Disused railway. Levada access road. Quiet lanes. Busy road.
Our route was from Lepe to Huelva using the Camino Verde. This follows the disused railway line from Huelva to Gibraleon. About 4Km after Cartaya we turned off the Camino Verde and followed a water supply canal heading a little south of east. We kept to the right hand side of the canal. After about 18 Km we headed east on country lanes towards Huelva. At 21.5 Km we joined the main road. It might be possible to avoid this but we did not find a better route.
We booked a taxi for 7.00 to take us from Matalascañas to Lepe (the end-point of last year's walk).
We arrived in Lepe at 8.15 at the very kiosk from which we had bought an ice cream while waiting for the bus last year. It was just beginning to get light and the air was bitterly cold.
Leaving the kiosk, we crossed straight over the main road and went down the street opposite. At the end, we turned right and worked our way over on to the disused railway line (10 minutes). We went along it first through the town, then past fields including some with ripe strawberries, and then through pine woods.
We next went under the motorway (Exit Lepe Gibraleon (30 minutes). Soon after this, the sun rose right on cue at 8.00 but it was still very cold. Now there are orange groves on the right and fields, possibly of asparagus as the soil is well banked up on the left, We cross over an iron bridge.
After a good stretch without any eventualities, we came to a cutting where the railway line was completely flooded (1 hour 10 minutes). We decided to try and find a way round on the left by climbing up the bank. This was successful. By climbing up the bank onto another track which led up and over a small hill, we were able to get back to the railway line. We rejoined it by turning left at a cross-roads. Here, on our right, we saw a no entry sign showing the track is blocked where we had come from but there was no such sign at our end.
At 9.40, we had our first break.
At the next cross-road, we went straight over (1 hr 56 mins). The time was 10.20 and we were soon in the centre of Cartaya. Our route took us straight through the bus station sited on the old railway station whose disused track we were using for our walk. We went right through the bus station. On our right we saw the old railway station building with the name Cartaya done in azulejo tiles. After the bus station we passed through almond orchards, still managing to flower in spite of the unusually low temperatures.
Here there was a sign saying it was 8km and 2 hours to Aljaraque on foot. Times were also given for horse riders and bicycles. A horse takes slightly longer (50 minutes) than a bicycle (40 minutes).
At 10.30, we got to a huge junction with a roundabout and slip roads. We aimed straight ahead and got on to our track again. Luckily there was not much traffic on it so it was fairly straightforward (2 hours 5 minutes). This was still under construction and it looked as though there will be an underpass for the horses, bikes and walkers.
It was just beyond here, at 10.45, that we had our second break.
The next sign of progress was when we went under a big bridge and began heading south of east to find our way towards Huelva. Our road is sign-posted Mogalla 2km.
On the right is a very big levada. At the junction there had been a large water tank from which the levada leaves. We wondered if we had taken the right road after all and sat on the edge to look at the maps and choose our route. We took the left-hand road at the large junction. Luckily this converges with the second road which is the Camino del Servicio del Canal del Piedras, so it made no difference which road you took.
We were now heading towards a pine garden which we hoped would be a first lunch place with shade - yes by now it was warm - and somewhere to stretch out. It was only 11.30 but when you have had breakfast at 6.00 you are hungry by 11.30.
At 12.05 with our lunch break over we set off again along the canal, quite soon reaching a bridge going over it. The map showed the canal doing a big loop at this point to go round some little hills. We decided to head across country on a fire break track to avoid this big loop taken by the canal.
With the GPS this is not the risk it would be otherwise as we could make sure we were heading all the time for the road and the canal at the end of the loop. (If you have not got GPS, you should stay by the canal. We headed on through the woods heading south east as far as possible. At a T junction we turned right as the track was heading too much to the east. We were now going south which is what we wanted to do. Eventually, we got back to the canal again but had enjoyed the woodland route as it was not on a surfaced road.
Now the canal went into a tunnel and there was no road or tow path alongside it. We arrived just as a man drove up to open the sluice and were able to watch as water came pouring through.
There was a road heading uphill which we assumed would take us back to the canal as this still seemed to be the service road. It headed uphill over the top and wound around in the wrong direction just enough to make us nervous before swinging back down towards the canal again.
At the summit the road stops being asphalt. This service road over the top will have saved a huge loop the loop as on Neil's electronic map, this road comes to a dead end at the tunnel, although on my paper version there was a way through. Luckily the paper version was right as the walk was quite long enough without loop the loops.
There was now a left fork which we decided to take. The right fork along the canal would also have taken us through but the left turn was shorter.
It was time for another break. We've stopped at last. We had to walk five miles (it felt like five miles) off the road to find a suitable place for Neil to have his second lunch. In the end we sat down between three skulls, probably of deer. (It was 50 yards and soft and away from the road. We also found a rare bulb because of the diversion. Neil).
We've done more than two thirds of the distance in less than two thirds of the time and the closer we get to Huelva, the bigger the roads became. By 4pm we were having tea overlooking the estuary. Afterwards we crossed it by the pedestrian bridge. Once over the bridge, we turned right and soon got to the bus station. Neil had way-marked the bus station so all we had to do was follow the GPS.
As we were here last year on a research trip, we knew where the bus station was. When we eventually get there we discovered what I already knew but had forgotten; ie that there are no suitable buses on a Sunday evening. We had maintained a brisk pace and had had only short stops to catch the 5.30 bus but it doesn't go on Sundays. Nor are there any via Almonte. This information was confirmed by the lady at the information kiosk. We went out of the station and get another taxi.
Plants seen on this walk in the order of seeing them: Bermuda buttercup: yellow cabbage; broom; gorse; pale ajuga; tamarisk like broom; fumitory; pink campion; almond trees; white arisarum; yellow heliathemums no spots, very pale rosemary; white romulea, sternbergia or crocus just one and really lovely; normal mimosas and also some tufted ones quite different
The GPS receiver and MapSource software were really useful on this walk. We were able to use forest tracks, not marked on any map. We were completely confident that we would re-join the mapped ways in the right place. This was a complete success. We emerged from the forest a few feet from the predicted road junction. The forest was not quite as wild as expected because many Spanish families were taking advantage of the weather to have an early season picnic.