Walking with bears

Somiedo. A trip we had been talking about for many months but had never got round to doing: yesterday we decided to do something about that. After all, we are as happy walking in January as July and there was temptation in the promise of stunning snow-capped scenery.

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The Parque Natural de Somiedo is a shining jewel in the Asturian crown. Comprising roughly 300km²of breathtaking countryside spanning five valleys in the Cantábrian mountains in the south of the principality, it is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and home to a wealth of wildlife. Above all, it is the kingdom of the bear; home, in fact, to the largest population of brown bears in western Europe. Our trip wasn’t planned round bear-spotting and we didn’t expect to see any, but still there is something very special about spending time in an environment where such magnificent creatures live. (I remember feeling this way on my first walk in the wilds of the Canadian Rockies. Roger, having lived in Alberta for several years, was an old hand at walking with bears; for me, it felt slightly terrifying, completely humbling and totally thrilling to be sharing their habitat – and to be lucky enough to see both black bears and grizzlies in their natural, free state).DSCF9712.JPG

Anyway, back to Asturias.

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Given the conditions underfoot, we decided to follow a 6km path to Lago de Valle, leaving the longer, higher trails to do on return visits later in the year.The path was clearly marked all the way; we started off on gravel although it wasn’t long before the conditions started to become more interesting!

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We soon passed the first of several teitos on our walk. These are stone dwellings thatched with broom, traditionally used by livestock farmers during the summer months. There was certainly no livestock around now on these snow-covered pastures, it seemed strange not to have the usual tinkling cowbells as an accompaniment to our walk.

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Our path climbed steadily, becoming more and more snowy; the sun was warm, and it wasn’t long before we started to peel off hats and coats. The scenery was stunning, the air was silent. What a place!

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Lago de Valle is a lake originally formed by glaciation but which has been modified in more recent times and, forming part of a hydroelectric system, boasts a man-made dam. Set in the bowl of a corrie, it seemed the perfect sun-drenched spot for lunch. It was so hot, we peeled off even more layers and I was beginning to wish I’d packed a tube of suncream in the rucksack.

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For our picnic we had taken some inspiration from Sam and Adrienne who always pack interesting things to eat when they are walking. Adrienne makes delicious goat’s cheese and spinach pasties so we decided to put our own spin on those – less Greek, more Asturian – by making a filling of chard, thyme, mature local cow’s cheese and walnuts. Very tasty they were, too.

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We are not big cake fans and rarely bake them, but having some leftover homemade mincemeat in the fridge I decided to borrow Sam’s recipe and make mincemeat muffins with a streusel topping. The batter looked very promising but our temperamental oven was obviously not as hot as it had claimed to be. Result: instead of muffinesque volcanic peaks I ended up with more of a lava field, with batter flowing merrily from muffin case to muffin case and creating an unexpected tray bake. Not to worry – they wouldn’t win any prizes but they were pretty scrumptious.

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Lunch over, we decided to explore a little further around the lake. The water was frozen solid, so much so that someone had built a snowman beyond the shoreline.

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I took my own Snow Man along!

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Beyond the lake were more teitos: what a beautiful spot this must be in summer.

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The snow was very deep here and the going was quite tough. More resistance training, I suppose. First sand, then snow – what next?

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The part of the lake sitting in the shadow of the mountain was deeply frozen and making very strange noises, loud creaks and groans which had an eerie quality to them as they echoed around the bowl of rock: the ice shifting and sinking as water ran out from beneath it, we think. The only other noise was the croaking of a pair of ravens keeping their bright eyes on us.

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On the return journey down the path, the light had shifted giving a new quality to the landscape. The outlines of the mountains against the sky were razor-sharp . . . and what a sky! I have never seen a sky of such an intense blue, so deep it was almost purple. I couldn’t stop looking at it (not clever when I really needed to be watching where I was putting my feet).

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DSCF9719.JPGBack at the car and we checked the map to see where we’d been (obviously more sensible people would check the map before starting out, but where’s the fun in that?). With our extra walk around the lake we had covered 13km (8 miles ) and climbed about 400 metres to 1750 metres above sea level, having started at the same height as Ben Nevis.

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Phew – time for a coffee. This might seem a bit of an indulgence but coffee that has spent several hours in a flask doesn’t taste great or hold its warmth; for us, it’s no big deal to pack our camping stove, kettle and cafetière and make a fresh brew – a perfect end to a fabulous walk. Thank you, Somiedo – we will be back.

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By the way, in case you’re wondering . . . we didn’t see any bears, but there was a rather large troll lurking in the bushes! 🙂

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6 thoughts on “Walking with bears

  1. Wow, your photos are stunning! Did you see anybody else walking when you were there or did you have the place to yourselves? I am very jealous, it looks gorgeous – definitely somewhere we’ll be revisiting when we’re back out!

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  2. It was a fantastic day! We saw eight other people in the whole day, mostly walking up as we were on our way back – apart from that, we had the place to ourselves. It’s certainly worth another visit . . . well, many more, I think. We might even make it there together next time! 🙂

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    • I bet the atmosphere there was fabulous if there was next to nobody around, especially with the noises coming from the lake. When we went, the path that you were on was pretty busy although it quietened down once we headed uphill. I think I’ll hold you to that – what a great place to get some of my miles in! 🙂

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  3. Yes, we imagined that in summer it is probably really busy, like the Picos. Let’s pack one of your amazing picnics and make it a date – not a bad place to get in some of your miles, and we’ll be happy to be there in a supportive role! 🙂

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  4. I really hope ‘Rastru’ is successful, anything that helps young people move back to their rural roots has got to be good. I have swapped fruit for eggs with neighbours, it’s a great way to live, I think. I haven’t joined the official scheme yet but looking at the pile of veg seeds I have ready to plant I might need a market later this year! 🙂

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