In the shadow of the Guadarrama

Walking with donkeys in the Sierra de Guadarrama (source)

I’m joining in with Jo’s Monday walk with a synopsis of a three-day trek in the Sierra de Guadarrama. Not so much dancing with wolves – though they are here – as walking with donkey.

This Spanish adventure was on my agenda a year ago, just before a back operation. Intended as a goal to healing and a certificate of recovery, it proved to be better than anticipated, although there were brief moments of a step too far.

I prepared for the trip by signing up for Spanish lessons – not only is it insulting to visit a country without bothering to learn anything of the language but also in the pueblos of Castile & Leon en route, very little English is understood. Besides I love the language and aim to be fluent before having to say my final adiós (I am trusting to longevity!) Just a month or so before, I also joined the local gym to do some leg strengthening exercises.

The travel company provided all the routes, detailed directions, hostelries and transfers and so all I needed for support were these three:

I’m not a natural-born traveller and the whirlwind of flying London to Madrid, train to Segovia and barely a glimpse of this fine city before being whisked by travel company car to Navafría is somewhat disorienting – but the contrast is well worth the loss of equilibrium. Gradually the calm and quiet tempo settle into the bones and swapping four-wheels for four furry legs is enchanting.

And so begins the journey of a thousand miles or rather 13-15 km per day unless you inadvertently stray, and approximately 5-6 hours, but only if you do not permit your donkey to dine on the wealth of verdage at each and every step.

The walks are indeed scintillating though necessarily impressionistic if one is to attend to every nuance of direction. I recall incessant bird song, rushing rivers, picturesque bridges, aromas of wildflowers and herb crushed underfoot, willow and oak, lone flocks with dogs barking at our approach, as vociferously as if we were a couple of wolves in sheeps clothing.

There are isolated churches with storks nesting in the towers, villages with every living soul seemingly engaged elsewhere, and cattle herds with menacing horns, free roaming or shielded behind stone walls. And all set in a tonal landscape of honey, lime and a brooding blue sierra.

Of course there are the ups and downs too – those that take your breath away with the view or just the sheer incline, descents into dry stream beds where only a donkey can tread daintily, and the plateaus of pastoral paths or dry, dusty roads.  There is rain that drenches your directions just when you are lost so that you cannot turn the page for the next prompt, wind that drives you to take a turn off too soon and whips your map from view as you try to make sense of the landscape, and sun that beats down with just enough heat to make the grassy rests a real treat.

Every stop-over is a small town, each very different from the one before, with up-to-the-minute modernity mixed with history and hospitality. Navafría, Requijada, Pedraza, and Gallegos – the names now drop into memory as dots in the vast country that is Spain. Hasta pronto!

I do not advertise but must acknowledge the splendid organisation which made this holiday possible: Away from the Crowds

15 thoughts on “In the shadow of the Guadarrama

  1. Wonderful, Laura! What a superbly narrated piece. I really enjoyed your company on the brooding blue sierra. And that of your photographic companion too 🙂 Many thanks for the link. Hope you’re fighting fit these days 🙂

    1. good to be able to walk these distance Jo and have an adventure too – as well as an excuse to join you this Monday 🙂
      p.s. not so much fighting fit as a bit battle weary all the same!

  2. Lovely landscapes, and your description of “…tonal landscape of honey, lime and a brooding blue sierra” fits well!
    Were you a bigger group or did you two do this walk by yourself?

    1. yes it was just the two of us plus four-legged porter though another group were doing the same route so we crossed paths as it were – but that is a whole different donkey tale!

  3. What a magical trip, Laura, and wonderfully rendered here. Makes me think of Laurie Lee’s ‘As I walked out one midsummer morning’

    1. pushed out of my comfort zone for a change Donna – and loved it 😉

  4. Oh this is a beautifully narrated and photographed journey, it sounds so idyllic “incessant bird song, rushing rivers, picturesque bridges, aromas of wildflowers and herb crushed underfoot” I want to do this one day…

    1. worth every step of the way Jude – along ancient drover’s routes

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