Day 1 – Arrival in Potes
Leaving Cabarcero and the elephants behind, we headed south west, into the Picos at last. The weather was bright and clear, cheery and sunny to suit our excited mood. After only a few miles the road became narrower and more picturesque, more like a lakeside drive at Loch Lomond or Windermere that anything we had seen previously. Tall cliffs rose up from the right hand side of the road and steep, bushy cliffs dropped away on the left, to the river far below. The road was thankfully not busy, as the ever close vertical cliffs on our inside occasionally jutted out at low level to overhang the road, and we had to budge over to the middle to ensure we had no issues with clearance.
Enjoying mountain views with each twist and turn, we made our way deeper into the Picos. We arrived first in the small village of Tama, just a few miles short of our destination. This was the home of the Picos de Europa visitor centre that we hoped could provide walking information to keep us occupied for the next week or so. It turned out to be a very lovely building, nicely designed and well detailed in cast concrete, with stone gabions lining the entrance and timber boarding brise soleil. There were neatly detailed internal ramps leading between levels, with subservient stairs internal to these. It housed a small cinematic theatre and mountain viewing gallery along with the geographic, geological and sociological history of the Picos – all very interesting stuff – but not a single shred of current information regarding walks in the mountains was available, not even a map. Whilst it was a very interesting architectural work, we could see it was struggling to know exactly what it should do with the designed spaces and the local council responsible for it was definitely missing a trick – it could be so much more.
We arrived in the main town of Potes a few minutes later, and first impressions of the town were that it was just like Betws-y-coed – a quirky, busy town central to the walking community in the mountains where it sits, with small streets lined with souvenir stores, outdoors shops and walking enthusiasts. The river trickled through the centre with its many old stone bridges crossing over and back.
Our target here was La Viorna campsite, situated only a mile or so beyond Potes. We had emailed a few days previously to check and they confirmed there would be no issue with availability, as the camp was not at capacity at this time of year.
How nice to have a proper campsite, our first, rather than being in a free aire where no camping activities are permitted. Our strict budget doesn’t generally allow for such luxuries, but as this was a special place we thought we’d treat ourselves to a certain level of comfort. We settled into our chosen site, on what turned out to be GB row (several of the vans had GB plates and owners), on a high terrace with magnificent views of the Picos peaks behind that we could wonder at from our bedroom and kitchen windows.
We chatted to a few of our neighbours, swapping tales of life on the road, and of future plans. We got our chairs, tables and awning out, got a load of laundry on and hung out to dry, then went down to the lovely swimming pool and had a proper cooling off swim in the heat of the day – bliss.
Later that afternoon we walked back into Potes town to check with the Tourist Information centre and see if we could procure a detailed map or two for popular walks – to no avail. We managed to get a generic map of some local walks, but this proved to be rather limited in its use. (in fact, it was later to confuse rather than assist our navigation due to its inherent inaccuracy). But at least we knew some walks existed, so we had a plan; we’d start small with a 15km local walk into the Picos foothills behind Potes, to the abandoned village of Porcieda.
Day 2 – Local Potes walk
On our way to our walk, we passed a statue of a walker, dedicated to and denoting a pilgrim hiking the Camino de Santiago route, that passes close by. We paused for photos, as we would next be heading in that direction to walk some parts of the historic trail ourselves. In Potes, it turned out the map we had wasn’t even sufficient to allow us to locate the start of the walk, so we had to ask again in the Tourist office where the walk’s starting point was to be found. We finally located the correct way and proceeded up a steep, lightly coloured gravel path out of town, under cover of some trees. Almost instantly, at small breaks in the ragged pine and oak tree line, we had fabulous views back down the valley and of the Picos mountains behind – a very good start.
We were breathless on the sharp ascents, it being hot and sweaty work in the morning sun. There were no other walkers in sight; our path was empty except for municipal workers at one point who were trimming the verges back to keep the route clear. We passed a beautiful old house with incredible mountain views and a wide, sweeping meadow below and joked about buying it and staying here forever. Our long term plans may potentially involve a property just like that one, but not yet, not yet.
The air had a strong smell of curry plants and pine needles. We passed a monastery ruin a short detour off the main path, then shortly after arrived in the abandoned village of Porcieda, where we had our lunch in the shade by a small church with a decorative bell gable and cross. We had a brief look into a few of the distressed timber and stone buildings, left to rot as nature began the long but inevitable process of reclaiming them, and some clues still remained of how people used to live and survive here.
We returned to Potes by a different route, to complete our circular walk. The path was similar, tree-lined gravel, easy walking and with welcome shade. We passed beautifully maintained houses decorated with large numbers of hanging baskets and vines, before arriving back in the centre of Potes, only metres from where we began but on a different path. Once back in the winding streets of the village, we treated ourselves to a lovely ice cream and chatted to a couple sat next to us on a bench, who turned out to be from Dromore, Co. Down, in Northern Ireland – small world, indeed.
We had a lazy swim and play with our Powerbreather in the campsite pool and a tasty dinner sat outside Benny, overlooking the mountains behind as the light and heat of the day slowly faded.
Day 3 – chilling
Today was all about us relaxing and catching up with some well-needed sleep and with this blog. It had been rare for us to have a decent wifi signal available from within or near Benny, so we sat in the warm air and happily caught up on writings and photos, because we could. Nicky was feeling rather poorly in the morning, so a lazy ‘down day’ was definitely the sensible option. In the afternoon, we returned to the pool as Nicky was feeling much better, and she completed 50 lengths to celebrate being back in full form.
We chatted to our English neighbours, Jan and Andy, about aspects of buying and living in France, and of other interesting insights into this nomadic lifestyle we’ve chosen. This conversation progressed into a long night of music, red wine and funny stories. Andy played saxophone for a while in the campsite bar, to much aplomb, whilst we ran up a massive bar bill of €4.50 for all our drinks – no, I couldn’t quite expain it. We all then returned to our other neighbours (and now friends) Margaret and Martin’s fancy A-class motorhome for lots more wine and chat until after 3am- quite the night.
Day 4 – circular walk around San Pedro
With a distinct lack of sleep and quite delicate heads this morning, we opted for a shorter, and quite different, walk this day. The weather had turned just a little, with the sky having clouded over there was a noticeable drop in the air temperature. We drove a short distance back north, through Tama, to just outside the small village of San Pedro, where we parked up and began the circular loop, first through the narrow village streets then on into the rural countryside.
There was the ever threatening possibility of rain, with a few moments of spitting that had us reaching for our waterproofs, but the expected deluge never materialised. We followed a steep incline out of the cobbled village streets to a gravel path which later became a hard soil route with a blanket of pine needles and brown curling leaves. We could hear the distant ringing of bells and were ever wary of the multitude of fresh cow pats on the trail, so were unsurprised when we encountered the roaming heard of cows. They stood on the trail, unapologetically blocking our way and nudging their heavy bells to ring in unison. We warily made our way past the staring, unmoving beasts, ensuring we avoided their long horns – although we are used to fields of cows from many walks at home, it can still be a rather unnerving experience to have to pass so close to unafraid and hugely horned animals in their own back yard, so discretion was definitely the best approach.
We continued to climb up through the knotted and twisted trees, and could hear more clanging bells in the distance, but this time they turned out to be attached to horses, that scattered off the path down very steep inclines when we approached. We saw tiny brightly coloured crocus flowers struggling through hard ground, growing in and around the excessive cow pats that littered the trail. They looked so fragile in contrast to the surrounding gnarly trees and strong weeds, but added a welcome splash of colour in the shadows of the forest.
Once above and through the tree line, we paused for lunch, before heading back down the opposite side of the hill. For the first time on this walk the weather allowed the sun to break through and light up the valley below. We were rewarded for our patience with views down the entire valley back to Potes and across to the peaks behind.
The downhill path now opened out into more managed terrain; we passed fincas with vineyards heavily laden with grapes, both white and black intermixed, and sneakily tasted a few as we passed. They were much sweeter than expected, as we assumed grapes, if to be used for producing wine, would be harvested before too many sugars are developed. The vines were interspersed with peach, apple and pear trees, many heavy with fruit, or with most of the fruit already lost to the ground. We spotted walnut trees and figs, and large numbers of spiky conkers. Many tiny blue butterflies flitted around the extents of the path as we reached the edge of other small communities, with tumbledown village stores. We followed their cobbled streets across the valley back to our starting point, to complete this low-level walk of just under 10km – not a classic, but certainly some nice aspects.
As we had checked out of the spoiling luxury of La Viorna to relocate ourselves elsewhere in Los Picos, we then drove the 20 or so kilometres on to the town of Fuente De, deeper into the Picos. We had a short wander to explore the area, but there were several signs saying no overnighting in motorhomes (although we could see others were clearly going to), so we drove back out a little while and found a nearby campsite to locate ourselves. It was a little bit cheaper (and ever so slightly more downmarket), but suited fine as all we needed was hot showers and our comfortable bed. We planned to continue our exploration of the Picos in the morning from this new base, with a ride on the Fuente De cable car… TBC in Part 2.