Rambling in Spain

LA GRAN SENDA DE MALAGA: GR249. 19/20th OCT. EL BURGO TO RONDA(27km) to JIMERA DE LIBAR(26km)

The loud pitter patter of raindrops on clay tiles lasted most of the night but by dawn had gone silent. Not because it was dry but because, as we discovered on leaving our shelter, the fine misty drizzle made no sound. Draping the surrounding hills in a gauze of grey it seem to impose a quiet over the river valley we started up out of town.

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Everything was coated in sparkling shiny water droplets and the air had been washed of all haze creating particles leaving what could be seen below the drifting, swirling cloud to stand out in sharp relief.

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It was all about the water. The river was below us, winding through the walls of layered and undulating seams of sandstone and bursting from dams.

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It also burst from the ground next to us in “Fuentes” nicely planted and with seats that would have tempted in sunnier conditions.

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And it also covered our heads in a ceiling that rose and fell and drifted around us on unfelt currents.

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Although we were wet and a bit chilly and had concerns that it should improve before we got too high, it was very calming and a silent beauty pervaded the vast forests of the Sierra de las Nieves Natural Parque.

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We left the forest track to descend on a trail to cross the river and clamber up a steep and rocky slope past the ruins of old cortijos that once clawed a living in these wild spaces. The landscape opened around us as we climbed out of the forest and up into the high plateau guarded by the remnants of a cliff top fortress.

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The flat ground, at over 1000m high, was occupied by a working farm of grain and sheep. A lonely spot to be sure, we followed its track up to the pass at 1160m and then down towards their nearest neighbours 5km away.

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As we got lower the flat plain around our objective, Ronda, revealed itself.

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The rain / drizzle/ damp was long gone by now and after reaching the cortijos lower gate and starting across the agricultural land ,that now did not seem so flat after all,we began to feel the Kms covered and anticipated our arrival

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in Ronda.

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Glad to have arrived we had to negotiate swarms of meandering tourists to get to our bed for the night and climb into the shower before taking to the streets again in search of a back street local frequented eatery before collapsing wearily into bed.
Up and out before the sightseers clogged the streets we crossed over the famous bridge and down the beautifully cobbled path into the gorge, only making way for a mass of runners with an axe to grind.

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The path was magnificent. The cobbling superb. The light a delight.
What’s not to like.

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A couple of Kms out out town we turned off onto an old dirt track that serviced a small group of houses and a gaggle of rough and ready farm buildings. After the swish 5* buildings of Ronda this was a forgotten outland or edge town.

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At the edge of edgetown we joined the railway track that was to accompany us all the way the to JIMERA de LIBAR.

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It became the day of the insects with the air full of flying ants, the vegetation full of snails and busy dung beetles crossing our path.

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We left the railway to climb a beautiful ancient cobbled path up over the mountain, passing a flock of sheep on the way.

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From the top of the pass and down into the town of Benoajan we unfortunately passed some animals not best looked after. A horse tangled on a few inches of rope, sheep grazing on layers/ stratas of rubbish and one of so many dogs we heard chained and wimpering.

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Perhaps ironically, the town is famous for its pork products. Supposedly made from free ranging pigs happily gorging on acorns in the holm oak forests. We have our doubts.
Moving on through town on an old track past the station we continued on a beautiful riverside trail.

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The valley was spectacular, and just the railway and our track ran through it.

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Our views alternated between far reaching vistas of the railway, river and mountains and intimate ones of trees and trail.

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Eventually we crossed the railway on an elaborate bridge and walked alongside the river before starting the final climb towards our days end.

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Stopping briefly at a Fuente beneath some towering and randomly decorated palms

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we climbed our last hill of the day, a 2km, 150m ascent to JIMERA de LIBAR.

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Tomorrow is our last leg of this trip. A hopefully relaxed 17 km walk to Benalauria.

LA GRAN SENDA DE MALAGA: GR 249.10/11th SEPTEMBER. CAMPILLOS TO EMBALSES de GUADALHORCE and beyond (32.5km) to EL CHORRO (13km)

I immediately took the wrong way out of Campillos in the pre dawn gloom but soon the sun was lighting my eucalyptus lined road past some big industrial chicken “farms”.

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Some fields were turning from brown to green with new life while on their edges the dry seed heads ended that cycle.

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This area is famed for its many lagoons, some no more than a patch of damp ground at this time of year, others a much prized habitat for wildlife, birds in particular.
Pink flamingos tiptoed in the shallows of this one as the squealing of pigs broke free from the unit behind.

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The land hereabouts was good quality with an amazing depth to the soil.

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A shepherd led his flock to graze the stubble of grain near a huge cortijo which had done lots of tree planting and landscaping.

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A beautiful place that looked like they loved the land.

The mountains to the south were looming larger and after another stretch of road I entered a forest of pines and a first view of the destination of the day, the reservoir of Guadalhorce.

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To get there I crossed a large area of land being grazed by sheep- complete with guard dogs but no shepherd .

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The track turned back into woodland and followed a winding path that gave me enticing views of the cool turquoise water that I was too hot to resist clambering down to for a swim.

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Refreshed, (briefly), it was off through more thankfully shady pine untill the red and white blazes led me across a tricky rock face where the weight of my water filled pack threatened to full me off onto the rocks below.

With the heat building towards the daytime maximum I emerged onto the road at the dam wall between the two reservoirs of Guadalhorce and Guadalteba- two huge bodies of water.

I had a few km of road walking on the other side of the dam before I started to climb into the mountains that were my final hurdle. This point was usually the end of the stage from Campillos, having already covered 23km, a lot of it on tarmac. But I was anxious to leave as little of the final stage for the last day as possible. I knew it would be an uphill slog for 500m ascent, followed by a long fairly steep descent and didn’t want to do it all in the heat so decided to carry on for awhile. After another half hour or so I was driven into the water again by the blazing sun and then sat out the worst of it feeding the carp.

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I could see a bunch of vans and cars high up on the track into the sierra and after turning back onto the trail and starting to climb towards them I saw why. The sheer limestone walls of the towering cliff faces are a magnet for climbers and I watched with bated breaths tiny dots scaled their heights with and without ropes. Major cojones.

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The views over the reservoir and the hills to the north opened up more and more as I slowly made my way up through the landscape of boulders and scrub. Passing through the Puerto de Ramos the vegetation became increasingly given over to Juniper, a forest of it, and laden with berries.

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With the light starting to fade and keen to find somewhere to camp I came to an isolated plantation of young olives with a nearby old stone barn that looked inviting but a couple of chained and barking dogs put me off and carried on into more and more unsuitable surroundings with very thick juniper shrub and rocks and boulders in any space between.

Eventually I ended up in a drain for the night. Not as bad as it sounds with a flat smooth surface, shelter and privacy, not that there was anyone for miles.

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And the view wasn’t bad.

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It was however pretty cold at that altitude without a sleeping bag and I had a fairly restless night listening to strange sounds of birds and unknown wildlife and what I was sure were trains running through tunnels that were somewhere deep deep below me in the mountain, before dawn gave way to another clear blue sky day and I set off early for the final 250m climb, with the landscape i’d covered over the week laid out below.

On a plateau at 830m was an extremely remote farm with hundreds of goats and extensive tillage of which not an inch was wasted amongst the rocky crags.

The inventively recycling farmer not only used bedsprings for fencing, but a multitude of baths for water and feed- however he got them up there.

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Suddenly I was on the downhill stretch, passing my first asphodel

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and my first other GR249 user this trip.

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Watching him cycle up this steep track towards me made me feel as inadequate as the climbers had. He was escaping from a Torremolinos holiday to mountain bike in the wilds and was loving it.

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The vista before me to the east was of the area i’d be hiking through on my next trip on the GR when the route goes to Ronda and the Parque Natural Sierra de Grazalema.

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Lower down an old finca still supplied almonds

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and a newer homestead sported a yurt, a pool and a riding stables.

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Before too long I was surprised on the wooded trail by my second GR user of the trip- presumably from the attractive property nearby.

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Huge eagles or vultures circled above more climbers I could just make out high above on the cliffs surrounding El Chorro, hopefully not in anticipation of rich pickings.

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I could see the beginnings of the gorge of the Caminito del Rey, the scene of our previous adventure and another site popular with dare devil climbers for years.

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I arrived at the journeys end with time, water and food to spare and awaited the train to emerge from the tunnel into the mountains I had slept on the previous night.

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My third instalment of the Gran Senda over, I was happy to have visited the vast olive plantations and wide open spaces of the grain growing areas but more happy to anticipate the sierras and natural parks to come — next month— when it’ll be cooler.