The Parque Natural de las Ubiñas, which straddles Quirós and our neighbouring counties of Teverga and Lena, is the youngest of all the Asturian natural parks. It’s a stunning mountainous landscape with spectacular high peaks, glaciated valleys and ancient woodlands and is criss-crossed with an extensive network of trails that makes exploring it relatively simple and infinitely appealing, be it on foot, bike or horse back. If you’re lucky enough to get the right conditions in winter you could even pull on your snowshoes or cross-country skis out on the tops.
Perhaps the best-known of these trails is the Camin Real de la Mesa which follows the old Roman road that crosses the mountain tops linking the provinces of Asturias and León. It forms part of the Via de La Plata, an ancient trade and pilgrimage route that ran all the way along the west side of Spain from south to north. Linking up to it at various points are a seeming infinity of other local paths.
Last September I had the good fortune to explore 60kms of this network of trails on a two-day circular horse ride in a group accompanied by a super-knowledgeable local guide, Paco from Cuadra Sobia stables. On the Saturday we climbed up through dramatic limestone gorges, enjoyed the dappled shade of extensive beech and chestnut forests and clip-clopped past waterfalls, stopping to picnic at a braña (an ancient settlement of the native nomadic cowherds, vaqueiros de alzada) from where we continued up to the roof of Asturias at Puerto Ventana.
From here we pitched over and down into León where we overnighted in an albergue. The next day we looped back down to our starting point at Cuadra Sobia, via the extensive and spectacular plateau where Somiedo, Teverga and León meet. In the whole weekend we didn’t repeat a single section of trail and barely set hoof on tarmac. Apart from a few walkers by Xiblu waterfall the only company we encountered on the trails were wild horses and a few cows.
All in all an amazing experience that has whetted my appetite for continued exploration of these majestic mountains. Although from now on I shall be mainly staying on foot – two days in the saddle after 20 years without mounting a horse rather took its toll!