We are now on the move north from Granada towards Madrid. We stopped en route in a place called Santa Elena, which is in the Despeñaperros Natural Park. There are lots of lovely walks around here, but the one with probably the most rewarding views is the walk to the Cimbarra waterfall.
There were two possible routes to get there from our campsite, one of which was twice as long as the other (60km as opposed to 29km). We opted for the shorter route, along the J-6110/A-6200, but it turned out to be a very slow drive with many switchbacks. The road was also quite narrow with a steep drop off on one side for most of the route. We were thankful that we only passed a couple of cars on the whole journey!
On the way there though we did pass lots of trees where the bark appeared to have been removed from the lower section of trunk. We thought they might be cork trees and managed to pull over to have a closer look. It was fascinating to see where this wonderfully light, natural material comes from.
The walk starts near the small, isolated town of Aldeaquamada. We were intrigued by the fact that it is set out in a grid pattern and appeared to have been planned rather than having grown organically. It turns out that the town was one of a series of new settlements in this area built at the end of the 18th century under the orders of Charles III. The crown wanted to improve the link between the capital Madrid and the cities of Seville and Cadiz to its south and from there to the American colonies. At the time, this area was sparsely populated and the route was targeted by bandits, so the authorities decided to create some new, model colonies in the region and they brought in immigrants to live in them, particularly from Germany.
Each colonist would get a plot of land, a house, an irrigated huerta (field or garden), space for an orchard, tools, two cows, five sheep, five goats, five chickens, a rooster, a sow and enough supplies for two years. The new settlements weren’t without problems: it is thought that the first foreign colonists may have been misled a little as to the fertility of the soils and the gentleness of the climate and in turn they may actually have been more trouble than the native Spanish colonists, but by 1775, the Sierra Morena project (of which Aldeaquamada is part) had created a total of nine towns that between them housed thirteen thousand people.
At the heart of the town is the Farmworkers’ Royal Public Granary (which is now the Town Hall) with the church opposite. A plaque on the wall tells that the granary was built in 1792 as a warehouse to manage the supply of grain. It would give loans and assistance to settlers and is one of the largest of many such granaries constructed during the era of the new settlements project. The town is very small (only about 550 inhabitants) and you can see why it has never grown bigger because it is a fairly arduous (if stunning) drive from here just to the main road and then from there to any town of note, so you really would live a very isolated existence. And given that most inhabitants of the town today are not living a farming/subsistence lifestyle like their 18th century predecessors, their daily commute must be quite considerable.
Cimbarra Waterfall Walk
You can start the walk from the town, or you can drive the 2km down a dirt track to a small parking area near to the waterfall itself. We opted to do the latter and the road was in pretty good condition for most of the way, with just a few badly potholed sections to negotiate. At the parking area there is an information board showing a circular walk of 1.2km to the falls and back. We did the circuit in an anti-clockwise direction as suggested, but you could also do it clockwise. In fact, the route to the mirador (lookout point) above the falls is easier if you follow the route clockwise.
It was a very pleasant walk, although quite challenging in places, with loose stones and narrow sections with a sheer drop on one side and no handrail or barrier. The walk approaches the waterfall from behind and more or less as soon as you set off you can hear it in the distance.
Not far into the walk, there is a path off to the right that leads down to the base of the waterfall and we made this detour first. The path twists and turns through switchbacks as it descends into the gorge and again, it is quite loose under foot. At one point we had to climb over a fallen tree, and all the time we could hear the thunder of the water as it plunged over the edge into the gorge. The anticipation was huge. And it didn’t disappoint: the water from the Rio Guarrizas flows over the sheer quartzite cliffs and crashes into a pool at their base, throwing up spray and creating a beautiful, dramatic scene. Fortunately it had rained heavily a few days before and there was plenty of water.
When we had finished admiring and photographing the falls, we headed back up to the main path to continue the walk. As we have found so often here in Spain, we had the place to ourselves.
Rejoining the main path, we soon reached the mirador (lookout point) above the falls. And yet again there was a spectacular view, not just of the falls but of the surrounding hills and valleys too. The rock has so many fissures in it that blocks break off all the time. Someone had used these to do some stone balancing and we added a few of our own before following the signs to the Mirador del Desfiladero, where we could see the river way down below us plunging over another cliff and out of sight. From here it was an easy walk back to the main path and from there to the parking area. The path was much flatter and with a better surface than in the first half of the walk.
Not wanting to repeat the hair raising excitement of the drive over here, we took the longer route back to the campsite, heading north out of Aldeaquamada first on the CR-610/J-6100 towards Castellar de Santiago, then the CM-3200 west to Almuradiel and finally the A-4 south back to Santa Elena.
As we passed Castellar de Santiago, we saw a sign at the side of the road that said ‘Paso de Linces’. We didn’t know what this was, so I quickly typed it into google translate. What came back really surprised us: it said ‘Lynx pass’. That can’t be right, can it? Really? Lynx in this area? We were still puzzling about it when we passed one of those triangular road signs with a red border and the picture/silhouette of an animal inside it – normally in Spain we have seen ones depicting bulls or deer, but this one was unmistakably a lynx. Sadly the one on the signs was the only lynx we got to see, but it was exciting to know that they still live in the wild in these parts.
We are really enjoying exploring the countryside in this stunning and diverse country. We love seeing the sights and visiting the towns and cities, but getting out on foot and exploring the rural areas of Spain has been a real joy for us. And, at the risk of upsetting people, the weather for the last few days has been absolutely perfect – warm sunshine during the day but still cool in the shade and cool overnight. We are well aware that we wouldn’t be enjoying a walk like this in the summer here. We’re told that temperatures in the summer in these parts can reach 50 degrees Celsius!
Our next stop is north and west to the outskirts of Madrid itself.
For more information about the Cimbarra waterfall walk, click here.