Thursday, 14 January 2010

Tales of the Unexpected

The magnificent Bernia Ridge

If there's one lesson this winter has written large on the blackboard of life, it is to expect the unexpected. Whilst quietly smirking at the good fortune of flying out of the UK before the first snows, we were hit with the news that our 'hot rock' winter getaway in Catalunya was already nestled under a foot of snow.

Some quick thinking was required. The rustic finca in the hills, our base for the fortnight, was snowed in and no longer an option. In a flash, a devilishly simple Plan B appeared: to keep driving south until the rock got hot.

In a thick fug of exhaustion after sharing an early morning flight with sixty excitable Liverpudlian school-girls, we had the unenviable 500 km drive south to contend with. Still, we were on holiday, we told ourselves.

Lemon leaf

The safest option was to head to the Costa Blanca. Here, at least some hot rock was a possibility. Yet it is an incongruous destination in some ways and a place of stark contrasts. Climbing on some of Europe's most prized cliffs means being up close and personal with the retired ex-pat holiday fleshpots of Benidorm, Calpe and Alicante. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but perhaps it's just not my scene. The problem is, the old Spain has been washed aside in a race for development. The stillness of climbing at the beautiful Sierra de Toix is often broken by the sound of pile drivers hammering footings into the limestone or jackhammers taking up pavements. To accept the luxury of climbing in the dead of winter, one has to take the flip side too.

The sixteenth century Moorish stronghold of Bernia

Even so, there are hidden gems like the Fort at Bernia, used by the Moors as a final hiding place before their eventual routing, and the inland towns of Xativa, Guadelest and Xavo.

A Monty Pythonesque cathedral frontage, Xativa

Long-awaited and uncertain though it appeared to be, we had some great days of climbing and walking despite some unusual twists and turns.

Airborne at Toix

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