Adventure Profile – Christine Tubridy
Christine is finding that hill walking is a great way to get to know the people and landscape of a new country.
Tell us about yourself?
I was born and bred in Belfast but would say I’ve always had itchy feet, or at least an uneasiness with doing the same thing for too long. It’s a blessing and a curse because on one hand I would say I’ve seen and done so many things, which is exciting, but then have never felt totally settled and contented in the one place, which would be a nice feeling to have too!
Where abouts are you living and working now?
I moved to Madrid in September 2019 because after studying Spanish and French until 2011 I felt my language ability slipping away with being at home for a few years. So I applied to be an English language assistant in Spain as a way to get to Madrid, where I’ve always had notions of living. I work in a small town about an hour from Madrid called Aranjuez. It’s a really beautiful place where the Spanish royal family built a palace for their summer retreat. Kind of like the Windsor of Spain. I work in a primary school, mostly helping the older kids prepare for their upcoming English exams before they move onto secondary school. I love working with kids, so it is a lot of fun and the teachers are really nice too.
How did you find yourself hiking with a group of people within weeks of moving to a new country on your own?
Before I even left Belfast I had signed myself up to do a hike with Hiking Madrid, a group I came across on Facebook, as a way of meeting new people and exploring the stunning nature that lies just beyond the city. I wanted to throw myself headfirst into experiences like that so that it could take the edge off moving away from my family, friends and girlfriend. And it has definitely paid off.
Where were you walking?
For my first hike I got the bus to Puerto de Cotos, which is one of the most famous mountain passes in Spain, separating the provinces of Madrid and Segovia. There I met the group and we embarked on our hike up Peñalara, the highest peak in the Guadarrama mountain range. We didn’t go to the top because we got stopped by a mountain ranger who told us our group was too big to be in the higher part, which is a UNESCO protected area! That was a bit disappointing but, to be honest, we saw so many beautiful lagoons, pine forests and amazing views over the mountains that it still felt like a really great hike. In terms of kit, I brought pretty much the same things I would take at home, maybe just bulking up more on suncream and less need for loads of layers (though I did bring them anyway).
Did you hike much when you lived in Ireland or is this a new hobby? Why is it something you wanted to get into in Spain too?
I was something of a novice to hiking, I have done a bit at home but would still describe myself as pretty new to it. Although I do like to keep fit so it hasn’t been something completely alien or physically super challenging. For me the appeal was doing something fun and sociable, while getting to see really pretty nature that I’d never be able to find of my own accord. Also the big advantage of hiking for me would be the benefits to my mental health.
Do you think hiking is a good way to meet people if you’re new to an area, is it quite a brave thing to do?
One thing I have definitely taken from joining the group is the love and appreciation of the locals for the diversity of the region of the Madrid. Madrid as a city is a huge, beating heart of Europe, and that is probably at its roots largely down to the wealth of natural resources in the surrounding area. The tap water here is the best in Spain (this fact courtesy of my doctor!) and when you go out exploring the mountains you can see why. The countryside all around is thriving with olive trees and farmland which makes sense because the Spanish are so proud of their locally sourced and locally produced food and drink.
Hiking is a great way to get to know a landscape, do you think it’ll help you understand the country you’re living in for the next year?
I’ve been on two hikes now with the group. The second one was a trip to Miraflores de la Sierra, a mountain village where we started off and then scaled the mountain for about 4 or 5 hours. This one was completely different because it was really cold and quite rainy. But a great chance to see the mountains here in a new light and obviously blew the cobwebs out! I love the architecture of tiny mountain towns here, it’s totally different to those down on the plains.
What food do you take out for a day in the hills, what about the Spanish Walkers, what were they snacking on?
The organisation of the group is great, you pay 12 euros and this covers your packed lunch, which is a choice of turkey and cheese or peanut butter and jam sandwiches, crisps, chocolate and bananas. They even buy you a beer, or whatever your beverage choice, at the end of the day! Which is a great way to unwind and get chatting to everyone.
Is this something you will stick at, do you think you’d keep hill walking in different parts of Spain or can you ever see yourself hiking in a foreign country on your own?
Being part of the group has given me a real taste of what it’s like to get out of the city in a foreign country and get exploring. I look forward to a great year of hikes in the Spanish mountains and could definitely see it giving me the confidence to do hikes in other countries too in the future, with a broader skillset to potentially embark on one myself.