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Tales from the Via Serrana, January 2023.

debigetsout

Donating Member
Time of past OR future Camino
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My partner and I have recently completed most of the Via Serrana, so I will contribute some general comments about the experience. It is a relatively little used route, and it’s important to give it a bigger profile on the forum.

First, thanks very much to @jungleboy (this forum), the Johnnie Walker guide, and some GPS track contributors who posted on Wikiloc. My partner, G, prepared for this Camino much more thoroughly than any previous Camino that we have walked together, given how little information there is about the VS. While the route was well posted in some areas, GPS was essential in others.

The Via Serrana is not well-travelled for a reason. It is more challenging than other Caminos we have walked (CF twice, VdLP, part of del Norte, Aragon, Portuguese, among others). In the 10 years of its existence, the VS has not built up the infrastructure of other Caminos, including auberges and pilgrim meals… indeed, you are unlikely to see other pilgrims on your walk, so do not expect the camaraderie of the CF, or even the VdLP. Parts of the route are not well-maintained. You can expect an experience more like walking a GR than the CF. Some members of the forum have commented that the Via Serrana is not as difficult as its reputation, and they typically knocked off 40 km plus days. G and I were capable of those kinds of days on past Caminos, but we found 17-24 km per day were typical on the VS. Apart from the difficult stage after Gaucin, G believes that anyone in good physical condition can walk this route, if they take their time. Certainly, I lost some of my trail-ready conditioning during the past three years, when my outdoor activities were limited to day walks and bike rides in a flat land. It is also the (surprising) case that we are both now past 65, but age should not be a factor if you are in good shape. Summary: I would not recommend anyone who found the CF a challenge now taking on the VS without some additional training.

The thing is, the VS is very hilly. My knowledge of the Spanish language is so limited that I was not aware that ‘serrana’ means mountains, and I was busy with my job and did not do my research about this route. G rightly assumed that I knew what I was getting into, since I had initially suggested the route as a possibility. We wanted to walk a Camino in Spain in January that had the chance of decent weather. Having been up to many wide-ranging challenges in the past, that was our main criteria.

We did get extremely lucky with the weather. Our first day (we started walking at San Roque, the southern-most train station, rather than La Linea) we began walking in driving wind and rain. As we walked through a nature reserve, massive clumps of mud stuck to our boots. Given that I had a medical incident a few days earlier that almost ended our plans, I was certain that my first day of the walk was my last day. The following day dawned sunny and promising, and G convinced me to walk on. The weather remained sunny for the following two weeks of our walk, with near zero temperatures in the morning, and shirt weather during the afternoons. Perfect walking weather.

Much of the VS is absolutely beautiful. The mountain vistas, Pueblos Blancos, bucolic agricultural land, sublime walking paths… it would be perfect if it were not so hard. In my journal, I described one particular day as ‘boot camp’ and another as involving 10 km of suffering. I was exhausted a lot of the time, although my mountain goat of a partner fared much better, until near the end of our walk. That was a day of long flat surfaces, along a never-developed railroad bed between Olvera and Coripe that triggered a problem with his achilles and ended our walk. We had a rest day, and then another hobble along day, before we packed it in and took the train to Seville to sit at outdoor cafes and drink sangria. Could have been worse. The sangria calmed his indignation at, for the first time, being injured and unable to complete a long walk.

Some random tips:

As others have mentioned, the train line between San Roque and Ronda is a real bonus.

Several times, we were able to rent apartments for a couple of nights, do laundry (with sufficient time for it to dry), and take only necessities in a day pack for walks north and south of our location, using the trains to return to our base. Just be aware that the train schedule is really limited (3 times a day) and sets strict time constraints on what you can do. The first train south leaves close to 12.00 hrs, so depending on where you stay, it can be more efficient to walk the route in reverse direction (south) and return north by train at the end of the day, instead of starting the day by train and walking back to your accommodation. My favourite day by far was walking south from Ronda to Jimera de Libar and then taking the train back to our apartment in Ronda. It will be an excellent walk in either direction, of course, but we chose the direction with less uphill challenge.

In some of the smaller towns there are few accommodation options (at least during the winter months), so finding a bed can be pricier than on most other Caminos. Food options can also be limited. At least once we found ourselves sharing a bag of potato chips, rounded out with cans of beer (nothing new to us in our travels). On the plus side, the apartments can be similar in price to hotel rooms, and provide the opportunity to prepare your own food, if you can find an open tienda nearby.

Even if you don’t usually use walking sticks, humble yourself and take them. Even if you don’t need them for the hills, you will be thankful to have them for the dogs. The southern part of the VS is a chorus of dog barking, although chorus may be too kind a word. Most of the dogs are chained and/or behind fences, but you never know. We were awestruck on a couple of occasions when dogs out for walks with their people rushed at our ankles, jaws snapping, and when we raised our hiking poles at them, we were admonished by their people (because of course we should know that their dogs would not harm us). Those were mainly little dogs, but having been bitten in the past by a little dog who came at me out of nowhere, I don’t trust them unless they are clearly sweet little things.

Pretty much every house we passed in the southern portion of the VS had a fence around it and a pack of dogs guarding the property. Mostly big dogs. It seemed as if people were in a competition to see who could have the biggest, ugliest, most vicious looking dogs. Some I swear were the offspring of Cujo. Others were worse. It was nerve wracking. We thought about putting on our headphones and playing some music to block out the sound, but what if a dog was really coming at us…

We even saw a couple of dogs chained to a front door on very short leashes while the householders were away. A different kind of scary… Cruel. If anyone has more information about dogs and their people in this part of southern Andalucía, we would be glad to hear it. We cannot imagine that there is so much crime in the area that packs of guard dogs are a necessity.

[By El Coronil, the dogs were getting smaller, but not necessarily friendlier. Here is a photo of a little dog inside a shop, where I had hoped to buy a pair of socks. No socks.]
IMG_7114.JPG

We were disappointed not to be able to complete the VS. But it was ok. Many Caminos ago, we stopped being ‘purists’ about needing to walk every step of a route, when I developed plantar fasciitis (thankfully no longer an issue for me) and for a time I could not walk on hard surfaces. (My partner devoted many hours to plotting routes that would minimize the pavement for me.) During that difficult period, I sometimes had to take a bus for a stage of our walk and meet G at our evening’s destination. It was that or stay home. I chose the bus. Now it is all about getting out there and enjoying as much as we can.

That’s it for now. This account ended up being much more personal than I intended! I can certainly add more detailed comments about stages of the walk, accommodations, etc. when I have access to my walking journal, if that is of interest to anyone. Great to have a VS topic area happening here!
 
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Regarding a question and answer that maybe also of interest to others…

Hi Debi

I’m leaving Sunday to walk the Via Serrana so would love any additional information you could share on the route. I do have all my accommodation booked, sticking to the 12-day route so an average of 18-24k a day if I remember correctly, but any walking tips or village info you might have would be greatly appreciated.

Oh, did you have to climb over that locked gate that JungleBoy mentions on the first day, about mileage 18k?
And did you have any problems crossing the arroyos?

Thanks in advance
Xxxx

————-

Dear xxxx , there were no problems with arroyos anywhere (See pnt1). Past Gaucin in the direction of the vulture rocks, they warn for possible problems if the river is high, but that was ok as well.
The gate mentioned, we could get pass it, not sure if we opened it or it was open but we found no gate anywhere that was locked and needed to be climbed.

That said, four things
1.as it rained heavily, we did not walk all te way to the river Rio Hozgarganta, 4 km before you reach San Martin. We decided to do the alternative route. After going straight on , follow the road, you find a kind of tow bridge 1,5 km from the crossing on your left hand, see 1 on picture 1.
2.Before reaching Est Jimena de la Frontera, you have a choice to go up the hill, thru the thorny bushes or go a little straight on and then left, keeping on the road. We advice to stay on the road. The thorny bushes are dense and even for sheep sometimes undoable as we found one dead laying on the path. Not that is is not doable, we did it, but the muddy track, trying to prevent from getting stuck and especially the bending over to get under through the bushes is tiring when you also have a pack on. So unless your feet are very soar, stick to the road. See picture 2.
3.When you leave from Gaucin up the vulture canyon, one warning. The going up can be hard sometimes as some steps are high. All and all doable but it can be tiring especially with a heavy pack, so take your time. The warning is for when you are on the top and go down again on the other side. The descend is very steep on paths that are wornout. It was a dry day when i was there, it hadnot rained for three days. Because this side of the mountain lays in the shadow all the time, mosses and algies make some parts slippery, be extremely carefull. I did almost slip a couple of times which is not my usual thing to do. So slow down , it is not that long, you can make up for the lost time when you are down at the Puente de los Alemanes.
4.lastly, 3 km after Est de la Frontera, you may run into a fence that looks impenetrable. If you look down, you will find an opening at he bottom of the fence like a cat door at home. You can crawl thru it, on your belly or back. Quite unussual but it was there for a reason. See location 3 on picture 3.

I especially liked El Coronil, a hidden gem. We stayed in a beautiful hostal that was the icing on the cake. Olvera is beautiful, called the king of the pueblo blancos which i think it suits the place. That day you walk into two pueblos blanco and the way they are situated on the mountains is spectacular. Ronda is very touristy, but the valley where you go thru before reaching Ronda, is the most tranquil environment i have been for a long time, you will see (and hear) .

Buen camino
Grtz G (Debi’s partner)
 

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