El Anillo de Picos: Postponed

We have abandoned our plan to go walking in the Picos mountains in Northern Spain at the end of August / start of September.

It was already looking complicated (trains / flights / hotels / masks etc and a day/night in Bilbao.. and that’s before we got to the relative safety of the mountains) and when the UK Government reintroduced quarantine on return from Spain overnight at the weekend, that was the final nail in the coffin.

Even if the Government were to lift quarantine by the time we were due go (which is unlikely), the risk of it being re-reintroduced while we were there felt greater.

Alfonso has been amazing, and gracious as always.

Our current thinking is to do the trip next year. Hasta el Año Que Viene.

Picos postponed: GOV.UK email
Picos postponed: GOV.UK email

Steffi’s now working through requesting all the refunds etc. EasyJet’s cancellation email for our return from Bilbao on 08 Sept arrived today. Now we are just waiting for BA to cancel the outbound flight. I hope they don’t continue to play hardball – at present they are only offering a voucher if you don’t want to take their flights to Spain.

On my To Do List: seeing if I can get a refund for my train tickets. Unlikely.

Oh well.

El Anillo de Picos: Travel Update

Yes, we’re still planning to go to Northern Spain at the end of August for 10 days walking hut to hut in the Picos de Europa, with Alfonso.

Having booked flights way back when, and sorted out hotels and refugio bookings, we put everything on hold once COVID-19 hit. But we were (are) all keeping our fingers crossed.

So, it was not EasyJet’s finest moment when they emailed yesterday to let us know that they’d cancelled our outbound flight.

After a flurry of emails, we’re now booked on the BA flight on the Saturday – a much earlier departure, and a lot more expensive, but at least we should be able to get there….

… although obviously the trip is entirely dependent on the Travel Corridor between England and Spain remaining open, and the summer’s lockdown easing not generating a second / third / fourth / nth wave of infection in either country.

Ya veremos.

Still trying to work out the safest way to travel to/from London.

Where next: Picos de Europa – El Anillo de Picos

August / September 2020 will see Steffi, Hazel and I – plus Rache – return to Northern Spain to walk El Anillo de Picos in the wonderful company (and excellent guiding) of Alfonso Gallego de Lerma.

Destination: The Picos de Europa, Northern Spain.

When: August / September 2020.

What: Steffi, Hazel and I – plus Rache – return to Northern Spain to walk El Anillo de Picos.

How: In the wonderful company of Alfonso Gallego de Lerma who was our excellent guide/leader on Exodus’ Picos de Europa trip we did in July 2019.

Why: Last July’s trip whetted the appetite even though the bad weather restricted our routes and made the Grade 5 trip closer to the standard Grade 3 holiday than any of us would have wished.

This time we’ll get to spend a long week in the Picos de Europa proper, hiking in and around  the three massifs. We will be staying in refugios and carrying “everything” with us.  That shouldn’t be as dramatic as it sounds – we are used to carrying wet weather gear and warm layers plus lunch and water in our day packs and will only need a sheet sleeping bag for the refugios which will also provide all our meals. I for one am not renowned for my vast wardrobe when I’m walking …. Plus we will have clean clothes to enjoy once we’ve competed El Anillo.

Itinerary: Factoring in travel to/from London, our itinerary is:

Day 0: Travel to London
Day 1: Fly to Bilbao. Travel to Arenas de Calabres.
Days 2 to 8: Trekking through the Picos.
Day 9: Relax and swim…. Drive to Bilbao or Santander. Visit the city.
Day 10: Fly to London
Day 11: Travel back from London

Steffi has  booked flights and Alfonso is booking hotels and the refugios (turns out four clients is a good number, as is Alfonso’s price), so we are All Systems Go!

Picos de Europa: Photos & Notes

We’re back after a mixed week walking in the Picos de Europa. We had a smashing guide, Alfonso, and Hotel Torrecerredo is a great base where Jim and Pilar provide good accommodation and wonderful food. But …. the weather, local fiestas and preponderance of biting insects meant that the overall experience didn’t live up to my (admittedly high) expectations.

The days (and nights) alternated between hot and humid, thundery and wet, and bad weather put paid to two of the more challenging walks – the Lakes of Covadonga, Majada de Belbin & Peak Pandescura (day 6) and the twin summits of Mancondiu plus San Carlos Peak (day 7).  EasyJet delays both ways made for long travel days at either end and the all night fiestas for the first few nights resulted in poor sleep. Horseflies, mozzies and midges speak – and bite – for themselves.

But we did have a fabulous day on the Thursday when Alfonso took us on the Peña Maín walk we’d not been able to do on Tuesday due to orange weather warnings. The best day by far, although it inevitably came with the downside that it that made me realise what we were missing on the other days. So Steffi, Hazel and I are keen to return to tackle the El Anillo de Picos next June or September.

Also on the plus side, the wildflowers were beautiful – I was particularly taken with the sea holly – and I’ve returned with Pilar and Jim’s recipe for Sopa de Lentejas. The food really was wonderful.

Sea Holly, Cabeza Juan Robre walk
Sea Holly, Cabeza Juan Robre walk

Photos from the week are in my Spain, July 2019 album on Flickr.

Here’s what we did on Exodus’ Walking the Picos de Europa, day by day:

Saturday, 20 July 2019: London Stansted – Bilbao – Las Arenas de Cabrales (No photos)

Weather: Rain.

Day 1: EasyJet U23227 from Stansted to Bilbao. Scheduled departure 11:50 arrival 14:50. Delayed almost 3 hours.

Alfonso and his fellow driver met us at the arrivals hall for the two and a half hour drive to Las Arenas de Cabrales. The first of many excellent evening meals at the Hotel Torrecerredo.

Sunday, 21 July 2019: Cares Gorge (photos)

Weather: Overcast, hot & humid.

Day 2: Drive to Poncebos, walk easy footpath though the Cares River Gorge to Caín and back. Busy with Sunday strollers. Lots of limestone.

Cares Gorge walk
Cares Gorge

Monday, 22 July 2019: Cabeza Juan Robre (871m) (photos)

Weather: Overcast, clearing occasionally, hot.

Day 3: Walk from the hotel, into Las Arenas and along trails up into the high pastures of Nava, full of wild flowers. On up via limestone bowls and paths to Cabeza Juan Robre (871m) which we can see from the hotel. Lunch at the top watching the clouds clear from the main Picos range to our south, then a long ridge descent back into Las Arenas de Cabrales, with great views of the town and valley en route.

Cabeza Juan Robre and Las Arenas old church
Cabeza Juan Robre from Las Arenas de Cabrales

Tuesday, 23 July 2019: Hoyu del Tejo – Tresviso – Urdón (photos)

Weather: Thunderstorms threatened. Overcast, hot & humid.

Day 4: Bad weather meant we had to forgo the scheduled walk in favour of a lower level alternative. Alfonso and Nanni drove us to the car park above Sotres (CA-1, Hoyu del Tejo) where it was extremely windy. From there we dropped down into the shelter of Vau los Lobos, turning off to follow Arroyo de Valdediezma down to Río de Sobra, crossing via an old stone bridge and skirting abandoned summer farms to get back up to the CA-1 and walking on into Tresviso for elevenses at La Taberna de Tresviso. Then the famous zig zag descent via Barrio Tresviso to Río Urdón. We met the minibuses at Urdón on the N-621 and then drove back to Las Arenas.

On the Treviso-Urdón trail
Treviso-Urdón trail

Wednesday, 24 July 2019: Celorio – Llanes – Celorio via the Coastal Path (photos)

Weather: Overcast, hot & humid.

Day 5: Free day. Hazel, Steffi and I, plus others, opted to take the hotel minibus to the coast to walk the coastal path from Celorio to Llanes. Lunch in the old town then back to Celorio for 4.30pm pick up and the hour’s drive back to sunny Las Arenas.

“Wine Wednesday” mojitos in Cafe Jardin La Palma followed by raciones at La Plazuela.

Thursday, 25 July 2019: Peña Maín (1612 m) (photos)

Weather: Blue skies, growing cloudy later.

Day 6: Leaving the minibuses at Tielve we walked up through shady beech woods to Peña Maín (Cabeza La Mesa, 1612 m) for splendid views of Naranjo de Bulnes / Pico Urriellu (2519 m), the rest of the main range and mountains all around.

Descending through wildflower meadows towards Sotres, picnicking en route, brought us down to the Pandébano Col from where the trail continued downwards through more meadows and on slippery tree shadowed cobbled paths sunk deep into the hillside, to bring us into Bulnes for ice creams and a final descent along a classic Picos limestone river gorge back to Poncebos.

A fab day.

Peña Maín panorama
Peña Maín panorama

Friday, 26 July 2019: Refugio Casetón de Andara & Carreña to Las Arenas de Cabrales (photos)

Weather: Rain, easing off later

Day 7: Low cloud and rain meant zero visibility and another bad weather alternative, driving back to the car park at Hoyo del Tejo (CA-1, above Sotres) where we donned full waterproofs and warm clothes to walk the old mining track to Refugio Casetón de Andara and back. Picnic lunch and warm drinks at a bar in Sotres before driving back to Las Arenas.

Me and Steffi arriving at Refugio Casetón de Andara
Me and Steffi arriving at Refugio Casetón de Andara

In the afternoon, Steffi, Helen and I, accompanied by Alfonso and the GPS download, took Pilar’s recommendation of a 3 hour walk between a drop off in the Arroyo de la Ría above Carreña and Arangas. Technically it’s part of GR-109 Ruta Asturias Interior, Etapa 2: Alles – Carreña and whilst a lot of the trail is along disused concrete roads the connecting cross country paths proved tricky to find at times. Lots of bramble bashing and nettle dodging was required.

On our way back along the AS-345 into Las Arenas we stopped off at another of Pilar’s top tips: Quesería artesanal El Cabriteru where we enjoyed a leisurely hour meeting the goats and sheep and then tasting (and buying) their cheese, and sampling the local cider. Excellent.

Quesería artesanal El Cabriteru
Quesería artesanal El Cabriteru

Saturday, 27 July 2019: Las Arenas de Cabrales – Bilbao – London Stansted (No photos)

Weather: Rain.

Day 8: Two and a half hour drive to Bilbao to catch EasyJet U23228 to London Stansted, scheduled departure 15:20, arrival 16:10. Delayed 1+ hour. Smooth journey on the Stansted Express back to Central London for wine and pizza à la Waitrose.

Picos de Europa: Final Count Down

Not long now before Hazel, Steffi and I head off to Northern Spain for our week walking in the Picos de Europa, with Exodus*.

Weather

The Yr.no forecast for Las Arenas de Cabrales says it’s going to be sunny!

Weather Forecast: Las Arenas de Cabrales
Weather Forecast: Las Arenas de Cabrales

OK, there is a bit of rain, but not many millimetres.

Packing

Looking the spare bed pile I reckon I’m going to be taking more to the Picos than I do to Nepal. Probably not a bad thing seeing as we will be in company and it’s not really de rigueur to wear the same clothes for a week on the trot.

Having read some of the recent reviews and refreshed myself on the trip notes, I am taking:

  • ear plugs …. due to cow bells!!!!
  • a brolly. There must be sections when we won’t need to use poles. And hopefully I won’t need it.

Money

I have my Euros, just as the exchange rate drops even further. Thanks for nothing, Brexit.

Insurance / Optional Activities

I checked my travel insurance cover regarding the optional activities on offer for the spare day:

Today is free for you to visit the coast or try a spot of caving, self-guided canoeing or canyoning. Our local staff will be able to help organise any of these activities.

and only canoeing gets a mention:

Canoeing/Kayaking
Grade 1 and 2 only

So it’ll be that or a visit to the coast, or maybe another day out in the Picos….

Other

I am looking forward to there being a bar….


* If you want details, you’ll need to find the trip on the Exodus website. They don’t like me linking to it. It spoils their SEO. Really?