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Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Almansa toward Higueruela - and TAKE NOTE!!!

Today was just stunning and a beautiful sunny day, although with a hint of frost in the air as we left Almansa at 08.10am.  What scenery we had today!  At one time, all we could hear was the sighing of the wind, the birds - similar to skylarks calling - singing on the wing, the swish of my back pack as I swung my arms walking, the thud of our footsteps and the tingling of the dog's collar discs.  It was a long, hard walk with some challenges along the way - so for those who are going to walk this section - read on and take note!  Despite the challenges, at the end we were tired but satisfied and felt a great sense of achievement.  The 23km may have been slightly longer with a bit of a diversion as there is a new track due to the fact the old route follows a "very" busy main road.  This brings our total to 163.4km so far, around 1/7th of the total Camino!  It's amazing to find how much ground we have covered since Valencia!

The first part from Almansa, is largely on road and tarred track next to the main road.  It passes by some impressive solar panels and heads little by little out into the countryside.  Early on in our journey we came across a very helpful directional arrow that meant we avoided crawling through these drainage pipes under the new main road.  Without this arrow we might easily have thought that the Camino had turned into an army assault course and have been tempted to crawl on our bellies through them.  
Hermitage of San Antonio
From here the route took a gentle climb uphill, past the Hermitage of San Antonio (5km mark) and then crossing over a new railway bridge, not mentioned on the map.  The arrows make it look as though you have to continue along the track next to the new bridge, but in fact, you need to go over it.  The arrows pre-date the new bridge so there is a little confusion, but if you go wrong it is only a matter of 20m or so because the way is blocked by fencing and the railway.  Akina was so funny because I wanted to take this photo to show the way, over the new bridge and called her to me, she ran right up to me and as soon as she saw the camera she backed up, sat and looked at the camera!  I think she is now so used to posing for Camino photos that she just got in her "ready" position!

Camino (left sign) Prohibido (right sign)
Just after the railway bridge we finally meet the dirt road and from here the walk is breathtaking.  You feel like you are in the middle of nowhere and have no concept of the main road, not so very far away to your left, but in the valley.  You can hear nothing but the sounds of nature and your own movements.  The guidebook says that the way is marked along with signs of where "not" to go and this is true.  To the right and left of the track are many signs explaining that the land is private and mostly dedicated to hunting and training hunting dogs.  Some have chains and no entry signs slung across the turnings - so it is not possible to make a mistake here.  Often we came across strange fenced areas but set up with water (including some with dog drinking bowls and dog pictures on them) and beside these man made rabbit warrens with rabbits inhabiting them.  One can imagine the scenario and the training.  Today was a quiet day for most of the route and we only met hunters near our dog swap point at around km 13.

Akina at one of the strange hunting
areas, I think for training.  She took
advantage of the dog drinking
bowl set in cement here! 
The way climbs up and up and although not steep, it is tiring as it is a very, very long slope.  The views get better and better the higher you go and we could look down on drifting cloud - which had an icy and frosty edge to it which cut through the warmth of the morning sun.

There is a steep cliff rising out of the ground and the arrows appear occasionally along the way - standing out in stark contrast to the natural geomorphology.  At the highest point, at just after 10.00, we took advantage of our beauty spot to have breakfast.

Akina at breakfast - the Robertson Mala on my
backpack taking in the view!
From here the route took a gradual downward direction toward our meeting place.  The sun had burnt off the frosty clouds and it was quite warm for the time of year.  As this section, from Almansa to Higueruela is 38.4km it made me think how glad I was to be walking it now and not in the heat of summer.  The guidebook clearly reminds Perigrinos to take enough water for the whole walk, all the way to Higueruela and once walking, one can see why - there is nowhere to refill water bottles along the way.

As you can see - not a lot of shade!
This is "the tree" of the day - the only
one of the path!
For the dogs, I carried extra water as usual, but at this time of year we have many puddles and small dams filled with water along the way and so they had no problem getting refreshment.  Even the little hunting corrals had taps and the "dog bowls" of water where they could take a drink, but for humans - they have to go all the way, and be prepared.  It is harsh here, even today the sun was hot (although completely bearable) but there is hardly a stick of shade on the whole route and it would be easy to roast.  Certainly for anyone walking in the Spring or Summer - come well prepared not only with water but with plenty of sunscreen and keep it accessible in a pocket so you don't have to keep removing your back pack to reapply!

Along the route, every now and again, one finds these lovely little information signs in both Spanish and English, giving some of the region's history.  The first one was as I approached the end of the spur of the Sierra del Mugrón, the cliffs of which we were walking below for the morning.  There are apparently cave paintings in some of the caves of the Mugrón and the area is very old, including a path that pre-dates the Romans.  There is a website that you can visit on:  There is also a bunker at this point from the time of the Civil War that is a short walk from the track.  The path we were on is also part of the Camino de Santiago but the "de la Lana" route from Alicante.  It soon turns from the Levante route, northwards, and joins the Frances route past Burgos.  We later met the departure point of this Camino beyond El Carrascal on today's walk.

One of the Civil War bunkers

One of the caves of the Mugrón

Sierra del Mugrón in the distance
Shortly after this point Akina and I met a hunter with a beagle, and a training vehicle of hunting and competition dogs.  The beagle was working hard and I asked Akina to focus on me - she was a star, not even looking to the other dog although it was loose and tracking close by.  After we were clear she had lots of praise, treats and then a run to the car - as she had caught the scent of her "family" close by.  After a quick coffee and consulting the map and letting the dogs have a quick play together I headed on to the main road - some 500m away by car with the intention of being dropped 2km further along at the next part of the walk.  The road is very, very busy and not the nicest of safest to walk along - especially with the dogs, so I had decided to skip this short section for safety, comfort and enjoyment purposes.

However, as we met the main road I could see arrows indicating a track opposite.  Kaishi and I therefore got dropped here and we continued on toward El Carrascal with the idea of meeting up with the vehicle at our planned point - Casa del Hoya.  However, Perigrinos BEWARE and take note - hopefully this will help you with your own walk when you reach this point...

The way directly after you cross
 the main highway - this railway
bridge is the one "before" the one
indicated on the map and
mentioned in the guidebook
and saves the Pilgrim walking
along the busy highway
The way is not very clearly marked - there are arrows directly after you cross the road, but then no more until after the farm called "Casa de Nuevo El Carrascal" which is NOT the same as El Carrascal!  There is one arrow just before the Casa de Nuevo, but it is in the "opposite" direction.  From the map you can see the approximate way (marked with a pencil line and arrows) that I took and this is directed from the main road.  The yellow Camino path marked on the map is along a very, very busy highway and it shows the route that is described in the guidebook, however, it appears to be the intention to take Pilgrims on the route that I walked.  It is much more pleasant and through the countryside, but at the farm mentioned above, there are no arrows.  I was fortunate in being able to ask two very kind gentleman fixing a tractor, which way to go.  They did not know that the Camino passed this way now, but they did understand that things have changed and they did know "El Carrascal" and so could direct me onto the path going the right way.  This might not be easy if you do not have anyone to ask as there are about 5 different paths all leading into/out of the farm.

One of the faint directional arrows on this part of the path.
If the vegetation grows up it may be obscured altogether
The direction is obvious of course as one is walking parallel to the railway and main highway (although they are at some distance from the path) but even so, one likes to be sure by following the directional arrows.  Basically, when you enter the farm just keep the farm buildings that have white walls and the white wall surrounding the outside of the farm on your "right hand side" and keep walking in the same direction that you have already been traveling.  Along this path you will once again encounter the yellow directional arrows - although both they and the red and white GR route markers are very faint!

The real El Carrascal
I have included some examples in the photos here and also some of the way so future Pilgrims can compare the views - however, do bear in mind that a photograph taken in November can look very different to one taken in April!  The "Casa de Nuevo El Carrascal" is shown as an approximate location on my map above.  Instead of coming into El Carrascal over the bridge and passing in front of the buildings as directed in the guidebook, you will actually come into the farm from above it, then have to turn sharp left and head back out again and up a hill.  This sharp turn I have tried to indicate on the route outlined above.  There is a directional arrow in front of you (but very faint) on the corner of a wall of a white building - shown below.  As you turn the corner you will see on your left, but which can't be seen as you enter the farmyard as they are behind you at that point, clear markers and a fingerpost.

Yellow arrow on the wall ahead of you - you can just about
make it out in this photograph.  The obvious arrows are
behind me as I took this picture, but when I turned left,
they become obvious and were then on my left.  
 At this point I was feeling tired and the effects of the day.  I decided to reach the top of the rise and then have lunch - around 13.10.  As I reached the top, Michael called from the support vehicle to say he had just been pulled out of the mud by a kind farmer with his tractor - very lucky as there did not seem to be a soul around! As I looked along the path - there he was a few hundred meters ahead of me!  I stopped for lunch and he headed on to the rendezvous point.    Half an hour and some refreshment later and a person feels as good as new again!  Kaishi as always lay down to chill out after finishing her lunch, choosing the sunny spot to gather the warmth from the rays of the sun.  Although quite a hot day - the shade of the bushes is very chilly!

Kaishi at lunch
 A few meters from where I perched on a rock - to keep my bottom off the damp and muddy ground - was a fingerpost and from what I could make out, a Camino shell, pointing in completely the opposite direction from where I wanted to go.  Michael had mentioned "another Camino" when he had sent his message and I was a bit confused by this.  However, all now became clear - El Camino de Levante continued in the direction I was heading, but El Camino de la Lana (the Wool Road), takes a different direction and there is also an accommodation at an Albergue 3km from this point for those who do not feel they can make it to Higueruela in one go.

Lana Path is the path that followed the shearers livestock, farmers and traders related to the goods of wool and derivatives thereof, and joined the major producer of La Mancha sheep with Burgos, commercial capital of the moon during the sixteenth and XVII. There is a documented pilgrimage route in the spring of 1624 by Francisco Patino, Maria Franchis and Sebastian de la Huerta. 

From Atienza Covarrubias (in reverse) matches the path of Exile del Cid. 

There is a story in Valencian, L'Espill ("The Mirror") which recounts a trip to Santiago made by its author, Jaume Roig, before 1460.

Lana Path - showing the towns it passes through.
There is a route from both Alicante and Valencia
although the Valencian route is apparently not well
marked - it heads north and then crosses to join the
Lana route marked here

A reminder of the various Caminos across Spain - no. 7 is our Levante route.
I quite fancy doing the Lana route, the Via de la Plata as discussed earlier in this blog
and the del Norte route along the coast...  Watch this space!  Of course, I have
to make it all the way on the Levante first!!

The Wool Way continues in this
direction and an Albergue is
only 3km from here

You can find more information about the route, pdf's of the route directions and Albergues on Google.  There are a number of sites that will help you if you wish to walk this route and at 380km it is quite a nice way to head up to join the French route if you wish to do this.  One very nice site is:  but there are others.  

Once on our way again, the route was easy to follow again and another hour and a half later we were with the support vehicle after another long but gentle incline onto the plains.  Windmills litter the skyline, although not the little round towered Molino kind of Cervantes' Castilla de La Mancha - because in Quixote territory we are!  I think if Don Quixote saw the size of today's windmills he'd have a bit of a surprise!  He'd certainly need a longer lance!  
Today's windmills might surprise Don Quixote! 

I couldn't resist taking this picture - the autumn colours
of the vine leaves and the neat rows of vines are just
things of beauty

The day was long and one of the hardest yet, but also one of the most satisfying and with possibly the best scenery so far - although each place has its special places.  I'm sure I will find many more along the way!  I am due to do my final "single" day walk on Saturday, but looking at the guide and the roads, I might change my mind and to do my first two day walk which will take me through to Chinchilla.
The Molinos of Cervantes' Don Quixote

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