Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Estalaya - Brañosera

GR1 Sendero Historico day 5.
Distance: 24.3km (140.8km), time spent: 08:56.
Waymarking: Mostly good.
Weather: Cloudy and grey, gusty, later a lot of rain and wind, some fog.


Then came the rain. Hammering down over the ridge as a reminder that nothing lasts forever. After four days of great weather, you could say that it was back to daily life again, but in Spain, that allegory may not work as well. Though, if all normal days were like this, I would have welcomed them with open arms. Although the sun had left the sky, the magnificent scenery had not, and the walk to Brañosera was wonderful.

If it were one word that you could tag onto this day, it would be time. Something this small bar and store in Cervera de Pisuerga is a wonderful example of. Here, time has stood still, amazingly. There were still cassettes for sale (to the left in the picture).

Where should I go today, how far should my feet carry me this day? The past would give few answers, but the answer was probably given by what was awaiting me between Reinosa and Corconte, a blank sheet of the route where John Hayes bluntly writes that you should take the bus. For me that is not an option, I have to walk, but where? The best answer to that question I would get in Reinosa, a two days walk from Estalaya, where I went to in between would not matter. If I only could get back to Estalaya again, the taxi driver had forgotten the time. Luckily, I spotted him farther down in the street.

From the taxi ride to Estalaya, the driver stopped at this spot to show me the view. Above me was the sun and blue sky replaced with dark and dramatic clouds. At bottom left is Vanes.

Back in Estalaya again, there was another version of the GR1 that awaited me. A version where the sky was no longer bright blue, but grey and dramatic; where the sun made a futile attempt to push through the clouds, only to disappear for good. A different kind of sunset. It was as if the trail followed up with a tortuous attempt to penetrate through the woods, until I came to San Felices de Castilleria. Not a soul to be seen, not a soul to hear. The quiet before the storm? Clouds lay ominously over the mountains above me and the bleak moorland I wandered across after the village.

A pale moorland between San Felices de Castilleria and Herreruela de Castilleria, dark clouds over Valdecebollas in the background.

The largest attractions of the GR1 are probably all the historical sites that the trail passes by, as old churches, castles, towers and fortresses, not to mention the abandoned villages. The start of the route, however, was more like a distinct hike. At Herreruela de Castilleria though, I began to see the outlines of what is awaiting me later on the trail. In the small village, I just had to sit down and quietly watch the life in the village unfold; here it was as though time had stood still. A cow stood bellowing toward a barn that was on its way to become dilapidated, its calf most likely inside of it. An old woman came out of her house with her back bent to fetch water. In a few years, I believe, this village will be added to the list of abandoned villages, los despoblados.

Although time stood still for the village, it was not standing still for me and eventually I had to move on. If I ever would come back here, would there still be people living here? As I left the village, goats stared at me from inside the farmhouses, a snake lay coiled up on the ground, a bull on the road behind me stared annoyed in my direction. I was faded by future time and did not belong, here they were caught by the idleness of the clocks.

Herreruela de Castilleria, a village frozen in time.

In Herreruela de Castilleria, the time had stood still, but after I had passed by the small Romanesque chapel of Ermita de Nuestra Señora de Monte it began moving again, quickly, to catch up with the lost time. Clouds began moving faster on the sky, it darkened. And on the following ascent came the first raindrops. The views became more and more dramatic the higher up I came. Being able to distinguish Peña Espigüete and Curavacas was impossible, but on sunny days, the mountains should lay mighty in front of your eyes.

Inside a cabane on the way up from Herreruela de Castilleria, maybe you can spend the night in it.

I sought shelter for the first raindrops under a small tree and used the opportunity to eat lunch. With more luck, I would have arrived at the small cottage, or cabane, which I passed by on the way up, when the rain began. It was open and looked like it could be used to sleep in if you wished. I had to abide by the bush above me. The lunch? Some pan de leche (small and sweet bread that does not get so dry, I find that the usual bread down here gets dry too fast) wrapped in serrano ham. When the raindrops lessened somewhat, I could continue the ascent. Above lay Valdecebollas (2143m), it was tempting to climb up to the top, but a continuous layer of clouds that obscured the top made it

Dramatic view below Cueto Morales.

Beneath the dark clouds, a wonderful open ridge appeared in front of me. Then came the rain. Hammering down over the ridge, whipping me in the face with water and wind. Fog blocking the visibility. The cows that were in front of me on the path had run for shelter and vanished, but where was the shelter? I had to buckle up, wrap my jacket tight around me. The worst weather came of course when I found myself at the highest point and in the most open countryside of the day. A wide smile on my face. Short and tiny glimpses towards Brañosera came through the weather.

At the top of the mountain ridge between Herreruela de Castilleria and Barruelo de Santullán, a wonderful ridge slightly spoiled by some pylons (as I quickly photoshopped away in my mind), shortly after it began pouring down.

The deluge lasted fortunately not too long, just over half an hour, but it was not the end of the rain. Only the worst of it. Down in Barruelo de Santullán, the rest had stopped; I got some warmth back in my body in a small bar, along with a small beer and a hot café con leche. Given that I was quite cold and wet, I felt at this time that I would only walk to Brañosera and stay the night there. In Brañosera, all of the accommodations were closed.

Walking through heavy rain and wind over the mountain ridge, in fog and little visibility.

I prepared to walk on to find a place to camp, when I on my way out of the village walked past the Meson Cueva del Coble, voices could be heard from inside. An amazingly quirky place. That the owner, Jesus Garcia Delgado, spoke English was given away by all the items that hung everywhere. Why camp when you can sleep here? He said. Have a room upstairs, you can sleep there. He just had to finish serving some customers first, which I eventually came in a fleeting conversation with. Showed them the guidebook of the route, which got them quite curious. Jesus Delgado as well. John Hayes slept here too, he said, in the same room. I could do not do anything but smile.

Meson Cueva del Coble in Brañosera, an exquisitely strange restaurant and bar.

And a room I got (I have some difficulties writing this, for not to give the impression that it is just to come and believe that you will get to spend the night, but the hospitality was so great that I felt he deserved all the gratitude he can get). The place is a study in itself, if you were to catalogue all the items that were in the bar and restaurant, you would have to be there for several days. The evening was at least very pleasant, we ate dinner together and talked a lot, a nice conversation.

Brañosera. Notice the road sign with GR1 on it. The village is important when it comes to the promotion of the trail and the mayor runs a website for the trail: http://gr1.branosera.com.

Then came the rain, but what a great day anyway.

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