Sunday, 6 May 2012

The origins of the paths in the Picos de Europa

There is no doubt that the walking in the Picos de Europa and Asturias is lovely, with so many different paths and tracks to choose from but have you ever thought about the origin or history of these paths? The reason the inhabitants of this area built these paths can probably fall into four different categories; farming, hydroelectricity, mining and tourism. Farming and how it has adapted to make the most of this mountainous region has given rise to most of the paths and tracks.

 A farmer moving his cattle to the high summer pastures

A type of transhumance is practised in this area where the animals are kept in the lower valleys during the winter months and then when the snow melts from the mountains the animals would be moved up to the high pastures for the summer months. This movement of the cattle is what has given origin to so many of the paths and tracks in the area. Some of these high mountain pastures are in areas of difficult access where long winding tracks are needed so that the cattle can reach these pastures. Sometimes different types of “sedos” or passes” would be built to help the animals over come a difficult point in the track. Normally these tracks where the cattle passed are quite easy to walk on.

 Walking up to a high mountain pasture at Ozania

The farmers traditionally spent many months living with the animals in the high mountain settlements and often if the access for the animals was via a long winding path the farmers looked for quicker shorter ways to reach neighbouring settlements. This gave rise to some of the more dramatic “sedos” or passes where nerves of steel are needed to cross them as can be seen in the photos below.

 A "sedo" or built pass to help overcome a difficult part in the path (Culiembro)

Nerves of steel are needed whilst crossing some of these "sedos!"

Although farming has given rise to most of the paths in the Picos , the development of infrastructures along with their maintenance has also produced some spectacular paths and tracks. The path along the Carres gorge is the most famous and popular of all the routes in the Picos and this path was built to maintain a canal which brought water to the hydroelectric station in Poncebosfrom Cain. 

 The path along the Cares Gorge

But there are other hydroelectric stations in the Picos with canals and tracks which also give rise to spectacular routes such as the Jocica dam, the River Casaño or the Canal de Reñinuevo.  This last canal along with the path for its maintenance, all be it very spectacular, is extremely dangerous in parts and should not be attempted light-heartedly.

 The path down to the Jocica dam

A part of the path along the Canal de Reñinuevo

A part of the maintenance path for the Canal de Reñinuevo

The infrastructures associated with mining (which took place in the first half of the 20th century) gave rise to many tracks particularly in the Eastern massif of the Picos where there is a maize of tracks.

 A maize of mining tracks in the Eastern Massiff of the Picos

Finally there are the paths which have developed purely for tourists such as the one at the top of the cable car at Fuente De or the stone path between the two lakes of Covadonga or the paths which give access to the mountains refuges.

 Tourist path in winter at the top of the cable car in Fuente Dé

Path to the refuge at Jou de Cabrones

What ever the origin of the tracks and path in the Picos de Europa what is for certain is they give excellent possibilities for walkers though adequate care must always be taken as this can be a very abrupt and hostile terrain with a very changeable weather.

 A cow enjoying a marked path!

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Hotel Posada del Valle is a small hotel in Asturias Northern Spain surrounded by its own organic farm and where we are passionate about organic farming, food, and sustainable livelihoods. In this Blog those of us who live and work at Hotel Posada del Valle open a door to share with all of you who are interested in what we are doing.