I walk the line

I walk the line

A couple of weeks ago on a brisk winter's Saturday morning, I volunteered with my neighbor to walk the Acequia (Water Channel/Ditch) de las Encinillas to check it was clear of debris, brambles and any possible deceased wildlife, subsequently opening the flow from the Rio Lanjaron. The acequia lies up the mountain from our property quite a ways and to get to where you can start to walk it, it is best to drive a 4wd up the track. You could take a standard saloon car if you wanted to but I'm guessing seeing parts of your car fall off akin to something out of Beverley Hillbillies as you bump along the track is not a nice way to spend the weekend.

Sweeping views towards the Mediterranean from the acequia trailhead

If you looked over the topographic map of the Alpujarra you'd see a lot of scrunched up lines indicating some very steep terrain. If you take a closer look at these lines, you'd be amazed to see that there exists a colossal network of acequias. This network exceeds over 1,000 kms in length and dates back to the Roman times. Some say that they were then perfected by the Moors who ruled parts of Andalucía from the 8th to around the 15th century.

The network is so extensive that I could walk, if so inclined, from Lanjaron heading east towards Almeria which is over 100 kms away (as the crow flies) by just using the network of acequias, as an alternative to the famous GR7 walking trail.

The acequia in question runs out at an old ruined cortijo way above our property if there is enough flow. It then feeds into a pasture just below the ruin and with any luck over time seeps into our neighbor's springs.

End of the line at the ruined cortijo

This early morning expedition was not my first walk along the Acequia de las Encinillas. Since arriving in June 2021 we have done some running repairs to address rodent and wild boar damage. I've also found myself on the end of our whipper snipper (locally called a strimmer) to clear away the brambles and the overhanging grass and bushes.

Most acequias I've walked or crossed take a slight downwards path towards their end goal. Some in fact go a little uphill should the terrain dictate it. But to get the water from its source to the end goal the downwards flow follows the contours of the mountainside it piggybacks. This ultimately means tunnels are dug and cliff edges are commandeered like some super long rock reptilian and huge chestnut trees are sidestepped like a David Campese dummy from the mid 80's.

Left turn required

What boggles the mind is that when these acequias were created, they were done so by pick, shovel, candle light and hard graft. Huge amounts of earth were rehomed while rocks, heavier then me (lets say over 80 kgs) were either used to shore up the sides of the acequia, cover the top to prevent rock falls or cast aside like some giant fish scales.      

One of the positives of the acequias, besides the delivery of water, is that in most cases a path of some shape and form sits next to the acequia for the majority of its length. This gives you a great chance to walk throughout the Spanish mountainsides without any real fear of losing your way. One of the great walks near our property is alongside the Acequia Mesquerina which delivers water from the Rio Lanjaron to many properties on the eastern side of the Lanjaron Valley as it makes its merry way through the campo.  

The main purpose of walking the Acequia de las Encinillas on this cold winters day was to open up the channel off the Rio Lanjaron and then flood the acequia for those who live in the campo and rely on it for their drinking water or to support their farming needs. The track beside the acequia runs for about 4 kms along the mountainside with some parts of it barely clinging to the edge. It's not going to be a favorite haunt for those who suffer from vertigo but as I've been taught by my walking buddies, don't look down and just put one foot in front of the other.  

At the meeting point of the Rio Lanjaron, there were several other channels, each one having a metal gate and pin to control the onward flow to other acequias or the meandering rate of the river. On this occasion we closed off 3 gates, opened up the gate Acequia de las Encinillas to judge its potential and by tweaking the pin position on all the gates locked in the best possible flow.

Generally the acequias stay open for 24 hours depending on the overall flow of the Rio Lanjaron. This in most part is determined by the amount of snow melt and rain in the Sierra Nevada but to ensure all is aboveboard the nominated acequia boss is charged with walking the acequias and turning them off again to reset their flow regardless of rain, hail or snow.

With our jobs done, the last thing to do was to follow the acequia back to our ride. I don't know about my neighbor, but the sound of the birds, the gentle flow of the water as it searched its way along the acequia and the whistle of the wind in the trees trumped Johnny Cash on this occasion.