The LP20 trekking route from Las Briestas to Barlovento is a new route on La Palma which was only cleared and restored in the last couple of years. In fact, many maps apart from the most recently published do not show it.
However, it was once the major route across the north of the island along with El Camino Real, the major difference between the two being that the LP20 is more inland and therefore higher and is what has got to be the most Isolated (note the capital 'I') walking route on the whole island, whilst El Camino Real follows the coast, linking the small villages and hamlets.
The other difference is that up to this week, we had never walked the LP20, well apart from a small section so this one was definitely up for grabs as far as walking exploits go!
The whole route of the LP20 runs from Las Briestas in the north west all the way to Barlovento in the north east and is a distance of 36km. The Senderos de La Palma website, fondly suggests that it takes 7hrs 45mins to walk and intimates that it is 'as good as level.' This was enough encouragement for us to view it as nothing more than a 'bit of a long walk,' even given the accumulated ascents of 650m and descents of 1250m. And as we were splitting the route into two, this walk would surely be a breeze. Wouldn't it?
With a later start than planned, we were ready for the off at 09.30 hrs having left the car in Roque Faro to where we would return later in the day by bus. At the start, we followed the sign for Los Andenes and Roque de Muchachos at the side of the church. It was an easy ascent walking first of all past a few houses (the last houses we would see until the end of the walk at Barlovento) and then a goat farm until we reached the pine forests.
Here the signs deserted us despite a few tempting options to the left and right. We stuck with our instincts though, bearing left which was our general direction and opting for what appeared to be the major route and 20 minutes from the start we were rewarded with a confirming white over yellow blaze. After which of course we came upon several signs indicating very clearly which way to go along with how many kilometres. This was certainly useful as we had at this point to leave the LP9.1 and continue on the LP20 to La Laguna de Barlovento. Yes, that's right, just 19km away.
The walking was quick and easy though and soon the kilometers started to disappear as we forged on along the forest track. I don't mind this type of walking even though there are no real wow factors; in fact I view it as a pleasant gift on a long walk with some tougher stuff coming up.
Even so, it was just over an hour later before we reached the old road across the north, Las Mimberes, 3.6km from the start, this being the road which superseded the LP20. In my opinion it is the most scenic road on the whole of La Palma with hardly any cars on it all as it is purely scenic rather than any form of shortcut. Despite this, we saw three vehicles - one being the bus which we didn't know had a route along there and another was our French guests.
The point at which we arrived on the road is the end of the municipality of Franceses and is also the viewpoint of the Barranco de Los Poleos. From here the view over Franceses and Gallegos is breath-taking along with the sight far below us of the newer main road (LP1) across the north as it twists and turns its way along every bend and curve thrown at it. The uplifting breeze was very refreshing and I wouldn't have minded staying there a little longer but there was a considerable distance yet to go.
The route then followed the old road for 0.6km before we swung a right uphill to take us above the road. With 14.7km to go, we had now left civilization and would not pass any roads or houses until our final destination. At this point, I suggest that walkers should take a reality check and make sure that they really do want to continue because should you need help or assistance, you are in tiring terrain and a long, long way from reaching any point of safety on foot.
We were keen to press on though and we soon came across our first rewarding, or should I say interesting, sight in the form of a pine tree which had suffered from burning in a previous forest fire. Whilst we have seen many trees charred black from fires this is the first one we have seen with resin formed in long droplets, much like dripping candle wax.
Along the way, the path was covered in pine needles forming a soft although slippery bed. It was a bit like walking in sand going uphill and slippery ice going down and we were pleased of our walking poles.
After a total of 3 hours and 20 minutes of walking, we reached the Refugio de Gallegos which is at a significant fire break above Gallegos. We were really pleased to see it because, as the bird flies, it is relatively close to where we live and yet we had never been before. And as luck would have it, it did not fail to disappoint as along with almost every refugio we have been to on the island, it was firmly locked and without the slightest possibility of obtaining water. The only slight saving grace was the two benches at the front of the refugio which might give shelter against wind or rain, although that is dubious as they face north.
After the refugio, I would say that the walking became significantly more arduous with constant ascents and descents making the progress very slow indeed. After another hour and half of walking after the refugio, it seemed inconceivable that we still had 7km to go!
But the route was certainly pretty and with the sunlight filtering through the bushes and trees, we had intermittent shade as we zigged and zagged our way along. Finally, we crossed the Barranco de Gallegos which runs way, way inland and not only was this something of a milestone along the walk, but it was a good time to reflect on the still beauty of this peaceful place.
From now, we felt that we had left the pine forests behind and were walking out of the woods. The tall pine trees were replaced by tall brezo and huge ferns. And then we came to our final descent where we lost 400m of height in 4km. But at least that would put us more or less at our final altitude of 700m above sea level.
Now and again, flat sections were thrown at us which led us to optimistically think, 'this is it' and that we must be on the alluded to easier, flatter part of the walk. Well, to a large extent we were but with still some distance to go. But it made me smile to see all the old signs pointing the way to various pistas (tracks). Can you imagine when this was the main road and you were bouncing along in your charabanc i.e. Santana jeep or probably better still, on horseback.
But of course you would be pleased of the well-made tracks which carried muleteers with their wares and pastors (shepherds) taking their goats to a market on the opposite side of the island. For this was the route they would have taken which would eventually bring them to their first staging post - Roque del Faro, literally Rock of the Light, and how welcome that light would be having traveled on this oh so isolated route.
Still with 3km to go along a winding and gradually descending track, we got our first glimpse of the Laguna de Barlovento in the distance. As we neared our destination, we passed a few workers in the fields. Ah yes, civilization La Palma style.