Day 3 GR1 to Brañosera

What a tough day, really hard work and I'm now waiting for my dinner totally knackered.

It was harder for two reasons: it was five kilometres longer than expected, 32 instead of 27; and the conditions were terrible - deep wet energy sapping snow.

My route is based on Juan's trail which he has plotted on several trips over a number of years. The route was not nearly as well signed when he did it, has sometimes been re-routed, and sometimes Juan chose to ignore the official route and visit something he was particularly interested in. Today it was an ancient oak sitting high up on a hill and surrounded by deep snow.

At the moment the route signing is good but not perfect and in the trees and snow it's easy to miss the little stakes marking the route. You then have the classic problem of what to go with: Juan's imperfect route or signs you can't find.

We got away early at 8 o'clock before the sun had cleared the side of the valley. We followed the road up to Arbegal (although we realised later that we should have been on the other side of river), and then climbed up through the village into the oak forest beyond. The ground was rock hard and the snow was icy. After a short climb over a pass we were confronted with huge views across a reservoir to Curavacas.

After walking through trees along a thin path high up from the reservoir, and above the little village of Vanes where every house had a pair of clacking nesting storks,
we started the climb up through the forest to Juan's beloved oak tree. I should say that forest as a whole was really pretty with the barks of the oak trees covered in delicate green lichen but climbing to the top of the hill to see the king of them all, a big 1,000 year old specimen, was hard work.

We got a little bit lost on the approach to San Felices de Castillera but it was a stunning little yellow limestone village. Juan had a chat with some local walkers, told them I was walking to the Mediterranean and they gave me a quizzical look.

Passing through San Felices de Castillera we crossed from the shaded north facing side of the valley to the side which had been in the sun for a couple of hours. We were walking along an ancient green lane which was either full of melting snow or full of mud puddled up by a herd of cattle who seemed to be deliberately trying to make the route impassible.

The only thing which kept me going was the prospect of a sandwich at the restaurant we had been told would be open at the next village, Herrerualla de Castillera. Arriving with wet feet we asked the three people sat on the bench near the church where the restaurant was and they pointed up the hill to a man standing near a large pile of manure who they said would open it.

It turned out to be even more primitive than the cantina we visited a couple of days before. It shared with that cantina a calendar adorned by a naked lady enjoying the sun. This cantina however had three other calendars with a similar theme. I asked our host, through Juan, if the bar got busy on the first day of each month and he pointed out wistfully that the calendars were not monthly but quarterly.

It turned out that our host was one of 14 people who lived in the village all year round although the population did increase by another 4 in the summer. He had lived there all his life and told us how he once got lost in the fog going to the next village. After consuming an ancient rum and coke and a glass of brandy we were joined by half of village's inhabitants and I think would still have been there if I hadn't dragged Juan away. Some interesting footwear on show,one person was wearing slippers and another clogs. Juan said a lot of people in the north of Spain still wear clogs, I told him it was the same in England.

The villagers said that we must be mad to try and walk to Brañosera and that we would disappear in the snow. In my experience people who live in the country walk about the same as people who live in towns, hardly at all, but believe that they are better informed about the hazards. Well we didn't disappear but it was incredibly hard work and what Juan thought would take us two hours as I dragged him out the bar took us four. Still the views at the top were brilliant, south across the Spanish plain and west back to Pena Espiguete and Curavacas. If we had had the energy to go to the top at Cuencarra we would have been able to see the Picos.

As it was we were in the Hotel Choro at 5.45 just in time for me to watch the last of the minute by minute coverage of the Tottenham/Arsenal game, great to see that the real Classico went the right way.

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  1. Good to hear you are off again on one of your interesting trips. Will follow your progress, looks a remote area. Seems to be more partaking of food and drink with Juan. Enjoy. John

    1. Hi John, nice to hear from you. The food is good but now Juan has gone back to Madrid things will get a bit more straightforward - I only know how to ask for about three things