Today’s distance 28 km
Elevation gain 650 m
Elevation loss 549 m
Total distance from Almería 699 km
We wanted to get away from asphalt today and we have certainly done that!
We leave before seven and are almost immediately onto track, walking through the Parque Nacional Monfragüe and after a brief foal appreciation session we get into our stride through the beautiful landscape of the park.
No spectacular sunrise this morning as there is quite dense cloud, some quite grey, however the early morning isn’t at all cold, especially after we descend into a valley and have to climb sharply up the other side on a rocky track.
As we reach the top we are taken aback at the sheer number of vultures passing overhead – dozens soar high above us seemingly making no effort to maintain their great height.
There is much birdsong and the wild flowers are an absolute delight. In places we are walking through long grass but luckily there is no dew and our boots don’t get too wet. I can’t actually see the track in some places and I’m very grateful to be able to follow the route on maps.me
After a short stretch on fairly even ground we are once again climbing up to the top of a high ridge covering all types of surface, grass, dirt, stones, rocks, boulders – you name it, we walked on it! The vista from the high ridge took in countless kilometres of oakland as far as the eye could see in all directions. The only blot on the landscape was a series of pylons that accompanied us pretty much all day.
On the other side of the mountain we are greeted by a strong wind and it is considerably cooler going down than it was climbing up.
The walk is absolutely glorious and as we look down deep into the next valley we can spy the wide expanse of the Rio Tajo sparkling below. As we steeply descend we are walking through giant cork oaks. The track here is made of small stones lying loosely on dusty dirt and I slip and skid several times, but my faithful pacerpoles save me from an ungainly fall.
The track is marked occasionally by wooden poles with a purple painted tips and a few metal signs. The area is riddled with walking tracks.
On reaching the river I try to follow the route on maps.me but can’t see how to access the trail. We climb up a bank, keeping the river to our left and fight our way through thick shrubbery, until we realise that this can’t be right. We are looking for the Puente Cardenal an ancient bridge across the river. I have read that sometimes it is submerged when the river is running high. So we have to retrace our steps and cross by the new bridge. When I reach the point on the other side where the old bridge is situated we stare into the water , but can see no sign of the bridge or its access roads. The water level must be really high.
We climb back out of the valley and eventually arrive at our half-way point – Villareal de San Carlos, which seems like a traditional stone village, but I’m guessing that it is fairly modern in construction and has been built as holiday accommodation for the many visitors to this area. We pop into the information office for a sello for our credenciales which have been rather few and far between lately. In answer to my question I am told that just two families live in the village.
We continue climbing after our break, all the way on track bordered on both sides by white cistus which has a lovely subtle perfume. By midday most clouds have disappeared, the sky is bright blue and we have a strong headwind to keep us cool.
After conquering another huge hill we are back amongst the cork trees descending the other side. We look down onto a vast flat plain and can see mountains in the far distance still topped with snow.
Once we are down on flat ground it is easy walking but we are battered by an ever more forceful headwind. The wide track is bordered by dehesas on either side and the flowers are truly amazing – white cistus, lavender, yellow and white daisies, striking purple/blue of the echium gentianoides. The colours and the scenery are absolutely stunning. Mother Nature, left to her own devices – a wonder to behold.
We finally reach our destination after 28 km, though it seems a lot further, probably due to the elevation and slow-going terrain.
I have to say that an outstanding day has been somewhat jaded by tonight’s accommodation at ‘Camping Monfragüe’. As the name suggests it is a campsite with bungalows for rental. When I changed the date of my reservation I was told that there were no bungalows available but they had a dormitory of bunks that we could use. Well, the room looked as if it had been locked up and forgotten for a very long time, with a dirty floor, a dubious selection bunk beds, an inefficient flickering light and not one thing to recommend it, except the price of 10€ per person rather than 50€ for a bungalow. We are told that there has been a cancellation and there is in fact a bungalow available.
The bungalow won out, but still it is a rather sad little affair, desperately needing a coat of paint and lacking any home comforts. Maybe if it had been sunny and warm with no chill wind, we would have spent the evening sitting outside rather than on an uncomfortable setee with the AC blowing hot. Maybe I’m being unfair.
Tomorrow we are walking a short day of around 12 km. I think it might have been a better option to stay overnight in Villarreal de San Carlos and then walk straight through to Plasencia the next day.