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Published: November 20th 2008
In August in the UK it is traditional to go on a summer holiday. Who am I to buck a trend? You know how I like to be doing what all the kids are doing. Accordingly, I took a WHOLE WEEK off work and N and I headed to the north of Spain for a ‘compromise holiday’ consisting of walking and relaxation. Actually, it was not that much of a compromise, as I love walking and am quite hopeless at relaxing for long periods of time. I did, however, put my foot down and insist on proximity to swimmable water.
First port of call was Bilbao - home of the Guggenhiem Museum. The Guggenheim takes its modern art seriously, so much so that the building itself is practically an artwork, with its titanium surface and unusual curves. Interestingly, it’s a building constructed in the deconstructionist style. It is a very impressive building to look at, with spaces inside well suited to some of the massive scales of the artwork it houses. We liked the huge metal pieces shaped to form a maze of curves with weirdly tilted sides designed to affect your perceptions of space as you wander through them
(by Richard Serra), but were not so sure about the model of a bloke leaning as though trying to listen through a wall … apparently when no one is there, you can actually hear what he is trying to listen to. Well, you could, but it only happens when no-one is there (so how do they know?). There was a bit of that - “the figures appear to be laughing, but there is no noise, and that is what makes the image so powerful” says the blurb. Philistine that I am, I can’t help thinking, no, that is what makes it a statue.
We then hopped in the hire car and drove to San Sebastian - a beautiful beachside town in the Basque country. It is situated on a horseshoe bay, with calm seas and blue water. Being surrounded by hills, there are also some fantastic lookout points for appreciating the view. It’s also got a mean tapas scene, which made me pretty happy. We took it pretty easy the couple of days we were there, walking to both of the ‘high places’ to enjoy the view, coffees, beers, tapas, a swim…. (hmm Bay of Biscay not that warm
in August as it turns out). Apparently, earlier in the season it can be overrun with tourists but as we traveled in the last week of August, it was not too busy. Like all good European towns, it has a river, and a fort and churches, but it was the beautiful beach and lovely old-world charm which we liked a lot.
We then headed west along the coast for Llanes, where we had hired a cottage for a week. Our cottage turned out to be located in ‘proper countryside’, so much so that when we arrived there was a cow hanging out outside the window. A small disadvantage of that was that there were no nearby restaurants, but we had come prepared with a head torch and so were able to brave the 3 km walk to town one of the nights for a meal out (with drinking!). The torch proved absolutely essential, as the streets leading to our cottage were otherwise pitch black.
We spent a couple of days on the local beaches (including the unfortunately named ‘Poo’ beach). Sadly, the afternoons were quite windy and this, combined with the less than warm waters of the Pacific,
made for ‘quick dips’ rather than leisurely swims. The cliffs along the shore edge did, however, make for some good walks, and some coastline reminiscent of the headlands north of Sydney. Still, it was great to wriggle my toes in the sand again and smell the salt in the air.
Llanes itself was a lovely, if crowded, port town, which we explored (and not only while looking for parking!).
One of the main reasons for choosing this area of Spain was its proximity to the ‘Picos de Europa’/Peaks of Europe (which I will forgive for being responsible for the chill afternoon winds that defeated my visions of lazy days on the beach). We ended up doing two ‘big walks’. This meant that, oddly for me on a holiday, I had to get up in time to see the sunrise -what is that about?
The first walk is known as ‘Cares Gorge Walk’ and consists of a path which is literally cut into the side of the mountain (in some places, passing through short tunnels through the mountain itself). It’s a ‘classic walk’ and therefore quite busy, but still well worth it as it clings to the mountain
side in a massive gorge, up to 1,000m deep. As you peer into the abyss (OK, that is a slight exaggeration), you can see the river glinting as it winds its way along the gorge floor far, far below. In places the drop from the edge of the path would certainly be deadly and, in true Spanish fashion, there is little in the way of warnings or guardrails. Still, wanting a bit more excitement, N and I decided to take an offshoot shown on the map, and climb a bit higher up the mountain. Perhaps we should have been put off by the ‘scramble’ required to reach the path (if you can call it that, but it was not until we started to make our way back down that we truly appreciated the steepness of the slope we had climbed (and the danger of loose rocks falling on to walkers on the path below). Luckily, that did not happen.
The path was actually created in order to maintain a hydroelectric scheme and in many places you can see a canal running alongside the path - it looks like it would make a great alternative to walking if you only
Sunrise from the cottage
(Not a sight I often get to see on holidays!)
had a canoe with you, although who knows what happens on the many occasions it plunges into dark tunnels in the mountainside? Apparently a bloke walks the entire 12 km every day, checking the canal levels and so on.
Whilst this walk was beautiful, it was not quite hardcore enough for N, who decided we would do something a bit more strenuous. We therefore headed to Fuente De, which is a massive horseshoe cliff in a valley just past the town of Cabrales. The cliffs are practically vertical and stretch 800m into the sky.
Most people get the cable car up to the top of the cliff, but N and I undertook to walk up.
We started on a well marked path, zig zagging up the mountain side. We reached a ruined hut, beyond which the path became a bit less obvious. Undaunted, we followed it, including walking over a small scree slope. The mountainside got steeper, the path got skinnier, and yet we continued on… Eventually we were walking on little more than a goat track, and it became less and less clear which path to follow.
We crossed more scree slopes - I did
Llanes memory cubes
Not sure what 'memories' they are meant to hold, but they are a pretty cool way to make the sea break look more interesting
not like them, their instability, combined with the steepness of the slope, kinda freaked me out. We continued upward, taking the most direct path to the top of the cliff.
Ultimately we ended up right under the cable car path, on a scree slope.
A very steep scree slope.
An EXTREMELY steep scree slope.
With a cliff at the top.
An unclimbable cliff.
There was no way up.
At this point, I kind of freaked out, thinking about the people in the cable car looking down and thinking “what are those people doing there?”.
I could not help thinking, “What if I slip and fall on the slope and can’t stop myself? We are not supposed to be here”. I looked up, and saw what looked to be some kind of falcon or hawk, circling overhead. As it turned out, it was not a bad as I thought, and we safely made our way off the slope and onto a more secure bit of mountain side.
But we were not done - we were still 100m short of the top. As I continued on the walk, I thought of titles for
this blog, including “As we walked the walk of death, birds of prey circled overhead”. Luckily, we found another way up following an (also extremely steep) river bed and finally reached the top. What a great feeling (leading to a less parental scaring blog title…)!
All I can say is, the next time N and I go walking, I am choosing the route!
Tot: 2.261s; Tpl: 0.063s; cc: 26; qc: 94; dbt: 0.0595s; 2; m:saturn w:www (220.127.116.11); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.6mb