Pola de Somiedo and the hike to the first brañas (Somiedo pt1)
Updated: Jul 2, 2020
About a month ago, I visited my first braña. From the airport, I took a taxi to Pola de Somiedo where I was staying. The first thing I noticed is that the Cantabrians were much steeper than they appear on 3d terrain models. And I would be hiking them!
The mountains hang over Pola de Somiedo from every direction, leaving it in the shadow of a mountain at all times of the day. The town was a beautiful mix of traditional and newer architecture, though the buildings themselves seemed mostly newer; I know that El Puerto was completely destroyed by Francoist troops in the Civil War as they entered Asturias, and it's likely that Pola de Somiedo was heavily destroyed by this too, seeing as it's directly ahead of El Puerto in the valley.
I was surprised to find that Pola de Somiedo had such a smaller population compared to Tineo, Cangas del Narcea, and Belmonte de Miranda. Working with these counties, Pola de Somiedo is the capital of Somiedo, and I expected it to at least have nearly a thousand people, but it doesn't even reach 300! It feels larger than it actually is because most people seem to live alone and it is also a large tourist spot. Apparently people come here to see the Cantabrian brown bear, but I can tell you that as I was here, I was certainly hoping not to see a bear.
Pola de Somiedo is a charming little town; there are often times when I thought someone was hammering, there was a small bit of construction going on, but it was actually one of the somedanos wearing madreñas, traditional Asturian wooden clogs on raised points, which are actually in Asturias, characteristic and more traditional to Vaqueiros, who wear them around the braña to keep their feet out of mud and manure, which makes much more sense than being worn by farmers. However they have been co-opted as general Asturian culture.
Pola de Somiedo has tons of beautiful wild flowers. All along the drive in, I could see bright primroses along the road next to groups of cowslip. Stinking hellebore was one of the flowers I thought the most beautiful (it does not smell unless you crush it!) that can be found at higher elevations, especially in the brañas. The brañas are also where very many rare orchids are found! (Above: Helleborus foetidus, stinking hellebore and Himantoglossum robertianum, giant orchid. Below: Malva sylvestris, common mallow and Primula veris, cowslip.)
My trail up to La Falguera started at Veigas, and my only options to Veigas were to walk or take a taxi, however, taxis are scarce in Pola de Somiedo. The woman who ran the hotel told me Veigas was only 6 km away. I thought that was easy enough, a 5k is the little fun run we did in elementary school. But I forgot that 6km was just to get to the head of my trail, then I had to climb the trail, climb back down, and walk that 6km back. (I will give you spoilers, despite all this, I did make it all the way)
So blissfully ignorant about the trail I was about to undertake, I headed off (without an inhaler bad idea). There isn't really a walking trail from Pola de Somiedo to Veigas, so I was walking on the road, which was okay for now, cars just had to drive around me and I tried to wheeze less visibly to avoid public shame. I will say. Maybe it is a bad idea to go from not having hiked in a long-time to hiking nearly 20km (12 miles) in one day, though this wasn't exactly just for fun, it was for my research paper was well.
I used my walk there to document the wild plants of Somiedo, there were so many beautiful ones this time of year. I also saw the hydroelectric plant, which seems noteworthy to me in that it looks like what an industrial revolution plant would have looked like when it was brand new, but not in a museum re-make sort of way. There were large windows so you could see inside very well and every single light outside and inside was on all times of the day but there was never a single person in the building or near it. It made me feel like I was being watched.
When I crossed over to the other valley, where Veigas was, the mountains were shadowing it completely and it got very cold. I was already kind of tired, halfway to Veigas, the walk was downhill, but the other halfway it was uphill which made it hard for me to breathe (and I was about to hike up the side of this mountain).
However, I lost any of the tiredness I was feeling when I got my first view of not only Veigas, but of the many brañas on the mountainside. The path I had been on so far had been covered in the cold shadow of the mountain but Veigas and the brañas were lit up by a brilliant afternoon life. I had the thought that it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in the world and then I had the thought that this did not look at all like the 3d terrain models, it looks like it goes just straight up, in fact, maps and 3d terrain models show La Falguera as directly above Veigas, but this is not the case. You cannot see La Falguera from Veigas or from any point on this side of the mountain because it is not on this side of the mountain, it is on the other side, which means you have to climb to the pass near the top of the mountain to cross to the other side and I was not expecting to actually be climbing to the top of the mountain and crossing over it.
But, I will tell you more of that the next time I post, for now I leave you with my trails on wikiloc, the first one is the one I took and the second one is for some people who have some common sense (don't make my mistakes. also turns out you can drive up to La Falguera, if driving is something you can do). (Also these terrain models are lying greatly).
These are one way because I just followed it straight back and for the Veigas to La Falguera part, there is no other way to go besides this unless you want to get into some more serious off-trail hiking/climbing (IGN shows some old trails, I did not see these it may be easier to follow them for it would be more flat, but it is still basically off-trail).
I'm sorry to be a month behind in posting! I would like to say I will be trying to catch up but I cannot promise that, but I will post everything on here eventually! I will have part 2 up soon!