IberiaNature A guide to the natural history of Spain
By Nick Lloyd - Home - Contact

Naranjo de Bulnes

Naranjo de Bulnes or Picu Urriellu as it is known in Asturias, is surely the most striking though not the highest mountain in the Picos de Europa

"Naranjo de Bulnes is a limestone horn of almost sheer walls which rises above the village of Bulnes to more than 2,500 metres. Its base resembles an immense chunk of bread. Until well into the spring its fissures and crags are adorned with blankets of snow. Climbing Picu Urriellu is extremely difficult, and although each of its faces has been conquered, it is still by far the Spanish mountain to have claimed most lives of climbers. Mountaineers employ the latest gear and methods to make its ascent. The sophistication of their equipment is incredible. However, as is often the case, the first climb was the simplest of all, and for that, the most incredible. A few photographs remain of the two participants. The first to conquer Picu Urriellu was Pedro Pidal, the Marques of Villaviciosa, in the summer of 1904, at a time when the contemporary fashion of the sport added a certain charm to the life of an aristocrat. He was accompanied by Gregorio Pérez acting as a guide, a shepherd from the village of Cain, who was known as 'El Cainejo'. The gear of the two climbers was made up of a haversack with something to eat and a couple of ropes ... The Marques wore gaiters and hunting boots and El Cainejo, espadrilles."
(From Manuel de Lope 's Iberia: La Puerta Iluminada parte 1 - my rough and adapted translation)

One is reminded of the colonial relationship of Sherpa Tenzing and Edmund Hillary. El Cainejo in his espadrilles accompanies the Marques in his boots. The Marques went on to play a pivotal role in Spanish natural history and conservation. He visited Yellowstone and on his return successfully campaigned for the creation of Spain's first National Park, Montaña de Covadonga in 1918. The Cordillera Cantabrica is the birthplace of Spanish conservationism and mountaineering. Pedro Pidal chose Covadonga as the site of Spain's first National Park with reason. As a Spanish nationalist he decided to make the declaration of the Park on the 1,200 anniversary of the battle of King Pelayo, in an attempt to establish a certain parallelism between the onset of the Reconquista and the new Re-conquest of nature which he wanted to set into motion with the Park's creation. Incidentally, King Pelayo's son was killed by a bear in Covadonga, and the symbolism was not lost on Spanish republicans this year, when they paid homage to the 'regicide bear' in a celebration held on the day of Felipe's and Leticia's wedding, proclaiming 'If it is true that Covadonga and Pelayo are the cradle and the base of the current Spanish monarchy, as the Asturian monarchical tradition has it, then it must be no less true that Favila and the regicide bear are the starting point of Spanish republicanism", The act concluded by declaring the bear, ' the bear to be "the first Spanish republican".

Pidal had to be quick with the declaration as the Catalans to the east were playing a similar game with their own mountains. Mountaineering, rambling and a love of natural history enjoyed genuine popular support in Catalonia at the time, far ahead of the rest of Spain (except, unsurprisingly, the Basque Country), and the Catalan authorities wanted to declare Montserrat as the first National Park in Catalonia and Spain as an expression of Catalan nationalism. Pidal declared in the Spanish Senate in 1918 that the State must declare a Spanish National Park 'before the Catalans do so'. He was a man of his times and class, and was finally dismissed from his post as Commissioner General of National Parks during the Second Republic to be replaced by someone with more egalitarian and democratic views. Of El Cainejo, there is little more. He probably went back to his sheep and hunting deer, though there is a monument to him in Asturias.

Weirdly, Naranjo de Bulnes is exactly 88km from the nearest three provincial capitals: Oviedo, Santender and León. It is known as Naranjo de Bulnes because of its orange hue in the evening light. Naranjo de Bulnes is a relatively recent name given by outsiders during the 18th Century, and it is still known in Asturias and by in the climbing world by its original Asturian name of Urriellu.

The highest mountain in Picos de Europa is Torre Cerredo. They say the Picos get their name from the fact they were the first land to be spotted by sailors returning home from the Atlantic.

See also

A Biography of Spanish mountains