Generally speaking, I prefer circular walks to linear ones; somehow I feel that you get double the scenery for the same energy output.
So last week when we went walking in the hills above the south west coast, we took what was essentially a ‘there and back again’ walk and decided to make it circular by finding a different route back to our starting point.
We were making good, downhill progress on a dusty, unmade road until we reached the point where there should have been an old path cutting off over a barranco (ravine) and back through the abandoned terraces to our starting point. But endless searching for the start of the path proved futile, despite the fact that we could see it quite clearly running up the other side of the barranco.
We were left with no choice but to cover the 1 kilometre distance by following the main road which stretched into endless switchbacks for 3½ kilometres in searing calima heat with no pavement. A completely unacceptable end to what had been a glorious walk. Fed up, tired and disappointed, we arrived just a few hundred metres from our starting point to find a newly-erected Cabildo (Island Government) board showing the start of the very path we had been trying to find from the other side. Frustrated and annoyed, we resolved to return and complete the final section the way we had wanted to.
Yesterday we went back into the hills of the south west to do what we considered to be a linear walk. But we discovered that we could in fact easily turn it into a circular one by returning along quiet country lanes through picturesque hamlets, enhancing what we had initially feared might be a fairly uneventful route. The Cabildo had cleared access and put in signposts and wayside markers, making it easy to navigate the many paths and turn them into a thoroughly enjoyable walk.
When we finished we drove back to last week’s route to do the final section of the path we’d failed to find. We parked up and followed the directions given on the fancy Cabildo sign at the start of the path. Within minutes we’d been followed by barking dogs snapping at our heels; we’d taken several wrong turnings through completely overgrown and confusing terrain with no clear path; and we’d finally ended up in what looked like someone’s driveway where two parked vans completely barred the way.
Frustratingly, we could quite clearly see the path climbing up the other side of the barranco – the side we’d been completely unable to see last week – but we couldn’t see where it emerged as it disappeared into undergrowth.
Re-tracing our steps, Jack tried shimmying down the barranco but ended up on a sheer precipice, speared by spiky seed heads that impregnated his shoes and buried themselves into his feet.
Clearly the Cabildo had put up a nice sign at the start of the path but then had done nothing. Any path that may have been there had long since been reclaimed by nature and by man.
A couple of old guys whose back yard we’d practically walked through twice, came out to offer their help, one indicating that the path was where Jack had tried, the other sending us in the opposite direction.
Jack sat on a rock and extracted the spikes from his feet while I explored another possible lead which once again led to a precipice over the barranco.
“Right” I said, eventually. “Let’s drive back to where we couldn’t find the path last week and try doing it that way round”.
Less than convinced, Jack agreed and we set off back down the road we were learning to hate as it zig-zagged its way interminably covering very little real distance. After a kilometre or so, we spotted the house where we’d come unstuck and there appeared to be a path alongside. We parked the car and set off to see if the owners were in fact using a public path as their private garage.
“You’ve got the notebook, haven’t you” I said to Jack. The notebook contained all my scribbled descriptions, directions and timings that would turn our experience into a detailed walking guide.
Jack’s face looked as if I’d just asked if I could use his dog and his Granny for target practice.
“It’s still on a rock on the path where I took the spikes out of my feet” he said.
With not another word, he got into the car, drove back up the road which we’d both decided we’d be happy if we never saw it again in our lives, and retraced the gauntlet of snappy dogs and overgrown barranco to retrieve the book. Meanwhile, I followed the path to be confronted by two large, growling, slavering dogs guarding what appeared to be private land with not a path in sight.
When Jack got back with the car, we called time on the whole fiasco.
Some walks are just not meant to be circular.