Day 9 : Fuente Dé towards Portilla de la Reina and back
A few years ago I attended a Professional Singers Retreat in Marbella and it was an amazing experience, learning alongside 14 hugely talented people. At the end of the course we were asked to learn a song which we then performed at the end of the course, but just for our own benefit and not an audience. It was this song that was in my head this morning.
I don’t have a video of us singing it ‘properly’… but I have footage of our impromptu acapela version on the last evening after a few glasses of wine. We sang this in a restaurant and after we were asked for an encore and a round of Happy Birthday for one the the diners. It was the perfect song choice for today’s hike up to Fuente De.
Fuente Dé isn’t a town but a mountain or more accurately a glacial cirque, it’s the source of the Deva river and is populated by beech forests and carpets of wild flowers. It’s also one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Picos because of its cable car.
The Fuente Dé cable car travels up 753 meters and takes you into the heart of the Picos de Europa. The idea of connecting the high-mountain area at Fuente Dé was developed by the president of the Spanish Mountaineering Federation and construction started in November 1962; the opening ceremony was held on August 21, 1966.
The station at the bottom is at 1,090 metres and the upper station at 1,850 metres. The Fuente Dé ropeway is the longest single-span aerial lift of Europe, cabins transport 20 people at a time and the entire trip lasts just 3 minutes and 40 seconds. We had considered taking a car (even though we’re both scared of heights!) but even the restrictions of only 10 visitors per car was still too many people in an enclosed space for us during these COVID days.
We’d had an uneventful drive from home, the only excitement was passing one poor chap half running and totally exhausted up the hill chasing his escaped horse. The horse would stop, the guy would jog to catch up and as he approached the horse would run off again. There was little we could do to help and I couldn’t help but chuckle as I watched in the rear mirror as the guy threw his hat on the road in frustration. (We never saw him on the way down so I guess he must have caught him eventually!)
We had hoped to start walking before 9:00; we were 10 minutes late but no matter. After a few oohs and aahs looking at the mountain we were off. After the hike up to Cabanes a few days ago I was a little apprehensive, today is long steep climb but in the event I felt fine. That’s not to say there wasn’t a lot of huffing and puffing and plentiful pauses for photos but generally we made good time. The walk starts off in a beech forest, not unlike walking over and down to Roncesvalles in the Camino Frances. We coo-ed as we walked at the wild flowers and as a mist blew over we agreed it was not a problem as it was nice to walk in the cool.
We stopped to take some photos of a fountain full of tadpoles. As we walked away I noticed a very scruffy looking dog in the corner of my eye. He stopped for a drink and then ran towards us and onwards up the trail. He didn’t look like a dog and as he approached I tucked myself in behind a tree. I searched for my camera but he was too quick and before we knew he was gone. Gerry tried to call him over and stroke him and he did pause and sniff before running off. I honestly think he was a wolf. He had long thin legs that didn’t look like a dog, his tail was thicker, bushier and shorter. He was much leaner looking than a pet and he looked like he was half wearing a winter coat. His face was more fox like than Alsatian and he just didn’t look like a dog… there was something not quite right. I’ve looked since coming home an I’m certain he was a Canis lupus signatus; an iberian wolf. Gerry thinks I’m crazy but I had a better look than he did and there is a large population of these wolves in the mountains. A little later along the trail we spotted wolf droppings, full of hair (we learned on the Sanabres that this was how you can identify wolves poop). If it was a wolf then it would have been a pretty special moment! Especially as Gerry tried to stroke him! (the last photo in the gallery is from Wiki.. but it is so like our wolf today!)
We walked onwards. Out of the forest and into the mist. It’s kind of eery trekking up mountain tracks and having no idea what is above or below you. We may have loved the early mist to keep us cool but as we got higher we wanted to see the mountains and we hoped that the sun would come burn it all away.
Unlike yesterday when we just looked at the mountains today our attention was drawn to the wild flowers. No picture I can take will ever show how amazingly abundant these meadows are. We couldn’t stop looking. I told Gerry that we should tell Monty Don; he could fill an entire episode of Gardener’s World with a walk up to Fuente Dé. It was like a scented living carpet that followed us kilometre after kilometre. Such a beautiful, beautiful walk.
We found a little ledge to perch on beside the trail for a tea break. As we sat the cloud started to disappear. It was as if that little seat had been made just for us for just this moment, like curtains opening on a stage. The landscape slowly revealed itself to us and as with yesterday we were blown away by the beauty of this area. And we were also really surprised at how high we’d come!
Gerry sent Matt a photo of The Wall and they exchanged more Game of Thrones references. Matt told us that if we spotted any White Walkers then we should run in the opposite direction… he also told us to run from the Wolves. I can assure there was going to be no running today after this hike!
Onwards we walked. Higher and higher towards the mountains we walked to yesterday. The approach wasn’t as we were expecting. Yesterday we had assumed that the distant hiker we had seen was a pilgrim whereas he was probably simply hiking one of the many circuits in these hills. Onwards and onwards. More wild flower meadows, more stopping and gazing and just being astounded by the beauty of this walk.
Midday was approaching. I wanted to reach the point where we stopped at yesterday but we had agreed to stop at Midday. I asked nicely if we could go just a little further and of course Gerry agreed. Sadly though the trail started to descend which would mean that on our return our already tired legs would have more hills to climb. But there was nothing for it. We kept walking first down and then more up. On through more forest and then opening up again to reveal the views that we had seen yesterday. We’d reached nearly 1,700m and when we spotted a little grassy bank we decided that this would be the perfect spot to stop for lunch.
It felt oddly surreal sat there in all this splendour, drinking hot tea from our flask, eating freshly made sandwiches, boiled eggs and home-made potato salad (using the last of the potatoes we’d brought from our garden). As we munched we tried to identify some of the many wild flowers around us. Honestly this had to be the greatest picnic spot ever; probably made by Carlsberg!
The sun was high and we knew we had to pull ourselves away and turn back to our car. We’d walked further than we’d intended but it was worth it. Walking back we could see the views that had been hidden from us coming up and we were really surprised at how steep the path had been. We must be getting fitter as it didn’t feel too bad on the way up; it hurt our toes on the way down though pushing hard against the inside of our shoes.
A few times today we’ve had to move off the trail and out of the way as a 4×4 vehicle approached. I think perhaps 4 or 5 have passed us, taking tourists up the mountains on off road trails usually reserved for hikers. I’m not sure how I felt about them. Parts of the trail are badly eroded, with huge ruts and the odd landslide. These vehicles must put pressure on the landscape? We wondered who would foot the bill if more of the trail slid down the mountain?
Onward we walked and the sun was high. Brollies came out and we picked our way down and down, still slightly surprised by the steepness and the relative ease that we’d walked up! Onwards and onwards hoping for the forest to appear but it seemed to take forever. And when we did reach them, without the mist and with the mid-day sun the shade that we were expecting wasn’t there. We walked from tree shade to tree shade, pausing to take in the cooler air and partway down we sat on the trail for our last impromptu cup of tea. Refreshed we walked on. Past the wolf fountain, past the tumble down house, past the meadow and the campsite and the horses and finally we were down.
The first job was to get in the car and turn on the air-conditioning. The second was to find a suitable stop so we could eat the remains of our picnic. With all the splendour around us we couldn’t find shade so we ended up on the side of the road beside the local bin store… but it was in the shade and we decided to ignore the bins!
We started the day thinking that today would simply be a re-run of yesterday, looking at the front of the mountains rather than the back and therefore not as spectacular. We could not have been more wrong. The wild flowers alone were worth the walk but the views were just incredible. These two days have to count as some of the best we’ve walked and they’ve whetted our appetite for more mountain trails.
We arrive at home, put the kettle on and like all good pilgrims showered and washed our clothes. Life is good.
Oh and the poem… Gerry decided early on today that he would keep it simple :
I think he’s spot on with this one.