THE forest fires that hit the headlines in August damaged only 20% of Gomera’s landmass and few places in Europe offer walks to equal those of this still unspoiled island west of Tenerife.
Almost circular, its hub is the extinct volcano of Garajonay, 1,484m above sea level. From here, high, rocky ridges radiate, separated by deep valleys called ‘barrancos’ that descend to the coast.
Public bus services cross the island from the ferry port; schedules allow one to drop off, walk overland and bus back to one’s starting point by another route. A 24-hour visit from Tenerife offers the opportunity of crossing the breath-taking island and staying in the magnificent Valle Gran Rey. A three day trip, with a rented car (about €75) is better.
‘Safari’ tours or one-day bus trips from Tenerife are a waste of time and money. They offer no opportunity to walk and do not visit the most beautiful and wildest parts on the island.
In terms of routes, walkers planning to stay a few days will find an embarrassment of riches and a supportive and sympathetic ambience for their itineraries.
Accommodation is easily arranged, at all standards. Most walkers explore independently but Timah, a German company, organises excellent walks to different venues each day (www.timah.net/).
Myriad paths pass through a unique diversity of scenery, topography and vegetation. For hundreds of years, before the roads, these were the well-made thoroughfares of social and business life, and of the mule-trains carrying produce out of the deep, productive valleys. Some are gentle forest paths, some fierce ascents out of the ravines; all degrees of challenge can be encountered.
The climate is ideal for walking. If it is high summer, the 4,000 square hectares of subtropical rainforest around the heights of Garajonay offers shady respite and a vast variety of exotic trees and endemic plants to investigate and enjoy. The summit is surrounded by National Park, a World Heritage site, a cloud-forest that is the last surviving example of the woodland that covered the Mediterranean area until two million years ago.
On cooler days, or if one starts early or late in the day, one can follow well-marked, stone-laid paths out of the deep valleys to the escarpments above. In spring, and through summer to late autumn, wildflowers abound on these paths, blankets of colour interspersed with extraordinary cactuses and succulents. Corn buntings, now extinct in Ireland, and wild canaries may be seen, soaring kestrels or buzzards, owls and bats at night, and even Houbara bustards if one is very lucky.
For those who can stay only one night, or cross early from Tenerife and return late, the loop walk at Las Creces will be ideal. The plunging ravines and soaring towers of rock like giant menhirs will already have been seen on the dorsal road across the island. Now, a gentle 4.5km stroll will take one deep into the magic of Gomera’s forests.
Cleopatras and Red Admirals flutter in sunlit spaces; at dusk there are moths and bats. The birds are the dark blue chaffinches of the Canaries, and blackbirds: and one may hear laurel pigeons, big, floppy birds found only on Gomera and La Palma.
Advice: Buy Tim Hart’s La Gomera, a Guide. Readily available, it is wonderful on marine life, plants, wildlife, agriculture, history and island paths.
email@example.comDec 15: Ballycotton Cliff, low-level walk, meet car park on left of main entrance to St Colman’s Community College, Old Youghal Road, Midleton, at the 2pm.
Dec 16: Knockmealdown, Grade B, 4hrs., 12km., meet Distillery Lanes Car Park in Midleton, 8.30am.
Dec 13: Moonlight Walk, Easy, 2hrs. approx., meet Playground Car Park in Cratloe Wood, Co. Clare. 7pm.
Dec 11: Tuesday Walk, Grade B&B+, meet car park nof Glencormac Inn, Kilmacanogue, 10am.
Dec. 15: Saturday walk, Grade A, experienced walkers, meet car park rear of church of Kilmacanogue, 9.30am.
Dec 15: Saturday walk ,Grade B walk, moderate, meet car park rear of church of Kilmacanogue, 9.30am.
Dec 16: Sunday walk, Grade C, suitable for beginners, meet Bray DART station, 10.30am.