We arrived at midday on market day and the town was buzzing. The children were instructed to stay close and the dog was kept on a short leash. Slowly, slowly, we made our way through the throngs of people until a local bakery caught our eye. Joëlle ventured in and returned with a huge selection of tempting savoury and sweet Asturian pastries. By luck there was an empty bench by the fishing port, and there we had an impromptu picnic, overlooking the cartoon-colourful boats and clear blue water. The sun came out. Our day had only just begun, but we felt like we had already achieved something.
To Luarca – on foot
After having spent a couple of weeks in bone-dry Portugal, the cooler and more humid air of the Spanish Costa Verde (“green coast”) was a refreshing change. Our base – the excellent Camping Playa de Taurán – was exactly the sort of the campsite that we dream of finding; small, well-managed, independent, plenty of things to keep the kids occupied and – best of all – spectacularly located on a rocky headland overlooking the wild Atlantic Ocean. From it, a steep path led down to a semi-stony beach in a sheltered bay, perfect for the kids to go sea swimming and create strange sand creatures directly from their imaginations.
Today we had decided to walk to Luarca, a seaside town only a few kilometres away. Many parents believe that young kids don’t enjoy hikes, but we find that the slow pace of a day out on foot is perfect for young, curious minds*. Kids are brilliant at finding unusual and interesting things along the way, and today’s “treasures” included the largest caterpillar we had ever seen, several unusual stones, and a dead hedgehog (squashed) and rat (intact) lying mysteriously side-by-side.
Whilst the kids discussed increasingly imaginative theories on how the hedgehog and rat met their ends, I was simply admiring the surroundings. The more I walked, the more I fell in love with the Asturian gardens and waysides, all very natural with “weeds” amongst the vegetables and runaway pumpkins sending daredevil stems and tendrils onto the road itself. In the villages, we could hear muffled conversations through open kitchen windows and could see hórreos (granaries) teetering on columns of rocks near farm buildings; mostly very old and very dilapidated, these emblematic buildings of north-west Spain and Portugal have been built over centuries to protect the grain from the abundance of ground-dwelling rodents. We couldn’t decide if they were attractive or just bizarre, but they are undoubtedly very interesting to foreign eyes.
As we ate our lunch by the quay in Luarca, I felt a confusion of the senses; everything was so familiar here, yet somehow wonderfully misplaced. The honks of the seagulls, the colourful fishing port being wiped clean after another day’s catch, shouts of excitement from children on distant amusement rides, the smell of the sea on the cool breeze; I could have been in any Irish or Scottish seaside town. (Once I even thought that I could hear the tinkly tunes of an ice cream van, but perhaps that was just an hallucination…?)
But then… look again. There are elderly men sat in the shade watching the world go by, high narrow buildings backing into café-filled squares, people talking animatedly on street corners, cars parked chaotically and – later in our hike – bikini-clad sun worshippers lounging on silvery sands; I could have been in any Portuguese or Italian seaside town either. In short, Luarca gave us the mesmerising, exhilarating feeling of exploring somewhere so familiar, yet so different.
Playa de Salinas
After our lunch we continued our walk, out past the port breakwater, skirting a small beach almost completely covered by the high tide, and onwards towards our real goal of the day – the Playa de Salinas. Here we encountered a familiar problem: Spain is a rather difficult place to visit with a dog. We have problems finding campsites who tolerate our lovable border collie, and man’s “best friend” is banned from most beaches in summer as well. Nevertheless, the smiling waitress at the beach bar at the Playa de Salinas spontaneously offered me a bowl of water for Oonagh, which seemed a particularly kind gesture given the large and numerous “No perro” signs scattered around the beach.
And so it was that Oonagh and I were sat in the shade against an old stone wall whilst the kids played contently on a beautiful Costa Verde beach below us. The smell of salt and wild mint was hanging in the air; a lizard scuttled invisibly behind me; Joëlle gave the girls improvised massages using sun-warmed stones on the beach; contentment reigned.
As evening approached we left the beach and followed a narrow path winding up the hill in the direction of our campsite. As we gained altitude, the sound of the sea became increasingly muffled by the dripping hedgerows of brambles, ferns and honeysuckle towering above and around us.
If the kids were becoming tired, they didn’t show it. The girls picked a large bunch of wild mint as we walked, and the first thing we did back at our tent was to put the kettle on. Then we kicked off our hiking boots and enjoyed the freshest cup of mint tea imaginable, deliciously happy with our alternative day out at the Spanish seaside.
Daisy the bus visited the Costa Verde in early August 2016.
© 2016 Jonathan Orr
* OK, ok… we admit: day hikes can be rather stressful if you have very young children in tow… We must confess that we had a “kangaroo” (baby carrier) with us on our walk, just in case our 3-year old kicked up a fuss. :o)