El Pilar to Santa Cruz PR-LP18 (13.4km)

Still on the theme of walks that involve the capital of Santa Cruz - but not the GR130 Camino Real - our latest expedition was something quite different to the Santa Cruz to Las Nieves walk and definitely longer. Five hours of steady trekking downhill tends to sort out the men from the boys and those with dodgy knees! 
The walk starts at the Refugio El Pilar - a glorious campsite at 1400m above sea level. Of course, it's not on a bus route or anything as easy as that but taxis are well used to taking people up there. At 25€ it was a fair price and we also got to learn a few short cuts as the taxi wended its way out of the city and through the suburbs before hitting the long and winding road up to the Refugio. 
The Refugio is a lovely place - an old favourite - and we have camped there several times and enjoyed a good many bbq's with groups of friends too. But this time, we hit the road straight away, following the walking sign to Santa Cruz. Incidentally, it is also the GR131 El Baston, which follows the same route for the first few minutes. 
With quite a chilly start at this altitude, we set off at a brisk pace walking on a downhill slope which soon became much steeper. We had seen mountain bikes at the start and could hear their shouts - there was no way they could make this path though - it was now a series of steep zig-zags over very rough terrain. Yes, you guessed it, two minutes later the bikes started to pass us and I was too surprised to even take a photo!
Fifty minutes from the start we arrived at the very attractive recreation area of Pared Vieja. Although the road passes just by here, I have to admit to not having been there before. A first - and one of the longest picnic tables I have ever seen! A great spot to stop for breakfast though and maybe even call back one day for a BBQ.
Crossing the road onto the next section of walk, we quickly met the road again and this was repeated - path, cross road, path, cross road. Happily, the road is very quiet and attractive with hardly any traffic, so this was no hardship.
Three kilometres from El Pilar, the path split with Santa Cruz to the right on the PR18 and El Llanito on the PR18.2. The later would also get us to Santa Cruz and on what looked to be a more interesting route and so we hung a left and followed the El Llanito sign.
The pine forests now gave way to lush fields and country paths lined with short, stone walls. Reminiscent of Ireland, or so I'm told, and although I've never been to Ireland, I can fully image that's just how it looks.
Two hours 45 minutes and 6.3km from the start of the walk, we had arrived back in civilization - houses, yay! In fact, not just any civilization but the area of Brena Alta and the Route of the Crosses. 
Now began a fascinating trail, cross by cross, each one with its name and information about its history. Fifty minutes later, we were still wading our way through the crosses! 
Now we had reached San Pedro and whilst the route was not immediately obvious, we remembered having puzzled it out before because from here on in, we had joined the GR130 Camino Real. Plain sailing!
A little bit of walking at the side of the wide and important looking road (but in reality with very little traffic) and then we took a right down past the Maroparque zoo. Here, we paused for coffee and then got our teeth into the steep descent down to Santa Cruz.
The narrow, cobbled streets streamed downhill towards the capital past every colour and every style of house. Meanwhile, the road wound its way down the hill like a slithering snake with our route cutting through it at right angles like a hot knife through butter. How tempting it would be to actually catch the bus. which we seemed to magically be keeping up with. But no, this had to be done although by now our knees were starting to remind us that this had been quite a long descent.
But so very worth it.

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