Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Heading for the Hills

Heading for the Hills

Sunday 6th December 2015

This morning we left our Aire at Bellvei Polfust and headed for the high hills of Catalonia where we'd earmarked a Campsite very near to Prades with the intention of getting our hiking boots out and doing some longer walks.  Initially, our drive took us along busy motorways, but as we got nearer to our destination, the roads became mostly deserted and much narrower, and they started to twist and turn as they climbed up into the hills, where autumn was starting to show it's colours.

We arrived at the campsite around lunch time, booked in, and then had a bite to eat before nipping off to explore Prades itself.  Now, one of the things that Prades if famous for is it's potatoes - it has a stamp of Protected Geographic Identification (like Arbroath Smokies in one of my previous blogs)!  Prades is also known as 'The Red Town' - a nickname related to the  red coloured stone with which the town walls and many of it's other buildings are constructed.  The sign boards in the town indicate that a lot of the architecture dates from Medieval times, but good old Wikipedia suggests much older origins than that! Apparently, history has it that the town was an Arab stronghold  and a Muslim Principality as far back as  1153.

The Church of Santa Maria

One of the Towns Streets - it was like a maze 

Can you see any old relics in this photo?

More old relics

Prades and the campsite have also proved to be much busier than we expected - there were only a few gaps left for us to park on the campsite and the towns restaurants were bustling and noisy - Maybe it's just a weekend thing.

And I suppose I ought to mention the weather - It's dull, overcast and at times quite misty, but having said that, the only rain we've had has either been at night or lasted less that 5 minuets and it's still quite warm at between 10 - 14 degrees so we're not complaining at all.

7th and 8th December 2015

Well, the 'busy-ness' around here doesn't seem to be a weekend thing - there are still lots of ankle biters about and the local school is closed - seems a bit early for Christmas hols yet - maybe it's some other reason we're not aware off!

We had numerous paths to choose from - some were just local walks, while others were
Grande Randonee Routes
We've spent the last couple of days walking over the many tracks that criss cross this area - they are very well signposted and I did comment to John 'it would be quite hard to get lost'.  I went on to say that 'he could have a couple of days off and that I would navigate' - but he clutched on very tightly to his map and declined! I can't imagine why!

We started our walk on Monday with the intention of visiting 3 little chapels, and to begin with we were trekking over steep, rugged, red paths made up of loose sand and solid rock.  All of the chapels were locked which didn't matter for the first two, but would have been very disappointing for the third if we hadn't had a stroke of luck!

St. Antoni Chapel

Apparently the original chapel was quite large but this smaller one took it's place around 1958

Ermita de St. Roc
Ermita Mare de Deu de l'Abellera
This was the one we'd mainly come to see - and the fact that we saw it properly was really quite amazing. Distant views of the chapel can be had from across the ravine, but it's direct frontal approach is guarded by a tall locked gate which would usually have made it completely inaccessible - apparently this is to protect it from vandalism! However, a Spanish gentleman had collected the key from the tourist information office so that he could let his family into it's forecourt  - and as we just happened to be in the right place at the right time he let us in as well.

The local literature informed us that the Chapel stands in a Triassic sandstone cave, possibly dating from 1570.  It's unusual spot - built into the overhanging cliff has provided shelter and protection and has almost certainly aided it's preservation, however over the centuries it has been renovated many times.  Sadly, we were still unable to enter the chapel, but we did find this splendid representation of the Virgin of l'Abellera - it's something to do with bees and honey but as most of the information was in Spanish I couldn't quite make it out.  However, most of the local shops sell huge jars of honey so it must still have relevance today!

We also came across some very weird erosions in the cliffs a short distance from the chapel.  While we were walking we just thought that they'd been naturally formed - but later we read that this one in particular is  the remains of an 'Ice Well'

From here a lot of our walk was through thick forest with only occasional glimpses of the distant hills and crags, and unfortunately, some  of this was blotted out by the rolling mist and low cloud, but we did find a spot overlooking a deep valley where we paused for a late lunch.

Altogether, we think we walked about 10 miles so by the time we got back to the T4rdis we were more than ready for a cuppa, and at this point we discussed if we should stay another day or move on.  We decided to stay, and in the end we were very glad we did.

The next morning we set off for another walk, and to start with it seemed as if the terrain would be much the same as the day before - but we were quite wrong!   The path very quickly started to climb steeply, (making us huff and puff somewhat), and as it went it deteriorated to a narrow rocky single track that wound it's way up  the cliff side.

As we climbed we were also entertained by what I think may have been a 'hunt' - apparently, wild boar and roe deer are abundant in the area!  Far below us we could hear dogs yelping, and what sounded like hunting horns, and as we neared the top John got his spy glass out and could see a chap in camouflage (but with a red hat), aiming his rifle towards the forest edge! Happily, they were a long way below us so we weren't in any danger, and we never did hear any shots so maybe whatever it was got away.

The hunter was way down near one of the pillions which marched on 
into the distance as far as the eye could see
Eventually, we emerged from our path onto a huge plateau that provided amazing views over the valley in which both Prades and our camp site are situated. (Mirador del Pla de la Guardia)

The edge was very precipitous!

You can just about see the T4rdis - If you look at the building in the middle the T4rdis is the 2nd vehicle along in front of it.
We meandered our way around the perimeter of the plateau and to our delight and amusement, we came across a view point that was equipped with a picnic bench where we paused for lunch.  I say amusement, because all the way around the perimeter there were vertigo inducing drops down sheer cliff faces, but at the view point there was a bit of an old  wooden barrier that guarded the area - but I don't think it contributed much to anybody's safety!

At least it provided a place for John to rest his elbows
while using his spy glass (monocular)
Our walk also turned out to be a truly multi sensory experience!  As you can see from the pics the weather was lovely, and while we made our way over the rocky terrain we could see the fantastic views; we could see and hear birds of prey swooping and calling as they flew over the high crags and forest; and we also had the pleasure of the smelling wild lavender along with wild thyme and rosemary as we walked.  (The only thing I can think of for taste was our picnic - but that was very good too!)

Tomorrow we are planning to move on to the fortress town of Morella, but before we get there we have to cover about 170 kms of high mountain roads - I hope my knuckles aren't to white when we arrive!

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