On the first morning the weather was cold and grey but crucially it wasn’t raining and as I inspected the sky from the window of the room I could see that the cool conditions clearly suited the pilgrim walkers who were setting out one by one along the Comino de la Costa, a northern route of the Way of St. James, on their way to Santiago de Compostela.
After breakfast we put on our warmest clothing combinations and set off for a drive along the northern coast of Asturias, the Costa Verde.
First we drove town into the Cudillero and past the seafood restaurants that were taking their daily deliveries of fresh produce and then out through the port area and out of the other side where we ignored the direct route along the Autovía del Cantábrico, the motorway that runs the entire length of the northern coast, and in preference selected the old coast road. It didn’t matter that this route would take us much longer because we wanted to enjoy the scenery and we weren’t absolutely sure where we were going anyway.
As we twisted and turned around winding bends we suddenly found ourselves below one of the many concrete motorway viaducts that span the estuaries and gorges and we stopped to admire the twisting, voluptuous structure high above us, a magnificent and expensive feat of engineering, sinuous and wriggling like a plate of live eels and with more curves than Marilyn Monroe and from where we stood way below like a futuristic highway in the sky.
As we progressed slowly westwards we stopped frequently to admire the views and whenever we could to go down the caramel sand beaches pounded by the Atlantic surf and where the salty sea air filled our senses. It reminded me of Cornwall, a succession of beaches and coves linked by a lonely narrow lane with few passing opportunities so we were glad that the road was quiet today. We followed the twists through the hairpin bends through mossy dells decorated with wild flowers and deep in shadow where waterfalls plunged down narrow gullies and ferns waved to us as we went by and everywhere an unexpected verdant green.
Although there was very little traffic there were plenty of walkers, pilgrims with their scallop shells clinking and wooden staffs tapping, solitary hikers enjoying the day and ‘finding themselves’ as they went along the route towards their next evening hostel. It seemed to me that some were likely to get there ahead of schedule because, and I don’t want to accuse anyone of cheating here, I was slightly surprised to spot one or two of them waiting in bus stops all along the way. Kim was more charitable than me and said that they were probably only resting and on reflection I like to think that her assessment was more accurate than mine.
As the morning passed by the weather improved and by the time we reached the fishing port of Luarca which, according to local legend, was founded originally by Vikings, there was blue sky and sunshine as we followed the road down to the harbour and parked the car. It was midday now and busy and the fish restaurants were beginning to fill with local residents who were out for family lunches and we set about finding somewhere suitable for ourselves.
Walking past the port I was struck by just how many fishing boats and trawlers there were in the harbour, all in immaculate livery and all clearly working for a living. Spain is one of the major European fishing nations and has been generously funded by EU subsidies but even in spite of over fishing and catch quotas there must still be a lot of fish to scoop up to keep this fleet and many others like it fully employed.
As we watched the boats at rest I compared this to the industry in the UK where fishermen are always complaining about how difficult it is to make a living on the sea and to emphasise the point the rod and line anglers all around the port were all effortlessly dragging out more fish than an average Padstow fishing trawler.
In this town, sometimes called ‘Villa Blanca de la Costa Verde’ it seemed only right to have a fish lunch so we ordered octopus, squid and paella and as usual made our first day mistake of over ordering at the first meal and ending up with a pile of food, far more than we really needed, to wade through.
The plan now was to return to Cudillero but instead of the coast road we now took the elevated Autovia which took us way above trees and fields with magnificent views inland towards the mountains and in the other direction the warm blue of the Bay of Biscay and in contrast to the outward journey which had taken a couple of hours we seemed to be back in just a matter of minutes.