After the navigational challenges of the first circular walk out of El Pont de Suert the second is a 'piece of cake'. It's a completely different - less about abandoned villages and decaying trails and more about huge open views, particularly north into the Pyrenees.
The walk is straightforward. It strikes west, following the GR 15, to Cirés (excellent way marks which were being freshened up with a new lick of paint as I walked along it). It then joins a track up and around the head of a valley and climbs steadily for 900m. Next comes the best stretch, a lovely wide grassy ridge that shouldn't be rushed. The views from here are excellent and it's the perfect place to stop for a picnic. After the ridge the it's downhill all the way back to El Pont de Suert.
|The red strip man|
The route is about 20km, involves 1200m of climb and will take around 7 hours to complete - there is nowhere on the route to buy food.
The walk starts at the footbridge in the centre of the old town, crosses the bridge and follows the GR 15 way marks along an old footpath, past vegetable gardens (allotments in the UK) out of town (see 1 above) . It's an excellent path (2), well maintained, and must have been the original route from El Ponte de Suert to Cirés. We follow it east for 3.5 km (crossing a road after 2.4 km) before descending into Cirés.
At Cirés (3) we visit the first of only two Romanesque churches seen on this walk which compared to most of the walks in the Prepirineo is a poor tally. It is however particularly nice and its location on a ridge in the centre of the valley is perfect.
|La Corronco (2538m)|
Leaving the GR15 behind (along with its excellent way marks) we join a farm track to the south of the village. After 300m it turns right at a fork (don't go down the hill to the stream) and follows another track (4) that switchbacks its way up the mountain side. Although there is still a scattering of box trees and evergreen oak, the views open up (5) and are only slightly spoilt by power lines. 7 km up the valley from Cirés our circular route joins the GR 18 (6). The GR18 is a 135km long distance trail that starts in Fonz in the south and finishes at Pico Aneto (3404m) in the Pyrenees. We follow it south along a nasty gravel track (7) up to a pass. The summit (8) to the west of the pass provides excellent views in all directions and although our route heads east is well worth a short detour.
Now comes my favorite part of the walk. From the pass we walk east along a wide ridge (9) and over a series of grassy summits. The views are wonderful, but dominated perhaps by lovely green mountains to the NE the highest of which is Lo Corronco (2538m). Further away and to the north is Pico Aneto, the end point for the GR18. Also visible on the horizon to the south is the Sierra Montsec, a mountain ridge cut into three parts by two huge dissecting gorges and explored earlier in the year as part of the trip along the GR1.
|A man with a mission|
|Grabbing the last of the grass|
The wide grassy ridge is clearly important for summer grazing. When I was up there in mid-October cattle were still munching away and three huge flocks of sheep were grabbing the last of the summer grass. The flocks were a great sight. They resembled giant woolly lawn mowers with each of them being urged along in tight formation by a shepherd and 2 or 3 dogs.
The highest grassy hill on the ridge is the Tossal Gros (1589m) (10) marked, with a distinct lack of romance, by an empty metal box that must have been the home for some communications equipment. The route heads down the hill from the metal box and after 100m turns left (following a mountain bike sign) and continues its descent north.
On the way down the gravelly 2 km track (11) I had to step into the box and juniper bushes on the side to make way for yet another flock of sheep being driven at speed up the mountainside.
After visiting the Romanesque chapel (Ermita de La Mare de Dúe de la Mota) (12) the route continue's its descent east to the village of Buira and joins a metalled road. We follow the road down the hill (now heading north) for 1 km, then leave it and join a path (13) (there is a mountain bike sign) that heads steeply down the mountain side through evergreen oak trees. After 700m the path emerges onto the road, follows it for 500m and then turns left along an old path (more bike signs) and heads into El Pont de Suert.