"FUENTE DÉ" Espinama by AsturArcadia

Espinama Travel Guide: 0 reviews and 5 photos

The spectacular amphitheatre which gives birth to the Deva river is a glacial corrie. During the most recent Ice age it housed a glacier fed by snow from the ice cap covering the upper parts of the Urrieles massif. In the late nineteenth century zinc mining began up at Liordes. To reach the workings, a trackway with over 40 hairpins was carved up the flanks of the cliffs, following a gully known as the Canal de Embudo. The Tornos de Liordes is not recommended as a means of ascent nowadays; it is too prone to rockfalls. In 1903 the mining company Vieja Montaña built a double ropeway by means of which blocks of calamine from quarries at Liordes and El Altaiz could be lowered to the valley floor. In wet weather a waterfall, tumbling around 65 metres, makes an appearance on the cliffside. Its waters disappear underground to re-emerge near the spring which gives birth to the Deva.

Plans for a cable car date from 1928, but the project was only taken seriously in 1962, when the mountaineer, engineer and writer José Antonio Odriozola put forward his proposals to the Consejo Económico Sindical de Liébana. The latter body sent the plans to the Diputación Provincial de Santander, which in turn submitted them to the tourism body Cantur, which managed the ski resort at Alto Campoo, near Reinosa, for evaluation. It was decided to go ahead with the scheme. 3.5 km of new road were built from Espinama to Fuente Dé, although the remaining 18.5 km, twisting and narrow, from Espinama to Potes, were not widened and straightened until the late 1980s, presenting quite a challenge for coach drivers. In the meadows below the lower terminus of the cable car, a Parador was built. The architectural style of both the latter establishment and the cable car termini is what I would describe as ‘Tatra Resort’, and I do not mean it as a complement! It bears no relation whatsoever to local architectural styles.

The cable car line itself has no intermediate supports, rises 753 m in 1,640 m, and its average gradient is 143 %, although the slack in the wires means that the final part of the ascent is almost vertical, close to the cliff-face. The original cabins, with space for seven passengers and a supervisor, together with the 95 HP electric winding mechanism, were supplied by Ceretti of Italy. Although surveys indicated that at busy times in the summer the line would have to cope with up to 100 passengers per hour, its capacity was just 60 per hour, the cabins travelling at 5 m/s and taking six minutes for the run. The first passengers were carried on 12 July 1966, though its official inauguration, presided over by General Francisco Franco (who appears to have spent a good deal of his time attending public works infrastructure inaugurations), was postponed until September that year.

It soon became obvious that the line’s capacity was sorely inadequate. In 1973 38,000 passengers were carried, and long queues developed in July and August as people thronged to ascend and descend. In 1974 the original cabins were replaced by two more, from the same Italian producer, each with a capacity of 14 passengers. The winding gear was modified by engineers from the Nueva Montaña steelworks to increase speed to 8 m/s and reduce journey time to four minutes. The capacity of the line thus rose to 180 passengers per hour.

The most spectacular incident in the history of the line happened on Sunday 22 February 1976, when the traction cable parted, leaving the cabins, one of which had six passengers on board, stranded mid-way. They had to reach the ground via the emergency ladder, let down through a trapdoor in the cabin floor, while around 50 people waiting at the upper terminus had to return to Fuente Dé the long way round, via Aliva and Espinama.

The capacity problems continued, and in summer it was not uncommon to have to wait for up to three hours to ascend or descend. At the rend of the summer of 1988 the line was dismantled, and new equipment, produced by Duro-Felguera (cables) and Siemens (electrical components), installed. The prime mover is now a 270 HP motor, which enables the cabins to travel at 10 m/s, with a 3m40s journey time. The two new cabins can each carry up to 28 passengers, thus bringing line capacity up to 336 passengers per hour. Instead of emergency ladders, there are now two rescue baskets, which are also used by engineers when carrying out routine cable inspections. The carrying cables are 35 mm diameter, the traction ones 24 mm, and the auxiliary ones, 12 mm.

The latest data I have for patronage refer to the first eight months of 2004 – 491,510 passengers. The popularity of the line never wanes, and has led to tentative plans being formulated for other similar systems elsewhere in the Picos. These usually meet with strong opposition from ‘environmentalists’, but if built might perhaps enable useful bans on SUVs and ‘Quads’ within the National Park area to be introduced.

From the top of the cable car, a path runs round the side of the ‘Tatra’ cafeteria to the Balcón del Cable, which has an iron grille for a floor, with a drop of around 300 m beneath it to ground level (only the ground below is not level – it is the almost sheer cliffside). The ‘Cable’ referred to is the earlier one for calamine – and the balcony itself dates from the mid-1940s.

Ascending only gradually, a trackway heads northwest past the Hoyo de Llorozna (on the left) to the 1,922 m high saddle of land at Horcadina de Covarrobles. This is the junction for the trackway (on the left) to the abandoned mine at El Altaiz, about 1.5 km distant. The main track clings to the scree slopes below Peña Olvidada and the 2,619 m high Peña Vieja, crosses the Collado de Juan Toribio(1,842 m), then drops in a series of hairpins to the Chalet Real, owned by Asturiana de Zinc (formerly the Real Compañía Asturiana de Minas) and used by Alfonso XII in 1912 during a game hunt. About a kilometre further on is the Refugio de Aliva, owned by the Diputación de Cantabria and built in the mid-1970s on the site of a mountain refuge dating from 1926. Maintained to a very high standard, it is only open during the summer months.

Below the Refugio the trackway divides. To the north one branch runs along the grassy ridge known as the Llomba del Toro and descends the wild Duje valley to the surfaced road just below Sotres. A branch from the top end of the Llomba runs to the head of the Duje valley, where, at an altitude of 1,603 m, the Mina de las Manforas was the last operational zinc mine in the Picos. Until the late nineteenth century the trackway to Sotres, of Roman origin, was quite busy with pedestrian and animal traffic – it was the most direct route between Liébana and industrial central Asturias.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Scenery.
  • Cons:Summer crowds and queues. Masificación del turismo.
  • In a nutshell:Probably at its best when King Pelayo was still alive . . .
  • Last visit to Espinama: Apr 2000
  • Intro Updated Apr 17, 2009
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