The stillness is overwhelming, no wind, no noise. Enveloped in a blanket of white, the snow smothers everything. The ground is dotted with tracks: human, dog, rabbit, deer, and many others I don’t recognise. Each path is a mystery, a traveller writing their own story. I choose the deer and follow the tracks off the path and into the forest.
It has been snowing all morning, the softest, purest, whitest snow I’ve ever seen. The top layer of snow falls through my hands like flour through a sieve. We are in Cercedilla, in the forested valley of Fuenfria. Today it feels more like Narnia (no Mr Tumnus, sadly). The heavy snowfall has put off visitors, we get a look of surprise at the information centre and are warned to stay by the river, not to climb any higher. We nod politely and then set off up, high into the mountain.
We are alone, our only companions the creatures of the forest hidden amongst the trees. Birds sing on through the snow, high in the pines. An inner calm descends, we continue onwards into this timeless world as if in a trance. The path we are on is called the Route of the Viewpoints, this is rendered obsolete by the snow and cloud covering the valley, yet here in this seemingly other world, I prefer to imagine what may lie just out of view, on the other side of the valley.
We reach a high pass – the old road that used to link Madrid with the beautiful medieval city of Segovia. Today it forms the perfect path, popular with hikers and mountain bikers alike. I imagine travellers in 18th century Spain making this hazardous route, huddled together to keep warm against the cold, struggling on without the luxury of ski gloves and modern mountain boots. Breaking my train of thought, and bringing me back to the 21st century, a mountain biker hurtles past me, yelling a warning that others are following behind.
We push on to one of my favourite places in the whole of the Sierra – El Mirador de los Poetas. A beautiful viewpoint, built in memory of the Nobel Prize winning poet Vicente Aleixandre, looks down onto the plains far below and, on a clear day, to the Mountains of Toledo. A little further down, closer to the mountain’s edge and named after another poet – Luis Rosales, lies a wonderful secret. A steel box rests, hidden beneath a boulder, in it there are books, pens, paper, poetry and whatever else has been left behind by literary pilgrims and hikers alike. Just as these famed poets would praise the beauty of nature in their writings, its hope is that people here will, in turn, be inspired. It is a peaceful spot, and one that I hope to go back to many times and add my own verses.
Yet we don’t stay long; it is well below freezing and the warmth of Madrid is calling us home.