We are blessed with what surrounds us in the form of countryside; we can stroll along subtropical beaches or if we prefer, walk through mountains and lush-green plateaux. With a short drive we can take our dogs for a walk amongst pines forests, rimmed with frost on the north face of hills and yet sit and enjoy the sunny terrace of a bar on a paseo – we are spoilt.
Recently, on one trip ‘over the top,’ onto the Granada plains, we bumped along a track in my problematic car, marvelling as always at the sight of the snow-covered summit of the aptly named Sierra Nevada, squatting on the horizon behind a wooded foreground.
We puzzled over the misplaced architecture of an abandoned house, because it has a two-sided slate roof, for all the world like something out of Wales. The house also has a large weeping willow in its grounds, a well and a stream through the garden. The front terrace leaves you knocked flat by the spectacular views of Sierra Nevada.
This is where we normally stop, but this time we decided to visit the cluster of abandoned cortijos in the distance, at the end of the track. Perhaps abandoned is not the correct word – certainly not in a legal sense – but most of this group of six or seven cortijos, lent in upon each other, are dilapidated, lacking roofs and with an inside floor of grass and shrubs.
Just behind them begins a gully through the pines, making its way towards Albuñelas, but it is impassible thanks to the thick undergrowth. Above and to the south of them is a dense wood of pines that runs parallel to the Camino Forestal de Albuñuelas. If you follow the track that leads up through this woodland – we did in our optimistic Suzuki Samurai – you are almost immediately afforded a bird’s-eye view of the valley below.
When you visit this area, you come away with layers of mundane life falling from you – you drink the views and they revive tired eyes from too much exposure to computer screens. Now’s the time to do the walk, because the insects are absent and sulking, planning their campaign of pillaging the salt-laden moisture from overheated humans, come the relentless summer.
So where the devil am I talking about? For hardened explorers I’ll tell you that I’m talking about starting point 36″ 53″ 50ºN – 3″ 43″ 32ºW; in other words, a track that begins just 100 metres or so further along the road from the entrance to the Camino Forestal de Albuñuelas, once you’ve gone over the top of the Otivar road to Granada, better known as La Cabra. Many of you will have stopped for a coffee or a beer at the Meson Los Prados, which is the first bar on the way, once you hit the plains – it’s a few kilometres on from there.
So, you leave the road at the said junction, which has two stone posts either side and park your car right there if you plan to walk it – we’re talking about a round walk of three kilometres along more or less level track. If you want to take your car, you don’t need 4×4, but you need a high clearance.
I love the beginning of the track leading to the ‘Welsh Cottage,’ because it is lined with yew trees – almost Tuscan. The grounds of the house is an ideal place for a picnic as there is water to wash up afterwards – you eat there and then walk it off, or have your food there when you return.
Enjoy the walk along the track, where you can see a natural pond below you, surrounded by rushes, Above you runs the wood.
The cluster of cortijos, known as a cortijada in Spanish was evidently a tiny hamlet, with maybe half a dozen families with numerous offspring living there. Nowadays, one or two of the buildings have locks on the door and are evidently frequented by hunters. Bear in mind that for all their inhabitability, they are somebody’s property, so be respectful.
For those that have decided that after having gone through the expense of buying and maintaining a car, you’re bloody well going to use it, like yours truly, then take the track up through the woods. I followed it for some distance before chickening out, not because of its surface but because I was on four wheels instead of two, which is my preferred form of transport for exploration.
There you go. It’s all yours. I won’t recommend what you wear; it’s entirely your own responsibility. I once recommended a day out at the Junta de Los Riós, whose very name is a bit of a give away that we’re talking about a river, yet I received an irate reader’s letter reprimanding me for not recommending waterproof footwear… it is an unfortunate fact of life that the people who most like to complain are the very ones that have most time on their hands to do it, plus an email account.