A Travellerspoint blog

To the Northern Tip of Spain

Cabo Ortegal and the Estaca de Bares

sunny 20 °C

Just when it seemed it couldn't rain any harder - it did - forcing me to slow to under 30 mph, the wipers on full speed having little effect on the torrents of water pouring down the windscreen. The motorway from Santiago de Compostela to Ribeira was almost devoid of traffic and this was just as well as I couldn't see more than about 10 yards in front. As my first time in 3 years driving a left hand drive car, this was, shall I say, challenging! Driving an unfamiliar car with a dashboard full of meaningless flashing lights and strange cryptic symbols is one thing, but sitting where the passenger normally does, is taking things too far and I'd nearly opened the door several times trying to change gear.

That had been 4 days back and inclement weather had been the order of the week with heavy bursts of rain gusting in from the Atlantic while near Cape Finisterre, I'd seen a telegraph pole actually pulled from the ground by the wind. It seemed that the rain in Spain fell mainly on Galicia along with the hailstones, hurricanes and just about everything else.

Today though was different. The wind had gone and the rainclouds had been replaced by an almost cloudless blue sky. The ocean sparkled serenely as if relaxing after the week's vigorous activity and the October Sun shone warmly as Jacqui and I walked down to the old church of San Andres de Teixido. The chapel is an ancient pilgrimage site for Galicians and it is said that Pilgrims were coming here before the Camino de santiago, or Way of St James, was established to Santiago de Compostela. As a journey's end it would be hard to equal - the dappled white stone building is set in a small traditional village clinging to a sheltered hillside. Just beyond the church one comes to a wall by an equally ancient looking palm tree, beyond which the slopes drop away to the blue Atlantic. One could not imagine a more peaceful spot. To the rest of Spain, it would seem that the whole of Galicia is off the beaten path, yet this coast seemed remote even by Galician standards.

We'd arrived here from nearby Cedeira with its charming sea front and harbour area, along narrow winding roads leading through woods and over clifftops before a steep descent to the village. This, we now negotiated in the opposite direction before turning left to continue on the minor road. I'd mastered driving the hire car now, though some of the symbols were still a mystery and we headed uphill through deep green forests before stopping at a clearing where a short path led to a viewing table.

There's an ever present scent of eucalyptus in the woods here and the tall spindly trees can be seen in amongst the more familiar pines - I wondered whether people grew up immune to colds? The viewing revealed the ocean a long way below and the coastline we'd just come along. Ahead the ground rose higher still towards a mountain top - the end of the Sierra de Capaleda across which our way led.

We soon left the trees behind as the road climbed across a vast open landscape populated here and there by wild horses and on one side - always a contentious issue - a windfarm. My only issue with windfarms is one of numbers. The wind turbines themselves are actually quite graceful structures - I can think of far worse things to build out here. It's when you have a line of the things taking up half the horizon or row upon row of them that they're never going to blend in with anything. The small developments of perhaps half a dozen turbines I don't think look too bad though it would still look better without them - it's the larger ones that can make a real mess of the landscape. This one here could have done with being a bit smaller but it certainly didn't ruin the view. What's the answer I hear you ask. The answer is simple and can be summed up by the following 3 words - consume less energy!

Wild horses grazed beneath the whirring turbines and the view over the endless lines of hills was barely blemished. We had stopped at the road's summit and walked over to the wall on the crest of the hill, the highest point for miles. That view was just about to get a whole lot better for on the wall's far side were the highest sea cliffs in Europe.

Beyond the wall was a vast open space filled only by the wide blue sea 2100 feet below and the paler blue of the sky. The slope wasn't quite vertical but fell away in a series of steep crags to the waves which crashed without a sound far below. The whole coastline was now visible back way beyond Cedeira and on over Cabo Ortegal to where a distant headland snaked out into the sea - our destination for the day - Punta de la Estaca de Bares, the northern tip of Spain.

We had our lunch sat by the wall in the warm sunshine and just enjoyed the fabulous views and sense of space. I bet it was a bit wild up here in the recent storms though - not the best of places to be blown off!

Onwards again and the road now led incessantly downwards back to the stillness of the woods and the medicinal scent of eucalyptus before heading down again to the coast by the little fishing village of Pedra where it was almost hot for the first time. We rounded an estuary, these are known here as 'rias' and are a common feature of the coastline of this part of Spain before going through the first town of any size, Ortiguera. After Ortiguera it was back into a rural landscape which seemed even more sparsely populated than the Cape Finisterre region. The scenery was timeless. All the houses we passed had the curious raised grain stores known as horreos and it now seemed normal to see people working in the fields with scythes and horses instead of modern machinery. It was hard to believe we were in the same country as those rows of hideous concrete hotels and packed beaches the holiday programmes always show when they talk about Spain.

Once again we left the main road and continued, now through dense woodland, towards Vila de Bares, finally arriving at the lighthouse at Punta de la Estaca de Bares, the northernmost point of Spain. Bares incidently is pronounced 'barez' and does not signify, as its spelling might suggest, the presence of a nudist beach.

From here, a path led in 10 minutes to where the headland narrowed to little more than a sharp ridge leading out to sea. We followed the path as far as was safe to go - beyond here was only a row of rocky pinnacles and then just the crashing waves of Biscay. An exposed spot indeed but calm and quiet today. Some way offshore - perhaps 200 metres or so - could be seen line after line of seabirds. They flew westwards along the coast seemingly oblivious to the local gull population milling around closer to shore, as a busy motorway would pass by a village. We learned that they were part of a huge seasonal migration of thousands of birds, mainly but not exclusively gannets, and we wondered whether some of them had come from the Farne Islands which we'd visited that June. The birds have often begun their journey in northern Britain and they spend the winter anywhere between the sheltered rias close to where we were staying and the coast of North Africa.

The Sun was getting lower in the sky as we turned and headed back for the long journey back to our hotel in Ribeira. Today had been one of the highlights of our trip to Galicia in north western Spain, mainly on account of the sudden improvement in the weather. There's only so much you can do in horizontal rain!

Pete Buckley October 2006

Posted by PeteB 07:54 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

World's End and the Coast of Death

Along the Costa de la Muerte

storm 16 °C

Heading up the hill from the pleasant fishing town of Ribeira and following the signs towards Corrubedo, we crossed the low spine of what was now our home peninsula. It was October in the region of Galicia in North West Spain and our jouney today would take us along the Coast of Death to World's End. The evocative names refer not to a tale of marauding pirates but to the Costa de la Muerte and Finisterre, on this coastline at the edge of Europe.

Passing an unassuming looking wooden chalet type building fronting a jungle like wall of forest - the place serves the best seafood I'd had in years - brought us out of Africa or what looked like it - into the village of Corrubedo. The place was built along a straight stretch of road leading out to the lighthouse and its only visible occupants were a couple of guys sat on sacks of building materials in front of a half finished apartment and a large brown dog by the roadside which surveyed us with a vague interest as we drove past.

A whole 2 minutes brought us through Corrubedo and the unfenced road then crossed the expanse of windswept grass jutting out to sea at the end of which was the lighthouse at Cabo de Corrubedo. Here the fury of the storm which had battered our hotel for the previous 24 hours was apparent.

Venturing outside our rocking metal shell into a world of roaring wind - or was it the sea - myself and Jacqui made our way along a trail past the lighthouse. The landscape here appeared like arctic tundra - even though it is in a sub tropical area. Only short grass and mosses seemed to grow - I guess anything that could blow away already had! The view out to sea was spectacular to say the least. Cape Finisterre was visible far off to the North and the 10 metre high waves exploded into a mass of windblown spray on reaching this rugged headland. It was scary even to think about being on board a ship out there - no wonder this coast was called the Costa de la Muerte or Coast of Death with the shipwrecks that had happened along here in the past.

A little wet and windblown but not cold, we returned to the relative sanctuary of our car and headed back through Corrubedo. The workmen were still sheltering behind their half finished wall smoking cigarettes and the dog didn't even bother looking up this time - passing the vast and empty beach the other side of town we rejoined the main route northwards.

Our journey now led us along winding roads through small developments and lots of trees along a fabulous coastline. We passed little towns of white walls and red roofs huddled in gaps in the evergreen woods while beyond were glimpses of golden sands and far rocky headlands all edged in a pale sunlit haze blown from the blue and white waves by the wind.

Through the pleasant fishing village of Portosin and so to bustling Noia. It was market day and it seemed the Noia was the place to be. It was a case of how many people and cars could fit into what was actually quite a small town - add that to the fact that this was Spain and why look for a parking space when the middle of the road will do perfectly well! the driving experience was not the best but Noia looked nice enough and we decided to come back on a day when it wasn't the centre of the Universe.

Out of town and along to the head of the inlet - it was much calmer here and the sea had more the look of a huge lake - where we crossed the Rio Tambre and headed on an even more tortuous road up the north side of the estuary. This led us through the only town of any size up here, Muros and on around the wooded headland to a more open section of coast. Here we turned off the main road at Carnota and drove the half a mile or so to the beach.

Playa de Carnota or Praia de Carnota in the local Gallego language, is a vast expanse of windblown sand fronting the ever present Atlantic waves. Walking along here reminded me of Ninety Mile Beach in New Zealand, though the wind here was somewhat stronger and made walking an effort. we saw two other people in as many miles then it was onwards again.

When the Romans occupied the region of Galicia in what is now North West Spain, they named the most westerly headland "World's End" or "Finsterra" as it was the westerly limit of the known World at the time. Known nowadays as Finisterre and locally as Fisterra, the most westerly town in mainland Europe appeared as a whitewashed Llandudno on a day when everyone was away somewhere else. A fair few reddish slates which had until recently occupied rooftop positions, lay in the road along with various other assorted debris that the wind had liberated from its owners.

As the place appeared relatively closed we carried on following the signs for the Faro or Lighthouse at the end of the peninsula. The road left the town and climbed through trees before emerging onto an open hillside with the sea far below. The wind was getting up again, buffeting the car and when we reached the car park in front of the impressive stone structure it was touch and go whether we stayed in contact with the road or not.

Negotiating the few yards from the car to the safety of the restaurant was an experience and although the news back home of "English Couple blown off World's End" would make an impressive headline, it was not one we wished to participate in. Staying behind the stone walls we reached the lighthouse - a large square building - you could go no further today though a path does lead down the slope a little further towards America.

The large steel antennae on the tower emitted a constant drone like a huge tuning fork above the thunderous roar of the wind. I once read that when metal structures and wires do this it indicates a wind speed of over 100mph - sounds about right! Sheltering over a coffee in the restaurant and a last look at the vast seascape below we returned to the car and continued our journey.

Back through Fisterra, this time following the road up from Cee towards A Coruna, known to European football fans for its illustrious team Deportivo la Coruna if for little else. This coastal region was not heavily populated though most people did seem to live close to the sea deriving a living from fishing in addition to some tourism. Away from the coast the agricultural methods were primitive and I have an enduring memory of a timeless scene by this roadside. A farmer and who I presume was his wife, were cutting grain using scythes while their children behind busily loaded their harvest onto a wooden handcart. It was a scene straight from a Constable painting but one we saw repeated many times that week.

We left the deserted main road just after Berdoias and proceeded to the rugged outpost of Cabo Vilan where the stone lighthouse stood in a spectacular spot high above the storm lashed waves, warning ships away from the Coast of Death. Here we were treated to scenes of a telegraph pole being pulled from the ground by the gusts and a campervan buffeted onto 2 wheels as it made a sharp exit from the headland. It managed to stay upright - just - and they made it back OK.

In search, literally, of some shelter from the storm we stopped at the village of Camarinas overlooking the much calmer Ria de Camarinas. This was another quiet fishing village but was also known for lace-making which was why Jacqui had wanted to stop here. No gawdy tourist gimmicks here though - the ladies of the village sit around tables in the lace shops going about their craft using bobbins and spinning wheels - not an electric sewing machine in sight - a true cottage industry. The prices too were extremely reasonable for hand-made lace in a village that was the centre of the trade in the region. They'd clearly done this here for generations like the farmers with their scythes and horses or the fisherman mending his nets outside on the seafront.

Jacqui bought some lace from one of the shops and we wandered around the village for a while before heading back. Camarinas was definitely one of our favorite villages we'd visited and was somewhere we vowed to come back to if we revisited this part of Spain. I'm sure we will.

Pete Buckley October 2006

Posted by PeteB 09:42 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

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