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El Chorro - by Hector Christie

Question: What have scary walks, bagpipers, kings and Frank Sinatra all got in common?

Answer: They all have links to one of the most fascinating, yet secret of places in Spain; - El Chorro.

Secret it may be, but it does attract a band of afficianadoes, and there is a definite community who connect here through a shared love of ‘hidden gems’. It’s also a place for adventurers and a community of ‘curious travellers’ although, this community is surprisingly small in international terms and you’re more likely to connect with more local - i.e. Spanish - enthusiasts here. However, one online British writer enthuses, “The El Chorro area is undoubtedly stunning. I am always amazed by just how few people are there - for me it beats the Peak District with no crowds, great for a swim, kayak, or pedalo on the lake in summer, or a gentle hike to the dams. The walk from the village up to the Kings’ Bridge is well worth the effort.”

I’d add to his list of attractions the musicality of the names here too:- El Chorro itself, El Caminito del Rey, and the Los Gaitanos Gorge, which translate respectively as the Spurt, (El Chorro is a place where several rivers come together), the Kings Path, and the Gorge of the Bagpipers. And I haven’t even got to Frank yet.

The Bagpipers Gorge may be the most directly musical name, but it’s the King’s Path which is unique. Sure there’s hiking, biking, climbing and canoeing here, but other places have all these in differing combinations too. What they don’t have though is, ‘the world’s scariest pathway’.

The Kings’ Path is a man made walkway pinned along the steep walls of the narrow gorge of El Chorro and is in a state of severe disrepair. It has gone for many years without maintenance, and is in a highly deteriorated and dangerous state. Only three feet wide, it hangs 700 feet above the river. Some parts of the path have completely collapsed and have been replaced by a Via Ferrata beam and a metallic wire sunk into the wall. Narrative description has a limited ability to capture this phenomenon and, it’s truly the case that a picture is worth a thousand words here.

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The pathway was constructed in 1906, as an inspection aid for the new hydro electric scheme that saw the construction of the dam that harnesses the power of the aforementioned rivers. Although completed long before, it wasn’t until 1921 that the king took his walk and gave the path its royal connection. Newly built, then of robust construction, with handrails in situ, the walk would still have been an exposed, airy adventure, but without the adrenaline rush that it became in the final decade of the last millennium when I gave it a go. Then, although officially closed, it had the feeling that the authorities were going through the motions. You felt nobody really was that concerned if you were foolhardy enough to ignore official warnings. I can remember startled looking faces at the carriage windows as the Malaga to Seville train sped past directly opposite, and a distinct feeling of relief when my wife turned back ‘forcing’ me to follow suit protesting loudly all the while. Now, it’s different story, following further deterioration, and the death of four walkers, including an experienced Spanish guide, between 1998 and2000.

Those who continue to walk there perhaps do not understand that the problem is one of bio-degraded concrete which gives no warning as it turns to dust and pitches anything on it into the abyss. Furthermore, nowadays if the pathway doesn’t get you, an increasingly vigilant Guarda Civil might, leading to a heavy fine. Whilst there are these disincentives to actually walk the Kings path, there are still excellent reasons to visit, as the whole area offers spectacular views, and I found it worth a revisit in 2010, without the drama of the walk.

Which is where Frank Sinatra comes in. In 1965, his movie with Trevor Howard, Von Ryans Express was filmed here, because of the splendour of the scenery, and Sinatra’s demise near the end of the film in the railway scenes took place here. So, if this piece has inspired you, join in with Frank. Altogether now:-

“Start spreadin’ the news,
I’m leavin’ today
I wanna be a part of it - - “

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By air.

Malaga airport is the international gateway to Southern Spain, and is accessible from most major UK airports.

By Road

Having described the town of Teba as another entry I’ll begin by pointing out in case you want to link a visit to both, that it lies 19 miles from Teba to the SW on the A357.

However, if coming from the coast take the N340 to Malaga and from there the University turnoff, on to the A357. Staying on it, drive for about 40 minutes and then take one of two alternatives. Either take the turn off for Alora and go through the village, keeping a look out for signs for El Chorro, or stay on the main road and follow signs for Ardales/El Chorro. It should take about one hour from Malaga.

By Rail

There is an efficient sub line which you can take from Malaga to Alora.From there you will need to take a taxi or hitch hike the six or so miles to El Chorro.

You can go direct to El Chorro, but there is only one train per day in the evening which would necessitate an overnight stay.

Where to stay

There is a hotel close to the station, called La Garganta. It’s in a former mill with restaurant on the ground floor and accommodation on the upper floor. Tel:+34 952 495 000

A B&B called The Olive Branch is also convenient for the gorge.Tel:+34 951 312 958

When to go.

If your main reason for going is walking or climbing, between the middle of October and the beginning of May might suit best, as in summer inland temperatures can regularly hit 40. Beware, however, that in those earlier months the evenings can be very cold when in Spanish built houses and we had to ask for extra blankets and a room heater where we stayed.