Los Barruecas Natural Park
Introduction — In the beginning
Earth's first rocks are said to have been formed over 3,500 million years ago. Since then the planet has gradually, and sometimes violently, evolved. Around 575 million years ago, during a time known as Pre-Cambrian, the land mass that would become the Iberian Peninsula was attached to the north of a large continental plate. This plate, along with others, was subject to immense geographical change, over time. Volcanic activity everywhere caused massive erruptions of magna that cooled and formed granite. As the continental plates moved, shifted and drifted to form the land masses we recognise today, the granite was covered by sea or eroded over millennia by the actions of wind and water in the form of rain, snow and ice. In many parts of the world the Pre-Cambrian granite eroded altogether. Only in a few geographically favourable areas has the rock survived and one of those areas is in Extremadura.
Man has had a hand here for thousands of years and there are cave paintings (slight), the remains of a Neolithic village, a Roman villa and some granite anthropomorphic tombs. These are all very vague — and vaguely signposted — and I have yet to discover them all but the ones I have found are worth the effort. The mill and the buijo (traditional shepherd's hut) are substantial and interesting.
Los Barruecos is, of course, home to many birds attracted to the water; storks, swallows, warblers, herons, cormorants, mallards and other ducks, grebes, booted eagles, lesser hawks and any number of more common birds. The countryside supports hare, rabbit, weasel, fox, otter and many amphibious creatures. There are flowering plants and bushes especially white broom, and while year-round there are birds to be seen, spring remans the best time for flowers.
In 1996 Los Barruecos became a Natural Monument and has attracted historians, archeologists, geologists, ornithologists, botanists and walkers ever since. It is a favourite place with Cáceres inhabitants at weekends.
Los Barruecas lies to the west of Cáceres just outside the village of Malpartida de Cáceres. The park is signposted from the N-521 but, to be honest, the route through the village to get to the park is very confusing. The answer is to keep going as straight as possible on seeing each sign, until you see the next one. Do not make any turns unless directed.
Once at the park there is an Interpretation Centre, currently (2015) under refurbishment, which does give out maps and information. The Interpretation Centre is open daily 09.00-14.00 and 15.30-18.30 (winter) and 20.00 (the rest of the year). Phone: 0034 927276236
There are several parking areas, three distinct colour-coded routes plus a few lesser routes, a restaurant (the old wool-washing building) and museum. The museum (shut Mondays) displays the work of a modern German artist, Wolf Vostell. If you want a table at the restaurant at the weekends it is essential to book. The food is amazing!
Start: at any one of the parking areas
Finish: back at the start
Time: this depends on the route but allow from 1-4 hours
Distance: from 2.60km to 8.00km
Elevation: lowest 340m, highest 380m
Route: all circular — map by Google
The park is easy to walk and I have not listed GPS points as such. The signposts in the park are colour-coded and walkers are advised not to stray from the paths. The most important reason is to protect the wildlife, especially the nesting birds. A lesser reason is that, in times of high water, it is possible to find yourself sinking into boggy bits when you least expect it. Also, some of the rocks are deceptive. They can be gentle on one side, only to leave you many metres above ground on the other side. Take care!
The red route is 2.60km and very easy. It passes both the buijo and the mill but is a very good lake for bird watching and picnics.
The blue route is 3.50km and the most interesting in terms of ancient remains and history. Some of the walk passes through low-growing flowering bushes and the path becomes less clear. However, no one has ever been lost in the park — it's not that big!
The green route is 6.50km and covers most of the interesting sights. If you add the southern loop of the blue route the walk will be 8.00km.
The map key:
A = Art as in Cave Paintings
B = Buijo as in Shephard's Hut
I = Interpretation Centre
M = Mill
P = Parking as in do not park anywhere else
R = Restaurant and Vostell Museum
T = Tombs
V = Vostell's Open Air Installation 'The car in the countryside'
Specific directions for a three hour ramble
Start at the Interpretation Centre.
1. N39º 25' 11.20" W06º 30' 27.28"
Walk in the direction of the Vostell Museum, turn left at the museum to pass it with it on the right. Walk uphill on a compacted earth track. Pass through a gate (close it behind you) and continue up to the top of the small hill. From here there is a great view of the lake, Charca de Barrueco de Abajo, with the prominent rounded granite rocks on the far side called, Peñas del Tesoro, behind. Follow the compacted earth track, ignoring junctions off to the left. Keep the water on the right. The track bears right around a spur of the lake.
2. N39º 25' 32.56" W06º 30' 13.10"
Continue to follow the lake around until its most northerly tip after which is a crossroads.
3. N39º 25' 37.47" W06º 30' 03.48"
Take the track straight over and walk on the slightly elevated side of a stream bed until you reach the most northerly lake in Los Barruecos, Charca de Frasco Diez. At a junction with another track turn right to put the water on the left.
4. N39º 25' 53.78" W06º 29' 47.80"
Continue to reach a junction and turn right going away from the lake. Follow a footpath through rocks, scrub, flowering bushes and more rocks to arrive at a compacted earth track and a junction with four other tracks.
5. N39º 25' 36.49" W06º 29' 36.92"
Take the second left track and keep on it to reach the Charca del Barrueco de Arriba.
6. N39º 25' 38.37" W06º 29' 27.84"
The track becomes a footpath that goes through scrub and rocks, away from the water to reach the Buijo, a traditional shepherd's hut.
7. N39º 25' 40.88" W06º 29' 14.46"
The walk continues through a small cleft in the rocks just beyond, and to the right of the hut. The path goes downwards through rough scrub but quickly picks up a better defined path at a T junction.
8. N39º 25' 39.68" W06º 29' 09.00"
Turn left, follow the path to reach a gate. Go through and close it behind you. Follow the path as it bears right to go around the north end of the lake. At a T junction with a compacted earth track, turn right. Keep the water on your right and keep to the path as it follows the edge of the lake. Pass, and ignore, a junction on the left, after which the track bears right to keep following the water's edge.
9. N39º 25' 28.01" W06º 29' 06.53"
Ignore turnings on the left and keep on the main track with the water on the right. Reach a mill on the right and make the very slight detour to explore it and see the water from the mill race. Just after the mill, turn left on to a footpath that follows through bushes, scrub and rocks to reach an spur of the Charca del Barrueco de Abajo. There are numerous paths here and they visit different features of the park, all signposted. Turn left and walk towards the giant rocks, Peñas del Tesoro, on the left. Arrive at Vostell's Set Outdoors — a concrete and car sculpture which is supposed to be an anti-car in the countryside statement but you can decide what it is for yourself.
10. N39º 25' 11.20" W06º 30' 27.28"
From there, follow the path downwards until a junction on the left is reached. From here a signpost gives directions to the area with the cave paintings and the ruins of a Roman Villa, which is almost worth the detour. From the junction with the signpost, keep the water on the right and walk back to the Vostell Museum but, better still, an open-air courtyard where you can have refreshments while watching the birds fly overhead.
Photos: March, May, October, December