The secret walks led by the superb Alhambra Rambler are nothing to be scared of – as Lisa Tilley finds out
When Terry Mottershead, former Special Forces trainer, mountain leader, karate instructor and all-round double-hard fit bloke offers to take you “for a walk,” it is best just to go along with it and hope for the best.
As security, I cajoled my father into accompanying us, but on this, the morning of the fated day, he is refusing to move from the breakfast table, clutching at last minute excuses. We eventually manage to summon the courage to meet up with El Mottershead as planned, so he bundles us into his vehicle just after dawn and we set off for the great wilds of the Sierra de Tejeda Natural Park, shaking in our hiking boots.
After travelling a mere 15 minutes from home in Alhama de Granada, we arrive in an entirely different landscape – wild, green and forested – which (shame of shame) I have never visited before. The characteristic smooth hump of the sierra’s highest peak, La Maroma, looms above us at over 2,000 metres and I begin to feel a little queasy.
We leave the vehicle in a wooded area known as El Robledal, and begin our adventure. It is spring time in the sierras and we set off past a vast rolling field of ripe wheat which has come under invasion from an army of poppies. Little red heads on a sea of green shiver at us in the spring breeze, as if they already know the woes that lie ahead.
Terry takes in a large helping of air as we crunch over fallen pine needles, he is evidently a man at home in the naturaleza. “I like to call this the ‘pork and herbs’ walk,” says Terry. I assume because it turns his companions into sausages.
I am wrong. Every step we take, the air becomes more fragrant, I notice a vast bank of rosemary gripping the rocky hillside, and then lemon thyme, oregano, lavender, and a note of sage drift in on the air. All around us the hilly slopes are covered in sweet herbs. Turning another corner, and hugging the cool shade of the rear of a crumbling farmhouse is a great sow, with her multitude of squirming, suckling piglets, all wrestling for a drink.
This is a kind of ‘pork and herbs’ even a lily-livered vegetarian can swallow.
Mercifully, Terry promises to spare us the four hour, 1,000m climb from El Robledal to La Maroma; instead we meander around the foothills on a little known, unmarked circular walk.
Terry, it transpires, has spent the last few years exploring the lesser trod areas of natural beauty in Andalucía in preparation for the groups of walkers he entertains under the guise of the Alhambra Rambler. That is why most of the walks he takes people on are undocumented, discovered with a fair amount of local research and a large helping of ‘following the nose.’
It only takes a few minutes with Terry for his hard-man image to disappear, revealing a person with an intense interest in the area, its nature, its people and its landscape. Terry is fluent in Spanish and is well integrated into the community – counting mostly Spaniards among his local friends.
We ramble on, up and down gentle slopes, and the natural park becomes greener and more fertile. The limestone ravines in the Sierra de Tejeda may have been hostile to agriculture but this has allowed nature to run wild. Huge explosions of broom send scent and yellow flowers into the air. Mediterranean forests house pine and the diminishing yew tree, as well as rowan and oak of various types.
We pause under a lonely holm oak and watch the ground slip away below us across a wide valley and, in the distance, the distinctive white point of mainland Spain’s highest peak, Mulhacén, topping the snowy Sierra Nevada like the perfect Mr Whippy.
Soon we are veering back down to El Robledal without so much as a blister. We swell with pride when our leader informs us that we have done the usually three hour walk in a little over two – and I would not admit it to his face but I like to think we put El Mottershead through his paces.
Each month, Terry will be taking groups on one of his secret walks across Granada province. Both native Spanish and foreign residents will be encouraged to join him, giving the opportunity for walkers to pick up some new vocabulary as well as explore the naturaleza.
Keep an eye on The Olive Press for details or contact Alhambra Rambler: www.alhambrarambler.com, firstname.lastname@example.org.