierra de Aracena is renowned for its beauty so we were going there for a few days – but en route we wanted to stop at Riotinto the birthplace of the river and the global megacompany.

In a way the landscape was the exact opposite of Aracena’s carefully nurtured or natural and wild countryside. Riotinto’s has been torn asunder for millennia for quick material gain, literally clawing the earth apart to get to the wealth of minerals hidden in the Iberian Pyrite Belt.

A massive area of open cast mines both current and exploited and abandoned coupled with vast spoilheaps of vivid and florid colors make for a man made,surreal, and toxic, environment. A (un)healthy balance to all the gloriously bucolic green and pleasant lands we’ve been wandering through.

The largest open cast mine in Europe is here, recently flooded and left. But it’s been going on for 5000 years with the Iberian miners leaving many Neolithic reminders of their presence around the area. Then Phoenicians mined copper and mixed it with tin from Cornwall to make bronze. The Romans followed after but preferred the gold and silver in the rocks, as well as copper, lead, iron and sulfur.

After admiring (?) the view from the mirador on the edge of town we headed to the abandoned wastelands of Pena de Hierro.

The setting sunlight emphasized the already red hills and heaps but there was a host of other colour too.

It was soon dark so we postponed our exploration till the morning after checking out our route on a suitably bizarre map.

The rising sun made for an equally effective lighting of the land as we wound our way up the hill above the derelict buildings.

Within the hill lay the crater whose multicolored walls spoke of a riches of minerals.

The entire mountain side around had suffered a devastating fire fairly recently, increasing the apocalyptical look and feel to the place, although we were glad so see signs of recovery in the eucalyptus if not the pine.

The Brits had planted these sierras originally, to use in the mines. They had arrived in 1873 in the shape of the Riotinto Company, taking over the unproductive state owned mines and transforming ( and soon enveloping) a town of 4000 into a behemoth of industry with 200,000 workers.

All very weird, and it got weirder when we drove down to Riotinto town and stopped at the source of its namesake. The river waters are full of copper and iron oxide and sulfuric acid and other lovely things, something I didn’t know when I tasted it!

I suppose the danger/ stop shade of vivid red should have warned me. The strongest taste I’ve ever had the displeasure to rapidly spit from my mouth. I found out later the stuff can dissolve iron and has a ph of around 2.

In fact it’s so inhospitable to life that NASA have been studying it, and the surrounding toxic landscape as a Mars substitute. And actually, even though no plant, amphibian, fish, insect or mammal can survive in it, micro organisms that can have been discovered there. So Mars could be full of similar. Maybe.

We visited the museum in town for an exhaustive exhibition of the history of the mines and the exploitation of the earth and local people wasn’t something to celebrate but there were some pretty rocks.

The British Bosses had built themselves a little separate enclave modeled after an Edwardian village and named Bella Vista. There, at the English Club, they could enjoy the lifestyle of the Home Counties and play croquet, cricket, polo and tennis. And Riotinto was not only home to Spain’s first golf course but also it’s first football pitch and is where the game was first introduced to the Spanish.

So the legacy of the mining activities is not just a hugely polluted landscape and watercourse all the way the the coast and beyond but also the “beautiful game” of Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Anyone wanting to make an ” end of the earth” sci fi/ horror movie could do worse than come here and our next location was perfect. A few Km north of town on the way to Aracena lay the Embalse Gossan and here the out of this world cranked up a notch.

Water levels were low, revealing strange mineral encrusted life forms. Trunks and branches of long dead trees and stalks of amazingly surviving reeds were coated thickly in ? And the orange mud surrounding them was worryingly quicksand like. Not a way I’d wanna go.

And another strange thing was that footprints left in the muck we’re not indented – but raised!

One other disquieting thing before I finish this post. While looking at Google maps satellite view of the area I spotted a funny landscape/ crop formation next to Pena de Hierro, so I went for a look when we were camped there. It’s miles and miles of orange grove on terraces around the mines.

We’d heard trucks up and down to it half the night. I found a car park full of pickers cars. It’s harvest time and there’s a big area to pick. Huge operation.

Turns out it’s all RioTinto fruit. Europe’s largest citrus farm at 3000 hectares. They are big into the use of Boron in agriculture. Boron is one of the common minerals in the spoilheap landscape. There’s also lots of unpleasant ones.

A lot of RioTinto Fruit is classified as organic. Tesco buy their organic oranges from there. Just saying.

Sierra de Cardeña y Montoro, Andalucia

We’ve managed to get away to Spain for a few weeks avoidance of the inclement weather of an Irish winter and to explore some hiking areas in the south we haven’t been to before.

Driving hurriedly down through a rain lashed France through the Yellow Jacket’s blockades the sun emerged as we journeyed south of the border. Stopping for the night to visit Toledo we meandered around the narrow streets soaking up the ambience of this historic city.

Pushing on south the next morning we arrrived in Cardeña, the main town of the Parque Natural, early afternoon and headed off on an 18 km circular hike through the Dehesa ,open Holm , Cork and Portuguese Oak pastureland, famous for its free ranging Iberian pigs which fatten on the copious quantities of acorns and become the highly prized Bellota jamon.

The first leg took us down an old drovers road to Aldea del Cerezo, an ancient hamlet which had been more or less deserted until renovated and turned into a study Centre a few years back. Cattle and sheep are also important livestock here and the sustainability of this centuries old farming system is being intently studied at the moment in the light of climate change and other transformations.

The 41,000 hectare park is home to a rich variety of wildlife and a wide range of habitats. Forests, scrubs, pasture and crags provide homes and food for a wealth of birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles and fish. Perhaps the most exciting of animals to be found here,and in the neighbouring Sierra de Andújar, is the Lynx, a rare and solitary animal of which there are now reckoned to be only 250, most surviving in this area.

But pigs, there are plenty of. It was lovely to see them living a life of relative freedom, with vast areas to roam at will, or soak up the sun, or wallow in the mud. At first scattering on our approach, curiosity brought them back, snorting contentedly.

The walk was pleasantly easy going with gentle undulations and sweeping curves in the track and plenty of shade from the evergreen oaks.

Arriving at Aldea del Cerezo after 7 or so km we had a little refreshment break and watched dogs, farmer in Jeep and wife on foot struggle in control a flock of errant sheep.

We were glad to see them restoration of the little hamlet and hope it gets plenty of use. It seemed a lovely spot with the advantage of water running through it. There were even rushes to match any at home in the soggy boglands.

From here we headed up a smaller, rougher, no vehicles track towards Azuel for about 4 Km before turning west again to reach after Cardeña 6 km.

There was another steam to ford with more birds flitting about and we had seen rabbits but otherwise all the animals had been domesticated.

There had been plenty of raining over the last month or so and the landscape shone an iridescent green. There was another interesting landscape feature, huge granite boulders like Henry Moore’s or Barbara Hepworth’s artworks scattered around the green carpet of a gallery floor.

On our return to Cardeña we passed a few flocks of sheep with their dog minders. These remarkable canines not only spend all day guarding without human guidance but also escort them home at night and out again in the morning.

A little weary on arrival at the van, we drove to the Mirador above the village of Azuel a few km north where we slept soundly under a clear and star studded sky.

It’s slow to get light here around midwinter thanks to Franco setting his clock to Hitler time and we didn’t get going on the next days 11km loop around Azuel till after 8.30 but it was another glorious day and the temperature soon starting rising, especially as we spent the first hour rising up through the trees towards the southeast. A similar landscape but subtlety different, with sparser trees and more open views to the Sierra to the north.

The granite base to the landscape had provided walls to match the Aran Islands and hundreds of lovely slender fence posts.

There must be a fair bit of rain in these parts and the air must be clear and clean judging by the copious lichens hanging from the trees and adorning the walls.

We walked right through a remote and deserted farmstead where the steadfast dogs minded the sheep mums and their newborn lambs and then off down a series of autumnal trails.

Nearing the end of our walk we passed a load of pigs leading a lifestyle a lot more restricted. I’m not sure if these were those grain fed farm reared pigs that obtain “Cebo” status or what but “Bellota” is a happy pig.

Next stop -the neighbouring, but wilder Parque Natural Sierra de Andújar and another chance to find the elusive Lynx.

GRAN SENDA de MALAGA: 26/27th Feb. Benalmedena to Alhaurin de la Torre ( 16km) to Malaga ( 20.5km)

It was my birthday so I allowed myself the luxury of the buffet breakfast, putting down energy stores for the day. I had to retrace my steps for the first 4 km or so, something that had prompted me to stash all my camping gear at the beginning of the overlap on the way in.
My fingers were crossed that it was still there and hadn’t got wet.
I passed, again, what I thought was an ancient quarry and continued up the sandy trail above a deep and steep ravine.

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I was glad to find my stuff still there, disappointed to have to add all those kilos, but turning onto the new path it flattened out and led me through replanted pines above more quarries.

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I skirted around the peak that a cable car serves and carried on eastwards through low shrub across a limestone plateau. I was joined on the track by a group of kids and a few adults in camo gear that were obviously staying at the albuergue way up here. A little further there was a simpler refugio.

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All of this limestone had provided the materials for long thick walls running all over the place. This now abandoned land had been stock proofed at some stage.

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And then below me, over a cliff edge I could see Alhaurin and it was time to descend from the hills for the final time. I felt a little sad to be rejoining the urban environment but had a nice route down on a narrow trail between the cliffs and into pine woods thick with creepers.

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After being in the relative wilds for awhile I was sensitive to the sights of the border between natural and man made worlds.

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Setting off on the last leg of the Senda de Malaga in the morning I was still musing on our disassociation from the natural world and could see symbols everywhere for our hurried lives blinkered from the reality of our damaged connection to it.

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And all of this before I got to the start of the final stage. My last signboard left me struggling to find the right way, through the crop area that left me very grateful I’m able to consume mainly organically grown food. The toxic smell from the milky waters was intense.

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Leaving the men to harvest the artichokes I passed under the motorway and around the perimeter of the airport.

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I thought maybe I should leave this out but it’s all part of the GR249 and the strong contrast of surroundings shows the importance of keeping the good stuff good.

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The waters had changed from milky to green as it struggled to reach the sea.

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And finally back to the seafront I started at a year ago. I was received by the environment department of the council and awarded my diploma. They were very nice and are doing good and difficult work.

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That was it. Relief I’d managed to complete the route coupled with a slight sense of deflation that it was over. It’s a marvellous route around a truly beautiful province.
There is so much more to Malaga than the Costa.

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GRAN SENDA de MALAGA: GR249. 23/24th Feb. Beyond Entrerrios to Mijas (10km?) to Benalmadena (19km)

I must have come further than I thought before camping as it didn’t take me to long it the morning to climb up through a damp drizzle into Mijas. The batteries in my GPS had been exhausted and I cast around for markers.

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Approaching the village there was a mix of housing again, simple cabins and the enclaves of villas.

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I was surprised to see a troupe of wild boar descending to the road, and they were equally startled to see me and shot off into the scrub.

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I emerged into the town under a leaden sky which did not detract from the attractiveness of the place. After settling in to my room adjoining a beautiful floral patio I set off to explore this remarkably popular tourist honeypot.

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I discovered a quaint little ( fittingly) museum of miniatures and spent some time gazing in wonder at the exhibits, including a painting of a bull fight on a lentil, portrait of Abe Lincoln on the head of a pin and a genuine shrunken head. Bizarre.

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The town has marketed itself extremely well and even on this fairly bleak February day there were coach loads coming in to peruse the multitude of upmarket shops and maybe take a donkey or horse and carriage ride.

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The forecast rain again failed to appear overnight although there was plenty of low cloud about as I set off next morning on the path above Mijas.

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I passed the Ermita del Calvaro chapel and continued up into the mountains studded with Maritime, Aleppo and stone pines.

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I spotted a group of Ibex above me as I climbed the well made path up to a ridge at about 800 m and joined a broad and fairly level forest track.

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The light was soft, filtered through the cloud that swirled around me, making the colours of the vegetation muted and giving the sunnier Costa a shine.

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This Sierra is mostly made up of Dolomite, which breaks down very easily to sand and has been quarried on an epic scale to facilitate the building of the coastal resorts. They were remarkably sculptural. Land art on a monumental scale. Or looked at another way, hideous scars in the land that now have been thankfully replanted.

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It was a Sunday and there were groups of people out enjoying the mountains in spite of the cloud. Flocks of cyclists whipped past me on the tracks, runners moved remarkably fast over the rougher trails and groups of walkers crisscrossed on the variety of tracks.

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I was up to and over 900m a couple of times and hoping for some spectacular views over towards the north, to the Central Limestone Arch mountain range that had been such a feature of my first week or two on the Gran Senda. No luck however as the cloud enveloped the slopes. It made for atmospheric views of the sharp ridge as I made my way cautiously along.

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At home in Ireland we’d call it a “fine soft day”, which it was, but I was happy to come to the antennas which marked the beginning of my descent on the sandy paths.

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The dolomite allowed all water to pass through very rapidly so the almost soilless conditions made for hardy plants made to defend themselves.

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There were also junipers, Rosemary, brooms and more familiar blackthorn and bramble in the lusher areas.

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Then as the sun began to appear again the noise of the motorway grew louder until I was right above it, under it, and past it on the pretty street of my accommodation.

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GRAN SENDA de MALAGA: GR249.22/23nd Feb. Marbella to Ojen (and beyond) 28km to Entrerrios (and beyond) 25km

Huge contrasts in the last two days on the trail. Starting off in the swank environs of Marbella with ultra luxury all around I passed through scorched desolation which primitive off grid fincas scattered about to end in a mixed zone with a bit of both cheek by jowl.
Big contrasts in the ease of hike as well with the first day full of hard scrambling over an up and down narrow path through a jumble of rocks and the second entirely consisting of wide graded tracks and Tarmac road.
But first I had to escape the villas. Maybe the local council didn’t want to encourage walkers or found the route marking red and white stripes distasteful but I couldn’t find any and so got lost for awhile adding a couple of Kms. No matter, I thought, as my info gave a time of 4 hours to Ojen. It took me a lot more.
Starting up the road past villas grand and abandoned I pondered on the effect of the famous Marbella planning corruption.

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There were derelict sites and half finished builds and smashed up mansions beside the most desirable homes you could buy. If you had the necessary millions.

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The flags were no longer flying over this planned piece of heaven and the rust had already set in on another.

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But at last, having got back on track, I was off into the woods again and very pleasant they were.

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It soon became remarkably wild considering the proximity to the porche and range rover filled roads below. I came upon a large set of hives and getting a bit to close, was chased and stung. There was also a lot of boar rooted up ground and I wonder if they penetrated the villa security to dig up the lawns.

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This time last year I came across the prosessionary caterpillar and here they were again.

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It was lovely but the ups and downs were steep and uneven. Slow going, especially when you have to avail of ropes.

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At one stage I got a strong smell of what I thought was marijuana and when I reached a ruined chapel there was some graffiti that made me wonder.
The local walking association was very good at erecting signs for a lot of different routes into the hills but one sign disturbed me when I got down onto a lovely level tableland with deserted finca.

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The sea and associated costaization came into view but there were many beautiful flowers to admire.

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I had crested a range of hills and came down into an area with scattered new houses and a backdrop of the vast area burnt in 2012. 8000 hectares went up and denuded the landscape for miles.

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I was suddenly startled by a huge Alsatian. You never know. But he was friendly enough. More scrambling up and down and finally, as I reached the brow of yet another rise, I saw Ojen.

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Looking so near- but proving so far, as the trail made a huge loop around the rocky hills. A moment of relief at a fine drinking trough and then more clambering until finally…

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I stopped briefly at the road side caves and longer at a bar to eat before heading on to find somewhere to camp. I wasn’t too hopeful after the terrain I been through.

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I wanted to shorten the following days stage if I could so carried on up into the hills again with the light beginning to fade. The surroundings became more desolate from the fire damage and when a friendly old hippy stopped and offered a ride a couple of Km to a place I could camp I jumped right in.
A tiny bit of flat ground beside a river amongst an empty landscape.

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The eucalyptus trees, designed for fire, were the only trees to survive but people stayed, in the small groups of houses deep in the middle of it all.

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I was on fine wide tracks that had been made to service the mines that were digging for talc and mica I think. The tracks slowly gradually rose and fell and turned this way and that to allow for different views. At one point I spotted in the distance the white buildings of a drug rehabilitation centre. They had to evacuate during the fire.

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The first surviving pines were at the beginning of the Tarmac road I would follow down into the flat farm land around Entrerrios where young olives were protected from the cold and an odd mix of buildings appeared.

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<img src="https://stevebarhamramblingman.files.wordpress.com/2018/02/img_8264.jpg" alt="IMG_8264.JPG" class="alignnone size-full" /
The GR route has been altered recently but I was on the original or I was until getting lost again. I found some PR 170 signs which is supposed to follow the same route so off I went. Into another unfinished, or unstarted, industrial site.

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I was heading the right way- up!
And so up and up again until I found myself a little bit of grass for my tent.

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Which I must get into now- it’s could and dark and I have (another) hill to climb in the morning.

LA GRAN SENDA DE MALAGA: GR249. 21st Feb.Estepona to Marbella(27km)

After 3 days deep in the valleys and high on the mountains on a constant roller coaster of ascents and descents it was a great relief to have a day on the flat. The altitude profile map had a maximum altitude of 12m although bizarrely there were sections marked as 2 or 3m below sea level. They must have known the tide would be out!

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With the dawn promising a fine day I headed off down the prom, remembering it was a year ago I was doing a similar promenade walk out of Malaga at the first stage of this epic circumnavigation.

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I could see the Rock of Gibraltar rising from the placid waters and a line of jagged Atlas Mountains away in North Africa.

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Some of the old houses in the town came right down to the seafront and at high tide they could go swimming from the back doors.

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There was quite a bit of walking on sand and pebbles at the start of the stage which forced an effort I’d hoped to avoid.

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The big villas and exclusive enclaves started, with their high fences and security cameras. You could edit a strange film from the footage of an unlikely bearded man with rucksack hiking the Costa.

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But it wasn’t all premium properties. Tucked away here and there there were still little pockets of scrubland, simple houses and fincas, camper vans and caravans.

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Some stretches were very quiet. I know it’s not the summer season but many resorts and condominiums seemed deserted. Some were rusting and crumbling away with empty or green pools and broken windows. But eerily a couple of apartments were lived in in the midst of once upmarket desolation. It was like something out of a J G Ballard story.

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But most stretches were pleasant enough with nice plantings and paving.

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Every so often id pass an ancient watchtower or medieval beacon in a range of different settings.

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Of course Puerto Banus’s had to be the most premium exclusive property.

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What an astonishing ostentatious display of wealth and desire is open to the rubberneckers in a couple of Kms.

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Ironically the whole place was having its streets dug up and replaced so it was chaos with a lot of unwanted dust landing on cars,boats,restaurant tables, clothes and hairdos.

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But the Puerto is a small world apart and soon I was back to the beaches on the way to Marbella.

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There are a lot of rivers and streams that make their way from the huge wall of mountain inland trying to get to the sea. Most form kind of lagoons on hitting the beaches and slowly filter through but others contain enough flow to make it and these are bridged by the extensive boardwalks.

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On the outskirts of Marbella more mansions appeared, or rather the walls and gardens surrounding them did.

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And suddenly a signboard for the next stage which led me up a landscaped path beside a stream with a deep bank displaying the trees roots.
It had been a big change from the last few days but variety is the spice of life they say. I can’t say I won’t be glad to head for the hills again tomorrow though.
The grass is greener up there.

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