Our second outing took us about 30 minutes south from Potes into the Cordillera Cantabrica, up a winding series of hairpin bends to the pass of Puerto de San Glorio at an elevation of 1,609m (5,278ft). From the top of the pass we walked southwards, down a damp valley, through a strange landscape of acidic conglomerate rocks, before returning to the road. Those who wished could then ascend a wooded path back to the top of the pass.
The main walk was an estimated 9km, or 5-6km for those who didn’t complete the route and were collected at the bottom of the hill (that’s us). Nevertheless, Helen’s phone recorded that she had done about 11km by the end of the day, so the additional, shorter forays, and the meandering route between patches of flowers, added up.
In many cases, the names given for plants amount to little more than guesses based on incomplete information. As on previous days, I apologise in advance for many possible errors in identification (all mine) and welcome feedback – my bio at the bottom of each diary post gives an email address at which you can contact me to put me straight.
The morning dawned bright and sunny and whilst embarking for our walk we were able to photograph the front of our hotel in sunshine. By the time we reached the mountains we had a thin patchy layer of high cloud and hazy sunshine.
We stopped first at a location partway up the hairpin ascent, where we hoped we might find Narcissus triandrus still in flower. The views were already amazing as the sun glanced down between a thin layer of cloud.
We had climbed high enough that the Asphodelus albus were in perfect condition, and not over, as they were lower down on our first day.
There were large patches of scabious, which we decided eventually was Jasione laevis, the Sheeps Bit Scabious, interspersed with the white flowers of Arenaria montana. I don’t know whether Jasione montana, the Sheep’s Bit, grows in this part of Spain, so I have elected to call all these plants J. laevis.
We quickly found the daffodils we were looking for, mainly growing singly. By searching a bit harder, we were able to find and photograph some flowers which were still in good condition.
There was lots of potential to explore further here but we had a lot planned for the day and time was pressing.
Our second stop was a rather better known location, just below the summit of the pass, where there is a large meadow of Narcissus nobilis subsp. leonensis. The morning light here was lovely.
The first plant I encountered on leaping out of the car was a beautifully fresh patch of the Meadow Saxifrage, Saxifraga granulata.
On the bank across the road there were Burnt Tip Orchids (Orchis ustulata).
The daffodils in the meadow were interspersed with large clumps of Euphorbia. This has been a little tricky to pin down but we have concluded it was probably Euphorbia hyberna.
(syn. Narcissus pseudonarcissus subsp. leonensis, Narcissus varduliensis)
Most of the Narcissus we had come to see were past their best and we had to hunt a bit harder to find specimens in good condition. It was worth it – they are lovely plants.
In the turf between the daffodils here was another, much smaller Euphorbia, perhaps Euphorbia flavicoma subsp. occidentalis.
The short grass was dappled with flowers. Here, Scilla verna reminded me of the Cornish and Pembrokeshire cliff-tops where it grows.
Somewhat surprisingly, and perhaps suggesting that the area was wooded not too long ago, there were wood anemones here in the open meadow.
I was delighted to find that the turf was full of tiny spotted orchids, along with a few larger ones. Again, identification has proved difficult. Some look like D. fuchsii (Common Spotted Orchid) but many, particularly the tiny ones, are very reminiscent of D. maculata, the Heath Spotted Orchid, as you find it in the New Forest. Yet it seems unlikely that there is a mix of the two species here.
Slightly higher up, a wet seep crossed the meadow and ran down to the road. I was delighted to find Greater Butterwort (Pinguicula grandiflora) here. As we were leaving, I saw from the car that the bank beside the road where the water ran down was covered in much finer plants. Sadly, we did not have time to stop and inspect these on our return.
Also in this damper area, I found a deep pink lousewort, probably Pedicularis verticillata.
Viola cornuta was here too but I only found a handful of rather tired looking flowers, so I didn’t photograph it, expecting to find more later on. We didn’t, so that was a bad mistake.
The soil was drier as we made our way back to and across the road, and we encountered again the local pink form of Kidney Vetch.
On the other side of the road, a drier, steeper slope led down towards some limestone rocks. I couldn’t resist taking more pictures of the asphodel with the view behind it.
A large Puffball was sitting on the open grass at the top of the slope.
Another identification problem. These large leaves are probably Gentiana lutea. Whatever they are, they seem to be tasty.
There were more scabious here. Again, my identification is a bit tentative.
This was more straightforward. Another plant I have known since my youth in the South Downs – Round-headed Rampion.
We saw many milkwort plants but I have never found them easy to distinguish and they have all ended up as Polygala species.
In amongst the heather we found another Arenaria – tentatively Arenaria montana, though the petals are normally more rounded than this.
In the shortest areas of grass, Gentianella campestris was starting to bloom. I think it must be nigh impossible to grow – I have never seen it in cultivation.
The main glory of this slope was a scattering of Early Purple Orchids in fine condition, asking to be photographed in full sun with the view behind.
It was disturbing to find, on the way back to the car, a handful of these which had been picked and then carelessly discarded. Everywhere we stopped this day I wanted to explore further but time was running on. Onward and upward.
Our next port of call involved a short diversion up a dead-end to the viewpoint at Collado de Llesba (also called Mirador del Oso) at an elevation of 1,680m. On the ridge, there is a large bear statue which makes a mandatory tourist photo.
There were spectacular views from here of the Picos de Europa from the east.
The views along the Cordillera Cantabrica were also wonderful. It was amazing to see the deciduous woods climbing so high into the mountains everywhere we went. The area must be very beautiful in the autumn.
Looking out across this vista, the keen-eyed (or binocular-eyed) could pick out and count half a dozen vultures, though they are just specks in the eye of the camera. I didn’t have a long lens with me – too heavy to carry.
There was not much exciting plant life between the car park and the Bear, though I did capture a rather jaunty plantain (Plantago media), Ranunculus bulbosus and some rather ferocious thistles.
We rolled back down the hill to have lunch at the picnic area at the top of the pass.
Within the busy picnic area, two little crucifers were in flower. The first, we believe, was Barbarea intermedia – not very striking but a plant I was not familiar with.
The second plant was harder to identify but we have eventually concluded that it is this little Lepidium.
Opposite the picnic site, the hillside was covered in what appeared to be a rather sparse conifer plantation. Between the trees, the white flowers of wood anemones were teasing me, winking in the breeze as they caught the sun.
It wasn’t long before I could resist no longer and took my camera across the path to photograph some of the anemones. This woodland has a reputation for producing more unusual colour variants, so after a few photos of white ones, I started searching for variations – extra petals, pinks or blues. I didn’t find any with more than a hint of pink but there were several blue plants, from pale through to deep, almost sky blue.
A little further down the path, a seep ran out of the wood and down the bank. Near this patch of extra moisture, in the shade, Gentiana verna was still in wonderful condition.
The leaves of Erythronium dens-canis, the Dog’s Tooth Violet, appeared throughout the wood but flowers were few, testament to the long dry spring experienced in Spain this year. Again, those in best condition were in the damp seep, along with our first Gagea flowers – we saw a lot more later on.
By this time the rest of the group had finished lunch and joined me in the wood. There was plenty to see. Daphne laureola is usually the subspecies philippi in the Picos and Cordillera Cantabrica.
We also found a few Oxlips, growing with Viola riviniana (Wood Violet or Dog Violet, not to be confused with the Dog’s Tooth Violet – Erythronium dens-canis above).
All too soon it was time to move on, though it was clear there was plenty more scope for exploration here, particularly down the damp, shady seep. We climbed up over the ridge, and started descending a wide valley, with damp meadows bisected by a stream.
Descending from the ridge, our path was quite dry, with good clumps of Lithodora diffusa, and a small yellow Potentilla, possible P. crantzii.
As always I was lagging behind with a couple of others, taking pictures and taking about plants, while the rest of the group were spread out ahead of me across the meadow towards the stream.
There were some lovely buttercups here, very short but with big golden goblets. The best of them were probably Ranunculus montanus, a plant I used to grow 40 years ago and wish I could grow again but all I ever seem to find is the double form which I find nowhere near as attractive.
As the meadow got damper, we came across large areas of these little purple pagodas (Ajuga pyramidalis), growing with Lousewort (Pedicularis sylvatica), which I am familiar with from the New Forest.
After photographing several patches of pink Lousewort, it was exciting to find some white ones.
Eventually, I reached what the rest of the group had been looking at – Water Crowfoot, growing in boggy pools as the stream trickled its way through the damp meadow.
Of course the view from above is never sufficient, even if it means getting wet.
By now, the scenery we were walking towards/through was becoming spectacular, with intriguing outcrops of conglomerate rock, smeared with strange green and orange streaks.
As we followed the group towards the ravine, we came across a series of wooden way markers which had suffered very distinctive damage. It was claimed that this was caused by a bear sharpening its claws.
As we approached the ravine, the path rose a little higher above the soggy meadow. Here, there were some clumps of a quite distinctive white crucifer, which was identified as Teesdaliopsis conferta, a species endemic to the Cordillera Cantabrica.
Nearby, we found just one bloom of Fritillaria pyrenaica, which in most years is numerous. This may have to do with the dryness of the spring, or just the timing of the season.
All along the path I had been puzzling over some unusual leaves. Then we found some buds and ultimately a flower, which I have been able to identify positively as Ranunculus nigrescens, another plant endemic to the Iberian peninsula.
As the path neared the stream again, prior to entering the ravine, there were sheets of small white Ranunculus amplexicaulis.
Here, we also found bigger groups of the little yellow Gagea we had seen earlier, possibly Gagea nevadensis.
As the stream wound its way out of the flat valley and dropped into the ravine, its banks were adorned with large clumps of Marsh Marigolds, Caltha palustris.
As we passed through the ravine we could examine these curious rocks closely. The lime green stain on the outcrops appears to be lichen, whereas the orange/pink is part of the rock itself.
The slopes south of the defile we descended through were clothed with heather, particularly this white tree-heather.
The path had become a bit of a downward scramble. On the banks alongside were a few more Narcissus triandrus, and nice clumps of Arenaria montana – a much more definite identification this time.
By now, four of us had fallen well behind the rest of the party but we kept on finding interesting plants. This little white rockrose had to be photographed and, in the steady breeze, it took time to get a good shot.
The long downhill gradient had taken a toll on my arthritic hip already, which was starting to feel a little sore. As we descended the last section of the footpath, down onto a more established vehicle track which would take us back towards the road, one foot slipped on the gravel and I jarred my hip further.
This changed the complexion of the last two kilometers or so entirely. We were behind the main party initially because we had been taking longer spotting and photographing plants but now my normal slow amble rapidly became a painful hobble. Worse, the walking poles which I had taken with me the first day had been left behind, as I hadn’t needed them on the previous long walk and wanted to save a bit of weight.
Our way now led us along a relatively level valley bottom, past meadows with horses grazing. On the bank beside the track there were masses of a rather charming Cerastium (chickweed).
At one point, between the chickweed, we found a large patch of the dwarf yellow Linaria supina.
There were occasional plants of the yellow Biscutella laevigata here and the blue scabious we had seen earlier (Jasione laevis ?) growing with the pink Anthyllis vulneraria subsp. pyrenaica.
On the bank leading down to the meadows, there were some fine pink specimens of thrift but which species we were not sure.
As we progressed further along the track, we began to encounter the lovely purple Linaria elegans. In places this grew en masse and one particularly attractive clump was dotted with a yellow crucifer, and included some attractive deep pink specimens.
Along this track we photographed another Iberian endemic, the chamomile Phalacrocarpum oppositifolium subsp. anomelum.
The views from this track across the mountains to the south of us were wonderful, with patches of sunshine drifting across the landscape, highlighting details of rock and foliage.
Eventually, we reached the remainder of the group, waiting at the roadside. Now the minibus could return to the top of the pass, taking with it the driver of our second vehicle, which had been left up there.
Whilst we waited for transport to return, we had an opportunity to explore a shaded cliff at the roadside, which proved to host a great variery of interesting plants in a very small area, starting with this little mat of red beads (a Sedum species) growing out of a tiny crack in a rock.
First, we have a saxifrage which at first we thought was Saxifraga canaliculata, but detailed perusal of the Saxifrage Magazine (the journal of the Saxifrage Society) by our ‘botanical enthusiast’ has found reference to Saxifraga pentadactylis subsp. wilkommiana growing at this specific site, and this identification has been confirmed by members of the Saxifrage Society.
Initially, we thought this saxifrage was S. conifera, but more detailed examination of the photos and research in the Saxifrage magazine has identified it as S. continentalis.
Also growing in the crevices of this rock we found another little white crucifer, which I grew once as Hutchinsia alpina but which long since changed its name to Pritzelago.
We found plants of a different Arenaria here – this seems to be Arenaria grandiflora.
Finally, one small plant of Linaria supina was growing out of a crack. It was in deep shade, blowing around in the breeze and horribly difficult to photograph, but it made a very pleasing picture.
Driving back up the road to the top of the pass was a bit like being driven past a sweet shop window when you are kids. The meadows in the damp valley below us held many more Narcissus nobilis, probably further over than the ones on the north side of the pass, and were scattered with the magenta spikes of orchids – either the Early Purple Orchids we had seen earlier, or marsh orchids coming out in the sun.
We had already seen a small herd of the local cows grazing on the way up to the Bear. Our return journey was enlivened by an enforced halt while a larger group passed on the road, winding their way up the slope to fresh pastures. Each herd seems to include the full family: bull, cows and calves down to a very young age.
Our final stop for the day was up a lane near the village of Tudes. The views of the mountains from here were very striking.
We had come here to look for Anacamptis papilionacea, the Pink Butterfly Orchid, and found a few in good condition, though they were growing in meadows already browning with the heat and drought.
Along the roadside were the familiar white flowers of Field Bindweed.
This plant was noted down as Anthemis arvensis, or Chamomile, but in retrospect I am not sure of this identification. There are a number of white daisies it could be.
The ever-present Echium vulgare (Viper’s Bugloss) was catching the late afternoon light, and I can never resist it.
In the middle of one fenced meadow there was an Echium which looks rather different, but may still have been E. vulgare.
Finally, more lizard orchids were growing on the roadside here, in better condition than the ones down at Tama, but still showing the effects of the hot dry spring.
That’s about it for Day 2. Back to the hotel for a long shower, more painkillers for my hip and plenty of red wine with our evening meal to stop me worrying too much about how I will cope the next day. The sunset promised a good day.
Jon lives and gardens on the north side of the Hogsback on the border between Hampshire and Surrey, on a heavy clay soil. He is a long standing member of the Alpine Garden Society (AGS), and has been treasurer of the local group in Woking for many years. He is particularly interested in bulbs of all sorts, particularly those from South Africa, and is progressing slowly towards his Gold Medal at shows, at the rate of roughly one first per year.
However, he is best known within the AGS as an enthusiastic amateur photographer; for about 10 years he was responsible for organising the artistic and photographic section of the AGS shows around the country, and also for organising the show photography at all these shows. During this period, he set up and ran the AGS Digital Image Library. He is still actively involved in plant photography, both at shows (he visits many shows each year to catalogue the extraordinary achievements of the exhibitors), and in gardens both public and private, and he makes regular outings to view and photograph wild flowers in the UK.
If you have any comments or queries for Jon, you can contact him direct at firstname.lastname@example.org