"BÁRCENA MAYOR" Bárcena Mayor by AsturArcadia

Bárcena Mayor Travel Guide: 0 reviews and 4 photos

A drive through the oak and beech woods of the Argoza valley, a tributary of the Saja, brings us to what was, until the late 1980s, the perfect ‘montañesa’ village. In the late 1970s properties here were literally being given away as the local authority strove to prevent the near-inevitable fate of Bárcena Mayor becoming a ghost settlement. In those days the main road up the Saja valley from Cabezón de la Sal had not yet been realigned and widened, so the drive to and from the nearest market town (and railway station on the Oviedo to Santander line) – about 27 km distant to the north – would have probably taken around 40 bone-shaking, teeth-rattling minutes. Opportunities for driving on roads which have been ‘patched up’ literally hundreds of times and are real patchwork quilt works of asphalt art are rare nowadays. Perhaps with the recession they will increase in number in the future.

In the past, the main economic activity in Bárcena Mayor – apart from farming – was carpentry; carts and other agricultural implements were made there and sold to other villages in the Saja valley. The photos here, taken in early 1989, show the transition period in the history of the village. The old grass-grown lanes between the houses are being replaced by neat paving with setts; properties are being restored; a large car park is to be built on the edge of the village; the lane from the Saja valley road near El Tojo has been widened. Cast-iron lamp standards with the fake ‘1832’ date on them (common throughout Cantabria) are springing up. The renovation work is tasteful, no doubt about that, and when the Saja valley road was widened, the work was, for the most part, done tastefully, with wooden gates into the fields and high drystone ‘tapias’ separating the latter from the traffic. The work was funded by the autonomous government for Cantabria. The main objective was to create a ‘pole of attraction’ which would complement, rather than compete with Santillana del Mar. An honourable objective, to spread the tourists more evenly across the interior of the province. But has it succeeded? I last visited Bárcena Mayor on a weekday morning in the spring of 1999, the week after Easter, when the schools in Cantabria were on holiday. The village was practically deserted. There were gift shops, restaurants and ‘mesones’ with menus at somewhat inflated prices, and a sense of order and neatness. But also an atmosphere of sterility. Almost as if by being spruced up, the village had lost something of its character. Perhaps, a decade later, I ought to pay another return visit. It is rather a long way for a day trip from where I now live, though.

Writing in 1990, I suggested that visitors to the village should note the bee hives carved out of tree trunks, the bread ovens on the exterior walls of some of the houses, and sample the ‘cocido’ (local stew) served in the ‘mesón’ near the bridge spanning the Argoza. For a walk, the trackway crossing the latter bridge ascends the Queriendo valley, past the Eremita del Carmen. This was the original (medieval and earlier) route up to the Palombera pass, crossing the Cordillera, before the present road was built in the late nineteenth century.

  • Last visit to Bárcena Mayor: Apr 1999
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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