This weekend was a date we get quite excited about in Gonzalo’s family home, the Lagrimas de San Lorenzo – or as they’re known in English, the Perseids. These meteor showers result in one of the best times of year to see shooting stars, and we cross our fingers every year for clear skies to get to see them. Last year, we’d had our first Berta/Perseids experience at an excellent viewing point, above Alto Campoo ski station at the Mirador Fuente del Chivo, it was a fabulous clear night and we saw loads from up there.
This year we decided to try somewhere else, and had seen on Facebook that the Observatorio Astronómico de Cantabria was having an open night for people to go and see them from inside their grounds. The observatory is located just south of Polientes in the far south of Cantabria, up on La Lora, which is the start of the high meseta plain. It sounded like a great place to go and also to sleep if it wasn’t windy.
So, we headed off in the later afternoon, passing through Aguilar de Campoo to change our waters on the way at the great AC area there. It’s quite a drive to Polientes from…well anywhere! But it’s a pretty one, driving through some very interesting villages – many of which have rock churches and Romanesque churches of note – the best being the museum and rock church of Santa Maria de Valverde. The road also goes alongside the Ebro river for half of the journey, with lots of tempting looking areas for a picnic.
It’s a bit of a climb up from Polientes to the observatory, which sits right on the edge of La Lora and has a great commanding position overlooking the valley below. On arrival there were already several vans, motorhomes and cars parked up – it was still very light at this point. Lots of people had come with their picnic dinner and picnic blankets to enjoy the spectacle.
By the time it actually got dark, there must have been over 100 cars and about 30 campers! And about 300 people up there, it was a little like a village fiesta! The atmosphere was similar and a fun place to be. The observatory grounds were opened from 11pm-1am to allow people to lie on their rugs and enjoy the show, but after having dinner in the van with the view, we chose to sit outside on our reclining chairs and enjoy it from there. And yes, we saw a few shooting stars! But not as many as the previous year it has to be said – but the experience of it all was quite something, every time there was a big bright one there was a huge noise from the crowd, rather like watching fireworks!
We had a very calm, quiet night after the cars left, and in the morning there were still around 30 vans there enjoying breakfast.
We headed off late morning and wanted to get in a walk on the way home, and we had one in mind. It should be said firstly that this area, Valderredible, has a great network of signposted walks which can be found here. We’ve done all of these over the years, so now we’re on to inventing our own walks in the area, which is easy as there are so many great tracks and paths around. And lots of hidden things to see too.
We’d heard about something we’d never seen before from a page on Facebook, Petroglifos de Valderredible. It turns out that petroglyphs (rock carvings or engravings) can be found all over the area, and there were some interesting ones in a rock near the village of Berzosilla. This village is actually in Palencia, but is accessed through Cantabria. It is a typical village of this area – with only 8 permanent residents.
We drove up to the village, which has a brand new little picnic area with a barbecue at the entrance, and parked easily in the main square area (there’s always somewhere to park in the villages around here). And unusually for a village which has no bar or otherwise, there were about 15 people in the square. We were surprised, but didn’t think much of it, until a friendly lady came out of the house opposite as we were putting on our boots and asked if we were selling something. We explained we were here to visit the petroglyphs, and commented that the village seemed to be buzzing! She assured us that this was not normal, but that last week a child had put their foot in a hole, which had re-revealed an underground chamber which had been forgotten about, but which they had played in as kids. We wandered over to see what was going on, and there was a person-sized hole with a ladder sticking out of it, and everyone from the village, and we assume the surrounding villages, climbing in and out! We established that a gentleman from the neighbouring village who was knowledgeable about rock churches had been called in to inspect the space, and we were encouraged by the locals (“these two have just turned up to walk, and look what they got!”) to have a look…so down we climbed! And yes, as the gentleman, who had turned into the guide of the hole, explained to us, it was clearly an excavated rock church or hermit’s cave – he thought 600AD – and there was likely more to be explored. Very interesting!
So we climbed back out, and by this time everyone knew our destination of the petroglyphs and pretty much everyone was trying to give us directions to them! In the end, a very friendly man declared he would be our guide and accompany us to see them himself. And off we went with our local guide, Eneko. A pretty flat walk along a series of tracks took us to Peña Caldera, which does in fact have a sign and an explanatory panel put in at Easter apparently – however, there are no signs to get there, so it’s a case of Google Maps…or Eneko! Peña Caldera consists of a large rock with what is suspected to be the carved dome of a hermit’s cave, and many petroglyphs carved into the rocks on the ground – dated to around 1700-800BC, and others to 9/10BC.
Above this area, and accessible by a further track is the current pride of the village, its reservoir used for watering the surrounding area (which is famous for potatoes) – apparently quite a sight to go up there, but it was pretty hot by this point.
We walked back to the village, and Eneko then insisted on inviting us into his house for a snack before lunch, where we met his wife Ana, who turned out to be the lady who we’d first met in the village. Joined by their neighbour Conchi, we had some yummy fried aubergine sticks and a lovely cold beer over some interesting stories of the valley and its Romanesque churches. Don’t you just love those moments?!
We said goodbye to our impromptu hosts, promising to come back in 6 months to see the reservoir and see how the excavations of the hole had progressed.
On our way back home we stopped for lunch at a lovely viewpoint overlooking Montesclaros monastery (worth a visit) and the Ebro reservoir beyond, and returned once again along the Ebro.