Day 7 : Riano & The Embalse
Last night we decided that we should plan our last few days here in Spain. The Lebaniego Camino has ended and in it’s place we have the Camino Vadiniense.
With the rise in popularity of medieval pilgrims visiting the Monestario de Santo Toribio de Liébana, the route from the Northern Camino often became a gateway for the onward journey to Santiago de Compostela. Today hundreds of pilgrims continue to walk from San Vicente. The Vadinian Route through the Picos de Europa is said to be one of the oldest routes to Santiago de Compostela. The name is a tribute to the vadinienses people who inhabited the area in pre-Roman times and in particular from the 1st to 5th century AD. The camino begins as the Lebaniego in San Vicente de la Barquera and passes through Cantabria, crossing the mountains and on towards Riaño, Cistierna and Mansilla de las Mulas, just outside Leon on the Camino Frances and 327 km from Santiago.
The start of the Vadiniense Route dates back to the 12th century, when pilgrims searched for safer paths and took advantage of the approach to the Mozarabic church of Santa María de Lebeña, and the Monasterio de Santo Toribio de Liébana, where they venerated the relics of the Lignum Crucis.
Our plan had always been to walk the Lebaniego and continue for a couple of days, onwards over Fuenta De towards Riano; this section takes us over the highest point of any camino de Santiago. But our ‘there and back again’ camino has given us less time to cover every step and the roads to and from our start points are slow. We needed a plan because it was clear we couldn’t walk all that we intended but we don’t want to miss the mountains. Also, the temperature is rising and we don’t wish to be walking late in the afternoon when it’s just too hot for us.
As today was forecast to be the hottest day we decided to jump forward to our pre-planned end destination of Riano. We could walk part of this stage in and out of town and perhaps also some of the trail around the enormous man-made lake that this stage is famous for. This meant that we could have another fairly relaxed morning and Gerry decided that his meant he could have a little drink of Gin as a night cap before bed. He and his brother have a history with Gin… especially in Spain! Instead of tonic he tried it with orange juice and whilst I’m sure his intention was to have just a little glass with his dinner, the orange juice lulled him into a false sense of security and he says he has no recollection of how the football match he was he was watching ended!
Fortunately he suffered no ill effects this morning although he slept really well, which was good news as google said we had a 90 minute drive but it was closer to two hours and we arrived around 11:00.
Riaño has a really interesting, albeit sad history. It was a small farming community located along the Esla River, settled in a valley in the Cantabrian mountains near the foothills of the Picos de Europa. Due to the construction of a dam and reservoir, the village and its lowlying farms were submerged in the 1980s, as were six other villages. It was a very unpopular decision and some residents were forceably evicted from their homes and their property demolished, including the church and it’s bell tower.
The project was considered way back at the beginning of the 20th century and work actually began in 1965, with the erection of the concrete wall of the dam. The project progressed very slowly during the 1970s, and in 1978, the project was halted but resumed again with the change in government in 1982. There were numerous protests not only in the valley itself, but across Spain which featured in national and international media for months. The then government would not be swayed and forced the closure of the valley and sent the military to guarantee the development. The gates of the Riaño reservoir were closed on December 31, 1987, just one day before a European directive that would have made its construction from an environmental point of view unfeasible.
The residents were relocated to New Riaño, built as a replacement higher above the reservoir waters. Some 10,000 people lived in the valley but only 582 residents now reside in the new town. Some of the old homes were moved brick by brick to the new town including the 16th century Church of San Martín, moved from the flooded town of Pedrosa del Rey to Riaño. Now known as Santa Águeda, Parochial Church of Riano, it contains religious carvings from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The bells from other churches have also been saved and a monument constructed in the new town to preserve them.
These images show the old villages before the flooding and photos of the church that was moved.
I watched some videos of the last days of Riano when I returned home and there were images of young men protesting and being arrested. I wonder how many of them still live here and if any of the old guys we saw walking the bridge had once lived in that lost valley?
As we drove along the N-621 towards Riano we could see we were also following the camino. After Portilla de la Reina much of the route is along the road; this has been a common feature and a bit of a drawback to following this beautiful trail… there is a lot of road walking!
We parked and explored the old church and the new town before heading off in the direction of the yellow arrows. I had really wanted to cross the Embalse’s bridge in the earlier morning but instead we made do with early afternoon. It was very hot today. We had our UV umbrellas and used them as soon as we left the car… the mercury was pushing 30c but it felt hotter. We walked across the bridge, Gerry searched for fish, we watched a little pleasure boat weave it’s way across and we waved and exchanged some Buenos Dias with canoeist as he paddled and sang his way home. I took many, many photos but my images just can’t capture how beautiful this area is.
As we crossed to the other side of the lake we searched for the arrows. There was a tiny church that I hoped to visit but much to our dismay the camino continued to follow the highway. It’s not a busy road but there is enough traffic to make it unpleasant and you get the occasional lorry hurtling by which doesn’t make for good walking. We decided instead to follow a walking trail around the lake. We wandered for an hour, walking in the shade of pine trees, who’s scent was heady in the hot sun. The trail was littered with foxgloves which was a surprise given how hot and exposed it was. However, it was just too hot to stay outside. Whilst our heads are protected from the sun my poor feet were feeling the heat; I had slathered them in moisturiser this morning without thinking and I began to wonder if I’d just basted them nicely, to cook out here in the hot Spanish sun! We decided to head back to our car.
We drove on a little further to see the end of the lake and it’s mighty dam and also to see what happened with the camino and to hunt down a lunch spot. The dam was impressive but the camino continued along the road and we both agreed we were pleased we never got to walk this section. We spotted a church but as is often the case when you drive around these tiny villages you end up on a no-through road and have to reverse the narrow steep streets. Today we also had an audience of three old locals who sat watching us (no doubt with some amusement) as we reversed our way gingerly back to the main road.
We stopped for a picnic lunch in the shade beside an old fountain. This morning I’d asked Gerry if he wanted beetroot in his sandwiches and he scoffed at the idea. Now he sat mentioning that perhaps he’d rushed to judgement, and how nice mine looked; I reminded him of this morning and told him I wasn’t sharing! He said he didn’t want any (yeah right!) … and we laughed and he hid his apple from me. After our picnic we turned the car back towards Potes for the long drive back to the apartment. I’ll be honest, the heat and the motion of the car was making me feel quite sleepy but Gerry was having none of that! Wake up and take notes he shouted; it was poetry time
Up we go o’er mountain peaks
The road so high she never speaks
Then down we drop, towards the lake
Sandwiches with tuna and beets.
I dared to suggest that beets didn’t work as it needed to rhyme with lake but I was given short shrift and told that I didn’t understand how poetry worked; then he added we need to ask Bill. For me the jury is still out but you have to give the man his due as we have progressed to 4 lines.
For a non-walking day we managed to walk just short of 10km. Tomorrow we’re tackling the mountain and we’ll be rising early and hoping to be finished before the sun is too high in the sky.
(can you see us waving over the green water? It was odd how the lake changes colour as we moved across and at different times of the day… we had our brollies up… you can see Gerry waving)
P.s. I discovered what the camino markers are outside our apartment; there is a route that cuts through the Camino Frances at Fromistra from Palencia and leads across country to join the Lebeniego at Potes. I wonder now if there is a way to cross from Potes to Oviedo!