Travelling in Northern Spain, Cantabria and the
Picos de Europa, Potes
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Traveling inland you find the peaks are shrouded in haze, and the road twists in and out of the rocks. One minute you are driving along the marshy area of the estuary, and half a mile later you are into the mountains: big hunky fellows that hug the road and muscle up to one another, dropping boulders onto the road below. Another twist and a turn and you are in a mountainous maze with only a tiny patch of sky visible above. There are no houses here. There is no room to build. Then you turn another double bend, and there, right by the side of the road, its back against a massive cliff, is a three storey house. What crazy person lives here with the road beside his window, the rock crowding his back, and the river roaring just below the road?
After another twenty triple bends there is a whole village. Perhaps I should say there is the village name upon a sign by the road. There are two houses. Is this the smallest village in the world?
Another bend, another twist, another rough sentinel standing ominously on a hairpin bend, and the road opens out. The valley must be a hundred and fifty yards wide. There is obviously plenty of room for a village, and the street is lined with houses. What do these people do? There isn't even room to graze a goat in these mountains. There is certainly nowhere to grow anything. No-one seems to be mining anything. Perhaps they are all testers for mountain boots.
We are right on the border between the two provinces of Cantabria and Asturias. Asturias is one of the most rural of Spain's provinces, with only a couple of large towns up on the northern coast; Oviedo, the provincial capital, and its port of Gijon. The rest of the province is deeply rural.
The gorge I am following is narrow, with rock lurching up on all sides. You wind around and around until you reach the village of La Hermida, which is a few kilometres along the gorge, and gets no sunlight from November to April. There is no land to cultivate, and no industry except for the occasional hotel and bar, but the village is a respectable size, and seems to be thriving.
Once through the village you are immediately back in the defile of precipitous rocks. But as you approach the town of Potes the valley widens considerably, and the town sits in the middle of a mini-plain which is set right in the centre of the Picos de Europa.
Potes is a charming, alpine-style town which is the centre for walking and climbing trips in the Picos. The town dates back to before the middle ages, and there are several old wooden houses and many twisty narrow streets only large enough to take a loaded donkey. There is a bent and crumbly eleventh century church, and a large medieval tower.
The town sits astride a deep gorge, with the river tumbling along the bottom. There is even a medieval bridge across the river, and just beyond the huddle of houses are the alpine fields with sheep and cows. It is a charming country idyll, and a homely town.
The bars sell a raw-tasting cider, something akin to farmhouse scrumpy from Somerset. Even I found it a bit hard to take and I am used to scrumpy. It's very much like the home-made scrumpies you can get, most of which are sold too young and hence are rather raw, and so they give your stomach a hard time.
Outside some of
the bars you will find a strange contraption fixed to the
wall. The idea is that you buy a bottle of this cider,
take it outside and fit it into the pump; push the plunger,
and some of the contents are sucked out of the bottle and
squirted into a glass that you have set in the holder at the
contraptions are sold in the local shops, and I suppose, as
gimics go, they are rather fun.
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