Spain – the gift that keeps on giving. We are in Soria, the least densely populated region in Spain with an average of just 9 people per square kilometre. Our home for the weekend is a small house, set in the middle of a vast pine forest and flanked by high tree covered hills. People have sometimes compared this area to the Taiga forest in Russia … minus the bears.
I have set myself a challenge this year – to climb 30 of the highest or most important peaks in Madrid and Guadalajara before I myself turn 30 (on June 30th). One of the great things about this challenge is that it is forcing me to explore places I’ve never been to, so, after nearly 4 years of living in Madrid, I finally head to the neighbouring mountains of Guadalajara – the Sierra de Ayllón.
The green seems to appear out of nowhere. We have been driving through Castille Leon for 2 hours; the Spanish ‘meseta’ in July is dry, yellow and featureless.
Occasional clumps of trees or dried up river beds provide a welcome, if brief, change of scenery. Suddenly we are transported into another world: dense forest, tree-covered hills transforming into bare mountain tops, speckled with snow.
Approaching the Sierra de Guadarrama from Madrid there is always one sight that takes my breath away. That is the first glimpse of La Maliciosa as you drive towards Navacerrada.
Rising almost 1000 metres directly from the reservoir of Navacerrada, its granite bulk looms over the pretty, alpine village below.
I can’t be the only one, wandering through Madrid’s leafy parks, to notice the almost complete absence of our furry, often misunderstood friend – the squirrel.
Coming from the UK, where gangs of grey-haired rodents roam our parks, I was expecting the same in Spain. But, after nearly 3 years of living in the Spanish capital, I have yet to see one.
It’s 9pm on a saturday night, the rain is cold and unceasing. I crouch under a lone tree on the banks of the River Riaza desperately seeking shelter. I briefly question if this is how I should be spending my Saturday nights. The answer – an emphatic yes.
Cabárceno Nature Park in Cantabria, Northern Spain, is not like other wildlife parks. 75 hectares in size and situated in an old Roman iron mine, it is the biggest wildlife park in Europe and one of the biggest in the world. The former toxic mining zone has been transformed into a wildlife haven, where endangered primates, big cats and European bison can roam in semi-freedom.
It is a bank holiday Friday, Madrileños are celebrating their Patron Saint. Throngs of people are coming into the capital for the festivities, Maria is working on a live TV special. I make a sneaky exit and catch an early morning bus to San Lorenzo de El Escorial and the low, rocky Machotas.
I cross through the enormous courtyard of the Palacio, early tourists wait to enter, while swifts and swallows take their breakfast in the skies above. Leaving both equally noisy groups behind I enter the tranquillity of the Bosque de la Herreria. I wander happily through shaded walkways of tall oak. The forest is overgrown and lush. A robin sits in a bush, crows caw high in the trees.
Note: Some of the photos used are taken from our previous trip canyoning in Extremadura. The cover image and photos from Extremadura are not my property.
High canyon walls surround me, the sound of rushing waters overwhelms. Moisés, our guide, shouts in my ear and points to a pool of clear, cool water 6 metres below, encircled by cascading rapids. I inch closer to the edge, trying to keep my footing against the flowing water and slippery rock. I turn around, the group give me a thumbs up, Maria looks like she’s going to be sick. I jump.
Having recently embraced middle-age early and purchased my first bird watching book, we decided to go to a very special place this weekend – The Hoces del Rio Riaza – a protected nature reserve and home to one of the biggest and most important Griffon Vulture colonies in Europe.
We stayed overnight in a pretty medieval town in Segovia called Maderuelo. An important frontier town during the centuries of war between Moorish and Christian Spain it is built high up above a lake. Our ‘medieval suite’ looks out onto the lake, bats circle the town walls in the evening dusk.