Another Dam Walk

Boots on again.

Which reminds me, buying walking kit in this part of Spain isn’t as easy as one might expect. On a descent from our first outing up to the cross above Senija, my toes had been bumping into the front of my old boots; most uncomfortable. I wanted new, better fitting boots. Asking around, I discovered that we are somewhat spoiled in England with outlets such as Blacks/Millets, Cotswold Outdoor, Go Outdoors, and numerous other specialist outdoor pursuit equipment vendors. On the Costa Blanca, nada. Well, almost nada; there are a couple of Decathlon stores with their cheap Quechua brand gear, and maybe a little more besides. I did find half a dozen boots to choose from in a local department store called Aitana and happily, they were comfortable and seemed to fit. So far they’ve done admirably and were a snip at 45€.

So, my 45€ boots were donned again today for one of the Costa Blanca Mountain Walkers green grade walks – the gentlest of their categories. We may have liked something just a little more challenging but this would keep the legs limbered up. We met in Tormos at 10:30 for the Tormos Stroll, billed as 8.5kms/5mls in 3 hours with only 200m of total ascent (though I think it felt less than that) – very gentle. Possibly because it was an easier walk, it attracted a lot of interest; there were 23 of us.

DamWhether by design or by happenstance, our walks have had little snippets of interest along the way. The interest today was a dam, the narrowest dam in the severest of gorges that I’ve ever seen. Said dam is nearly always empty of water and is thus thought of by some as a folly. Not so. It was built with a specific job in mind, the job being to hold back flood waters and stop them rushing headlong down the rocky valley to the relatively nearby sea. At such times, the reservoir behind the dam fills but is not retained; rather the water seeps back into the aquifer and replaces much needed ground water. It is not lost to the sea. Clever.

TunnelOnce we’d gone “ooh, ah” at the dam, we did a little more of the modest ascending to begin our return along a higher level path complete with a tunnel. We assumed that the tunnel was built to open the way to the dam wall for maintenance purposes. The back marker in this picture is yours truly so you can see the 45€ boots. Oh, the green shirt is also a Quechua from decathlon – in Milton Keynes. 🙂

Dragonfly PoolIt was a fun walk at a gentle pace complete with a handful of dragonflies darting about on a small pool that we past towards the end – Common Darters (Sympetrum striolatum), of course, though no wildlife camera so no detailed picture.

A walker going nuts over dragonflies caused a few raised eyebrows but others understood. I may even have sewed the seeds of a speaking engagement next winter with the U3A. That’d be fun.

Another beer, too? Surely not.

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Posted in 2017-2018 Winter

And the Beat Goes On

The beat of life, that is.

We’ve been in a cool spell recently, where cool means that temperatures haven’t risen much above 11°C. Today, though, the wind felt as though it was coming more from the south, i.e. Africa, and with crystal clear blue skies, the temperature climbed higher hitting about 18°C.

After a morning of essential food shopping and chores, and followed by lunch on the balcony, we headed down into Jalón to see if any friends were around. We’d seen a lonely only two days ago and now it’s all about how long the 2017 dragonfly season can be pushed.

J18_1726 Sympetrum striolatum maleOur secret place some way away from water, the place had was home to our lonely only two days ago, produced nothing. We followed that with nothing also from the first pools on the river.. Then we fought our way through some vegetated rough ground to get to a sheltered area on the other side (north) of the river. Francine spotted a suspect perched on a stem, flying sorties to catch passing flies. Excellent! Naturally, at this time of year, it was a Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum).

I worked my way further along this section and caught sight of a movement. Risking life, limb and camera, I scrambled lower and disturbed two more suspects. They scarpered before I could snag them. I was already content, though.

J18_1744 Sympetrum striolatum ovipBetter was to come. As we made our way back thinking we were done, just as we were passing the ford, a pair began ovipositing in the ford, right in front of us. “Switching to manual, Captain”. Most of the shots were rubbish but this one came out well.

So, at least four active Darters on 16th January. Wow!

Posted in 2017-2018 Winter

A Longer Stretch

Another Monday and another walk with our new found Monday walking group organized by Helen. We awoke to a fairly solid overcast and, given our early start time [09:00], life was a little on the cool side. The weather forecast suggested that conditions would brighten up at 10:00. Having assembled again in Parcent, we followed Helen in a 4-car convoy to our start point behind Murla.

FontillesWe set off and were soon walking through a gate in a long wall. This was the wall that more or less surrounds the historically interesting place on today’s route, the Sanatorio de Fontilles. Fontilles is also referred to as a Leprosarium and, perhaps less charitably, as a leper colony. “Don’t panic, Mr. Mainwaring!” Fontilles was established in 1902 and played a key role in treating leprosy in Spain. Some literature says “eliminating leprosy in Spain” although there are apparently still ~20 cases a year, though mostly from immigrants. The exaggerated reputation that leprosy bore was why the wall, which scales some impressive mountain slopes, was built around the site.

The weather forecast was wrong. We continued on our upward route through Fleix with a few spots of rain dampening my sombrero, then continued up to Benimaurell at 540m, 340m higher than Murla. With the undulations of the route, we’d amassed a total ascent of ~400m. We called into a colourful local bar in Benimaurell for a coffee. It looked absolutely nothing from its exterior but inside we were greeted by Spanish/Mexican music which the locals were enjoying along with their coffee.

By now the sun put in its overdue appearance and we returned downhill to Murla for a total of 13.3kms/8.5mls. It was a good step and naturally, refreshments were needed. The Cooperativo in Parcent filled the bill nicely.

Posted in 2017-2018 Winter

The Landing Strip Circuit

What, another walk this week?

‘T was a cool morning. OK, in places it was downright cold. As we drove up the twisting and turning hairpin-rich road from Pego towards Vall d’Ebo, the car irritatingly bonged a warning to inform us that it was a mere 3°C outside. Shortly thereafter it fell to 2°C outside. Good job we’d brought fleeces with us.

We skirted Vall d’Ebo and continued climbing to Alcalá de la Jovada, which is at an altitude of 650m/2100ft. Mercifully the mercury had not continued to fall as we climbed. Vall d’Ebo is probably in a frost hollow. It was still cool, though, maybe 6°C. We parked and joined another six Costa Blanca Mountain Walkers for The Landing Strip Circuit from Alcalá de la Jovada.

The Landing Strip Circuit is another of the CBMWs’ blue grade walks. This one looked like being nothing particularly taxing which, for my third walk in a week, was perhaps no bad thing; it is billed as 8.8kms with 210m of ascent. It was a mixture of forest tracks, which we could have driven up, and lightly wooded paths, which we could not.

The mountains in our neck of Spain are all quite similar and all quite attractive. The interesting feature along this walk was, as the title implies, an aircraft landing strip. This is no ordinary landing strip, however. This is a landing strip used to refill fire fighting planes used when either Mother Nature or some inattentive/malicious bozo sets fire to the landscape.

Landing StripWater StorageAbout half way around the walk, we reached the top of a gentle gradient to find, at the top of the hill, a flattish, straight-ish, partially tarmacked, gravel-strewn runway. Beside said runway were a couple of large water tanks, the upper one of which had a pipe running into it, presumably to fill it with the water required for forest fire fighting. What was not clear to me was where the water came from that got into the pipe that fed the tank – there was little higher ground to provide any run-off so where’d it come from? I know not.

We finished the walk, having covered 9.5kms after a few missed turns, with an obligatory beer – the temperature had warmed to something like 10°C so, being hardened mountain walkers, we sat outside – before Francine and I left our walking companions and headed across into another valley and to Benalí for a bite of tapas for lunch.

What a pleasant way to be able to spend a Saturday in January, despite being a little cool … by Spanish standards.

Posted in 2017-2018 Winter

Not Quite the Last

After a morning of chores and since the sun was shining, Francine and I decided to limber up our legs in the afternoon. We chose to start in Jalón and wander around some of the roads and tracks on the southern side of the valley, those which we look at from our balcony in Casa Libélule.

_18C0523 SquirrelWe parked down in town and began by ascending the stations of the cross in Jalón, the only steep-ish bit of what was going to be a casual walk. As we began descending from the not-very-high high point, we startled a squirrel – in this part of the world, they are all Red Squirrels – who scampered up the nearest tree trunk and eyed us suspiciously. Francine, who was intent on scouting out potential almond blossom orchards, had her camera with her and managed to snag him, albeit on a landscape lens.

_18C0528 Sympetrum striolatum 12 JanDescending further down the side of our very modest col, we became the startled ones, this time by seeing a dragonfly flitting about in a sheltered sunny spot. Expecting the dragonfly season to have ended, I did not have my camera with me but borrowed Francine’s. Once again the non-wildlife lens was pressed into wildlife use just for the record. Being 12th January, this certainly was a record, for me, anyway, being a new latest date for my European sightings. It’s a Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum), extending my season and answering the question I posed by writing Last of the Few? a week or so ago. Apparently not. The biggest surprise to me here was not so much the date but the location; we were quite a distance from the nearest water of which I am aware.

The rest of our walk was pleasant enough and Francine spent some time eyeing up a few possible almond plantations in readiness for almond blossom time in February. I’m not sure anything really stood out and grabbed her but it’s difficult to assess before the blossom bursts.

‘T was a pleasant walk of 3mls/5kms or so. Enough to keep the legs limbered up and we did snag our latest European dragonfly ever.

Posted in 2017-2018 Winter

Old Walking Group

With my legs looking forward to a further work out [should that be walk out?] and with Francine taking drugs and on the mend, we both fancied renewing our acquaintance with the Costa Blanca Mountain Walkers. The really useful thing about the CBMW group is their grading of walks. The group contains a few folks that I could describe only as very fit mountain goats who embark upon walks that I wouldn’t want to touch with a Leki walking pole. Very sensibly, these folks borrow the typical ski run grading system and apply it to their various walks which are categorized as green, blue, red or black. The grading takes into account a combination of distance, total ascent and quality of the surfaces underfoot. Somewhere in there there’s probably the sheerness of the drop on either side of the ridge, too. What a very sensible idea.

Today, Jo was leading a blue walk from Castell de Castells. It was described as a 10km walk on good tracks taking 3½ hours with a total ascent of 387m. The ascending was apparently all up front, i.e. before anyone would get too knackered. Castell de Castells is convenient for us, being about 25 minutes further up our valley. Sounded perfect.

Mornings in Spain can seem a bit tricky, timing-wise. It’s because Spain is rather stupidly [IMHO] on Central European Time, even though its longitude is much like that of Britain. Spain is essentially an hour too advanced. Thus, much of the morning can have vanished by the time one galvanizes oneself into action. We just about managed to get our act together in time to arrive in Castell de Castells a few minutes before the 10:00 kick-off.

We joined a friendly band of seven others at the start. Weather conditions were dry but with passing clouds; probably more cloud than blue skies. The temperature was cool in the shade but warmer when the sun appeared and when we were out of the shadows. Actually, it was a good temperature for walking uphill, which is what we began with. I needed just a t-shirt and a cover-up shirt. Having gained all our height, the walk was then a steady descent round a loop back into Castell de Castells with views of the village for much of the time.

Castell de Castells Walk

Both Francine and I were walking in newish footwear. Both sets of footwear and Francine held up well, I’m happy to say. It was good to be back on foot again. The only thing that might have improved the day would have been Castell de Castells having a halfway decent bar, which it apparently does not. We returned to Benigembla, which appears to be regarded as CBMW Central, to slake our thirsts.

A couple of years ago we did do one of the red routes but we’ll need a little more practice before we tackle one of those again.

Posted in 2017-2018 Winter

New Walking Group

We had been put in touch with a Monday walking group, a group led by Helen who organizes walking holidays under the banner of Balanced Life Holidays. fancine had made contact and we were both keen to join in but on the day poor Francine needed to seek some medical assistance so our  car was spoken for. However, a friend offered me a lift so I could go and join in.

We met at nearby Parcent at 09:00, when conditions were decidedly cool, before driving up over the Col de Rates and into Tarbena, where the walk was centred. We set off in cool sunshine but the initial ascent up to the first peak, topped by a fort, soon warmed up both legs and lungs.

It soon began to feel good being back out walking again. The last couple of years have been a little troubled vis-a-vis walking, first with myself suffering from an 18-month attack of plantar fasciitis, followed by Francine damaging an Achilles tendon. I now always add a Scholl gel insole to any new shoes or boots and Francine still has to be careful about choosing her footwear. At last, though, we think we’re both up for it again.

The climb was worth it for the views back over Tarbena. Apologies for the crappy phone camera picture …

Tarbena from above

… [note to self: which I really must set back to 16×9, I hate that 4×3 nonsense.]

That first section was a there-and-back job with us descending back into Tarbena via the same route. We then struck out on the opposite side of Tarbena to ascend another small peak with similarly impressive views. I was taken by this sort of buttress-shaped rock formation seen across one of the orchards as we worked our way to the ascent.

Tarbena butress

Along with us, the temperature had now climbed enough for me to discard a fleece in favour of a cover-up shirt. It was, of course, necessary to sit together in a bar enjoying a refreshment. 😉

‘T was an enjoyable walk in a new, friendly company, an experience that I’d be keen to repeat. Hopefully, Francine will be with us next time. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for good conditions next Monday.

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Posted in 2017-2018 Winter

Last of the Few?

On 22nd December, the day after we arrived in Jalón, a search along the local river produce half a dozen or more Darters still active in the warm winter sunshine. Some debate ensued in a Spanish interest group and I’ve finally settled on the decision that these late season fliers are Common Darters (Sympetrum striolatum).

This identification makes sense. The Common Darters are the last on the wing in the UK where they often persist into November and occasionally, if conditions are good, into December. Such was definitely not the case this year.

In 2016 [Xmas 2015 trip] I did find a few individuals flying in Jalón on January 3rd, which was then my latest ever European record. Today, on January 4th and with an afternoon of bright, warm sunshine, I couldn’t resist another look along the local river to see if I could push that date a little further.

The first two spots where I had encountered them before Xmas produced nothing. I continued to draw blanks at the final two spots until, as I had given up and was returning, I spotted a lone male perched and hunting from a sunny stem at the ford where ovipositing had been going on previously.

Here he is. He even posed advantageously. He looked a bit lonely, possibly the last of the few, though there may well have been others that I’d missed. This handsome character now becomes my latest European record.

J18_1722 Sympetrum striolatum 2018

Posted in 2017-2018 Winter

Still Flying in the Marjal

It was a slightly breezy but, having found odos still flying at Jalón shortly after we’d arrived, we thought we’d go and check out one of our favourite haunts, the Marjal de Pego-Oliva. At this time of year, the fun is not so much in the species one finds – there’s really only one likely – but seeing just how long end of the season can be stretched.

We found no signs at our first stopping point, so continued to the main parking area and took to our feet. As we were walking along the initial stretch of the river, which had begun by looking distressingly quiet, one dragonfly zoomed past us only to disappear over the reeds. It looked like a female, brownish, and was in all likelihood a Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum). It gave us cause to continue, though.

We saw nothing more along the river, but conditions were less than perfect, being very breezy. We struck out into a reeded area – well, bamboo, really – along a boardwalk where conditions were a little more sheltered. Francine spotted something fly but we lost it in the confusion of vegetation. Further around the curved boardwalk conditions improved further and we spotted several dragonflies basking on the warm boards. Bingo!

J17_1698 Sympetrum striolatum male

These were clearly Common Darters which rated as a new species on my list for this location. Happy camper.

Posted in 2017-2018 Winter

Christmas Piggy

One of our first purchases when we arrived in Jalón on Thursday 21st Dec, was the main event for our Christmas dinner. There are several pleasant things about running away from a British Christmas, not the least of which is the much lower key affair that Christmas is in Spain. From a culinary point of view, though, it’s also good to get into a country where more unusual [for us] food items are available. A traditional Christmas dinner in Spain tends to centre around sucking pig. They are available prepared and packed in all the supermarket, both frozen and fresh. Fortunately, since a whole sucking pig would too much for us, even though our friend Jim would be joining us, half sucking pigs, split lengthwise, are also available. We found a suitable looking fresh one with a best before date of 26th December so we didn’t need to freeze it. He was 3kgs and 28€ but, hey, it’s Christmas.

Xmas Piggy beforeChristmas Piggy 2017 was a bit larger than we’d attempted before but fortunately he just about fitted the almost useless oven. [Note to self: if we ever start spending longer here, we should buy a better oven.] I sat him on a bed of vegetables – celery, carrot, parsnip and onion – mainly to keep him off the bottom of the thin roasting pan and stop him burning; they weren’t going to be edible after 2½ hours. Here’s Christmas Piggy wearing some SPF 50 ear covers to stop them burning, too.

20171225_155345Following a random recipe, I also put some water around the vegetables which would “help keep the flesh soft”. It did. I have a feeling that it also kept some of the skin soft, which was a shame. One of the delights of a roast sucking pig is crisp, wafer thin skin. We did have some but I think last year’s attempt sin agua worked better. Anyway, here’s Christmas Piggy after 2½ hours sporting an intense Spanish sun tan.

While Christmas Piggy was relaxing, we demolished blinis topped with cream cheese and a selection of smoked fish: tuna, cod and salmon, all decorated with a little red fake caviar to give them a festive look.

Having next demolished a good chunk of the now relaxed Christmas Piggy, we set about seeing off Francine’s excellent Tiramisini. She first made those last year and they’ve become an instant favourite. Yummy!

Finally, some cheese followed by a brandy or two to settle the stomach.

Un Feliz Navidad. 🙂

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Posted in 2017-2018 Winter