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Cantabria and the Picos de Europa

#1
This trip report was originally posted on Slow Travel and covers four nights spent in the Picos de Europa in May 2013. All the pictures can be found here.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

We had spent two holidays in France in 2011 and 2013, sailing with Brittany Ferries and taking our car. We had really enjoyed our time in the Auvergne and fancied seeing some more of the Dordogne area as well as getting further south into the Midi-Pyrenees. This made us start to think about Northern Spain, an area we’d not been before. Michael had been wanting to get into the Basque country for many years. We could use Brittany ferries to Bilboa and spend a few days in Spain and then slowly work our way north and catch the ferry back from Caen.

We discounted the coast (rainy and touristy) and eventually decided on two different areas, Picos de Europa, in Cantabria and Navarra. After that, we would spend a week in the Midi-Pyrenees near Foix, followed by a week near Sarlat-le-Canada in the Dordogne. (Reports to follow.)

We chose May which avoided school holidays and we thought the weather would be warm, but not too hot.

It had been a dull damp ferry crossing and was raining when we arrived in Bilboa. The rain got heavier as we drove south and the cloud was well down on the mountains. We didn’t see much of the scenery. After a dull start the next morning, the weather improved and we had three days of sunshine. It wasn’t to last long and much of the rest of the holiday was dull and damp with temperatures struggling to reach double figures.

We had booked accommodation through Brittany Ferries and had chosen El Covaju Apartments, Acenaba, near Potes. Originally a hacienda, it now has several modern self catering apartments. These are in a delightful setting among the trees high above the river, reached up a side road off the CA184, Potes to Pesaguero road.


We had a very pleasant and well equipped apartment. There was lashings of hot water, and it was warm and cosy. We didn’t need to light the wood burning stove. In warm weather there is a pleasant grassed area outside with table and chairs for al fresco dining.

We did all our own catering. There was a small traditional bakery in Vieda, a tiny settlement on the road to Potes which we used for bread for lunch, otherwise we used the large Super-U on the outskirts of Potes for shopping.

We enjoyed El Covaju and found it an excellent base to explore the area around Potes. We spent the time exploring the small settlements within an hours drive of Potes. Although roads were good, many were narrow and winding so driving times were slow.

You do need good weather as there isn’t a lot of wet weather activities.

CONTENTS:
# Impressions of Picos de Europa
#3 Potes
#4 Fuente Dé
#5 Santo Toribio de Liébana
#6 Iglesia Santa Maria de Lebaña
#7 Iglesia Santa Maria la Real de Piasca
#8 Villages to the north of Potes
#9 Aniezo, to the south east of Potes
#10 Villages to the south west of Potes
 
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#2
IMPRESSIONS OF PICOS DE EUROPA

The Picos de Europa are substantial limestone mountains around 2000m high, set in stunning mountain scenery. The tops are bare rock with sheer cliff faces and much eroded pinnacles and ridges. In May there was still snow on the tops.




Rivers have cut deep valleys and gorges. The best known is Desfilado de Hermida, which is a 21km gorge formed where the River Deva has cut down several hundred feet. It is very narrow with huge rock cliffs. The main road south from the north coast follows the gorge. It is narrow with blind bends as it clings to the side of the cliff. Dramatic for the passenger, the driver is concentrating on the driving and doesn’t have chance to admire the views.




The lower slopes of the mountains are covered with woodland, mainly mixed deciduous. Valley bottoms and any available flat space is lush green pasture.


There were few sheep or cows in the lower pastures which are kept for hay or silage. Cutting was just beginning in May. Both cows and sheep wear bells and there was the constant sound of bells as well as crickets. In the higher pastures there may be a dog in the fields to guard the sheep. Cows vary in colour from pale cream through brown to very dark grey. Most have horns and these can be quite large. Most of the cows had calves with them and there were often bulls in the fields with them. These are splendid animals. We often saw cows being moved along the road between pastures.


This is traditionally a dairying area and the villages each produce there own cheese. There are small cheese makers and Espinama has a cheese maker with a small shop but with its extended lunchtime closing times always seemed to be shut when we went past.

As well as dairying, this is a fruit growing area with apple and cherry orchards. Many of the orchards are now no longer in active production and many are neglected. Increasingly small vineyards are being planted although the area is not well known for its grapes. Most only produce wine for local consumption although Picos de Cabariezo is a small commercial winery offering tours and tasting.

Popular with the tourists is Orujo which is distilled from the pips and skin left over from wine making. Sold commercially this is often flavoured with honey or herbs.


The road verges and unimproved hay meadows were full of wild flowers - dandelions, daisies, buttercups, stitchwort, vetches, red clover, yellow rattle, cranesbill, borage, asphodel and a vide variety of orchids. Higher up cowslips appeared and, in the high pastures up by the passes, there were wild daffodils and gentians.

There is some settlement along the valley bottom although most is up the side valleys.




There are few scattered farms. A lot of money has been invested in the roads which are well graded and maintained. Some settlements have good access off the main road. Others still have the original road access which was narrow and often very steep, making you realise how poor the original roads must have been and how isolated the settlements must have seemed. Access roads to the settlements are often not well signed. Within the settlements, the roads are narrow and there is often limited parking. Remains of old trackways across the hillsides between the settlements make good walking.


There is no planned development of the smaller settlements. They are just a cluster of farms and houses.


Most of the buildings are made of stone although there are some half timber framed buildings, although these can be covered with plaster render. Roofs are low and covered with orange pantiles which overhang the buildings. Farmhouses had the animals on the ground floor with an outside staircase to the living quarters on the first floor. The oven is a round stone structure built onto the side of the house. Some have a hay barn attached. Traditional hay barns, horreos, raised on stone stilts can still be seen in the higher pastures.

Villages like Tudes, Cucayo and Ledantes are still farming settlements with hens, ducks or geese running round the village. Many have a small and carefully tended vegetable garden by the house. Maize was hanging up to dry and is then fed to the cattle. Aniezo is interesting as it gives the feel of what a traditional village might have been like with its mill, smithy and bakery, all now long disused. Many of the old houses have been bought by incomers and expensively restored. There has been a lot of money spent. The villages are dead during the day with no-one around.

Apart from the church and maybe a school, there are no services in the settlements. Some may have a bar/restaurant which may double up as a shop. In Vieda there is a small wood fired bakery attached to the bar. Bakers shops are few and far between and many have a van which delivers bread to the local villages. Some of the larger settlements may have a pharmacy.

Potes boasts three supermarkets although two of these in the market place shut at lunchtime. Extended lunch hours are a common feature and most places shut between 12 and 4. Potes is also the place for tourist shops and souvenirs.

The church is usually at the edge of the settlement. Many are square or rectangular buildings with a small bell cote at the west end, although some may have a small square tower. Some have a large open porch over the doorway with benches along the sides and this may have served as a meeting area for the village.


Many churches are in poor condition and not well maintained.


Frustratingly most churches are kept locked and there is no information about a key holder. We would have loved a nose round some of the older churches which are supposed to have frescoes. 


By chance we found the new church in Potes open when the organist was practising. The Monastery of Santa Toriba and Iglesia Santa Maria de Lebeña are both open and popular with tourists. Piasca is supposed to be open, failing that, try the farm next to it who may let you in.

Scenically the area is very good, but you do need fine weather as there isn’t a lot to do if it rains every day... Roads are good, but journey times do tend to be long.
 
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#3
POTES

Potes is at a strategic position where two rivers meet, the Deva and its tributary the Quiviesa. It is the main service centre of the area and in a lovely setting in the Picos de Europa. It is an attractive settlement of stone buildings with red pantile roofs.




The old town behind the main street, is concentrated round La Solana and is a maze of alleys, steps, old bridges and several large manor houses. Many have archways across the road and large escutcheons on the walls.




It is a very touristy town with a lot of restaurants and tourist shops with their contents spilling out onto the pavements.




There is some parking in the square with its arcaded buildings, but this does get busy. We chose to park in the market place where there is a lot of space on non market days.

The centre of the town is dominated by the huge C19th IGLESIA SAN VINCENTE. This is normally closed but we discovered it open on Saturday lunchtime, when the organist was practising.


The guide books describe this of little architectural merit and from the outside it is a plain building with two small towers on either side of the main door and a low central tower.

Inside it is a delight. It is a huge building with square pillars with round arches separating the nave and narrow side aisles which have a series of splendid reredos on the walls.






Eyes are immediately drawn to the massive C18th carved dark wood reredos above the high altar which came from the old convent of San Raimundo. At the base is a gilded host box topped by a cupola with a cross. In the centre, set in a gilded arch is a statue of St Vincent, the patron saint of Potes. On either side are painted statues of Jesus and the Virgin Mary. Above them are gilded and painted shields with two figures ascending into Heaven in the centre top. These are surrounded by carved pillars and panels.


In the north transept are two large gilded Baroque reredos. That on the west wall has carved pillars with leaves and grapes. Set in an arch in the centre is a carving of the Virgin supported on a base with cherubs, although several have had their heads sawn off at some time. Above is a shield with a blue background surrounded by scrolls of foliage and open carved frame round the top.


Next to it is a very different but very stylish reredos, with diagonal carving on the pillars and red, gold and blue decorative panels. In the centre set under an arch under a triangular portico is a statue of the Virgin and child. On either side under a portico are St Anthony the Great with a pig and St Roch with the dog who brought food to him and




One of the reredos in the side aisle has a lovely carving at the bottom of an angel ploughing with two oxen.




At the back of the church is a crucifix and a carved statue of the Virgin Mary. Both had a box of electric candles in front of them, the first time we have seen this. 50c buys one ‘candle’.

On the walls are brightly coloured stations of the cross set in carved wooden frames. This one shows Veronica using her handkerchief to wipe teh face of Christ.


The smaller, original church, IGLESIA VIEJA DE SAN VINCENTE, is next to it. The tower is C14th and the nave C16th


This is now the Tourist Information Office. There was little information on display and a queue waiting for information. When we visited, there was an exhibition in old nave with facsimile copies of Beatuses (medieval copies of the original written by Beato de Liébana ) with gloves provided so you can handle them.

Just down from the churches by the river is the massive square TORRE DEL INFANTADO. This is a sturdy stone defensive building on four floors topped with battlements and four small turrets. The town council meets here and it houses the archaeology museum and collection of C8th illuminated manuscripts.
 
#4
FUENTE DÉ

It is a very pleasant drive up the Deva valley from Potes, with its steep wooded slopes with a mix of deciduous and coniferous trees and bare limestone cliff faces above. The valley bottoms and lower slopes are lush grassland with wild flowers and a few cows and calves. After the UK, it made a change to see cows with horns. There were a some sheep and horses with foals. There were a few orchards and new vineyards are being planted at the bottom of the valley.




There is a string of small old settlements along the valley floor. Many are now by passed by the road with very narrow access roads making us realise just how poor roads in the area must have been. There are more settlements up the side valleys.

Some like MOGROVEJO, dominated by the ivy covered ruins of the C13th Torre del Pedro Ruiz, are quite large and support two restaurants.


In its time this had been a large and important settlement with many large farmhouses dating from C16-18th with iron balconies and coats of arms on the walls.


Animals lived on the ground floor with the living quarters above, reached by an external staircase.


some houses in the centre of the settlement have been renovated and are now well maintained. Others, particularly round the edge of the village are derelict and unloved. In one of the fields is a traditional barn, horreo, on stone legs.


The small church has a bell cote and wooden stairs up to the bells. Like most churches in the area, it is locked.


ESPINAMA further up the valley is an important holiday area with many hotels and tourist accommodation. It has a cheese shop advertising tastings but, with an extended lunchtime of 12-4pm, there were many unlucky customers, including us. There are some attractive old stone houses below the road. The old church is no longer used and has been replaced by a rather uninspiring new building.


PIDO is the highest village in the valley, on the opposite side to the main road. It is a higgledy-piggledy collection of old dark stone houses with pantile roofs. It looks attractive seen across the river but is not visited by tourists and there was nowhere to park to let us explore.

The reason most people drive up the valley is for the cable car at FUENTE DÉ at the top of the valley, with two large hotels and a very large car park. This is the longest single span cable car in Europe climbing 750m up a sheer cliff face in four minutes. Unfortunately it was shut for its annual maintenance when we visited.

We continued to the end of the road where there is a small turning circle. The verges here were covered with cowslips, purple orchids and the long white spikes of asphodel. In early May the area was still quiet and there were few visitors up the valley although low cloud covering the top of the cliff face and closure of the cable car may be one reason. The next day was bright and sunny with little cloud and there were a few more people around. The car park was busier and there were a people walking across the meadow to the base of the cliffs.


This is a popular tourist area and there are many good walks from the valley following the old trackways.
 
#5
SANTO TORIBIO DE LIÉBANA

Santo Toribio de Liébana is reached by a well made road off the Fuente Dé road, just west of Potes. The road climbs steeply up the mountainside to a huge car park in front of a plain stone rectangular administration building with a small shop. The church and cloisters are behind this.

This is one of the four holy places in Christendom and is an important pilgrimage centre. There has been a monastery here since the C6th. It was disbanded after the forced sale of church land in Spain in 1837. Re-established in 1961, it now houses a small community of Franciscan monks.

The church was begun in 1256 and remodelled several times. It is a solid Romanesque building with a low pantile roof and long narrow windows. At the west end is a low square tower.


There are two doorways on the south side. The smaller, Puerta del Perdon is on the right. This is only used when Jubilee Year on 16th April falls on a Sunday. It has three round pillars supporting round arches. On the door are metal castings of saints and a crucifix.




The larger Puerta Principal also has round pillars with carved capitals of mystical beasts and heads holding keys which support the round arches above.


Inside, the church is very dark with the only light coming through the tiny Romanesque windows which have modern stained glass in them. Multi-angular pillars separate nave and side aisles Above are round arches and a vaulted roof with carved bosses. Beneath the tower are six confessional boxes and a modern painting of (we assume) St Toribio blessing a kneeling figure. Above is a small wooden balcony with the organ.

At the east end are three apses. The central one has a plain free standing altar. Behind it on the east wall is a painting of the crucifixion with the Virgin and St John on either side.




The South apse has a wooden reliquary box and a carved wooden statue of the Virgin and Child on the back wall.


The north apse is very dark as there is no window. It contains a C14th recumbent effigy of St Toribio, no longer in the glass case as stated in some guide books, which was designed to prevent pilgrims taking away splinters of wood.

The monastery contains the largest known piece of the true cross brought here in C7th by St Toribio to protect it from possible capture by the Moors. The cross is in an C18th chapel with highly carved and decorated walls and an octagonal tower. Reached through two other chapels, a locked metal grille door prevents entry to this area and you now peer through to admire the shrine at a distance. This is a huge gilded Baroque structure with a dove suspended above it. The illuminated silver gilt cross containing the relic dates from 1679. The monks split the fragment in two and mounted it in a cross shape set in a gilded frame. An opening left a gap for pilgrims to kiss the cross. It is a splendid sight, but frustratingly only visible from a distance.

The cloisters are accessed to the east of the church through two small archways with a small bell cote above. They were built in the C17th during a period of major expansion. They are very plain with simple round arches and a pebble and stone floor forming patterns of a vertical and diagonal cross. There is a locked doorway which leads into the north chapel containing the shrine. This has a shield above with a carving of a pilgrim on the left and a scallop shell on the right.


When we visited, there was a small exhibition in the cloisters of illustrations from the C8th Commentary on the Apocalypse written by the Monk Beato de Liébana when he was at Santo Toribio. This became compulsory reading in monasteries as it contained a series of images in the codexes illustrating forces of evil in a struggle against the ‘triumphal and celestial’. It described the Second Coming of Christ and the End of the World. It became one of the most copied books in the Middle Ages and its illustrations played a decisive role in Romanesque sculpture. The original book of Beato no longer exists but there have been about 20 successive copies referred to as Beatuses written between the C9-13th.

We were distinctly underwhelmed by Santo Toribio and it didn’t live up to expectation. It is one of the major tourist attractions in the area but we can’t understand why everyone gets so excited about it. Maybe because it is one of the very few religious buildings that are open?

The area around the monastery is surrounded caves, chapels and shrines used by the monks and there are footpaths to many of them. We drove to the end of the road to Ermita de San Miguel, a small square stone building with bell cote with spaces for three bells and a wooden doorway covered by a small porch.


Peering through small holes in the door, we could see a wall mounted wooden cross and a small carving of St Michael killing the Devil represented by a serpent.

There are good views across to Potes and down to Turieno in the valley below with Arguébanes in the valley above it.
 
#6
IGLESIA SANTA MARIA DE LEBANA

Iglesia Santa Maria de Lebaña is one of the few churches in the area which is open. It is in a superb setting at the bottom of a side valley off the Hermida Gorge. It is in an area of fertile land surrounded by massive stark limestone cliff faces. The church is below the village and there is a huge car park with a kiosk which is open in high season.




In early May we were the only visitors. The attendant collected our entry fee of €1.50 each and gave us a leaflet in English. No photographs are allowed in the church and we were carefully watched the whole time we were in there.

It is a nice square stone building with a pantile roof with carved corbels and a variety of roof lines.




The church dates from the C10th and was attached to the Monastery of Santo Toribo, who owned a lot of property in the area. It is described as one of the best monuments of C10th Spanish art. The large arcaded porch on the south wall was added in the C18th.


The separate bell tower is C19th. There is a small graveyard below the church to the south.


Inside, the only light is through the door and the tiny Romanesque windows recessed in the thick walls. The central nave has four massive square pillars supporting round arches which separate nave and side aisles. The capitals of the pillars are carved with acanthus leaves (eternity), branches with leaves (fertility and triumph) and small roses (Christ). There is a small stoup on the pillar by the door and a rough stone font in the south aisle.

There are three apses at the east end. The central one is slightly large than the outer two. The rough stone altar gets a mention in all the guide books for the carvings on the front of it. The leaflet explains that the two circles at the bottom corners refer to earthly life, represented by the metaphor of the tree (trees crossed) and timing (horologio). The triangles or mountains (zig-zags) and the skyline, linking both circles, underlines this concept. The intermediate zone with two smaller circles indicates the spiritual character of the Christian heaven (concentric circles) through the Resurrection (eight-pointed star). At the top, the two circles are dedicated to the salvation of Christ, (four-petaled flowers circumscribed to a cross or another flower with diamonds or precious stones). These are set in a larger circle (cosmogológica) with swastica sun rays and a cross on a small central circle (Christ as the Sun).... We weren’t altogether convinced.

A huge and magnificent C18th gilt reredos covers the wall above the altar. In the centre is a replacement of the original C15th image of the Blessed Virgin of Bethlehem. Above is a carved scene of the crucifixion with St John and the Virgin on either side. At the bottom is an image of the risen Christ with St Peter and St Paul.

There is another splendid retable on the south wall with a carving of the Virgin of the Rosarie in the centre with St Anthony and the Christ Child. On the north wall is an open carved wooden door which shuts off a smaller chapel with a statue of St Cecilia.

At the back of the south aisle is a small chapel, again with a closed open carved door, with a small altar and C16th reredos with a carving of St Roch in the centre. On either side are paintings of St Francis and St Anthony of Padua. At the back of the north aisle is a similar chapel with marble altar and reredos with a carved saint and paintings of St Peter with the key of Heaven and St Paul on either side.

This is a lovely small church but does need to be visited when it is quiet. We regretted not being able to take pictures.
 
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#7
IGLESIA SANTA MARIA LA REAL DE PIASCA

Iglesia Santa Maria la Real de Piasca, reached from the CA-872 off the CA-184 south east of Potes, is a delightful C12th church and all that remains of a C9th monastery which housed both monks and nuns until C17th.


It is a marvellous setting on a grassy terrace high above the river with the small village built above it. As you drive up the road to Piasca, there is a brief glimpse of the church from the road. It is down a short side turning which leads to a large farm which hides the church. You walk through an archway and suddenly the glorious west end of the church comes into view. It really does stop you in your tracks.


Even though we had been told it was open from 4pm at weekends, the church was very shut when we arrived just turned four o’clock on a Saturday. We walked round taking photos and then several cars of Spaniards arrived who knocked on the door of the farm for the old woman to unlock the church. We followed them in. Entry was €1.50. When we left, the church was relocked.

The church is a simple stone building with a pantile roof set in a small enclosure with the ruins of the cloisters visible in the grass to the south of the building.


It has a lovely west front. Round pillars with carved capitals and a frieze along the top support carved round arches above the doorway. Each has a different pattern. On one of the pillars is a small carving of St Michael killing the devil, represented by a serpent.




One of the capitals has a carving of two centaurs and has a figure on horseback. Carvings on the arches include a knight in armour with a shield, musicians, mythical beasts, human heads and acanthus leaves.


Above, set in three arches with more carved capitals, is a carving of the Virgin and Child with St Peter holding the keys of Heaven on one side and St Paul on the other holding a book. Above is a small bell cote with one bell.

The south door is smaller and less elaborately carved and would have given access to the cloisters. It has a single column on either side with a double carved arch above with figures of a stonemason and two scribes.


The small apse at the east end is heavily buttresses and has a carved frieze round it.


The double east window has a trefoil inset with two small carved stone circles with six pointed stars in them. On either side are round pillars with carved capitals and above a carved arch with grotesque animals.


Buttresses on the outside of the north wall of the nave have small arches forming a channel through the bottoms.

Inside the west door, steps lead down into the church. If the outside was good, the inside is even better. Square pillars supporting round arches separate the very tall and narrow nave from the side aisles. The nave and walls are plastered and there is a simple barrel ribbed ceiling. The transept and chancel apses are the original rough stonework walls. These are very tall and have vaulted ceilings.


At the back of the church are two painted pedestals. One has a statue of the crowned Virgin and Child, also wearing a crown and holding an orb representing the world.


The other is St Michael killing the dragon (Satan). At the back of the south wall is a small wall mounted retable with a painted carving of the Virgin and Child.


On the south transept wall is a painted panel with vases of flowers. Above is a very moving painted carving of the Pietà, with the Virgin Mary cradling the dead body of Jesus.

A round arch leads into the south apse which is very dark and contains an old wooden chest and two old wood host boxes.

In the north transept is a small recess with a metal grille across which contains an old host box with the painted figure of Christ on it. Next to it on the wall, is a painted wood carving of St Bento.


At the end of the north aisle is a massive roughly carved round bowl font. Inside is a smaller bowl with a scallop shell scoop. On the wall above is a carved wood panel with flowers, castles, lions and scroll designs.

The chancel is tall and narrow with a low altar.




On the back wall is a old painted wooden carving of the Virgin cradling the dead body of Christ with Mary Magdalene, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus.


There is a carved arcade on either side of the chancel with with two trifoliate arches supported by pillars with beautifully carved capitals. One depicts the nativity scene




This is a delightful church and well worth the drive to find it, even if you can’t get inside.
 
#8
VILLAGES TO THE NORTH OF POTES

We spent some time exploring the area to the north of Potes while we waited for Santa Maria de Lebaña to open. This area doesn’t figure in the guide books and there is little about it on the internet.

We began by driving up CA891 to Esanos and San Pedro at the head of the Bedoya valley. It is a pleasant drive along an excellent road. The small settlements of Trillayo and Pumareñare are off the road on the south side of the valley. These are scattered collections of white or ochre walled houses with orange pantile roofs and look most attractive against the lush green surroundings.


ESANOS is a delightful settlement of beautifully restored houses, many with escutcheons on the walls, set in very fertile farmland. Many have small carefully tended vegetable gardens round them and there was the constant sound of cow bells from the surrounding pasture. There is a lot of money here.




The small square church with bell cote for one bell, ivy covered walls and sagging roof is at the edge of the settlement. It was very shut up and judging by the height of vegetation on the steps and path down to it and round the door, hadn’t been used for a long time.




Afterward visiting Santa Maria de Lebaña, we drove up CA884 through mixed deciduous forest to above PENDES to a parking area by a grove of very old sweet chestnut trees by a small football pitch. It was a beautiful day and a lovely place high on the side of the mountain.




There were views up the valley to the end of the road and the dispersed settlement of Cabañes. There is a lot of summer grazing up here with cows and sheep, both wearing bells. We were surrounded by high mountains with bare rock cliffs.


We did the short climb up onto the ridge with views of the HERMIDA GORGE and deep valleys.


There were a number of well marked and easy trackways to wander. It was lush heathland vegetation with bracken, nettles, Daboecia, milkwort, large stitchwort… It was a lovely spot to drop out.
 
#9
ANIEZO, TO THE SOUTH EAST OF POTES

Aniezo is a tiny settlement at the end of the CA-870 which runs off the CA-184, south east of Potes. It is an excellent run through pretty scenery up the valley. We reversed so we could park by the old bridge and were carefully watched by two English bikers who came to check if we were lost. They seemed a bit bemused that anyone would be coming to Aniezo for the industrial archaeology.

It is an interesting village that has kept a lot of its history. Many of the houses have been immaculately and expensively restored, although several are still working farms with storage barns.


Carefully laid crazy paving paths lead round the village. We felt we were attracting a certain amount of attention and were being carefully watched by at least two people as we wandered round.

A small river flows through the village and is crossed by a small medieval hump back bridge in the centre of the village.




A leat from the river comes to feed two tilt hammers of an old fulling mill.


These have a wooden frame with a small wooden waterwheel and two heavy hammers.

Hand spun woollen fabric would be folded and placed under the hammers. Kept constantly wet it would be beaten by the hammers. Every six hours it would be refolded and beaten again. Fulling could take from one to three days. The material was then used for saddle bags, sacks, blankets, traditional footwear or hats.


Another leat from the stream leads to a small mill pond with a small watermill which still has the remains of a millstone beneath the building.






At the start of the village, opposite a lovely old building with a wooden balcony, is a timber frame horreo which is now supported on concrete supports. There is also the remains of an old cow restraint which was used to shoe cattle.


We found old bakery still with with its circular oven. The smithy is now a garage.


There are now no services in the village. It is a delightful spot surrounded by trees and lush farmland with lots of wild flowers. Yellow wagtails were flitting along the river.
 
#10
VILLAGES TO THE SOUTH WEST OF POTES

TUDES is another attractive small village, ignored by the guide books and with little information on the web.


Set high on the hillside off the N-621 south of Potes, it has many old houses and barns in a state of general decrepitude.






It is still a farming settlement and there were hens running around. There is plenty of parking in the centre by what looks like a bowls pitch. Iglesia de Santa Eulalia is a typical square stone building with bell cote and big porch. As usual, it was locked.


There is a small taverna in the village and also the remains of the public laundry area.


The old road contours round the side of the mountain before dropping down to cross the river.


The N621 continues south and we took the CA-894 fork through the tiny settlement of Barago. This was a lovely wooded drive along the valley bottom.


The road begins to climb and there is a spectacular view of Cucayo sitting in a hanging valley high above. It looks unreachable.




The road climbs steeply up the side of the hill with many hairpin bends and two tunnels to Dobres and finally Cucayo. There is a good view point with plenty of parking at the end of the second tunnel.




From here there are tracks leading up to the higher summer pastures.

CUCAYO is set in a natural amphitheatre surrounded by mountains and lush farmland. It is very green and fertile with cows grazing. This is still a farming community with hay barns, cow pats on the roads and hens and geese wandering around.


It is a maze of narrow streets with lovely stone houses with pantile roofs. There is a large modern restaurant and bar at the start of the village with some parking opposite. The small stone church with a square tower is at the edge of the village. As ever, it was locked.


We followed the track at the end of the village which dropped down to the river and then climbed back up to contour around the hillside. This makes a lovely walk with good views back to Cucayo and down into the valley.


We retraced out steps back through Dobres and Barago to La Veg where we picked up the N-621 again to Vada where we picked up the CA-896 to Ledantes, a narrow winding road.

LEDANTES is still very much a working village with many houses gently mouldering. It has escaped the expensive make-overs seen in villages nearer Potes. It is at the end of the road and the houses fall down the hillside to the stream far below. There were no signs to the fulling mill or medieval bridge mentioned on the web. It also looked a long way down to (and back up from) the river. The church on the edge of the village has seen better days and is looking in a poor state of repair. It is the usual square building with small bell cote and a large porch. We were given instructions to find the key holder but there was no-one in. This was a shame as I’d have loved a nose around the inside with its frescoes.


We headed back to the N-621 and decided to continue along it to the pass at PUERTO DE SAN GLORIA at 1690m. It was a well graded but narrow road with many hair pin bends as we climbed steadily above the tree line. The Mirador del Corzo with its statue of a roe deer has very limited parking. There were superb views of the Picos de Europa and surrounding mountains. The tops still had substantial amounts of snow in early May.






Nearing the summit the fields are poorer with wild daffodils and blue gentians in flower. At the summit, there is heathland vegetation with heather, juniper and broom.


Roads in Cantabria were well made and maintained. The road from the pass into Léon didn’t look to be as good.

From the pass, there is a 2km walk along a concrete path (with signs saying no vehicular access) to Mirador del Oso (Bear). There are tracks from the summit to the south which give good views back down the Vejo valley with its volcanic plugs and dykes.
 

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