a walk to the world's end

John Sutcliffe’s 2018 Spanish backpacking adventure through the Pyrenean & Cantabrian Mountains

PART ONE | The GR-1 Along the Pyrenean Foothills

Section 8: Puente Dey to Corconte and on to Santander

Section 1  |  Section 2  |  Section 3  |  Section 4  |  Section 5  |  Section 6  |  Section 7  |  Section 8

Villaves, 5 kilometres from Puente Dey, is a lovely hamlet built on a hillside overlooking the River Nela and is hidden from sight by woods. Jesús, helped by his lovely wife was building a house up on the hillside overlooking their present house. Not an easy task to tackle single-handed, I reckoned. After supper we talked until very late.


June 22 2018

Jesus headed off early to build the house whilst I spent some time catching up with route planning, but apparently not enough as subsequent events showed. The day ended with supper and several slugs of Torres 10 Spanish brandy.


June 23 2018

The Torres 10 helped me decide to accept a kind invitation to stay on to celebrate with them La Noche de San Juan, Mid-Summers Night, that evening. This was marked with a splendid fireside BBQ with an endless stream of food and drink, with some sillier participants taking to jumping over the fire – not that easy in sandals I discovered!

Mid-summers night party, Villalves, including fire jumping at midnight!



June 24 2018

Having already said goodbyes over a second bottle of Torres 10 the previous evening, I slipped out the house just after 9am, just a couple of hours after I had heard the other guests heading off to bed after a longest but shortest night!

First, I had had to make my way back to Puente Dey, to rejoin the GR-1. Understandably no cars stopped to give me a lift on the narrow winding road so it took me a good hour to rejoin the GR-1.

The bar in Puente Dey was getting cranked up for a busy Sunday, and one of the ladies who knew where the ham was hidden, brought me a plateful of the legendary acorn-fed jamon Iberico.

Setting off just before midday, I made my way up the limestone gorge before heading out into beautiful open moorland country. The day started to warm up and the heat eventually got to me, but I pushed on, regretting this morning’s 3am bedtime.

A steep climb down an escarpment took me to the one-horse two-pub foodless railway town of Pedrosa de Valdeporres . I didn’t like the town and moved on. From there the GR-1 follows the railway track for a while before climbing up the valley side through lovely oak woods. I had intended to push on but the sound of not too distant cowbells made me think about possible ticks so decided to settle for a glade in the woods. The ground was sloping so I put the rucksack under the down-slope end of the mattress to arrest my inevitable slide downhill.


June 25 2018

Up at 6am, I was chuffed to find the tent crispy dry and so managed a 7.35 start. After a kilometre of woods the trail emerged into open heathland. Except for the wind turbines, it reminded me of the Valley of Desolation in Wharfedale, not far from my home in Yorkshire.

A chap in the tiny hamlet of Busnela, himself a walker, invited me to join him for a sit-down in the shade and a cold beer in his garden.

Continuing towards Ebro Dam, my GPS route took me on a contour path past some Civil War trenches, but the path stopped at a fence at the top of a steep escarpment overgrown with gorse. After trailing along the fence in both directions for about half a kilometer looking for a way down, I drew a blank. There seemed no alternative but to head straight down. It was a prickly purgatory through chest-high gorse with a mass of interlocking branches. The worse part was the thick layer of compacted horizontal branches down at ground level. It was like walking through a mountain of broom handles on a stack of several thick wobbly mattresses.

It took an age to reach the main road. I could find no trace of the GR–1 at the position shown on the map, but found another track, a hundred metres to the south. This one passed close to the National Monument that houses the remains of several hundred Italian casualties of the Civil War, and seemed to be head in roughly the right direction. The gate opening onto it, however, was fastened with bailer twine and barbed wire. I managed to unravel this mess and headed down the track, but after a while found the way barred by a second fence beyond which lay yet more thick gorse. Feeble paths followed the fence line in both directions but didn’t appear to go anywhere,  but the line of the track I had been following appeared to continue beyond the fence so I decided to give it a go.



Prickly undergrowth near Corconte


It was quite horrible and about two hours later I emerged from the undergrowth scratched and scathed and bleeding. I was surprised to find an important long-distance route in such a bad state, especially, one passing so close to a national monument 26.

Arriving at the small village of Corconte I found a nice looking cafe but arrived ten minutes after the kitchen had closed. The waitress obligingly got hold of the chef who came out to see me. I think my bleeding arms and legs helped my case, and he knocked me up a welcome and long overdue lunch.

The waitress told me about a possible place to camp further around the lake and I headed off, camping in long grass about 30m from the lake’s edge. Before putting up the tent I went for a paddle in the shallow water wearing my sandals. A mass of submerged flowers were clearly visible in the grass under about a foot of clear water. I surmised that the water level had risen following the recent rains, but the flowers seemed quite happy with their new submerged habitat.

With the tent up, a zillion chattering frogs began their evening chorus. The ruckus continued until the sun rose next morning.


Ebro dam



June 26 2018

The tent was soaking with condensation, a consequence of camping close to the lake – something I should have thought of. I hung it up in a tree to drip-dry, waiting for the sun to climb above the horizon. There was no wind and it took an age to dry off, so I didn’t get away until about 9am.

Two kilometres down the road I passed a lovely grassy camping spot in a stand of tall pine trees, with a water tap. This was clearly the place that the waitress had in mind, and being well above the waterline, would have spared me the croaking wildlife and the heavy dew.

My guidebook mentioned taking a bus for the circuitous road from Reinosa to Corconte, a distance of about 20 kilometres. As the lake had been formed by the flooding the valley during the Franco era, any earlier network of paths and tracks had long since disappeared, and there seemed to be no alternative but to walk on the road 27. After about an hour of tarmac the day began to warm up, until I came to a nice looking cafe and bolted inside in for a mid-morning coffee. I wasn’t enjoying trudging along the busy road and when a chap offered me a lift to Reinosa, with a bit of prompting, it was an ‘offer’ I couldn’t refuse.

Reinosa has good rail and bus connections, which is why I had decided to make it the end-point for Stage 2 of my walk. On arrival I first checked out the trains to Santander, one of my favourite towns on Spain’s northern Cantabrian coast. In a lucky break, one was leaving in twenty minutes time, just giving me time for a quick coffee. In the spectacular train journey that lasted about an hour and a half, I lost count of the number of tunnels and bridges as we wound our way down to the coast.

I found a fantastic bunk-hostal called the Cantiber in Santander, €25 a night, right in the town centre on Calle Burgos. Here I met a young German walker doing the Northern Camino route, that I might be following through Asturias to Santiago on resuming the walk. We found lots to talk about and we enjoyed checking out the town’s superb restaurants for a couple of days. The high spot was the Marucho sea food restaurant on Calle Tetuan where we tried the outrageously expensive percebes (goose-foot barnacles).


Marucho's - Spider Crabs  |  Percebes (Goosefoot barnacles), Maruchos restaurant, Santander



I had no luck finding a flight from Santander but reserved a flight in two days time from Bilbao, 75 kilometres further east along Spain’s northern coast. Andy was meeting his girlfriend friend there and offered me a lift in the car he would be hiring. I had enjoyed his company and wished him well.

Sitting uncomfortably in the airport later that day, I thought about the GR-1. It was by no means a light undertaking but it had taken me through some breathtaking landscapes with a few challenges that had literally knocked me off my feet!

Continue Reading >>> Personal Reflections on the GR-1


26  My Cicerone guidebook, I discovered later, actually contained a reference to the overgrown and nearly impassable nature of this section of the GR-1, something I had carelessly overlooked, paying a thorny penalty.

27  Here, I believe re-routing of the GR-1 is called for, to avoid this long walk on a busy road.

Contact John Sutcliffe - treks@johnsutcliffe.net


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a walk to the
world's end

John Sutcliffe’s 2018 Spanish backpacking adventure through the Pyrenean & Cantabrian Mountains