Chasing the Storm

above canar 1I RISE at 6am because the thought of wandering through olive groves by the light of a headlamp and climbing mountains as the sun floods the sky appeals to me. But as I’m getting dressed, silent flashes which momentarily transform a black world into vivid monochrome signal the approach of an autumn thunderstorm. The storm spreads its unseen clouds and the constellations are slowly wiped out. Thwarted, I return to my bed, still wearing my walking gear – though having had the good manners to remove my boots – to await the dawn and a change of fortune . . .

Daylight brings a fresh world of glistening leaves and red puddles. The storm is still rumbling away to the east, but by 9.45am the sun is cutting holes in slabby grey clouds and bits of blue are poking through. I pull on my boots, sling my pack on my back and close the door behind me.

In the olive groves I see an old man and his son watering the roots of cherished trees. This seems a bit perverse, considering a thunderstorm has just drenched the land, but for the first time since June the acequias – the irrigation canals – are running, bringing fresh water from the high peaks of the Sierra Nevada.

There was snow on the summit of Cerro del Caballo (peak of the horse) earlier this week. It has gone now – melted and soaked into the land to feed the springs. Running water is a strange sound up here. But it’s a very welcome sound.

above canar 2 above canar 6 above canar 5 above canar 4

A marker post on the GR 7 long-distance footpath

A marker post on the GR 7 long-distance footpath

A considerable amount of thought has gone into planning today’s walk, not least because this is my first foray into the mountains since migrating to Andalucia in July and I don’t want to make a mess of it. Rather than head for the high tops – some of which I have climbed on previous visits – it is my intention to explore the middle reaches of this spectacular range. After all, the Sierra Nevada is the highest mountain range in south-west Europe, so there is no shortage of ground to explore.

By 10.30am I’m standing on the GR 7 long-distance footpath, high in the pasturelands between the towns of Lanjarón and Órgiva. The GR 7 will take me to the village of Cañar, from where I will veer up the southern slopes of Pico del Tajos de los Machos to join another long-distance footpath, the GR 240. A forestry track will then take me by a circuitous though hopefully leisurely route back down the mountain to my starting point. The mean vertical distance of today’s undertaking is 1,098m (3,602ft), plus some unavoidable ups and downs.

above canar 25Cañar is already visible, its white walls gleaming beneath the retreating storm clouds. Between me and the village lies the Rio Sucio in its narrow gorge. The GR 7 takes me into the gorge by a steep and slippery route, crosses the river by rickety footbridge, then climbs into the sunlight across some precipitous ground, the pathway cut into the cliffs in places. It’s quite spectacular and, I must say, unexpected.

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The GR 7 cuts across the cliffs of the gorge

The GR 7 cuts across the cliffs of the gorge

I am welcomed into Cañar by a very noisy dog which pursues me along a lane, snapping at my boots. I have been told by numerous people, since moving to Spain, that the time-honoured method of dealing with noisy dogs is to bend down and pretend to pick up a stone. This never fails, apparently.

So I bend down and pretend to pick up a stone. The dog clears off but returns, barking, seconds later. I bend down again and choose a suitable cobble, which I hurl at the dog – just missing it. The dogs yelps, runs away, then regards me from a safe distance with sad eyes and a pained expression, as if I have broken the rules.

I feel bad about the dog. But it took me more than fifty years to learn that you don’t get anywhere in this world without breaking rules. Perhaps both of us are on a learning curve, with the dog enjoying the distinct advantage of learning faster than me.

above canar 13 above canar 14above canar 15Cañar is one of the Moorish villages of the Alpujarras – the area of foothills and lush valleys between the Sierra Nevada and the coastal mountains – and at an altitude of 1,030m (3,379ft) is also one of the highest. Its white-walled church was originally built as a mosque; its streets are barely wide enough to allow the passage of a donkey and panniers. For those with time to spare, it’s a pleasant place to tarry.

Not me, though. I had a late start and the GR 7 was rougher than expected. I take an old mule trail from the village and climb, in a series of zigzags, up the slopes of the Sierra Nevada to a forestry track (the GR 240) that cuts almost horizontally around the mountains at an altitude of about 1,720m (5,643ft).

It’s during this climb that I realise I am not in the best of conditions. I haven’t undertaken a serious walk for six or seven months, and although I run and cycle several times a week, nothing prepares the body for mountain walking as thoroughly as the activity itself. By the time I reach the forestry track I’m experiencing leg cramps, I’m sweating profusely, and I’ve consumed nearly two litres of water. I sit myself in the dust – somewhat stiffly – eat a sausage and a carrot, and thank God (and Allah, just to be on the safe side) that my route does not take me any higher.

above canar 18

A welcome marker post on the GR 240 long-distance footpath. It's all downhill from here

A welcome marker post on the GR 240 long-distance footpath. It’s all downhill from here

above canar 16By mid-afternoon the storm clouds have retreated far into the east. My route lies in the opposite direction along the forest track into the burning sunshine, and beneath boughs of oak adorned with autumn colours. By 4pm I have begun my descent down a craggy spur overlooking the gorge of the Rio Lanjarón. The blue ridges of the Sierra Tejeda y Almijara rise in the west, the grey-green bulk of Sierra de Lujar in the south. A smudge of Mediterranean fills the gap between the two.

above canar 19 above canar 23above canar 21above canar 22At the 1,300m (4,265ft) level I pass flat-roofed shepherds’ huts and squat houses surrounded by scrubby plantations. Further down the mountain the pastures become greener, assuming an almost Alpine quality. This is enhanced by the sound of cowbells, although I suspect the animals – all of which are hidden from view – are goats rather than cows.

Nearly home now and my legs are as stiff as planks. Down in the olive groves the old man and his son are still watering their trees. We’ve all had a long day, it seems. But I bet my feet are sorer than theirs.

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About McFadzean

Alen McFadzean, journalist, formerly of the Northern Echo, in Darlington, and the North-West Evening Mail, Barrow. Former shipyard electrician. Former quarryman and tunneller. Climbs mountains and runs long distances to make life harder. Gravitates to the left in politics just to make life harder still. Now lives in Orgiva, Spain.
This entry was posted in Climbing, Footpaths, GR 240, GR 7, Hiking, Mountains, Religion, Walking, Weather and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

35 Responses to Chasing the Storm

  1. Martin Benson says:

    I’ve missed these posts, great to have two within a week. And super photography!
    Regards
    Martin

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  2. lIz Adams says:

    So sorry you’re not in my home country any more! but the pix are still great. What made you leave, and are you planning to tell more about that?

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    • McEff says:

      Hi Liz. I was made redundant from The Northern Echo, in Darlington, and because local newspapers are shedding staff like there’s no tomorrow we decided to sell our house and move to Spain. There are no jobs over here either, but the cost of living is far lower and the sun shines more.
      I’ve set up another blog which deals with life in Spain and the strange things that happen. If you want to take a look, just click the link.
      https://awkwardroads.wordpress.com/
      Cheers, Alen

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  3. Pat says:

    Beautiful photos and beautiful prose. Thanks for sharing your journey.

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  4. Alen,
    Great day out. I hinted to you that the GR7 was good, as is the GR142.
    I had a dog follow me all the way from Lobras to Cadiar, he didn’t know the rules and just kept a distance from me and my stones. Only got rid of him by going into a cafe for lunch and finding a way out the back whilst he sat outside at the front – still feel guilty.
    Non sequitur – my father worked at The Northern Echo for 30 years on the Linotype machines until they were phased out. I also worked there as a ‘copy reader’ in my school holidays, 1960ish. It was a superb paper with a good balance of local and national/international news.
    Their loss is Alpujarrras’s gain! The stiffness will go and you will be able to out again just because they’re there.
    John.

    Liked by 1 person

    • McEff says:

      Hi John. What a brilliant dog story. Wonder if he’s still waiting outside the cafe like Greyfriars Bobby, the poor thing.
      The GR7 looks great. I’m going to have a crack at it one day. I see it overlaps with the GR 142 in this area. Must get my head round all this.
      You would not recognise The Northern Echo these days. All the comps, Linotype operators and proof-readers had gone by the time I started there in 1995. Since then the pre-press department has been outsourced to India, the subs desk (that was me and numerous others) outsourced to Newport, and the photographic department massacred. That’s progress, apparently. Still, health and happiness is what matters.
      All the best, Alen

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  5. I thought you were giving up this blog in favour of your new one?

    Great photos after the storm – I always like that light. I think you’d be suffering as much from ‘hot walking’ as from just hill walking – I always struggle to walk mountains in high heat. We have a big advantage here for hill-walking that it’s nearly always bloody freezing!
    Carol.

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    • McEff says:

      Hiya Carol. No, the other blog is just a bit of diversification. This one’s my real interest. It’s been dormant because we’ve been concentrating on house-hunting. But now we’ve finally signed a contract on a new place (after a couple of setbacks), I don’t feel guilty about getting out in the hills.
      And yes, the heat is a problem. But autumn’s here and it’s quite pleasant at the moment.
      All the best, Alen

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  6. John arnison says:

    As always a great post . Thank you for sharing.

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  7. It would be a shame if that dog was trying to tell you your shoe lace was undone. (I’ve never understood why yappy dogs don’t drive themselves mad with all that barking.)

    The high path through the trees looked great. I like it when a walk passes through different environments like that: a bit of open skies, a bit of canopy and so on. I’m sure it won’t be long now before you start finding the old features, like mining remnants, railway carriages and discarded tins of branded steak pies.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Lovely photos – looks a fantastic area for walking 🙂

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  9. mbc1955 says:

    Alen, I’ve missed these posts, and it’s good to hear that you’re settling in sufficiently to resume BTT.

    That first photo is magnificent, and the rest aren’t bad either.

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  10. Lindsay says:

    Hi Alen, good to see you have settled in well and buying a house, first rung on the capitalist ladder eh( only joking). Time now for you to your get priorities right and get on them mountains, it won’t be long before your finding mine workings. When you have time in the winter months would be good to see a post on past explorations of the Furness mines. Have fun
    Lindsay

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    • McEff says:

      Hi Lindsay. Had an email from Bert W the other day. Blimey, it’s like being back in Marton only without the Hartley’s Best.
      I am surrounded by lead mines, iron mines, fluorspar mines and even mercury mines (that stuff must be hard to shovel), it’s just a matter of getting my head round it all.
      Cheers, Alen

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  11. rthepotter says:

    Looks amazing. Glad to hear there’s some progress on the house-finding, and that you are out and about again.

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  12. Jo Woolf says:

    Wow, that’s high! I’m not surprised you legs were sore. Canar sounds a very interesting sort of place. I’m not liking the look of that pass cut into the mountains, though! Well done, Alen. First dust washed off your feet!

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    • McEff says:

      Canar is a lovely village. There are no cars because the streets are too narrow. Perfect place to get away from it all, but a bit cold in winter, apparently.
      That path looks a lot worse than it actually is. You could ride a bike along it.
      Regards, Alen

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Hanna says:

    I enjoy your pictures very much and reading your story. You made me curious, with your pictures and I enlarged several of them to see all the details. It’s just like you are resurrected, Alen.
    Thank you for that 🙂
    You say that hiking activity is what prepares best for hiking. That’s interesting because you know what you are talking about. Correct me if I’m wrong (funny?)
    I really hope you are all right in your legs and the rest of you (you nearly got me worried while reading) after the walk. – If not remember to thank Odin as well as God and Allah just to be very safe.
    I love this post. I’ve read it several times and I love to study the map as well.
    You say that GR 7 was rougher than expected! In what way? Steep, lots of stones…
    Thanks a lot for the thrill,
    All the best, Hanna

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    • McEff says:

      Hi Hanna. Thank you for your comment. I’ve been doing quite a lot of running lately and I thought that might have kept my fitness levels up – but it hasn’t. One decent walk in the mountains and I feel wrecked. Mind you, it might be old age creeping up on me (59 three weeks ago – that’s pretty old isn’t it?). But yes, different activities demand different muscles to be used in different ways. So the best way to keep in shape on the hills is to remain active on the hills. And I will remember Odin – and certainly Thor, because he was about in the storm clouds that day.
      That section of the GR 7 is a pleasure to walk, but rough underfoot. There are lots of stones, and some steep and slippery bits. Worth the effort though.
      All the best, Alen

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  14. I should have added to my comment in your previous post, the Alpurrajas are an area we stayed in back in 2011. The road between Lanjaron and Orgiva being crossed many times!
    Particularly liked the shots looking down from the hills over the reservoir! Brought back a number of memories. In 1996 they were upgrading the road next to the reservoir – big time. Was chaos.
    You will be driving over lemons next!!!
    Buen suerte
    John

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  15. Pingback: The Tavignano Gorge on Corsica | HANNA'S WALK

  16. Hillwalker says:

    Well better late than never. Glad I caught up at last. A good piece, nice pics too 😎

    Like

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