When you think of Benidorm I would think the first thing that would come into your head would not be hillwalking. Johnny Vegas, beer, sunshine perhaps, but not hillwalking. Which is a pity as the area is surrounded by some impressive mountains, including the most noticeable, Puig Campana, with it’s distinctive slot. There are numerous legends regarding this neatly cut window in the silhouette, most seeming to tie it to the rock which lies in the bay just off Benidorm, one that is reproduced on local signs is that of Roldan, whose lover was cursed, fated to die when the last rays of the sun had gone. In a vain attempt to save her he slashed a chunk from the mountain to allow the sun through, but was unsuccesful. Puig Campana rises to a height of 1406m, higher than Ben Nevis, but unlike Fort William doesn’t consist entirely of shops selling fleece jackets.
I was staying in Albir, near Benidorm, but having no hillwalking gear with me there was no chance of climbing Puig Campana. However overlooking Albir is Sierra Helada, the “Ice Mountain”. At 438m above sea level it’s no giant, and no specialist gear is required. I was visiting Albir Lighthouse, a stunning building perched high above the sea, in the Sierra Helada national park, when I noticed a track leading uphill from the main track, signposted in Spanish. I couldn’t understand all of it but it gave me the idea of trying to follow it, and seeing whether it would take me to the top of the hill, where a large transmitter sits. At the other end of the mountain is Benidorm, and the Benidorm Cross, visible from the beach, and home to a geocache which I had hoped to visit. If I could get to the mast I could then judge whether to head along the coast to the cross, and on down to Benidorm. Google Earth also helped me recce the route, now all I needed was a few hours to spare.
The opportunity arose late one afternoon when the sky had clouded over slightly, reducing the temperature to a more comfortable level. From Albir I followed the road uphill through a cacophany of cicadas, to a car park marking the entrance of the Parc Natural Sierra Helada, through the trees, to a picnic spot.
Just beyond this is a signpost marking the start of the trail from which I managed to figure that the journey should take between 4 and 4 ½ hours. I figured I could do it in less time than that, but just how much I would find out later.
The track was, like much of the country here, dusty and rocky. I was wearing open sandals and found them to be ideal in these warm conditions. They are a very practical item of footwear, but of limited use in Scotland with much lower temperatures. I would enjoy the novelty of it while it lasted.
Here and there I noticed the international signposting of the hillwalker in evidence: cairns. Nothing large, but enough to supplement the local method of path marking, splashes of paint on trees or rocks.
I’ve always been supportive of the idea of marking paths, even though this isn’t popular here. Even experienced navigators need a hand now and again, and I can’t understand why people who trek abroad and praise the waymarking on the continent then return home with the attitude that “of course it shouldn’t be allowed here…”
The path initially twisted and turned a little, climbing up through pine woods, the ground littered with needles and twigs. Were it not for the sunshine and sandals it could almost be like home. The path then breaks on to the ridge leading up towards the mast, following a line of electricity pylons. Behind me lay Albir and Altea, against the stunning backdrop of the Sierra de Bernia, and the curving coast ending with the sheer cliffs of the Penon de Ifach.
As I neared the top I could see shapes in the rock, similar to those I have seen next to pools in the highlands or on beaches, an indication that these rocks were once underwater. This coast received its distinctive angular shape when the African continent shifted northwards, pushing this rock over a thousand feet clear of the sea, and when the path skirts the edge of the drop to the mast you get the chance to see just how high that is.
Way below is Albir Lighthouse, itself situated on the cliff edge hundreds of feet above the waves. The mast and its accompanying buildings sit virtually on top of the cliff at a height of 438m, and I had to skirt along the edge to reach the trig point. From my hotel to the summit had only taken an hour, at a reasonable pace. Granted I wasn’t carrying any heavy bags, but I was pleased that I had managed so well in the heat.