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.

Day 24: Camp site* to Arenas del Rey and beyond 17k

Woke this morning to find hoar frost on inner and outer of the tent fly sheet. Porridge made for a warming breakfast along with strong coffee and parrots (sic. He means paracetamol. Ed).

As I was packing up, I was joined by marauding dogs, two of which decided to follow me all day to the next village whereupon they promptly disappeared. Bit of a relief as I was rather taken with the cute young Jack Russell bitch, a very endearing dog.

Arenas del Rey was apparently closed for the day so I spent a bit of quality time in the town square brewing coffee, drying my tent and washing my feet at the fuente directly beneath the holy shrine at the front of the church. Fortunately, there was no-one around to witness this disrespectful behaviour!

After foot repairs and a light lunch I set off on route to Jayena. Once it got dark, route finding became trying so at 8pm I pitched the tent by a river. I went to sleep to the ever-present chorus of distant barking dogs.

* ///unfenced.presently.presides

Day 23: Alhama de Granada to camp position* 10k

Although Chica is much better and Merlin a very willing substitute, the forecast suggested quite high daytime temperatures so we decided it was best that I do a stretch on my own to try and make up lost time.

I caught the early train from Jimera to Granada where I got a tram to the bus station. The bus to the coast via Alhama de Granada didn’t leave until 3:30 so I had lunch at a pavement restaurant opposite. Later, I sat on a park bench in the sun to read but it wasn’t long before an ancient bucolic type decided to join me and make loud incomprehensible conversation. Eventually, I gave up and went for coffee. Returning to the bus station, I found him fast asleep presumably waiting for a bus. Not mine, fortunately, so a peaceful ride to Alhama but that was shattered as I found myself in the midst of a carnival with everyone in mad fancy dress!

After wandering around taking it all in, I headed to the top of town and filled my water bottles at a fuente then headed off at 6 pm. An hour later I was walking through poplar plantations on a pitch black lane trying to find a suitable camping spot. It was another hour before I picked up a GR7 sign in my torchlight which pointed uphill, too steep to try in the dark.

Luckily, I found a perfect spot above a stream which was only marred by the broken bottles left by previous visitors. By now, it was very chilly so I went straight to bed, glad to have put in at least a couple of hours walking.

* ///unfenced.presently.presides

Day 22: El Robedal to Alhama de Granada (including emergency car ride) 10k

I woke as the sun hit the tent and Chica sat outside soaking up the warmth while I had a leisurely breakfast and packed up. It was 11ish before we set off up the track. More evidence of sap bleeding before we came across some processionary caterpillars on the march.

We know about these nasty critters from earlier in the trip and I avoid camping anywhere where the nests are evident but these appeared on the track. I was pretty sure Chica hadn’t got anywhere near them but when she started to slow down and look decidedly off colour, I got very worried indeed. They can cause serious injury to dogs. I stopped to try and decide what to do – I was the middle of nowhere and it looked like we might need a vet.

As if sent from the gods, Heidi (who was actually a London cockney) rocked up to walk her dog and offered a lift into Alhama de Granada. She was the first person I’d seen all day! I accepted very gratefully.

I found a vets and they were opening soon so we sat on the steps outside and waited. The vet was lovely, examining Chica thoroughly and to my relief saying it wasn’t anything to do with the caterpillars. She had a high temperature, however, and so it was probably an infection. He gave her an antibiotic injection and vitamins and asked me to bring her back in the morning. I then carried her, as well as my pack, to the nearest place I could camp and put her to bed wrapped in my fleece. She was instantly asleep.

Clinique Veterinario Alhama

Author’s note: Although her temperature had lowered, Chica was still poorly the following morning, so we decided it was best for me to go out and fetch them. They are now back at base in Jimera and we will take a break until she recovers. Many thanks to Clinque Veterinario Alhama for their exceptional care.

Day 21: Ventas de Zaffaraya to El Robedal camping area 15k

After a relaxing day off in Zaffaraya, Day 21 dawned fair and after breakfast of tostada and jam, we headed out of town on the dismantled railway track. This nice, level start was welcome before the climb up into the hills in holm oaks, later descending into farmland, mostly vegetable cultivation – artichokes and courgettes among others. As it began to heat up to around 25 deg, I passed a honey locust tree with the longest spines I’ve seen. These are related to the false acacia which I’ve had to trim for clients in the UK – a job to be done with extreme care and robust gloves.

Lunch at around 2.30pm of scrambled eggs and asparagus, washed down with coffee and beer at Hotel Los Canos de la Alcaiceria. We then entered the National Park and enjoyed pleasant walking until 5pm when we reached the El Robedal recreative area. This is set in pine forest with views to the nearby snow-capped La Maroma mountain and offers free camping with a toilet block, running water and barbecue area. So after the tent was pitched, I lit a fire, ate a mediocre dehydrated meal and sat back to enjoy the fantastic night sky. Perfect!

Day 20: Alfarnatejo to Ventas de Zaffaraya 18k (inc deviation)

We had a very long but really enjoyable day today. Unfortunately, I took a wrong turn early on, which meant a lot more mileage and hill climbing to get back to where we should have been.

However, it was interesting and I got to meet lots of people including a chap from Derbyshire who gave me the right directions. Then a couple of old ladies at a fuente who confirmed that I was now going the right way. After that, a group of young Spanish women walking the other way who told me how far I had to go. Which was slightly deflating. 

When I reached Ventas de Zaffaraya at 7pm, I decided the prudent thing to do was to go to the first bar I saw and rehydrate. This was Hotel/Bar Aqui te Queiro (I love you here??). I asked about places to stay as hostel next door appeared closed. The owner was located though, and she spoke English – always a relief at the end of the day when I can barely string a sentence together, even in my own language. Shower and comfy bed beckons. Joy!

Day 19: Riogrande to Alfarnatejo 16k

This morning’s doze was interrupted at 6:30 by a digger starting up and then at 7:15 by lights of a 4 X 4 as fella turns up for work. Hey-ho! So up and into town for double rations of bacon bocadillos with coffee and on the road at 11am. Passing out of town,  two ground workers and the digger driver wanted to know if it was cold in the tent so I put them right; good sleeping bag and doggie hot water bottle. After a bit more building site banter (to make me feel at home, but without the rain) I stopped at the fuentes on the outskirts of the town, had a quick wash and filled the water bottles.

A hard uphill slog followed and this pack isn’t getting any lighter, I’m going to have to be more ruthless in selecting items next time! But it was a great day’s hiking and I was delighted to find Restaurante Gerado by the Rio Sabar where I scoffed an early supper of ham, egg and chips with two beers for €8. Bargain! Sated we trotted off into the hills for 45 mins and found a lovely camping place in the olive terraces  – pictures tomorrow.

Author’s notes:

The WTW location Tom sent me was in Bayswater, London. Not sure if that’s an issue with his phone or a WTW glitch!

This is a different format which is much easier for me. The text all in one and the pictures captioned. If you hate it, let me know.