Monday, 7 April 2014

Escarihuela of the Taha

Recently I was out with a large group and once again walked a favourite route of mine, the Ruta Medieval in the Taha area of the Alpujarra. Whilst I have done the walk many times it has to be said it is perhaps one of the best low level routes in the area. What makes the route special is a combination of stunning scenery and great walking with numerous things to stop and wonder at en route. The route does a circuit of the Rio Trevelez gorge as it runs from Trevelez south west toward Orgiva. Trevelez lies at 1,476m and claims the status as the highest village in Spain and is famous for its cured jamon. The gorge is steep sided and dramatic with high cliff faces above narrow ravines. The nature of the landscape means that there are no surfaced roads within the valley and the river only has three crossing places as it runs the 10km section within the Taha. At each of these crossings an ancient pack horse bridge spans the river where for centuries, mules and man have been able to safely cross. The bridge below the village of Fondales is known locally as the ‘’Roman bridge ‘‘ and whilst the current structure may not be from that period a crossing at this point must have existed for many years. The gorge here is only about ten meters across allowing a single arch to span the river about twenty meters below. Perhaps the most spectacular of the three crossings is the next one up stream which lies on the river between the villages of Ferreirola and Busquistar. Here the valley sides are particularly steep and paths on both sides of the valley take dramatic zig zags through near vertical terrain. On the south side in particular the path clings to the hill side as it climbs 250m vertically in about the same linear distance. So dramatic are these routes that they even have their own word in Spanish, ‘escarihuela’ like a ladder and their dramatic nature was commented on as far back as the Moorish period when the Arab poet Ibn-Aljathib described one example as a ‘’ path, of danger and martyrdom’’ whilst the Spanish writer Hurtado de Mendoza describes the area as ‘’harsh mountain: valleys leading to the abyss: mountains up to the sky: narrow paths: gullies and precipices with no escape’’. Even after all these years the drama of these routes is still there so if you only get chance to walk one route in the area this has to be the one.

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