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 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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