Sweet liberty

Having been locked down here so tightly for so long, the freedom which comes with each tentative Spanish step back towards some kind of normality leaves me feeling slightly giddy with delight. How wonderful to be able to walk and cycle from home once again and catch up with all that has happened in our beautiful neighbourhood in recent weeks. Mountain roads, country lanes, forest tracks . . . what a treat to be striding out or pedalling leisurely together, drinking in stunning views in these lush green mountains under wide blue skies.

Having moved into a new phase which granted us permission to travel further afield within Asturias, we decided to celebrate with a walk along the local coastpath from Puerto de Vega to Playa de Frejulfe. This is one of my very favourite jaunts; it’s not far (roughly 3 kilometres / 2 miles) nor is it difficult, but it is wild and atmospheric and very, very beautiful – and realising I hadn’t seen the sea for nearly twelve weeks, I was bubbling with excitement and anticipation. What’s more, the sun was shining and the swallow- daubed air blissfully warm; summer seemingly, if not technically, has arrived with us in all its balmy glory this week.

We started our walk at the Capilla de Nuestra Seรฑora de la Atalaya which stands alone on a pretty promontory and is built on the site of a 13th century hermitage; it is the kind of ancient mariners’ chapel that is so traditional along the weather-beaten Atlantic coasts of northern Spain and western France. The weather vane design and unusual altar situated in a ship’s bowsprit serve to remind the faithful how inextricably linked their history and community are with the sea; Puerto de Vega may be a relatively small harbour but it is still a commercial fishing port nonetheless.

Heading in a westerly direction, the path does what most coastal trails do: winds along craggy clifftops and skirts patchworks of small fields and windswept woodlands, here dipping down into wave-beaten coves, there climbing to the top of rocky bluffs. Early in May, the flowers along this route are completely stunning; in previous years, I have described it as walking in nature’s garden, the sheer abundance of species and colour and form rendering it almost impossible to know where to look first.

This year, however, the clifftop garden has bloomed in rare tranquil solitude with only the wheeling seabirds privy to its spring spectacular. Arriving too late, we had missed the best of it.

Not that I felt downhearted: how could I? Following the confines of lockdown, it felt as if I was walking this path again for the very first time, there was such a freshness to it, a sense of things new and unexplored. Somehow in this landscape I always feel a curious mix of peaceful timelessness juxtaposed with fretful change as the restless sea hurls itself against the land’s edge, sculpting and shaping and shifting the rocky limits. There is nothing willingly yielded, no quarter given; the rock is dark and glowering, standing sharp and stubborn against the tidal onslaught and yet all is mellowed and soothed by that infinite canvas of blue on blue beyond.

We might have missed the best of the flowers but there was still plenty there to catch the eye . . . and the nose, too. Long stretches of the path are flanked with honeysuckle which scrambles in a chaotic profusion along the ground rather than twining upwards. Such heady perfume! I realised what an unexpected mingling of scents honeysuckle and salt air is, slightly shocking but so very tantalising like the fire of chilli in chocolate or the crunch of salt in caramel.

There were other beauties, too, in a beguiling mix of simple and startling, native and incomer.

It’s interesting how the eucalyptus – that ubiquitous weed tree – struggles on these coastal fringes, ragged leaves tortured and scorched by the salt-laden wind. The pines look far more comfortable, scenting the air with their resinous warmth and striking animated poses against the cinematic backdrop.

I have loved Frejulfe beach since the first time I set foot there four years ago. There is an enduring enchantment to that crescent of shining sand, curving in a perfect arc between green woods and wild waves: it is breathtaking in all seasons. Descending the steps from coastpath to beach, I was delighted to find our usual ‘table’ had been reserved for lunch!

Coming from this direction means that in order to walk along the beach, we first have to cross a river that is too deep for shoes, so there is nothing for it but to dump the footwear and start paddling. The sea here is cold (the Mar Cantรกbrico is no Mediterranean!) and it’s usually September before I’m brave enough to wade in for a dip; in the meantime, I do love a bit of a splash along the shoreline, feeling the pulse of the lace-edged waves beneath my sandy toes.

The far end of the beach always strikes me as a place of mystery and fascination, a spot that just has to be explored. The tide pulls back to reveal a wealth of rock pools unusually accessible for the Asturian coastline (we normally have to scramble a fair bit!), each a mini-world in itself, brimming with an abundant complexity of wondrous life forms.

The brooding cliffs open into caves of penetrating black, the hunkered rocks squeezed and split into tight tunnels and tilted chasms that draw inquisite footprints into hidden places. I never fail to be astonished by such geology, these citadels of tortured texture the result of unimaginable energetic tumult eons ago. Was it destruction or creation, that violent process? I’m never quite sure, but the tactile calligraphy scored into those ancient stones draws my fingers like a magnet every time.

Not to be outdone, the sea reminded me that it, too, is an accomplished artist, etching sinuous meanders and branching dendrites into the wet sand.

The idea of a classic beach holiday – you know, the kind where you lie about with crowds of other people toasting under sweltering skies – fills me with abject horror . . . but give me a short spell in a peaceful seaside spot like this and I am as happy as a happy thing. Peaceful it was, too; late May, fabulous weather and the children not in school – who can believe a beach could be so empty? We are thoroughly spoilt, I think!

Climbing back to the coastpath, we noticed that the cliffs were larded with thick clumps of rock samphire or sea fennel, as it is also known. It is perfectly edible but in culinary terms, it has traditionally been considered a poor cousin to the more fashionable marsh samphire, albeit botanically they are not related. However, trendy chefs are apparently now serving rock samphire instead of marsh samphire because the latter is deemed to be too ‘ordinary’ these days; given its habit of growing in inaccessible places, daring foragers supplying restaurants can command a high price for their labours. Now, I love a bit of wild food foraging and this was very accessible indeed but, tempted though I was by those succulent aromatic little branches packed with vitamin C, I left well alone. This is a plant that has been a protected species in the UK for most of my lifetime and is endangered in certain parts of Spain; it needs all the help it can get and it’s not as if we are short of green stuff on our plates! Once again, I was reminded of the fragility of life, the delicate knife edge on which so many precious and extraordinary species and ecosystems balance, and what a blessing it is that I have the opportunity to witness, experience and reflect upon so much that is wonderful in nature.

Interestingly (or not, depending on your perspective – sorry, but I’m a hopeless word nerd ๐Ÿ˜‰ ), the origin of ‘samphire’ is thought to be a corruption of the French Saint Pierre, sailors of old having cast the plant, which they valued highly in the prevention of scurvy, under the protective cloak of the patron saint of all things maritime. I thought there was a rather pleasing circularity at play here, given how our walk had started at a seafarers’ chapel. So, setting the compass of my somewhat pagan spirit to the east, I stepped out once again, relishing the salty tang of the fresh sea breeze, the benevolent caress of the sun on my face and this new-found liberty that is oh so sweet! ๐Ÿ™‚

16 thoughts on “Sweet liberty

  1. Simply stunning. I am finding it quite hard here as local families are able to reunite and it’s unlikely that we will go able to do that until the autumn. However our trip to the Picos and experiencing your beautiful part of Spain is looking more likely now. It all looks beautiful.

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    1. Yes, it’s one of the hardest things about being here, I suppose but I keep telling myself there will be some wonderful reunions to come eventually! Has that new little one arrived yet?I can certainly recommend the Luarquesa coastpath, it really is beautiful (far prettier than the Camino) and apart from August, the beaches are always so quiet. We really are very spoilt. ๐Ÿ™‚ x

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  2. What a lovely walk and so pleased to see you being able to get out and about at long last. I really love that stretch of coastline; a great choice for your first walk away from home ๐Ÿ™‚ some lovely pictures, looking forward to seeing more over the next few months

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    1. It really did feel wonderful! That stretch always reminds me of happy walks with you and Sam, not forgetting the fiesta ‘fun’ we had in Puerto de Vega! ๐Ÿ™‚ Hoping to try a few new routes in the coming weeks . . .

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      1. I don’t think I will ever be able to drive through Puerto de Vega again without cringing! Looking forward to hearing about the new routes that you try. We’re busy planning our trips for next week, just very sad that you won’t be sharing them with us ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

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  3. Lovely photographs Lis and such a beautiful coastline – you are so lucky living in an area like that! Like you, I love being by the sea, especially when the beaches & coastline are free of other human beings!!
    We watched a very good programme on TV recently, a series called Scenic Railway Journeys – don’t know if you saw it or not, but one of the episodes travelled from Bilbao, across Cantabria & Asturias, then westwards to Bibadao and Cathedral Beaches. We felt extremely envious when we realised that was the area you actually live near!

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    1. Thanks for your lovely comment. Yes, that train line is stunning, we keep promising ourselves that one day we’ll ride a part of it westwards. It passes through Luarca on the most incredible viaduct above the town and the coastline is beautiful all the way. I never understand why so many people stick to the Camino path which goes along the sides of main roads in places when the coastpath is so much nicer. Cathedral Beach is an interesting one – we have tried three times now to visit but it has always been heaving with people, even the day we got there for 7am to watch the sunrise! Quite a shock when our local beaches are always so quiet! ๐Ÿ™‚

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  4. How I would love to undertake that walk, so free from crowds: just you, the sea and the rocky foreshore with its plants and insects. There are even some plants that would happily grow in my garden! Does there come a time when the beach is crowded, or are you lucky enough to enjoy it with perhaps a few locals at most?
    I learnt a new word: dendrites.

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    1. We are truly blessed, there are so many stretches of coastpath and similar beaches which nine times out of ten we have to ourselves. August will see the beaches busier in the afternoon and evening but that is THE big holiday month for the Spanish and we tend to stay put in the mountains! The unpredictable weather means Asturias is nowhere near as popular a holiday destination with Brits as the south of Spain so it’s generally quieter anyway. As it’s a wild coast there are usually a few surfers about although obviously at the moment the dudes who head south from Germany and Scandinavia in their camper vans for the summer can’t travel. At the moment it’s Asturians only so we are making the most of the tranquility! ๐Ÿ™‚

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    1. Thank you for visiting and following, Geri. I’m glad you enjoyed the photos, Ponga really is beautiful . . . and sorry for my delay in replying, I’ve just found your comment in the spam folder. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

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