Unless we set off really early, it’s now far too hot to hike in the Alpujarras. The local walking group doesn’t meet during July and August, and it’s rare for us to encounter anyone else when we are walking in the hills. I’m guessing it’s something to do with temperatures now reaching the mid to late thirties?
Trying to find something less demanding to enjoy at the weekend, Harri stumbled upon a group of waymarked walks from Padul, which promised ‘prehistoric paths to explore the wetlands of Padul’. How could anyone not be intrigued?
The various routes overlapped somewhat so Harri had opted for us to follow the longest –the sabre-toothed tiger walk. This ten-kilometre route promised to be almost entirely flat despite being conducted roughly 744 metres above sea level.
Padul – or El Padul as it is also known – is situated about 13 kilometres south of Granada in the Lecrin valley. The valley is wide and although there are high mountains to one side, the rolling grassy hills on the other give it an altogether more open feel than Órgiva.
Prehistoric remains have been found in the area around the lagoon, including the fossilised remains of a mammoth and a tusk. Neolithic tools, jewellery and urns have also been found here.
El Padul’s other claim to fame is that the sixteenth century Casa Grande was used as a location for the Yul Brynner film The Long Duel.
We parked in town centre next to the former tram station and immediately spotted a life-sized model of a woolly mammoth and a baby mammoth on a nearby traffic island. Presumably it was there to get visitors into the mood for their prehistoric wanderings.
Soon setting off along a pleasant street lined with blossom-filled gardens After weeks of clambering up mountainous footpaths, it felt a little strange to be walking in suburban surroundings, albeit only for a kilometre or two.
We weren’t far out of town when we spotted signage for some old Roman carriage treads, only one of two similar sites in Europe (the other is on Malta). The site at Los Molinas was adjacent to the road, so we walked the short gravel track to take a closer look.
Coming from South Wales, we’re spoilt with the quality of our Roman ruins, i.e. Caerleon and Caerwent. It would take something special to impress us. Unfortunately, there was little to see on the ground, just some rugged lines in the rock slabs, which quite honestly could have been anything. Looking at the photographs on the interpretation boards, the ones in Malta do look more interesting.
The valley is heavily farmed, with a lot of corn grown, presumably because the soil is so fertile. We joined a dry grassy track and mused at how we could be walking in our very own Rhymney Valley the landscape was so similar (there was even a quarry on the mountain to our left). It didn’t take long for the ground underfoot to start resembling Wales too. A few patches of mud on the track should have been our warning; however, we pressed ahead, trying to avoid the now numerous puddles on the track. Eventually though, there was more water than track and reluctantly we had to turn around.
After a short stretch of walking on a quiet road, we rejoined the waymarked route. After all the effort put into promoting these walks, we were surprised that we’d encountered problems so early on. But we’re nothing if not determined (well Harri maybe) so on we continued. By now, I was getting a little impatient. Yes, it was nice to be walking on the flat and no, I didn’t mind the odd field of corn or two, but when we were going to see the lagoon? Or those prehistoric mammals, I’d been promised? They were certainly there on the stone waymarks.
On and on we trudged, telling each other that this would be a great area for running. Seven kilometres into the route we got our first glimpse of the lagoon. Not that we’d actually reached the water’s edge, but we could see something watery through the trees.
Around 12 noon, we reached the promised Prehistoric Park (Parque de Mamut), which proved a huge disappointment. The interpretation centre was closed and had that air of neglect about it that suggested it might be closed rather than just not open. Nearby there were three life-size models – another mammoth, a sabre-toothed tiger and a woolly rhinoceros – some wooden seating and a children’s play area that looked like it had seen better times. The whole place just felt abandoned.
After we’d eaten our lunch at a picnic table, we joined a path which finally took us somewhere near the lagoon, except the points where we could see it were few and far between and even then it wasn’t particularly impressive. The lake at Tredegar House is nicer.
I was intrigued by the dead tree trunks scattered around the lagoon, suggesting the flooded area was once smaller. It’s difficult to find out detailed geographical information when you don’t speak the language though.
In Portugal when you go to a bird hide what you can expect is a sturdily built wooden cabin where you can sit and eat your sandwiches while you’re enjoying the local bird life. Here, the signpost for bird watching led us along boardwalks to the water’s edge where a flimsy bamboo fence was sporting several cut outs through which visitors could look. There wasn’t a bench in sight. To be frank, it was all a bit disappointing.
Similarly, the miradouro looked like it had seen better times. The steps were ever-so-slightly rickety and I’m not sure I’d have trusted the wooden structure to hold the ten people maximum it claimed. Moreover, there was no nothing to see from the top except acres of reeds.
The highlight of the walk for me was the boardwalks – although they were mostly overgrown I’ve always had a soft spot for boardwalks, don’t ask me why! I wasn’t too sure about the marketing claim that this route is suitable for wheelchairs though. Some of those angles were quite acute … one false turn and it would be easy to catapult your family member into the murky depths.
Our verdict of the sabre-toothed tiger walk? To use a well-known hiking term, it was pretty naff really. I wonder if the marketing team had actually visited the area or just waxed lyrical from a distance.
Back in Padul, we found a bar and ordered drinks. Why were we not surprised when they were not accompanied by even the smallest tapas offering? Not an olive, not even a peanut to be seen. We eventually relented and ordered some mini burgers from the menu and they were very nice. We’ve clearly been spoilt in Órgiva, where even a humble lager is accompanied by delicious nibbles.
Goodbye Padul, I think we’ll stick with the mountains next time.