Written by Lucy Brzoska
I watched Marcus disappear upwards through the gap. He was on his way to the summit of the vertiginous Peña Ubiña, a thin grey wedge of a mountain, one of the highest (2,417 m) of the Cantabrian Cordillera. I had a 2-hour wait ahead on this rocky crag on my own.
We’d started climbing early to avoid the heat of the day. The path, beginning in Torrebarrio, is unrelentingly steep. Floating over the mountain side came a song reminiscent of a blackbird’s: it was from a Rufous rock thrush perched on a boulder. A small band of migrating Common swifts flew overhead.
Though rated as a relatively easy climb, the exposed Peña Ubiña makes my head spin. But I always look forward to reaching a citadel about 250 metres from the top, the last place I can get to without my legs turning to jelly. Through the ramparts on one side, I can see Babia, and the valley of San Emiliano.
Bells ring out as a long line of sheep are being herded down from mountain pasture. The grass at the end of a dry summer has been bitten to the quick, and the flock is on its way to the river valleys. They are accompanied by mastiffs, an ancient breed of livestock guardians, who wear metal collars and have thick dewlaps to protect their throats from wolves.