Getting Close-serola

Barcelona, post-1992 Olympics, is a story that has been told countless times in print, conference rooms and tour guide banter: finally, after decades with their backs to the Med and their plumbing pointing straight into its immediate depths, the Barcelonins gave their stretch of coastline a spring clean and reacquainted themselves with their maritime souls.

It’s an account that washes over some contradictory and more place-specific detail.  For insight, talk to some old-timers in the sea- and portside neighbourhood of La Barceloneta, or ask questions about the former shanty town neighbourhood, El Somorrostro.  A good source of such insight might be La Barceloneta Rebel.

My point is that the situation today is generally the reverse.  From their homes and workplaces the attentions of many Barcelonins are directed to the beach, to a stroll in sea breeze reverie, or to a plate heaped with steaming cooked gifts from the sea and rice paddy.

Meanwhile, the thoughts of a small minority of Barcelonins slip through the backdoor to the hills behind this compact metropolis: La Collserola natural park.

Ring-fenced by motorways and an urban population of more than 3 million, Parc Collserola is the biggest metropolitan park in the world, equivalent to twenty-two Central Parks (New York).  The Carretera de les Aigües–an accessible, broad 20-km track with panoramic views of sea and city–is very popular with cyclists, runners, walkers and horse-riders.  Yet despite its proximity to the city and the estimated two million visits it receives a year, the interior of the park is relatively unknown to many Barcelona-dwellers, including myself.

So, with a good friend in town, warmer weather having warmed the loins, and Spring rains having turned up the green tones on the city’s terrestrial backdrop, a “brilliant” thought occurred to this concrete-tredder: “let’s go for a walk up there, just there [pointing out a wedge of the view from my balcony], and let’s walk there from my door”.

The following morning I was struck by my ignorance of the environment I was in.  I had been up to the park numerous occasions before, so this was by no means my first visit, but…  I realised I was a typical Barcelonin.

Yet it takes time–in books and in the field–to develop the kind of knowledge and familiarity you need to be able to interpret what you can see, hear, smell, touch and even taste in the Collserola Park.  So two weeks later and I was back, with a larger group of friends from the city (not from elswhere), a group of friends of the Xarxa de Turisme Responsable/ICRT Barcelona in fact, and we were on a mission to “get closer” to this natural area (so much more natural than the dredged up beaches of the city).  The idea was pool our knowledge of the park’s features in a day’s walking and talking together.

It came off.  Evarist March of NaturalWalks joined our group in the afternoon and led us “by the most natural route possible” from the top of the Collserola park down to the station for our suburban train back to Barcelona.  One of the most interesting facets of the conversation along the way related to public attitudes to this Natural Park.  While it seems much of the media and public discourse on the park is negative, pointing to issues such as the risk of forest fires and wild boars encroaching on peripheral residential areas, few stories celebrate the beauty and mere existence of this diverse natural area so close to the city.

A day out in Parc Collserola to enjoy and better understand the park, its nature and use

Also among us were an ornithologist, a landscape architect, a photographer and a counsellor.  And with a little pre-trip reading, we were set up for some interesting observations.  Here are the notes I took that day:

—     leaving behind the noise of the ring-road and entering “another place”.

—     no hoopoes this time–they’re migratory, suppose it was time they’d moved on.

—     a splendid garden, or a path up a south-facing valley where lavender, broom and a dozen other flowering plants and shrubs I can’t name perform for us in warm sunshine?

—     rock roses displaying their papery petals

—     hearing about the sex lives of different pine trees.

—     Caça Controlada, i.e. yet more “controlled hunting” space, hearing about Franco’s trophy hunter scheme, and reflecting on its legacy–to this day is this a threat to ecological sustainability in Spain’s “natural areas”?

—     rich earthy smells on narrow paths through low pine scrub–it rained plentifully the week before–this is where you could imagine the threat of fire exists after long hot dry spells.

—     multifarious birdsong just about everywhere we walk.

—     a woodpecker drills for food–they’re indicators of forest health, explains Diana, although a handful of Asian and African species are known to have adapted to forest plantations.

—     forest in recovery, yet perceived by some as bosc brut (“dirty woodland? Scrubby, perhaps?) who perhaps don’t understand or don’t value the processes of succession.

—     more honeysuckle–it’s been in abundance–sweet droplets within

—     Evarist identifies an orchid, Limodorum abortivum, by the footpath not from the park’s exit.

—     legs good, but head weary–wear hat next time.

Some of the thoughts that we had shared among ourselves by the end of the day:

…Let’s hear less aprovechar (take advange of or make the most of in English) and more valorar (value or appreciate) in connection with the park.  In other words, let’s hear more about the luxury of having such a rich diversity of natural life on our doorstep, and less about it being problematic.

…Let’s encourage a considerate and better-informed approach to enjoying the park, so that the challenges to the area’s ecological integrity might be more easily overcome.

…And let’s do this again sometime, perhaps towards the end of a long summer evening when the “unseen” wildlife emerges.

Other notes if you want to follow up etting Close-serola

Alex Florez posted some excellent photos of the day’s walk here.

Local nature guide, Lucy Brzoska, posts superb photos and blogs specifically on this natural area at IberiaNature.

You might also be interested to know that plans are being made to “bring the park closer” to its urban neighbours via 16 entry “gates”.

This day out followed on from “Talk Walking”, when responsible tourism advocates and practitioners from the ICRT and other organisations gathered in Barcelona to talk urban tourism, heritage and managing better places for people to live in and visit.



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