Saturday, 3 March 2018

Via Serrana final days

These final days have almost been washed from the memory by the prodigious rain which has fallen in Andalucía. There is a friendly rivalry between Galicians and "Los sureños", the Southerners. The Galicians think that the people of the south are too loud, dramatic, over the top. They disparage their way of speaking where words are diminutised routinely. So a beer becomes una cervecita and a plate becomes un platito. Actually this sits rather well with we Scots where we use the word "wee" with several meanings, so "After I'd been out for a wee drink I had a wee fight with the wife" means just the opposite!

But at the heart of the North/South tension is the weather. The southerners think that northerners are as cold as their weather and Galicians are just jealous of the weather in the south. Until now.

My friends in Málaga say that when it rains they can count the drops on one hand. Not in the last week or so.

Over a substantial breakfast in the Hostal Bobi (we had to tell them to stop bringing food) we looked again at the weather forecast. It hadn't changed and rain was forecast for the next few days. The streets were wet but the promised downpour didn't materialise which was just as well because the arrows were not clear at the exit of the town and we took some time to find and record how best to join the route. It is worth saying though that in general the route is very well waymarked and many of the yellow arrows were fresh.

We decided quickly that the route couldn't possibly be 12 kms along the side of a busy road and after some backtracking and searching we found the way through disused farm buildings and as we walked along a path through the olive grove an arrow appeared. All was well.

There followed an unremarkable 4 kms by the side of a busy road before walking through fields and entering El Coronil. The Hostal Don Juan is one of the options and was very pilgrim friendly with a place to hang washing and clean boots. The woman said that there are many pilgrims in better weather.

Next morning we were up and out to walk the 20 kms to Utrera. The great plain surrounding Sevilla stretched before us as far as the eye could see. This is the meseta. The dark clouds which had been glowering at us passed over and shafts of sunlight lit up the ploughed fields. From far off we saw the dust rising as a horse drawn carriage approached. This was like a scene from a Western. As it drew close we saw 6 mules pulling a cart with father and son delivering sacks to a local farm. They stopped to chat and the father explained to his son that we were pilgrims walking to Santiago. He pointed North with a gesture that it might be as far away as the moon. Then they were off.

We continued to enjoy the monotony of walking the meseta. I think that there is a particular beauty in the rhythm of walking these straight paths the destination in the distance growing closer at a glacial pace.

Much later in the day as we entered Utrera the son of the horse drawn pair we met earlier passed us on a homemade contraption comprising a sledge pulled by a mule with a kitchen chair for a seat. He shouted encouragement and also some surprise that we had got this far.

We checked into the Hotel Vera Cruz which was the most expensive of this Camino. We ate well locally and breakfasted well. However the weather was breaking and our luck with the weather did not hold. There are some 33 kms from Utrera to Sevilla on flat roads and paths. Many would do this in one stretch. We decided to stop in the cummuter town of Dos Hermanas. The rain was heavy and icy. I could have coped with that but I found much of the way amongst the ugliest I have ever encountered including 8 kms straight along the side of a railway line where we had to pick our way through mountains of litter, rubbish which had been dumped illegally and at one point an open sewer. This section has little historic authenticity and let's hope that the Amigos and local councils find a better way.

The following day was a quick march in basically a straight line into Seville. Arrival came as some relief as the rain was literally bouncing off of the roads.

In summary. I found this a wonderful route in spite of the early challenges and the ugliness of the final kilometres. Waking from Jimena de la Frontera and then again from Ronda I encountered stages as beautiful as any I have walked. The route is not "historic" and in parts substantially follows local hiking trails. There is a train line linking the towns in the early stages meaning it would be possible to be based in either Jimena de la Frontera or Ronda and to either skip or walk the most demanding stages without carrying a full rucksack. This plus accurate milages and accommodation will be described in the walking notes which will follow.

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