Ponferrada (Castile y Leon), Spain July 2021

From Riano we set off down the N621 with no set destination in mind except that ultimately we would visit Santiago de Compostela before turning south towards Portugal and; we wanted to visit one or other of Astorga or Ponferrada on the way. We were in no real hurry.

The journey out of the foothills of the Picos de Europa took us deep into Castile y Leon and through wholly unexpected and rich looking arable farmland where corn and sunflowers were in abundance. The sunflowers were in full bloom and beautiful.

Once past Leon I started feeling somewhat tired of driving (I think sunflowers do that to you – Certainly, they have a soporific effect on me) and Vanya found us a suitable campsite in Trabadelo where we could overnight and simply chill. Trabadelo is a little beyond Ponferrada but we could always retrace our steps the next morning – and we did just that.

Ponferrada is another stop on the Camino Frances to Santiago – I’m going to have to do a Camino next year – the only question is which one – there are so many. The historic section of the town is overlooked by an equally historic looking castle, the Castillo de los Templarios (Castle of the Knights Templar) which was completed in 1178 to protect pilgrims walking the Camino (although it has been added to many times since then). It’s impressive; a proper knight’s castle and; in it’s day was one of the largest in Spain.

We did a complete circuit of the castle and wandered the old town for a while but didn’t stay too long after that. We had finally made up our mind as to our next stop on our way to Santiago and it was the very exciting looking city of Ourense over in Galicia.

Ourense, here we come.

Riano (Castile y Leon), Spain July 2021

The journey south through the Picos de Europa was full of beautiful views (mountains, gorges, rivers & forests) all wasted on Vanya. She really cannot cope with hairpin mountain roads and even the entrance to our campsite included a steep winding ascent (although nothing like the ascent at Lekeitio).

However, upon arrival and seeing the views from our spot in the camp site she began to change her mind about mountain views. The view down over Riano with the reservoir and mountain range behind it is as picturesque as anything we have seen. We immediately decided to stay at least two nights.

The next morning, after I had walked the dogs up the hill behind where we were parked, Vanya and I strolled down to the town for a look see.

Built as recently as the 1980’s, Riano (or New Riano to use it’s proper name) is one of the the youngest towns in Castile y Leon. The old Riano was demolished when a number of rivers in the area were dammed. New Riano is a well laid out little town of some 450 people and is now almost entirely given over to tourism. A pretty pedestrian area and market place has been built around the new church and it is filled with interesting features reflecting different aspects of life in the mountains and, of course, the local wildlife (which includes brown bears and wolves). These features presented Vanya with plenty of photo opportunities for Beanie.

The evening we spent eating tapas and drinking Asturian Cider in the friendly camp site restaurant and bar while planning what to do and where to go the next day. We had already decided to go on a boat trip around the reservoir but that was as far as we got. The fact is, I was enjoying the apple cider and Vanya was enjoying the local wine.

The following morning we were up (relatively) bright and early for the boat trip. This one hour trip provided some fine photo opportunities but otherwise was a bit of a disappointment.

Of more interest was our subsequent walk along the side of the reservoir. We were keen to take a last look at the town (especially the Iglesia de Nuestra Senora del Rosario) and as we made our way along the reservoir path we came across a number of photo boards with some information and pictures about old Riano – very sobering…

…It is a tragic story. A plan was made during the 1960’s to dam three rivers in the area (the Esla, the Yuso and the Retuerto) so as to create a large reservoir for both irrigation purposes and to generate hydro electric power. The decision would ultimately impact on the population of seven villages (Anciles, Escaro, Huelde, La Puerta, Pedrosa la Rey, Riano and Salio) and various historical structures including the old Roman Bridge of Valdearana and the hermitage of (La Ermita de) San Bartolo. Over the ensuing years the local population showed intense resistance to the plan (which included the suicide of Simon Pardo) but to no avail. By 1987 all seven villages were demolished and the total population forcibly removed. The largest of the villages, Riano, is now several metres under the new bridge across the reservoir.

Only one building in old Riano was saved. The 16th century Iglesia de Nuestra Senora del Rosario was moved brick by brick to a new site by the bridge in New Riano. Not everything in the church could be saved but an 8th century baptismal font was moved as were some murals from inside the church.

Time for one last look at that great view…