Day 3:Rojals to Prades, 17.4 km, 628 CSUs
This morning we started the walk in this:
But, we set off from Mas De l’Arlequi in good spirits, farewelling the delightful Daniel and Merce, who have been gracious and kind hosts. They sent us off with a packed lunch, and encouraging words – today would be much easier than the first two days. And, they were right; apart from the weather, the walk today was relatively easy, but disappointing, as we believe we missed out on some lovely views.
However, the cloud made us look at what was immediately around us, so we noticed the little things: the occasional flower, spiders in their web, interesting rocks, new mushrooms ( or toadstools?):
Throughout the day we also saw lots and lots of evidence of wild boar. They obviously spend a lot of time rummaging through the soil looking for tidbits to eat, as there was soil upheaval wherever we looked. I am pleased to say we didn’t actually see the boar themselves, as apparently they are largely nocturnal.
The first part of the walk passed through a wild wood:
before we came across the remains of another old stone house and supposed medieval rock art. According to the information in the route notes, the words that start with Molt …y Dar e poch are believed to be written by a monk from Poblet. To the left of this are what look to be Arabic script, but are believed to be jhs, an abbreviation of Jesus in Greek. Below these letters is supposed to be a Neothlithic painting of an abstract circle, with a medieval bird engraved on it – but, more modern vandals seem to have gotten to this site, as all we can see is a scratched cross into the Rock surface.
From here it was a steady climb until we hit the top of the mountain ridge, where we had been promised spectacular views across to the Mediterranean Sea. Instead we saw a conifer growing from a rock and dense clouds (oh, and a marker in the rock).
The next sighting of interest was this large stone table surrounded by 4 stone benches. Again, our route notes are most informative: this table sits at the geographic point where the municipalities of Montblanc, Vimbodi, Mont-ral and Prades converge. Traditionally, when pine trees were cut down, the four mayors would meet here to agree upon the logging terms of the shared forests. The four municipality coats of arms are on the pole in the middle of the table.
It started to get a bit wetter after this, and I donned my raincoat while Pete got out his trusty umbrella. Given visibility was non existent, we were very reliant on the written directions. Managed to stuff it up at one point, but our reward was seeing this little chappie cross the track in front of us:
Retracing our steps, we soon got ourselves on the right path but the rain was getting a little heavier. Someone in our party was getting a bit tetchy, not naming any names, but Pete decided we needed to stop and eat our sandwiches to assuage the beast, who sat very grumpily under the shelter provided by a huge rock cave.
From there, it was all downhill through a lovely forest to the town of Prades, which we reached about 3.30pm.
It does have a lovely looking church and clock tower in the main square.
Clean and fresh we ventured forth to explore the town. Everything was still closed shut. From some of the signs on windows I gather that some of the shops reopen at 6pm. We however found a bar open,with no one in it, but it has WiFi ( or wiffee as it is called here) – so we have consumed 3 packets of crisps, and 2 glasses of wine each, making use of their Wiffee.
We did, and it turned out to be a terrific meal. It was one of the restaurants in the completely empty square, called L’Estanc and we three walkers were the only people in it. It was run single handedly by Señor, who was sommelier, waiter and chef. I started with white asparagus and mayonnaise and then had a wonderful rabbit stew, with peas and wild mushrooms – it was absolutely yummy. Pete started with a grilled vegetable salad and then moved on to grilled lamb chops, that were accompanied with fries and a chargrilled artichoke. After serving us, Señor then sat down and had his meal. We left at 10pm, feeling sorry that he had opened up just for us – Michael (our fellow walker) believes today had been a public holiday, which may explain the lack of people – although I would have thought that should have been reason for more people thronging the square, enjoying their free day. Perhaps we shall see more signs of life tomorrow.
I walked 3km further than I intended to today as I had originally intended to take the taxi option at the start of the day and skip straight to La Febro, but Joanna (who helped design the walk) persuaded me otherwise when she came to transfer our luggage in the morning. She claimed it was a very pretty part of the walk, and worth doing. She was right – but it made for a very long day, as we set off from Prades at 10am and didn’t get into Cornudella until after 5.30pm.
Joanna also confirmed that yesterday had indeed been a holiday, only for the inhabitants of Prades. Saturday and Sunday had been fiesta days for the town, and Monday was called the day of the dog because most people would be sleeping off the celebrations of the weekend, so this did partly explain the lack of people. However, she also said that it was a very quiet town and you would really only see people around and about on the weekends.
Unfortunately, the day was once again immersed in thick cloud, so visibility was limited.
At the start of our descent into the valley were the stone remains of a small village that once stood there. It has amazed us that no matter where we are on the walk – up high, down low, invariably no where near any sign of inhabitants – we come across dry stone walls, hinting at past rural lives that have now disappeared, except for these walls. What work went into their creation – sad really.
It took us some time finding the small track we were to take down to the river. After a few false starts following precarious goat tracks we finally sorted it out, and descended to the valley floor and followed the small river in the lovely leafy valley for quite some time.
Slowly we started to wend our way up, and came across a couple of ponies and a small wagon (complete with a resident teddy bear!) but no sign of human life (although I’m sure some was around somewhere as the horses looked happy and well fed).
Our goal was the village of Siurana, which sits high on top of dramatic red cliffs. Not long after we came across the horses we had to make the decision to take the direct route to Siurana – which involved a steep climb and then a tramp across the ridge, with a “potentially vertiginous section” – or the the slightly longer but gentler route along the valley. Given the fact that the cloud had now dropped lower and was changing to a damp mist (requiring the wearing of raincoats), we opted for the latter route as there would have been absolutely no views to make the harder route worthwhile.
As it was, we still had a short but very steep climb up the face of the stunningly beautiful ochre coloured cliffs to reach Siurana.
Our route notes again supply us with interesting information about Siurana, which was the last Arab stronghold in Catalonia. The Moors occupied Catalonia in 714, but the Christians invaded several centuries later and by 1051 the whole of Catalonia had been conquered by them except for Siurana. The Moors of Siruina, led by their Queen Abd-El-Azia, were able to hold out against their surrounding enemy for 2 years before finally falling.
Now, the church the Christians built still stands, and there are several homes, a restaurant and a bar/cafe. The latter was open, so we went in for a much needed rest of our weary feet, and a coffee (with a beer chaser for Pete).
Not only are there amazing views of the surrounding cliffs, but we also got a birds eye view of the large dam at the foot of Siurana, which was constructed in 1973 to provide water supply for the Priorat region.
It is another hour and a half before we finally reach our destination for the night, Cornudella. We are staying at Fonda El Reco, but , as it turns out,in the new apartments owned by them on the edge of the village – so, still a bit more walking to do! We are shown to the apartments by the very genial Pierre, who speaks no English but gets very excited when he hears we are from Australia. Try as hard as I might, I never quite get the reason why but it seemed to have something to do with a friend, who might have been a judge, who lives in Sydney. A camera, a photo, and police also seemed to be involved. Anyway, he was thrilled that we were Australian even if we were from Melbourne, not Sydney.
Dinner that evening was at a barn like place on the edge of the village, called El Bassot. We were the only three dining there yet again – the chef, or chef’s assistant as I think a young woman may have been the cook, had to drag himself away from the dubbed Western he was watching on TV. We were served by a very pleasant young man, with very good English and arms crowded with tatts. The food was simple, and not too bad, washed down with local wine. Pete was particularly taken by the purple wine cooler that was provided to keep the vino blanco chilled.
We walked back to our apartment through a completely silent town except for the chiming church bell that is ten minutes late. Another day done and dusted. Tomorrow is the big one – long distance and big climb.