During this final stage of our journey we took literally advice from one friendly local, that there is not one Camino, but many paths that all lead to the same destination. In fact our plan was to walk the Camino del Norte backwards, away from Santiago, to San Sebastian. But finding the familiar conche shells and yellow arrow way marks was quite a challenge!
A scheduled side trip into the Picos de Europa to experience some of the finest walking tracks in Spain led us to the pilgrimage site of Covadonga. This small pueblo boasts a significant place in Spanish history as the location of an important 8th century battle, the first Christian defeat of the Muslims in Spain and the commencement of a 700 year Reconquista.
Our own quest to reach the alpine Largos de Covadonga was confounded when our car engine over heated as we followed a herd of cattle up the steep mountain road. An anxious 30 minute wait and off loading some passengers was enough to start the engine, but led to unanimous agreement to abandon our peak top walk in favour of exploring villages situated at a lower altitude amidst the spectacular scenery.
Our adventurous spirit rekindled by an overnight stop in the seaside town of Llanes, saw us retake our alpine journey, this time in the central Picos. From the small settlement of Poncebos we travelled by funicular two kilometres up a steep mountain tunnel to the hamlet of Bulnes which is inaccessible by road. Our short visit provided wonderful vistas and memorable photos. For three members of our group, this experience was later equalled by a breathtaking scramble up a rocky path, beside a deep gorge, between two of the Picos three mastifs.
Without doubt, this is a fantastic region to visit next time you come to Spain! But beware slow moving cows, take a taxi to the peaks and bring your walking poles to avoid slipping on rocky paths and cascading uncomfortably to the bottom of a picturesque gorge!