Saturday, 11 February 2017

The Les Santes walk through the Desert de les Palmes

Almond blossom 
The Ermita de les Santes is over the other side of the Desert de les Palmes from our Pico del Bartolo walk so we got to see completely different aspects to the natural park. The circular walk starts and finishes at the Ermita and is pretty easy going most of the way with just a short downhill section on the return stretch which was steeper and a little tricky. Our guide book indicated that the walk would take around two hours, but for once we finished well ahead of time in just one and a half hours! I think the route might take longer in Spring or Summer when more of the varied plant life hereabouts is in flower. We saw several orchard fields of blossoming almond trees, but otherwise most of the vegetation was evergreens or dormant. I did see my palms this time though! There are lots of fan palms along the Les Santes footpaths.

The route begins on a track right at the edge of the protected natural park so it was interesting to see almost impenetrable forest on one side of the track and open farmland leading to towering limestone cliffs, possibly the Marmudella, on the other. We also discovered that this side of the park is considerably cooler in temperature, perhaps due to the woodland although we were out in the open early on. Maybe the sun just doesn't get high enough over the mountains at this time of year.

Having previously read about it, we were keen to see one of the most geologically interesting zones in the park which is where the track leads over an outcrop of Palaeozoic slate. The slate apparently dates back some 230 million years! Unfortunately, while we are pretty sure we correctly identified this point as we walked over it, there wasn't really much to actually get excited about. Just a few metres of dark grey slate instead of the usual reddish sandstone.

So in lieu of a photo of ancient stone, here's one of our path spookily plunging into woodlands instead. I was a little perturbed that our guide book included a paragraph of instructions for what to do in case of a forest fire. We are used to being given blindingly obvious fire prevention advice such as not dropping matches or cigarettes, or discarding glass which can intensify sunlight to cause flame. I don't think we've ever told how to escape before though. We saw extensive evidence of the frequency of fires here. Most of the oldest trees aren't particularly large and along one stretch plant stems were still scorched black from a recent incineration which was a sobering sight. (Oh, and I learned fire tends to go uphill and downwind so we should head downhill and upwind. And, like in this tenuously relevant James Keelaghan song, Cold Missouri Waters, if necessary stand in an already burnt patch.)

This time we continued safely back to the Ermita pausing only to get out of the way of a gaggle of mountain bike riders heading up a very steep part-concreted part-rough track section of the route, and one man heading down the same on a vintage Royal Enfield motorcycle.

Ermita Les Santes 
The Ermita is dedicated to the Saints Llucia and Agueda and we saw photographs of the simple altar inside. The doors were firmly locked so we couldn't go in, but one of the doors in particular was amazing. Made of metal, it had been stamped by hand with hundreds of tiny dots to create shapes of religious figures. I am not sure exactly how old the original building is - around the early 1600s I think. It was renovated about twenty years ago and the work included the spring which is now piped out of a tiled wall into a beautifully clear pool. There is also a significant recreation area on terraces at the front which includes brick built barbecues and wooden picnic tables. The small car park was private to us for our walk(!) but probably gets busy during summer months and there aren't any parking options along the narrow 2km cami to the Ermita so then I would recommend either starting out early or be prepared to add twice the length of the cami to your walk.

Ermita door 

Fan palms! 

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