The GC503, is according to Jose, a very important road. It is the only one that effectively crosses the land from SW to NE. It may well be a very important road but it is also exceedingly narrow, exceedingly steep and frankly terrifying in places. Still there is nothing like an adrenaline rush to tell you that you are indeed, still alive and kicking.
How they construct these roads which cling to towering cliffsides over 900m high, I do not know. I always thought Brunel bridge across the Tamar was a marvel of engineering. I am revising my opinion! It is, but road GC503 beats it!
Up through rock barren desolate valleys with small villages and towering lava cliffs either side; up through pine forests which give some relief because they block the view. Blind corners abound; you develop a crick in your neck trying to look up and behind you at the same time to see if anyone is coming down the road above you before you reach that blind double back bend. The car never comes out of second gear; get a corner wrong and it stays in first due to the steep gradient on the bend! At one point, following a fleet of seven van like people carriers, we reached a point in the road where we actually saw all seven up above us, one per switch back. It was awesome and scary at the same time. Seven white mini coaches glued to the cliffside.
Our destination was the interior of the island, the town of Acayata and beyond it Roque Nublo. Our intention to circumnavigate it; do some bouldering on some of the smaller buttresses. The views from the top were said to be simply stunning, across the whole island in every direction and on good clear days across to MT. Teide on neighbouring Tenerife.
We climbed; the Citroen Cactus 1.8 strained. But, it held the corners. It held corners like glue and we were somewhat thankful we had opted for the larger vehicle on this occasion, unlike the year before in Sicily when we opted for a 1.1 Toyota Ayia (very good but positively outstripped on the mountains of Sicily).
Through mountain villages perched on cliff buttresses, white washed, red roofed stone houses and narrow streets with the obligatory simple but stunning church and town square; bright flowers bloomed better the higher we went; gardens with date palms and eucalyptus trees for shade. The higher we went, the more smallholdings we saw. On terraces built into the hillside were ccircular open concrete water tanks, their contents a greenish hue; their sides stained with the tide marks of previous water levels. Most of the tanks we saw were only at half capacity, emphasising the drought that seems to be affecting the island.
The path to Roque Nublo is paved. A sort of crazy, flat boulder paving for the first 300m and after that it is rough track. Tiny rivulets flowed down the middle of the paths. Drips fell from pine tree branches, perfuming the fresh mountain air with their delicate fragrance. Underfoot, large pinecones littered the floor along with 6” soft pine needles. Deep russet brown, they gave the whole orange floor a deep orange colour, very stunning against the vivid fresh green of the needles on the trees.
The views up the path as it ascended steeply would have been stunning. Between the orangery coloured trunks could be seen glimpses of valleys 2 or 3 thousand feet below. I say occasionally, for we chose a day when thick cloud seemed to hang everywhere. Think thick murk that graces Scottish and welsh hill tops; think fine drizzle mist which permeates everything. Think howling force 6 winds. And yes, people really were up there in T shirts, shorts and flipflops. You could spot the British, German and Scandinavians. Dressed in full walking or mountain gear appropriate for the conditions. I’d forsaken walking boots for stout walking trainers but flip flops? Seriously? Adventurous spirit or foolhardiness? Take your pick!
As the path became rockier, conditions became slippier underfoot. Everything had a glistening sheen from dampness. At times, trying to walk the narrow paths with their precipitous drops on one side on slippy boulders and rocks, required good hand and foot coordination! I’m sure at one point I was on all fours crawling along but then I had taken a wrong turning and was skirting a 40m high rock buttress on a path a mere 18” wide. I am always amazed how I haven’t lost my head for heights on paths and ridges like this, yet I can’t go to the edge of my hotel balcony without suffering vertigo. Go figure!
The summit of Roque Nublo, is it worth it? Well the flat pitted rocky plateau at the top was a surprise. Didn’t expect that. The views, well in clear weather, I suspect they would be really stunning and worth the trek.
There are several footpath options. I have been immensely impressed with the network of sign posted trekking routes across the island. At Roque Nublo – you can take the easy option and park within 2 km of the summit, but be aware those car parks get immensely crowded. Or you can follow the road further south and park at more remote car parks and walk the lower circumnavigating routes which eventually wind their way to the top; steeper but frankly less crowded and more impressive!