Sorry folks, I am a little behind with the blog, as I still need to work my way out of 2020. Pretty much same as all of us, I’m afraid, as nothing suggests things may get significantly closer to normal any time soon. Speaking of which, my mysterious fellow melomaniac neighbour doesn’t seem too convinced either, given (s)he’s been listening to Mozart’s K. 626 (also known as Requiem in D Minor) since yesterday (and the rest of us with him/her). The only slight improvement is that compared to before, (s)he at least listens to the entire thing. Once Dies Irae in loop starts shaking the building, I’ll be worried. For the building’s statics, mostly. I am not making a gratuitous joke about the state of Spanish engineering (well, maybe a little bit). I’m going get to that in a minute.
So, here we are, Christmas Eve-eve hike from the village everyone in Madrid is constantly raving about: Patones de Arriba, a beautifully preserved medieval village at the foot of Sierra de Guadarrama. Strangely enough, Patones has been a hereditary monarchy from the middle ages (according to some legends even since the times of Visigoths) until roughly the half of the 18th century. Imagine the deficiency of testosterone that leads someone to declare himself a king over a dozen families in the middle of nowhere (and the level of inbreeding, too). The village briefly rose to importance in the second half of the 19th century, when Pontón de la Oliva, a reservoir meant to supply water to the capital, was built nearby. Or attempted to be built, rather, as the project only lasted for two years, with the dam constructed so badly that in summer the water level would not reach the output channel, hence the joke about Spanish engineering above – my building comes from roughly the same period. To further support my argument, my friend lives in a flat that has the heating installed in the ceiling, which not only completely ignores the laws of physics, it mocks them. Anyway, modern Patones de Abajo (Lower Patones) was built (down in the valley, obviously) after the civil war in 1940s, and the historical village became a popular destination of rural tourism among the Madrileños from the 1980s onwards, eventually leading to the decision to close it off to traffic for conservation reasons. Nowadays, every building in the upper village is either a hotel, an AirBnb (or casa rural, as they’re called here) or a restaurant. Now, while Patones most certainly is a charming village, you need to understand that when the Spaniards fiercely recommend that you simply must visit a place, what they really mean is that you must drive there and have lunch. Therefore on any weekend or bank holiday, the traffic situation becomes complete chaos. We arrived to the village before 10 am and everything was shut, and we only met a handful of other hikers on the trail. However when we returned at 2 pm, every restaurant was packed (to the point that we could not get a table for quick coffee and cake consumption anywhere) and the cars were parked at every available spot along the access road.
Cancho de la Cabeza Circular: Patones de Arriba – Valle del Arroyo de las Cuevas – Cancho de la Cabeza (1263 m) – Valle del Arroyo de Patones – Patones de Arriba
Starting point: Patones de Arriba (or Patones de Abajo, if you are late)
How to get there: if you are driving, be sure to arrive early. The village is off limits to non-resident cars and the tiny parking lot will not accommodate more than 40 cars (although some creative parking takes place along the road that connects Patones with the rest of the world). There is a bigger parking in the lower village, an additional 20 minutes walk away). But public transport works really well. Take the bus no 197 from Plaza de Castilla to its final stop at Torrelaguna, then change for bus no 913 for Patones (not all of them go all the way up, but most do). Most importantly, the two lines coincide (both ways), so you will only wait for about 10 minutes for the connection. Check the timetable here.
Length and climb: 11 km / 500 m accumulated climb
Description: Cancho de la Cabeza is a circular hike. As mentioned on many occasions before, I prefer a steeper ascend, therefore I headed out of Patones towards El Cabezo and into the valley of the Arroyo de las Cuevas stream. The path will steadily pick altitude and lead you all the way to the peak. It is very well signposted and perfectly visible. Normally, there would be stunning views over the reservoir of El Atazar, but on the 23rd of December there was a thick fog in the entire region, so you could only see a dozen metres ahead of you for the duration of the hike, and nothing at all from the top. It was still magical, even in the absence of pretty vistas: the light, the silence, rock formations appearing unexpectedly from the mist, the silhouettes of bare trees, last remainders of autumn colours here and there. Follow the trail from the peak and after a few minutes you’ll hit a large cleared stripe (maintained bare to prevent the spread of wildfires in summer), stay on it for about half an hour (I cannot really guess how long it took because my time and space perception became somewhat distorted by the fog). Eventually you’ll see a path on your right hand side that leads into the valley of Arroyo de Patones and very mildly descends all the way back to the village. I imagine in summer the stream is almost always dry, but in this period it becomes one with the trail, so wear good waterproof shoes. Wikiloc for your convenience here. (Note we hiked it in the anticlockwise direction.)
With the absence of panoramas, I instead attempted to take detail photographs, raindrops on flowers, that sort of thing. Which may have even worked, had I been in possession in something else than a completely inadequate portrait lens, and the combination of manual focus and shaking hands did not help either, so the photos are mostly out of focus. They say that the best lens is the one you happen to have on you, but up to a point I guess. To you, the gallery of horrors: