La Sierra de Aroche y Picos de Europa
A walk on the wilder side
Personally, I think it is the way the air leaves your head clear that makes walking in the countryside so attractive. It’s like cobwebs, a fundle of gossamer that have built up in your brain from nestling around the fire on a cold winter’s evening, are gradually cleared as a wind, ice-edged and clothes snatching, whistles playfully around your head, and limitless views, unimpeded by wall-to-wall skyscrapers, framed in a dome of translucent brilliant blue, open, like the heartfelt promise from a newly married couple, all around you in an ever-changing panorama.
In the Sierra de Aracena and the Picos de Aroche, the choice for where to walk is endless. Hundreds of kilometres of well maintained lanes skirt around white-washed villages nestling in shady green valleys and present views that inspire the poet that lives within all of us. Pathways lace through the Sierras, like life-giving veins, winding their ribbon traces around dry stone walled fields and isolated cottages dripping with features normally only featured in off-planet fashion or garden magazines.
The particular walk I was taking on this particular day is known, rather uninspiringly, as the GR48, well, actually, it is only a tiny part of it.
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The route joins together many ancient roads and cañadas, or cattle droving roads, that, for time immemorial, provided the local inhabitants with a means of communication along the trace of the Sierra Morena mountain chain. The project is still under development but there are already some excellent pathways that have been restored and lovingly repaired, all of which are clearly signposted and easily navigable.
Our walk started in Hinojales, a picture postcard village that, in summer, becomes half hidden by a mantle of green cork oaks and fig trees. These cast deep pools of shade in which to hide from the ferocious summer midday sun. Lea, my dog companion, was bouncing along at my side with the unaccustomed delight at discovering (being a mastiff whose life consisted of being squeezed into a small flat in the city) that she was in her natural habitat of countryside and open air.
Well positioned and clearly labelled signposts advertised the way and indicated that we were only some 7.5 kilometres from Cañaveral de León – a breeze for those accustomed to long forest walks. And, as prudent walkers, we started early in order to arrive at our destination before the sun reached its zenith and began to burn anything that wasn’t deeply entwined in the soft embrace of the siesta.
The path, reinforced in places with carefully laid stream-rounded pebbles or worked according to the ancient way of protecting against rain and floods, followed a lazy route through casually beautiful countryside that couldn’t fail to touch musical chords within any observers’ soul. Fig trees draped lovingly over rustic stone walls, carpets of fallen leaves, crunchy brown beneath steady feet. Along the whole of the journey, fields dotted with the ubiquitous Spanish oak (Quercus ilex) that, at the end of the year, provide fat, juicy acorns that are the staple diet of the many animals that are farmed on these wild slopes.
As we walked, curious black Iberian pigs, healthily fat on a diet of fallen acorns and skin powdered from frequent dust baths, came to observe our passage. Fascinated by Lea, the pigs watched her, ears like a nuns wimple, but ran from us if we approached. This animal, famed throughout the world for its rich flavour and acclaimed properties, is a mixture of wild and domestic pig and forms the back-bone of the economy of the region.
A donkey, muzzle mournfully supported on a rickety fence, eyes watching the world go by, hopefully looking for some diversion away from his boredom, trotted up to say hello and, as we passed round a bend, a cacophony of dogs heralded our advance and four small (-ish, it has to be said) dogs crashed in unison against a recycled iron bedstead gate, their attention fixed on Lea, and their furious yapping accompanying us until our images faded from their short-term memory.
And the birds! There must have been some sort of bird singing convention going on because the air was filled with the song of hundreds of different species, all vying for attention and all giving of their best.
We walked into Cañaveral de León ready for a beer and a tapa of the rich jamón in the bar San Sebastian just down from the lagoon, a welcome end to a fascinating, if rather short, introduction to the GR48.
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There are many sources of finding out how to walk the GR48. We have listed a few here:
http://senderogr48.sierramorena.com/ – a lot of information in both Spanish and English
http://www.andalucia.org/en/routes/sierra-morena-trail-gr-48/ – This is the offical tourist version of the GR48 in English
http://www.marcaparquenatural.com/ – Excellent page for information about the natural parks of Andalusia and also for links to pages that offer local products. The page, as far as I can determine, is in Spanish. Señor Google can help there, I understand…