Monday 12.10.09 Bulnes

Old Bules by Shenaz Khimji
Bulnes is a cluster of terracotta tiled houses nestled in the head of a steep sided valley. Although the entire settlement predates the Roman period, the first cluster of barns and houses we reach is called new Bulnes and is separated from old Bulnes by a 500m path that doubles back towards the centre of the valley.

Old Bulnes is perched on a rocky outcrop that commands a 360° view of its encompassing mountains. From here we can see all the way down the neck of the funnel shaped valley to the main road we set off from three hours previously. Only accessible by foot, the path through this valley was until recently the main route into Bulnes. Now a funicular railway, opened in 2004, provides Bulnes with a more rapid link to the outside world, much to the delight of its small population but condemnation of conservationists who want to see the traditional mountain way of life preserved.
Apart from the tasteful cafes and small hotel that caters for the handfuls of tourists arriving each day on the funicular, there is little to suggest that the rural character of Bulnes has undergone much change. The houses are ancient and each one roofed with the customary terracotta tiles. They are still shared with livestock, and outside wood smoke mingles with the smell of manure. Cattle walk shoulder to shoulder with people down cobbled streets and goats were penned into one corner of the main plaza.
There is something unsettling about Bulnes however, which we soon put down to an absence of youngsters. Children who have grown up here board during the week at the local school in Arenas. Usually they return at weekends but it is unlikely many will ever return to settle. One couple in their 90s tell how their children travel from the city each autumn to drive the goats down from summer pastures they cannot themselves reach.
We are staying in the village Auberge, basically the upper storey of a barn with mattresses on the floor. At 6 p.m. the last funicular of the day leaves and we smugly enjoy the idyllic village under a starry sky all to ourselves. We are blissfully unaware however, that the cafes will not open again until the first load of day trippers arrive late tomorrow morning, until which time we will have to rely on our meagre rations. Rations which are being diminished further by the Auberge’s resident mice, as we romantically gaze at the stars.

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