Day 21: To Cantabria and the Picos de Europa

Monday, July 18th

Blog-log: Kilometres from ‘Go’: 5098.4 (277.7 today)

Location: Casa Gustavo, Potes, Cantabria.

When I arrived at Lago de Somiedo I was so impressed with the landscape I decided to have a non-bike day and walk the seven or so kilometres to the glacial lakes at the head of the valley, the Lagos de Saliencia. But the rotten weather put a stop to that so my next stage was to ride over to Cantabria and the Picos de Europa. I’d worked out a route to ride out of the Somiedo by a side door, so to speak, the As 265 from la Riera to La Plaza, which turned out to be a much way into the valley than following the river northwards from its exit to the river Barca at Belmonte.

The distant Picos de Europa aren't very high by Spanish standards, but they trap precipitation in Asturias, immediately to the west

After a very stiff climb I had fantastic views over to Cantabria and the distant Picos but it was much more easy to see than to ride; at La Plaza I chose to take the most route via Pola de la Lena (the word Pola occurs often in Asturian place names, it refers to one village being the principal of several, normally of a river valley), rather than head south over the Puerto Ventana, where I would have rejoined the fantastic CL 625 (see day 20) but run the risk of yet more horrible Leonese roads as well as having a very heebie-jeebies ride to Riaño, my gateway to the Picos.

Looking back from the Puerto de San Isidro: I left the wet weather behind only to encounter seriously low temperatures on the 'milder' face on the Cordillera Cantábrica back in León!

The ride over to Pola de la Lena was great, with some lovely scenery and lakeside stopping places – nice for the ducks but no good for swimming sadly! – but Pola itself is a large semi-industrial town and I was to find out the other side of Asturias’s character from here on. The region is known for its coal and steel industries, being part of Spain’s ‘Rust Belt’ and as I followed the AS 112 up towards the Puerto de San Isidro it was strange to ride past active pits, complete with winding gear and trains of tiny hopper wagons at the pit heads – a level of coal mining I thought a thing of the past! Again I was struck to wonder what life is like in these villages, but more I realized that Asturias really does have two completely different characters, as I’d been told several times in the past; the rural and the industrial are as different as chalk and cheese and sadly the industrial valleys really are an eyesore – and make either boring or frustration riding to boot. So for route planning it is worth looking carefully at the maps for symbols tat indicate mining, obviously, but also look for concentrations of railway lines, which are still very much part of the scene in the north of Spain in the form of FEVE, the very large network of narrow gauge lines that traverse the entire north coast.

Asturias has captured my heart, however, I think I've seen some of the most lovely scenery I've ever known - and the food's not half bad too!

It was quite a relief to begin the long climb to the Puerto de San Isidro and into some very wild countryside indeed – bleak isn’t it! But it was a sad disappointment to find the summit completely ruined by a hideous ski resort development! Following the route drops down through very bare countryside back into León, lovely in its way but a big contrast to the greens of Asturias. I made a big map reading error having stopped for fuel at Pueblo de Lillo – I was too busy putting on all my clothes against the cold and stocking up on hot coffee to actually read the map! In fact the route north and east right outside the filling station and I’d ridden a good dozen kilometres further south before I realized I was going badly wrong.

You find custom bike riders in the strangest of places: the Puerto de Las Señales being very much one of them!

The upside of this was the route over the Sierra de Corteguero and the Puerto de Las Señales, one of the most remote areas I’ve ever known. I’d been playing a game of ‘hop-skip-jump’ with another rider since turning round south of Pueblo de Lillo – the silence left by his passing was broken only by the ring tone of his mobile some way further down the lane!

The Picos are nothing short of dramatic - what is becoming for me typical of the Summer of 2011!

But arriving at the Picos as the light faded and the weather worsened made it all the more worthwhile, especially as I was going to sleep under a fixed roof – the first since Madrid on Days 6 and 7 and a bed – the first since Tarragona on Day 2 – Nice!

Reaching the Puerto de San Glorio is an 'event' by any standards: it's worth taking the short detour to the Mirador de Llesba!
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