Gone hik­ing : a stress-free way to ex­plore off grid

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Front Page -

I’d been hik­ing for 40 min­utes and had found my­self in York­shire. Ex­cept it didn’t quite re­sem­ble the neigh­bour­ing county to my na­tive New­cas­tle. I was sur­rounded by rich forests, sea cliffs, lava fea­tures and an ex­u­ber­ant coat of veg­e­ta­tion. There was also the North At­lantic Ocean stretch­ing out be­fore me.

That’s be­cause I was in a place dubbed Lit­tle York­shire, a van­tage point nes­tled in a re­mote part of El Hierro, the least-known (and least-vis­ited) of all the Ca­nary Is­lands.

I felt a lit­tle like Reese Wither­spoon in the Hol­ly­wood movie Wild. It was just me against the bad­lands. Ex­cept, thank­fully, I wasn’t com­pletely alone and re­liant on my wits. I was joined by my dear friend Sarah, and I had a se­ries of com­pre­hen­sive maps so user-friendly that even I could fol­low them.

This was all part of our “slow hol­i­day”, one of In­ntravel’s new walk­ing breaks that al­low trav­ellers to enjoy self-guided hikes alone and at their own pace. With­out the help of a tour guide, visitors nav­i­gate their own way along routes that snake be­tween pre-booked ho­tels while their lug­gage is taken ahead by taxi. We play­fully re­ferred to this as “peak chic” be­cause it sounded like hik­ing-lite, but in re­al­ity it was a prac­ti­cal, stress-free way to ex­plore roads less trav­elled.

On this oc­ca­sion we were walk­ing north-west to south over five sun-kissed days. Be­lieve me when I say this was no ac­ci­dent – it was mostly down­hill.

We be­gan our jour­ney in Fron­tera’s his­toric Los Verodes, a mod­est, no-frills vil­lage at the base of the is­land’s high­est peak, Pico de Mal­paso. It is sparsely -pop­u­lated; only a hand­ful of multi-coloured houses break up the vast ex­panse of green lau­rel and ju­niper for­est.

We soon caught a glimpse of the El Golfo val­ley, an im­mense bay which, with its ragged beauty, com­pelled us to get started.

Ap­pro­pri­ately, we set off from The Church of Con­cep­tion, a 19th­cen­tury land­mark that’s used as the start­ing point of the Ba­jada de la Vir­gen fes­ti­val, an event at­tended by vir­tu­ally all of the is­land’s 10,000 in­hab­i­tants ev­ery four years. Step­ping out from un­der the chapel’s shadow, we saw route lines painted on the lo­cal walls. Di­vine in­ter­ven­tion? Not quite. The or­gan­is­ers had sim­ply pro­vided two al­ter­nate cour­ses for us to choose from: the first span­ning less than 31 miles (50km), the sec­ond some­what more than this dis­tance. Feel­ing am­bi­tious, we chose the lat­ter.

Hik­ing is now fash­ion­able in cer­tain cir­cles, but it’s been a se­cret plea­sure of mine for al­most a decade. Con­trary to my life­style, which reg­u­larly sees me nav­i­gat­ing red car­pets or en­sconced in the com­fort of my of­fice or stu­dio, I’d pre­vi­ously ditched my heels to hike along the At­las Moun­tains (span­ning Morocco, Al­ge­ria and Tu­nisia), and tack­led the trails of Mal­lorca and the Lake Dis­trict, to name but a few. Not bad for some­body who once broke both legs in the low-risk land­scape of res­i­den­tial Lon­don.

Now older and wiser, I was keen to make up for lost time. Es­pe­cially as hik­ing is the per­fect med­i­ta­tion for a busy mind. Per­haps it’s the calm­ing rhythm of walk­ing and the high oxy­gen in­take that I enjoy so much. Or maybe it’s sim­ply be­ing cut off from the out­side world for a few days.

As any­one else with a 15-year-old will at­test, we’re all too ad­dicted to our smart­phones in this hy­per-con­nected age. Re­fresh­ingly, there was no dan­ger of that here. The only mes­sages be­ing re­ceived were from our empty stom­achs.

De­spite the route be­ing lined with boun­ti­ful prickly pear trees (and our tree be­came a shrine. Sadly, it was de­stroyed by a hur­ri­cane in the 17th cen­tury and has been re­placed by a replica, but the site still ex­erts a fas­ci­na­tion, per­haps be­cause there’s a ro­man­tic story at­tached to the land.

Folk­lore has it that Span­ish in­vaders were saved by the tree’s life-giv­ing prop­er­ties, but they killed the woman who shared its se­cret – bury­ing her re­mains on site. Her spirit is said to be man­i­fest in the swathes of fra­grant wild flow­ers that sur­round the tree.

For such a ge­o­graph­i­cally small place, El Hierro has a huge va­ri­ety of poetic land­scapes. In just a few miles I felt like I’d wit­nessed the Dales, the tall pines of Canada, the dry, dusky land­scape of Mex­ico and the peaks of South Africa. Thus, it’s per­haps not sur­pris­ing that 60 per cent of the is­land is a Un­esco bio­sphere re­serve.

By this point in the jour­ney we had cov­ered some se­ri­ous ground and I was start­ing to walk like John Wayne, with a swag­ger­ing, wide-legged gait you sim­ply don’t get from any other ex­er­cise. I could

Donna has com­pany on the trail as she savours the rugged beauty of El Hierro, left and main

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.