hiking the Gr 249

LA GRAN SENDA DE MALAGA: GR249. 17/18th October :El Chorro to Ardales (16.7km) to El Burgo (25km)

We thought we might not make it.
Booked to fly from Shannon to Malaga the day that Hurricane Ophelia swept across Ireland and all media were constantly telling everyone to stay at home, we didn’t think we’d be taking off at all.
Miraculously though,our plane was still not cancelled as we chain sawed our way through fallen trees on route to the airport through the maelstrom.
As we approached we saw the first post cancellations jet wobble its way down onto safe ground, and we knew we’d be off soon.
And so it was. After a remarkably smooth flight we landed into a barmy still night on the Costa del Sol, seemingly on a different planet to the storm tossed coast we had escaped.
Here for another week on the GR 249 trail, continuing the circumnavigation of Malaga Province for just over 100km over 5 days hiking and finishing with a bit of R+R.

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Studying the map board at El Chorro station, where I’d finished up last time, we were disturbed to see the route had been changed from all the info we had and now went 6 km longer past Carratraca before turning towards our objective, Ardales. However the GR7 still went along the original route so as it was already nearly midday we decided to stick to that.
It was a bit daunting to look up at the tower atop the hill we had to climb.

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The tower was connected to a reservoir 350m higher than those below, and water is pumped up at times of surplus energy and allowed to run back down, through turbines, at times of need.
We climbed relentlessly for over 4 km, passed some interesting looking rock formations with life clinging to it precariously.

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The higher we climbed the better the view, and after an hour or so we arrived at the wall of the reservoir and the tower with it’s resident vultures/ eagles and many more riding the updrafts around and above.

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From this vantage point we could look down on a line of people crossing the new bridge at the end of the Caminito del Rey gorge, and continuing along the cliff side walkway.

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We were now on a high plateau with extensive views over the surrounding Sierra , a landscape of pine trees and herbs which supplied a glorious scented background to our walk.

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After a couple of km along a forest track along the ridge we joined the Tarmac road that serviced the high reservoir briefly and passed by the entrance steps up to the 9 / 10th century fort of Bobastro.

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This was where the Mozarab rebels led by Omar Ibn Hafsun hung out and built an impressive citadel complete with this church and subterranean cemetery.

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Off on tracks again the next couple of hours took us across an empty quarter of sparsely populated farmland of sheep and grain ,now mostly within a Natural Paraje or park. There were a few tasteful finca to holiday home conversions but mostly simple farm worker ” navvyies” or houses surrounded by stock sheds.

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The subsistence grain growers had left the old cobbled threshing grounds, or “eras” behind, for the few passers by to admire the view from.

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The ringing of bells heralded a large flock of sheep minded by dog and man.

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A little earlier we had passed a long water trough with an elaborate welded cage around it and been puzzled.

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Looking back as the flock surrounded it we could see it was to allow the sheep to drink without climbing in and fouling the water.
Another flock was being minded by a large but mild mannered dog who seemed to let them wander at will.

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The last 4 km were downhill through open country until Ardales came into view on the other side of a busy road.

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We found the stage end and sign board for the next leg and bought the makings of a huge tuna salad to fortify ourselves for the following day.

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The night was full of thunder and rain and , as forecast, the next day dawned drizzly under leaden skies. We dressed for rain and headed out under the ancient hill top castle and down to the Roman bridge over the Rio Turon.

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Fair play to the Roman builders, that bridge has been carrying traffic for 2000 years.

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We now had 10 km of ascent ahead, taking us from 350 m to 820m. As we climbed, the view back over the mountains we had climbed from El Chorro was of darkness and light, with white clouds rising from the gorge.

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Atop of the first ridge was a medieval fortress from the war between Granada and Seville kingdoms.

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We climbed up into the vast public forest, 1000’s of hectares planted to help with erosion and as an amenity, although this is a little known and remote area- we saw no one all day.

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The rain started to come down relentlessly although the trees gave us some respite for a few hours until we reached more open ground of deep soiled mixed crop farmland. Luckily, at more or less the same time the rain became drizzle, then stopped, and then the sun came out for awhile and we stopped to dry out.

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A long line of bee hives were laid out next to the track and a copse of fine eucalyptus soaked up the rain from the arroyo.

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We were now back down to Rio Turon level. While the river had meandered its way through the mountains we had gone over them. As we neared the town we passed the fertile riverside gardens and a little shrine to the saints

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And finally, still pretty wet, a couple of km further than expected was El Burgo with its welcoming streets and hot shower.

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The cloud is well down again and tomorrow we have to climb, over 25 km, up to 1160m and back. So I really hope the forecast is right and we can stay dry.
But now some internal liquid is required.

LA GRAN SENDA DE MALAGA: GR249. 8/9th SEPTEMBER. ALAMEDA to FUENTE DE PIEDRA (16.5km)to CAMPILLOS (19km)

Walking out at dawn I realised I’d been on the very edge of town and skirted around it through an industrial area. I was taken by the artistry of the car breakers.

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The first olive groves actually had grass between the rows. Was this the work of some radical organic farmer or merely sensible intercropping.

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The land here was very sandy leaving tracks of wildlife and tractors.

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An hours climbing to the high ground of the day and I was pleasantly relived to finally come to another species of tree. Aleppo pine and plenty of herbs, the scent of which filled the still morning air.

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The previous morning, surrounded by mile upon mile of olive I was sure I could smell the oil, a not very pleasant odour normally only noticed around the mills at processing time.
Another change of crop was a plantation of almonds, although the eagle eyed reader may have spotted a picture in the last post of rows curving over a hillside.

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And then for the first time this trip I was off the farm tracks and on a woodland one, running down between the pines and past a strange enclosure that looked like it had been used for pigs.

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It was literally and figuratively downhill from there and back to the olives before a break in the form of an remote controlled aircraft landing strip. These toy flying zones are immensely popular in Spain for some reason and I’ve come across them in many of my ramblings here.

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Kenny and friends seem to enjoy their time here, flying high maybe.

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I had to cross the AVE high speed train line which although not pretty is a monument to Spain’s love affair with mega infrastructure projects. They seem to have the space to push these things across the country with gusto.

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And then on the last leg into town across another area of flat arable land I past the ruins of the big watering infrastructure of the past. Huge pump houses now derelict.

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I arrived to find the place just setting up for a weekend of fiesta revelry.

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The campsite I’d booked for a shower, phone charging, clothes washing etc was rammed and no quiet corners for me to bivvy in so they lent me a tent complete with mattress for 2€ and erected it next to an extended family and all their mates intent on partying.
Before I left home I’d discovered that the Donkey Sanctuary charity for whom we foster donkeys had a affiliated Spanish branch here, so I hiked over for a chat and look about.

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An interesting place, if your interested in donkey sanctuaries. Almost a reverse situation to Ireland in terms of donkey care. All feed brought in, dry paddocks, hot conditions, actually an environment they are genetically designed for. About 80% of their funding comes from England and they( and their new sister sanctuary in Extremadora) take in donks and mules and the odd horse from all over Spain as well as Italy and France.

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That poor specimen wouldn’t have made the grand in the flamboyant display of horsemanship that went on in Piedra that evening.

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Macho posturing and horse grooming at their finest, and the señoritas weren’t to be outdone.

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The Main Street was closed and the riders had to pelt up the hill and catch a steamer rolled on a wire with a little wooden pin, presumably to catch the eye of one of the exquisite beauties watching from the sidelines.

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It went on for hours.
The weary walker couldn’t stay up for the late night procession of the Virgin through town, but I got a sneak preview in the cathedral of her flower bedecked podium(?)

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Of course there was no rest to be had at fiesta camping and me and my outsider neighbour, tossed and turned through the hilarity till they collapsed about 2am.
Up at 6am and thinking of singing loudly I instead snuck quietly away to join a track alongside the railway.

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Passing a goat “farm”

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I carried on beside the railway into the rising sun and , at last, towards the mountains.

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It was more of them

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And more of that

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With the occasional building to add interest. Some old and abandoned, some old and refurbished, and one a bizarre mix.

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I got as close as I was going to get to the famous lagoon. Still horizontal smudge across the background there was no chance of spotting the pink flamingos.

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Then came the tough part, though thankfully the sky clouded thinly, as I made my way across a vast rolling ocean of earth.
It reminded me very much of crossing the Meseta on my first Camino. Mind numbing. But lacking visual stimulation I added aural and the music filled my mind, my body and my soul and I fair flew along to the tunes of the maestro who is Baramus.
You need a zen like state at times to be happy covering distance where the horizon never seems nearer.

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Shaken out of my reverie by the sight of Campillos on a now changing horizon I was able to leave inner space and Evie’s details like the mud cracked ground.

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Entering the town I passed the grand cathedral where a wedding was taking place.

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Unfortunately the edifice viewed from my hostel room didn’t mimic the finer architectural details.

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And so I prepare for the hardest two days of the trip. Long stages, nowhere to get food or drink and big mountains.
And a tight deadline. There’s a plane to catch.