Friday, 5 September 2014


Our friend John Finnis texted to say they had 34 degrees at our destination, but Santander was barely 20, and the skies were low and grey. We slipped away to the west into the glories of the north coast of Spain - those fabulous rolling wooded hills and then the spectacular Picos - mountains so spiky and dramatic as to be almost unbelievable. But the clouds and mist hid almost everything.  I notice how the human eye is drawn to the peaks and slopes, but the camera - with its convivial lens arrangement - looks for panoramic views and squashes and flattens everything in sight. I wonder if humans are wired to take note of heights as part of our evolutionary equipment.

We had several challenges ahead of us but nothing spoiled our pleasure in pushing through on the almost empty roads and soaking up the atmosphere.  We stopped for coffee at Ribadesella - one of many charming and historic natural harbours on this Biscay coast. Its neat houses and quays disguise the fact that immediately behind the wooded headland which backs and hugs the curving waterfront, there are some truly spectacular cliffs best appreciated from an aircraft. This is the area known as the Jurassic coast, with scary model dinosaurs gracing the roundabouts as endorsement.   We had a coffee (wifi!), bought some beach sandals and contemplated lunch - but we were too early. We found that one of the local cave systems has fantastic ancient cave-paintings - horses, and female genitalia.  Not enough time to explore, but we will come back.

We pressed on - to LLatres, or Latres, depending on which map you look at. This is another lovely harbour-town and port and we edged cautiously down the steep and narrow lane to the fishing quay to find the last possible parking space, and a place on a café terrace for lunch. I found myself trajecting photographs of each stage of the meal to my pals and the rest of the world on Facebook. Crazy. It was pretty marvellous - for twelve euros we had three courses of local fresh food, with a choice of 4 dishes per course, and including bread, wine, water, and coffee.  Such a comparison with that wretched Sussex pub offering one course for £10.95 or something, and that all too clearly from an industrial supplier.

Now our troubles started, though we had 'known' about it beforehand. Our map is an insufficient scale - not enough detail - and also about 5 years old. Our satnav is about 30 months out of date. So our route-finding ability was limited… and in the year since we were last here, whole stretches of motorway have been opened. Yes, folks, all your preciousssss European money has been spent improving the road access to Galicia.  Why can't the UK govt get Europe to pay for HS2?  The land is  utterly mountainous - traditional roads had to go where they could, rather than directly to the chosen destination. The new roads with modern engineering can cut through previously inaccessible places. Hence we had quite a few lost turnings, as we tried to make sense of conflicting information from maps, satnav, signs and gut feeling.

I wouldn't want to use too many superlatives to describe the look of the world up here, but it really is just plain gorgeous, still relatively undeveloped and domestic, with little farms (and delightful black-faced golden cattle with big horns), woods and forests all actively managed, tranches of impressive industrial development with coal-mines and fishing development plants, buzzards flying overhead (or was that an eagle?), and increasingly Galician place-names with lots of 'x's to lure us on.

Where they have cut through the mountains, the rocks are revealed in layer after layer of brilliant colour and conformation, ranging from orangey sandstones to steely-looking limestones and shales, like rainbows.  The motorways bash through the mountains' higher flanks in a series of tunnels, some only a few yards long but all requiring you to put your headlights on, according to the road signs. Then the road soars out over deep steep valleys, carried across on breathtakingly high viaducts or bridges. These have signs to announce how long they are but not how tall which is a shame because one or two of them are shudderingly far above the ravines beneath. It's a fantastic feat of engineering. The Ancient Romans would be proud to see how their ideas have been developed.

We swept down into Cabanos, then over the ancient bridge to Pontedeume, and met up with John and Hilary, whose satnav actually recognised the address of our apartment which ours did not. They kindly led us the 15 miles or so to Mino, which our satnav refused to recognise - though, to be fair, there are several places called Mino around here.  We met up with Emilio the landlord who was very small but absolutely bursting with pride showing us all the features of the place - assuring us that everything worked including the hot water. It's modern, smallish, but well equipped and sparklingly clean. The views are entirely urban and confined. The beach is about 5 minutes away, but 
sunbathing won't be exactly simple for our daughter when she arrives on Saturday.   We talked to the bored girl in the local tourist office and collected some info.  We did a small shopping in a tiny little grocers shop.  We settled in, and had a very small supper - then set off again to Pontedeume to meet up with John who is celebrating his retirement. Unknowingly we drove right past the restaurant he and his Galician friends were in - it has just been opened by his friend Miguel who looks like Acker Bilk.  Someone came down to show us the way - we had another tiny supper while everyone - about ten in all - had a tapas banquet…. We are beginning to recognise the food and the people too.  We found that Abelado is friends with the chief ranger at the Fraga d'Eume (a protected local landscape found here and only otherwise in Killarney). This will please our friend Snelling who is travelling out with our daughter on Saturday - he is a keen ornithologist and we are hoping to connect them.

We got hopelessly lost for about an hour trying to get back to the flat - no satnav, no map, no road-signs - aaagh!  It was the railway line which did it, we were on the wrong side.  Back at the apartment, hot and sticky from the long and rich day, we found there was in fact no hot water and no means of finding out why  - no switch, no control panel, no timer….  So ended our day of arrival. We have the Pontedeume fiesta to look forward to… starting on Sunday. And we have to find the cash to pay Emilio for our rent, because the IBAN has not worked as expected.

All this is too detailed.  More of a record for me than anything else. Sorry.

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