Monday, 7 January 2013

Off Again

VW Garage Sarasola in Hendaye were able to confirm my diagnosis and remarkably instructed me to return the next day for the work to be done so with a spare sunny day ahead I walked the coastal ridge above Hondarribia over in Spain enjoying the superb views and rocky coastline.
Courtesy of the friendly manager and efficient mechanic the issue was resolved at a fraction of the anticipated cost and I was on the road again deciding to stay above Hondarribia as it was evening time - the lights of the town twinkling way below preceded a quiet night and I was awake early to enjoy the sublime dawn changes.
At Andoain I completed the other half of the vias verdes down to Leitza passing through empty mountain scenery and many more tunnels - this time without incident. It was market day in the village so I bought a few treats to get me back and sustain me on the couple of hours of motorway across to Santander. Using the peage alone was a hoot as I had to jump out to collect tickets or pay tolls - all the time hoping that the barriers would allow time for a fat old bloke to nip round and get going again - they did!
Santillana del Mar was a real treat with its traditional balconied houses overlooking the narrow cobbled streets but I soon turned south for the Picos de Tres Mares to find a spot for the night. I climbed ever higher through an impossibly narrow valley above Tudanca with numerous tight hairpins before finding a viewpoint with panoramic views that was just right for a quiet night.
On the descent through empty villages from Piedrasluengas I saw hunters out on the mountains (and later two with a large wild boar in their pick up) before turning west to follow a picturesque road that passed two reservoirs and gave the opportunity for a good two hour walk that provided the first close up views of the jagged Picos mountains.
A steady climb to the Puerto de San Glorio proved that the van is still up to demanding roads and at 5000' a side turning took me to a quiet viewpoint where I just had to stay the night. All around snow capped peaks rose another 3000' whilst way below the few lights of  Camaleno were all that confirmed that there were other humans on the planet. Despite the altitude and odd patch of snow it was a comfortable night - no lower than 5 degrees and again I rose by 8am to enjoy the sunrise.
A swooping descent on an empty road to Potes was followed by a drive through Camaleno - now slowly waking up - and arrival at Fuente De where the cable car was running for the last day of this season. The almost silent ascent with the stunning crescent of sheer faced mountains on 3 sides was awesome. Having only planned to take pictures from the top I was bitten by the desire to complete a four hour walk back down following a PR path through the lofty summits and returning via steep chestnut woodlands. Despite having no lunch with me and the wrong boots on  it was a good decision with amazing views, hot sunshine, a few deer and the odd lizard scurrying away.
These mountains were far exceeding my expectations and I will return soon to do more of the excellent walks and perhaps get to some of those lofty summits.
From Potes the road through the narrow Desfiladero de Hermida took me round to Avin on the north side where a small campsite provided a pitch, power and a shower for £9 including a somewhat erratic internet connection and I settled in after a few excellent days out in the wilds.
Today has seen more amazing scenery and remote villages - Sotres the highest village  in the Picos at 1045m was reached by another narrow serpentine road (even at 11am it was quite icy in places so care was needed as the drop offs were somewhat alarming) and was the starting point for a four hour walk down to Tielve and then back passing some summer only hamlets where cattle and goats grazed quietly. A coffee down in Tielve was enjoyed with an old local couple - the warm sunny terrace overcoming any language barriers as we took in the impressive vista.
Finally I descended to Poncebos and took the funicular railway that pierced the mountain to reach Bulnes - once the most isolated village in Spain with no road access. The 7 minute journey through the tunnel was rather like a steeply angled London tube line with the other descending car passed on a midway loop before I emerged in to the bluey shade of late afternoon. I doubt the hamlet sees more than an hour or two of sun at this time of year and very few people live here permanently these days but it was an inspiring place with chickens scratching around, a large pig asleep in deep straw and goats wandering around waiting to be hand milked. The huge bulk of Urriello was visible way above through a nearby col and again there are plenty of challenging walks to return to one day. Wary not to miss the last carriage down I tore myself away from the humbling scenery and was the sole occupant as we descended headlong.
Back at Avin I did a load of laundry, planned tomorrows walks at Covadonga and decided reluctantly that I will then leave the area for another time as I really need to be down at Gibraltar 3 weeks today. The clear sunny settled weather has been a real privilege as often these mountains are shrouded in mist and fog and I am aware that I have been very fortunate. Thus the scenery of Asturias awaits so meanwhile enjoy more than a few piccies here and if you wish nose after me by clicking here

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