I'm a professional potter and have spent most of my spare time walking, climbing and skiing in northern England, Scotland and the Alps. In the early 1990s I moved to Madrid, and was very excited to find myself living in the foothills of the Sierra de Guadarrama, a sprawling range of mountains rising to 2400m, with a magnificent variety of walking, no guidebooks, startlingly unreliable maps and only a handful of people venturing beyond the car parks or picnic spots. Later, there was the same privileged feeling of pioneering when I explored the bigger, more isolated and altogether rougher and tougher Sierra de Gredos, two hours to the west. Well, I just had to write it all down. In the years since then, the Spanish have discovered hill-walking in a big way, so if you go now you'll find a bit less solitude and a good deal more erosion, even in Gredos. I don't want to overstate this though, you'll still have the walks more or less to yourselves mid-week and in term time.