Asturias revisited

Tuesday 2nd May 2017, near Cangas de Onis, Asturias, Spain
Now the Easter holiday is over the region has returned to its normal pace of life. Having given up on this delightful area on our way down to Portugal we are delighted that on our return journey we are able to re-explore the places we originally came here to see.

So this morning we drove to the top of the road leading down to Cudillero and parked Modestine. The road down to the little port was steep and the road fairly busy. We branched off when we discovered a steep and winding footpath through the woods and down through fields that eventually we came out into the little main street of Cudillero. Spanish towns never seem particularly attractive. This was nicer than many and kept immaculately clean by a team of friendly and dedicated council workers. The pavements may be broken and uneven, but they are spotless. The houses rise steeply up the hillsides to either side of the road and little alleyways link the different levels. There were lots of elderly people with their walking frames and sticks struggling up and down the steep road, coping with steps and frequently tottering in the road while heavy lorries delivered potatoes in sacks and everything the village needed, up and down the street between the road at the top and the port at the bottom. Having finally reached the little port there were a few cafes and bars beside the water's edge, and a couple of moored boats. The open sea broke on the far side of the harbour wall that protected the town. Having reached the bottom there was really only one way to go. So we turned around and made our way slowly back up. Half way we found a bar for a rest and coffee before taking the footpath back across the fields.

Lighthouse, Cudillero, Asturias

Cudillero, Asturias

Cudillero, Asturias

Leaving Cudillero behind we rejoined the autovia which carried us along the Asturian coast, high above the little towns and villages in the sheltered valleys below. The road impressed us as a piece of engineering with countless viaducts from where we glanced down on small villages, woodland, rivers and lakes way below us. Frequently we shot into long tunnels through the hillside to emerge back into the sunshine several kilometres later on the far side of the mountain. We skirted Avila, Gijon and Oviedo and eventually turned off down towards the coast near Cangas de Onis.

Autovia, near Cudillero, Asturias

Last time we were here we got caught in thick snow and sought sanctuary in a monastery that had reincarnated itself as a parador. These are luxurious hotels across Spain that had formerly been buildings of historic interest, usually religious buildings. The one near Cangas is outstanding and we turned in through the gates into the grounds where we parked and tried to make ourselves look smart enough not to be thrown out.

Parador, Cangas de Onis, Asturias

Parador, main entrance, Cangas de Onis, Asturias

Renovated horreo near the entrance to the Parador at Cangas de Onis, Asturias

We were greeted cheerfully as we arrived and nobody seemed in the least concerned as we wandered the enclosed former cloisters of the monastery, fitted with beautiful sofas and low tables. We explored the entire building, upstairs and down including the church and the monastic library. Sinking into armchairs in the lounge beneath portrait paintings of former monks and abbots we ordered a couple of coffees. There was just one other couple taking tea and occupying another of the comfy sofas. Our coffee was excellent, served on a silver salver by a charming, handsome young waiter. It came accompanied by home-baked biscuits on little sticks - all very smart. We browsed the papers as we drank our coffee and I probably dozed in the comfort of a deep armchair. When the other couple went to pay their bill they left their home-made biscuits untouched. Ian dared me to cross the room and take them while they were paying the waiter. He then ate them all! When we paid our own bill we felt very guilty, particularly as it cost us no more than some of the scruffy bars we are in the habit of frequenting!

Former chapel in the monastery, now part of the Parador at Cangas de Onis, Asturias

Carved capital in the chapel of the former mediaeval monastery at Cangas de Onis, now a Parador, Asturias

Interior of the Parador at Cangas de Onis - formerly a mediaeval monastery, Asturias

Courtyard of the Parador at Cangas de Onis, Asturias

Original wooden chest, part of the furnishings at the Parador of Cangas de Onis

Part of the furnishing of the parador at Cangas de Onis, Asturias

Intimate dining. Parador, Cangas de Onis, Asturias

We went back to exploring the corridors of the hotel, sat in the library browsing some of the beautiful art books and wandered through the orangery and the grounds before eventually leaving.

The Parador stands on the edge of the tiny Asturian hamlet of Villanueva. There are Asturian horreos in various states of disrepair attached to most of the larger houses in the village. They are larger than those we saw in Galicia and stand solidly on high stone columns with room beneath to store tools, dry washing, keep the tractor and countless other uses. They are square and solidly made from wooden planks. Most are well over a hundred years old, some over three hundred! We find them more attractive than the Galician ones. The houses are large, tightly squashed in together with narrow alleys between them. They had heavy wooden balconies festooned with washing, flagged pathways and flowers growing in any sunny corner that they can find root. The village is old, battered, untidy and charming.

Original horreo, Villanueva, Asturias

Original horreo built on columns to protect grain from rats, Villanueva, Asturias

In Cangas de Onis we parked and went is search of shopping. The fridge was nearly empty and we needed fresh vegetables. After an early evening stroll around the little town, where we walked up to the mediaeval arched bridge across the river Sella, we made our way the twenty kilometres up into the Picos to camp near Arenas de Cabrales where we hope to make a second attempt to reach Bulnes tomorrow.

Motorbike for the Flintstones, Cangas de Onis, Asturias

Puente Romano, mediaeval bridge, Cangas de Onis, Asturias

Wednesday 3rd May 2017, Islares, Cantabria, Spain
This evening we find ourselves back in Cantabria, to the east of Santander. Tomorrow we hope to leave Modestine browsing here in the sunshine whilst we venture out for a bus ride into Bilbao.

But to return to today. We decided not to drive back to visit Covadonga, having visited it twice before and found it rather kitsch. We did want to see the lakes in the mountains high above, remembering vultures soaring on the thermal currents there and tearing apart the carcass of a kid goat that had somehow come to grief. However, I have become nervous of asking too much of Modestine and the ascent to the lakes is incredibly steep and narrow. If I were to meet a campervan or tractor coming down I would be in trouble. So we returned up to Arenas de Cabrales via the delightfully named hamlet of Poo de Cabrales (goat's droppings?) and took the winding road through the ravine to Poncebos from where the funicular now carries passengers up to Bulnes. When we realised it would cost us 22 euros each for the ride we decided we'd leave it to the gathering crowd and take a walk along the footpath up towards Cain, high above the clear, azure stream that cut its winding way through the gorge. Eventually we reached the same point as on our last visit. There had been a landslip and the route was blocked. A new and higher path had been established as easier than clearing the landslip. I still have my limitations and although Ian was eager to take the steep, rough and vertiginous path up to Bulnes I knew he'd eventually chicken out with vertigo. In any case if we hadn't managed to do it twenty years ago there was little chance that we'd cope with it now. However, I was prepared to at least clamber down into the gorge to the narrow, high arched bridge across which in 1995 we'd seen pack horses scrambling to continue up the narrow track. It was then the only way anything could be got into, or out from, the village.

Puente de la Jaya, Poncebos, Asturias

On the far side of the bridge several shepherds were moving cattle up the track as part of the transhumance. The cattle would be staying up in the mountains now for the summer. Amongst the cows and calves were a couple of rather magnificent horned bulls. As Ian crossed the bridge to the far side and scrambled through the scrubby bushes to get a photo of the arched bridge we were shouted at by the shepherds warning us not to come any further until the herd had been moved on up the track. We scrambled back to the safe side of the bridge and gave up all plans of climbing the rough track up to Bulnes. Neither of us fancied finding ourselves between a herd of cattle and a couple of Spanish bulls!

Cattle herding, Camino de Bulnes, Asturias
As we watched from the safe side of the ravine the cattle moved up the rocky defilé and disappeared round the rocks. We'd seen nobody on our early walk but at this point a couple of young people set off down the path without seeing the two bulls up in the rocks. They wound up the stony track unaware that the shepherds were flushing the bulls out and forcing them up the track! Eventually everyone became aware of what was happening and the young couple clambered rapidly up the rocks to the side of the gorge whilst one of the bulls was chased past them. They were then stuck there until the second, more placid bull, deigned to follow the rest of the herd. Several walkers further up the track would be in for a nasty shock as they struggled the unfenced narrow track back down and came face to face with an entire herd of cattle, plus a couple of bulls blocking their way!

Transhumance on the winding path to Bulnes, Asturias
As we continued our more gentle walk two goats slithered down the grey scree with a rattle of stones to cross the path ahead of us, and scramble down to rocks overhanging the ravine. Here they clambered into the bushes reaching for the young shoots at the tips of the plants. Apart from pausing to look up at us in surprise, before resuming their feed, they paid no attention to us whatsoever. Later we encountered another, lone goat scrambling around on the rocks. There are also bears and wolves in the Picos but we'd had enough excitement for one morning.

Goats on the Camino de Cain, Asturias
Returning to Modestine we drove back along the road through the rocks to Arenas where we stopped for lunch before driving down to Panes where we picked up the autovia and made our way along past Santander and on towards Bilbao. Turning off down to the coast we are now settled for the night on a pleasant site beside a sandy beach where this afternoon, from the cliffs, we have been watching surfers out in the bay. We were passed on the track by a couple of pilgrims on their way to Compostella. Apart from their own packs they were accompanied by a donkey, heavily laden, and a couple of dogs. The larger dog had a couple of side panniers of his own. Presumably he carried his own luggage of dog biscuits with him!