Monday, 10 December 2012

GR221 Camina Per Mallorca. Day 0

On October 21, Andy and I took an early morning flight from East Midlands Airport to Palma, Mallorca where we met Rafael who was to guide us along the GR221 he had also arranged all our accommodation and meals and over the week would instructed us in the history, culture, language, flora and fauna of the Serra de Tramuntana and generally work hard to get a disorderly group of three Brits and four Canucks (Canadians) across Mallorca. Please see Rafael's website at Walk Picos

Having taken our bags off us, he sent us off to sight see around Palma, telling us that he would meet  us and our, as yet unknown companions at the Placa de Espanya later in the day.

The actual meet up was somewhat bizarre, a scene from a spoof spy movie, as various individuals and couples  eyed the numerous other people standing around or meandering about the square, occasionally muttering the code word “Rafael” in the hope that a. they were in the right place and b. they had indeed met another member on the walk. All was quickly resolved and we took the bus to Porto Pollenca and a nice Mallorcan Hostel/Hotel where we had our first meal and drinks together.

Outlining the walk Rafael explained that tomorrow our cases would be taken away and we would not see them again till we reach Soller, in three days’ time. Naturally this caused some consternation among those not used to multiday walking. I explained that by using the system of keeping one set of ‘evening’ dry clothes in a waterproof bag and wearing the same ‘day’ clothes over several days it is possible to reduce the weight and bulk to be carried.

The next day a short bus ride took us to the nearby town of Pollenca and the start of the walk. The famed Pollenca market was in full swing, dazzling the senses with a fabulous variety of colours, smells and languages. Food for lunch and water was purchased and divvied amongst us. The first of what was to become a daily ritual.

The GR221 walk is usually described, and walked, from south to north i.e. Port d’ Andratx to Pollenca, we however are walking north to south, Pollenca to Estellencs. The main reason for this was to ensure a booking at the Tossals Verds Refuge and, as we have only six days here we are ending at Estellence.

GR221 Camina Per Mallorca. Day 1 - Pollenca to LLuc

From the Market we walked through the village and down a short road to the Pont Roma (Roman Bridge) for photos, back up the road and along to the start of the walk of the Camina Per Mallorca.

Our general route was up the Valley D’En Marc following the Torrent de Sant Jordi.  Along the way we had to go onto the MA-10 road a couple of times due to “rights of way issues”.  Apart from that early sections were along very quiet roads and tracks past an array of small farms consisting largely of stone walled fields of fruit or olive trees and small herds of sheep or goats. The amount and size of the stone walls was amazing, they are everywhere, some up to 10 or more metres wide.

The track had been climbing steadily for a while when we turned off into a woodland of Holm-Oak and started climbing more steeply giving us a first taste of the terracing and zig-zag paths to come. Rafael gave an introduction to the cultural and industrial background of the route we were using. Simply put, there is a network of paths all over Mallorca that lead to the LLuc Monastery. These paths have been used for centuries by pilgrims travelling to and from LLuc on pilgrimages and the Consell de Mallorca are trying to protect, enhance, re-open as many of them as possible to cater for the increasing tourist market for hiking and to safeguard a natural asset.

We met a couple of mushroom pickers who said that for them it was a money earning exercise. We saw many more ferretting about in the woodlands and fields.

The woodlands along these routes have for centuries been centers for making charcoal and lime as well as herding. Today we can see the visible remains of stone huts, kilns etc.

We stopped for lunch on some rocks near the Font de ses Cases, then pushed on along decent tracks to Binifaldo. Here the party split Rafael, Bob and Phil (Canucks) went off to climb Puig Tomir, while Andy, Pete and I (Brits), Sandy and Mary (Canucks) took the short cut down to Menut, across the MA-10 and down to LLuc for some well-earned beers Another thing that was to become a daily ritual. Unfortunately Rafael, Bob and Phil were prevented from climbing Puig Tomir by a rain and hail storm.  Later we all met up for a great meal in one of the three restaurants on the site.

LLuc Monastery is now, as best I could tell, a very large Hostel/Hotel of four large, four floor wings around a quadrangle that has a church set with in it. There is a bar and restaurant in the building and three others in the complex also car parking and a Visitors Centre. Andy and I shared a twin room with en-suite and television but no tea making facilities. Definitely more hotel than the YHA type of hostel we are more used to.

GR221 Camina Per Mallorca. Day 2 - LLuc to Tossals Verds

Day two sees us off in to the mountains proper and we are excited and somewhat concerned about the long climb and precarious paths we had been warned about (slight exaggeration). However, the morning faffs had to be waited through plus an interesting visit to the Visitors Centre.

The route was almost straight into more Holm-Oak woodland, we climbed steadily crossing the MA-10 where we chatted with an English couple out walking then onwards zig-zagging up the terraced hillside eventually coming out onto an open rock face with the Voltes d’en Galileu rising above us. The views back to towards the  coast and yesterday’s walk are beautiful.

The Voltes d’en Galileu is a path constructed centuries ago to provide access for horses to the snow houses on the plain above. It has been restored by the dry stone wallers of the Consell de Mallorca, “The bridle path follows a series of tight bends to ascend a slope of almost 250 m up to the plain
where the Galileu snow house stands, and has the characteristic features of the bridle paths of the Sierra de Tramuntana: dry stone cobbles, escupidors (parapets), ratlletes (diagonal drainage
channels), etc.” The snow/ice was a valuable commodity used in the big houses, hotels etc. in the towns below

 Naturally this was a much easier climb than our imaginations predicted. The walk was steady, safe with the most stunning views. A short climb through grassland above led us to the first of several Snow Houses in this area. “All that remains of this-egg shaped snow house are the east facing walls. Nearby are the remains of the rectangular porxo de nevaters (snow harvesters’ hut). It was one of the first snow houses ever to be recorded, back in 1616, even though it was also one of the first to fall into disuse: it was already in ruins by the end of the 18th century.” The Snow Houses are well worth spending sometime at, if you have it, reflecting on their construction, how long they were in use for, the lives of the people who filled them, cut the blocks of ice and carried them down.

Climbing to a small pass, the Coll de ses Cases de Neu we drop into the top end of a long valley and on up to the Coll des Telegraf. More climbing takes us to the Coll des Pratt where we sit by the wall and have lunch. Great mountain views in all directions with lots of fast moving low cloud and sunshine.

From here it was a long downhill, well mainly downhill, walk through the Holm-Oak woods to reach a quiet clearing at the Font des Pratt a small stone structure over a spring. From here we head down the valley of the Torrent des Pratt to Refugi Tossals Verds where we are to stay the night.

During today walk the dynamics of who walked with who, who was at the front or back broke down much more than on day one and it seem that although Pete, Andy and I, the three Brits came together from time to time I also spent time talking with Bob, Mary, Phil and Sandy. Clearly the not very high barriers were coming down as we all settled into the pattern of walking. From Font des Pratt it became a bit of a charge to the finish, with Andy and I towards the back until Phil and Sandy caught up with us.

Tossals Verds is a Farmhouse converted into a Hostel, slightly similar to a YHA hostel, it is also a Donkey Sanctuary. Andy, Pete and I were in one bunk room with beds for eight, which for some reason was dubbed the Snorers Room and to which Sandy, apparently, was to be banished to. Fortunately she was saved from this by the arrival, possibly unannounced (not booked ahead), of four young German ladies. There was some kind of plan to move everyone around, mostly discussed in loud Spanish, rooms were opened, people moved and the Snorers Room gained four young German ladies.  During the night one lady got up and went into the non-snorers room – too much snoring for her to take apparently.

Thankfully everything went in a remarkably civilised and grown up manner, no smut, no surprises and everyone happy at breakfast.

Dinner was pork chops in a rich tomato sauce, Mallorca style with potatoes. We chatted with the German ladies who were from the Hartz Mountain area of Germany. They were part of a ‘Dragon Boat’ team on a four day hiking break.

Breakfast was the cold meat cheese and dry rough bread again.

GR221 Camina Per Mallorca. Day 3 - Tossals Verds to Soller

Another big day. The morning faff included visiting the donkeys and deciding if tap, spring or bottled water should be carried today.

First surprise of the day came very early, having read up on the walk, I was expecting to turn right to go back up the GR221 instead we turned left onto one of the Alternate Sections and it was fun.

This was a different type of walking to previous days, no good wide paths, no way marks, this was proper hill walking, in low cloud and rain. Rocky, loose footing, heavy grass and bushes, walking, almost scrambling in places, contouring across the lower flanks of Puig des Tossals Verds above a long valley the Canonada d’Emaya  with the TorrentL’Almedra way below us, we headed for Pas Llis, then turned north in to the valley below Morro de Cuber and climbed to a walled col, the Coll de sa Coma des Ases, then a short  descent  the Reservoir de Cuber and back on to the GR221.  

The pipeline from the Curber reservoir runs down the Canonada d’Emaya could be seen in places as we walked up  At one point in this section we had to cross a rock face, execute a sharp turn and drop down the face holding on to steel chains bolted into the rock for support. For some of the party this was definitely outside their comfort zone, most surprised themselves.

Walking down the track alongside the reservoir across the top of the dam to lunch on tables and benches outside a hut, the atmosphere was high, we had tested ourselves on tough ground and won, well at least survived.

From Cuber we followed the route to the Coll de I’Ofre where to the north (right) there is a small valley, which appears to end in a perpendicular cliff, I’m not certain if it does, I did not get close enough to it to see, I was too busy looking at the stunning view over the whole of the Soller valley right down to the sea. Biniaraix, Soller, Binibassi, Fornalutx and Porto Soller all spread out like an aerial map. This must be the GR221’s equivalent of High Cup Nick.

The Coll de I’Orfe is just above the top of the spectacular Barranc de Biniaraix. A ravine cleaved into the mountains that surround Biniaraix, Soller and Binibassi. “It’s slopes, organized into agricultural smallholdings, have been intensively terraced, mainly for the cultivation of olive trees. It is also a good example of the integration of dry stone structures into the natural environment.”

This is one of the ancient routes from Soller to LLuc and other parts of Mallorca. There is a cobbled path 3.5 kilometres long from its base in Biniaraix all the way up. The path, called the Camí del Barranc de Biniaraix, was restored in 1987 by the School of Wallers run by the Consell de Mallorca and was declared a protected Monument and Place of Cultural Interest in 1994.

I have read the reports from people who have walked up it, but none of any walking down. Now having walked down I think I am glad I came down. Going down was hard particularly on the back of my calves, as was the slapping of my fore feet on the stones, but at least I had a view and I didn’t stop too often. Going up would be a grind, as we found out on our big climb 2 days later.

This place, the path, the mountains hanging over, the views, the sea, the vertical multi-coloured rock faces, the terraces, fruit and olive trees, the houses and farms are fantastic, you don’t have to be a walker or walk very far up the Cami del Barranc de Biniaraix to enjoy, absorb, wonder, take a hundred photographs. When you’re done, go down to the bottom, turn left and have beer or two in the first bar on the left. We certainly did. We had earned it.
Unfortunately we still had a hour or so’s walk to our Hotel/Hostel in Soller, this was along roads through narrow winding streets of tall houses, obviously quite old, the mix of architectures was fascinating as we headed into the centre of Soller. After a quick look around the centre, a visit to the Station (train to Palma) and an introduction to the Tram which runs between the Station and Porto Soller, we got to our hotel and in to our rooms.

The rooms were basic but good, with en-suite, no television or tea facilities, we had no complaints. Cases retrieved, we sorted out our clothing, repacked our rucksacks, stuffed minging kit in the cases, we sent them off hopefully to see them again on Friday night.

Dinner that night was at a restaurant in the main square, with the tram rattling by from time to time, we had had a hard but great day, we knew each other better now, we were more comfortable together and we had good meal and a great laugh, while Sandy cooled her aching feet in the horse trough (fountain).

GR221 Camina Per Mallorca. Day 4 - Soller to Deia

This morning’s faff was complicated by the fact that last night we had persuaded Rafael that this morning rather than walk to Porto Soller, we all wanted to experience the tram. As they only run once an hour, timing was everything, needless to say in the last few minutes before the tram reached our embarkation point there was a lot of shouting and not a little panic and strange looks from locals passing by.

Today was to be a ‘short day’ a bit of a rest day after the hard day yesterday and another one tomorrow. So we wandered around the port area, the old town and meander around the harbour past the beach, the bars and hotels up to the Lighthouse on the Cape at the entrance to the harbour.

 From here it was a very pleasant walk through trees and low scrub and rocky outcrops, and the inevitable fruit and olive trees until we reached the road near to the big farmhouse Muleta Gran. Walking along a small road we soon came to and crossed the MA-10 to take a track passing a large house/restaurant , the path from here leads along a good track passing through farm and woodland until we hit the MA-10 again, following the GR221 signs through a small village we ended up on the road running between Deia and Cala de Deia. We waited for the tail to catch up and headed down to the Cala, a lovely little beach, cliffs, boat launch ramp and bar.

While Phil, Bob, Mary, Pete and Rafael went swimming, Sandy sat on the beach, Andy and I headed for the bar and a wonderful couple of hours were had by all. But, we had to pay for our leisure, as between the Cala and Deia was a long, winding hill to climb. It was a slow walk.

Eventually having seen Robert Graves (WW1 Poet) House/Museum and his Grave at the Church we left the Canucks at their hotel while for Rafael Andy Pete and I headed to the Refugi de Con Boi.   

Pete, Andy and I shared a two bunk room, Rafael was in another. Again, clean with excellent facilities and great food. In fact the evening meal of meat balls and potatoes stew was, for me, the best meal of the week without question.

Later over beers, we discussed with Rafael the next day’s walk from Deia to Valdemossa and onto Esporles. Andy was suffering with his knee (a pre walk injury) and although he wanted to complete the highly rated first part to Valdemossa, he was unsure of being able to walk the second part of this section. We also brought up that at dinner in Soller Mary and Sandy had expressed a wish to spend some time in Valdemossa doing the kind of things ladies do when there are shops and art galleries etc. to look at.

Finally, subject to agreement with the Canucks, we agreed that we would all walk to Valdemossa and probably get a taxi from there to Esporles.

GR221 Camina Per Mallorca. Day 5 - Deia to Valdemossa

An epic faff this morning, two groups in two separate hotels/hostels meeting up at the designated meeting place, purchasing lunch, discussing and agreeing that we would take a taxi to Esporles. Rafeal had discussions with one of the taxi drivers in Deia, it was all sorted.

Deia is a lovely place. Although we had not spent much time there I liked it. Built on a hill with the Church perched on top, the town spreads down all flanks in a network of paths, steps, roads and watercourses all interweaving through a mass of houses in a range of styles, ages and orientations, all seeming to have orange or lemon trees in the gardens whose walls are covered in impressive shows of climbing flowers and shrubs.

We walked along the MA-10 for a K or so. The footway (sidewalk) while running adjacent to the road is actually cantilevered off the side of the massive retaining wall that supports the road, so that, as you walk you are directly above roads, a river, gardens and small fields all many metres below.

Leaving the MA-10 we followed a narrow road uphill around and behind a small hotel with a great looking sun deck and pool. Gradually we climbed through the orchards onto a steeper slope cut with terraces along a never ending series of zig zags into the Holme Oak and then pine forests. It was a grind, naturally as we climbed we spread out, coming together when those at the front zigged, or zagged the wrong way and had to retrace their steps. Initially the zig zag legs were quite long but as we got higher and the slope steeper they got shorter. On the final series of legs to the ridge the path reduced in width, became steeper with legs as short as 5 metres and at times was scary. On the way up the views, when available, were spectacular Deia below and the coastal hills and sea visible in both directions.

At the end of the climb we came out into the open at the foot of a gentle slope leading up to the top of the ridge. It had been a tough hour and a half or mores climb, certainly comparable in effort to that required to go up the Cami del Barranc de Biniaraix. From here up to the ridge we had to cross a boulder field, not a particularly nice walk, also not helped by a hundred and one small cairns adding to the route choice confusion.

Running along the ridge is a stone track named the Archdukes path was originally constructed by an 19th century Austrian nobleman so he could ride his horse here and generally wander around his estate and admire the excellent views. Group photographs were taken on the summit of Puig d'es Teix, the highest mountain top on our walk at 1062m. From here a large part of Mallorca can be seen, spectacular.

Walking west along the Archdukes path we again had tremendous views along the coast before descending to the Font des Poll and on down a well worn path to Valldemosa.

Valldemosa is attractive and interesting and for a while we enjoyed the bustle and sight seeing but soon realised that it’s a tourist town and at about the time we arrived they were starting to leave to get back to hotels etc. Pleasant place, a bit tacky I thought and expensive, certainly the most we paid for a round of drinks anywhere on the walk.

The Taxis arrived on time and whipped us to a very good Hostel/Hotel in Esporles. Esporles is well off the usual tourists map, and is a lovely place for that reason. Our room was great as was our evening meal and breakfast and we spent a relaxing evening on the terrace sinking a few beers.

For further posts on this walk Click on "Older Posts", below.