Trip duration: 3 days | Approx cost: £400 | When: May – Sep
Doinit factor: A spectacular walk along the old ‘Kings Pathway’ – once labeled the World’s most dangerous walkway
If you’re after some organised fun then perhaps there is no better way to fuel your need to adventure than to book yourself onto the iconic Caminito Del Rey walkway in Southern Spain. Once dubbed, ‘ The World’s Most Dangerous Walkway’ following five deaths in the late 90’s, The Kings Pathway has been restored and now welcomes over 86,000 visitors a year.
The walkway was originally constructed in the 1900’s as a means of getting to work for staff of the nearby hydroelectric plants. It straddled the El Churro Gorge at a high of 100 metres above the river below as a service route but following substantial deterioration in the original concrete walkway, it was closed by the Andalusian Government. Several large gaping holes that can still be seen today under the new walkway had led to a rise of adrenaline junkies attempting to transverse the gorge, a human cost that the Andalusian Government was no longer willing to allow.
We hitch a 20 minute bus ride to the entrance of Caminito del Rey from the village of El Churro where we had been staying the night before. A decision that in hindsight was a stroke of master genius as being a linear hike, you need to enter in the North, and exit out the South. Whilst we would jump into the comfort of our car, the reminder of the hikers would have to endure a hour long wait to catch the next available bus back. The bus stopped at the entrance to the national park and we commenced our 2.9km walk to the beginning of the Caminito trail. The trail through the forest was pleasant in the morning warmth but had been unexpected as there had not been any mention of this when booking the tickets. We found ourself stretching our legs to make our allocated time and reaching the gates 40 minutes later than expected.
Glad we were not the only ones to miss this ‘minor’ detail, the entrance of the trail was a calamity. All sense of queuing in an orderly fashion had been left in the megalopolis and visitors of all nationalities were crowding round a control barrier attempting to understand the process. With no system clearly in place, we squeezed our way to the front and after being asked to wait, were let in 20 minutes later to collect our safety gear. A hair net and helmet later, we were off.
Above: Hair nets, check – helmets, check – stunning views, check
The scenery engages you immediately and we bustle past some groups to get the best views of the waterfall that plays host to the carving out of the gorge further down stream. The geology has turned the water into an olive green and the little vegetation appears to be coated in dust. Despite the presence of water where life should clearly be thriving, the rocky landscape prevents the majority of the environment from growing and it feels like we’re on the boundaries of where deserts begin. As the water plummets down the cliff, it relaxes and continues to make its flow down stream. We continue along the firm ground.
It isn’t until we reach the boardwalk it comes to our attention just how high we have climbed. Perhaps the ground had given us a false sense of security, but walking over the now suspended path certainly heightens our senses. The one metre wide pathway sticks out the side of the gorge and one small knock of your hand, your mobile slips through the gaps in the wood. The gorge closes in, and we are almost close enough to touch the other side but dare not try. The stream we had seen earlier in the hike has now transformed into a powerful torrent of water as it funnels through the cravats. The sound amplifies and reminds me there are no toilets until the end of the hike.
Each time a group of fellow hikers, catch up with us we move on to ensure we are the first of the allocated time slot to reach the next point worthy of stopping and taking a picture of. It’s not too long before the trail heads back into the forest. The trees shelter us from the rising temperatures of the sun but with the gorge and river completely out of site, to press on to see what waits ahead.
Above: Walking along the restored Kings Pathway you can’t but think what an amazing engineering feat this is
A further 20 minutes, we come across another section of the suspended boardwalk that clutches on to the side of the gorge. This excites me more compared to the first section – mainly due to the fact that despite the path being constructed exacting the same as the previous, more adrenaline pumps through your body as you can clearly see the original path from 100 years ago directly beneath the new path. Seeing the rusted bits of metal sticking out of the cliff face and gaping holes in the concrete path I forget that I am actually in what I would call ‘organised fun’ and make myself believe that I am actually on the ‘Worlds Most Dangerous Walkway’. No wonder this path had been closed for so many years.
Across the gorge, feats of old engineering come to light. A surprisingly modern looking railway line that had been carved through the gorge, winding from tunnel to bridge. We stop to admire the scenery, hoping to catch a glimpse of a train making its way through but are disappointed. The section of railway surely must be one of the most stunning in Spain, Europe, and rival the World.
Above: Much of the restored route runs directly above the original pathway
After just over an hour we reach the iconic image of bridge that cross the gorge. It is an opportunity to stand directly in the middle of the suspended bridge and look through the gorge and parts of the hike we had just completed. Again, the river below has transformed into a powerful torrent of water and the olive green water escapes into a floodplain, no longer bound by the sandstone.
Much as the beginning, despite it being the end of the trail, we need to walk another 20minutes or so to the edge of the national park to hand over our helmets and jump in our car. Here, there’s no shade to escape the sun and having witnessed some outstanding scenery, the surrounding cliffs peatier into the background.
Above: Walking along the bridges between cliff walls really makes you feel like your suspended in air