When guidebooks go bad…

Have you ever done a walk where the guidebook seems to have gone to a completely different place? This was one of those days: when the guide said “stay on a narrow, sometimes unclear path that leads you between ancient oak trees” I would have said “traverse across a desperately steep scree slope on faint goat tracks; beware of the goats showering rocks on you”. Maybe I didn’t find the same route, but it started and finished at the same places, although the guide claimed there was a shepherd’s hut in between.

Pleasant oak woodland or horrendous scree?

Anyway, the place was the Serra Oseli, on the East side of Codula Luna, again in the Supramonte of Sardinia, and apart from trackless, goat-filled scree, it had plenty to offer. It set off traversing a wooded hillside before climbing to yet another shepherd’s hut, this one tucked under an overhang on a beautiful spur. After this came the scree,  followed by an awkward descent down scree, at the bottom of which I stopped for lunch with a friendly lizard, having reached a track that provided a reassuring escape route if things ahead continued in a similar vein.

The attractive lizard I shared lunch with.

Happily, they didn’t. The scree was less steep, and the path had been reinforced so apart from a small scramble up a rockface, travel was swift to the next sight, the outlet of the short, narrow, but impressively tall Gorroppeddu gorge. I scrambled up it as far as I could,  but was stopped by a step I thought I could probably climb, but might not be able to get back down. Little did I know that it would take 2 hours to get to the other side of the step!

The awkward step in Gorroppeddu gorge. Two hours later I’d be at the top of this.

After the gorge scramble progress was swift to another hut, at Cuile ‘e Ghirovai. This was again under an overhang, and clearly some shepherd really wanted to get to the top, as they had constructed a spectacular route featuring a rock and juniper log staircase up the rockface (known locally as a “Scale ‘e Fustes”). 

The unlikely Scale ‘e Fustes constructed by the shepherds.

From the top, the path pretty much vanished into the vegetation, and clearly the guidebook anticipated this as they made it clear which col to aim for. After some searching for cairns, I gave up and made for the col over very sharp limestone, and met the path I’d been looking for there. The col led into a pocket valley that was the catchment for the gorge, so I headed for the lowest point, which featured a grove of lovely old Yew trees. From there I scrambled down the same gorge I’d scrambled up earlier until again stopped by a step I couldn’t easily descend. Interestingly, I found two dug cave entrances on the way down.

The Yew trees and gorge entrance from the top.

After the gorge I headed out of the valley over another col, at which I took a quick detour to the top of the Serr Oseli ridge I’d been circumnavigating all day, before a lovely long trail run back to the car.

The ridge I’d spent all day circumnavigating.

Gola de Su Gorropu, a very deep gorge

With rain forecast for the afternoon, I decided on a shorter route with hopefully no scrambling which could be tricky on wet limestone. The walk I chose was to the top end of the Gola de Su Gorropu, apparently one of deepest gorges in Europe. It started off through pretty woodland with wild peonies and other flowers,  before heading over steep limestone, past the picturesque local shepherd’s huts and using some of their unlikely pathways built of juniper logs supporting stones. Eventually (after I’d spent quite a while traversing the valley side having lost the path) I headed down towards the dry riverbed in the bottom of the valley, led by a prominent hut on the other side, and managed to locate the route down and up the steep sided canyon.

The shepherd’s path, supported across the steep rock by juniper branches.

From there I carried on on a much clearer track, past a massive old Yew tree and a bronze age passage grave, or Giant’s Tomb as they call them here, before starting to descend into the Gorropu gorge itself. Just before the steep part of the descent a side trail led to Sa Pischina, a pool of water with massive overhangs on two sides and a spout for a waterfall to plunge into it when the river is flowing.

Sa Pischina from under the biggest overhang. Too bad the waterfall wasn’t running!

The descent into the gorge was fantastic, with another pool below and the deepest part of the canyon in the distance, all picked out in horizontal layers of limestone. Remarkably, for such a spectacular walk, at this point I met the only other hiker I would see all day, a German woman who was returning from the canyon floor as I was descending.

Gorropu gorge on the descent.

The track reached the riverbed at the pool, and I stopped for lunch before exploring the canyon. Downstream I got to a vertical drop into a deep pool, with a cable leading around the side. Unfortunately I hadn’t brought a climbing harness so I left that for another day. I then headed up the side canyon that was the end of the valley I’d been walking down earlier. I was hoping to reach a waterfall issuing from a cave entrance high above, but as I was scrambling up to the foot of it, the rain started and I decided the rocks was much to slippery to remain there once it got wet, so beat a hasty retreat.

The pretty pool where the path, and the valley I’d been following, meets the main Gorropu canyon.

The route back was supposed to be the reverse of the way there, but when I got to the point where I needed to cross the valley it was raining pretty hard and, concerned by the possibility of traversing long distances on wet rock I instead opted for a long, boring, and featureless slog along a dirt road back to my car. The only interest on the return was when the now quite heavy rain turned to snow for a while. I arrived back at the car just before the German woman, who told me the other trail had been fine in the rain, so all that boring running on the road was for nothing.

Looking down the side canyon. It’s amazing where the juniper trees manage to grow.

This evening I’ve been invited by the B&B host to a typical Sardinian meal, at which, so he says, there will be enormous amounts of food, so it’s good that I’m currently starving, having been trying to resist the urge to eat since the end of the hike.