A few kilometres from Ronda, just outside the white village of Benaojan lies one of the most spectacular cave systems in Spain, and in the mouth of one, several galleries of cave paintings that are as old as 30,000 years, and were created by paleolithic people of Ronda before the last great ice age. Best of all, the caves are open to the public with a local tour guide to explain the significance of the artwork.
When visiting Ronda, getting out into the little villages is one of the must do excursions that would render your vacation incomplete if you didn’t do, however a lot of visitors to Ronda don’t have access to a car, so Benaojan is one of the options to see an authentic white village.
Located on the southern boundary of the Sierra de Grazalema, Benaojan is convenient because both bus and train visit the village, and the trip is only 25 minutes from Ronda. My own trip saw me take the train along Mr Henderson’s railway walk, a comfortable and air conditioned journey that does however stop at Benaojan Estación, a small hamlet below the main village that requires a 20 minute walk before you see what Benaojan has to offer.
Mr Henderson’s Railway walk between Benaojan and Jimera de Libar is one of the most popular walks in the Serranía for visitors, particularly because it is long enough to be a challenge for some, but short enough to really enjoy the walk, see some lovely nature, and be located between two railway stops giving peace of mind if anything untoward were to happen help is close at hand.
The walk is just 7.5km from start to end, and the return walk is listed as a three and a half hour walk. The terrain is suitable for all bar those with serious health concerns, though there are two sections of the track that could be more difficult because the path has been cut into rock.
Ronda Today recently caught up with Tony Bishop, the author of a new walking guide entitled “Walking in the Ronda Mountains: 30 half-day walks in Andalucía” due to be published by Editorial La Serranía in October 2010, and we believe will soon become the guide against which all others are judged.
As part of our interview, Tony kindly escorted us along the Guadiaro River from Benaojan Station to the Cueva del Gato, explaining the birds and wildlife we saw through the binoculars he provided. Tony isn’t a professional walking guide, though he enjoys nothing more than to show friends his favourite walking tracks.
The walk we did can be completed in an hour, it is only 3km, though there is a lot to see so Tony recommends 2 hours. The walk is easy and certainly within the capabilities of the majority of walkers, but in the colder months can be muddy.
Birders and keen nature lovers will be enthralled at the fauna and flora of this stretch of river, we saw Barbel in the river, and White Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, Griffon Vulture, Golden Oriole, Alpine Swift, Melodious Warbler, Grey Heron, and Bee Eater. We also heard Cetti’s Warbler, and Tony regularly catches sight of Iberian Ibex on the rocks above the Cueva del Gato.
Start the walk at the railway station in Benaojan, and cross the line about 100m past the station, then follow the road another 150m till you cross the Guadiaro River. At this point you’ll see a sign pointing to the three walking tracks that lead from here, we’ll take the Ronda direction.
There really isn’t much to the track, just keep following it straight ahead, you can’t miss the cave entrance as you approach it, though at the hotel Molino Quatro Paradas you should continue past the side of the hotel and not up the hill to the carpark.
Whilst the walk is relatively short, it does allow people staying in Ronda or the Guadiaro Valley the opportunity to see some native wildlife, the beautiful limestone mountains of Benaojan, and the cave entrance; the Cueva del Gato which is a popular picnic spot.
After you return, you could stop for a drink on the terrace of the Molino Cuatro Paradas Hotel, but if they’re closed, probably the friendliest barman in Benaojan is Pepe from “Bar STOP”, located directly across the street from the station. Don’t forget to try his wife’s tapas menu, it really is quite authentic and absolutely delicious. Bar STOP is especially known for the Solomillo a la Pimienta.
Between the train dropping you off and the return service, you’ll have 3 hours to explore the river and enjoy a cold drink or tapas, the day isn’t too strenuous, and is perfect for visitors staying in Ronda who have a few hours to get out of the city.
The last two weeks of 2009 saw a deluge of rain falling on the Serranía de Ronda, and a Yellow Alert declaration in Ronda. Rainfall in the week prior to Christmas was described as the worst since 1947 when 12 people lost their lives from drowning or lightning strikes. Flood damage is expected to cost many millions of Euros in insurance claims.
Rainfall on certain days exceeded 80 litres per square metre, whilst winds of 70km per hour were common, gusting in exposed places. Over the entire two week period an estimated 450-500 litres fell depending on location, though most days saw only moderate rain which unfortunately kept the river levels up resulting in further damage as rainfall became heavier.
In Ronda the worst affected area was the Llano de la Cruz and La Indiana districts with several homeowners reporting flooding inside the home and water damaged furniture and white goods. The through road in the Hoya del Tajo (the valley situated below Ronda), is still closed to traffic due to a bridge spanning the rio Guadalevin being submerged. Another road in Ronda, the Camino de los Tejares was closed twice as a nearby stream flooded a depression in the road, requiring a bulldozer to clear silt and mud.
Recent work by La Empresa de Gestión Medioambiental (Egmasa) in cleaning up clogged and overgrown streams and rivers in the Ronda district was credited by Remedios Martel, the councillor for the Environment in the Málaga Province, with preventing widespread flooding in low lying areas of Ronda. A further consequence of cleaning the rivers in Ronda was that flooding was felt downstream in other parishes where cleanup efforts hadn’t been as extensive.
In the Guardiaro valley massive flooding and extensive damage to trees, roads and houses was reported along the banks of the rio Guadiaro amid reports that rising river levels and high winds had caused chaos in low lying areas and on mountain roads. Some homeowners reported flood waters of upto one metre in their homes, whilst in Jimera de Libar at least two cars were submerged by rising water.
The Atajate-Jimera de Libar road was closed for two days whilst workers cleared fallen rocks and mud. On the A-366 Ronda-El Burgo road a small section of the road had to be closed for repairs when a rockslide damaged the edge of one lane. The A-373 between Cortes de la Frontera and Berrueca was also closed for a few hours as high winds knocked over a tree.
In the first week of January 2010 many of Ronda’s car parks remain closed due to the risk of landslides or falling trees, they being El Castillo, Alameda del Tajo, San Rafael, and San Lorenzo. None of Ronda’s underground carparks were affected by flooding.
Older residents of Ronda remember flooding in 197 that breached the lowest of Ronda’s bridges, the Puente Arabe near the Arab Baths, and the terrible loss of 9 lives between Montejaque and Benaojan in the same year when 9 people were drowned. Closer to Ronda 3 people were killed when a small cabin they were sheltering in was struck by lightning. We can be thankful the rains of December 2009 weren’t as destructive.
Ron Morley, born in London 1938, painter in oil and occasionally watercolour.
Before his retirement in 2005 he worked freelance as a magazine and newspaper designer, moving around Fleet Street, London, in the cut and thrust of tight deadlines and graveyard shifts.
He now lives in Benaojan, Andalucía, and with a complete change of lifestyle, has time to ponder and tentatively paint.
His subject matter is close at hand and all engulfing, and for the moment it is enough to paint simple village scenes, explore the narrow streets, relish the blue skys and delve into the deep shadows.
He loves the medium of oil, working with its richness and depth gives him huge satisfaction and a freedom he never knew in the black and white rigidity of the British press.
More of Ron’s work can be seen at the Hotel Molino del Santo, Benaoján Estación.
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All her life Christine Ellingham has been painting and drawing, in fact her entire working career has been devoted to creative pursuits. Born in Buckinghamshire in England, Christine studied art at Banbury College of Art with emphasis on life drawing and draftmanship, before completing studies at Hornsey College of Art.
Many artists struggle to find work, but Christine was lucky to start her career in the comic industry drawing picture strips in the 1960s. Drawing scenes from girls adventure stories that were serialised in newspapers. As an artist Christine had the flexibility to work almost anywhere if there was a post office in the vicinity, and during the early 1970s she moved to Spain.
It was whilst living in Spain that she lost the use of her right hand to ‘Focal Dystonia’, forcing her to learn to draw with her left hand. These were troubling times for Christine but allowed her to develop her skill, initially with illustrations.
As an illustrator Christine has drawn for ‘Woman’s Own’ and ‘The Lady’ amongst others, and has accepted commissions from BP, the Royal Mail, and British Gas. During the 1980s and 1990s Christine worked for several fleet street newspapers illustrating politicians and royalty, as well as providing food and financial illustrations. Most recently she has designed coins for several national mints.
Retirement allowed Christine Ellingham and her husband Ron Morley to relocate to Spain again, and has given Christine the opportunity to really develop her painting, in stark contrast to a career of illustration.
Her first love is water colour, though she finds herself mostly using acrylic on canvas, and whilst she does complete local landscapes, she has said that still life appeals to her more at the moment, though like any artist reserves the right to use any media that captures her imagination.
Christine is a regular exhibitor at Ronda’s Artesanía Market, and has permanent exhibitions on display in the Hotel Molino del Santo in Benaojan, and Hotel Molino del Puente outside Ronda. She also takes part in exhibitions organised by Ronda’s Casa del Cultura and in the Andalucian Soap Company Shop.
Commissions are not accepted at the moment.
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