The winter walks often become more of a long range nature ramble so for this walking season we will be amalgamating the flora and fauna pages with the walk to bring you images of even more of the fascinating wild life to be found in Andalucia.
Location: Rio Guadiaro Valley between Estacion de Jimera de Libar and Benaojan.
Start and Finish: Railway station at La Estacion Benaojan.
How to get there: Take the A369 Gaucin to Ronda road towards Ronda. About 18kms later turn left at a junction just before Alajate signposted Jimera and Cuava de la Pileta. At Jimera follow the signs for Benaojan. Drive through Benaojan following signs for La Estacion. Park behind the station.
Distance: 8kms each way.
Essential: Boots, waterproofs, food, water.
General Description: The route follows the valley of the Rio Guadiaro that also happens to be the valley through which the Algeciras to Ronda railway line passes. This is one of the most scenic parts of the railway journey, the valley becomes a wide gorge and the river picks up a little speed as it flows between thickly wooded banks. The footpath is well marked and undulates along with inclines neither very steep nor very long. If you time it right, the walk should take you 2.5 hours (ignore the timings on the signposts) and the train to Ronda reaches Estacion de Jimera de Libar at 1.30pm, you can just do one leg and catch the train back to the start.
Leave the car park at La Estacion Benaojan and cross the lines at the level crossing. Walk straight on down the street, down a short hill to a T junction. To the left is signposted a footpath to Ronda, to the right Jimera. Turn right. The path from here to the end of the walk is obvious.
You soon leave the houses behind and find yourself on a broad path. To your right is the river and on the far bank the railway line. Ahead you can see the wide gorge through which you will walk.
The recent rains have brought out all manner of flowers. Most prolific is pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) with its powerful aroma, somewhere between lavender and mint. Growing alongside in a number of places are clumps of wild thyme (Thymus vulgaris), easily as tasty as the cultivated kinds. There are a few autumn crocus (Colchicum autumnale), now past their best, growing out of the banks. It is when you look in the trees and bushes though that you realise just how bountiful this country is. It is the middle of autumn and all the berries and nuts are there providing food for birds, rodents and mammals. Within a few metres you will see rosehips on the dog rose (aptly called Rosa canina) bush, clumps of yellow and black berries on the stalks of the dwarf fan palms (Chamaerops humilis) and acorns in the Cork oak (Quercus suber) trees. The Spanish broom (Spartium junceum) seems to have been very prolific this year, its bright red berries contrasting nicely with the blue green leafless stems.
All this food helps the birds survive the winter and there are plenty of them. Unfortunately they tend to be very shy and hide in the thick growth of the trees and shrubs. You can hear them but rarely spot them. On a branch overhanging the river there was a solitary robin (Erithacus rubecula), soaring above the river there was a grey heron (Ardea cinerea) and flitting between trees the ubiquitous blackbirds (Turdus merula) but they alone could not account for the waves of melodious chirruping that you will hear all along this route. The environment is ideal for thrushes and most of the warblers but you would have to have plenty of time, and patience, to see them.
You soon enter the narrower part of the valley. The path becomes a deeply worn 'U' shaped channel in the bedrock, obviously a well used path by humans and pack animals for centuries. This is a great place for a coffee stop. On the far bank the railway line disappears into a tunnel, downstream the river tumbles over rocks and upstream the valley widens out with no sign at all of habitation. The path continues clinging to the side of the valley following the course of the river.
With no shortage of water this length is a haven for dragonflies, moths and butterflies. At this time of year, on sunny days, you can expect to see the Provencal fritillary (Mellicta deione). In upland areas like here the brown veins and wavy cross lines tend to be heavier and thicker than on those found on these butterflies in lower regions. Keep your eyes open for the large lemon coloured Bergers Clouded Yellow (Colias alfacariensis). In sunlight it appears iridescent.
With the valley opening out again you will notice the railway line is now between you and the river. The path starts to descend into thicker woodland and it is here you can expect to see fungi of all sorts from small grey, white poisonous looking (probably a rare delicacy if the truth be known) caps to large bright orange dome-shaped affairs.
Quite suddenly you find yourself on the outskirts of Estacion de Jimera de Libar where the path turns sharp right and crosses the railway line. After a short way you will walk through a picnic area alongside the river just before the station itself. This is another excellent coffee stop, especially if you are planning to retrace your steps.
For the more adventurous it is possible to follow the same footpath from Benaojan through Estacion de Jimera de Libar and another 8 kilometres to Estacion Cortes de la Frontera. There you can stay overnight at El Gecko and either walk back or catch the train the following morning.
© Nicholas Craig Nutter 2004 - 2012. Nick Nutter asserts his rights as the author of this article and all associated images. This article and images may not be copied or reproduced in any way without written permission of the author.