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Route 4: Fuente Nueva – C.E.A. Los Llanillos

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(1) We leave from the fountain called Fuentenueva, next to the Guadarrama road (M-600), beside the housing development called Urbanización Felipe II. It was built by Fernando VII in 1815 and it is close…

(2) …to the refuge and natural resources centre, the Albergue Centro de Recursos Naturales. We are surrounded by magnificent specimens of ash, willows, elder, wild plum, European ash, elms, blackthorn, poplar and honey locust. The private gardens of the area serve as a refuge for blackbirds, robins, reed warblers, coal tits, blue tits, warblers, etc. There is a panel containing bird information located close to the building named the Casa del Polvorín, which can help us to identify the birds we see. This section of transition between the pine wood and the holm oaks is used by azure-winged magpies to pass from one ecosystem to another.

The route begins on a path that ascends parallel to the right of the stream called Arroyo del Barrancon and reaches the area of the Polvorín (a levelled area where we leave on the right the wall that goes up to the peak, the Pico de Abantos, and the stream). Here we can see a large part of the mountainside that was burnt in the summer of 1999, which is currently being reforested and regenerated.

On the left is the recreational area of El Tomillar, made up of a pine forest boasting maritime pine and stone pine, together with small holm oaks, tree of heaven (ailanthus altissima), cypress trees and false acacia with its characteristic twigs of white flowers, known popularly as “pan y quesitos” or bread and cheese. Among the bushes, we find white broom, scotch broom, broom, phillyrea angustifolia and flax-leaved daphne, together with other small plants. This is a good area to spot European golden orioles, booted eagles and buzzards.

The path comes out on to the paved forest trail, keeps going for 50m. and turns to the left at the Finnish pass (we can see a mass of Pyrenean oak, an example of the vegetation which used to dominate these slopes). In spring and summer, we can see a multitude of European bee-eaters flying over the area. The pine forest alternates with open areas where we can find short-toed treecreepers, Bonelli’s warblers, European serins, chaffinches, rock buntings and many coal tits. All these sights are mixed with the sound of the azure-winged magpies flying from one tree to another. The path levels out, passing by the stream called Arroyo de la Cruz and further on…

(3) …the stream called Arroyo de la Cebadillas. The presence of prickly juniper and gum rockrose accompanied by dog-rose, blackberry bushes, marjoram, thyme and Spanish lavender is worthy of note. If we continue to walk uphill next to the stream, we will discover groups of magnificent chestnut trees.

In this part of our route, the droveway (or cattle path) that we are walking along marks the limit as regards height of the built-up area of the town of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, above which the Monte Abantos rises, declared to be a site of great beauty or Paraje Pintoresco in 1961. This droveway (via pecuaria in Spanish) finally joins the road, the Paseo Miguel de Unamuno. Just before the cemetery, turning to the right on the street Puerto de Malagón and walking uphill above the houses along a corridor among the pine trees, we reach the stream called Arroyo de La Barranquilla. In the streambed, there are outstanding small copses made up of numerous Spanish fir trees, introduced by the forestry school, the Escuela Especial de Ingenieros de Montes, at the beginning of the last century.

From here, we continue through the ravine called Cañada Real Leonesa, close to some houses on our left, until we reach the paved forest trail that we cross to go down another, unpaved trail that takes us to the stream called Arroyo del Romeral.

(4) We reach the stream bed of the Romeral, whose waters are channelled to the reservoir of the same name. In this area, we can observe a great variety of species like Sessile oak or Monterey pine. The route continues parallel to a series of medium-voltage power lines, leading to a gate that we go through:

(5) We take the path on the right that leads us to the stream called Arroyo del Helechal. A few metres upstream, we can see the arch. It is a granite ashlar construction which, together with others of similar characteristics, Felipe II ordered to be built to collect and supply water to the Monastery. Inside, we can see the system used to progressively decant the impurities in the water. Walking downstream, we reach the dam called the Presa del Infante. As it is a fairly wide track, it provides lizards and wall lizards with a sunny spot to soak in. Here, common buzzards are especially abundant, together with booted eagles and some Bonelli’s eagles. And waiting until the very last moment to take flight, we come across hoopoes.

After passing the stream called Arroyo de los Castaños, the path divides into two: we follow the trail that is most clearly marked, the one on the left. Further on, we come across the power lines again and we follow them until we reach a country house with the name “El Cobijo” (The Shelter). Just after we pass it by, a path appears to the right. The main vegetation is maritime pine with scrubs of the rose family, such as blackberry bushes and hawthorn. Gum rockrose is abundant and juniper, Spanish lavender and ferns will also appear.

(6) Here begins the pathway known as the Camino del Caracol that zigzags upwards until it reaches a trail where we can see the characteristic shape of a good specimen of Scot’s pine, or some mistletoe, a parasite of pine trees.

(7) Little by little, and once having passed the gully of La Cabeza (the slope that we are crossing), we can make out La Torrecilla, a gneiss boulder that stands proud over the slope, with a height of some twenty metres, and which gives its name to the nearby stream.

(8) To the right, we head towards the recreational area of Los Llanillos and its shelter, now converted into an environmental educational centre, the Centro de Educación Ambiental. In this area, an old forest plant nursery, we can see species such as maritime pine, chestnut trees, plane trees, willows, poplar, elms – the elm which is near the fountain is classified as a singular tree – maples, ash trees, common aspen, cherry trees, Montpellier maples, whitebeams, Lawson’s Cypress, and cedars.

(9) A little further on (off the route), we find the arboretum, the Arboreto Luis Ceballos.

The route takes us to the left, to the stream called Arroyo del Avispero, where right at its side there is a wall that we cross. From this moment on, we can continue along the multiple paths that were created from the terraced earth used for reforestation. We may see the fauna we have already mentioned until we reach our destination: coal tits and crested tits. And in the areas close to the stream, we may find blackcaps and melodious warblers. Other birds, such as rock buntings, chaffinches and any number of short-toed treecreepers will also show themselves. In the open areas, we will be able to enjoy panoramic views over the park of La Herrería (with the dam, the Presa del Batán, in front), the Machotas or the mountain pass called Puerto de la Cruz Verde.

Route 3: La Lonja – Cascada del Hornillo

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According to accounts, Felipe II himself chose these surroundings to built a monument that “would reveal his power and greatness to coming centuries” due to the great abundance of waters, the fertility and freshness of the land, the high quality of the granite stone and its proximity to good, plentiful pine forests for building materials (Valsaín, Guadarrama, Pinares Llanos, El Quejigar and Navaluenga). We begin our walk, going deeper into this marvellous natural environment which captivated the monarch.

(1) We leave the stone-paved forecourt of the Monastery, la lonja, through the archway the Arcos de la Compaña, turning to the right and walking between the small park (the parque Carrero Blanco) and the University María Cristina. As we pass the park, we can see one of the magnificent specimens of Virginia red cedar inside its walls. Then we go up the avenue Conde de Aranda until we reach the…

(2) …archway, the Arca del Romeral at the foot of the reservoir of the same name, which gathers the water channelled from the areas of the Arcas de la Merinera and from El Helechal. The dam wall of the Presa de El Romeral, built by Juan de Villanueva in the 18th century, cracked in the winter of 1944, the same occurring simultaneously at the Presa del Batán.

At the side of the dam, three sets of stairs start from where the path appears (surrounded by rockrose and gum rockrose) and then the path begins to move away little by little from the wire fence, always in an upwardly direction, parallel to the stream called Arroyo del Romeral until it reaches a grey gate with a spring: here we have come onto the route of the Cordel del Valle. The track keeps going upwards opposite the gate until we reach the road. This path carries on into a pine wood of maritime pine, a predominant species in the area, together with prickly juniper, Spanish lavender, … We must be careful not to wander off to the left, due to getting confused by the wooden arrows signalling the way to the arboretum, el Arboreto.

(3) Once on the road, just ahead, the path known as the Camino de los Gallegos starts. We can see lovely examples of Spanish fir and Pyrenean oak. All along this path, there are marvellous views of the crest of mountain (Monte Abantos). The numerous falls of rocks from here gave the name to the stream that was known as the Arroyo del Cascaja, currently called the Arroyo del Romeral. We can find Montpellier maple, Holm oak, Portuguese oak, Sessile oak, cherry trees… surrounded by ephedra fragilis and Scotch broom (the pulses of the latter mature before those of the former).

About 300m to the right on the road is the fountain known as Fuente de la Concha, around which we can find species such as fir trees, chestnuts, maple, snowy mespilus, goat willow, birch, willow, almond trees, safix salviifolia, ash, black poplar, cedar and wild pear.

Upon continuing our walk uphill, we come upon numerous and magnificent examples of larch and beech coming from the reforestation carried out by students of the forestry school, the Escuela de Ingenieros de Montes, until the school was moved to Madrid in 1914. There is also Erica scoparia and common juniper, accompanied by peonies. All this lives in harmony with the predominant species at these altitudes, the Scots pine. A little before leaving the Camino de los Gallegos, to our right is the fountain of the Trampalón.

(4) This path takes us directly to the meadows that are at the foot of the pass called the Puerto de Malagón. We reach the asphalted track that leads up to this pass. In the clear of the mountainside, we can see at the top of some pine trees the winter nests woven in white silk by a fearsome caterpillar: the pine processionary caterpillar. After eating completely through the needles of the pine they are on, in the first warm days of spring the caterpillars leave the pine trees in a procession to search for a suitable place underground where they will turn into butterflies.

We reach the pass, the Puerto de Malagón (1536 m). On the right, the track continues towards Peguerinos and another pass, the Puerto de Los Leones. Opposite us, we have the reservoir, Embalse del Tobar, which supplies water to San Lorenzo through a tunnel that runs through the mountain. We now cross the “Finnish pass” or Paso Finlandés and turn onto a wide trail that comes out on the left.

On the sunny slopes, the pine forest coming from the reforestation survives, while the rest of the area is dominated by fabaceae, or plants of the legume family, such as Spanish gold broom and adenocartpus hispanicus. On the first species, small foamy masses may be observed; inside these, tiny cicadas are protecting themselves from predators and dehydration. These are insects belonging to the Hemiptera insect family.

While we continue to follow the path upwards, we can see on the pathway tiny white rocks coming from an outcrop of marble which has arisen in the middle of the gneiss granite that dominates this area. We follow it until we reach, on the right-hand side, a fountain-trough…

(5) …and the meadows that give rise to the Arroyo del Hornillo (it is the valley parallel to the dam and stream of the Tobar). There is no marked path, but it can’t be missed because we only have to follow the riverbed that leads us directly to the pine forest. Once there we take a path parallel to the stream among the pines that ends up in a forest trail; we walk along it for a few metres until the path moves away from the stream, at which point we cross the stream. Here, we stop walking parallel to the stream and instead we go along the slope without losing height, following the walls that are parallel to the stream.

We return to the stream through a quite steep track where we find once again with the pine forest and a small group of poplars. The path appears once again on the left.

(6) The waterfall known as the Cascada del Hornillo is just a few minutes away. Once we reach it and start going down the side on its left, we come to a forest trail (now, off the route) that gives on to a recreational area next to the bridge of the Aceña river, on the road linking the villages of Robledondo and Santa Maria de la Alameda.

Route 2. La Herrería and Las Machotas

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(1) We leave the stone forecourt of the Monastery (lonja) through the archway, the Arcos de la Compaña. We can enjoy spectacular views of the Garden and Orchards of the Friars and the pond, presided by an enormous weeping willow. Its origin corresponds to one of the two oldest fountains of the area, the fuente de Blasco Sánchez or del Estribo, together with the current Fuente de la Reina, known back then as Matalasfuentes. We are accompanied on our walk by a line of horsechestnut trees.

We continue along the Paseo de Carlos III to access the Herrería (a site declared an area of great beauty, or Paraje Pintoresco, in 1961 and the property of Spanish National Heritage) through two columns: we are on the Shepherd’s Hill, or La Cuesta de los Pastores. We follow the path down, passing on the right a kiosk, called “Zarco”, and next to it a small fountain, the Fuente del Seminario.

On our walk we see a specimen of love tree (Mediterranean redbud) a species that has a spectacular and early pink blossoming. Advancing a bit more, we reach the golf course and opposite this, the facilities of the Youth Hostel, Albergue Juvenil de Santa Maria del Buen Aire. In this area of the Herrería forest the presence of ash trees forms a meadow. We continue down the path, walking next to the wall of the golf course and accompanied by majestic specimens of plane trees. A little before reaching a cross, the Cruz de los Romeros, there is a detour we can take to approach a fountain there, the Fuente de los Capones.

The slope goes down to the streambed, the Arroyo del Batán, and we reach the intersection with the main road, the M-505, which we must cross with care. The asphalted road goes directly up to the Silla de Felipe II (Chair of Felipe II): there is a short-cut along the paths that come out from behind the recreation area on the left. On that same side, we pass the Fuente del la Prosperidad. To the right, we can appreciate the hermitage, the Ermita de la Virgen de Gracia.

(2) At the side of the hermitage, there is a specimen of Scot’s pine catalogued as a singular tree for the Madrid Autonomous Community. Above is found the fountain known as Fuente de las Arenitas. We are in a magnificent area sprinkled with cherry trees, wild pear, spindle tree, blackthorn, hawthorn, wild rose, blackberry, wild plum, elder, privet, ivy, honeysuckle, ferns, willows, hazels, crab apple trees… It is a good spot for bird watching.

(3) From Felipe II’s Chair, the Silla de Felipe II, we enjoy a spectacular panoramic view. We can find here magnificent specimens of Montpellier maple, especially one of arboreal bearing next to the stairway worked in stone, catalogued as a singular tree by the Autonomous Community of Madrid. Red-rumped swallows are usually abundant in this section.

(4) We make our way to the Casa del Sordo. It is accessed via a road that runs from the kiosk located at the base of the Silla. From the Casa del Sordo the view is spectacular. From here, the path links to a wider dirt trail that in turn leads to an entrance to private property. From the gate, without going through it, our route continues parallel to the wall and without taking any other detour to the right. The path twists several times as it goes up. On our walk, we may even surprise a long-tailed or Hispanic lizard and, with a bit more luck, Ocellated or Iberian emerald lizards.

We jump the wall where the GR 10 path is shown (this wall is the “Master Fence” and marks the limits of the old hunting grounds of Felipe II), from where we can already clearly differentiate the silhouette of the “Fraile” (Friar) above, on the peak of the Machota Alta. The junction of the walls marks the limit of the Pyrenean oak; it can’t be missed. From this point on, the vegetation will vary radically (with excellent specimens of the prickly juniper, marjoram, thyme and French lavender) and we get to its left, advancing a short way until we are on a well-marked path.

(5) The path ascends again until it reaches a hill, the Collado de Entrecabezas. Here we have three options:

(6) To turn to the left and go on until the Machota Baja, through Los Ermitaños; or to continue straight ahead and begin the descent towards Zarzalejo among large granite posts, on the path that comes out from the right side of the stream that rises from…

(7) …the Fuente de Entrecabezas and which leads us to the fountain, the Fuente del Rey (around which we will see magnificent chestnut trees, some of which are protected and catalogued as singular trees of the Madrid Autonomous Community);

(8) or to turn to the right and walk up to the Machota Alta, popularly known as the Friar’s Peak, or “Pico del Fraile”. The path continues following the wall which goes up to our right. From this point, we leave the path GR-10. We go over the fence and continue down to the left of the stone wall along a path which, a few metres further along, is well marked. In the first part of this phase, we find ourselves surrounded by juniper, white broom, dog-rose, a large amount of aromatic plants – lavender, thyme, …—, some Holm oak. Almost at the peak, on the other side of the wall, we find an excellent specimen of hawthorn.

We begin the descent following the path, as we have up to now, parallel to the stone wall. A few metres along, the wall changes direction and heads off towards San Lorenzo, leaving a path to the left, parallel to another wall in the direction of the mountain pass, the Puerto de la Cruz Verde. We continue next to the wall until we reach the entrance to a private property from which, in turn, there is an earth track known as the Camino del Ortigal. The vegetation gets thicker and is a perfect refuge for foxes and wild boar.

The Camino del Ortigal continues for some 200m on flat ground, surrounded by white broom, up to a path that goes off on our right, parallel to the metallic fence. This path will take us, on the crest of the slope, to the asphalted surface, always in the direction of the dam, the Presa del Batán, and the Monastery, parallel first to the metallic fence – little more than 100 metres – and after to a stone wall. At the end of the wall, the oak wood. We have two options, both taking us to the asphalted path: one following ahead over the crest of the slope and the other taking the path on the right (which leads into the closed wood of Pyrenean oak, brambles, wild rose and broom) to cross a stream and reach a wide dirt path. We turn along it to the left and go straight to the track (rockroses on the right and ash and oak trees on the left.

(9) We are now once again on the asphalted track, which we take on the right and once at the fountain, the Fuente de la Reina, or the area of the chestnut trees, or Castañar, the ecological path begins. This path, adapted for people who are blind or in wheel chairs, boasts signs providing information. We can enjoy the hundred-year-old specimens of chestnut trees, gigantic lime trees – the Tilo de la Mano lime tree is located on the land of the chestnut wood and two of the chestnut trees in the Arroyo del Carbonel have been classified as singular trees – peonies, hazels, cherry trees, climbing plants, sloes and Pyrenean oak. At the end of the ecological path, a fence closes the path to access by cars and a dirt track coming from the right connects this path with the track that we take after passing the Casa del Sordo and leads us once again to the historic stone chair, the Silla de Felipe II.

Route 1. La Lonja – Monte Abantos.

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Length: 11 – 19 km.

Duratión: 3,4 – 5,8 hours

Dificultad: Degree of difficulty: medium-hard

(1) We leave the stone forecourt of the Monastery, the lonja. As we walk around the edge of the lonja we can see, in the flagstones surrounding it, the plaque that recalls the line of the astronomic meridian at the Royal Estate, created by Luis Ceballos Medrano in 1905. We walk through the stone archway, the Arcos de la Compaña, then turn to the right and go up the avenue Conde de Aranda and continue along calle Pinar.

(2) A few metres further ahead, there is on the left an unpaved street that goes up to a fountain, the Fuente de la Bola. The pine forest that surrounds us is formed by black pine. We continue along the same street to come out next to a reservoir, the Presa del Romeral. Here we can find swifts and martins, and over the mountains, buzzards, booted eagles and, more rarely, pairs of Bonelli’s eagles. Walking along the left side, we reach the so-called ‘Rustic House’, Casita Rústica. Continuing to walk alongside the wire fence, we enter the Miguel del Campo Park, built in 1929, and through which a stream, the Arroyo del Romeral, flows.

(3) In this park are two fountains called the Fuente de la Teja and the Fuente de la Curruca. We find a great variety of tree species such as the Atlas cedar, prickly juniper, numerous specimens of sycamore maple, old lime trees with their characteristic length-wise cracked bark, cherry trees, horse-chestnut trees, Spanish fir, young chestnut trees and elms; old poplar trees… Among the bushes however, we may surprise wrens, Cetti’s warblers and Dartford warblers. We can hear the laughter of the green woodpecker and see a jay or two.

(4) We leave the park down a road parallel to the stream, the Arroyo del Romeral, arriving at a water tank, right on the bend of the road. We go up here a few yards more until we reach an unpaved forest trail: taking this trail, and on the right, we can see a track with the characteristic band of the Path GR 10, in red and white. Now, the main species that populates Mount Abantos begins to stand out: the maritime pine. It is accompanied by ephedra fragilis and broom, gum rockrose, Spanish lavender, daphne gnidium….

The route crosses the road, following the previously mentioned bands, and as we follow them, we see the terracing made in the 19th century in the ground for the planting of the pine forest. There are some bushes of the rose family, such as the blackthorn, hawthorn, dog-rose (its red fruit is commonly called “hips” and is appreciated for its astringent qualities) and blackberry bushes. Along this section, there is an abundance of pinecones nibbled by squirrels (except at the very tops of the trees), marks left by wild boars and the droppings of small mammals such as foxes, martens, and so on.

Further above, the maritime pine gives way to Scots pine, which is easy to distinguish due to its orange-coloured trunk, which will be the predominant species from now on. At this altitude, we can also find rock rose (cistus laurifolius), that differs with the gum rock-rose due to its wider and wrinkled leaves. These are accompanied by ferns, broom, ephedra fragilis, and Spanish lavendar.

We continue our ascension along a path scattered with individual trees of Pyrenean oak, holm oak, Montpellier maple and in the river bed willows, and ash trees. On the branches of the latter, you can see in the summer caterpillars of Abraxas pantaria L. devouring its leaves and hanging from thin threads of silk.

(5) Without crossing the Arroyo del Romeral, we continue upwards until we reach the fountain, Fuente del Cervunal. It owes its name to the Nardus stricta, or cervuno in Spanish, and is accompanied by great willowherb. Overhead are swifts and martins.

A little further up, we take the trail that continues towards the Abantos mountain from the road. On the left, we come out onto the road, close to where the path to return begins: the Camino de los Gallegos. On the right, the track ends at La Casita (known as the Casita del Telégrafo, because it served as a telegraph post in the old flags system).

(6) From here, we can continue on up to there, or turn off to the left a short way beforehand and go up to the peak, the Pico de Abantos. Flying over the gneiss boulders, there are many crows, jackdaws and carrion crows, but also, with a little luck since they are very timid birds, we might see a blue rock thrush.

Behind the meteorological station and alongside a wall is the Master Wall ordered to be built by Felipe II around his dominions. It is about forty-six kilometres in length and nine to twelve feet high. The vegetation is bush vegetation of Spanish gold broom, scattered with woodrush and other herbaceous plants, among which usually hide Iberian, long-tailed and ocellated lizards. It is relatively easy to see kestrels, buzzards, booted eagles and, more rarely, Bonelli’s eagles and goshawks (in the pine woods). This vegetation provides refuge for foxes, rabbits and wild boar, whose marks from digging are quite evident on the ground.

(7) A road descends to the pass, the Portillo de Los Pozos de la Nieve. We arrive at a wire fence that separates the provinces of Madrid and Avila, we cross it and another gate in the fence, the Cerca de Felipe II, permits us to reach a snow well built in times of Felipe III, restored in 1985, and that functioned until 1934. Back to our path and walking closely alongside the wall, we reach another peak, the Alto de San Juan, with views onto the cross of the Valle de los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen) and Cuelgamuros. Here we can observe the jumping places or ramps that Carlos III had built to enable animals to enter.

(8) Finally we descend, passing by the Refuge of the Naranjera, surrounded by small woods containing coal tits, nuthatches, treecreepers, jays and the other species that have already been mentioned. And flying overhead, if we are lucky, we can see Eurasian griffons until we reach the fountain, the Fuente de las Negras. It was precisely in Pinares Llanos where in the spring of 1848 the professor and inhabitant of San Lorenzo, Mariano de la Paz Graell Agüera, discovered for the first time a marvellous butterfly (now a protected species) which he named Graellsia isabelae Graells, in honour of Queen Isabel II of Spain. From here, we take the asphalted path that goes down to San Lorenzo. Passing over the stream, the Arroyo del Tobar, on the left, the Arca de San Juan can be seen.

(9) Our track joins the one which comes from the Fuente del Cervunal, reaching the Puerto de Malagón, where the remains of a snow fall can still be seen. At the end of the bend, we leave the tarmac in order to reach, just a few metres away…

(10) …the Camino de los Gallegos (and the fountain, Fuente del Trampalón). This path surprises the walker with its biodiversity, with larches and a small wood of beech trees. It continues downwards and crosses the road, stopping at the Cordel del Valle. Here it crosses and goes through a door next to an electricity pylon to go towards the wire fence which we follow down to the reservoir, the Presa del Romeral. We continue our path down (passing close to the Arca del Romeral) and reach the avenue Conde de Aranda with horse chestnut trees on each side, where our route began, until we once again have reached the stone forecourt of the Monastery, the lonja.

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