Autumn in the high mountains. The humidity makes you numb to the bone. Moreover, the thick fog only enables you to look a few meters ahead. To make things worse, the first snowfall lets you sink almost half a meter in the fresh snow. And finally, there is a lack of fresh food. The gnawing feeling in your stomach makes it difficult to fall asleep. While sleep and good food are very important, since you are working in an iron mine. Where we are? In Picos de Europa, Asturias. “Homeland” of miners.
This is my second post based on Netflix-titles under the Covid-19 lock-down. I guess you know which series I mean… Want to read more? Here’s my first post. And more will follow!
Asturias: “Homeland” of Miners
Next to its incredible nature and gastronomy, Asturias has a very rich industrial heritage. Mines are an important part of this. Many people (like my husband) have family members who used to work in Asturias’ coal mines. The region around Mieres and Langreo formed the heart of the mining area in Asturias. Most mines are closed now. However, you can easily stumble upon an old, abandoned mine. Others are converted into fun and interesting museums. Asturias’ Mining and Industry Museum (MUMI) shows you everything about the mining history and industrial revolution in Asturias. In Pozo Soton, you descent in a mine that was only closed 6 years ago to work like a miner. And do you want to visit Europa’s only submarine mine? Then don’t miss the Mining Museum of Arnao, also Spain’s oldest coal mine.
Mines in Picos de Europa
Less well-known are the mines in Picos de Europa. It was declared Spain’s first National Park in 1918. However, mining activities continued until the second half of the 20th century. It intrigues me that activities with such an environmental impact took place within a National Park’s border. Therefore, this blog takes you to the mines in Picos de Europa!
History of mines in Picos de Europa
The first records of mining activities in the Picos de Europa date from 1525. Back then, mining was not yet done on a commercial scale. The first official concession was registered in 1844. It concerned a manganese mine in the Covadonga Mountain Range. From then, more mines opened in Picos de Europa. Most of them were located in the eastern part. One of the biggest challenges was to bring down the mined materials. For this purpose, almost 100 km of mining roads were constructed. Some of them are still accessible today, whereas others are too dangerous to use.
A miner’s life in Picos de Europa
Work in the mines in Picos de Europa was very hard. Imagine that all of the mines were located above 1000 m, some even above 2000 m! Consequently, the ‘mining season’ generally ran from May till November. Still, conditions in spring and autumn were tough with snow, temperatures below 0 and thick mist. Moreover, working days were long and free days rare. Some workers only had 2 (religious) days off during the whole season! The isolated location of most mines necessitated the construction of completely self-sustaining compounds. These included stores, stables, forges, canteens and dormitories. A chapel for the necessary spiritual food of the miners was of course also indispensable.
Las Minas de Buferrera
Already eager to visit a mine in Picos de Europa yourself? While this may sound complicated, it’s actually super easy! The main mine in the western part of Picos de Europa is situated next to one of the National Parks’ most visited spots: Lagos de Covadonga! It’s name? Las Minas de Buferrera!
“Las Minas de Buferrera” is a former iron and manganese mine. The mine remained active for over a century (1870-1979). Various firms from France, Belgium, the UK and Spain alternately owned it. Very interesting is that this mine delivered raw materials for the war industry to Belgium during WWI. The war actually led to increasing mining activities. I honestly never imagined that mining material from the Picos de Europa was used during WWI!
Also here, transportation from the mines to the nearest harbor was challenging. First, the miners took the raw material to La Vega de Comeya, a field next to the mine. They washed the material using water from Lake Ercina. Subsequently, they sieved it to create different products.
Initially, the material was put in baskets and then loaded unto mules. They brought it all the way down to Covadonga, a descent of 800 meters. The actual road that you now take by car or bus is actually a remainder of this old route! From there, it was further transported to the port of Ribadesella. From the start of the 20th century, this was done by tram.
At the end of the 19th century, over 500 people worked in the Las Minas de Buferrera between April and October. It was hard work under difficult conditions. Hunger was omnipresent. The story goes that at some point, the miners were so hungry and thirsty that they started to drink the lamp oil…
How to get to the “Homeland” of Miners?
Visiting Las Minas de Buferrera is a fun activity, especially for kids. It’s easy to combine with going to the Covadonga lakes. From Buferrera parking (where the buses in the summer months stop) it’s a nice hike. You’ll pass the visitor center “Pedro Pidal” (free entrance) and a viewpoint. Look for vultures here! Then you automatically arrive at the entrance of the mine. Cannot find it? Just walk through the tunnel ;). The white-yellow marks lead you through the mine. After visiting the mine, you’ll be rewarded with a fantastic view on Lake Ercina and the mountains!
Do you want to visit the “Homeland” of Miners yourself? We are eager to welcome you after the lock down and take you on one of our tours. We also provide customized itineraries. Visit our website or send us a message at email@example.com!