The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Liandres, Comillas, San Vicente de la Barquera and Pechón

We are really liking the north coast of Spain! That's probably why we are journeying along it so slowly. After 5 weeks in the country, we are only 200 miles, by road, from our point of entry!

I've been lazy in posting about our walks this last week. None of the outings has been long (generally around 5 miles), but they've all been very pleasant - helped by a spell of good weather that's still persisting as I type.

Here's a bit of a catch-up in pictures:

After leaving Cóbreces on Tuesday, we drove a whole 3 miles along the coast and entered the car park that was to be our home for the night with a 'wow'. The snowy Picos de Europa, a manicured picnic area and the rugged coast were all visible out of Bertie's windscreen:

Most of our coastal walks over the last few weeks have coincided at some point with the Camino de Santiago and Tuesday's was no exception. I'm sure that the 'pilgrims' must help to boost the economies of many of the villages we've visited, and the one we were now in (Liandres) had recognised them with one of the public water taps, which caught my eye:

Our next stop was just 2km further west, at the town of Comillas - so close to Liandres that we could clearly see the church below which we had been parked the night before:

The 'herding instinct phenomenon' struck large during our stay there. With 128 out of 130 spaces free in the car park, where did the only other motorhome to arrive decide to park? Yep, you can just see its tail sticking out from behind Bertie in this snap:

It was another good walk we took from there, taking us to this viewpoint:

We spotted an early lamb too on our way back:

San Vicente de la Barquera (big drive - about 6 miles this time!) was our next stop, where we were parked quite literally within a stone's throw of the water:

That wasn't a walking destination for us, as we only stayed one day/night and that day was all about the food (note Mick's indignation in the bottom right as his wine has been reducing in quantity with each Menu del Dia, and this time he was down to just a glass):

That brings us to where we are now, in another stunning coastal car park, by the village of Pechón. Here's the view from the car park, with the first snap being taken about an hour after low tide, just after we had walked out to the rocky outcrop, and the second being taken at high tide:

You may spot something in the sea to the left of the beach. It's a chap in a tractor, harvesting seaweed. He has intrigued us to the extent that today we took elevenses down to the beach... that we could sit and watch him from closer quarters, finding it incredible how deep he goes in:

He regularly gets a wave splashing straight through the cab. It's no wonder he's put a can of expanding foam to good use around the gear levers:

(For the avoidance of doubt, AlanR, I'm not expecting you to tell me what the tractor is - we were just captivated by how it was being used.)

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Sunday 12 November - Cóbreces

I can't help but think that in the days before Smartphones our experience of day-walks abroad would have been different. Being constantly on the move, it would be logistically difficult and economically unviable to buy maps for every place we go and, even armed with maps, the availability of paths/tracks for walking is not always obvious (Spanish maps are particularly poor in this regard). Tourist Offices can often help, but that's only if you are somewhere that has one, and at a time of year/week/day when it is open.

With t'internet and on-line mapping, things are so much easier. We pitch up somewhere, I do a search on the relevant routes website and within a few minutes I have a map, and a route downloaded onto it.

Usually I look at as many routes as it takes for me to think "That one will do". Today we have the highly unusual benefit of both wifi and mains electricity, so I made the most of it and downloaded seven routes, surveyed all of the options then plotted an eighth line on the map, cherry-picking ideas from the others. It worked out rather well, even if we did occasionally find ourselves having to step over or crawl under fences. It is one problem of taking routes other people have uploaded onto a public platform - there's no way of knowing, unless they chose to say in the comments, that they strayed off the correct path and found themselves cornered in a field, then you end up doing the same.

Unlike some of the official routes we have followed recently, today we found ourselves off road for over half of the outing.

Here are a few snaps:

This one was actually taken yesterday when we popped out just to look at the local beach and ended up walking a circuit. When I looked at this snap later, I opined that if you slapped the chimney of a tin mine on the far headland, it could easily be Cornwall.

The Picos de Europa mountains are not far away. Looking a bit snowy!

"Go forward a bit!" I shouted, trying to get him over the overhang. He declined.

Elevenses was taken on a bench overlooking this old mill, set in a cove. It's a lovely bit of coast with striking strata and some impressive undercutting caused by the sea. We left our bench with a group of 17 Sunday ramblers hot on our heels.

Our return route took us inland so that we could have a closer look at the church and monastery that are the main features of the view from Bertie's windscreen. The church looks so grand from where I'm sitting typing this. It looks rather shabby close up.

The monastery is in better nick

'Twas most enjoyable (ignoring the crawling under fences bit!) and came in at 7.6 miles with a smidge under 800' of ascent.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Thursday 9 November - Santillana del Mar

The Tourist Office here in Santillana del Mar (a largely unmodernised medieval town that looks like it belongs on a film set) has a walks information sheet setting out six routes in the local area. Four of those start from, or go through, Santillana and, of those, three are circuits.

The option that looks the most interesting is also the longest at 14.5km, and that's the one we would have chosen but for it appearing to feature the most off-road terrain. Whilst I'm generally a very big fan of off-road, we've just had thirty six hours of very heavy showers, leaving streams in spate and big wallows all over the place. Thus, tarmac and tracks were looking the best option for today.

We therefore chose to do both of the other circuits (7km and 5.5km respectively) and set out this morning to visit the area that lies to the SW of the town. On the plus side, it gave us a good view of the little pimple of a hill we were to go up this afternoon...

...and offered some good views over the green countryside to the coast:

Your eyes do not deceive you; this photo does not include the coast, but we could see it quite clearly when we looked in the right direction. Note that contrary to its name, Santillana del Mar is not itself on the coast.

On the negative side, there was nothing else to recommend this route.

Undeterred, we set back out after lunch, feeling sure that the next circuit would be of more interest, as it featured 'Castle Hill' (Monte Castillo) and the remains of a tower. I didn't quite manage to line this sign up to the right place for the photo, but it's not too far out and illustrates both what remains of the historic structure, as well as what it would have looked like in its heyday:

There's really not much of it left:

As you would expect from such a nice little hill, it did offer good views:

Things went downhill in more ways than one once we left the summit. The gpx track I had downloaded from the Tourist Office showed the hill as being an out-and-back detour from the circuit, but according to the information sheet, and to the signage at the foot of the hill, the route descended the opposite flank to where we started. If there is a descent path on that side of the hill then we missed it, finding ourselves instead making a complete circuit, about three quarters of the way up its side, and dropping back down the way we had come.

At that point we weren't moved to complete the circuit as, of the remaining distance about a third was on a busy-ish road, a third we had already walked on morning's outing, and the rest was a track that ran (as far as we could tell) uninterestingly between fields. Instead, we retraced our steps and took another wander around the town, which looked better today than it did in yesterday's utterly dreary weather:

So, not a roaring success from a walking point of view, but it gave us some exercise, the hill was interesting and, well, there are worse ways to spend ones days, aren't there?

Friday, 3 November 2017

Friday 3 November - Picos de Liérganes - Fail

A shufty around last night resulted in me finding a route up into the hills which sit the nearest to Liérganes. They're quite distinctive:

We duly set off this morning and all went well until the point where it felt like we were thrashing around in someone's garden, searching for the onwards path. We may have found it, but if so, it was so overgrown with brambles as to put it firmly into the 'not worth the bother' category.

We abandoned, backtracked a small distance and settled instead on a low-level circuit to take us back to town.

A different view of our original objective, taken from the riverside track

Coming in at 4.7 miles with around 450' of ascent, it didn't take up much of the day, which was no bad thing, as in celebration of our wedding anniversary, we were heading out for lunch. We do love a 'Menu del dia', and today's offering involved three courses, a bottle of wine, a bottle of water and a basket of bread for €12 each. A bit more expensive than the €9 we paid in Lanestosa the other day, but then this was better quality. Mick had particular food envy over my starter:

Both the contents of the bowl and of the serving dish in the centre of table comprised my starter. I resisted eating all of it in view of having another two courses to come!

This afternoon I had another shufty around t'interweb and found a slightly different route up those same hills, but alas, we won't get a second bite of the cherry on this trip. The motorhome parking here has a 48-hour limit and we exceeded that this morning*, so we really will have to move on tomorrow. With a poor weather forecast, a sore foot and an imminent visit to a city, things could go quiet here for a few days now.

(*We have a reasonably relaxed attitude to overstaying by one night in places when it is out of season when there is clearly no competition for motorhome spaces. We are not taking up a space that someone else wants.)

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Thursday 2 November - PR-S-24 Picos de Busampiro

We left Lanestosa on Tuesday and, after another brief stay on the coast, a short journey westwards was made, bringing us to the town of Liérganes.

On arrival in Lanestosa last weekend we had been underwhelmed by the place, but it grew on us during our stay. By contrast we both liked Liérganes immediately. It's very well presented, with a nice old town, an historic bridge, a legend regarding a man who survived underwater in the river for five years, and a substantial quantity of bars and restaurants.

We arrived yesterday - a public holiday - and by the afternoon the town was buzzing and the car park had well and truly overflowed. Dozens of people were seen setting out for walks.

A chat with the lady in the Tourist Office didn't net us any information about most of the routes mentioned on a board in the car park, but she did give us a leaflet about, and recommend, PR-S-24, which seems to be the popular walk of the area - it's certainly the direction in which we saw everyone heading yesterday. This morning we set off to see it for ourselves.

Well, I'm not quite sure what to make of it! I felt like it was a bit of a cheat that it had been designated an official PR, when over three quarters of it was on road. They were quiet roads, but it was still uninteresting underfoot, particularly when surrounded by rugged lumps of limestone hills.

However, it was easy (and I don't mind a bit of easy) and in the absence of it being designated a PR, there's not a chance that we would have chosen to go and walk 10 miles around the local lanes, which would have been to our detriment as there was plenty to see. Passing through a few local villages (all well presented; it comes across as an affluent area) we thoroughly enjoyed oggling the houses, and the rest of the distance was variously through pleasant country, rugged limestoneness and, latterly, along the river.

Slogging up the longest uphill of the route as noon approached, I was starting to get antsy for elevenses, but other than plopping ourselves down on the tarmac, no stopping options were presenting themselves. I felt sure that a picnic area would show up at some point, as the Spanish (along with the Danes and Norwegians) are masters of the picnic area in the oddest of places. In fact, I even suspected I knew where this one would be, as the gpx file I had downloaded had an area of significant 'GPS wander', which is what happens when someone stays in one spot for a time without pausing their GPS recording device. My suspicion was correct, and we finally had elevenses at a quarter to one. We deferred lunch until we got back, meaning that's twice in three outings now that I have carried lunch for the entire distance. Still, better to carry lunch and not need it, etc.

I think my final assessment is that it was an interesting-enough outing, in pleasant-enough surroundings but not what I would have chosen if I'd had more information. I would have looked for something that left the road and ventured into the surrounding hills a bit more.

It came in at 9.6 miles with 1300' of ascent and (in contrast to yesterday's hoards), we saw not a single other walker.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Peña de la Lobera (719m)

The Aire at Lanestosa

When Mick visited Lanestosa's Tourist Office on Saturday, he was advised against the route marked in yellow in the village's walks leaflet, on the basis that it is not well waymarked. Today we thought we'd go and see whether 'not well waymarked' meant 'abandoned and impossible to follow'.

Looking down on the village not long after we started heading up the hill

Following what appeared to be a very old, but well constructed trackway as it zigzagged up the hill, we learnt that there was absolutely no waymarking at all, but that the route was perfectly followable when armed with the route downloaded onto an electronic map.

It's clear that at some point the old trackway had become very overgrown, as there are still the remains of tree stumps along its line. Not only has it been cleared, but a good chunk had also been recently strimmed.

Then, suddenly, the strimming stopped.

"Do you think we missed a turn?" I said to Mick and once we had dismissed that idea, I joked that the man they had sent to do the strimming had returned to the town hall to ask if they really wanted him to continue his efforts, as no-one ever goes that way anyway.

A few moments later the now-overgrown track suddenly dead-ended on a steep, ungrazed hillside. There was, however, a hint of a line to follow* in that grass and it led us, by and by, to a bit of the barbed wire fence where the bottom strand had been hooked up to the one above it. We duly crawled under, noting that we were still exactly on the line of the route I had downloaded.

Photos never truly represent how steep a hillside is. Falling on some bits of this would be ...unfortunate.

Reaching the top, it felt a bit like Marilyn bagging can be - the highpoint was just a limestone outcrop in a field of cattle. We were barely any higher than the road that joined a few farms up on this ridge.

Mick strides towards the top

As unsatisfactory as the top was, it did afford us a view of the hill we went up on Sunday that made it look far more dramatic than it had felt when we had been on it...

...and the outlook in the other direction wasn't too shoddy either:

Elevenses was had on the top, watching a bull, about 100m away, that was watching us. We didn't feel unduly threatened, feeling sure he wouldn't be inclined to charge over the limestone pavement where we were perched.

Looking ahead to where the lollipop route was to take us next, a return along our outward route (the one where I had exclaimed "I'm glad we haven't got to come back this way" in respect of the steep ungrazed bit) came to look the more appealing option. Thus, retrace our steps we did - or as close as we could. It took us a while to find the right line across that steep bit, and we came out the other side thoroughly prickled having waded through gorse and done battle with brambles.

It was thus pleasing to regain the strimmed track, whereupon we immediately spotted the turn we had missed on our outward leg. Exactly where we thought the strimming stopped, there was a switchback, where the cropped grass continued. We can only assume we were distracted with the view across the valley as we strode on past it - and perhaps we should have just backtracked a few paces when I'd said "Do you think we missed a turn", but we weren't helped by (once again) the person who had recorded the gpx track having done exactly the same as us.

Back at Bertie, the outing had come in at 4.7 miles with 1300' of up and whilst it wasn't offensive, neither of us classed it as a good walk. It wasn't a patch on the one we had done on the other side of the valley. It's just a pity we didn't have today's weather for that one. As you may have noticed, today we were blessed with a perfect sky.

(*I wonder how many people have downloaded the same gpx file as I had, and thus have helped wear that same vague line through the long grass on that steep hillside, crawling under the same bit of barbed wire fence, because in the absence of waymarking, they only had the gpx route to go on, with no way of knowing that the person who recorded and posted it had gone awry.)

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Sunday 29 October - Peña el Moro (821m)

Of the waymarked routes local to the village of Lanestosa, only one visits the top of a hill, so that, naturally, is the one we selected for today's outing. The fact that the lady in the Tourist Office had advised us that it was also the best waymarked was a bonus.

It was very well waymarked too - provided you walked it in an anti-clockwise direction. Having set off clockwise (because that's the direction taken by the person whose GPX file I had downloaded from, it took us a while to realise this, as I merrily navigated from the map on my phone.

Then we got to a fork in the path, where the only visible waymark was just behind us (i.e. perfectly obvious which way to go if you're heading the other way; of no use if you're heading up the hill). Both paths looked good, so we forked right, per the downloaded route. Steeply we went up, until the path became a trod and then petered out. Carefully we picked our way down (very rocky + fallen leaves = recipe to twist an ankle), to reach a path we could see below, which put us back on track. We had just learnt that the track I had downloaded was not the same as the waymarked route. The waymarked route whose marks we could only see by looking behind us and conducting detective work at junctions...

We were helped by the route being, effectively, a circuit at the bottom with a lollipop sticking out of the top. For the lollipop we were walking the 'right' way, so it was only when we rejoined the circuit that we had to pay attention again. Following the route on my phone went smoothly until the very last bit of the descent back to the village, where we found ourselves bashing steeply down some rough ground beside a fence and jumping down from a wall to the road below. It was a surprise to then see a waymark arrow pointing up the hill a few moments later. I still vaguely wish I'd poked about a bit more to find out where the path actually lay, because I'm pretty sure the fenceline/jumping-off-wall shouldn't have featured.

Starting and ending at the motorhome parking area, the walk came in at exactly 6 miles, with 2100' of ascent (and I was very pleased that the descent didn't involve as much ascent as the ascent had involved descent...). Here are a few snaps, with a bit more of the story:

It all started simply, but a bit brutally, with 200 or so steps, too many of which were spaced awkwardly so as to keep using the same leading leg:

At 10.58 I declared we would stop for elevenses at the first to occur of a bench or a view. Unsurprisingly, no bench appeared, but as we broke out of the trees we could see a cliff-clinging 'walkway' above us and thought that would make a good viewpoint:

It was a good viewpoint, but not good for sitting, so on we went until, after ascending a flight of stairs, we landed on a lovely level bit of grass, with a fine panorama. A red kite circled us as we supped and ate:

After pausing to allow a shepherd and his flock to move away from our path (together with his four dogs, or two dogs and two lambs or two dogs and two pigs, we couldn't quite decide...), we rounded a bend, ascended a bit more and then could clearly see our objective before us:

Mick preceded me up to the ridge and forewarned me that I was about to see 'a bit of an oooh'. He was right. As my head cleared the top, I couldn't help but exclaim 'Oooh'. Six griffon vultures then flew straight past us, and I managed to grapple with my phone fast enough to catch some of them in a shot:

Often we find European summits marked with crosses. This one was marked with what appeared to be an upside down fire-suppression sprinkler:

The initial descent from the top was steep and eroded, calling for careful footing. The need for care wasn't helped by distracting views... was just a shame there wasn't a blue sky and good air clarity to show them off better.

Bonus stats:

Number of times I nearly fell over: 6
1) rocks (big ones!) that rolled completely under a foot: 2
2) slips off the edge of a rock: 2
3) an excess of acorns on a path acting like ball bearings under foot: 2

Number of times I actually fell over: 0