Day 34 and the end of the trail – for now!

It all happened so fast! Last week we were happily planning the next section of the route. The next thing we knew, the caravan site had closed its gates. At first, the lovely owner said we could still walk or move to another site, but it soon became clear this was not the case. Spain was on lockdown! So we decided we would go back to our base in Jimera and wait it out there. However, we quickly realised that anyone going back into the village might be less than welcome. And we’d be housebound, with no garden and not knowing when we could leave. Tom has to start work in a few weeks (as a builder, so that may still be possible) or we will run out of money.

It was a strange drive back through an almost deserted Madrid, stopping in services as there were no sites open. We chatted to others heading back to northern Europe as well as the UK, sharing our stories. We did a 10 hour solid stint to beat the French border closure (only to find we would have got through anyway) and finally crossed on an almost empty Eurotunnel train yesterday. No extra checks – just straight through. Which is good but sort of not! We’d just come from the second most affected country in Europe. But we will stay in for a week or two anyway and console ourselves by binge watching films and eating ready meals – neither of which we’ve done for for the last ten weeks.

We were doing this walk to raise money for Spanish rescue dogs and we’d very much hoped to reach Galgos del Sol on the east coast by the end of April, having raised a substantial amount for them and the other charities we’re supporting. This is so disappointing, especially as they are going to be under huge pressure in the current situation as they can’t move dogs out to potential adopters. Please, if you can, donate just the cost of that coffee you couldn’t have this week to help them, and cheer us up just a little. You can find the details here.

I will continue to blog about our mini adventures with our menagerie here in Somerset and as soon as it’s possible, we’ll be back to continue Chica’s Challenge!

Our thanks and best wishes go to all those we met along the way and, of course, to Chica and Merlin, our intrepid canine trekkers. Arfy Arfwit may not have tackled the trail but his vital contribution was to keep us entertained. Lastly, a huge thank you to all our readers as without you, I’d have been talking to myself! And now:

Day 34: Timar to Burchales 11k

During the night, I was disturbed by a dog outside the tent. I got up to investigate (leaving a completely unconcerned Merlin still snoring). The dog disappeared but I spent a while looking at the night sky. The stars are so bright here and I tracked the paths of the satellites.

Up and packed by 8.30 and off to the village of Lobras where we stopped for elevenses. By now it was pleasantly warm and the trail very enjoyable as we continued to the much larger town of Cadiar where we feasted on fresh bread, cheese and chocolate.

This fortified us for the last leg to Burchales where we waited in a bar, supping cold beer (Merlin had water) until Gill arrived to pick us up, blissfully unaware that this would be our last day!

Day 33: Trevelez to Timar 13k

A long hike steadily upward and across the hillside this morning through pines. A lovely trail with a large leat/watercourse at half height contouring around hillside. High pastures with cows being watered by sprays fed from above.

Once over the top I was in strong sunshine on vast scrub hillside with grasses, herbs, small flowers and gorse all over. Rather like our Somerset Quantocks. We contoured across and then steadily down to Juviles where path emerged onto the main street. I took some pics around town then off as the bar was shut.

We hiked up and out of town through a high valley then along the top of a gorge. Around the hill and back into the sun for walk down to Timar and get where I had my spaghetti bolognese and a coffee.

As I left town to look for a campsite, I found myself in an area of old open cast mining which felt like a moonscape and was tricky walking so carried on and found a good spot by a stream in an olive grove. As soon as the tent went up, Merlin made himself comfortable and went to sleep. I followed close behind.

Day 32: Trevelez to Busquistar 12k

Trevelez is the next place on the route after Busquistar but it is a long trek from the camp site. Gill is more a lark than an owl so we decided I’d do this backwards (!) starting at Trevelez and walking back to Busquistar giving a shorter drive in the evening. Looking at the map, I had thought that this would mean a mainly downhill walk but, as it turned out, there were still some steep climbs.

Leaving Trevelez to the north with both Chica and Merlin, I crossed the trickle that is all there currently is of the Rio Chico and climbed steadily, meeting a couple of Welsh collies and a horse with a tent for a stable! On the hills it was mainly shrubs including hawthorn giving off the familiar heady smell of May blossom (March blossom here!) and the many small valleys were wooded with tall shady pines.

After lunch in the company of a curious lizard I continued on a general downhill trajectory through more farmland and eventually into deciduous woods. Both dogs had a wonderful time. As yesterday’s blog was a bit short on pictures, I’ve included a few more today.

Day 31: Bubion to Busquistar 9k

Got back to Bubion about 11.30 and took the path up out of town and before too long came across my friend from yesterday having a break. So we continued together through terrain and surroundings very similar to the last couple of days but no less spectacular for that.

We passed through the tiny hamlet of Capilerilla and then onto the the larger village of Pitres, where we had a fuenta stop. From there we crossed the El Bermejo stream before reaching Atalbeitar (pop 40). Next stop Portugos and a huge sweet chestnut tree with convenient seating where we took a shady short break before joining the road.

Here we came by the Agua Agria de Portugos, a very famous watering hole because it is so rich in iron. This is supposed to be very good for you but tastes like liquid rust. Much more inviting were the roadside stalls selling a variety of fruit, nuts and seeds including figs dipped in locally made chocolate. This sustained us on the last leg to Busquistar.

Day 30: Canar to Bubion 12k

I had quite a job talking Gill into driving back to Canar this morning but she found it less alarming the second time. Quite a relief, I really didn’t fancy walking up!

So with Chica and Merlin in tow, we set off into the hills shortly to meet up with a German chap just packing away his sleeping bag. He was on the GR7 too so we hooked up for the day. After a while I overcame my misanthropy and enjoyed the company.

The path continued along the hillside giving more magnificent views to the south including a waterfall hundreds of feet high, plunging into a bowl it had created below. We passed a sign to a Buddhist retreat – not hard to see why this beautiful location was chosen.

In contrast, the next village of Soportujar is infamous, apparently, as a home of witchcraft. The legend is that any child who wandered outside of the village on their own would be kidnapped by the local witches and taken to the cave of The Eye of the Witch. There they would dispatched and their fat sold to the local dairy to be turned into milk, cream and cheese. A good way of keeping the kids from straying!

I thought this was just a piece of tourist fodder (it reminded me of Wookey Hole Caves at home) but when we approached the bronze statue of the witch guarding the cave Chica behaved very oddly; refusing to go anywhere near and growling at her, hackles raised. No way could she be persuaded to go near. Maybe there’s something in it, after all.

As it started to get quite chilly, we reached Pampaneria. This is a real tourist magnet but still a very attractive village with lovely little back alleys. Bubion is immediately above so a stiff climb finished our walk and I said goodbye to my companion as he found somewhere to stay for the night. He was finding the camping a bit chilly, I think.

Gill turned up and we drove a couple of kilometres to the next village where we had discovered there was a restaurant offering Indian food. After two months here and no sign of a curry house this was a real treat. The food was excellent (if a little pricey), freshly cooked and promptly served. A delicious end to the day!

Day 29: Lanjaron to Canar 8k

Bit of a slow start today so not on route until midday. With both Chica and Merlin in tow we left Lanjaron up through narrow cobbled alleys and tracks to high above the town. We passed through pine forest and out into open grasslands which reminded me of the top of Exmoor, though no doubt warmer and drier here than there today.

The descent back through scrub took me via an encampment of yurts, benders and shacks that continued down through the valley, getting more substantial the nearer town we got. There is a thriving alternative community around Orgiva and this is clearly where many people live peacefully off grid.

A very hot steep climb up to Canar followed and, after a cooling splash in the fuenta, the dogs agreed (!) it was a good idea to stop for a beer and call it a day!

We are delighted that you are reading our blog. We are doing this to raise money for some of the amazing charities rescuing dogs in Spain, especially the hunting breeds such as galgos (greyhounds) and podencos who are so often brutalised and abandoned by their owners.
Click here to find out more about the charities we support and please, please consider donating. Every penny/cent helps!
Thank you so much from Tom, Chica, Merlin, Arthur and Gill.

Day 28: Niguelas to Lanjaron 19k

Authors note: With Chica seemingly recovered, we finally left Jimera on Sunday and took the caravan over to Orgiva, a town in the Alpajaras area below the Sierra Nevada. After a day to reorientate, Tom is back on the trail taking Merlin to give Chica one more recovery day.

Gill dropped us off on the outskirts of Niguelas and we walked up through the central square, then down cobbled streets to the northern end of the town. From there the path dipped down through the river valley and up the other side through orchards of almonds and olives. There are very old irrigation channels everywhere here, laid originally by the Moors, I imagine, and still a vital source of water today as they harness the meltwater from the mountains above. There are diversionary gates so they can serve different areas.

Climbing up from there on a very pleasant narrow path into pine forest the wind increased and it became quite dusty as the ground here is so dry. Rain is so desperately needed at the moment.

Traversing the contours of the hilltops there were wonderful views and despite the rocky ground, every spare inch of soil is planted with olives.

As the track wound its way down the trees changed from evergreen pines to deciduous forest until we reached the attractive spa town of Lanjaron where I had a coffee while I waited for my personal taxi!

Sweet Home Jimera

On Sunday, we said goodbye to what has become our second home in Spain. It is three years since we spent more than a few days here and we remember now why we fell in love with the area in the first place.

Jimera de Libar is one of the numerous pueblos blancos (white villages) to be found in Andalucia. Many are perched on steep hillsides and this is true of the main part of this village too but because there is a railway that runs through the valley another settlement has grown up around the station and it is here, in Estacion de Jimera de Libar that we have been based.

Jimera sits almost centrally in a region known as the Serrania de Ronda. It is an area of outstanding natural beauty and great geographical diversity. Popular with walkers, birdwatchers, climbers and potholers, it contains parts of both the Sierra de Grazalema and the Sierra de las Nieves. The beautifully-situated town of Ronda is the administrative headquarters of the area.

The landscape of limestone escarpments, cork forests and orchards of oranges, olives, almonds and walnuts is both dramatic and serenely beautiful. The walking is wonderful, whether it’s a short stroll along the river or a hike into the mountains.  Ornithologists value this area as a major migration route and some rare species can be seen. I’m not that good on birds but we have frequently seen kingfishers and cormorants on the river and the large birds of prey hanging over the valley are common enough not to warrant an exclamation anymore.

Not just birds to be seen here – to my delight and astonishment, I came across a young otter in the river. It was just a few feet away and looked at me for a minute or two (long enough to confirm it definitely was an otter) before elegantly diving below the surface. I have spent many hours at dawn and dusk both in Scotland and at home on the Somerset Levels silently trying to see these beautiful elusive creatures and here I stumbled over one in the middle of the day with three noisy dogs in tow.

It is good to have the station here too. Not only does it make getting here from the coast both easy and cheap but the trains are part of the place. A few weeks ago there was a very popular running race held here and the trains hooted enthusiastic support as they went through. There are only three in each direction each day so it’s not an intrusion and a trip to Ronda is just 4 euros.

All this beauty, peace and serenity is wonderful but this tiny village has secret gem. Bar Allioli, run by Paul (from England), Synnove (from Denmark) and their son Pablo, not only stock a vast range of beers from all over Europe but also host live music events pretty much weekly. I have seen more live music in the month we have been here than I’d manage in a year at home!

We did find ourselves here on Brexit night too and I think we may be the only remainers we know who had a brilliant night out on Jan 31. An audience of Spanish, British, Dutch, French and Danish enjoyed live music, poetry and English tapas. Marmite vol au vents are better than you might think!

We will remember watching the morning sun tint the mountains pink, the sound of the goat bells and the smell of oranges and almond blossom. Merlin will definitely miss his favourite spot for sunbathing.

So to Jimera de Libar and all our friends there: Adios y hasta luego!

Day 26 & 27: Jayena (El Bacal) to Albunuelas 32k

Another perfect morning and I took my time, re-lighting the fire to defrost both me and my socks. Ate my porridge and set off at 10.30 through more of the same as yesterday: up hills through the pines and down dry river valleys (probably good kayaking to be had here when it finally rains enough).

By late afternoon I reached a highway and the excellent Meson los Prados where I had my first good meal for a few days. This put me in much better humour for more tracks through the pines until I reached the El Canuelo permitted camping area. There were some rather unattractive stone cabins that were definitely less comfortable-looking than my tent but I did find a folding chair which I used to watch the night sky. Zero light pollution meant I could spot all those satellites floating about up there. Will it be like the Pacific soon, with massive clumps of space junk orbiting the earth?

Dismissing this depressing idea, I enjoyed listening to the wind in the trees and noted that, for the first time for weeks, the barking dog chorus was having a night off.

I got up and took advantage of my comfy chair for a while until the sun reached the valley. I was feeling much better for a good meal and subsequent sound night’s sleep.

Pines, pines and more pines but at least it was mostly downhill, though I had a detour through an adjoining valley as I missed the route. The sun was strong today and it reached around 25 deg as I took a gravel track down another dry river valley. This would be impossibly hot in the summer, I realised. I definitely chose a good time of year, although the winter has been abnormally warm and dry, even for southern Spain. Good for me, that is – but there is a desperate need for more rain here.

While I was taking a break and rummaging through my pack, a Spanish gentleman stopped to ask if I was ok, which was kind – and maybe a sign of how battered I was looking. Eventually I reached the top of a massive wide-bottomed gorge with views to the caves on the other side. The path snaked down the steep gorge side to the town of Albunuelas below.

I had been planning to catch the afternoon bus to Granada from here but today is Andalucia Day – a public holiday – so no bus. Instead I waited at a bar (surprise!) for an expensive taxi ride instead. I had time to have a leisurely meal in Granada before catching the train back to Jimera. I arrived at around 11.30pm to a rapturous reception from all three dogs.

No tent to put up – luxury!

Day 25: Arenas del Rey (Rio Anales) to Jayena (El Bacal) 16k

As I woke in the morning, I was greeted by a couple of squirrels who ran by the tent, up a little tree and gawked at me. Clearly, not convinced about what they saw, they did another circuit and came back for second look. No doubt, this wouldn’t have happened if Chica had been with me.

I was surprised and pleased to find that this spot I had chosen in the dark was right by a ford over the river and actually on the GR7 route. Worked my way steadily uphill through scrub until I reached the pines. The conditions were ideal: cool, fresh and pine fragrant air. Great views down into the river valley below.

The rest of the day was similar – lots of ups and downs and more pines, though in one area there was evidence of these being cleared for cultivation, probably olives or almonds. I also found an old lime kiln and more information about resin extraction.

By now, the shop had opened and I bought tuna, chocolate and a strawberry milkshake. Not a particularly healthy or satisfying meal so I grumpily headed out of town and found a sign to the El Bacal camping area so made for that. Lit a fire, made a brew and settled down at around 9.30pm.