This was a walk I had done before with Juan but last time, because it was covered with the snow, the trail was hard to follow and I wanted to make sure I had got it right for the guide. We also missed a bit of the route to go and look at an old oak tree, something I definitely didn't need to do twice.
It was a gorgeous morning and unlike yesterday I didn't have to leave without a coffee.
The walk starts with a trip through a brand new park just to the north of town - new pavements, benches and street lights. Away from the shops and where anyone lives it's hard to imagine it ever getting used. You see developments like this all over Spain, a product of the optimism fueled by the building boom. There is a large new footbridge which Juan and I crossed last time which drops you, heading on the wrong route, in the middle of an empty industrial estate.
|Evergreen oak forest near Requejada Reservoir|
After the village at Arbejal, which has a lovely church, the route takes along the edge of the valley with views across to the Curavacas mountains. It then climbs over a little pass into a stunning forest of evergreen oak. I disturbed some deer who raced off through the trees in all directions.
The trail then takes you down almost to the edge of the Requejada Reservoir with great views across to the mountains beyond. Having passed what looks like the ruins of a lookout tower you're directed across a steep slope back into trees. The path, which is treacherous in places, continues to traverse the slope along the side of the reservoir for a couple of kilometres. Just before I emerge from a tree I see a fox looking for mice in a field - I give him a shout to say hello, he looks up and then he's off.
|Fox says hello|
|Fox says goodbye|
So far the waymarks had been good. At Vanes however, a tiny village soon to benefit from brand new pavements, they go in but not out. Throwing caution to the wind I cut across a hay meadow and head towards a signpost visible above the village.
I ignored the invitation to visit the famous oak tree again (El Roblón) and head towards San Felices de Castillería. Again the way marking marking is good but the forest is full of animal tracks that lead you astray. Thinking I've finally cracked it I head into village only to be confronted by a very unpleasant boggy ally. After wading through the stuff cows leave behind I find a sign confirming that I had come in the wrong way.
Leaving the village was more straightforward with the waymarks taking you along a path through a field and then gradually up into forest of evergreen oak. It's another tree tunnel path which emerges eventually onto open ground before following a dirt road into Herreruela de Castillería.
|Chapel of Our Lady of the Mountain|
There was some sort of event going on in the village involving more people than the normal resident population of 19. It's a pretty place, a ramshackle mix of houses and decaying farm buildings. On the way out, up on the hill, there is a stunning strongly built manor house with a half timbered courtyard at the back. I think it's a casa rural but definitely not available for one night stops. There is also lovely Romanseque chapel just outside the village on the edge of the trail.
|Towards Peña Espigüette|
|Coal mine at Barruelo de Santullán|
Remembering the route from last time I'm expecting the waymarks to take me left and down through a valley into Branosera. They don't and instead stay high on the ridge and eventually turn right and head down black coal strewn mountain road towards Barruelo de Santullán. I decide to stick with the signs despite the fact that I now have no chance of arriving in Branosera in time for a late lunch.
After passing the remains of an old coal mine, now a museum, the route takes me close to, but not into, Barruelo de Santullán. It then heads up the valley to Branosera. The "diversion" has added at least an hour to the trip. In Branosera there is an information board that suggests the "diversion" is the official route although I have seen other boards along the way which point to the direct route.
I had hoped to stay at the El Chorro restaurant hotel which has a good reputation for food. When I arrived they were busy finishing off Sunday lunch and looking after a sweaty Englishman clearly wasn't a priority. They said they were full and suggested I try the restaurant on the other side of town which also had a number of rooms. I did and I got a similar response. I was starting to get just a little anxious. I decided to go back across the village to a bar where Juan and I ate the last time we were here. I knew the owner didn't have any rooms but he was a lovely man and spoke good English.
Jesus Garcia recognised me from the last time and came to the rescue. He had a spare bed which he was happy to let me have. His restaurant was also winding down after Sunday lunch and he invited me to share a meal with him and his friends who had been helping through a busy day.
About half an hour later, at about six and after shower, I was sitting at a table enjoying a feast with six others. It was a multinational crowd, three Spanish, two Portuguese, one Colombian and me the Englishman. Despite my lack of Spanish we managed to have a conversation and I felt really welcomed. A lot of the talk was about "the crisis", the anger at all the politicians, how everything continues to get harder and that's all you can do is rely on friends and family to help you out. After a couple hours, on cue, everyone leap up and started to prepare the restaurant for the evening shift, a group of men had booked the place for a horse meat supper. I was now a spare part so after thanking my new friends for their kindness I retired to my room to write this blog.