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So my search for work brought me here far from green, fair Yorkshire and to the arid plain of Castilla la Mancha. The fortress town of Toledo, with its built up Casco perched on a rocky defensive hill, is flanked on one side by a river and the other by its sprawling modern urban mass, where I reside. Overlooking what seems like everything, is the imposing fortress so in touch with history that it had to be rebuilt after its destruction at the hands of its own people.
The wettest month of the year brings on average 7 days of rain in a month, a fair comprise for not having local ale to wash away the wet winter days of back home. I have yet to explore the whole area but given the vast expanse of motorways that seem endless and straight and my lack of vehicular transport I won't be seeing them anytime soon. However Toledo has some hidden gems where you have to make the most of what you can.
The silent, snaking guardian of Toledo; that liquid mass that has secured its southern flank has also carved out large swathes of rock, of which only a small amount has been bolted. The stuff left over is naturally covered in anarchic shitting birds but some tasty crags look ready for some shallow water soloing with a drop into the river to meet the wannabe poopers. Several outcrops lie around the river exposed at different times in the rivers history but none are as underwhelmingly impressive as 'La Cabeza.' With its guardian head-shaped stone watching over all who enter and of course in true bolt happy style: a touch of holey defilement. A small crag with a slabby flection, it has been cleared of the aptly named 'asesinos' cactus that inhabited it before human hands. These bastard plants drop their spikes which dry and pierce through fingers and even my vibram soles leaving blood dripped socks to dry in the evening sun. But the crag has been nicely tidied and opened up with technical adventures aplenty.
You are first greeted by a nice beginner wall with comfortable 4s and 5s to whet the appetite; the granite, unlike grit, offers a kind of set-piece fracas up the wall, your feet go here and your hands go there but can you make the move....? The grade steepens as you move along into the high 6s with some bare slabs and crimpy holds being the order of the day for the locals who visit. The crag breaks and then restarts again lower down this time with long drawn-out slab routes over crux bulges and then precise footwork to the chains. Some zealous bolters have placed as many as nine or ten bolts, for a route that requires perhaps as little as four, but it gives it a local Toledean touch I.e it can always be stripped down and built again like the Alcazar fortress that overlooks it. It is a lovely place for a quick solo on sandy coloured granite with the river slowly twisting past the ruins of an old aquaduct; It serves me well in all honesty.
If you venture out early enough or late enough in the evening you can hit the rock and be completely alone but in the heat of the day when the locals are around it possesses a different charm altogether: the grunting and the sounds of kids playing as their parents climb and eat and laugh and drink, it is communal, and makes a welcome change from lofty, windy moors with head nods and shirtless fools.
Past 'la cabeza' is a wedge shaped depression called 'little Yosemite'. Inaccessible by foot you have to ab down into it or take a fixed line down it's weakest point. This area is still being developed and is a playground for the climber once you enter it's chasm-like fold. The grades are high here and a solid crack climb or two is thrown in for good measure. If you are here on business and I don't mean suit type business, I mean look at my sun kissed delts type business, then this is the place for you. Drop down into it and let your imagination run wild, the bolters sure did. Sweet lines and shade from the sun are on offer and bring along a friend and you can't really ask for much more. The locals have just compiled a guide book for the area and you can buy it at the local climbing dojo but my time is nearly up in the town and I will be moving on.
When to visit?
The perfect time to visit would be over winter, spring or autumn all of which are seasons I have enjoyed over my 6 month stay here. In spring and autumn you get the beginning or the end of the summer sun, respectively and in winter you get cold, crisp mornings with delightful sun in the afternoon that trumps any English summer's day despite it being in the depths of December. The winter in Toledo lasts from November through to February and after that it is wall to wall sunshine. However avoid the summer months like the plague. It can get hot, seriously hot. Thirty to forty degrees is common and regardless of any shady aspect the crags offer I have been told the heat can be scalding and suffocating. Most locals retreat to their grandparents' villages to sleep away the summer or to the mountains to the East which offer cooler climes and even skiing as late as March/April.
Where to stay?
The scope of the hotel industry in Toledo is divine: They all sit there, empty over winter, until the tourist trail heats up with the coming sun and the city becomes a summer tourist-ridden trap. Therefore the deals you can get over winter and spring and autumn are fantastic and the range of hotels goes from the extravagant 5 star all the way down to the small but cosy hostels and 1 star hotels found almost everywhere in the old town. To get to Toledo you can fly in to Madrid airport from any major airport in the UK, bus it down on the direct airport express bus, door to door, to Atocha train station and take the 30 minute (28mins on a good day) train straight to Toledo. Or hire a car in Madrid and mosey on down the usually clear and straight A42 and get a chance to see the scenery of endless vines and olive trees and Moorish castles, crumbling on jutting hills that rise and fall like the spine of Castilla. The Climbing wall in Toledo is a bus journey to the outskirts in an area called Poligono and it is here at Calle Río Jarama, 132 – Nave 9-18 that you can pick up a book and maybe make a friend or two. To get to 'La Cabeza' where I recommend you start, check out this website as it has a map of all the hotspots placed on to google maps making it very easy to navigate to each place with extra information on the 'zones' and the climbs you can find there all compiled by locals.
But the big question is... Am I advising you to climb here? Yes but only under certain conditions.... First ask yourself would you ever happen to be on the only train in and out of Toledo? Or specifically coming here in your car for some reason because God knows this place is end of the line, you can come in and you can go out. Toledo is the show piece of Madrid. A tourist hotspot for all those wanting to see a piece of central Spain that they can't get in a metropolis. A place with 2000 year old shiny history with old walls with the holes filled in; polished and surreal. You will inevitably say to me 'Ben, I'll just go to El Chorro or Mallorca or the WHOLE NORTH OF SPAIN or La Pedriza which is only 40 minutes in the right direction out of Madrid anyway' FINE FINE but and it is a big but; if you happen to be stopping by on a tourist trip or just somehow on this side of the tracks don't neglect the up and coming 'La Cabeza' or any of its more weighty, worthy neighbours nearby.
Bring your boots, bring a chalk bag, cross the 'puente de san martin' take a right at 'la alma venta' and have a cheeky solo at the far less wretchedly commercial hidden gems of Toledo, or bring a rope. I'm not your Dad - you make up your own damn mind.