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]

Thursday 23 November 2017

Cruz de Priena (Covadonga)

My mind was raring to get out and about this morning. My body was somewhat more lethargic. That was not, however, why we opted for the shortest-with-least-ascent option of the three routes I had downloaded.

The option of walking to the lakes above Covadonga was rejected as it would have been at least a 21km round trip just to get to the first lake. I'd rather go up there when we can either drive or catch a shuttle bus, neither of which were viable options* today as the road was closed for resurfacing.

That left us with a toss up between two hills accessible from Covadonga, one on either side of the valley. Cruz de Priena won as, although it was an out-and-back, whereas the other option was a circuit, it was on the sunny and unwooded side of the valley and it looked the more pleasing shape and viewpoint.

The snaps I took of our objective before we set out all boasted a lovely blue sky, but a far better illustration of where we went is given by this one, taken this afternoon from a chapel constructed within a cave on the side of the hill opposite:

See the path zigzagging up?

This one shows the wooded slopes we would have ascended had we plumped for the other hill:

Bertie is in this shot too.

It was a very straightforward walk (aside from a bit of tree debris after last night's strong winds, and some very deep sections of lying leaves through which we had carefully to wade, not knowing what lay beneath), with the switchbacks providing an easy gradient. That was good, as it was sweaty enough a climb in today's temperature.

A short cut was necessitated for the final stretch to the summit to avoid a sheep dog, guarding his flock, right on the path. Then we were there, saying 'Cor, that's a big cross!':

The views extended for 360 degrees, but the most notable were those towards the snowy Picos, with uncountable jaggedy lumps:

The sun wasn't in the best place for this snap, as you'll likely notice.

It took us almost exactly 2 hours to walk the 3.9 miles out-and-back, with around 1900' of ascent, and our considered opinion was that our choice was a good one. For such a pleasant, easy hill, boasting such good views, it's surprising the path was so narrow (Mick had a worse time with the overhanging gorse than me).

(*technically we could have driven. The road was closed from 8-13h & 14-18h, but that was a bit too restrictive for my liking.)

Wednesday 22 November 2017

Bulnes from Poncebos

I got my metric and imperial units mixed up this morning. Yesterday afternoon, when proposing today's outing to Mick, I had told him it was 5 miles (8.23km said the gpx file I had downloaded). This morning I was convinced we were going 8+ miles, and thus I packed elevenses and lunch. In view of the true stats (I recorded 4.9 miles with 1830' ascent), that was overkill, considering that we set out at 9.15am.

Bulnes is a village that sits at an altitude of around 600m and has no access via road or track. Until 2001 the only way of reaching it was on foot, and since then there has also been a funicular railway, which runs through the mountain for its entire length. How the village survived its isolation for so long is a wonder, but now, by appearances, it is not just surviving, thanks to the tourist trade. We counted six bars and restaurants - which is a high number for such a tiny place.

It probably goes without saying, that we didn't use the funicular. Our route instead lay up this valley/gorge:

That required us first to cross the Rio Cares, with its incredibly clear waters (it was thanks to the clarity that I spotted the otter yesterday - it was underwater when I first saw it, initially mistaking it for a large fish):

Not a single person was met on the way up, but we did meet these girls:

I won't generally cut switchbacks, due to the damage it does, but on this occasion it seemed like the best way to pass the herd. We still had to get past Daisy at close quarters and I did so with a nervous eye on those horns:

The path was still fully in the shade as we ascended, but it didn't mar the views, or the impact of the perfect blue sky. You can see the path as it clings to the side of the gorge in this snap:

Like yesterday's outing in the Cares Gorge, the path was hewn out of the rock in some places and had sheer drops that made me think that falling off the path would be a bad idea.

The route was a lollipop, albeit with a very long handle and a very small head...

...and as we got to the top of the handle we had a choice to make: clockwise, or anti? Opting for 'anti', up to the top village we headed, which is a few hundred metres (linear) away from the lower village, and quite a bit higher too. We got a good view of the main village from up there, but the dull light doesn't do this photo any favours:

Due to my mix up with the distances, combined with our early start time, none of the bars or restaurants was open as we wandered around, so coffee from the flask was drunk perched next to the public water tap, rather than real coffee consumed on a real seat.

Looking left from our elevenses perch

and looking right

The sun was on us for much of the descent, and with the wind having turned to southerly overnight, it was almost as warm going down as it had been with the effort of going up. (The temperature, incidentally, had been a chilly 8 degrees at 6pm last night, but with the change in the wind it was up to a balmy 15 degrees at 7 this morning.) Once again, we admired that glorious sky, which is forecast to get hidden from tomorrow whilst a stretch of more mixed weather comes in:

Spot the village on the hillside opposite. I think it must be Camarmeña

Tuesday 21 November 2017

The Cares Gorge (Desfiladero de Cares)

I'll start by quoting a bit of what The Rough Guide to Spain says of the Cares Gorge:

Deservedly the most popular walk in the Picos [it] takes hikers into the heart of the central massif along the Cares Gorge. Its most enclosed section, between Cain and Poncebos - a massive cleft more than 1000m deep and some 12km long - bores through awesome terrain along an amazing footpath hacked out of the cliff face.
(see my Footnote 1 regarding the stated length)

What an excellent outing it proved to be! It started, within five minutes of leaving Bertie, with the sighting of an otter in the Cares river, and proceeded with a few hours of wide-eyedness at the magnificence of our surroundings.

Everything I had read about the gorge was based on walking it from south to north (from Cain to Poncebos). We had pretty much decided that we aren't going to venture further south into the hills on this trip, plus the road to Cain is a lot less accessible than the road to Poncebos. I couldn't see any reason why we couldn't start at the northern terminus, involving a perfectly good road. Google StreetView confirmed that there would be somewhere to leave Bertie at Poncebos (footnote 2), so that's what we opted to do.

I took masses of photos, but the scenery is so towering that my camera could not possibly capture what I was seeing.

Here are a few snaps, not presented in order:

There are people in these three, which hopefully helps to give a bit of scale. What they don't convey is how big the drop down into the gorge is. At some points it is not just sheer, but the path is hewn out of rock part way up an overhang:

This one looks a bit blurry, but it's probably the best shot I've got showing a long section of the path as it proceeds down the gorge:

And here are just a few more. I think that the path is again visible in all of these, but it's difficult to tell on the screen of my phone:

Unfortunately, neither of us took a photo of the wooden walkway bit, where an information sign showed the 'before' and 'after' of a tunnel section that fell, in its entirety, off the side of the gorge. Although mainly wooden (on a steel frame), there was one section that had been made in mesh, so that you can look down into the abyss below.

The only downside of the day was the schoolboy error of completely failing to pick up our water bottles on our way out. We noticed at the furthest point where we could conceivably have chosen to go back for them, but we opted instead to manage with just our flask of coffee, accepting that we would have to cut short the outing instead. As it went, the going was so easy (once over the high point, it was mainly akin to a forest track, albeit narrower) that we made it to within 2km of Cain before turning back. Even then, it was more the want to find some sunshine in which to drink the coffee than the lack of water that turned us around. Our entire outward leg had been in the shade, but we could see by then that the sun had hit the path behind us, and we couldn't see that the same was true ahead.

In total we covered around 11 miles with 1800 feet of ascent.

1) The distance signs within the gorge were not consistent, stating the path's total length to be between 10.3 and 11km. The GPX file I downloaded had it at 11.5, but due to the nature of a gorge probably suffered some error due to 'wandering'. I think 12km is an exaggeration.)
2) The parking turned out to be better than expected. I had thought that Bertie would have to be left alongside a road that was sloping to the extent that it may have troubled his fridge. It turns out there's a flat car park too, and whilst it's not massive (and the spaces are small, even by car standards), by arriving relatively early, we were able to find the one slot into which Bertie could be squeezed.)

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.)