Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Cliffs at Covarón, More Iron Kings

There was once a railway that ran from Piquillo to Covarón, a matter of a mile and a half, from the mines to the loading point where the ships picked up the ores. There’s a further line, a bit longer, that links up with it and leads all the way to the mines at Pobeña, another loading point, and the beach at La Arena.

It was a small railway, built along the cliffs, on a platform 40 metres up, partly natural and partly carved out of the rock, including a tunnel of some 50m in length that must have been cut by hand. The cliffs drop almost sheer along much of its length to the sea below, and the hillside continues to rise above, to a height almost double that of the path, covered with brambles and pines and junipers and the sloping mountain pastures they call ‘brañas’, on many of which cows and horses were grazing.

All of which is very attractive for the walker who goes along it, looking up, down, out to sea, or wherever, looking back to where he came from and ahead to where he is going, when the winding of the cliffs allows it. It can’t have been quite so much fun for the people who built the railway, or those who used it daily to transport the minerals to the dock.

The loading areas are just metal jetties, which look like Victorian iron bridges and go far enough out into the sea to allow the boats to pull alongside without hitting the rocks. Most of them would not have gone very far, to the great smelting works and blast furnaces at Bilbao, but it was easier to build a railway along the cliffs and a little port than it was to take the stuff overland across the mountains. This surely must tell us a great deal about something.

At Covarón part of the mine is still visible, as are the embankments where the branches were that the trains used to load up and turn around. And at Pobeña the path runs past a low, narrow tunnel that once entered the other mine. It takes imagination and a little knowledge of the history to get the true flavour of it, but it this is your thing, it’s quite fascinating.

There are eagles and seagulls flying around the clifftops, and a couple of horses were loose on the path. There were usually penned on the hillside itself, on a heartstopping slope that they seemed perfectly happy with as long as the grass was high and green.

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