Wednesday, 10 September 2014
Walking the acequias of the Alpujarra
Many of us who live in the countryside areas around the Sierra Nevada rely upon the acequia system to bring us much needed water. For those not in the know, acequias are man-made water channels which run throughout the area bringing water to lower agricultural land They are often essential, allowing us to grow fruit and veg., fill swimming pools (perhaps illegally) shower or even wash the car.
Thought to have been fully developed by the Moors when they ruled the area, the system probably reaches further back into history. It seems obvious that digging channels to route water to where it was most needed must have gone on for millennia in order to make the most of what is a precious resource. The system has spread across the whole of the region with hundreds of channels creating a massive irrigation system that feeds the whole of the area. On my hillside alone there are four major acequias channels. The Acequia Alta which ultimately feeds my cortijo, runs directly from the Rio Lanjaron at about 1,400m and traverses the hillside before it finishes above the Tablate gorge about whole 10km from its start. En route, sluices allow the water to be managed and fed down a network of smaller and smaller channels before ultimately watering my lettuce.
When walking in the region most of us will have come across acequias. Often with a path alongside, they can provide relatively easy walking routes along steep hillsides and river valleys reaching into the mountain ranges of the area. Whilst providing easy graded walks, they sometimes have short steep sections where the channel itself will be sent down rock outcrops in order to change the level at which it runs. Sometimes however they give much more dramatic walking as they pass through rather than down an outcrop. If you do come across these sections it seems incredible that the original builders had the skill to create these parts of the system. I must admit I actually seek out some of the more dramatic bits and have found many during my exploration of the area.
Some of the best are actually on the Acequia Alta where about 2km from the river the acequia clings to high cliffs above a vertical drop of about 50m. These sections are unfenced and if crossed when the water is flowing are breathtaking. Another dramatic section is found in the Rio Chillar gorge near Nerja. Here the acequia cuts through cliffs high on the east side of the valley. The ‘’path’’ is about a foot wide and runs around the cliffs as the water channel itself runs through on a narrow tunnel. Even though these sections are fenced they still need a good head for heights.
Perhaps one the most used routes is that through the Monachil Gorge. Here though, you may not know it, the channel is covered for most of its length and the acequia takes you through dramatic natural rock scenery.