GR11 Highlight: Valley of Gifts

Hi All, after 60 days on the trail we arrived on the Mediterranean to complete the GR11 last Tuesday and are now back home. We are in the process of updating our GR11 blog and the update for week 4 will follow shortly. We mentioned in our week 3 update that we had a very special experience in the alpine valley of Aguas Tuertas and Barry has written a piece about it below to share.

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On Day 16 we hiked up into the hidden valley of Aguas Tuertas where beautiful green meadows spread before us, flat-bottomed and graced with a winding, glistening stream. Needing a rest and a snack we sat on a rise of the valley side with a rocky outcrop above. In the distance a group of ‘wild’ horses grazed the wet river meadows. Washed with every shade of green the gentle mountain slopes grading away into the distance were reminiscent of the Mongolian steppe-lands.

Valley 1 shrunk

The scene before us revealed itself slowly, through the senses as a world of quiet and peace, unchanging, a high-land of winds and winter snows, brought to life with summer sun, thawed into a warm land of tinkling waters, flower meadows and grazing herds.

The distant horse herd began making their way towards us along the river led by a lovely large mare with a golden mane. They splashed through the meanders, light flashing in the spray, tossing their heads and tails, full of joy and life, a beautiful sight. As they got nearer the deep tone from the bells on their necks rang through the valley, the music of the mountains.

Horses cross shrunk

As the horse herd arrived below us, we gradually became aware that this music was not just the bells but a resounding concert of intermingling, multi-toned bells and echoes. The concave cliff wall behind us was amplifying and echoing the music,a personal amphitheater. The rhythmic sounds and clear atmosphere created a mesmeric and ethereal experience, like a gamelan orchestra. For many minutes it played and it was clearly one of those very special perfect moments in life, a moment of grace.

Horses shrunk

A Lammergeier (bearded vulture and the first of our trip) appeared fleetingly above and glided off along the ridge. As we made our way up the valley a chattering call on the russet cliffs above caught attention, house martins nesting. From the nest cups young heads looked down and their parent hung stationary in the cliff wind passing food to their young.

Ripples shrunk

In a crystal clear stream by the path the light was reflecting and a large green dragonfly hovered low and dipped its tail momentarily. Each time it gracefully dipped it dropped an egg, each break of the surface shadowed below by circles of extending ripples. Tadpoles below wiggled outward from the ripples, symmetrically, startled but safe. On drying mud glistening blue butterflies drank in the mineral rich sediment.

Buterflies shrunk

Our trail passed though meadows and across streams through further horse herds and cattle, everything was light and brightness, the bells still playing in our heads, it felt like floating through time. Then up the valley side through a broad gorge sided by colourful cliffs and up towards a pass, always the plaintive song of the black redstart, it’s flashing red tail on outcrops or boulders.

Higher up we entered what became the realm of swifts as we found ourselves surrounded by a feeding flock. At eye level we watched as these most ariel of birds swept around us, so close that the air they scythed through became audible; shhwisshh as they arced, whh, whh, whh whh, as the beats turned the air, micro turbulence, so fast and, precise! How do they avoid colliding with each other at this dashing speed? How do they see small spiders and flies? This was their world and we sat in awe for 15 minutes as they swept around us, and where the warm updrafts seemed to bring an insect feast which they could sense and see, blind to us earth dwellers. What a rare privilege to share their space so intimately.

Valley 6 shrunk

We left the valley feeling that we had received gifts from this place which would feed our souls indefinitely. Rarely does one experience such joyful perfection, and not just for an instant but over many hours. During much of the time we were not walking close together, but being of similar minds and being open vessels to nature and experience we saw and felt the experiences similarly. As on many other occasions on our hike, there was an unspoken communication between us. There were many other hikers around throughout the day but saw none who paused to hear the music or watch the swifts…..they just passed by.

 “Time let us hail and climb, golden in the heydays of his eyes” – Fern Hill (by Dylan Thomas).

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