While we were in Lanjarón last weekend, Harri had spotted two boards detailing walks from the pretty spa town. Today, we were tackling the shorter of the two, a 5.8km circular walk linking two acequias, or irrigation channels.
Some credit the creation of the Alpujarras’ acequias to the Romans, others to the Moors. Whoever is right, these irrigation channels have been around a long time, carved out of the rock by stonemasons or dug into the hillside. Far from being historic monuments, the acequias still rely on gravity to transport water from the high mountains to the fields, towns and villages below.
The weekend weather had been unusually cloudy and there were showers forecast for today; however, the sky was looking promising when we set off about 9am. Lanjarón was as pretty as a picture in the morning light and bizarrely – and perhaps a consideration for anyone thinking of relocating here – you are not allowed to die in this town. Yes, you read that right. The Mayor of Lanjarón has passed what he agrees is an absurd law making it illegal for even the townsfolk to die here. The legislation was passed in protest over the lack of burial ground in the town.
At the edge of town, we spotted our first green and white striped waymark. We set off up a stony, dusty track alongside an empty acequia; however, it wasn’t long before we could hear the familiar gurgling sound of water rushing down the hillside. Soon, the landscape opened out and we were looking down on Lanjarón and beyond to the zigzagging path we’d taken off the mountain last weekend.
We carried on climbing, while alongside us the water gushed down the mountainside, splashing our legs as it passed. We’d expected to see no more than a trickle in early July but this was a torrent – there were numerous small waterfalls too. After a while, the path levelled off and the walking became easier, albeit a little vertiginous in places. Metal fencing has been erected along the most precarious sections, i.e. those with steep drops, to prevent the unsuspecting (or clumsy) taking a wrong foot and disappearing over the edge (nobody is allowed to die here, remember?).
Too soon, it was time to leave our first acequia and join a meandering uphill path.Thankfully, the gradient wasn’t too steep and we soon reached a concrete vehicle track. From this height, we were able to see the a small reservoir where the earlier acequia came to an abrupt end.
We reached a beautiful picnic area at Huerta de la Monjas with stone benches where the shade was provided by massive chestnut trees and decided to stop for a few minutes. There is vehicle access to this beauty spot so it probably gets busy at weekends but on a Monday morning all was peace and tranquillity.
Thankfully, we’d done most of the climbing at this point, because the sun suddenly emerged from the clouds, sending the temperature soaring.
We had now reached the highest point of our route (926 metres) and were soon joining our second acequia of the day. Whether it’s in Madeira or Spain, these high-level irrigation channels have the advantage of being built on the hillside and so offer extensive views. From up here, we were able to glimpse a distant peak in one direction and identify the (hazy) Andalusian coastline in the other. We had to keep reminding ourselves that the Alpujarras are the foothills of the Sierra Nevada and are like molehills in comparison to the higher peaks. In fact, Spain’s highest mountain Mulhacén was somewhere in the vicinity, though its 3,478.6 metre summit was hidden from sight by the numerous peaks inbetween. It’s a sobering thought when you consider that climbing Mulhacén from the highest point on this circular route would be equivalent to climbing Mount Snowdon twice from sea level and then a bit.
On our descent, we stopped for a chat with a bare-chested English man living a spartan lifestyle on the mountainside who shared with us his view that the climate was excellent for growing marajanah. It might be hot today, he advised, but during the winter months the temperature in the Alpujarrahs could drop to well below freezing (he mentioned minus 17 degrees but Harri thought this was an exaggeration). Next door to his unheated hut, and behind tall locked gates, lived a millionaire, who had magnanimously agreed to extend the private road to his own property in order to provide vehicle access to our new friend’s home (and the gradient was steep).
All too soon we were back in Lanjarón where it would have been churlish not to stop for a beer. Sometimes these waymarked walks can be disappointing; however, we’d thoroughly enjoyed today’s short jaunt. The 5.8km option is advertised as a family walk and the short distance means it is suitable for most people. I’d just advise anyone with a small child to keep a close eye on them when you reach those drops.