As co-ordinator for the WARM walking group I'm occasionally asked about how to find new routes, so I thought that I would pass on some of the things that I've learned, in case it can be of help.
When my husband and I first came to Murcia, we discovered leaflets with descriptions of local walks in various Town Halls (Ayuntamientos). Other material is available from the visitor centres that you find in the Regional and Natural Parks such as El Valle and Sierra Espuña. The leaflets show maps of the paths (senderos) that have been officially adopted. You can also go online to Wikiloc for more.
The official routes are classified into 3 categories according to their length; GR, PR and SL:
GR - Grandes Recorridos (long; more than 50km and marked in red and white stripes).
PR - Pequeños Recorridos (less than 50km and marked in yellow and white stripes – see photo)
SL – Senderos Locales (local; less than 10km, marked in green and white stripes).
Local Town Halls and other groups often mark other routes in a range and combination of colours.
Obviously you don't have to walk the full length of any route. In the summer when it's too hot to go very far, we'll often leave home early in the morning and walk for an hour, then retrace our footsteps, just to learn the path. I record the route on a phone App and Martin writes notes about the various decision points or any landmarks to follow. Occasionally, at points of confusion, we may erect a small cairn of stones. After a while, we started combining routes and adding in little bits that we've discovered for ourselves either on the ground or from walking maps. We try to create a circular itinerary and to walk in both directions - you also notice different things when following the same path in the opposite direction. We've learned a lot of routes from our Spanish friends or other explorers of whatever nationality and recently took advantage of the plastic streamers hanging from woodland trees that mountain bikers had used to mark one of their new trails.
On the official leaflets, each route has its own code number. For instance, the GR251 runs from Yecla to Caravaca de la Cruz (see photo of typical double-barred cross sign). It forms part of a whole network of Pilgrims' paths that terminate in Caravaca in the same way as the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. If a long route has an 'E' after its name then it forms part of a European path eg. GR7-E4 runs between Andorra and Gibraltar.
The signs for these routes can be anywhere – on posts, trees, rocks, buildings – you have to keep your eyes open. This winter, six of us got lost on a new route because the signs were on rocks and hidden under the snow! Generally I would advise that if you're doing recces in unknown terrain, you should go with company and carry essential equipment (food, water, whistle, boots, sticks, adequate clothing, sticks, GPS or equivalent, maps etc.) Don't separate from one another and remember that mobile phone coverage isn't always available. The snow recce (although at one point we were trying work out which cave we might have to shelter in overnight) has since become another amusing anecdote in our repertoire. We'd pondered the idea of eating the youngest should we get desperate – she would of course have the most tender meat, but she soon put us right with a "You'd have to catch me first!". It was certainly true that she could run much faster than the rest of us!
Walking Maps: in Murcia there's an excellent place to buy maps if you can find it!
Ministerio de Fomento, Centro Nacional de Información Geográfica, Plaza de Las Balsas, 1, 1st floor, 30004 Murcia.
The Tourist Information centres have a city map and can help you to locate the square. It's sort of between the Cathedral and the University de la Merced, not too far from Plaza de Cetina. The building is on the corner of the square and upstairs is an Aladdin's cave of maps. The best scale for walking is 1:25000. Go to the reception desk and get a plan of how the numbering system works – it'll help a lot when you're looking for the map(s) that you want.
Other Rights of Way
A rambla is a river bed that is normally dry, but can quickly become a death trap if there's a flash flood. People are killed in ramblas every year so be aware of weather and ground conditions if you intend to walk along one. Ramblas are public rights of way and were used traditionally for communication between populations, so they are an excellent place to walk. If it's deep you may not have phone coverage. It may also be a very hot place with little shade during the summer months.
Vereda, Cañada or Vía Pecuaria (see photo) on a map, are also public rights of way. Traditionally they were drovers' roads that were used for the seasonal transfer of livestock between summer and winter pastures or the market place.
When walking on routes that you've put together yourself which may not be within the network of official routes, it's also useful to know about the MP stones that you see in the public mountains. The letters stand for Monte Público and each one is numbered and recorded electronically in a national register. Each stone is a marker on the boundary and the public side is the one opposite the letters (i.e. the lettered side may be private land).
If you are anywhere near the Ricote Valley then I can recommend a book that may be useful:
Rutas por las Sierras de Ricote y del Oro (Routes in the Sierras of Ricote and El Oro) by Héctor Manuel Quijada Guillamón and Jesús Castaño Molina, published March 2014 by NATURSPORT Ediciones
ISBN 978-84-96396-60-9, D.L. (Depósito Legal) MU-322-2014
It is written in both Spanish and English and covers 17 routes (walk and/or bike) and describes the history, geology, biology plus lots of other interesting info.
I hope that all this rambling (no pun intended!) hasn't put anybody off finding new routes and that you've found something helpful. Despite the 'snow adventure', our years of exploring have brought us the richest of memories, a lot of laughs and wonderful friendships. Get out there and do some of your own exploration. We're living in a paradise which has an incomparable richness of diversity of flora, fauna, history, architecture and language. I could go on! Murcia is a photographer's dream!