Field of Dreams

There's a field, high in magic mountains, a field where I first glimpsed wolves gliding over feet deep snow in a blizzard at dawn, a field forever etched into my soul, a field where the wild in me was reawakened and would never go back to sleep.

This is no ordinary field. . .

It's not an easy hike up to this place, about 3 miles in total and a climb of some 2500 feet from the valley floor.

The hike takes you up through dense Beech, Oak and Ash woods teaming with bird-life and a hundred unseen eyes peering down upon the intruders to their world. As the two readers of my previous blog will know, the last time I was here I narrowly avoided death by Wild Boar, ok so maybe this is a slight exaggeration - but it could have happened. With Wild Boar lurking in these woods, some the size of your kitchen tables, I wasn't going to run the same high risk trekking strategy as employed last time. This time I was prepared for anything this wilderness could throw at me, this time I bought with me. . . .ATTACKDAWG®

Attackdawg® (aka Streetdawg)

The hunted were now the hunters. Attackdawgs are known to avoid 90%  of near death Wild Boar encounters just by their ferocious demeanor ( I have purposely posted a photo not showing her face so as not to give anyone nightmares)..

So we wound our way up the track, with the sound of the river coarsing along the valley floor, and clanks of the cattle bells far below us. The day was perfectly still and warm in the Autumn sunshine. Around every turn and over every rise there is a chance of glimpsing wildlife before it hears you and vanishes off into the shelter of the woods.

This cute little fellow was quite inquisitive, until it spotted Attackdawg®. . . 

Deer making their way along the steep slopes.

Deer making their way along the steep slopes.

The rest of the hike up was fairly uneventful with Attackdawg® maintaining her 100% death free trekking record , although our usual watering hole had run dry with the very dry Summer and Autumn they had had so far.

Once at the top the views are spectacular, these are some of the most unspoilt wild mountains in Europe. Everything about them breaths magic, and the animals that inhabit them are magic. Wolves and bears tread these lands, but with the greatest secrecy most will never see. They are at the top of this pyramid that cascades its way down through evolution and it is a perfect example of how nature works without the interfering poison hand of man. These mountains were once one of the last refuges for Wolves and Bears when they had been mostly eradicated from the majority of modern Europe, and with there vastness and terrain you can appreciate why as you stand and breath them all in.

These are enchanted mountains. . .

These are lands we need to protect alongside the magical animals that live and die on these slopes, a place far away from modern humanity, a place where our souls were born, and a place where souls can be restored to their natural balance.

The Journey (pt quattro)

Return to the field of dreams. . .

So the day started off much the same as all others, dodging the odd horse munching grass along the roadside, something you are used to coming from St Ouen's.

And to be fair the it continued along the same lines as any other day, no wolves. But then this is not a problem. With beautiful scenery like this, and knowing that the wolves are probably out there watching you this is enough. On the way back to the hotel though I spotted these guys, lurking, just waiting for their next meal. Their meals are generally provided for by the wolves, it is the way nature works round here.

I have not seen this many vultures since the last time I was single.

With my time in these beautiful mountains drawing to a close I decided that a return to the fabled "Doodle" pack's territory was called for, for this evenings wolf watching. The "Doodle" pack would surely not let me down.

So late afternoon I set out into the heart of their territory, to the field of dreams. The place where this all started, and the place it would never end. For all of time I hope that wolves tread these mountains. Without these wolves, these mountains are not proper mountains.

The climb up was amazing, although the snow was still deep.

Once at the top I was met by the most amazing view, these mountains never fail to disappoint, man could never create something close to this. Yet one more reminder that we are as much a part of nature as it is a part of us, we cannot separate ourselves, and we are fools to try.

At the top I found what I had been looking for over the last few days, as if by magic - fresh wolf tracks. Unmistakable, straight, and front and rear paws aligned, this makes the wolf such a efficient traveler in all weathers but especially so in deep snow.  For me there could not have been a more beautiful sight, especially framed as it was in such beautiful surroundings.

The scene was now set, and expectations high. As it was still fairly early at 5pm for the wolves to be on the move I decided to have a little snooze in the 20 degree sun. It's difficult to explain the scene, but I was at the top of a mountain, in one of the still most wild places in Europe with just the sound of the birds. It was beautiful, you felt a connection that had long since been lost. It was almost hypnotic, one of those moments where you are aware that you are connected to something much bigger than you could ever comprehend  in our human state. I had reached something people generally needed 10 yoga sessions to reach (depending on how much you are willing to pay), I was now firmly grounded. I was the mountain, and the mountain was me. I may jest, but it was amazing.

And so the snooze ended, and the business of looking for hairy things commenced. It was almost like it was written in the scripts. Just two years earlier I had been in the exact same spot, albeit in different circumstances. This time it was a two hour hike, instead of 10 minutes in a 4x4. This time I was relying on my own instinct as oppose to that of an expert guide or tracker, nether the less I was feeling confident.

The scene was set, we awaited the players.

Image from phone camera.

Image from phone camera.

The time ticked on. 3 hours in my crouching tiger hidden dragon position passed, we were now approaching "wolfie" time.  For anyone not familiar with "wolfie" time, it can only be compared to "squatchy" time. For anyone who has not seen this ground breaking TV program (Finding Bigfoot) featuring "Bobo" then you have no idea what you are missing out on. These brave people, without a thought to their own safety go out and look for bigfoots. Although no one has ever seen one - they are real (apparently). Anyway I digress, back to things that are real - wolves. I could hear my own breath, I had already set the camera to video mode, at 300 yards I was too close for photos, the wolves would hear the shutter and flee.

The time passed, the anticipation mounted, the atmosphere bubbled. Then I heard it, with my back to another ridge I had contemplated the chance of the wolves appearing from another angle, but I hadn't expected it.

I heard the sound of feet on ground behind me, i didn't know what exactly to do. This animal could eat me for breakfast (and there would probably be something left for lunch also). I was stuck in between trying to hide motionless, or turning and facing this head on. I decided I was going to die brave, I turned and faced this fear - as my heart raced and my prayers went out, 3 bl*ody(excuse my language) ramblers appeared over the ridge. What were they doing there? It was crazy, 3ft of snow, in the middle of a wilderness at the top of a mountain. Is no where now safe from these people? 

I left deflated, but not before taking a few more photos. It had still been beautiful day, and the wolves had learnt to live with these intrusions, and so must I.

On the way back down as the sun was setting in the distance over the village:

 as if the wolves were laughing at me a full moon rose over the mountain.

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The Journey (pt tres)

La Loup

Ok so La Loup actually means the wolf in French, but I thought it quite a cool title for the loop trip. Actually i'm not sure if the words are connected, there is certainly some people who think the word "loopy" comes from "lupe". Certainly the word "lunatic" is derived from the word "lunar" and goes back to a time when people believed in werewolves, now of course we know they were just very hairy angry men.

So my trip starts out winding through glacial valleys, of which there is one round every corner in this beautiful part of the world. There is water everywhere at the moment, the melt from this winters record snowfalls. The record snowfalls caused a lot of damage, and there are many unfortunate deer carcasses around the place, and they tend to be near the rivers. The deer during deep snow will actually use the rivers to move, as the snow is too deep for them. When it is really bad then this is where they also die. There has been a lot of talk this year that some local people and it is rumoured some park rangers took advantage of this and removed the antlers of some of the dead deer.  These antlers are valuable, and to hunt a large stag in this part of the world can set you back several thousand euros. While a hard winter is generally good for wolves due to the ease with which they can hunt deer, unfortunately some were shot from the road while stuck in deep snow ironically by park rangers. This was illegal on two counts, one it is forbidden to fire guns within 50 yards of public road, and it is illegal to hunt animals during deep snow. It's ironic that the people there to protect these places, are infact the people breaking the law. Unfortunately in some parts of Spain there are still some people who appear above the law, but each year the outrage grows and I hope these peoples reigns are coming to an end.

In contrast I was heading into the Parque Natural Fuentes Carrionas, where this year a book was released called Tres Clanes (The three clans). This book is a result of over 20 years of monitoring 3 wolf packs in this park. The book is by 3 brothers who are all rangers in this park. Now this is what a ranger should be doing, looking after and respecting the animals in their charge. One cannot claim to love nature while hating part of it.

Anyway my first stop on my loop was Mazobre falls, a gentle hours stroll from the car park. After my error the previous day in over dressing I wasn't going to make the same mistake again. Today it was shorts and t-shirt. Unfortunately as I discovered, neither are particularly useful in knee deep snow.

The route to the falls.

Alls well that ends well though, and it was beautiful scenery for a walk, and with all the melt water the falls looked spectacular.

HDR

The way home, stepping stones and all.

The road follows what would once have been a large valley, but as is with many places around here dams have been built to form large lakes. This has not sat well with many local people, some of whom have been forced to give up their family homes for this so called progress. In the case of Riano the whole village was submerged, and a new village built on higher ground. We are a thirsty people in many ways, and most at the expense of nature.

Riano, the old village now sits under the bridge.

I journeyed on and around every corner was another stunning view, who would think that this was Spain? It's far off most tourist maps, and perhaps it is better that way. 

A horse grazes under the gaze of a snow capped mountain.

Many animals have been bred for these lands, and I came across this little chap by the side of the road. Donkeys would have once provided transport through this mountainous terrain. They also have one other very important use, and that is as a guard animal. In places they are still used to guard flocks of sheep from wolves, wolves for whatever reason are scared of donkeys (maybe the ears). They are raised with the sheep and like the dogs also used, they think they are actually a sheep (I've not heard one baa though).

El Burro

I also spotted one of the dogs asleep on the job, although to be fair there is not much chance of wolves in the middle of the day. Where the shepherds do use guard animals for their flocks it is very unusual that the have problems with wolves. Wolves would not risk a fight with a dog unless they were desperate for food. However many people still think it is easier to kill all the wolves than to have to use guard animals.

Dreaming of a nice big juicy steak maybe?

The loop continued to wind it's way down towards Potes crossing from Castilla Y Leon into Cantabria. Potes is located at the confluence of four valleys, and is famed for having a Mediterranean micro climate. From Potes at 1000ft I then wound my way up to San Glorio at 5000ft. I had passed this way on my way in on Sunday, however today the sun was out and the mountains took on a whole new complexion.

Anyway back to La Loup. A friend of mine emailed me after reading my blog, and told me that his family own a wine producing Chateau in the Loire valley (at this point he became my best friend). It is called "Pas de Loup", or in English "The Way of the Wolf", apparently because the area was once known for it's wolves. As with most of the rest of Europe the wolves have long been lost, however my friends family are proud of this history and had a bronze wolf statue commissioned.

I went on to tell my friend that there are now about 350 wolves known to have repopulated France from a remnant population in Italy. However the chances of them turning up back at the Chateau is about as likely as my friend giving me a bottle of wine.

The Journey (pt deux)

Beginnings. . . 

Having settled in to my usual room in my usual hotel in Boca de Huérgano, and having consumed several glasses of vino tinto to celebrate my arrival, I afforded myself a small lie in the following day. This day would be spent hiking to the spot where I saw my first ever wolves, a fleeting glimpse as they fled across a snowfield.

It was pretty much the same time of year, and exactly like back then there was a light covering/sprinkling of snow. Infact the only difference this time is that Doodle has taken a leave of absence (although I'm sure she's still following me), and also the wife had to stay at home to tidy.

Back then I was taken there in a 4x4, but from what I remembered it would probably only take me 1hr max on foot, allowing a bit of time for the odd photo. Now being an expert in the mountains, and appreciating how rapidly the weather can change I packed two coats (as well as extensive photography equipment), and I wasn't going to let the 20 degree heat lure me into a false sense of security.

Now it's worth pointing out that my starting height was roughly 3000 ft and where I was heading was 5200ft, an easy 1hr stroll.

An hour in, and still fairly near the bottom I decided 2 coats and heavy photography equipment had not been the best choice of company for this excursion. Any faint ambitions of thinking it would be nice to climb Mount Everest one day quickly dissipated. Never mind, I'd allowed myself plenty of time, and so I continued on.

The next minor hindrance came from the bushes, a gentle rustling, not much of a rustle to be fair (probably the wind), but just enough to think my life was now in danger from a wild animal. Even though from what I know there have been no fatal deaths caused by wild animals in this area, there obviously always has to be someone to go first. This was now me, and the battle was on. I gathered my composure, this lasted as long as it took me to remember that I'd forgotten to Google "how to survive a wild boar attack". Life can be so fickle sometimes I thought, my life decided on a Google search. I thought about lying down and letting the inevitable happen, but then I saw it, my savior - a stick. Now I was armed, with a stick, not a particularly big stick, but at least I was now armed. The 500lb pig would not stand a chance against my stick. With my new found courage I continued on my way, it surely wasn't much farther anyway (approx another 2hrs as it turned out).

After surviving the rustling bush my journey to the top was quite straight forward, apart from the waist deep snow in places (so much for the light sprinkling).

It's amazing as the snow melts and recedes just what is below, below the snow there are hundreds of little lives waiting to get out, just waiting for the warmth of the sun. You never hear them complain about how cold it is, or when summer might arrive, they just get on with it - happy at their place within nature.

Anyway, the journey continues to the top, where I glimpsed those wolves, those wolves that had brought me back to this place time and time again. These the wolves that I have called the Doodle pack, they have been good to me and I hope that the hunting season has not been to harsh on them. There is a magic about wolves, a magic that we have lost but is still there - it's just buried under being human stuff. I didn't see a wolf, but then I didn't need to, I know they are around. I came across the partial remains of a deer, maybe it was killed by the wolves, or maybe it was killed in this winters record snowfalls. Either way it had definitely been eaten by wolves.

R.I.P Bambi

Life is funny like that sometimes, we all rush around trying to get from A to B (or in my case trying to see a wolf), that often we don't pay attention to the stuff in between. It's the stuff in between A and B that brings our lives richness. In fact it would be just as well that we never reach our B, as where do you go then (apart from C maybe)? 

Enjoy the journey, breathe it all in, look around you, life is beautiful now not just when you arrive at where ever it might be.

Donde este el Lobo?

Dedicated to my wonderful sister (who is the only one who will read this anyhow).