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 The Battle of
 El Mazuco

Expedition log, Summer 1987

A transcription of the Speleogroup logbook.
Rales, El Mazuco, Tinganón, Rafa, etc.

13.07 Bill a little delayed by traffic (Dutch?), and having been caving (in Cueva de Sangazo) – with the mud on him to prove it. Traffic was bad and slow, so we decided to stop and camp in Castro Urdiales.  Entertained by cartwheels on the way into town; pleasant menú (paella, ‘5 fishes’).
14.07 Quick departure at 08:45 (forgetting to collect Bill’s passport!), coffee in Santillana at 10:30, Llanes at noon.  Met Rafa at the El Brao campsite café. Lunch at Rte. Covadonga (fabada & Ternera Asada), then up to Villa (near El Mazuco) and down “Jou”, a cave at bottom of a steep depression. Stopped by an early pitch. Back to campsite then El Retiro in Pancar for Chiperones and Lomo, then El Taleru.  Full daylight at 10pm. Cloud & Drizzle.
15.07 Festered until 11 or so, then to Fuentica with Rafa +1 in the morning.  Get the route wrong, but eventually find the cave.  Much silt in the entrance passages (but no squalid pools!); an uneventful trip except for some damaged shinbones.  Cloud turns to sun, and we are muddy, so down to the beach for a swim to clean off, and short sunbathe until hunger drives us all to a 4pm late lunch (menú, 450pts† each) at El Jornu in Pancar (chickpeas stew, eggs with mayo.  and tuna, pork in light batter).  Back to the campsite to continue fester.  Cloudy except for 2 hours.
16.07 No sign of Rafa by 10:00, so off to La Hermida. A tinto at “Paquin” then on to La Fuente for the annual check for news of Carlos Puch.  Recognized immediately by the landlady, ¡good! robust tinto from the cask, but no news of Carlos.  Back to “Paquin” in La Hermida for lunch (asparagus, Lomo, filete, followed by excellent Tresviso cheese and Manchego).  Still raining, so we then drove as far as we could up towards Bejes – lack of road and roadworks made progress almost impossible. An hour’s walk in drizzle then got us there, to little avail; the shepherd we knew from 1985 hardly recognized us.  Back to Llanes and at last a little sun. Played cards at Entreplayas campsite for 20 minutes, then back to our campsite to watch traditional folk dancing. Then to El Retiro again (good chiperones again), and back to campsite, where by now it was raining hard. Met Guido, and Joerg and his partner Katja Hornberg, who were wondering where to go to escape the rain.  More traditional folk dancing.
17.07 A wet, muddy day; washed clothes, but no hope of getting them dry so Bill puts his wet trousers on to dry them. Mediocre lunch in the upstairs restaurant near port.  Cards in the bar for the afternoon; joined Rafa and group of 24 for dinner, sidra, and song (Leonardo + guitar) at La Roxia.
18.07 Late start, and at last some sun, but Rafa takes Lucia to the beach at Torimbia, so Pozo de Fresno trip is again postponed.  Mike & Bill lunch on paella at Rte. Covadonga, then off along the Llanes-El Mazuco road to check cave entrances seen on the way back from Cueva Jou on the 14th. Delayed by a midday fiesta in La Pareda.  As we neared El Mazuco, we were caught in a major downpour. Poked around in a couple of holes but soon our enthusiasm was seriously dampened. Retreated to Llanes where we discovered the Las Barcenas campsite (with a bartender in a bow tie). Back to El Brao for more cards.  More chiperones, chorizo con sidra, chuleta, etc., at El Retiro.
19.07 Blue sky! Rafa & Lucia to the beach at 11:00, so Mike & Bill have hearty tortillas at Acuario, then off to celebrate and reprise the 10th anniversary of the through trip from Pozo del Molino in Rales. A wetsuit trip; 45m of rope duly lugged up the hill.  Again problems in undergrowth-clogged paths (we found ourselves above Samoreli at one point). Slaked thirst at the spring and changed at the mill.

We hoped that the constriction might have been washed away, but unfortunately, just after the foamy (ugh) mud slide which bypasses the stream, the duck was choked.  Mike, the expert with this duck – he had cleared it in 1975 and 1977 – first tried a head-first assault (too wet) and then feet-first to try and kick out rocks above, but to no avail. Disappointing.  Back to Samoreli, noting logs jammed in the roof 8m above. The stream entrance to Samoreli is quite sporting with squeezes, pools, cascades, and sharp rock. Eventually we found ourselves at the foot of the entrance pitches (now used to dispose of stinking rubbish). Quickly moved on to the main 50m × 50m × 50m chamber, where our quartz halogen lamps were just capable of resolving the ceiling.

A good trip, even if not as intended. Back in Rales village we met Juanjo and then Leopoldo and family who were just returning to Madrid. To console outselves for the abandoned through trip we treated ourselves to (excellent) bonito at El Horno in Buelna, followed by queso and cinnamon coffee.  Then to El Taleru (the cave) followed by El Taleru (the pub) with Germans and old Rales friends (Mari Nieves & husband Antonio, and brothers Antonio & Jose Andrés Sanz, now in software business in Madrid etc.).  Sunny at first, then cloudy with showers.

20.07 Rafa returns with Lucia to Madrid, on his BMW motorbike.  Lunch at Rte. Uría (greasy but good paella) then up towards El Mazuco to investigate the big black hole seen from the road just before the downpour on the 18th (in the mountain Grand Iella).  Much thrashing around on steep slopes through nettles and brambles; find several small holes but not The One. Bill returns to the road and from 800m remotely directs Mike to the spot – and it goes! An immediate 10m+ pitch stops exploration (no tackle), so we head down-valley looking for resurgences. On the flattest, easiest, downhill grassy path, Mike trips, takes a 4m horizontal dive, and lands on his signal whistle, breaking (it was later confirmed) two ribs.

Explore up-valley but soon give up; no leads and movement painful for one of the party. Failed to get Sardinas at the fish-restaurant. To El Taleru (the pub) and discover El Taleru (the drink: lemon (lots) + sugar (5g) + whisky (5ml) + rum (lots)).

21.07 Mike’s injury stops play, not even walking or caving possible, but the sun is out so Playa de Toró gets a visit for a paddle in very cold water.  Back to El Jornu for lunch; Bill helps mend the Visa machine, which takes 15 minutes to screw the template in place. 500 pts menú; wholesome, filling, but not for gourmets.  After lunch, a short visit to Barro beach (short because of the risk of sunburn). A quick petrified stroll leads us to the beach bar, which unfortunately no longer has “pinchos” with hot peppers, so we return to the stony Hotel Kaype terrace for a beer.

Back to Llanes campsite to wash off the salt (and take advantage of the availability of hot water at 5pm).  Then off looking for caves around Nueva. End up near a costal camping site (Pria) and have a drink by the pool. Drive back along the coast via Celorio and arrive at El Retiro at 8:15pm, which is too early for dinner, so Bill orders a bottle of sidra and amazes himself (and the audience) with his ability to pour it in the Asturian style from a great height. 80% into the glass, and only 20% on the ground. Pollo, chiperones, lomo, etc. Beginning of the Fiesta in Llanes that evening, though a relatively early night.

22.07 Mike still in pain.  First really hot day with a pleasant on-shore breeze.  As the sun is only along the coast, with the clouds heavy over the Sierra, sea-cave prospecting is the order of the day.  Tortilla snack lunch in the Bar de Muelles in the centre of Llanes, then watch a big folky-religious procession passing through the town.

Bill having been away from Italy for far too long indulges in a pizza at the Pizzeria in Barro, followed by a little sidra-pouring practice (to come in handy later). Decide to wander around the Fiesta for a while as it is the main/final day – many typical stalls (shooting matchsticks, etc.). The official band, from Oviedo, wasn’t much good, but we come across a large group of Spaniards in the fish-restaurant street who, well-lubricated with sidra, were making their own music with lots of singing and dancing (with no instruments).  We bystanders were soon dragged in to join the revelries.

A hat was passed around (we add 300pts), and after half an hour 4 crates (48 bottles) of sidra appeared. Again Bill’s skills in pouring were much admired, and animated conversation in mixed English and Spanish continued late into the morning.  Songs included “Rumba Rumba Rum...” and “Bella Ciao”.

23.07 Rained all morning; late start, surprisingly no ill effects from the sidra.  Lunch at El Jornu again (four courses: chicken noodle soup, macarones with tomato & chorizo, very fresh & tasty cod in light batter, ice cream, for just 500pts). Play cards in the bar to stay dry, and write up the log. Our German campsite neighbours accumulate in the bar (Joerg/Katja, Guido/Elba, etc.) and discuss – for an hour – where to go for dinner.  They eventually decide and drag us to their new discovery, a Sidrería in El Portilla which turns out to be El Retiro (in Pancar), again. But the food and wine are good.  Afterwards to Galleria and El Taleru.
24.07 Sunny, a reasonably early start, so time for some caving.  Objective:  the cave with the 10m pitch that we found on the 20th.  A slight problem: the only access track to the cave is blocked by a large logging lorry. Speleological enthusiasm undampened, we set off to locate caves around El Mazuco.

Undeterred even by a horde of bikers in red sweaters and deep cowsh, we search for La Boriza resurgence through deep wet grass (instant wet feet). Steep walk down the hill; a track to within 100m of the resurgence. Thrashing about in the forest doesn’t do Mike’s rib any good at all, so only Bill makes it all the way to the cave. This is a fine entrance, with very clean water gushing forth – about 40 litres/s. Bill wades through the entrance pools to a 1m cascade. Bright yellow rock makes his lamp seem more powerful than usual, and beyond the climb more pools and a 3m climb could be seen. Too wet for mere dry kit, but it looks very pleasant and sporting trip for 1988.

Mike gallantly allows Bill to explore the next cave entrance alone – the river Boluga’s sink in Pozo del Caballero. This is a big open Pozo, about 8m deep, into which the river cascades. Too slippery to descend, so retreat to the car to finish a bottle of ‘champagne’ cider.

Although already 1:30pm we decided there would be time before lunch to to descend the road towards Llanes and examine the 10m pitch in the hillside entrance which had been the original objective for today. Mike is hors de combat but offers helpful advice to Bill (‘maybe you need only use the rope as a handline’) while dozing in the sun.

Bill prudently belayed the rope to an ideal stalagmite–stalactite column, and soon finds that the pitch is quite serious, and the bottom is not visible. He quickly practices change-overs and the like (it having been 10 years, Garma Ciega, since their last use).  More comfortable now, he descends 7m – and still cannot see the bottom. Fear and reason contend; the former suggests immediate retreat, the latter dictated that it would be no more hazardous to change over at 20m, if necessary, and of course the bottom might be reached in any case so why not descend?

At 12m the bottom was visible, and a controlled descent (passing some inaccessible horizontal leads on the way down) finally reached the boulder-strewn floor, with only 1m of our 27m rope to spare. The pitch must therefore be about 22m.  At the bottom a south and easterly passage soon became too small.  The other, northerly, passage is a steeply descending rift which turned east towards the river but progress was blocked by a 2m climb – not descended, due to wearning SRT gear, etc. The passage continued.

A slightly tricky ascent, using the rucksack with ironmongery to help tension the rope – which then got stuck, needing a third descent before it could be freed and Bill could ascend to the sunshine.

Lunch outside at El Jornu again; sopa de pollo, patatas con carne, chuletas, helado, vino, pan – 500pts each. Playa de Toró to clean off and for a little more sun.

After our energetic day we rewarded ourselves with a slap-up meal at El Horno in Buelna; Jamon de Serrano and Xaragu (fish) with potatoes.  The young waitress gets a fit of giggles at one point and rushes off, but soon returns, more dignified.  Back to Llanes, just as Rafa and his partner Lucia arrive by car from Madrid (it’s Friday).  We join them for their dinner at El Viveru; Bill pours the cider. Starts to rain in the evening, but we join the crowds in La Teraza and Casa Blanca for a while.

25.07 A wet day again. The departure of Joerg and Katja was a good excuse for a joint lunch at La Roxia. Present were: Leonardo and Giovanna, Luisma(?) and Belén, Guido, Lorenzo and Luisa, Rafa and Lucia, Bill, Mike, Joerg and Katja. We ate lomo, tortilla, chorizo, pollo y ajo, washed down with sidra and Barbaresco. Lots of singing accompanied by guitar, including: Al Alba (lyrics noted at the time and found later on the web), Mediterraneo, Where have all the flowers gone?, Yesterday, Guantanamera.

The talk turns to caves, and soon all agree to go caving in Cueva Tinganón. 10 people, equipped with 5 or 6 lights, drove off to Llovio and start up the well-known track. Very muddy, and some difficulty route-finding.  The trip through the cave was slow and uneventful, with a little circuit at the top. 4 (at least) of the party had not even been walking in the hills before, so found the trip an unforgettable experience. All enjoy it.

After exiting, Leonardo in his enthusiasm slips on the little traverse climb and takes a 2m dive into a river pool (narrowly missing a large rock with his head), gets very wet and sprains his wrists. Meanwhile his friend, Giovanna, watches her shoes disintegrate, so they make a rather sorry couple on the way down the muddy track.  All are good sports, however, and we get back to the cars by 10pm and reconvene in Llanes to clean up and then dinner.

It being 11:45 by then, our chosen restaurant predicts an hour wait before we can be served. This was unacceptable to our Spanish friends, so we all walk to a nearby Sidrería (El Carrua(?) at La Portilla, scene of the German dinner in 1986) – where they all stand around for at least an hour talking, playing pool, drinking apperitivos, etc., before even ordering food!

Bill and Mike are quite hungry by now; however, food finally arrives, and is good. Not a great occasion as everyone is very tired and an argument breaks out among the Spaniards.

Due to transport arrangements, etc., we accompany them to Casablanca; La Escuela (entry via window), where everyone gets second wind and unwinds a bit. A late night.

26.07 A late start (11am); pack gear, say goodbyes, and head east.  An adequate Fabada plus good Rioja for a late lunch in Santillana; arrive in Castro Urdiales in good time to collect passport, pitch tents, and a short nap.  Excellent expedition dinner at Rte. Pinón (artichokes and ham (hot), bonito, and Cava). There’s a fiesta in town but we are not tempted and head back to the campsite for an early night.  Mike’s rib is very sore indeed – the caving the day before probably wasn’t a good idea, even though it was an easy (mostly walking) cave.
27.07 Up at 9, leave at 10, airport at 11. Write up the log; an uneventful flight back to the UK.

Personnel: Bill Collis & Mike Cowlishaw. Rafa and friends.

Other log details:

  • † Exchange rate about 200 pesetas/GBP.
  • To-do: Pitch/resurgence cave (Grand Iella), La Boriza, Ponche.
  • All expenses in Spain, including camping fees, etc., total £256 each.

Expeditions to the Picos de Europa and elsewhere since 1973.
Please e-mail Mike Cowlishaw ( or Bill Collis (
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This page was last edited on 2016-06-01 by mfc.