Having had a short day cycling around Brez, we decide that it is now time to stretch our legs a bit. In the hills above Potes lie several small hamlets and villages, linked by a network of roads and tracks. From the map we cannot tell which are which but there is only one way to find out.
Just to the west of Potes lies the hamlet of Rases, in the next side valley lie the villages of Viñon and LLes. Linking them is a series of tracks. Even better - they are accessible from our accommodation without requiring any driving.
The ride starts from Potes so we use the main road for want of any better way of getting there. The road to Rases begins in the car-park over the river so, swinging through the market place, we begin our ascent. The gradient is gentle at first but soon there is a steeper section to open up our lungs. Fortunately it does not last long and the angle eases back. We are still gaining height though and it is not long before we are a 100m or so above the valley floor.
The road now switchbacks its way up the spur of the hillside, still climbing with occasional steeper sections. Another turn and the angle eases as it enters the shade of a wooded section. I have pulled ahead of the others by now and try to move as slowly as possible to let them catch up. Unfortunately the flies find me and I have to move off again to find direct sunlight to get rid of them. The next bend is steep and the track continues steeply past a final bend into the hamlet.
Half collapsing, I lean the bike against the wall and slither back down the concrete to take some shots of the others. None of us has had an easy time on this climb.
After a rest and some photos, we set off on more of the same - steep uphill work on a concrete track. Now though the track is in poorer condition, in fact in places the reinforcing mesh is exposed and we are forced to ride over that. Steve forges on ahead while I hang back, ahem, conserving my energy. Eventually I stop to wait for Cath, knowing that she doesn't particularly like hills so this isn't at all pleasant for her. She arrives showing her usual dogged determination and we finish the climb at the col.
We are all suffering from the effects of the ascent. Time for a spot of lunch whilst taking in the view. We are sat on the surround of a water tank that contains rather a lot of tadpoles - big tadpoles - tasty water! We are at a crossroads: the track ahead descends to LLes; that to the right drops back to the valley floor; the one to the left leads towards a communications mast of some sort but then continues along the ridge. This is our outbound route, while we return later along the track heading to LLes.
Suitably refreshed we head off again. The climb is even steeper than before and has gravel lying over the concrete. Eventually the concrete ends and we are left with rough firetrack, albeit at the same angle. As we round the corner, the angle eases and further mountains come into view.
The track is level for a while then begins to undulate along the ridge. The riding is easier now, though there are still some sharp climbs they are not as severe as the pull out of Potes. Everywhere the views are magnificent, either wooded hills above the Liebana valley on the left or the jagged limestone skyline ahead and to the right. Finally there is a longer, slightly steeper climb and we arrive at the junction for the next track.
The track on the ridge continues, and from the map it would appear that it gets right up to the edge of the mountains. However, right and down we must go. This track is muddy rather than the grave/stoney surface we have been on so far and is obviously used by four wheel drive vehicles as it is heavily rutted. To begin with the track is shallow angled but as we head into the trees the angle increases and the surface becomes looser and stonier.
From time to time the track becomes steep enough that we are reduced to a slow pace as we are unsure of the conditions of the track around the next corner as it twists and turns down the crest of the ridge. Keeping a safe distance we are basically all out of sight of one another. Suddenly all comes to a halt as we arrive at a crossroads.
This is not marked on the map! Or at least it is not marked at where we think we are, as there is a switchback marked on the map that we have not passed. We decide to carry on the main track as the ridge has levelled out by this point. After a couple of hundred metres it is obvious that the crossroads was our turning point so we retrace our steps. The track leading down to Viñon must be the one that is now to our left - it is steep and stoney and if we get it wrong it will mean a long ascent. Fortunately a couple of minutes riding and we hit concrete and the village.
Adjacent to the track exit is a spring and trough - a good place for a snack. Even better would be a bar but the map does not indicate that such a beast exists in the village. Our snack consists of a tin of olives and the remainder of our bread and cheese. We decide that the water is drinkable - more by the fact that there is no sign stating otherwise than any real knowledge.
The map shows the road or lane that we want just down the road on the right. Just down the road, we come to a bar (typical!) but no lane. Continuing further and still no lane. Back up into the village and after exploring just about every possible route we come across an old lady. Steve knows the most Spanish and he comes back with “I wouldn’t start from here if I were you”! and something about “the lane being a horse track” or “dogs the size of horses”. However at least we know the way now.I think she said either “the lane is a horse track” or “there are dogs the size of horses␅ says Steve
The track is the typical undulating affair - lots of steep and stoney up and down. Even Steve had to get off and push at one point. LLes comes into view soon enough - it is no more than half a dozen houses and farmsteads clinging to the hillside. There are plenty of dogs around, though none as big as horses we get off and walk keeping our bikes between us and the dogs.
The track now rises up steeply - again - but the ground underwheel isn’t too bad and we make steady if slow progress towards the skyline. Ahead is a flock of sheep sheltering from the sun in the shade of a couple of trees. As I near, some of the sheep rise, I get a big shock when one of them turns and begins to bark! A pyrenean mountain dog no less, and he is the size of a horse!
We all move off the road and through the pasture to avoid upsetting him more than necessary. The rest of the track is easier now and we soon arrive back at the col that signalled the end of the initial climb. It is now a matter of hoping that the track to the left leads where we want to go. Again it is a mud track, though at least it is dry. It is very bumpy though and very fast if you lay off the brakes for too long.
As the track descends it seems as if it is going to get steeper and steeper, I cannot see far enough ahead but the ground is definitely dropping away in front of me! Fortunately the track takes a sweeping turn to the left to cross the front of the ridge, dropping all the while and occasionally very bumpy and sometimes stoney. A field appears and the track does a switchback. I wait for the others to catch up and for my disc brakes to cool down. As it happens a hundred metres further on we are back on concrete and into a village. Another kilometre of descent and we are on the valley floor.
We are close to our accommodation but Steve and Angela are after some food and have noticed a track back to Potes that avoids the main road. For once it is flat and we are soon in town enjoying a beer and some raçiones.
- From Potes take the lane to Rases - steep climb on concrete surface.
- Go through Rases, bearing right and continue climbing steeply on the concrete track to the cross-roads at the col approximately one kilometre further on.
- Take the track leading to the left and climb up onto the ridge, going straight ahead when the concreted track doubles back. The angle eases as you go around the corner.
- Follow the track along the ridge with several small descents and climbs until after a longer climb that bends to the right you come to a junction.
- Take the track to the right. It quickly begins to descend and soon drops into the woods. The track is muddy and somtimes requires care. Continue on this track until a crossroads is reached. (there is a power line that crosses the track hereabouts).
- Turn sharp right and drop down to the village of Vinon. There is a good spring next to the end of the track. There is also a bar at the bottom end of town - turn left and descend for 200m - the bar is on the right.
- Turn right then immediately left and drop down through the houses until a track leads into the depression.
- Take this track, stoney and sometimes muddy, (some false tracks lead off it) until you come to the hamlet of LLes.
- Straight through the hamlet and climb up the steep track, stoney, to regain the col above Rases.
- Turn left and head down the mud track. This gets steeper and steeper and begins to twist its way down the ridge. It occasionally feels as if it is going to drop of the ridge. Eventually it becomes concrete and descends into housing.
- Continue down to the valley floor. Turn right at the junction and right again just before the bridge over the river. This track is signposted to Potes. Turn right about 100m before the next bridge. This final track lead back up to the initial climb. Turn left and down to the car park.
Macizos Central Y Oriental de Los Picos de Europa 1:25000 scale published by Adrados.
Picos de Europa y El Valle de Liebana by Victor Guerra, published by Desnivel ISBN: 84-87746-27-6 (Spanish text) This does not have this particular route described but parts of other routes cover the same ground.