On my last trip I had 24 hours of really heavy rain at Sos del Rey Catolica and didn't manage to walk the section to Biel. Neither Biel or Sos are very accessible so I decided this time to walk this stretch of the GR1 that takes you through a series of spectacular towns from Olite to Murillo de Gállego.
I was in Olite by 12 having travelled from Vitoria via Pamplona. I'm getting used to Spanish buses. They're cheap and punctual and the only challenge is working out the timetables which are run by different providers.
The walk to Ujue is not one of the best on the route. Before you get back into the mountains you have to cross the flat agricultural plain east of Olite with its mix of vineyards, cornfields and pig farms. This is Navarre and the waymarking is not good but at least you can see Ujue in the distance - a church on top of what looks like a ridge. As you get into the hills you lose sight of the town which reappears, quite magically, as you round a final bend. It has the perfect location high up out on a promontory with great views all round.
|Approaching Ujue from the north|
Ujue has three fairly upmarket restaurants but only one place to stay. Miren who owns the casa rural was out enjoying herself at the fiesta but I eventually got in and then went out to see what was going on. Everyone, even very small children, was dressed in a sort of peasant outfit of white with a red scarf and waistband. On a stage in the tiny main square were two young women and a man bashing out, very corny sounding Latin tunes with the support of a guitarist and drum machine. People were dancing, letting off fireworks and drinking although because the fiesta had been going on the four days it was all quite restrained Children were everywhere and it was a real family event.
At about 9-45pm, the earliest time possible, I went to one of the restaurants and ordered from a set three course menu. The food was excellent but instead of one I was brought three very substantial starters. Not to be defeated I worked my through the three starters, a main course and a desert and managed to finish just as the Spanish arrived in their white fiesta uniforms at 11pm.
|Ujue from the east|
Next day the weather was dull and muggy and although that spoilt the views it was still a great walk. Leaving Ujue I could see the church on the horizon which marked the next hill top town, Gallipienzo Antiguo. Getting there was straightforward - all I had to do was follow a winding dirt road and get past a pack of hunting dogs. A few parries with my walking poles kept the dogs at bay but they certainly got close.
|Dropping down into Gallipienzo Antiguo|
Gallipienzo Antiguo is a wonderful place, a poor man's Ujue, a stunning hill top town: but now largely abandoned. It's very strange walking through its empty streets with many of the houses falling down.
|Getting ready for the parade in Caseda|
Down the hill, across the old bridge over the river and two kilometers down the valley you arrive at Caseda, nowhere near as pretty as Gallipienzo Antiguo but alive and thriving. The town was packed for their fiesta and they were getting ready for the parade.
After Caseda it's still another 20 kilometres to Sos del Rey Catolica, the jewel in the crown of hilltop towns. About half way along the route seems to disappear into the undergrowth and it's a horrible place to be in hot muggy weather - there are little black flies everywhere. I manage to hack my way through eventually but ended up covered in little bramble scratches and sticky seeds.
Things then pick up and the route follows an ancient trail to Sos with some of the original paving still in situ. The muggy weather is harbinger to a storm and just before Sos the thunder starts and rain pours down Mediterranean style. Within seconds everything is awash with water and I wasn't looking my best as I wandered into town.
Sos is a very confusing place normally but especially so in the middle of a storm. It seemed to take forever to find my hotel which is right in the middle of the maze of streets. Given how much water was pouring off me as I entered the bar I expected to be noticed but no one seemed to bat an eyelid.
It was raining all night and for a time I wondered if I was going to be stuck in Sos again. In the morning however it was cloudy but dry and carrying the biggest sandwich ever constructed I set off for Biel.
It turned out to be a really good walk . I not usually a fan of walking through trees but today it worked really well. The trails were contoured and easy, the trees varied and there was a series of little gems to spice things up - three castles (including the dramatic Sibirana Towers), a woman swimming naked in a very shallow river, and the lovely hilltop town of Petilla de Aragón.
Biel is a beautiful perfectly preserved mediaeval village which centres on a huge scary looking tower. The village has a youth hostel which is run by Elene. We have a conversation but as neither of us understood the other progress is slow. The main challenge is that the restaurant is shut and Elene seems to think I have bought my own food. Eventually she understands what the problem is and finds a frozen rice mix in the freezer, waves her arm over the industrial sized catering equipment and we part on the best of terms.
I had the whole youth hostel to myself. After a much needed shower I go to the kitchen to cook my rice mix. The cooker needs a match, I don't have one and after an extensive search had to conclude that nor did the youth hostel. What I did find however, at the back of a cupboard behind a huge bag of chocolate drink mix was a large unopened packet of chocolate biscuits. Convincing myself that the biscuits were a fair exchange I put the rice mix back in the freezer.
I slept well but was disturbed at 6am by a man dropping off his bag. He didn't stay long but when I went downstairs I noticed he had been in the kitchen and that the biscuit cupboard door was open. It might have been a coincidence but I had a terrible feeling I had helped myself to his biscuits.
I stopped in the village bar for a couple of coffees but they had no bread so no breakfast.
The trail from Biel to Fuencalderas was used to connect the two settlements before they built an alternative for motor vehicles and is more direct. In places it's wonderful with lovely old trees shading the stone walls which line the route. In other places it's in an advanced state of decay and well on the way to a return to nature. It's a shame, but if the routes don't get used they decay, it's hard to use them, you end up walking on roads (if at all).
After a bit of bush wacking I made to Fuencalderas following the white and red waymarks. The cafe at Fuencalderas was shut so I sat on a bench and had a biscuit.
|Chapel of San Miguel de Lisa|
After a short stretch of road walking the trail heads off into mountains with a lovely path across a valley and up through trees to the Chapel of San Miguel de Lisa. It's surrounded by cows and I think I met them the last time I was here. The climbing done, the trail takes you down a stunning valley to the abandoned village of San Felices.
To be honest I'm getting hot and tired - maybe a biscuit diet is lacking something - and the dirt road to Agüero seems to go on forever. When at last I turn a corner and see it I'm relieved and impressed, both with the town and huge cliffs of the Mallos de Agüero that tower above it. Unfortunately Agüero itself decides to be secretive about the location of its bar and after roaming the streets I find it right on the point of departure. It's around a corner and hidden up a staircase. Despite the fact that didn't seem to want any customers they lovingly prepared a sandwich with fresh squeezed tomato and olive oil soaked into the bread and layers of thick slices of locally cured ham.
Six kilometres to go to my final hill top town and there is now an abundance of way marks. In fact every 100 metres or so they tell how far it is to Murillo de Gallego which in the heat is incredibly tiring. The town when it arrives is well worth the wait. It's set in a huge semicircle of cliffs with the Mallo Pisón and the Mallo Ventuso, two great slabs of rock, standing behind it like guardsmen. In the middle is a particularly impressive church, a mixture of Romanesque and Gothic styles.
|Murillo de Gallego|
The original plan was to walk the 6 kilometres or so along the road to Ayerbe ready for the train and home in the morning. I decided a better idea was to go to the Spa Hotel just to south of Murillo de Gallego and go by taxi the next day. After spending only 6 euros yesterday I could afford to go wild and the hotel has the most amazing view of the mountains.