Walking in Gran Canaria Part 1
The weather in the UK is awful – the winter is dragging on way into spring – it’s April 4th and it’s been snowing here. It’s at times like these that many of us think of warmer climes that are not too far away.
The world is full of geographic misconceptions, which is partly what makes travelling so interesting. For example, mention the Canary Isles and most people will imagine concrete vacation resorts full of red-as-lobster Brits, stranded on arid coasts loomed over by barren volcanic mountains.
That is an accurate picture in some places, like the busy beer-swilling southern half of Gran Canaria – but go to the northern part of that impressive island and you will come across a very different landscape indeed.
Think green. Think boundless mountainsides covered in flowers. Think running water tinkling through pretty villages perched on the sides of dramatic gorges. Think almond blossom gleaming all white and lovely in secret coombes two thousand feet above the sea. And, higher still, conjure an image the cool green scented zone of coniferous cloud forests wafting in the warm breeze.
Imagining all this beauty is fairly easy after you’ve been on a Rambler’s Worldwide Holiday (RWH) to northern Gran Canaria, because these are exactly the kind of places the company’s walking guide will lead you.
A week striding about the high sierras of Gran Canaria is just about the best tonic for the winter’s-gone-on-too-long blues I can imagine. It is invigorating, and it is beautiful. It’s also a cultural leap of joy because RWH centres its week-long holiday here in somewhat unlikely Las Palmas.
With a population of nearly 400,000 it’s one of the 10 biggest cities in all of Spain – or to put it another way, it is the largest European Community city outside Europe. Located just over 90 miles off the Saharan coast and more than 830 from the Iberian peninsula, it does at times feel more African or South American than European.
Unlike its neighbouring mountain range, you could in no way describe Las Palmas as beautiful or even handsome – it’s a sprawling community built across a great isthmus between volcanic cliffs and what would otherwise be a small island.
However, I loved the place. It has a pounding vibrancy that I’ve not seen in other European cities for some while – and the South American link is relevant. In 1492 Christopher Columbus anchored here and spent time on the island while on his first trip to the Americas. He also stopped on his way back, and the city has a museum dedicated to him in its charming old Vegueta quarter.
Aside from teeming streets lined with the usual tapas bars and restaurants this city is seems more in tune with the sea than most. That’s not really surprising as one side of the downtown area plays host to a large port, while the other is dominated by an even larger beach.
It’s to this beach that the entire population seems to decant in the evenings and at weekends. The tower blocks spill their human content and what does that spillage do? It surfs the giant waves. It promenades along the seafront. It preens, looks, admires, laughs, talks, preens again, and eats.
As I say, I loved it – but I loved getting out of the city even more – because our guide Bob Rogers, who specialises in Spanish walking tours, knew some of the finest hiking routes on the island.
They call Gran Canaria the “miniature continent” because of its amazing array of different climates and landscapes. The round, dart-board of an isle is built around a massive volcano system which rises, at Pico de Las Nieves, to an impressive 6,390 feet.
Just about half the land area, 667 square kilometres, falls under the Canary Islands Network for Naturally Protected Areas. In total Gran Canaria has 33 protected areas including a couple of large national parks.
It was into this little lot that we went marching each day. By using either chartered minibus or the excellent public transport system, Bob took our group of 19 up, up and away into the great hinterland of northern Gran Canaria where the walking is altogether more green and picturesque than you find in the south.
On day one the bus took us all the way up to Cruz de Tejeda where a carved stone cross on a mountain pass marks the 5180 foot contour. And the area is surrounded by marked walks, some new, most of them caminos reales (royal paths) – ancient tracks built by the farmers of old.
You will see the remains of their terraced fields and orchards nestling on steep slopes far below, but it’s a shame to report that many of these have fallen into neglect.
Our walk took us over a nearby ridge to the north and then down long and lovely slopes to the charming town of Teror. Almost the entire route is a descent and after some 3000 feet you begin to feel certain parts of your lower body you may not have noticed for years.
Not that anyone was complaining – this was a walk of great beauty, passing through peaceful pine forests and then deciduous woodlands.
Teror was a delightful place in which enjoy a cold beer. The small town is full of colonial-style architecture which surrounds the Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Pino, dedicated to Gran Canaria’s patron saint. In 1481 some shepherds saw a vision of the Virgin Mary sitting hereabouts atop a pine tree – since then Nuestra Señora del Pino (Our Lady of the Pines) has been the great religious icon of Gran Canaria.