Camino Mozarabe

CAMINO MOZARABE: Almeria to Granada 5

Tocon to Granada.

Both of the last two stages of our journey on the Mozarabe from Almeria were spectacular and we were glad we had given ourselves the extra time that the stop in Tocon had allowed. It would have been a long haul from Peza to Quentar in one go, as it was we only had 16 km from one albergue to the next. As we walked past the big walnut trees below the bar, whose nuts the family had been cracking as we’d had dinner the night before, a woodpecker was hammering away in the branches above us.

We walked out of the village on the road for a km or so then turned up through boar churned woodland to a sparsely vegetated hillside and rejoined the original Quéntar route along a gravel track that climbed higher and higher.

Juniper appeared amid the white crazed rock that covered the landscape and we followed the track in a massive zig zag down to an area recreativa among riverside poplar trees.

Climbing again we passed through a pine wood that had been tapped for its resin. This thick sap like substance produces both rosin and turpentine. Apparently demand is on the increase because the natural material substitutes pollutant petroleum derivatives.

Higher and higher the track led us to more and more spectacular views of the Sierra Nevada’s and the hills that enveloped us. New benches,map boards and post and rail fencing were signs that there was a fair investment in encouraging this Camino route or hiking the area in general.

And then we finally reached the highest point of the entire route at the bizarre surroundings of an old talc mine. 1418m high with views across to the highest peaks in mainland Spain, covered in a smooth shiny white blanket.

What goes up must come down, and so we started our descent towards Quentar, passed some lovely fincas set among a sea of olives.

The almonds were flowering nicely as we approached the village, busy with bees from the hives we’d seen higher up the trail. Soon enough we were in the town and installed in our little hut complete with a tiny terrace in the sun.

Our last day. Quentar to Granada 20km.

Following the yellow arrows down through the town in the morning we reached the river and turned along it, watching the ducks ride the mini rapids beside us. Turning up a narrow verdant path that led to a series of well watered gardens and orchards we soon reached Dudar, a village celebrating its saints day and the origin of all the fireworks that we’d heard in our cabin the night before.

Up again out of the village steeply for 200m altitude gain, to arrive at the remains of impressive French engineering works from the 19th century. A major water syphoning system to bring irrigation from one hilltop to another.

We reached the ridge and enjoyed a long hike along the easy track soaking up the distant vistas as explosions from Dudars celebrations echoed around the mountains. For once we were sharing the Way, with weekend runners, cyclists, walkers and motor-bikers.

It was getting busy. And getting cloudy/ smoggy- we weren’t sure. But we were above the thick blanket that covered Granada. Our route turned down off the ridge, towards the ruins of a massive Jesuit monastery surrounded by olive groves that were being harvested by a gang of men and a lot of machinery, including the tree shaking tractors with the encircling funnel screens (you’d have to see them).

We nearly lost our way crossing the olive grove-( grove seems to imply somewhere small and intimate and not the immense and poisoned industrial scale monoculture they so often are) but followed the incline down to the rushing waters of the Darro river and a lush path to the gardens of the Sacromonte abbey.

Suddenly we reentered a world of people after 10 days of near solitude. Saturday in Granada is busy of course and we had to adjust quickly as we moved through the throngs in the old city beneath the Alhambra and played spot the Camino sign in the centre.

The various arrows and apps deposited us outside the doors to a church in the corner of the huge monastery of Santiago. We were in the wrong part of the convent but saw all the St James symbols and headed in to get our credentials stamped for the final time.

The place was full of a wedding party- whoops- so Sally waited with the packs outside and, assured by someone who seemed to know that yes , this was the place, I ventured in. I was confronted by all the wedding guests posing in front of the ornate gold leaf alterpiece and was pressed upon to become the wedding photographer on their cameras. After performing my duties to their satisfaction I squeezed through the crowds and managed to get a nun to get our credentials stamped and returned to me in the crush of celebrants. Job done. Time for a selfie.

A slightly surreal ending to a great weeks hiking on what is now my favorite Camino route.

CAMINO MOZARABE : Almeria to Granada 4

Guadix to Tocon

Our first section of the two to Tocon was one of the most surprising to us, with great contrasts in scenery when we had been expecting a long slog across the plain. I guess the profile should have told us.

Of course it worked out a little further according to the GPS by which time Sally’s foot was giving her some pain which took the edge off some the pleasure of walking through such natural splendors.

After a nice night at the man made splendors of the Guadix albergue and admiring the grand edifices of its glory days we followed the signage out of town.

A last minute stop off in a cafe for a peregrine breakfast, we were pleasantly surprised that it seemed to be run by social services and our two big tostadas with tomato and olive oil, two cafe con leches and two fruit salads cost us €3.80. The Camino provides! Suddenly we were away from the buildings on a dirt track that led up into eroded hills surrounding good flat farmland- with tractors and even a combine harvester hold up in holes ( in the rock- alongside old abandoned cave houses).

A beautiful stretch followed all the way to Purullena, about 7 km, of an up and down sandy track through pine trees with the “badlands” on either side. The erosion had created gorges that got narrower around us and we found ourselves in a winding tunnel of towering sandstone with openings many meters high.

The old abandoned holes became transformed into a thriving housing sector very shortly when we arrived into town. We had wanted to see the inside of a contemporary cave and the opportunity arose almost strait away with a three story museum right on our path.

The owner explained that the cave houses, with doors and windows shut were pretty constant about 16 or 17 degrees maybe 18-19 in summer. And even in the terrible rain and floods of the recent Storm Gloria the houses stayed perfectly dry owing to the iron content in the fine clay. The structure of the material is such that the ceilings ,and all inside spaces, will hold up as long as the rules governing proportions are adhered to. 40% of the people in his town live in caves and most of the good clay hills have been used. But there is a lot of renovation going on- and some expansion. Must be tricky when your extension is over someone’s bedroom. It would seem a logistical and legal quagmire but he seemed to see no problems and thought it an ideal building method. Another bedroom? Dig away! Another story? A little trickier but no material costs!

The middle floor was laid out as a home of maybe 50 years ago and the final, upper floor was stuffed full of ethnological artifacts.

We’d spent too long there and hurried on, on paths and tracks between small fields of fruit veg grapes and grain to Marchal, another troglodyte town that was making great efforts to be attractive to visitors and especially, pilgrims.

A high road past amazing rock formations and lovely wood and farmland with bueno vistas took us up in quick succession to Los Banos, with a wealth of hotels and hostals servicing people who come to “take the baths, (there are hot springs here but not accessible to us unfortunately), and Graena where we had a look at the 15th century church and shopped in our first cave supermarket.

A long riverbed track past mostly grapes and cave bodegas and then too much hard surface tarmac road- although the dramatic views made up for it- and we had made it to the 150km marker.

Finally La Peza came into view- and we left the tarmac to switchback down a steep mud track into the village where the albergue in a municipal building was cold but the local bar served a hot lentil stew.

La Peza to Tocon. 15km

We had decided to take two shortish days rather than one really long one to Quentar. This meant climbing up to 1200m again, splitting off from the usual route to Quentar to go to Tocon where the Camino Association in Almeria have procured and done a lot of work to a house and made an albergue. Then after another few Kms the original route is regained the following day. Nice and easy.

So it started with a long climb, but yet again the weather, the views and the interesting country made it a joy. So much so that I sloppily played Louis’s “Its a wonderful world” as we went.

The route was also shared for quite a way with horses, as this was the first designated riding route in Granada province, and we past one of the resting places with a newly made drinking trough.

Descending again for awhile we joined a stream bed beside a road that wound its way up through rocky woodland and jutting monoliths of talc(?) to an altitude where the snow still held on.

At the pass of Blancares the routes split and we made our way the couple of km to Tocon down a charming path with newly made wooden post and rail fencing. The tiny village is in an idyllic setting, with clear mountain water running through- supplying plenty of fuentes. The steep concrete road led us to the albergue on a sunny terrace with views to the mountains and the local bar, the only source of sustenance available, a few yards away. A great place to rest up awhile.

CAMINO MOZARABE: Almeria to Granada 3

So we did this:

from Alba steadily rising to Hueneja at 1200m. Then on the next stage we did this:

Hueneja to Alquife.

Which looks dramatic but was all between 1150m and 1275m so pretty easy going. And GPS reckoned it was 21.5km to Lacho Albergue at the top of town. They are always at the top of town! It was a -2 degree start so the steep initial climb was handy for warming us up as we left the town through acres of almonds and cherries, looking back down onto the Marquesado plain with its dozens of wind turbines. Spain’s second largest, it puts out 200 megawatt.

The iPhone camera is hopeless for capturing the wonderful vista of the snowy mountains of the Sierra Nevada to our south and the Sierra de Baza to our north. The smooth soft blanket looked deep and powdery and we guessed the skiers and snowboarders were having fun.

The pretty village of Dolar after 5kms was having market day so we bought some nuts and fruit and hung out in a plaza bar for a breakfast of tostada and cafe con leche.

We climbed again up and along a beautiful old track with far ranging views over a sea of mostly almonds. Good to see so many healthy trees and so many young ones being planted. Hopefully these can replaced some of the Californian ones that are consuming so much water and are killing so many bees with pesticide usage. Seems like with the rise in vegetarian and veganism the demands for almond milk will grow hugely and here in Spain there was plenty.

The campo was mostly empty of dwellings but we did pass one that will go in my imaginary portfolio of deeply rural, off grid retreats that I’ve been adding to on my rambles over the years. It had a fine old chestnut tree and terraces fed by a complex system of acequia or little irrigation canals. And a view to die for as the agents might say.

We reached the highest point of the day at nearly 1300m and there were still patches of snow on the track. Sally was delighted to find a boar skull from which she extracted the tusks ( a longtime hobby/ interest/peculiarity). From this height we could see the whole 1500 acre site of the massive Andasol solar power station twinkling on the plain below. Using parabolic troughs to gather the suns rays they use tanks of molten salt as a thermal energy store and so can produce power for 200,000 people day and night. Costing €900 million it was money well spent.

Then down to our next stop, in the main plaza of Ferreira where we had our sarnies and I had a non conversation with a lovely old fella I couldn’t understand a word of.

We walked on the edge of the pine forest and natural park with our eye on the imposing castle atop the hill above La Calahora, another charming ancient/ modern mix town. On our way out we passed the casa of an artist in steel whose gates were also imposing.

From La Calahorra we took a bit of a dog leg route to Alquife passing along farm tracks some of which seemed to have been cobbled at one time. We slowly approached the giant mounds of earth and rock that had been extracted by the workers at what had been Europe’s largest open cast iron ore mine. Started by the Romans it had been operational till 1996 but now lay abandoned and in ruins, although there were still some staff and security around. 40% of the iron extracted in Spain had come from this place, leaving a very large hole in the ground which, frustratingly, was out of site.

A few of the almonds had come into flower and where covered by eager bees, although their appetite must be well sated when the other countless thousands are also covered in nectar rich blossom.

We also spotted, on the slag heap behind the mine fence, a big mountain goat puck who watched us curiously but seemingly unperturbed, perhaps knowing he was unreachable.

It was a relief to finally arrive at Lacho, greeted by Manuel and shown around his growing empire. After a shower and rest we returned to the shop for supplies and returned to find a big fire set in the kitchen/ living room which we enjoyed as the sun set behind the snowy mountains and the temperature plummeted.

Alquife to Guadix 25km

After a little climb to start it was downhill all the way the following day.

Leaving Alquife by a track alongside the slagheap wall of earth it took some time to be clear of it and out onto the plain, and some time for the sun to warm the frosted landscape.

But by 10 we climbed into the village of Jerez del Marquesado where it was their turn for the market. Too early to stop, we carried on another 7 km, past some mysterious chimneys that nearly escaped my camera, and up into some pine woodland, adorned with bizarre wooden sculptures of Christian symbolism.

Finally the down hill straight began with a run down through the woods to a big reservoir in a lovely setting.

Cafe com leche and tomate tostada and a stamp in our pilgrim passports were supplied by a surprisingly modern and stylish cafe bar in Cogollos de Guadix where there was also a fine example of the old water cisterns and acequias ( and related graffiti ).

And then we walked out onto the wide, very wide, open spaces of the plain. With huge skies overhead and 360′ views of a ring of distant Sierra it must have been a lonely place to live and a hard place to work. Eventually we came upon a great gorge, and climbing down into it we followed what must be a dry river bed towards Guadix.

A couple of hours later we arrived at the outskirts of the town, with cliffs of sandstone(?) burrowed out into a warren of homes, chimneys sticking up out of the ground like mushrooms. The cuevas barrios are a sight to behold and the houses seem to encompass a range of styles and social classes.

Deeper into the centre of town, around the cathedral, were fine but frequently faded grand old buildings, including our albergue, lovingly restored over the last 35 years and full of fine art and antiques. A treat after a long days hiking.

CAMINO MOZARABE: Almeria to Granada 2.

Alboloduy to Abla- 30km

Stepping out of the albergue in Alboloduy in the morning it was obvious it had been raining during the night from the wet and puddles about but thankfully the skies showed no immediate threat as we left the town to rejoin the riverbed as directed by the markers.

We had left the river Andarax at Alhabia the day before to join the river Nacimiento which would take us all the way to Abla and beyond. The deep rich layers of sediment washed down over millennia had created fertile ground alongside the riverbed that nourished a wide variety of crops but as we delved deeper upstream and away from the town the sides of the valley closed in and we were forced up on an old mule track with views down to the abandoned fincas and their hard won terraces.

The tamarisk and cane wound through the steep sided valley bottom like a golden thread. The trail was littered with the droppings of an animal we guessed to be mountain goats, and sure enough as we reached the tarmac road at the top of the mule track we saw a herd of them bolting away across the mountainside. Turning off the road again we passed an old water cistern built 100 years ago before descending on a zigzag track back to the riverside and another series of mostly abandoned fincas.

From here to the town of Nacimiento, where we stopped for coffee, was a beautiful stretch through cane forests and along a forgotten valley of old abandoned farmsteads, once upon a time busy with working people.

The sky had been darkening and looking more threatening for awhile and we had hoping the weather would hold but soon after leaving Nacimiento, about halfway to Abla, it began to spit, then drizzle, then rain, then lash it down with a strong wind driving it mercilessly straight at us. Heads down we hurried on hoping for shelter. Eventually coming towards the little settlement on the outskirts of Dona Maria I spied a large covered patio opposite some houses. Split into three, each with a door, first two locked, the third open. We hurtled in, throwing off our packs and sopping jackets. The owners were calling from the house opposite, “yes it ok- go in.” Before long ,as we tried to dry things out on the handy washing line and watched the downpour outside, the mother and son(?) arrived with plates of bread and cheese and jamon and a bottle of wine and much kindness and chat. A hard time turned to a good time as the daughter(?) and father all came over with hot homemade cake and hearty handshakes.

Our new best friends. They insisted on sending us on our way with an umbrella each which might not have looked like hightec hiking gear but were given and received with love and joy. And they continued to keep us dry until the next joyful event a few km later.

We had reached Ocana and messaged Nely for the door code of the Association albergue when miraculously she appeared in her carshe had spotted us on her way to check the Ocana albergue. More hugs and directions and off we went again into the riverbed and rain.

Then, bizarrely, a couple of men in a car started warning us about the dangerous waters in the river and said we should not walk there. So they drove us the 5 km to Abla saving us over an hour of sodden hiking. We soon had a couple of electric heaters in the albergue bedroom drying everything and marveling at how the “Camino Provides”!

Abla to Hueneja 22km.

The snow capped peaks around us looked more inviting than threatening the next morning as we set off from the luxury of the well appointed Association albergue, all of which are run on donations and the hard work of a band of dedicated volunteers.

We were now crossing the vast high plain of the Marquesado del Zenitel, a pretty flat and fertile area of fruit and wind farming. We went on the old main Almeria- Guadix-Granada road, the ancient Camino Real, that still has a wealth of different foods and fruits growing in the well tended gardens.

The old highway used to be busy with travelers needing food and lodging, supplied by ventas now in ruins amongst the windmills.

On cue, at coffee time, we were led up into the village of Finana and a welcoming bar before carrying on across the wide plain littered with the remnants of past lives.

Past another imposing but redundant travelers hostelry at Venta Ratonera we reached the outskirts of La Huertezuela where the surreal sight of another Spanish urbanization that never happened greeted us. Abandonment through the ages.

From there it was another 6 km or so along an increasingly narrow and rocky riverbed and heathy and prosperous looking olive farms, over the motorway, and into the town of Hueneja- with its graffiti croc, nice doors and well trained vine.

Housed in a slightly bizarre 3rd floor flat next to a school our home for the night featured murals, fantastic views of the snowy mountains and some beers and wine left in the fridge by previous pelegringos.

Buen Camino.

CAMINO MOZARABE : Almeria to Granada 1.

It’s been 5 years since I was on a Camino to Santiago- 5 years since I walked the Camino Mozarabe from Malaga to Mérida. Myself and Sally clocked up the pilgrim credits on the Kumano Kodo in Japan in November and gained dual pilgrim status for our efforts but being back in Southern Spain we couldn’t resist another ramble on the Mozarabe. This time starting in Almeria, the dry warm southeastern corner of Andalucia.

The route would take us, in 9 or 10 stages, 200 km northwest around the back of the Sierra Nevada to Guadix and Southwest from there to Granada. We would go from sea level up to between 1000 and 1400 m for 100 km.

And we chose the freak weather event of Storm Gloria to start in. There was death and destruction across a great swathe of eastern and southern Spain as we drove through the rain from Malaga. By Motril, 100km east, we were under blue skies. Arriving in Almeria we met up with the wonderful Nely, one of the Camino Angels and member of the Association that looks after the signage, albergues and everything else connected to the promotion of this Mozarabe route.

She showed us where we could safely leave the camper for 10 days then gave us our pilgrim passports for the route stamps and insisted on driving us to the cathedral and the Alcazaba the imposing fortress built by the moors over 1000 years ago.

Next morning we set off down the sea front past the Eiffel designed rail bridge for the couple of km to the cathedral where we got our credentials first stamp of the Camino as mass was given under the fine ornate construction.

And so the long trek out of the city began. The Association had done great work marking the route and we were never left wondering which way to go as we followed a variety of symbols.

We stopped for coffee after about 8km in Huercal and soon after ,with the temperature rising under the blue skies, we passed under the AP7 coastal motorway and headed off on a more rough and ready route- the dry riverbed.

Leaving it only briefly at the old Arab capital of Pechina the riverbed took us all the way to our bed for the night after 21 km, at Rioja, in a wonderful little Association albergue ,decorated with pilgrim floor mosaics, adjoining the municipal swimming pool.

A leaflet there talked about a geological walk from there so we had a look, hiking under the motorway again to a forgotten and sad little picnic park set among some eroding sandstone cliffs.

Day 2 – Rioja to Albodoluy 25.5 km

We were blessed again with dry weather overnight and as we set off under a mixed sky of pale predawn milky blue and darker clouds over the mountains to the east, we had our fingers crossed that the awful weather suffered elsewhere would not come this way. A small road beside and above the river led us to Santa Fe de Mondújar passed some old cortijos that had seen better times.

Things improved in Santa Fe where we stopped for coffee and tostada in the charming square before heading off, finally, into wild country, with wide open vistas, rough paths, riverbeds and the desert like Badlands around Alhabia where we stopped for a tapas lunch after 16 km.

Another 8 km ( according to my Garmin GPS which seems to disagree with other sources of information) of track beside and on riverbed passing a wealth of rich fertile lushly irrigated gardens and orchards and we turned into a huge cleft in the hills to encounter Albodoluy, our destination for the night.

Another lovely Association albergue awaited us, with seriously hot water in the shower(s!) and a fine kitchen. Again, we had the place to ourselves. The last folk went through a few days ago and it’s pretty quiet at this time of year.

Tomorrow is a big one. At least 29 km but I’d say my GPS will say 33 km. And it’s uphill all the way.

With a big lump near the start. And rain forecast. And snow at the top.

CAMINO MOZARABE: Merida to Merida 20th March

14km (without getting anywhere)

It’s just as well I’m heading home. My boots are finished. The soles are so worn that there are loads of holes that little stones keep getting in. More strap fixings on my rucksack have given up and it’s held together with baler twine. On the techie side of things my data allowance is running out and my charging lead has got very iffy. 

I’ve been exploring the ancient Roman city of Emerita Augusta, capital of Lusitania, one of the three provinces of Hispania and now, as Merida, the capital city of Extremadura. Big areas are fenced off and semi excavated- other architectural remains have had office blocks built on pillars above them. It’s a bit of a culture/ history clash at times but the modern city does its thing while accommodating layers of the past. 

It’s not just a Roman past on show either. Visigoths, Moors and then Catholic Spanish have all left their mark here and you buy replicas of all of it. 

There’s so much stuff here it’s left lying around on roundabouts. 

I started my sightseeing with the Acueducto de Los Milagros

before moving on to the Museo de arts Romano, a building that incorporates a 2000 year old housing estate in its basement. 

Just around the corner was the Ampiteatro with ahead of its time street lighting

past some baths

and the Portico del Foro

to the temple of Diana

The Puente Romano, spanning the Rio Guadiana,

is pretty impressive

The entrance to the Moorish citadel Alcazabe not quite so

Next door government offices are built over Edificio Multiple

So that has saved you the bother of visiting Merida. 

It felt strange to be walking about without a rucksack and I can hardly manage without my poles now. It felt very wrong to be going on the opposite direction to the yellow arrows- but I’m still watching out for them. 

CAMINO MOZARABE: Torrefresneda to Merida 19th March


There was a miscalculation in the remaining kms so it took a bit longer than expected today. I crawled out of my bunker to a clear sky and I could see my breath on the air. My new sleeping bag ( not a Lidle product) had done well to keep me cosy. It was a few km to Torrefresneda and a cafe con leche in the bar with the boyos. It’s such an early morning hang out in every city, town and village for the lads. Nowhere like it in Ireland. This was a real one mulo place. Basically one road through a new village to accommodate agricultural workers. But they still had the civic pride to design and build an  amenity that no one will ever use.

The buildings were all low rise and the same.

Slap bag In the middle of miles of intensively productive farmland with a motorway running alongside I wasn’t tempted by the for sale signs. Of which there were many.

The landscape might have been a bit grim but the walking felt good and I flew along listening to my favorite tunes of the last 2 1/2 months.

With the motorway one one side and a natural park on the other

and the storks nesting on the pylons between the fruit trees

I carried on to San Pedro de Merida where more civic plans had gone belly up.

and on through more “countryside”

Until I came to the outskirts of Merida

A big city that luckily was well signed for the peregrino.

Past many Roman bits and pieces to the river and a old mill ow serving as an albergue and my home for the next two nights.

After weeks on the Camino Mozarabe with no one about this place is alive with pilgrims on the way to Santiago from Seville. I say alive, of course they’re all in bed by 9.

Bloody pilgrims!

CAMINO MOZARABE:Don Benito to Torrefresneda 18th March


The Camino Mozarabe finishes at Merida, another 26km away and I have decided, after much soul searching, that my Camino will also finish there. 

A feeling has been growing recently that this journey is nearing completion and I have tried to know if it’s real. My head has been telling me otherwise- that I’m only half way there- that I’ve only been on the road 3 weeks- that I can’t stop now. 

My destination was always unsure. Having finished two Caminos in Santiago already I knew I wasn’t fixed on going all the way there. I didn’t want to walk again the 250km Sally and I did last year on the Camino Sanabria, the end of the Via de la Plata. And my schedule meant I’d be doing the last 100km during Semanta Santa when it would be crazy busy. 

I had thought about maybe going due north, backwards up a Camino route from Leon to the north coast, but it seemed a bit artificial, and a long way. So my soul searching told me that I was ready to go home. That the Via de la Plata can wait and should be started in Seville. 

It told me mainly that I would rather be with my loved one than walking on my own. 

To complete the Mozarabe from Malaga to Merida is to start at the beginning and finish at the end and I like neat endings. 

It’s pretty spacey being out there in the empty vastness on your own day after day and I’m looking forward to some grounding work in the garden and woods. 

And I’ll have to walk the dogs!

In the meantime I have another 25km to go and I’ll spend a day or two in Merida before getting a train to Madrid where I will soak up art and culture for two days before my flight home. The rambling and blogging will continue. 

Today the way was through flat industrial farmland, alongside busy roads and amongst a lot of strung out housing- not the prettiest of penultimate days. 

I started being a sightseer as well today in the churches and fortress and Roman theatre of Medellin. 

Here’s the video

and here’s the reality 

and the hilltop fortress from the river

then it was back to intensive farming around Santa Amalia

Here’s where your tomato purée comes from

One good thing about the productive land is that it meant that the poor folk in their tiny simple houses can grow a lot of veg on their tiny plots. 

And the weather picked up in the afternoon and I carried on past the town to bivvy out for the last time in the sunshine. I might be in a kind of underground bunker near a noisy road but it’s by the river, the birds are singing and the sky is blue. 

CAMINO MOZARABE: Monterrubio to Don Benito 16th/17th March 

42km/ 26km

What a difference a day makes.

Yesterday as I walked in the baking heat under a deep blue sky I contemplated how lucky I had been with the weather. More or less cloudless skies the whole trip. I had read reports in the albergue logs from pilgrims who had suffered struggling through muddy tracks and I had wondered when fording the rivers how it would be in the rain. I may find out tomorrow.

The day was grey when I awoke this morning and it got darker and darker. Spots of rain at lunchtime turned into a full on downpour just as I came into Don Benito so I found myself a bed and have been watching it come down all afternoon. There seems to be more forecast for tomorrow so the going could get muddy.

But it was different yesterday as I left Monterrubio.

The olives had returned and been painted white.

But mostly it continued to be a mix of holm oak and granite

before climbing up to a high plain of grain fields dotted with round stone wells.

I stopped at Castuera to have a look in the centre for information on the area of special protection of birds, a huge area of the countryside around here that contains loads of different valuable habitats and is rich in bird life. I know nothing of birds but had noticed lots of different types and heard some lovely song. There is a big drive on to increase tourism in the area and bird watching is one of the ways they are trying to do it by setting up hides and observation platforms and encouraging Casa rurals and places to stay out in the campo.

Unfortunately the museum of nougat was closed ! Apparently the town is famous for it and the building looked unusual.

Some of the paving on the outskirts of town looked a bit nougat ish.

Then it was onwards down the long trail again

Passed another granite quarry

until finally after 40km I walked through Campanario only to discover that the Albergue was another couple of km out of town on the converted railway station.

It was worth it though. Lovely building, two bed rooms, loads of sofas, dining room, washing machine etc with a bar next door!

Today the countryside was more open and treeless. More grain fields and fallow land, and wetland for the birds.

And some fields that would keep the stone pockets busy.

At the hilltop village of Magacela, surrounded by granite, there were remains of Neolithic, Roman, moorish pasts.

An unpromising entrance to La Haba a small place out in the plains led to an old town centre with venerable buildings.

And finally, as the rain came down, I was presented with this dilemma on my way into Don Benito.

Happy Paddys Day.

CAMINO MOZARABE : Alcaracejos to Hinojosa del Duque. 14th March


It was a bit cloudy for the first time as I set off down the farm track out of town. 

Lots of storks nesting in the church bell towers

Past crosses new and old

arrows leading me to Villanueva Del Duque

where 19th century mining had left it’s mark ( and a white rabbit) 

Lots of granite was also quarried in the area 

and used in door surrounds and lintels

and fencing

and the landscape was dotted with rounded boulders

The open landscape was again given shade and shelter by the holm oaks many of which were obviously centuries old

The sandy track led me through farmland

and I followed the arrows past a stinking goat farm

It’s so dry nothing really rots just dehydrates

A big thing in the area is the devotion to the Virgin de la Guia (?) who has a pilgrimage in her honour and a shrine on the outskirts of Hinojosa 

My last town in Andalusia, tomorrow I’ll be in Extremadura. 

In the Plaza de la Cathedral 

I rang the local police who kindly came and gave me the key to the adjoining albergue which I’m sharing with a policeman stationed here who lives in Córdoba. Well he’s on the night shift so I won’t see much of him. It’s a newly renovated building with all a pilgrim could ask for 

and after showering and doing my washing I studied the poster of all the Caminos still to do 

before retiring to the plaza for lunch. I was here by 1,30 and would have carried on but the next town is 32km away and the bed here is very comfy. I’ve been put off camping by the frosts that greet me every morning and so, with an Albergue to myself for a fiver, why suffer more than need be?