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April 2001

11 April

After weeks and weeks of inactivity Beryl and I finally got our boots back on again. 

Actually in my case it wasn't "again". I started wearing my new boots which I actually purchased in November. However the ground was so wet then that I swore I would not wear them until either my old boots totally fell apart or the weather improved. Well, having gone to the Costa Blanca, I could hardly claim that it was too wet underfoot to wear them.


It's tempting to claim that we went there to get around the ban on walking caused by the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. However this is untrue; we booked the holiday before Christmas. This was an attempt to build on the success of the Mallorcan expedition last Easter. Once again we bought a walking package on top of a Thompson's holiday but this time they had sublet the contract for putting on the walks to a separate company, Bikes and Hikes, who were very good. Their web site has one very good tip; refer to this area as Las Marinas, so you don't have to admit that you went to Benidorm on a walking holiday.

We made our way from the hotel to the pick up point for the minibus (MacDonald's) and met up with the two other minibuses in Sella for coffee. We then went around the far side of the Sierra de Aitana and started the walk at a fair altitude.  This was a good job; we were both feeling pretty unfit and Aitana is the highest peak in Las Marinas at 1558m. 

Well you can't actually get to the top. Rather like the Devil has all the best tunes, the Spanish Air Force seems to have claimed all the best mountain tops for relay stations and this is one of them. Instead we followed the Air Force track which rose reasonably gradually under the cliff faces of the Aitana ridge. There were super views across the Guadalest valley over to Sierra de Serrella and Sierra de Aixorta.

We lunched under one of these cliffs and Jim, who was leading the walk, gave us the chance to take a scrambly route up the cliff. This crossed a bit of a ledge, had a little further scramble and then you squeezed through a gap in the rock before following another little ledge to gain the summit. It isn't the absolute top but I felt really good to be back on high again. I even let Beryl take my photo; there aren't many of those on this site!

Back down and then more walking on tracks back to the car. A steady start to the week, much nattering with the guides and other participants and lots of good mountain air. We had a very early night afterwards!


12 April

Today we on the Sierra de Bernia. This is the third highest hill in the area. Again we started on the opposite side of the hill to Bernidorm which meant a long journey. It did however give us the chance to see the coastline through Altea and Calpe before we turned inland and climbed and climbed and climbed to the parking spot. This gave us a good site of the hill which has the most spectacular dragon-back ridge.

The start of the walk was quite easy with about a kilometre of level walking to a natural spring. We saw quite a few people going out there but they no further. This was because there was then about 1000 foot of hard climbing.

We didn't make it to the top however (I don't think that the ridge is really walkable) because our objective was the forat. This is a tunnel through the hill to the seaward side. It's about 50 ft through and I was certainly down on my hands and knees pushing my rucksack in front of me. But it is light and you can always see how far there is to go.

There was a much bigger drop on the other side and the views down to the coast (complete with the skyscrapers of Benidorm) are superb.

We then took a path which ran below the ridge. It was very up-and-down with lots of little scrambles and traverses across the scree. It was really nice to be walking  a proper mountain path. This lasted for about an hour until we reached the ruined fortress where we had lunch.

The fort was built in the sixteenth century on the orders of Philip II. It only took about 4 months but its usefulness was nearly as short-lived. It was occupied for less than a century.

After lunch we turned round the western end of the ridge and had an easy descent to the minibuses (followed by a visit to the bar where we were parked). We also had to bump-start Jim's bus as the electrics were dead.

A smashing walk. One couple were doing it for the second time on their holiday because they liked it so much.


13 April

Good Friday and we headed up the Guadalest Valley. This was clearly formed by an impressive river. It is now totally dry as the river is dammed (the Embalse de Guadalest) where a small group was doing an easy walk.

We went further up the valley through Guadalest itself; we were told that only the Alhambra and the Prado receive more tourist visits in Spain. The main draw is the castle perched on a knife-edge ridge above the town.

Again we parked high and walked up to a contour path on the side of the Aitana. This was very pleasant and quite easy going after the initial pull. There were lots of almond groves. We stopped for lunch in one and amused ourselves by trying to find left-overs from the last crop. Not many of them but they were delicious.

More contouring along with Confrides castle prominent in the distance. It sits on top of a very squre-shaped outcrop; a bit like a butte in the desert.

A short drop down to another natural spring, the Font de Partagas. Lots of tourists there restocking their drinking water and using the barbecue pits. Well it was Good Friday. As we were dropping to the Font the rock changed drastically; we were in sandstone and the rock was pock-marked with erosion.

The way back was mainly on roads going through the village of Benifarto, where we sheltered from the sun in the public wash-house. "Beni" appears in lots of place names; it come from the Arabic for "son of" and is an indication that this area was dominated by the Moors for almost one thousand years.


14 April

Our last walk of the Thompson's package and a good one. Another high-level circuit, this time around the Puig Campana (or Bell Peak). In that sense it was similar to the Bernia walk and rather like I imagine the Gable Girdle to be.

The hill is probably the best-known in the area. It dominates Benidorm and it also has a very prominent section missing from its side peak. This is named Roland's Hole. Roland was a local giant and there are many versions of why he knocked the lump out of the mountain. What they do agree on is that the lump removed ended up as Benidorm Island. Apparently the rock is very similar to the Puig.

We started much lower than normal just outside of the village of Finistrat. It was a long pull up into the col between the Puig and its sister hill, Penoch. A lovely afternoon path working its way gently downhill overlooking another knife-edge ridge, the Castellets.

The organised walks were very successful. They were very pretty through land that was as green as you get in southern Spain (I am a freak for lush green landscapes; it's why I love walking in Britain so much). The guides were really good company. The two main guides were Jim and Sam, pictured here outside our final watering hole. Thanks for everything, you guys!

Incidentally, Jim's drink was not really as big as a post box; it's the poor way in which I set up the picture. 


15 April

Beryl and I walked on our own today. We walked the mile to the far end of the Levante beach from our hotel and then traversed the Sierra Helada Ridge. This is an area of upland (it goes up to 438m starting at sea level) cut off from the rest of the mountains by the coastal plain. It is clearly destined to become an island not too far into the future ( speaking in geological time)

We climbed up the road. There is a false horizon which dominates the climb up and a cross has been erected there. It looks really special from down in the town, although I did feel somewhat uneasy that it lit up at night. It turned out to be really tacky and covered in grafitti.

However from then on the going really improved. We followed a dry valley and then struck off up a rocky ascent to Sierra Dorado. The hill looks quite rounded as you are going up but when you get to the top there are sheer cliffs dropping 1000 ft to the sea. It's really spectacular.

From there on you stick as close to the edge as you can as the cliff walk goes up and down over 5 or 6 major gulleys. It was really gorgeous. The weather was lovely and sunny (tempered by a wonderfully cooling breeze) and it brought out the deep blue of the Mediterranean.

The highest point on the ridge is occupied by another radio relay station and the summit is fenced off. We got as high as we could before dropping off into Albir. I'd expected this path to be really unpleasant but it wasn't at all (although it went on for 10-15 minutes too long). There were super views over the Altea Bay up to Calpe Rock. Down into Albir for a quick ice cream and catch the service bus back to Benidorm.

The following day was our day off and we took the excursion boat to Calpe. This meant that we got to see the Helada Ridge from a completely different angle.



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