On the trail early. Town is very quiet. Apart from the gang of dogs gathered to noisily wish us well on our journey
The route out of Cuevas gently rises through fields of swaying wheat and perfect olive groves
We see one man clearing, at a guess, a five-acre field with a strimmer. Shortly after we see a second one in another field, doing the same.
After 7km it’s a sharp descent into Serrato, our elected coffee stop from a choice of one. We have quickly learned that the open bar in any village is best located by looking for the delivery vans outside. Lays Crisps delivery men need caffeine too.
The coffee is strong and hot. There’s a big TV on the wall. There always is of course. I guess it’s too early for football, so a dubbed German detective series is on. I am transfixed. There’s a stiff 2km road climb out of Serrato. We listen to two lots of ‘Coffee Time Spanish’ on podcast. It helps pass the incline time, plus I now know that ‘good day’ is a ‘he’ word and ‘good afternoon’ is a ‘she’ word. I am fluent; no more shall I be bullied by vino tinTo man!
The literal high point of the day is around 800m at a shallow mountain pass that unveils the route ahead. An ideal lunch stop. The long descent to Ardales is beautiful too. You first see the town some 6km out as it climbs the hillside opposite. Here the rolling groves and fields are simply perfect. We are sure that the opening ‘hand brushing wheat field’ scene in Gladiator was filmed here
The wild flowers and grasses all around us are amazing. All big and healthy; poppies, huge buttercups, giant purple thistles, cowslips and many more. All are almost ‘supersize’ along with the complex lush grasses that compliment them. Every turn in the trail brings a new splash of glorious colour
The trail ends at a river spanned by a bridge 12 centuries old! Sadly, after the bridge we enter at the bottom of the town and then climb very steeply to the centre at which point one also feels 12 centuries old. It’s a push at the end of a dusty day.
There are lots of bars in Ardales, well, for a small town anyway.
Our apartment block is in a partially blocked alleyway. The building next door is being demolished by a huge excavator in partnership with a JCB armed with one of those crazy jack hammers. The scene looks like something from Damascus on the news although less traumatic The noise is like cannon fire.
We ruefully look at each other and offer comfort that ‘the Spanish like to knock off about 3’
Reception lady is noteworthy. She’s on the ‘phone. This is already the norm’ it seems. As the call ends she tells me ‘ten minutes’ before immediately taking another call. I am unsure as to what ‘ten minutes’ means. Suddenly her mobile rings. She takes this call, tucking the main phone under her arm. On hold presumably. After some call juggling the main phone call ends. It immediately rings again. She answers it, this time with the mobile under her arm. I should point out; this is not a big place. At this point, with both phones already in action, a third one starts ringing. It can’t be mine surely? My ringtone is Top Cat not Nessun Dorma, She digs in her bag and takes out a second mobile. I decide she is a major league dealer and I am just a distraction
The apartment is really nice. There is a tiny rooftop pool and amazing views. The lady is lovely too. No demolition noise either.
Post shower we sit in hot evening sun quaffing Cruz Campo next to a table of men, mainly old and finely grizzled. They are playing cards. I can’t tell the game but each player on his turn slams a card down on the table like a coup de grace. You’d think this was the victory blow but no, the round continues; slam, slam, slam. Pause, slam and so on.
Dinner is devine Iberico Pork from the barbecue and a kilo of Manchego washed down with Pedro Ximenez at Restaurant Falco. We feel good.
Day 6 – Ardales to El Chorro – 22km
I do not feel good anymore. I have eaten an ill-advised gluten packed bacon roll which has fired all my usually ignored gluten spikes. It’s roasting hot and we are in a dead end quarry along with some mutant goats and a, probably, illegally built bungalow.
The GR7 trail has been obliterated under a fantastically engineered new road viaduct. It sweeps majestically up the mountain opposite on huge stilts and we surmise that millions of tons of stone required in its construction must have come from the big hole we are now in.
Pic – Chris climbing out of quarry with said ‘illegal’ bungalow below.
Being a British male, I can, under no circumstances whatsoever, retrace my steps so we attack the quarry head wall. It’s dusty and very slippery. There are handholds by way of thistles and Chris, as ever, is a rock. After negotiating two steep olive groves above the quarry and quite a Steve McQueen of a fence, we alight back on the trail.
With the benefit of some hindsight but mainly through gained altitude, we can now look down on the new little road that would have solved the conundrum.
Since we began walking, we have been blown away by the sheer number of birds all around us all the time. Thousands of sparrows and swallows not to mention the almost constant presence of black vultures and, if they’re not around, griffon vultures, circling overhead. Maybe we look done in from above; carrion ready as it were.
The backdrop of bird song is enchanting (plus a welcome change from yapping & barking). There are so many cuckoos; well over 20 a day. They seem equidistant apart too. I think we could mark distance by them. Every so often bells announce the presence of a huge roving flock of sheep, constantly on the move in search of food.
Post quarry, the walking is great. A very complex landscape of wooded hills and steep ravines. The trail winds through it all, staying mainly high but, rather too often, plunging down and up again causing some discomfort for our tired, hot feet.
The day ends with a circuit around the Embalse Superior Tajo de la Encantada. It’s a reservoir on top of a mountain. There’s no catchment area above it; all water arrives from below by pipe. You can’t see in it; just the encircling walls. It’s part of a huge complex of dams and hydro-electricity production. It’s ugly but interesting. The descent down the gorge to El Chorro is spectacular and very different from the trail thus far.
Once at the bottom of the gorge we find the hotel is over the dam and up (yes, up) two zigzags. I can’t cope with this cruelty and stop at a kiosk on the first zig for Coca Zero.
There are about 8,000 school kids around us (ok, nearer 80) wearing printed high school t-shirts having a mass water fight and what appears to be a shouting contest.
There was one man present, in a natty vest, who we thought at first might be a supervising teacher. However, he soon screeched away on a moped leaving us alone in our own private Lord of the Flies. Luckily Coca Zero is Top medicine. Thus, having followed this with a Cornetto, I am able to complete the mammoth 200-yard trek to the hotel.
Pic – The view from our room; La Garganta at El Chorro.
It’s a beautiful setting and one to which I know we will come back to. My healthy plans for the night are scuppered by Albariño.