Valsaín – traversing the great valley

Looking down and across the great forested valley of Valsaín from the Peñalara side.

Looking down and across the great forested valley of Valsaín from the Peñalara side.

What is the most beautiful valley of Guadarrama? I love my local Fuenfría Valley like no other. The Rascafría or Lozoya Valley is the vastest, longest, deepest of the Sierra’s valleys. Not long ago i wrote of the delights of the less-travelled but no less great Río Moros Valley. So now it’s the turn of Valsaín, a valley second to none..and quite distinct from the other high valleys of Guadarrama in its amplitude. Whereas most valleys tend to narrow towards a high point at the head of the valley, Valsaín does exactly the opposite spreading out at the head to a breadth of some 10km (almost exactly 9km as the crow flies from Puerto de Cotos to Puerto de Fuenfría). Think of it as something like a hammerhead shark. The lower valley where it opens out towards the town of La Granja – and Segovia in the distance and the plains of Old Castile – would be the shark’s tail. The middle valley – the shark’s body – is relatively narrow. The upper valley forms a wide basin with Puerto de Navacerrada in the center – the shark’s mouth – and with Cotos and Fuenfría – the shark’s eyes – on either side.

The forestry track leading down to Valsaín from Cotos.

The forestry track leading down to Valsaín from Cotos.

Last weekend we set out to cross this upper valley starting down from Puerto de Cotos, following the GR10 trail. After a section of forestry track we took the narrow road that runs around the upper valley, leaving the GR for a stretch.

On the road..

On the road..

Now i know that walking on an asphalted surface might not be everybody’s idea of hiking in the mountains, but this forestry road really is a very special road. We soon left the road for a trail that took us down to the valley drainage, where the La Cantina bridge crosses the Eresma river.

Getting down towards the bottom of the valley, the mountains rising above all around.

Getting down towards the bottom of the valley, the mountains rising above all around.

Having crossed the river it was now time to ascend in the direction of Puerto de Fuenfría, once more following the GR10. And once more following the forestry road, and now for several kilometers. Nature lovers might frown here and say ‘hey man, what’s with all the asphalt?’..but you really have to see this road, dare i say feel this road, in order to get it. The photos will give you an idea, but they are nothing like the experience.

On the road again..

On the road again..

My feet pound multiple kilometers of artificial surface every week, concrete, asphalt, paving tiles, pavestones, whatever..and i am the last person to want more of that when i get out into the forests and mountains. But this road is different. To begin with, it’s absolutely closed to traffic, so it’s very rare to see a motorised vehicle on it. Next, as you can see in the photos, a lot of the time you don’t actually tread the asphalt..there’s a practically continuous layer of pine needles on the road. And where do all those pine needles come from..?

..surrounded by the wild pines of Valsaín..

..surrounded by the wild pines of Valsaín..

..from the wild pines of Valsaín, that surround you and shelter you at all times. At times they stand over you aloof, at times they almost seem to caress you. The ferns that often cover the forest floor add to this sense of closeness, clothing us in floral lavishness. The relationship between the forest and the road is one of intimacy. I’m not sure if a road can ever be a delightful thing, but if there is such a thing as a delightful road..then, this is it. And should you be lucky enough to get it with the right light, it’s truly magical. Like something out of a fairy story, or maybe like the yellow brick road..

Still on the road..

Still on the road..

It goes on gently ascending for quite a bit, but you don’t want it to end. Of course it does, kilometers later..and all too soon? When the asphalted road tops out, it’s still pretty cool..you can choose between the forestry track for the last stretch to Fuenfría or take the historic Bourbon/Roman Way. They run almost parallel until just before the pass where they come together again, and they both pass close to the famous ruins of Casarás on the way. And finally at Fuenfría, el Puerto de Fuenfría, we said goodbye..with just a hint of sadness, to the magnificent valley of Valsaín.

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About coldspringdays

Éireannach is ea mé, i mo chonaí insan Spáinn. Rugadh mé i lár na tuaithe, ar feadh blianta bhí mé ag teitheadh uaithi, i bhfad as an tuath, ach sa deireadh d'fhill mé, ar ais go dtí an tuath.. An Irishman am I, settled in Spain. Born was I in the middle of the country, for years I ran from it, far from the country, but in the end I returned, back to the country..
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