Cares GorgeThe spectacular Cares Gorge was created by glacial waters carving a deep ravine separating the Western and Eastern massifs of the Picos de Europa mountains in northern Spain. The sparking waters of the river Cares now rush and bustle their way along the bottom of the gorge, but in 1916 it was decided to divert some of the water along a canal blasted out of the cliff face to feed the hydro-electricity station at Poncebos. An access path was created at the same time, and although originally intended to service the canal it has become a hugely popular walk.

Our tour guide, Juan, suggested that we walk the Cares Gorge path today as the weather wasn’t great- the day before we’d had a disappointing walk into the mist and saw very little. It proved to be a good choice- although it was showery, we did have some sun and the amazing mountain views more than made up for the rain.

Spectacular views along the Cares Gorge

Spectacular views along the Cares Gorge

Boots are essential as the first part of the route from Poncebos involves some climbing and the limestone paths can get pretty slippery in wet weather. Once at the top though the view is simply stunning- I stood and stared in awe at the path hugging its way around the sheer cliff face, as narrow as a piece of beige ribbon, disappearing into the distance with a huge drop to one side- no hand rails here!

Not for vertigo sufferers!

Not for vertigo sufferers!

The path’s not actually as narrow as it looks, but it’s enough to give vertigo sufferers the heebie-jeebies. We were walking it in May and only saw a handful of other walkers, but Juan said that it can be heaving in July and August; I can only imagine what it must be like having to squeeze past hordes of people.

The canal was our constant companion. Sometimes above us, sometimes below, sometimes right alongside us and often plunging into tunnels carved into the rock. Juan described how it is emptied once a year so that maintenance work can be carried out, and told us he had actually ridden a motorbike down the canal during such a time!

Crowds of melodious choughs flew overhead at our approach, and rock martins amazed us with their daring swooping acrobatics, but we did not manage to spot the shy and elusive wall creeper.

Lovely inspiring views

Lovely inspiring views

The Cares Gorge path has been improved over the years, and we found rock arches, metal bridges and tunnels to negotiate. It was awesome- I felt like Indiana Jones on a real adventure! As we treaded our way along the narrow, twisting path, we asked Juan about another path we could see following the river far below us. ‘It’s the old path’ he said, before explaining that before the canal and access paths were built, there was a path connecting Poncebos to Cain, but due to the rocky terrain it had to zig zag treacherously up and down the cliff faces, crossing and recrossing the river. ‘It’s a difficult path… it used to take a whole day to walk it.’

Rocky archway

Rocky archway

Tunnels blasted out of the rock

Tunnels blasted out of the rock

Finally, after a series of tunnels with the spray from the waterfall tumbling down the rock face blowing into our faces through small rocky windows, we reached Cain and the promise of cold beers and plates of chips. The sun briefly escaped the clouds, lighting up the peaks and turning the river into myriads of sparking diamonds, and I couldn’t wait to turn back and walk it all over again.

Cares Gorge

The Cares Gorge path is around 12 kilometres in length and connects Poncebos and Cain. Most people start at Poncebos as it is easier to access than Cain, but parking can become limited at peak times.

It can be comfortably walked in around 3 to 3.5 hours, with another 3 hours retracing your steps- if you don’t fancy the return walk then it’s a good idea to walk halfway and then turn round… too many people walk to Cain and then decide to catch a taxi back to Poncebos, not realising that driving involves a long detour round the mountains and getting a shock when they are asked for a 200 euro fare!

I would recommend that you wear boots, as although most of the walk is flat, there is a climb at the start of the route on a rocky track. In wet weather the limestone paths can become slippery.

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