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WACers in Andalucia – Enero 2009

WACers in Emilio’s bodega: Pete, Ian, Neil, Danny, Jerry, Craig and Tim.

WACer Tim Box owns a small cortijo (farm/smallholding) in an isolated spot on an Andalucian hillside overlooking the village of Alfornon (pop. 106/alt. 760m.). On the land that surrounds it he harvests almonds and also has a few vines. In December 2007 six WACers went out there and used it as a base for some hard running. We had a great time, and ever since we have been hoping to make a return visit. Tim identified the weekend of 17/18th  January as the time to go – no road or cross-country races in Dorset plus the ‘Festival of the Animals’ in Alfornon. We put out an e-mail to see who was up for it and had nine takers – Tim, Jerry Shield, Ian Kennedy, Adie Mead, Terry Simms, Neil Hopkinson, Craig Dixon, Danny Symington and Pete Lemon. The cortijo was a little snug last time with six of us, it was going to be very cosy this time. Unfortunately Adie and Terry had to pull out at the last minute, so this left Tim, Ian and Jerry going out on the Wednesday to be joined by the remaining four on the Friday.

Wednesday 14 January

The advance party flew out from Hurn, and stowed amongst their luggage, was a cake and a candle  – Saturday was Pete’s birthday, plus some beautiful handmade chocolates that Ellen, Tim’s wife, had made, and a bottle of whisky. The chocolates and whisky would be needed for the festival night. The flight was uneventful, but as we approached Malaga we could see snow on the higher ground from our plane window.

We collected the hire car and then had about a three hour drive to Alfornon. The view from the coast road was unimpressive being largely a procession of modern buildings and construction sites, and a little later, poly-tunnels. However, once we turned in land towards Orgiva we were rewarded with some great views. We stopped in Orgiva to get some bread and a few basic supplies, and also a short sojourn in a bar for our first refreshing taste of Alhambra beer. Back in the car we continued the climb towards Haza del Lino, where there was evidence of snowfall from the previous week, before taking the minor road down into the valley towards Alfornon.

The village of Alfornon viewed from ‘Zorro’s’. Tim’s cortijo is top left all on its own on the hillside.

The village of Alfornon is a picturesque sight from this road, as its white-washed houses cling to the side of the valley. The road skirts Alfornon, the main part of the village is inaccessible to motor vehicles, being made up of alleyways and passages, many on steep inclines. Tim pulled up near the tiny village school and got out to turn on the power and the water to his property. He was immediately greeted by ‘Boris’, the dog that adopted us on our stay in 2007. Tim’s cortijo is situated in the campo (open countryside) about half a mile from the village and we have to turn onto the rough track that crosses a couple of barrancos (ravines/gulleys) before getting us there.

The cortijo consists of a very small kitchen area, a bedroom, lounge, shower and the nut store. At meal times we will be eating outside on the patio. Having not been used for about a month, the cortijo is stone cold. There are no snakes sheltering in there this time, but a couple of geckos have decided that the nut store is a bit warmer than the campo. We waste no time in getting some wood in and lighting a fire in the woodburner in the lounge – it will take a good 24 hours before we start to feel any real benefit from this fire.

A short trudge into the village takes us to Lola’s shop. It is quite unlike anything you would expect to see in an English village – if indeed a village of 100 people should be lucky enough to have a shop. There are no signs outside indicating that it is a shop at all, it appears as just another doorway in the village. Once inside it is quite dimly lit and the Dexion shelves support all manner of useful, and to English eyes at least, unusual stock. Tim enthusiastically embraces the Spanish language and catches up with Lola about the goings-on in the village.

On returning to the cortijo Tim knocked up some delicious potato omelette creation. With the light long gone we head back into the village with our head-torches for the first of our visits to the village bar. A stranger to the village would struggle to find it as, just like Lola’s shop, there is no indication of what it is from outside. Inside it is quite spartan, but every time we visited we got a warm welcome. Its single room is only a modest size, on the wall is a great photograph of the elders of the village sat on a wall, we decide that once all seven of us are there we will try and get a similar group portrait of us WACers.


Tim is up early next morning, as we discover the water pump has failed. After about 20 minutes of tinkering with it, it comes back to life. St Wite’s Cross (Dorset’s new flag) emblazoned with the legend ‘WIMBORNE AC’ is hoisted from the trellising on the veranda. Is this the first time this flag has been raised in Spain? After breakfast Tim, Ian, Jerry and Boris set off for around a 4-5 mile run which takes us through the village to the floor of the valley before they tackle a steep climb up a zig-zag to a cortijo which we dubbed ‘The House of Zorro’ (the route up to it cuts Z-shaped scars into the campo). We then return along the dirt road. In the afternoon a top priority is to gather more wood and saw and chop it to feed the woodburner in the lounge, and also the fire we sit around on the patio in the evenings. Later that night sees us once more in the village bar.


Friday morning and Neil, Craig, Pete and Danny make their way to Hurn airport. This is not without its unwanted drama. Three of them get through check-in effortlessly. Danny gets to check-in with only minutes to spare and a belligerent member of staff has decided that check-in is closed – end of story. Danny gets out his paperwork and sees that as he has checked-in on-line the final check-in time is not for another 10 minutes – grudgingly the ‘jobsworth’ allows him to board.

Meanwhile back in Alfornon, Tim is out fixing the water pump again and this time gets to the heart of the problem. Tim, Ian and Jerry head off into Cadiar, a small market town around 18 miles/45 mins away for a breakfast of tostadas, delicious freshly-pressed orange juice and coffee, before getting more provisions in.

On returning Ian and Jerry go for a run down the footpath along the largely dried-up riverbed to a dam in the gorge. Although it is marked as a footpath, the route is severely overgrown and they are forced to return prematurely. Tim spends the time pruning vines back at the cortijo.

The flag that flutters from the trellising is now accompanied by t-shirts which have the WAC logo on them along with ‘Alfornon Enero 2009’ – ‘Alfornon January 2009’. On the reverse of each shirt we have our names translated into Spanish. So Tim becomes Timo, Ian – Ivan, Jerry – Jeronimo, Neil – Niel, Pete – Pedro, Danny – Dani and Craig – Rocoso (or Rocky for short). The red shirts are hung in a line and look like bunting with our names facing out towards the dirt road that the rest of the lads will approach the cortijo on.

With Neil at the wheel, the WACers appear mid-afternoon, and after some catching up, and a brew we set off over the campo to Emilio’s bodega (wine cellar). Emilio is a friend of Tim’s and Tim presents him with a WAC t-shirt. We get amongst the barrels and vats and sample some of the local wine (known as ‘costa’). Craig gets to taste a wine the same vintage as himself – 1982! Having secured an ample supply of costa we head back to the cortijo.

Tim is a great host and the meals consists of whatever meat or fish we can buy fresh, cooked in a big pan of olive oil along with beautiful fresh vegetables. There is a campfire spirit out on the patio that night, aided no doubt by Emilio’s costa and some Alhambra beer. For a short fella Tim tells some tall stories, I don’t believe he ever had an uncle with two wooden legs! Tim’s banjo has spent time near the fire in the lounge since we arrived, it makes its first outing tonight, he reckons it’s sounding so raggedy on account of the strings being cold! ‘Give it a day or two and it will sound better’ he assures us!

Those of us who did the long run to Los Yesos in 2007 are a little nervous of what tomorrow will bring.


The day of the long run to Los Yesos is upon us. We get a good breakfast down our necks. Sort out gels, water, camelbacks etc. We talk about taking the flag – for a photo later in the day. Danny charges off into the campo and returns with an improvised ‘flagpole’ and then secures the St Wite’s Cross to it.

The run itself is out and back to the sea  - 19 miles altogether. It starts with a sharp descent through the village to the valley floor and then after running parallel with a dry river bed there is a very sharp climb to a ridge above the village of Sorvilan. We then run along a perfect traffic-free tarmac road for about 10k in the most outstanding scenery along a high ridge. The descent to the sea is steady at first, but as the tarmac turns to dirt the descent becomes dramatic with a series of zig-zags before we reach shoreline. That description has fallen well short of conveying exactly how tough a run this is. On the journey to the coast the quads take a real pasting, while on the way back there is almost 8 miles of climbing to do.

Craig, Pete & Danny near Sorvilan.

It is a beautiful day, warmish, except deep in the valley near Alfornon which is still in shadow. As we drop in altitude after Sorvilan the temperature starts to rise. We spend a little while recovering on the beach, the temperature is probably mid-70s Fahrenheit. A couple of us dip our feet in the Mediterranean before heading for a nearby bar for food and drink.

After refreshment and a few stretches we must turn around and face that formidable climb back to Alfornon. A couple of early sections of the climb just can’t be run and so we march up them. As miles tick by we have broken into groups with Neil, Jerry, Pete and Craig at the front, Ian in the middle and Danny and Tim bringing up the rear. Danny and Tim present and interesting sight. Danny has carried the flag for the entire run, and looking back down the valley these two figures in the distance look not unlike Don Quixote and Sancho Panza as they make their ascent into the mountains, and the Dorset flag flutters in the breeze.

We learnt from last year’s run to Los Yesos, that no matter how exhausted you are when you get back to the cortijo you have to do some stretches otherwise you are going to have very restricted mobility for the next couple of days. Once we had all showered Tim set to creating more magic with fire, pan and olive oil, the same could not be said of his banjo-playing. Today was Pete’s birthday, we had the fire well alight on the patio and Tim’s ‘La Bomba’ Spanish party music blaring out from the CD player while we were eating. It was also fiesta night in the village. Tim had told us that we would head off into the village once we received the signal. The signal came in the form of two rockets launched from the village square. Tim’s response was to launch a pair of rockets of his own. And then it was time to set off into the village.

Even a village the size of Alfornon has two barrios (districts), each barrio was having its own party to celebrate the Festival of the Animals. We headed for the upper village square. It was a busy scene when we arrived, with meat being cooked over a fire and lots of people around.  Houses crowd around the little square and in the middle of the square was a great pile of brush from the campo. A couple of young children were launching themselves into this from off a low wall. Surely in this confined space they weren’t going to set fire to it – oh yes they were! Whoosh! Up it went, the heat was intense. Meanwhile the meat that was being cooked earlier was ready and we were encouraged to come and get stuck in. Also being handed around were bottles of costa, everyone had contributed something. We handed out our contribution later with the whisky and Ellen’s chocolates.

‘Happy Birthday, dear Pedro’.

We hadn’t forgotten it was Pete’s birthday and his birthday cake then appeared and the women of Alfornon started bellowing out ‘Happy Birthday, dear Pedro’ in Spanish. Pete was looking more than a little bemused at this stage of the proceedings. More rockets were being set off – hand-held! Meanwhile firecrackers were bouncing around our feet, and then out came the rifles for a few shots into the air. The lower barrio’s party was going on simultaneously – with each barrio trying to outdo each other. Certainly a night to remember. What you might call a full day – we slept well that night!


Neil on the way to the ‘House of Zorro’.

The Sunday was a day for recovery, Jerry accompanied by Neil and Craig went and did the run to Zorro’s, this time taking a camera as it affords a great view of Alfornon from the other side of the valley. We then decided to head off to Cadiar and our favourite coffee bar for a late breakfast. Tim had some more vine pruning to do, so stayed behind, the rest of us headed off in the two cars. Turning the cars around at the end of Tim’s track is a tricky business and it takes a minute or two. Reverse too far and you are over the edge of the precipice into the barranco. Neil got his car out first, followed a few minutes later by Ian. At the junction with the main road near Haza del Lino, Neil pulled over and waited. Neil, Danny and  Craig lay in wait for a snowball ambush!! We then headed off for Cadiar, which was a scene of much activity as it was market day.

We headed back to the cortijo making for the restaurant at Haza del Lino for a late lunch. The seven of us sat around a large round table for our last big meal together, before thinking about heading home the following day. We were asked for our order and Tim asked for five minutes – or at least he though he did! Five miniatures appeared. Even when you understand what the menu says it is often hard to predict what you will get. Craig has a reputation for ordering the choto (goat). Danny ordered a ‘combination’, which was some sort of mixed grill. When it arrived it looked more like a bush-tucker trial! No challenge had beaten Danny all weekend, until now! He wasn’t going to collect all the stars on this occasion. His meal consisted of piles of six different types of meat – it was hard to tell what most were. There was not a vegetable in sight!

Danny is still smiling at Haza del Lino, the main course is due shortly!

Tim, Jerry and Craig walked back down into Alfornon, while the rest off us drove into Sorvilan for a look around. We ended up in a friendly little bar on the square. Two guys came in and started beating out a rhythm on empty beer crates. The streets and alleys of Sorvilan seemed very steep after all the hard running of the day before.

Back in Alfornon for our last night, we sat out on the patio. Tim reckoned the banjo was improving in tone, and we did hear something with some sort of tune. We made our way to the village bar for the final time. 


The Monday was all about clearing up and getting back to Malaga for the flight home. There was a beautiful red sky when we awoke and we could see the cloud hugging the coast line some way below us, as we were enjoying some sunshine early on. Once we dropped through the cloud we had an overcast day for what seemed like a long drive back to Malaga.

We got back to Bournemouth having enjoyed an unforgettable weekend, arriving back in the UK absolutely exhausted.


It would to be great to go back to Alfornon with an even bigger group of WACers – there are a couple of houses in the village that can be rented out. With annual road races from both Cadiar and Orgiva what more of an excuse do we need to make a return visit?



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