Monte Abantos

Monte Abantos

The wind is relentless, ferocious and bitterly cold. Standing on the peak of Monte Abantos the enormous, austere palace of San Lorenzo El Escorial looks like a miniature lego playset. The view stretches on for miles, grassland dotted with lakes and low trees sweeps on towards Madrid, bathed in a haze its 4 high towers rise like tiny fingers out of the pollution-induced mist. Far to the south, the shadow of the Montes de Toledo forms a distant barrier. To the north the high, snow-covered high peaks loom forward, shrouded in cloud. I can’t feel my face. We seek shelter.

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Winter Sun

A crashing noise through the undergrowth breaks the serene silence. This is followed by barking further behind. The noise continues and rises like a crescendo until a Roe Deer bursts through the barrier of scrub and bush 5 metres in front of me and hurtles on down the face of the valley. It is swiftly followed by a small, yapping dog. The dog stops and looks at me, as if to ask me which way its ‘prey’ went. I point in the opposite direction. The dog isn’t buying it. It speeds off down, following the deer’s tracks with me in hot pursuit.

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Almanzor

Climbing Almanzor – Part 2

Click here for Part 1

Our path is a minefield of large boulders, rocks and smaller scree. We choose the route that looks least likely to slide down the side of the mountain. There is a constant danger of falling rock and scree. We tread carefully.

We climb high. The going is slow, we stop repeatedly to catch our breaths, choose the next path and take in the extraordinary view. A wall of cloud threatens to spill over the peaks and shroud us in mist, yet it is held back by the natural barrier of the peaks, acting like a forcefield.

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Climbing Almanzor – Part 1

7.30 in the morning. Sleepy and bleary-eyed we arrive at the car park, ready to begin our hike. Our aim today – climb Almanzor. At 2592 metres it is the highest peak in the Sierra de Gredos and the highest point in Spain’s Sistema Central. Our guidebook gives the climb a difficulty rating of muy alta (the highest it gives) and recommends for experienced climbers only. I’m feeling confident.

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Mighty Oaks

What I’m listening to – Mighty Oaks

Living in Berlin and consisting of an American, Italian, and Englishman, Mighty Oaks are a great example of the benefits of immigration and multiculturalism.

They define their style as:

“tight, three-part harmonies and effusive, largely acoustic-driven folk anthems.”

Growing up in the Pacific Northwest of the USA, lead singer Ian Hooper’s lyrics are heavily influenced by this beautiful region of the world. I highly recommend checking them out.

I’m still waiting for them to come to Madrid. In the meantime, below is their beautiful lyric video for The Great Northwest – enjoy!

Photo by Marcus Felix

Snow

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.

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Cabañeros – The Spanish Serengeti

The air is hot and dry, the dusty earth crunches under my feet. I pause and look at my surroundings. Parched grassland stretches before me, squat, low oaks provide much needed shade for deer. I scan the horizon, past the grass and trees, to low, rounded mountains, some of the oldest in Spain, pushed back down to earth by millennia of erosion. I have to remind myself I’m still in Europe, not the plains of Tanzania.

Early October in the Parque Nacional de los Cabañeros, just south of Toledo and a mere hour and a half drive from Madrid. Looking around me I feel I could be on the other side of the world. Cabañeros has been both a mesmerising and frustrating experience. It is an undeniably beautiful area of Spain; wild, untouched landscapes, calm, idyllic rivers and streams, deep valleys leading to high, if slightly dry, waterfalls.

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Snow Valley Peñalara

An Encounter

A movement out of the corner of my eye, I lower the camera, ignoring the protestations of Maria as she poses for a photo, large granite boulders stain the pristine snowfield. It was nothing, back to the photo.

Then, appearing as if out of nowhere, a large male Ibex, horns curled in perfect symmetry outwards, leaves the safety and camouflage of a grey boulder and trudges out onto the snow fifty yards in front of me, over the shoulder of the still unaware Maria. Six others emerge, diligently following behind. Enormous black vultures soar high on the thermals above, two young males ‘play’ in the snow, horns clashing with alarming power, a mother tends to her kid.

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