Sunday, 28 October 2012

GR221–The Drystone Way, Mallorca

I had never considered going to Spain for a holiday, let alone it being a walking destination (Camino de Santiago excepted). Hands up on my part; poor racial stereotyping has had me view this nation as one where tradition justified animal cruelty and one that was sponging subsidies off the European Union with little care for its partners; in hindsight I realise that I shouldn’t have taken Jeremy Clarkson so seriously in his series “Meet The Neighbours”, but with those thoughts it was with some trepidation that I joined Will4Adventure on a four day walking trip in Mallorca along the GR221.
 
In true Mediterranean style, the GR221 isn’t quite finished yet; the sections in the west are subject to land access issues, limited accommodation, poor signage and difficult route navigation. When it is, it will be a magnificent 8 day walk, and one I fully intend to return to and do in its entirety. Of those legs that are up to scratch, we were here to traverse four of them.
 
Meeting up with Will and the four others on the Sunday night, it was good to be in familiar company; I had already met Ian and Jerry, Ken and Judy back in 2009 in Nepal, on the Annapurna Base Camp trek.
 

Day One – Valldemossa to Deia

Monday morning, after coffee and croissants, we caught the bus from Palma to Valldemossa. A short time in the village whilst Will picked up supplies for today’s lunch, and then we were off!
 
Once out of the urban environment, we were soon on a stony path which climbed gradually on a series of switchbacks. It was to be the first of many on this journey, and I was pleased to see the Spanish are fond of comfortable gradients more to my style and level of walking!
 
 
We reached low cloud quickly. Through the trees, we could see little for now, being afforded the odd tantalising glimpse of Palma below. But for the main, it was just the path, as it snaked ever higher.
 
 
When we reached Cami de S’Arxiduc at 926m, we were eventually treated to views of the Mediterannean Sea to our West, and Palma to the South-East.
 
 
We had lunch here, satisfied with our progress. I was blown away by the scenery, and any doubts about the trip had been forgotten.
 
 
The Arch Duke Path is a feat of engineering. Mindful of my aversion to some situations at height, Will had warned me of this section, but its excellent condition meant  I suffered no feelings of exposure; I was loving it!
 
 
Before the summit of Puig des Carogli, the GR221 veers left. A series of cairns lead us down the correct path. At one point, however, the route becomes unclear, even in the guidebook. To go left would appear to just go straight off the edge of the cliff and right seemed the only option. But left it was, and within a few metres, a semblance of a path appeared, hugging the limestone cliff face. It was a steep descent, but fortunately, on my part, any precipitous drop was shielded from view by the ancient Holm Oak and Pine woodland. I was constantly reminded of its similarity to the Blue Mountains, near Sydney, in Australia.
 
Eventually, the ground levelled out and we were in areas of cultivated terraces, with distinctive brick walls. A short while away lay our destination for the night; the Can Boi Refuge, in Deia.
 
 
A short day, but a good warm up.
 
That evening, we had a quick look at the town, had a beer and enjoyed a good meal at the refuge, of bread, soup, lamb stew, and an accompanying shared bottle of the local red.
 
Stats for Day One:
 
 

Day Two – Deia to Soller

 
We set off in the morning, following the gorge and picking up the GR221 further down the river. Much of the day was to be a gentle walk through olive groves and citrus orchards, with occasional vistas of both the coastline and the mountains.
 
 
 
What should have been a steady day was made a little more strenuous by rain the previous night. Slippery and wet ground meant the camino certainly wasn’t living up to its “dry stone” tag and with high humidity, you just knew that somewhere on the island, there was going to be a large dumping of water. Fortunately, it wasn’t to be on us.
 
 
 
For lunch, we headed to the Cap Gros Lighthouse, where this sections refuge, Muleta, was located.
 
 
 
For us, though, it wasn’t the end of the leg. Rather than retrace our steps back to the GR221, we had a road walk down to the pretty resort of Port Soller.
 
 
Ken and Judy had been staying in Soller for a week before the trek and so had done all the important reconnaissance work, by locating the best place on the sea front for tea and cakes.
 
 
The days final push, and rather than traipse up the road to Soller, Ken guided us up an alternative woodland route that took us the best part of an hour before we arrived at the Hostal Nadal, our accommodation for the night.
 
Late afternoon, I wandered out to have a couple of beers in a bar, sitting out in the square nearby, indulging in some passive smoking, and drinking in the atmosphere. I liked Soller!
 
 
That night, we all ate out at a Malaysian Restaurant and any preconceptions about having to eat Paella and sea food dishes all week were completely blown out of the water. If you are ever in Soller, I highly recommend The Kopitiam Restaurant.
 
Stats for Day Two:
 
 

Day Three – Soller to Tossals Verds

 
By far the most spectacular day! The route out of Soller is straight and true, and soon you are in the narrow side roads of the village of Biniaraix.
 
 
From here, the beautiful wide cobbled path began to snake its way up the Cami de Ses Voltes. Once again, at a gradient that is manageable and enjoyable, each stop for a breather was rewarded with epic scenery!
 
 
 
When the gorge neared its highest point on the trail, GR221 narrowed and passed up through some woodland. The increased number of people told us that we were nearing Cuber Lake where there was both a bus stop and ample car parking to make it a comfortable tourist excursion into the mountains.
 
 
At Coll de L’Offre, we got a first view of Cuber Lake as well as a sneak peek of Puig Major, the islands highest summit at 1447 metres. Getting to here was a considerable relief, and the downhill that spread out before us looked very inviting.
 
 
Will had other plans, though, and to our right was a peak, sitting over 200 metres higher, called L’Offre.
 
Leaving the GR221 behind, we set off to find the footpath up the mountain. It took a while to track it down, and I would hardly call it a footpath. The ascent was steep, narrow and it took its toll on me. The change in gradient was too much for my current level of fitness, and each step up was an energy sapping task. I was way behind the others, probably a good thing seeing as I was “effing and blinding” all the way! Eventually, my exhaustion led to hesitation and bad decisions when picking my footholds. I loathe being out of my comfort zone. By the time I reached a point where the vista opened out and a sense of scale could be truly perceived in this mountainous region, I was beginning to feel the anxiety sweep through me.
 
The summit was a mere ten metres away, in height, but I was going no further, and I plonked myself down in the shade of a small stunted tree. I fixed my eyes to the west where the sense of foreboding appeared less than the expanse to the east. The others continued to the summit, and then returned, where we then had lunch.
 
Will talked me through a technique to supress the irrational fear I was experiencing. Where we sat was no worse than any exposure we had encountered in the previous couple of days, it was less, if truth be told. However, the toxic ingredient in the mix, that brings it all together, was fatigue.
 
We then discussed the route we were to take. The intended one involved some more awkward walking, on paths that my mind had already demonised. In truth, my heart was back on the reassurance of the GR221. When I suggested it and said, conscious that I was spoiling it for the rest, that I could do it alone, Will said we would stay as a team, and the rest agreed. A better path that would lengthen the distance, but looking back, I think the others were happy with the decision.
 
After lunch, of which I ate little because of the thought of the descent, we retraced our steps down L’Offre, and were back on the route proper.
 
 
Order restored, mentally, we took the gentle descent to Cuber Lake, stopping at the road for a short break, where we were joined by a hungry donkey.
 
 
With Ian handing round a share of Twix, it was an unexpected energy boost to complete the rest of the leg to the refuge at Tossals Verds, some two hours away.
 
With the evening creeping in, the temperature had also dropped and the walking, whilst rocky underfoot, was more comfortable. We reached our destination around 6.30pm, a long day with a more than respectable height gain and distance; a good effort!
 
Dinner was a feast of some pasta soup, roast chicken and potato, and another bottle of red.
 
Stats for Day Three:
 
 

Day Four – Tossals Verds to Lluc

Leaving Tossals Verds just before the heat of the sun could take its toll, we were retracing the stony path to our turnoff at the “Font des Prat” signpost.

 
 
On a continuous ascent through woodland, we broke out into wider open ground where we followed an uneven and uncomfortably uneven series of unnecessary switch backs up to Coll des Prat.
 
 
At Coll des Prat, our highest point on the trail at 1206 metres, we had a decent view of Pollenca, where the GR221 ended.
 
 
To our right, the second highest mountain, Massanella at 1382m.
 
 
 
We had lunch here. Not up to the usual standards, the bread was more akin to roof tiles, but by now, it didn’t matter. I needed little food, as the majority of up had been completed, and I was eager to get on.
 
 
I was pleased for Will because this was the very first time running this trip, he had been afforded a view on this leg, which is notoriously stuck in clag.
 
A spot of down and then a final ascent to a viewpoint at the turn off to Puig d’en Galileu. We could see Lluc below.
 
 
We found our way easily to the wide cobbled path that eased the considerable loss in altitude. A well built wall was a comfort to those with one eye on the steep drop the other side.
 
 
 
We soon reached the forest below, and the walk was shady, but suitably painful to those that were expected to suffer on a pilgrimage to the Monastery at Lluc.
 
We stopped at the Monastery for refreshments and the rest of the party took a look at the chapel. Having been suitably appalled by the opulent displays in the Vatican many many years ago, I have had little compulsion to visit Catholic places of worship again, and so I chose to sit in the shade with a beer and my Kindle.
 
Later, we finished our trip, with a final bit of up, to the Refugio Son Amer; our final bed for the night.
A fine refuge, albeit in a state of repair for tornado damage a couple of weeks earlier, it was clean and modern, with a bar and another generous helping of pasta soup, roast chicken and vegetables for the evening meal (not forgetting the wine, of course!).
 
The Stats for Day Four:
 
 
Back in the UK, and final thoughts are that I have been won over by Spain!

I will return some day to complete the whole route. I hope that it will be finished by then but no matter, as there are plenty of other alternative walks and the climate and affordable flight prices makes it a perfect getaway! As Will pointed out, it is probably quicker and cheaper for me to fly to Mallorca than it would be to travel up from London to the Lake District! I’m happy with that! Smile

Finally, the Stats for all 4 days;