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