Saturday, 3 July 2010

Cantabria, Collados del Asón Natural Park

In the morning it was disappointingly overcast and clouds were crawling over the mountains that surrounded the village and prospects didn’t look good so we had to arrange an appropriate itinerary to take account of the weather. It certainly wasn’t seaside weather so we decided to travel inland and see the countryside and after a substantial continental breakfast prepared by Luz, the housekeeper, we left Liendo and drove first west and then south into the hills.

The first part of the route took us past Laredo, Colindres and Ampuero and then to the busy little market town of Ramales de la Victoria where we left the main road that carried on to the to the city of Burgos and the burial place of El Cid and headed towards the Collados del Asón Natural Park.

It was slightly overcast but there was no rain and there was a moody ethereal mist over the emerald green pastures and fields which added to the rural ambiance. Once off the main road the driving experience required complete and undivided attention as we drove along twisting narrow roads, under mountains and into deep gorges, through forests of fresh broad leaved trees as we alternately dropped and then climbed along a twisting river valley. The tall mountains all wore lace bonnets made of swirling clouds as we followed the small roads through a succession of rustic villages where local people were working hard on the farms and weren’t expecting tourists. Twice we had to stop for cattle being driven along the roads as they took priority over cars on their way to and from the milking sheds and everywhere dairy cows with bulging udders were grazing on lush grass on the precarious slopes of the hills and mountains.

The road kept going west, twisting and turning all the way and following the river valley until it finally swung north and we started to climb once more towards the southern entrance of the Natural Park which was along a road with a vertical grey limestone mountain on the left and a sheer drop to the right which meant I had to pay special attention to driving duties. At the top there was a viewing platform to stop and admire the panorama from about twelve hundred metres high down a deep gorge with steep mountain slopes on either side, which was where we going next down the road that zigzagged along the eastern side of the valley.

First we had to negotiate our way past a herd of wild horses who were not minded to give priority to traffic which meant driving carefully around them and then we began the rapid descent to the bottom past the source of the Asón river, which begins here in what today, it has to be said, was a slightly disappointing waterfall and then flows for forty kilometres north through the town of Colindres, where it forms the Santoña estuary which is the most important Special Protection Area in the north of Spain.

All the way down the road stuck close to the vertical side of the mountain and as we avoided fallen rocks and stones at regular intervals I began to wonder if I had made a sensible decision when I rejected the insurance option on broken windscreens and glass but we found our way to the bottom without incident and we left the gorge and began to follow the river north towards Arredondo where we followed the road to Riba and then headed north again. Our intention was to return to Ampuero through the twisting valleys that meandered through the mountains but the combination of confusing road signs and an inadequate map conspired together to prevent this.

Driving in Spain wouldn’t be the same of course if we didn’t get lost a couple of times and we took a couple of unnecessary detours in our quest. Down narrow roads that simply stopped at small hamlets or single farms and once down a promising new road where the asphalt ran out after a few kilometres and we had to double all the way back. We had to admit defeat when we found ourselves almost back at the coast and had to repeat the first section of the route again to reach our destination.

So we drove south again and at Ampuero left the main road and headed for the tiny village of La Aparecida climbing again and getting closer to the Buzzards circling above and through spreading puddles of sunshine burning through the swirling mist vapours on one of those getting better all the time sort of days. We were looking for another of Marta’s recommendations because based on how good they had been so far we were again confident of her suggestion for lunch.

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