Record-breaking long distance runner and good friend of ours Patrick Devine-Wright came to visit us at Casa Quirós last summer. Naturally he couldn’t resist pulling on his trainers and getting out on the trails for a wee 60km run complete with 2000 metres of ascent. Here’s his account of his day out in the mountains here in the Valles del Oso.
I start in the best way possible, a gentle downhill run along a car-free track – the Senda del Oso – from Caranga Baxu to Villaneuva. I jog loosely and lightly feeling my limbs warm up in the morning light, readying to the task of a long day out in the Cordillera Cantábrica. This is my first trip to these mountains, and with map in hand, I set out to explore new routes in the unfamiliar landscape of Northern Spain. Half an hour later, there is some fencing on both sides of the track and suddenly a bear ambles alongside me on the other side of the fence! I have reached the Casa del Oso, a sanctuary for a family of orphaned bears, and a reminder that the hills I am running in are still wild in ways unfamiliar to the UK, with bear and wolf roaming at high altitudes.
Having reaching Villaneuva, the next section is spectacular. After a steep road climb, I find the trail that ascends a gorge, following a rocky path winding upwards with significant exposure to my right hand side down to the river far below on the valley floor. I pass several families slowly walking along the path and pause occasionally to catch my breath and take in the magnificent views. Reaching the top of the gorge, the path enters shady woodland and soft trails, still climbing towards the tiny village of La Rebollada to pick up the GR106, my main footpath for the day. Villages are welcome stopping points for me throughout the run, as I seek out the local fuente (fountain) for some thirst quenching water and a respite from the ever increasing heat.
Leaving the village behind, I have already climbed 700m and reach a broad grassy pass. There are high mountains all around but today they are shrouded in low cloud and all I can hear are the tinkling bells of cowherds along their slopes. The trail is mostly easy to follow, and clouds of butterflies in soft blues and yellows fly up from my steps along the grassy trail, leading me to the larger village of Bermiego and a long gradual descent into another valley. It is now four hours since I set out and I am seriously hungry and thirsty! I find a small bar and refresh with two bottles of fizzy pop, a packet of crisps and some mini-pastries available at the bar filled with tuna, an Asturian delicacy.
Then it is onwards for the crux of the run – a long ascent past the tiny villages of Renderos and Ricabo towards my destination – the Puerto Ventana at an altitude of 1587m. The heat is searing and I welcome the cool waters of the fuentes in each village as well as any shade that the path may bring as it winds ever upwards. The path meanders through purple heathers and leafy fern, with rocky outcrops looming overhead. Buzzards glide in the blue sky on thermals of warm air and eventually, I reach the top of the valley to find a lonely hermitage, locked and empty. Again I pause, enjoying for a moment the tranquillity of this remote place, before scooping gulps of cool mountain water from a nearby spring. There only remains some easy flat trail to the end of my run, and a hitch hike back down the valley to the point where I began a memorable 60km (2000m climb) of mountain running hours before.