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.