151 – El Puente

In most countries, “a bridge” refers to any type of construction that connects two points over an obstacle. In Spanish, Italian and possibly other mediterranean languages it also means a situation where a bank holiday falls close to the weekend, so you “bridge” the day in between, when you’d normally work. This concept is unknown in English, therefore, when someone inquires about your plans for “the bridge”, don’t be alarmed. You are not expected to amaze your colleagues and friends with skills in construction or architecture, you are simply not expected to work (because no one else will).

On the way to Cabeza Arcón, Bustarviejo, Comunidad de Madrid

Fall is the bridge season in Spain. There is the bridge of October 12th, known by its pompous name as the Day of Hispanicity, that commemorates the “period of linguistic and cultural projection (of Spain) beyond European limits”. What an ingenious way to rephrase “colonial exploitation of 2 continents”. Then there is the bridge of the Dead (All Saints, November 1st) followed one week later by the bridge of Almudena (patron saint of Madrid, November 9th) and finally the longest of them all: the bridge of the Constitution (December 6th) or the Immaculate Conception (December 8th) – depending who you talk to. People who think that Spain becoming a democracy is an event worth celebrating will refer to the long weekend with the first name, while the latter will be used by those who deem remembering the two-generations long absence of sex in Jesus’s earthly family a valid reason for a day off. Yeah, that’s right. According to this particular catholic dogma, not only all dealings of Mary with the dove were sin-free, but also the conception of Mary herself somehow happened without sexual intercourse between her parents. In the family where it takes and act of faith (literally) to accept (let alone understand) who’s the father, who’s the son, and who’s both, it is obviously the purity of the female line that’s questioned. Typical. OK, I will stop being blasphemous now. 

So, now that we are all familiar with the Spanish expression “el puente”, we understand that something needed to be done about a 4 days weekend and limited travel options. I could have of course stayed at home and binged Queen’s Gambit, but I had done that already and it hasn’t left me with a desire to start playing chess, mainly because I am not the type of person that spends hours meditating over what may all (or even some) of their next actions lead to, I just do things and then deal with the (sometimes disastrous) consequences. In the times of pandemics, no one knows what ingenious measure with no warning are the politicians going to come up with next anyway, so not only best laid schemes of mice and men often (almost certainly these days) go awry, but every day spent outside is a small blessing. I joined a group of friends for a hiking weekend in the mountains north of Madrid.  All Covid-friendly, or I guess “unfriendly” would be a better term, separate accommodation and eating arrangements, social distancing, all that. I don’t want any “there’s 10 of you an no one is wearing a mask – on a hike”, especially not from people who cannot wait to come running back to pubs the minute they reopen. Most of us are immigrants in this country, living away from our families and working from home. Moreover, most people in the group had had Covid already. And finally, it all happened four weeks prior to the publication of this post and to my knowledge none of the attendees subsequently tested positive. So kindly spare me the rant. The only person who can rant here is me.  

Bustarviejo: a charming village just over an hour drive north-east from Madrid. Highlights: local craft brewery (excellent IPA) and loads of hiking and MTB/gravel cycling possibilities. 

How to get here: bus no 725 from Intercambiador Plaza de Castilla station, just over an hour ride. Driving takes about the same, plenty of parking space in the village. 

Where to stay: we stayed in Albergue de los Abedules, but there are plenty of more chic options available on Airbnb, if you are after a romantic getaway (or just hoping for a good old shag). 

Day 1: Cabeza de Arcón: Albergue de los Abedules – Cuesta Lábrega – La Buitrera (1523 m) – Cabeza de Arcón (1558 m) – Bustarviejo (pitstop in the brewery) – back to Albergue.

Starting point: we obviously started from the hostel, but if you are arriving just for the day hike, you can get off the bus or park at the football pitch (a spacious parking lot there), or start from the village. 

Length and climb: about 13 km / 550 m accumulated climb

Difficulty: low, the only thing that made it a little challenging was the weather (wind and sleet)

Description: whichever is your starting point, hit the large and comfortable dirt road Camino de las Viñas (although I saw no vineyards, and I have the eye for those), until you see a path on your left hand side, which will take you through the forest, picking up altitude, until you reach the crest. Turn left to follow the ridge, the path flattens and stays that way until the final (short) climb to La Buitrera. After which it’s only a short way to Cabeza de Arcón. Along the way you will admire beautiful view of the Sierra de Guadarrama (La Morcuera and Puerto de Canencia) on the left and Cerro de San Pedro and the plateau of Madrid on the right. From the highest peaks of the ridge, you can even see the four towers of Plaza de Castilla. As you reach Cabeza de Arcón, the view over Sierra de la Cabrera will open in front of you. I honestly don’t remember if the trail is marked, but it is in any case very visible. We had hideous weather, but on the other hand it meant rather dramatic vistas over the snow-sprinkled peaks covered in clouds. From Cabeza de Arcón, just follow a wide path that will lead you to Bustarviejo. Personally I think that walking the loop anticlockwise is the better option, because the ascend is steeper, while the descend is milder, but that’s up to everyone’s personal preference. Do not miss a refreshment stop at Cerveceria la Bailandera opposite the church (of course there is a bar next to the church), they have local craft beers and excellent cakes (maybe not to be consumed together). The loop map here

Day 2: Cabeza de la Braña: Buitrago – Torre de la Mina de Plata – Collado Abierto – Cabeza de la Braña (1771 m) – Esplanada de Navasaces – Collado Cerrado – Buitrago

Starting point: the football pitch of Buitrago

Length and climb: roughly 11 km / 590 m accumulated climb

Difficulty: low in normal conditions. We had strong winds and a snowstorm between Collado Abierto and the peak of Cabeza de la Braña (but it was beautiful). 

Description: Follow the dirt trail from the parking lot by the football pitch, by the time you walk around the foot of the mountain, you will see the tower of the silver mine in front / slightly above you. You will reach it in less than half an hour. Keep climbing along a little stream in the channel between the peaks until you reach the meadow of Collado Abierto. I suppose on a normal day, the path is clearly visible. On the day of our hike it took some guesswork, as the snowline started just above the tower, so we were walking in the stream rather than along it. We started the hike with a beautiful mild autumn day, but up in the open we walked into a snowstorm and strong freezing winds, which accompanied us all the way to the peak (seemed longer than it was, I estimate the climb from Collado Abierto to Cabeza de la Braña didn’t take more than 30 minutes). At the top we took refuge in the forest and waited for the whole group to arrive, had some cookies and tea and a little rest (it realty was cold). To descend, just follow the treeline on your right hand side, and you can either walk through the forest or on the ridge, it doesn’t really matter, both options will lead to the esplanade of Navasaces, almost to Puerto de Canencia, where you will once again see the valley of Vallehermoso in front of you and the trail will take you back to the football pitch. Wikiloc for your convenience here

Few words about winter hiking: I am sure I don’t need to stress this too much, but do dress well. Layers can always be taken off, but hiking while being cold is extremely unpleasant and dangerous. Mountains, even relatively populated mountains as those around Madrid, are unpredictable in winter. Also, wear good shoes. Trails that are wide and comfortable in summer get slippery in winter. Last thing you want is to get a heavy sprain and wait to be rescued in weather conditions that prevent helicopters from landing. Light summer trekking shoes are not a good option, wear sturdy boots. I personally wear those in summer too, but I have dodgy ankles, so I need extra support. And most importantly, carry extra food (and a thermos with hot tea, if possible). Our bodies burn more energy in cold weather, so make sure you have fuel. Do not blindly rely on technology either. Batteries run flat quickly in freezing temperatures, so be prepared that your cell phone may die on you. And last but not least, although I am a huge fan of solitary hiking, bringing a buddy or two when hiking in extreme weather conditions may be a good idea. Other than that, do not let the temperatures scare you off, winter is a beautiful time to be out in the open. Just come prepared and enjoy every minute!

Kacenka and the UN gang on the hike. We had representatives of Egypt, Germany, India, Italy, Poland, Spain and Czech Republic. 

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