The La Viñuela reservoir in the heart of the Axarquía has capacity for 165 million cubic metres of water. It provides water for irrigation to hundreds of farms and drinking water to thousands of homes.
Up to the 26th of February – six months into a nine month “rainy season” – it held just 35 million cubic metres: 21% of capacity. So the promise of a week or more of rain seemed heaven sent.
La Maroma is my constant backdrop. The edge of the Axarquia includes the intersection of two mountain ranges The easterly range is the Sierra Almijara with its spiky peaks and steep valleys. This range is rising due to tectonic plate pressure from the south. Then there is the Sierra Tejada, a limestone range of mountains thrust up ages upon ages ago from the sea-floor – rocks formed deep below the waves now rise up to make long whale-backed ridges. This range is, milimetre by milimetre, losing height but is the higher of the two. The biggest mountain in it is Maroma, a great ridge of stone above the high green hills, with it’s south side, our side, patterned with dramatic cliffs. It’s highest point is at the western end, 2,068m high.
I’ve climbed it before, coming from Canillas de Aceituno and enduring a steep climb and bitterly cold strong winds. Exciting but exhausting. So when a visiting friend said, emphatically, that he wanted to do Maroma and nothing else would do, I decided to come from the other side, going from Fogarate, working up to the high meadows at about 1100m, then tackling the main ridge east to west.
We set out early on a beautiful day: bright and clear and the six of us were buzzing to be off. We saw the black-and-white swirl of hoopoes’ wings in the pine woods on the forest path, which zigzags, deeply rutted, steeply uphill, and opens now and again to glorious views.
On the high meadows there’s a small herd of feral horses – friends have seen them on Maroma itself – but they weren’t interested in us. They lifted their heads, stared, snorted and turned their backs. This big green field, the end of the long grassy ridge that rises from the pine forest, felt like Base Camp.
Looking to the south west I could see the land on the other side of Lake La Viñuela, with specks of the villages – Comares, Cútar, Benomacarra. On the other side I noticed the round humped cushions of Hedgehog Broom, looking attractively soft and comfortable.
They are quite the opposite. A friend told me they are known as Monk’s Cushion because it’s a penance to sit on them: the stiff leaves make rigid sharp spikes.
But Hedgehog Broom also sums it up. Its prickly hummocks swell out of the rocks all over the mountain. In full bloom they are a gorgeous lilac blue making up for the brutal spikes around the flowers. Beautiful. Provided that you don’t sit on them, of course.
Now we were off. The rocky path to a bleaker landscape was before us. With little plant cover, extremes of weather and a trail leading through and over outcrops of weathered rock the landscape is immensely dramatic and a touch bleak. It couldn’t have been more beautiful.
I loved the swirling lines you see sweeping across the ridge, made I guess by fault lines in the rock affecting the pattern of plant growth.
Drought dominates the plants here: although this mountain catches every cloud much rainfall sinks through the rock or runs off. And in summer there are months without rainfall and, even up here, baking temperatures. So the norm is small plants and small-leaved plants, often protecting themselves from grazers with spines and spikes, such as the brooms, thistles and gorse. The only trees are are pines.
However, we passed a stone water trough, which must be filled by a local spring, the water dribbling out and down a little narrow gully. In this tiny narrow spot, and here only, there were water loving plants like rhodedendron, brambles, hellibore and the like.
The trough may once have been a watering point for mules brought to collect ice from the mountain – it was packed into a well or caves in winter and hacked out in summer by men who descended on ropes of woven grass called ‘maroma’ – that’s where the name came from, or so I am told. There would have been quite a market for ice in the summer! It must have been tough work and the race against the inevitable melting of the ice frustrating or dangerous but for centuries ice in Malaga’s summer would be water in the desert and worth the effort.
The views on this day were superb. We were lucky: it was not (quite) too hot and since heat makes everything hazy we were delighted – stunning views of a glorious landscape all around. As we worked up onto the saddle (the low dip at the eastern end of the stony ridge) we could see right across the plain of Granada, with a glimpse or two of the blue surface of Los Bermejales, the reservoir,
and far beyond were mountains with clouds at their feet, the snow-capped Sierra Nevada among them. Looking back to the south east I could see the dramatic outline of our own Sierra Almijara, spiky marble peaks vying with each other, their colours shaded subtly from black to grey to blue.
Neil who is an artist would stop to paint the view in his sketch book at the drop of a walking stick. He has done this in the Alps and Nepal and astonished me by the speed with which he could capture the scene before us.
The path headed down to the north, just enough to dip towards the pine woods growing up the slope. These woods are growing far higher than they do on the exposed south side, but may exist partially due to planting: we passed fenced areas filled with what looked like tree guards, though there weren’t any seedlings. Perhaps our very dry spring has lead to a failed planting.
As we came up away from the pines we heard red-billed choughs calling and saw a pair. We kept hearing them now and again while we were on the ridge and above the cliffs saw a small flock dipping and floating in the void. I also saw a couple of larks, probably Thekla larks and, right on the summit, a wheatear. Otherwise birds seemed rather absent – the constant twitter of little flocks of goldfinches or siskins that you hear on the lower slopes was missing.
The most dramatic point of the ridge is not the summit itself but the point at which the path comes close to the south-side cliffs. It is not difficult – basic common sense will keep you safe – but you see instantly why the mountain top could be a dangerous place in bad weather.
There was still a way to go to the summit from the cliffs, though. I tried not to stop too often to hunt shots of lizards and flowers to avoid being left far behind and needing to jog to keep up. It is the burden of the wilding geek – to do the very best long walks in good company sometimes you have to put the camera away. This was especially important as we were beginning to see other walkers on the trail. In fact, due to a short rest near the cliffs (with me taking photographs, Neil painting and sensible people have a snack) we were – horror of horrors – overtaken. Some walkers are like storm troopers, but you don’t see the views or the wildlife. So, no sour grapes at all, then, when I say “I bet the walkers who beat us didn’t enjoy it as much as us!”
Finally we reached the summit. I’ve previously said it is like the surface of the moon to indicate a dramatic, broad, barren landscape. It was magnificent but felt, in the hot sunshine, less isolated than in that windswept November. There are shallow stone rings, likely where people put tents up on midsummer’s eve (yes, really, people come up to spend the shortest night up here) and we took one over to picnic. There is a sign to indicate the presence of the snow-gatherers’ well (a hole in the ground) and a great pillar as Trig. Point, with a couple of plaques cemented to it in memory of deceased walkers and with steel rungs on the side by which it can be climbed. This inevitably means that a queue of walkers head up and down for photos and views. It was a pity that by this time the heat had drawn up more of a haze and faint skeins of cloud were gently drifting over.
I don’t judge the people climbing the pillar (in fact I climbed it myself) or taking selfies or asking for group shots. The cameraderie you get in a gang of walkers who’ve done a tough walk to this fabulous summit – perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime event – merits celebration. We gathered for our own grinning group shot but it was on Jon’s camera so I can’t post it here.
After lunch it was time to head back; we did the walk as a linear jaunt, but on the second leg we were very much relaxed and glad we had been earlier rather than the herds of walkers now heading up (probably no more than a dozen, but still). We enjoyed another brief sojourn at the cliff edges. I am not a climber and am fairly cautious but am deeply grateful I don’t suffer from vertijo, which could stop me enjoying scenes like these.
In addition to more choughs, lizards, and lots of tiny flowers on the way back I especially enjoyed finding a fellow grasshopper, (orange, with a ridged pronotum) attempting to hide in asphodel leaves. I have yet to i.d. it. But you know me, I love a challenge.
And then we were down and heading, with aching feet, weary muscles, and a touch of sunburn, for a few beers at El Curros in Árchez. It was generally agreed to have been a brilliant day: good walking, great views, good company. Special thanks to Steve Gilkes, and everyone else. Next time you want to do a mountain, Jon, just give me a shout!
Sedella lies south of the main bulk of La Maroma, the great mountain of the Sierra Tejeda, which rises dramatically above this attractive village. Like all the villages it is not far from water – the Rio de la Fuente passes just to the east. It is surrounded, on lower slopes especially, with farmed lands but to the north you are immediately into the natural park. Walking routes bring you to the Molino Montosa, an attractive old mill; go above it and you find first a clear demonstration of the water system and then the reservoir used to supply it.
From the mill you can go on to the ‘buitrería’ – this was a vulture sanctuary for injured birds. There is still a birders’ hide, but this is essentially obsolete since the resident birds that were fed here (leading to visits from large flocks of wild vultures) have now died. I still live in hope of seeing what a friend once witnessed: a flock of more than 20 taking off from the bank below the hide. Failing this I can always head to a small picnic site, to round off this nice walk with an encounter with a vulture that is always happy to pose for photos.
Sedella’s neighbours are the nearby Árchez, which is easy walking distance (see Silk to Salt) and the more distant Canillas de Aceituno (though Canillas de Albaida is actually closer).
I have heard different accounts of the origins of the town’s name: a Cómpeta couple told me years ago that it derives from silk, the Spanish word being ‘seda’. Silk production was a significant industry here during Muslim times. However, other sources say different. Guide writer Hilary Gavilan, Andalucia.com, and the Diputación all mention the Latin word Sedilia, meaning rural possession as a possible name source. The latter two also mention Sedille as used by the Visigoths. Then there is the fact that, post-reconquest, it was referred to as Xedalia (an Arabic word, surely). Finally there is a long-standing tradition that the Catholic Queen Isabela created the place name on being told of a battle that took place nearby, when she said, “Sé de ella“, which means I know about it. No mention, it seems of silk. Perhaps the ‘seda’ in Sedella is mere coincidence.
I can wholeheartedly agree with Gavilan’s assessment of the town in her book The Axarquia, East of Málaga: “a delightful village with interesting alleyways and narrow streets. Well worth exploring”. Like so many of these villages there are lovely streets, attractive metalwork balconies and unexpected views.
As well as walks to the Puente Romano, the Molino Montosa or the Buitrería, there is great pleasure in just strolling through the streets. There is church and chapel – the Chapel de Nuestra Señora de la Esperanza has a forecourt built with embedded stones in front of it, an old threshing circle. The little townhall is in an attractive square, just near the bus stop. There are several attractive and interesting mosaics in this square giving explanations of the towns history. There is also the old public wash-house, with the spring waters that come down from the sierra filtered through a dozen sinks. I imagine the centuries of work that would have been done by the town’s women here – hand washing all, linen, all garments, all fabrics – and in a climate like this, they would have needed endless washing. No more though: it has now been turned into a mini garden, decorated and full of plants. With such a simple adaptation they turn the utilitarian into an unexpected attraction.
Centro de Visitantes
This is the visitors centre for the Natural Park and an attractive facility with good displays, maps, explanations, and even some conference rooms for visits from the great and good, as well as toilets and a little shop. I wish it were open a little more, but it is worth taking a look round.
Restaurante Lorena is the only one I’ve eaten in here, being served good, traditional local food, though the boars’ heads displayed don’t appeal. The owners, who cure their own cheese and ham, are very pleasant, in spite of being Real Betis fans (I’m Malaga, of course).
On the same street (Villa del Castillo) there are two others, Chiringuito and Meson de Franco, which seems like a well-set up bar. In the Plaza, near the San Andrés Apostol church, there is also a bar. It is pretty basic but I’ve been perfectly happy to enjoy a beer or two here after a long walk.
Fiestas & Events
January 17th: Fiesta de San Antón. Like the Canillas de Albaida fiesta (also the 17th) there is a procession followed by the blessing of animals that have been part of the procession.
Easter: several sources say that the Easter celebrations in Sedella are particularly deeply felt and so attractive to watch.
August: Celebration of the Day of Our Lady of Hope (to whom the chapel is dedicated)
I was coming into Árchez, slowing, and spotted a cattle egret, Bubulcus ibis, beside the road. Below the road is an open water deposit that might contain lots of water-wildlife ideal for the egret’s supper, so I guess that is why it was there.
I’ve seen them before near the big open water deposit above Bodega Jarel near Cómpeta, where I have often seen frogs. I have seen small flocks of them – 4 to 6 birds – flying, down near the coast. But I was never so close to an individual bird.
I pulled up. Thinking ‘It’ll fly, it’ll fly, it’s probably gone already,’ I pulled my camera out, walked back, and bless it’s white feathers, it kindly stayed put til I was only yards away. I will forever be grateful to it’s (unwisely) calm response to my approach – and glad I caught sight of it and chanced my luck to stop, catching my Favourite February Photo!
For a longer walk do this route from Cómpeta and at the junction just after the Canillas San Antón chapel turned right and walk on the road down to the mill. From here follow the Cájula Valley Loop.
Description: Lovely walk through the terraced countryside. Come out of Cómpeta heading from the plaza along Calle San Antonio passing the chapel of San Antón. Just after this the road bends right; at the start of the curve find a little cobbled path leading down hill between weedy banks. After a few minutes you can find old concrete steps going down on the left. If you want to visit the Bodega Jarel winery go down these and follow the weedy path out past an open water tank (you may see frogs), down a couple more steps (be careful) to the main road. Cross this and turn left – in half a minute you are at the winery and can go into taste and buy wine. Come back up to the main route when you are finished!
Once you have past the steps you walk gently along on a terrace edge path; you can see the main road winding along on your left. You will see the dark line of conifers that edge a house that stand below you on a bend and in another 5 minutes you pass close behind the backs of two more houses before emerging onto the main road. To your right is the turning marked the Mosquin stables; straight ahead is the metal barrier of a road bridge beyond which is a valley full of lovely poplar trees (a friend calls this ‘Nightingale valley’, she has heard them here so often.) Cross over to the barrier, turn left and walk to the its end then another 10 paces and look on the right for a very overgrown poor little path that runs down towards those poplar trees. It can be hard to find but it is there. This is the only steeper bit; go carefully and watch out for brambles. Once you are among the trees cross to the ‘other side’ of the valley bottom and turn left putting your back to the road bridge. You follow a path which will shortly swing right and take you through avocado plantations; you see terraces going down into the valley. After 5 or 10 minutes you come to a track going downhill. Turn left and follow this just for a couple of minutes. When you are almost at a house called Casa La Naranjera you find the cement brick wall on your right ends and a path leads off from it – turn right to take this path.
This winds on very prettily, mainly on the level. You are walking along terrace edges so the paths are rather narrow in places but nothing too challenging. Eventually the pathway comes out just past a building (there’s normally a truck or two nearby) at the end of a track. Go forward onto this track, which heads slightly uphill. You will be shortly be able to see a rather sad burnt off palm stump. You come up to another track near this, with a pylon in front of you beside which is, you guessed it, the start of another footpath.
Take the footpath and follow it; with a couple of twists and turns it takes you most of the way. You have one more choice – a slight uphill or a small down – both paths will lead to the main road but I always take the lower (it is the low road, after all). You then come out onto the road just above Canillas’ San Antón and below the Canillas municipal swimming pool. Now you have a choice: you can turn right to walk up into Canillas (2 minutes) or can turn left to take the road walk down into Árchez. Or both, visiting Canillas first before going down into the lower village.
If you follow the road down to Árchez remember to bear left after the San Antón chapel and to be aware of traffic – this road gets quite a lot of use. The views are lovely. You will pass the ‘hobbit pods’ – unusual rental accomodation in a Gaudi style. After this there is the first of two traffic lights – you can cut into the town via steps down shortly after these, or keep going to the second set and turn into the little square there. Done!
The low road was the second half of the Flower Fiesta walk: you might have a read for some pictures of the flowers seen on that.
Good Walk for: All year excl. full Summer, inc. cloudy/rainy days (coffee start, winery middle, lunch end!) Birding, wildflowers and villages. Stretching your legs on the up.
Distance: 3 Km
Options: You can skip the last path by turning right then left after Bodega Jarel to get into Cómpeta by road. You can combine it, after lunch with several walks back via Canillas de Albaida to Árchez (watch this space!)
Description: The walk starts from the parking by the river in Árchez. This is actually a good spot for birding on a quiet day, as the opposite bank is thick with brambles making dozens of birds feel secure enough to fly in and out – look out for flycatchers and yellow wagtails.
Walk along the road, downstream, passing Restaurante La Peña opposite the first bridge before you cut up on the left to reach a tiny square (where you might stop for a coffee or a hot chocolate if it is a dull day).
Leaving the plaza walk out to the main road ahead (pass the traffic lights and hill). At the next junction, where there is a magnificent Algarrobo or Carob Tree, go left and continue on the road for less than 5 minutes. You see a wooden signpost to Árchez on your left just past a thin, water-eroded track, which leads up towards a house on the bank above. Take this: it is steep and poor, but only for a few yards, then runs behind the house before heading uphill. After 5 minutes you come out onto new terraces.
Turn right here and follow the track skirting the edge of the terraces uphill, pacing yourself. The terraces are being planted with avocados, which dominate as their price is good while the olive price has crashed, but as the track winds on you will pass almond trees and vines, which have a much longer history here, as well as looking back down on Árchez and back up to Canillas de Albaida. When you come to a junction with another, main track (the Camino de Árchez proper), sometimes having to step over a chain here, turn left.
Now the track passes villas and farmhouses then the “paseros” or raisin beds of Bodega Jarel, which you find just before the main road. It is properly the Bodega Almijara producing the Vinos Jarel but the sign on the road combines these. it is worth a visit – if they are open the shop is a little treasure trove of local goods – honey, avocado soap, oddities – as well as wine. Yes, they allow you to sample pre-purchase… but don’t get drunk if you are walking back!
Coming out from the Bodega go ahead to the main road and turn left, walking for about 100 metres til just before a road bridge. At this point cross the road and find a little path that cuts into the bank. This brings you to some steep stone steps: be careful but go up here and you emerge next to a large “deposito” or open air water tank. This is sometimes boringly half full but often full and rife with waterplants – weed and reeds – and walking along the track beside it may lead to dozens of ‘plops’ as frogs leap into the water at your approach. I have seen a cattle egret here and don’t blame it! At the end of the deposito the path continues on, crossing to the right and soon comes to another set of concrete steps (wider and dryer) bringing you to another path. Turn right.
The new path brings you up a pretty cobbled channel to the edge of Cómpeta town: you come out just beyond the San Anton chapel. If you head straight on and, after passing the Hotel, come to a choice of left (on the level) or right (downhill) you go left past the “Consultario” (health centre) you will emerge after a couple of minutes in Cómpeta’s main square, with its church, banks, and numerous cafe bars: perfect for a bit of lunch. Enjoy!
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The spotting started about 10.20 am (I know, I was out) and didn’t stop until about 11.30 pm. During that period the valley from the Sierra to the coast filled with cloud (fog lights on). We had drizzle, rain, heavy rain, stair-rods and waterfall weather.
This is boot weather for the simple reason that the narrow streets are often stepped or cambered so that the centre of the street becomes a riverlet. The edges of the street are dry but they also receive the spouts loosed from every terrace in sputtering fountains. You can feel when half a river is roaring by outside and tumbling in a waterfall down the steps that the whole village will tilt, heave, and float away like a blocky white Arc heading towards the Med.
The next day it was windy and sunny; the day after, sunshine dawn to dusk.
This is not remotely untypical here. We have quite reasonable rainfall in the “rainy season” of September-May: an average of around 500mm in Sayalonga. That may not sound a lot but can feel like it because it all comes at once. We have a lot of hot weather and are near the sea – no wonder we get a lot of thunderstorms. They are always hard to predict but cluster on the mountains. Rising steeply from sea level to the Sierras, with dozens of deep cut valleys and gulleys channelling any weather into micro-climates the landscape was built by torrential downpours and encourages them! I have sat in the sun watching a thunderstorm that was hammering Cómpeta – barely 10 minutes away. I have left Salares in sunshine and then fought my way over the Fogarate ridge, barely able to see through the sheets of rain, the thunder growling in my ears. To be perfectly honest, I like the drama.
It is not that we never get sustained rain. We often get to see heavy swathes of cloud hanging on the mountain or creeping up the valley; you can be enjoying the sunshine in Sayalonga while Corumbela, across the valley, needs fog-lights and raincoats. And although it usually doesn’t stay for long, you can be unlucky. I have had friends who, after hearing how walkers I had been out with were sunbathing in the February (honestly) had booked 10 days in March … and got 9 days of rain. There was the October when I spent three weeks watching the grey rain and the delighted farmers and thinking glumly that the November walking I’d planned would be a bit damp. (I was lucky – the left at the end of the month having brought all the flowers out). Or there was the wet winter of 2009-10 when it seemed to rain non-stop from December to April. We changed walking routes because the rivers were unpassable. Lots of water damage with landslips and pipes exposed. The Mill below Canillas and the bridge and La Peña bar at Árchez were flooded. But although it sometimes rains for a while, its the violence of the rainstorms you notice most.
The force of water causes a lot of damage (erosion never stops) as well as flash floods at the coast, both regular problems. If you have ever driven on the autovia and wondered why the pathetic trickle you are crossing above deserves such a huge riverbed, this is the reason: narrow it and flash-flooding will get the town. In the same way after every rainstorm you must take the winding roads more carefully because great rocks may have come down into the track around the next tight corner. Erosion is something you learn to adapt to here, with retention walls, water channelling, bridge and the like: the tarmac roads get maintenance because without it they fall away; farmers bank their land or lose it.
And then it stops and the sun comes out. At least it is pretty well guaranteed – even after a rare wet winter – that you’ll get back to warmth and very steady sunshine. You can never guarantee that it won’t rain, but it’s a fair bet that rain today will be followed by good weather tomorrow. (Fingers crossed).