Day 1 - GR 48, Encinasola to Hinolajes

Huge walk today, 44 kilometres, knackered but feeling good, very close to getting blisters on the my first day but after a soak in cold water my feet have stopped cooking and now feel fine.

So where am I and what's the walking like?

Well I'm in Huelva which is the most westerly province in Andalucia, on the border with Portugal, and I'm walking, with Juan Holgado, directly east through the Sierra Morena. It's fairly gentle walking, hilly (we're at an average altitude of around 500 metres) and although the route takes you through a series of small villages, the countryside feels empty.

We are walking through the Sierra de Arecena y Picos de Aroche Natural Park and the landscape is lovely. Most of countryside is used for low intensity animal grazing with the animals sheltering under trees. We have seen the whole range of farm animals: sheep; the famous black Iberian pigs (this is an area famous for the quality of its ham); cattle (supposed to an area where fighting bulls are bred); and even a few goats.

Iberian Pigs

There are trees everywhere, holm oak and cork oak in particular, but some olive trees as well. What's interesting about the trees however is the way they seem to have been planted. The planting seems to have been designed for a dual use of the countryside with the trees planted for cork or for olives but with enough space between them to allow the grass to grow for the grazing animals. The effect is wonderful particularly this time of the year. The crisp winter sun, still low in the sky, reveals scenes which are full of light and shade. It's like an extended walk on a summer evening.

Cork Oak
The other special feature of the walk, so far, has been the trail itself. Predominantly it's along ancient caminos dating back to a time when the countryside was clearly a lot busier than it is today. Because it's grazing country these caminos are often bordered with dry stone walls to keep the animals in. Although some of the routes are showing their age, others are well preserved and the original paving is still in place.
Ancient wall lined trails

So what's the first day been like?

Well it started particularly well - had met Juan the night before at the Hotel Rincon del Abade in Encinasola having completed the trip from England. Dinner with wine, bed and breakfast (in a splendidly noisy bar) all for 38 euros. Given my tight fisted nature I was already well ahead.

Onto the trail by 8am just before the sun rose and through Encinasola, with it's ancient castle, and out along a paved camino into the countryside. After a few kilometres there is a river to cross which, if it wasn't for the intense drought his part of Spain is currently suffering from, could have been a bit tricky.

The lovely path continues all the way Cumbres de San Bartolome and just before we arrive we meet the first people we have seen since Encinasola. One of them is picking a sort of wild asparagus which I recognised from the scrambled egg starter I had had the night before. Juan engaged them in a conversation and I didn't understand any of it but I did get the impression that they thought we were mad to be walking all the way to Hinalojas. We had walked about 18 kilometres and stopped in a bar in the village for a couple of beers and a plateful of lovely local cheese.

The walk is essentially taking you from one defended hill top town to the next and Cumbres Mayores is a particularly fine example with all of the ancient castle walls still intact. By now we were walking in the full heat of the day which in February equates to a perfect walking temperature. Still Cumbres Mayores had been another 10 kilometres and even with a reviving drink I was starting to feel tired as we started on the last stage to Hinalojas.
Cumbres Mayores

After descending down the valley and crossing the railway line, we encountered the only duff bit of walking for a day, a bit of trek along a brand new road (no traffic) as we climbed up over the pass into the next valley. At 800 metres we were now at the highest point of the day and the views back to Cumbres Mayores were great.

The sun was starting to get really low and the light was amazing, just as well as I was getting pretty knackered and definitely slowing down as we got to Hinalojas at about 6.30pm.

We are staying at the Hostal Restuarant Sierra Tortosa, very comfortable with a friendly and helpful family running it.

Well what's it been like walking with Juan?

It's actually been great although a bit tough. The truth is I'm not as fit as I was when I finished the E4 walk last year and for the first time in a while I have had to follow a pace rather than set it. Juan seems to speed up in the afternoon when I'm slowing down. I'm not complaining though, he's great company and it's wonderful to leave all the navigation to someone else, particularly someone who speaks the local language.


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