Camín Real de la Mesa

After what felt like a long time talking about it, we finally actually DID the five day hike across the mountain range starting above our house.

We’d been planning it for months, ever since Nik saw a sign in Teverga which showed the route around the ridges of the mountains going all around the valley. Nik planned the journey and I was more in charge of getting the stuff we needed ready. Although of course his input was necessary.

I’ll openly admit I did nothing towards planning the route. I just wanted to walk.

PREPARATION

In the months before, we invested in:

  • decent 3 season sleeping bags (even on a summer hike, it’s cold at high altitudes)
  • the best roll mats 30€ can buy
  • two 2litre water bags
  • a reasonably lightweight gas stove
  • a lightweight ex-army cooking plate & pan set (found by chance in a 2nd hand shop)

I’ve put the links in case anyone is interested in doing something similar on a budget. No affiliates!

I would say that the sleeping bags aren’t as warm as I had expected. I wore leggings and a thermal most nights and without I would have been cold, but was okay with them on. But I’m a really cold sleeper.

The rolls mats were great, super light and easy to blow up. Comfortable and no aches in the morning. So light and unnoticeable in fact, I managed to lose mine on the fourth day! So had to sleep on some clothes and waterproof jackets. The lesson learned is to always label stuff, and not spend an amount on kit that you couldn’t afford to replace.

The two litre water bags were absolute life savers, I’m so glad we bought them. As we were cooking as well, we used a lot of water each day, and sometimes it was a long time before a refill point. These were indispensable in the July heat.

The gas stove, though weightier than some other versions we saw, just looked much sturdier than the ‘super-lightweight’ kind and looks like it will last a long time. It wasn’t too heavy to carry and fit snugly inside the ex-army cooking set. It was really easy to use and heated things up very fast.

What we took:

  • tent
  • 50l rucksack each
  • hiking boots
  • woolly socks
  • waterproofs
  • those zippy-short trouser things
  • long sleeved thermal top
  • 2 t-shirts
  • lightweight jumper
  • cap
  • huge tub of shea butter for feet
  • way too small tube of spf15 cream

FOOD:

  • rice
  • noodles
  • oats
  • peanut butter
  • dark chocolate
  • nuts
  • dried fruit
  • soaked lentils & sunflower seeds
  • bananas
  • rye bread
  • tomato & avocado
  • garlic, salt, herbs
  • chilli oil
  • cocoa
  • coffee
  • enormous block of cheese

And of course the stuff already mentioned that was bought in advance. We also had a small knife, fork and spoon each.

THE WALK

DAY 1.

It might not sound like much – and there really was nothing we didn’t use – but it felt heavy as we left on the Thursday afternoon up the steep hill behind our house, just as the rain started to fall.

We knew that the first part of the route would be the hardest, as it involved going from around 200m altitude to over 1000m. Our bags would also be the heaviest at this point, and it had started raining.

Even though we could’ve postponed the trip at the sight of rain, we didn’t want to give up at the first hurdle and had already spent the morning packing.

The hike up the forgotten cabaña path was steep and slippy, but welcomely protected by trees. The fact that we’d done this hike many times before also helped as we knew what to expect, and it was good to have a familiar start to the trip.

After a few rest breaks with trail mix, we arrived in Cauzo, a large braña where cows and horses sometimes live.

We had our first trip lunch of plate-toasted rye bread with tomato, olive oil, garlic, salt and cheese. Followed by a hot chocolate to warm us up. It definitely didn’t feel like the start of July.

We packed up and walked on, faced suddenly by a row of five majestic horses. Nik looked small next to them as he walked with his stick into the enormous field, making himself big energetically. I was a bit scared of them as they were blocking the path and seemed pretty interested in us. But they moved out of the way as Nik arrived with his stick. They were probably just curious – it is rather weird that two humans would choose to walk up a mountain in the pouring rain.

Next we headed on to Linares, a small old village where new building work is taking place. The houses look really well made, but it does seem a shame that they’re purely for money making and don’t seem to be helping the local people at all. I’d like to know how the villagers feel.

We were aleady exhausted by this point and hoping to find somewhere to sleep that was flat-ish and not in the middle of a field of cows or horses.

However, it seemed that if we were going to find a flat place that wasn’t just the middle of the road, it would have to be in the middle of a field of cows or horses.

We found a fairly uninviting looking spot on the road up to Cuevallagar, as we were greeted with a large cow skull I was reminded of my friend’s warning that wolves are known to live around there.

We pitched the tent a little higher up, away from the road, and I was relieved to see the lights of the city come on just as dusk fell.

I know wild camping is supposed to be about being away from civilisation, but for me it was nice to ease in to the journey with the reminder that people weren’t too far away. Baby steps! Though I’m sure if I’d screamed no one would’ve heard me.

We survived the night after some gooey curry flavoured noodles with added nettles and plantain. My breathing already felt better from the fresh air and I already started to feel the magical sense of adventure and restoration.

DAY 2.

The next day I struggled to get up and just wanted to lie in the tent, stretching out my legs and resting my sore back from the bag. The heat got too much and we had to roll out, packing up the things as we went.

We decided to get a headstart before breakfasting, so trudged up the steep path and bid farewell to our first camping spot.

A few suzuki-type vans drove past, and I hungrily eyed their passenger seats as they sped up the vertical hills.

“Is this the way to Cuevallagar?” asked Nik, as a guy in a white van did a 3-point turn on a hairpin bend, his dog bounding in front.

The señor nodded.

No offer of a lift. I guess the large backpacks suggest we enjoy hiking.

Halfway up said slope, we collapsed to make breakfast. Chocolate porridge and fresh coffee later, we were feeling renewed and ready for the challenge, if still a bit demoralised that we hadn’t yet made to our first proposed stop-off point.

At this point, we still thought we were heading to a cave. There is actually a cave in Cueva Llagar, but we didn’t go past it.

We arrived to a broken sign pole with most of the arrows either falling off, loosely attached, or on the floor.

Nik decided it was a good moment to turn the phone on to check directions, so I was able to get this snap.

We headed towards Maraviu on the GR 101.1, aided by the occasional white and red paint on a rock.

From this high point, we were able to see the valley in which we live and move daily from a totally new angle. It was incredible to see the mountain that usually looks like a flat twin peak, looking smaller and nondescript against an enormous range of tectonic rock.

I couldn’t believe that we were only 12 kilometres from our house, yet the landscape looked so different, the air had changed, and I felt far from home.

We carried on in the direction of the medieval village Banduju, and happened to bump into some other English friends biking down the hill, looking for a horse they wanted to buy! It was a most unexpected encounter and a lovely surprise that recharged us as we headed towards los Lagos de la Barrera.

Luckily we had jumped over the fence of one of the cabañas to refill our water packs, as there were no more fountains for the next 3 hours as we made our way to the road.

After stopping for lunch in the shade of a large fig tree, I decided this route would be impossible to do alone, as there were no clear paths or signs and it involved mostly intuition and heading to the place that looked like the way. That is of course without using GPS.

Two men were hiking the trail just a bit behind us, and caught up to us as we stopped on the road to observe the map. One of them asked for a cup of water, as they too hadn’t found any fuentes along the way. Their cars were parked there as they waiting for some friends still on the walk, and they offered us a lift to wherever we were going, but we declined as we were feeling a lot more recharged and able than in the morning. A cool wind and a refreshing downhill had helped us to breeze through the last part of the walk.

After some quibbling and turning back and forth again, we found the right way and walked briskly along the road to the next water point. Maps.me was great for this.

We filled our sacks and it was already getting late, I felt tired and was ready to stop, even though I felt bad that yet again we hadn’t reached the proposed destination. To be honest, I had no idea where we were, let alone what the supposed place was. Even now looking back on maps there isn’t really a name for where we were.

It was near Puerto de Marabio where we found a flat spot in another braña, just below some holm oak trees protecting us from the elements.

A thick mist had surrounded the hillside, and we had just enough time to meditate and boil some pre-packaged risotto before it went dark. We left our stuff at the tent and walked back to the fountain to wash the dishes and refill our water sacks, to save ourselves time the next day.

DAY 3.

The plan was to wake up earlier to avoid the heat of the sun whilst walking, but it was already halfway to the top of the sky when we crawled out of the tent.

We packed up and got going, past a couple having breakfast from outside of their van.

About 15 minutes later, we reached the first water point and decided to stop and have breakfast so we could wash the plates and replenish the water straight away.

Even though it wasn’t much, I liked having a little walk before eating just to feel like we’d got going.

That morning we had cold oats with dried fruit and nuts, banana and peanut butter. It was so delicious.

The cows came for their morning drink and stared at us as we ate by the side of the track.

We carried on, refueled and marvelling at the totally different landscape to where we’d come from. It felt like it could’ve been the south of Spain, or Catalunya, with the holly oaks and the low shrubs and white rocks and boiling morning heat. As a white jeep rolled down the gravel path I imagined for a second we were in Las Alpujarras.

is this really Asturias?

We went on and were wowed by the vastness of the landscape, so few villages and so much nature.

We kept going and were surpised to find more people – the breakfasting couple behind us had caught up, and we bumped into three older mountaineers with day packs who told us we should have a GPS radar and a detailed map.

Another trio arrived and it was amusing to watch the most macho ones of the group sizing eachother up like territorial animals. We left them pointing at the mountain range and bickering over which way we should go – I think they were more interested in us going the right way than we were.

We had our tent and our food, it didn’t really matter if we didn’t take the best route.

Having said that, as we got down from the high point, it emerged that we were only a few hours walk from San Martin de Teverga, which explained why there were now so many hikers on the trail.

My disappointment in thinking how little we’d come changed to pride as I realised we had walked far, and we could easily reach the end now if we wanted to. But we didn’t want to go straight back to shops and cafés yet, so we carried on through more brañas and up the ridge of the mountains.

We walked for a long time in the heat past cows, barking mastiffs and cattle herders, feeling glad that we had filled up our water packs that morning. A farmer from a nearby village pointed us in the right direction, and we stopped for lunch by a large trough with running water.

This may have been the tastiest meal we had – white rice, garlic-chilli-salt avocado, and fried dandelions. Have you ever tried fried dandelions? They are delicious!

After a light rest in the shade and some of Lidl’s finest organic chocolate, I collected some sage for later and we got going again.

It was a long, hot walk to Puerto de San Lorenzo but it felt breezy, the packs felt lighter and the route much flatter than before. There were plenty of fuentes to keep us cool and cows lurching into bushes to keep us amused.

When we arrived, it felt like a real achievement as there was a large sign with ‘Bienvenidos’. Welcome.

Nik boiled some tea with foraged elderflower, sage and plantain.

We snacked on bread and peanut butter then pitched the tent on the highest part of the land overlooking the braña.

The sun was setting in the west as the moon rose in the east. It was beautiful to see the two at the same time.

We had hot chocolates and watched as the yellow, butter-moon slid up from between the mountain peaks and the sun disappeared below.

That should have been a calm, restorative end to a long day, as the cow bells tinkled through the hills and the darkness enclosed the valleys, it felt like a fairytale.

However, when the tent was zipped up and real nighttime kicked in, I got scared by one of the mastiffs barking very close to our tent. Next came the louder clunking of cow bells, and we started to worry the cows were around our tent.

Nik poked his head out, and found that there were about ten cows very close to our tent, but luckily just behind a fence. They probably hadn’t seen many tents before. He used his trusty stick to usher them away and they left us alone whilst we got a few hours of shut-eye.

That was until another loud clunking woke us up three hours later.

This time the cow was right behind the tent.

It was kind of hilarious, but also terrifying. Cows are enormous animals and I don’t know if I’m completely sure they wouldn’t just trample over the tent and us.

DAY 4.

We got up early as it turned out it was pretty difficult to sleep in a field of cows, and headed off as the sun rose from the same place the moon had arrived.

The mastiff followed us up the path for about twenty minutes, barking and circling, barking and circling. It was muy pesado. It was probably just bored and excited to be able to do its job of protecting the cows. But I’m not a great morning person nor a big fan of dogs barking in my face.

Another reason I would find it very hard to do a camino like this on my own!

We reached the first water point where we planned to have breakfast. It was in a field of galloping horses and there were two gigantic mastiffs. These ones were old and friendly though, they didn’t bark at all and just wanted to be involved.

Nevertheless, we walked a bit further on to have breakkie, cos as lovely as this big white one was, I don’t think we’d get much of a look in on the breakfast front. Before posing for this photo its head was halfway inside my bag.

There was a lovely spot by a brook where we sat and made the choccy porridge, sipping on fresh coffee and leaning on our bags. Bringing a few luxuries like that really made the journey more enjoyable!

A hiker sped past and wished us luck, he’d slept in a bivvy bag the night before and saw the luminous moon. I asked if it was cold without a tent. He said that wine helps a lot.

We made good time that day, feeling lighter and stronger than before, stopping occasionally in the shade for nuts and water.

Not long into the walk, I saw a large triangular muddy-brown coloured thing emerge from below.

“What’s that?” I said to Nik. “Some sort of rock formation?”

“Keep going” he said, encouraging me to find out for myself.

And I realised it was the Teitos: the cabins that were used in the middle ages for people and cows. Some are still used today, and this site has been restored and protected by the ayuntamiento of Teverga.

The walls are made from stone and the signature roofs from the yellow shrub that grows nearby – escoba.

They looked quite inviting during the day, and I enjoyed imagining what life might have been like living somewhere like this a few hundred years ago. Packing up the animals and heading for the four day voyage to Grado for the market. Waking up to serene views, making bread, clothes and tending to the garden.

We had a good pace again as we set off towards our stop for the last night. The route we took is supposed to end in Torrestío, León, but we planned to take a left before entering the region and head towards Teverga.

We stopped in the shade of some trees for another lunch of rice and dandelions fritos, enjoying a leisurely nap as we only had a few kilometres to go.

As we packed up, I realised that my roll mat was no longer there. I must have been rushing, hungry and hot and totally forgot to reattach it after a water break. I had no idea where it was, but didn’t like the idea of just leaving it somewhere.

I started to walk back to get it, feeling angry with myself and annoyed that I would end up undoing all the hard work we did that day. I got to the end of the path and saw the steep incline back into the forest, and asked myself what my Mum would say. She would say to forget about it, carry on and focus on having a good time, buy myself a new one when I get back, and hope that someone nice has found it and is enjoying it. Life is too short to spend a potential four hours looking for a roll mat in the heat.

I hope someone nice did find it and uses it, or better: a bear is having the best nap of its life.

So next time we will label everything just in case. I turned around and caught up with Nik, and we headed on together into what felt like the total end of the world.

A deep, never-ending valley with cows, bulls, grass and rocks. Mist floating at the top.

It went on like this for a while, with few to no signs and some beautiful horses.

We felt we must be nearning the end of the stretch.

I’m ready to stop here

As we approached the next braña a loud, echoing bark bounced off the rocks. A mastiff letting us know who was boss.

“Let me just check the map for a second to see if we’re not accidentally heading towards León” said Nik.

I refused to believe this was a possibility.

“Ah, yes, we’re in León. We’ve gone past the turning for Teverga.”

I can’t actually remember if I was angry or just thought it was hilarious. Probably angry inititally, then less so when I found out the “turning” was just 250m behind us.

We took a couple of pics in León, found an enormous mushroom and headed back for quarter of a kilometre. There were no signs for this turning and I started to doubt whether it really was a route. I think we’d both thought there’d be a large sign saying ‘Puerto de La Mesa’ and we would camp there at a lovely high point like the night before (preferably with less cows). But there was no sign, and we realised the whole thing was kind of the puertos de la mesa, and it is called as such because it’s a flat mountain with not much of a peak. ‘Mesa’ = table.

at least we found this

We could have just camped there and made our way back the next day, but neither of us felt too excited by the idea of camping in this barren land of slopes, cows, rocks and mist. We trudged up the hill and hoped to find a safer seeming camp spot soon.

Signs disappeared and so did visibility as the mist hung down. We couldn’t see two metres in front of us and put our waterproofs on as our clothes were getting wet. Nik started to walk with his phone in front of his nose, trying to follow the GPS to the forest.

At this point, it was about 9pm, and the map was saying it would take an hour to get to the forest.

I started to feel panicky as it was going to get dark and the mist is known for being dangerous to hikers. We were basically walking on a steep cliff with low shrubs and bushes, so it didn’t seem like a good idea to camp there, in case wind picked up or the weather got worse. It seemed worth it to head on to the forest for the protection of the trees.

I tried to stay calm and followed Nik pacing through the landscape with his eyes on the little arrow on the screen. He kept losing signal and the arrow would spin around, or suddenly we’d have to step back a bit and take a diagonal left. There was a sense of urgency as night was creeping in so we didn’t want to spend too long recalibrating or planning the route.

Battery started to run low, and luckily Nik had brought a little rechargable battery pack, phew. This part of the route, though an official way, would have been completely impossible without GPS. There were no paths nor familiar painted stripes to guide us.

We arrived into a fieldy seeming place shrouded in mist. The map said we were 15 minutes from the forest. It was 9.45pm. As we headed down the slope, a black cabin emerged from the mist.

“That’s good!” said Nik.

I wasn’t sure what to make of this.

“A sign of life!” he said.

As more rounded, dark stone cabins appeared from the fog, I definitely felt more scared than reassured. It felt like an abandoned village site as the stone buildings crumbled down. It was like the set of a creepy film with dark magic and witchery. Normally I’m an advocate of witchery. You know, the herbal medicines and healing women kind. But this felt distinctly uninviting.

“Well, when you’re lost in the mist, isn’t that what these barns are for?” said Nik optimisically.

I was stunned. “Are you suggesting we sleep in one of these?”

“Well, we could…”

I replied with a series of “no”s and “absolutely not”s and “are you insane?”s.

I am still shocked that he would even be open to doing it. I haven’t got any pics of the cabins shrouded in mist that night, but I found some pics of them during the day and hopefully you can imagine why I would be scared to sleep there.

We hastily moved on and I really panicked as we lost signal and it seemed almost fated that we would have to sleep there. We had to go back around them and down to find the path. I was desperate to get away and find the forest, or any trees.

More cabins appeared from the mist and I shuddered as we went past. Nik again proposed we sleep there, but next to them, in the tent. He was worried that even if we did get to the forest, there may not be any flat surface to camp on, and this was the flat top part of the hill.

Again, I gave a resolute “no”, and insisted we keep moving. We headed down and I heaved an enormous sigh of relief as we found an actual path and, lo and behold, it featured the Caminos Naturales sign!

Never have I been so happy to see a white dash on top of a yellow dash.

As Nik had predicted, the forest was very sloped with not much room for two people to lie down, but we carried on, determined, and came to the perfect place with running water and a flat spot beneath a tree.

I feel like with wild camping and walking, it is always a bit stressful looking for somewhere to sleep, but you always end up finding the perfect spot and realise it was worth the journey it took to get there.

Nik pitched the tent while I sat on a rock and took some deep breaths, then I got into my sleeping bag and lay down, calming from the realisation that we were safe, grateful to be away from those cabins, and aware that sometimes the shock of a full body experience can be really healing. The whole time we were walking I’d been only aware of putting one front in front of another, no outside thoughts, just wanting to arrive and be safe. And now we were pretty much out of danger (later Nik told me he’d seen a bear print as we came into the forest), I could relax and just enjoy the simple sensation of lying down.

I’m glad Nik didn’t mention the bear print til the next day. Not that I’m super scared of bears, but the idea of big animals being around the tent at night might not be a great one to have when you’re trying to get some much needed sleep. Nik hung the food bag far away that night.

We didn’t need dinner as we were both quite absorbed by what had just happened. I lay on a combination of waterproofs and clothes in place of the roll mat, which wasn’t too bad. I woke up once thinking there was a boar next to the tent, but it was just Nik breathing suddenly and moving.

DAY 5.

Having survived the night, and knowing we were now on the official path back to Teverga, I walked easily and happily, out of danger and fantasising about the cafe con leche grande I was going to consume when we got to San Martín.

Nik was the happiest I’ve seen him in a long time. He made us porridge and coffee whilst I was still sleeping, and couldn’t stop smiling as we walked the path looking for bears in the opposite fields.

It must have been our lucky day, as we found some chanterelles at the side of the forest, the perfect amount for lunch.

We had the last of the rye bread with some cheese and garlic chilli-oil fried foraged mushrooms. The dream!

We passed the turn off for Cueva Huerta, saw some European bisons through the fence at the prehistoric park, and stood by while a horse tour clopped up the slippy stony path, feeling grateful for our slower mode of transport.

The road appeared as we reached the end of the Senda del Oso, and we walked triumphantly into San Martín de Teverga, stopping in front of the large sign showing the route. We had come far.

We stopped for coffee, donuts and chips in the nearest café to the bus stop. It was great to eat junk food, but I must admit it didn’t make me feel anywhere near as good as being on the walk itself. There was a drunk man singing in the bar, the TV was on loud and the food was okay. I didn’t have high expectations, it just made me realise how much I’d enjoyed our fresh coffees on the camp stove, white rice and dandelions, huge handfuls of mixed nuts, and seeing green from all directions.

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