Friday, 12 June 2009

Striding in the Sierra

To the north of Madrid, still bearing patches of snow despite it being the middle of June, is the Sierra de Guadalajara, its peak visible from large areas of the city. It was to the Siete Picos, one of the mountains in the range, standing at 2138 metres, that our new expat friend, Jon enticed us with a minimum of persuasion. We don't get a huge amount of serious exercise and, while neither of us are huge hiking fans, we've got some decent boots and are always willing to explore new areas of Spain.

The trip didn't get off to a particularly good start. After Jon had mis-read the bus timetable, meaning we missed the bus at Plaza Castilla, we then collectively missed the train at Atocha, thanks to the reduced bank holiday Metro service. So despite our early start (7am) we didn't make it to our starting point of Puerta de Navacerrada until midday after three trains and a protracted coffee stop in Villalba. The journey, and company, was extremely pleasant though, the railway offering spectacular views of the countryside as we climbed to what is - in winter - one of the busiest ski-runs in the world (unsurprising, given its proximity to a city of 3.6 million people.)
After a steep start, we made it to the top of the ridge that runs between the peaks, lunching in the shade of the first. The path varied between a broad, sandy track that would have been fine for bikes to a rocky scramble, barely visible among flowering gorse bushes, boulders and twisted scotch pine. The sheer abundance of flora and fauna was wonderful, the ground strewn with wildflowers of all colors tended by some amazing insects, with birdsong the only sound further down the slopes as the topography changed and the trees became taller and thicker.Jon is an experienced walker and holds a Mountain Leader qualification, and was keeping us on the right track (even when it wasn't visible) with his map and trusty compass. We only made one minor wrong turn, and that was when we were faced with a path that looked much steeper than Jon had anticipated. A quick attempt to find another way down the mountain demonstrated that, short of abseiling or making a massive detour, it was in fact the path. It was pretty steep, but that increased the enjoyment as we scrambled over rocks and trees following a line of mini-cairns marking the route til we arrived at an ice-cold spring where we gratefully refilled our water-bottles. There was hardly any breeze and we were sweating buckets in the sunshine.
5pm saw us arriving in Cercedilla, the terminus of the mountain railway, sipping a well earned cold beer on a cafe terrace before catching the train back to Madrid. We were slightly foot-sore, with touches of sunburn in places, but otherwise unscathed. Jon had plans to go to the cinema before catching an overnight train to Lisbon - Kate and I could hardly keep our eyes open!!

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