Riding to Hinojales – María and José’s Stable.

Having never succeeded in finding the drove road from Valdelarco to Cumbres Mayores, Paul and I had always made the ride up to the north of the Sierra via Cumbres de San Bartolomé, which we have used as a base for riding to Encinasola and beyond to Portugal as well as up into Badajoz Province in Extremadura, to the towns Fregenal de la Sierra and Higuera La Real. From Cumbres Bajas, as Cumbres de San Bartolomé is also known, we’ve ridden east through Cumbres de Enmedio to Cumbres Mayores.

For a while I’d been thinking about riding to Hinojales in the North of the Sierra and exploring the paths around there. The key to planning long rides is having somewhere secure organised to rest the horses and, apart from finding a field or stable, it always good to make contact with folk via existing friends and friends of friends.

Who did we know in Hinojales? As it turns out about a year or so after I moved Chaparro from Cazalla de la Sierra to Galaroza, a chap called Pepe, originally from Hinojales, became a regular visitor to the picadero where Chaparro is stabled. He’d come to ride and to help out when the Tristanchos, the lovely family who run the stable, needed a hand. Pepe, who is about my age, never talked about personal stuff on our rides but I knew he had had a recent bereavement. Anyhow, when you are out riding you don’t need to talk about anything really unless you feel like it. And riding is good for the soul, especially when you are troubled.

Pepe from Hinojales

Pepe from Hinojales. Photo Jan Nimmo ©

Pepe is a “jamonero”, someone who prepares the jamón serrano and who works in the mataderos (pig slaughterhouses) of El Repilado near Jabugo. When I first knew Pepe he was living in Los Romeros and sometimes I’d ride there. On one very wet day he showed me the path to Los Molares… we got drenched and stopped by his house on the way home for a beer and some wild boar ham – the wild boar had lived a long and indulgent life with Pepe’s folks up in Hinojales.

When Paul and I were in the Sierra at Christmas time in 2010 we met up with Pepe to drive up to Hinojales to see if it was possible to leave the horses with his parents when we planned to ride up in the following spring.

José, Hinojales. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

José, Hinojales. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

We met Pepe’s parents, María and José, in their ancient house in Hinojales, said to be the second oldest in the village. We both loved the house, especially Paul, who enjoyed to chance to get behind the great door and facade of one of these old serrano houses. The stable is right at the back of the house to one side of a terrace which is populated by plants pots overflowing with vegetation. Behind the stable is a long, narrow corral which leads to the back gate that opens onto a back lane. That was to be where we were to come when we arrived with the horses.

Pepe, Paul and I set about clearing up the stable with its old wooden troughs, low ceilings and lime-washed walls so that it would be ready for our arrival in June 2011.

Chaparro and I in the Río Múrtigas, La Ribera.

Chaparro and I in the Río Múrtigas, La Ribera. Photo: Paul Barham ©

In June we rode the 7 hour trail to Cumbres de San Bartolomé, through La Nava, Las Lanchas, up to El Cuervo and the along the banks of the Río Múrtiga, where the horses filled up with water, blowing and slpashing to cool their bellies. It’s a deceptively long climb up to Cumbres de San Bartolomé so the horses, Nerón and Chaparro, and their exhausted riders were pleased to get there!

Paul and Nerón on the slow slop up to Cumbres de San Bartolomé

Paul and Nerón on the slow slop up to Cumbres de San Bartolomé. Photo Jan Nimmo ©

The horses spent the night in Gergorio’s field at the south end of the village, on the Calle Ave María, with views over to the Berrocales de Redina.

The next day, after faffing around, we set off for Hinojales (this is the GR 48 path from Portugal to Jaen). First we had to ride to Cumbres de Enmedio (Middle Cumbres). As we rode along towards the path that crosses the main road from Huelva to Badajoz we met a shepherd and his flock and then spotted a flock of roosting Griffon Vultures just sat there amongst the grass and boulders, waiting on the day to warm up and for the thermals to be just right to carry them on their reconnaissance of the Sierra. They are impressive big birds and rather lovely.

The camino between Cumbres Bajas and Cumbres de Enmedio: A Shepherd with his dog and flock.

The camino between Cumbres Bajas and Cumbres de Enmedio: A Shepherd with his dog and flock. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Griffon vultures pretending to be boulders

Griffon vultures pretending to be boulders. Photo: Paul Barham ©

We had a picnic lunch at the Ermita de Nuestra Señora de La Esperanza and rode through the deserted midday streets of Cumbres Mayores and down the ancient drove path that leaves the town to the south-west. It was sweltering by then and there wasn’t much conversation to be had out of me. The path winds between stone walls with dehesa of holm oak and cork oak. Chaparro was behaving impeccably, as he does on these longer trips, to new places. He always seems to enjoy the adventure and stimulus of unknown places and meeting new livestock along the way. It was late afternoon when we finally reached Hinojales – (literally place of the fennel). All four of us were thankful to finally reach the cool of Maria and José’s house and stable.

Chaparro riding into Hinojales

Chaparro and Jan riding into Hinojales. Photo: Paul Barham ©

Heading into the stable

Heading into the stable. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Hinojales, is on the northern limits of Andalusia, and with its 16th Century church, its great water troughs, ancient houses on cobbled streets, its burning sun, it is easy to be transported back in time to when everyone got about on two or four legs.. The bread for the villagers is made in a great wood-burning oven which was made in Catalonia. We felt very privileged to have such a safe place to leave the horses, to have an afternoon coffee in that cool, ancient, lime-washed house, with María and José, a “pareja sana”, so typical of serranos of that generation.

María, Hinojales. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

María, Hinojales. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

As both María and José are in their 80s we didn’t want to bother them but José seemed to enjoy having livestock on the premises again and both of them kept checking on Chaparro and Nerón.

From Hinojales we did day long rides to both Canaveral de León, the Ribera de Hinojales and up into Extremadura, to Fuentes de León and back via the road to Cortelazor and through la Coronada and Valdelarco.


© Jan Nimmo  2014


Tobías: un pedazo de pan.

No series of portraits of the people I have met in the Sierra would be complete without a drawing of Tobias.

Tobias García López. Drawing: Jan Nimmo ©

Tobias García López. Drawing: Jan Nimmo ©

When I first brought Chaparro to Galaroza I used to stay in the Hostal Venecia on the Seville Portugal road. I managed to stay there for a few visits but when Javier and Dolores, who ran the place, decided they were closing I had to look for an alternative so I rented a house in the Calle San Sebastian. It was a house that belonged to Tobias’ daughter-in-law, who lives in Huelva, and Tobias was the person who I got the key from and to whom I paid the rent. The first couple of times I stayed there we didn’t have much contact. Tobias was always someone who minded his own business.

The third visit to the house was over Christmas and into January. On my birthday I decided to ride over to Castaño de Robledo, a three hour round trip. I stopped in the village for a celebratory Cruzcampo and rode back on the path that leaves Castaño from El Cristo and somehow, between there and Galaroza, I managed to lose the house keys. I sought out Tobias in the hope that he would have a spare set of keys and was hoping he wasn’t going to be annoyed with me. He wasn’t, he was very nice about it and was able to get me back into the house and got a spare set of keys for me the following day. I was really grateful so popped round with a bottle of Rioja to say thanks. From that day on we became friends.

Tobias, a native Cachonero (someone from Galaroza), had retired and returned from living in the provincial capital, Huelva, to his hometown. Tobias, like so many people of his generation had lived in the country and worked in agriculture and for a time he had lived with his family on a farm called Galindo, north of Cortelazor.

I became a regular visitor to Tobias’ house in the Calle Gloria. Paul also enjoyed getting to know Tobias. Tobias was a great source of knowledge about the paths of the Sierra.

I remember the first time I rode to La Coronada with Chaparro and could see the Cortelazor-Hinojales road and was interested in a round trip via Valdelama but didn’t fancy riding up the windy road to the hilltop village of Cortelazor. Tobias told us about a path called Los Callejones which zigzags up from the river at La Coronada to the cemetery on the outskirts of Cortelazor. It’s an ancient path, paved with old stones, crossing another burn halfway up. It is amongst my favourite paths and to us it has always been and always will be Tobias’ path…. It is the path he took with his parents when they walked up to the village to buy bread and I imagine him looking like his grandson, Miguel, climbing that beautiful path between the holm oaks covered in lichens.

La Ribera de La Coronada. Photo:Jan Nimmo ©

La Ribera de La Coronada. Photo:Jan Nimmo ©

Chaparro at La Ribera de La Coronada. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Chaparro at La Ribera de La Coronada. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Los Callejones - Tobias' Path. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Los Callejones – Tobias’ Path. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

My visits to the house were accompanied by beer, tapas and conversations about the farms in the area and who used to live in the now abandoned cortijos, the paths, the plants, their uses and popular names, stories of nocturnal encounters with eagle owls, of goatherds and the boys from Valdelarco killed and buried in a common grave during the Civil War. Listening to Tobias’ stories brought my rides to life and the cortijos became places where families had once lived and not just piles of old stones.

A "zahurda" at Galindo - traditional pig shelter. Photo: Jan Nimmo

A “zahurda” at Galindo – traditional pig shelter. Photo: Jan Nimmo

Tobias came to Cumbres de San Bartolomé with Paul and I when we drove there to look for somewhere to leave the horses on a long trip we were planning. We also went on La Coronada with Tobias and walked the single track road to Cañalengua. It was this evening stroll that inspired Paul and I to ride from La Coronada to Castañuelo via Tobias’ old stamping ground, Galindo.

Riding to Galindo with Chaparro, Paul and Gitanillo. Photo: Paul Barham ©

Riding to Galindo with Chaparro, Paul and Gitanillo. Photo: Paul Barham ©

Gateweay to Galindo. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Gateweay to Galindo. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Sometimes we’d go for a walk, and he’d show me the paths to the southern end of the village, La Mimbrera, El Maillar – Tobias walking briskly bashing back the brambles with walking sticks. I’d often meet Tobias at La Confesa, walking to his huerta (allotment), which he shared with his friend Rafael. I’d struggle to keep up with him walking up the Cuesta Palero in spite of his being 30-odd years my senior.

Latterly he was accompanied by Luna, his granddaughter Laura’s spaniel. At first he’d make out that he wasn’t that keen on having a dog around but they soon became inseparable companions.

There is a patio at the back of Tobias’ house with an orange tree; sometimes laden with oranges, sometimes heavy with the perfume of the azahar (orange blossom); the backdrop to meals shared with his son Miguel and daughter-in-law, Maricarmen and their children, Miguel and Laura. Happy times. Tobias would hang CDs from the tree to deter the sparrows roosting there but that never worked and come nightfall the leaves would be hiding a host of twittering life.

Tobias and his orange tree. Photos: Jan Nimmo ©

Tobias and his orange tree. Photos: Jan Nimmo ©

Tobias with Luna. Photos: Jan Nimmo ©

Tobias with Luna. Photos: Jan Nimmo ©

When Tobias became unwell, we’d visit him at Miguel’s house in Huelva. He recovered for a while and came back to Galaroza with Luna. I was glad he was back because I missed him. Paul and I both did.

His last project was to get a new roof on the house. It was September and the rains came and I remember Tobias philosophically opening the door to the street to let the water run out. He saw the project through. That was the last visit I saw him. He died the following December and Paul and I were glad to have been able to get to Huelva to say our last goodbyes.

We rode to La Coronada, toasted Tobia’s memory with Rioja and rode through Los Callejones, but not before having to clear a fallen tree from the path. Was Tobias letting us know he was still keeping an eye on us?

Tobias; kind, loyal, balanced, generous, wise. Or, as the Spanish would say, “Un pedazo de pan”.

Jan Nimmo © 2014