The original purpose of the network of Montes de Hierro Greenways was to join the two existing Greenways in the rural district of Las Encartaciones/Enkarterri, on the left bank of the Bilbao estuary: the Itsaslur Greenway and the Galdamesa Greenway. In 2011 the latter extended its route by 15 km to reach the FEVE station at Traslaviña, following the path of the old Castro-Traslaviña railway line. For 2012 a further extension of the route is planned in the direction of the Bilbao estuary: Sestao, Portugalete and Barakaldo.
All the railway routes share a common feature, their mining origins, linked to the extraction of high quality iron ore, which centuries ago was renowned throughout Europe, even getting a mention in the works of Shakespeare. And in the more recent past, iron drove the industrial development of the entire Greater Bilbao area (with companies such as Altos Hornos de Vizcaya), giving rise both to the birth of the Basque bourgeoisie and of the labour movement and its most emblematic leaders.
The existence of the Montes de Hierro Greenways network is thanks to the efforts and collaboration of many nameless people, public institutions and small local associations: the Ministry of the Environment and Rural and Marine Affairs, the Spanish Railways Foundation, FEVE, the Basque Government, the Regional Government of Vizcaya, Basquetour, ADR Enkarterrialde, Enkartur, the Mancomunidad (Commonwealth) de Las Encartaciones, several town councils (Abanto-Zierbena, Arzentales, Barakaldo, Galdames, Muskiz, Portugalete, Sopuerta, Sestao, Zierbena…) and many more besides, all of which have enthusiastically taken part in this joint project for more than 10 years.
We invite you to start the Montes de Hierro Greenways from km 0, at Traslaviña train station. Or from wherever you prefer. Design the route of your choice as from July 2011 on the web page at www.montesdhierro.com.
Section I. Alimoche Greenway - Galdames: From Traslaviña to Gallarta
The Montes de Hierro Greenways set off from the Traslaviña train station on the present Bilbao–Santander FEVE line. From here we can also access the Ironworks Route and the GR-281 footpath (which takes us through Balmaseda to the heights which border on the river Kadagua).
If we take the Greenway, we will arrive at Las Barrietas by following the crystalline waters of the river Kolitza, through two tunnels (87 and 147 metres in length, respectively), an old iron mill and a pretty wooden footbridge crossing the river.
On the far bank we are greeted by the ruins of another iron mill and of an old mineral ore loader next to the old train station. At this point the junction with the road leading up to the former mining village of Alén invites us to make a detour from the Greenway to discover mountain bloomeries (ironworks) dating back to over 2,000 years ago, in a zone now equipped as a recreational area.
If we continue along the Greenway flanked by forest on either side, in a short while we will be able to see the spectacular crags which are home to the Egyptian vulture, an unusual bird in danger of extinction. Then, after travelling across the top of the Sopuerta quarry, we arrive at the village of El Castaño, where we are greeted by an old railway wagon inviting us to visit the Catalina mine complex, famous for its two calcining kilns and the Los Herreros tunnel, a 2 km long bore which was excavated by pick and shovel in the first half of the 20th century. The El Alisal recreational area is also nearby.
The tunnel, an impressive feat of engineering, allows the railway to pass under the Muñecas Pass and reappear in the Cantabrian Otañes valley, before finally arriving at the site of the once magnificent cantilever loading arm which used to overhang the cliffs at Castro-Urdiales before it was swept away in a gale. The long-awaited refurbishment of this tunnel may one day enable the route of the Greenway to reach the original destination of the Traslaviña – Castro railway; the sea.
After passing through another tunnel and leaving behind the Ermita del Pilar chapel we reach Sopuerta Abentura, an attractive family adventure park offering a variety of activities (see www.sopuerta-abentura.com).
Pressing on beyond the Jarralta dam loading facility we arrive at El Arenao (where we rejoin the Ironworks Route), before reaching the old railway bridge, now refurbished as a majestic wooden footbridge over the road. A little further on, another wooden footbridge over the river Barbadun (teeming with trout and also salmon to an increasingly greater extent) and a short tunnel under the road lead us through a wetland area to La Aceña, where the former Sestao-Galdames and Castro-Traslaviña railways used to meet.
In order to reach La Aceña we need to climb a steep slope, although we can the regain our strength by taking a rest at its recreational area, with picnic tables, a kiddies’ playground, and a beautiful riverside walk around the Tardía and Berango mines. This is the site of an old mining village which today is occupied by a pleasant reservoir, now used as a trout fishing reserve. In the vicinity there is a bar-restaurant, accommodation, and a sport area with a car park which once again connects us with the GR-281 footpath. There is a plan to set up a bike rental point at the old railway station.
If we continue along the Greenway through a series of tunnels, such as the Vallejas tunnel and the Malpeña tunnel (also known as the “Witch’s Tunnel”) and one or two more, we pass through the Galdames valley to the Mercadillo valley through a succession of shades of green, which is a constant companion on our journey, until we arrive at the village of El Cerco. Here there used to be another ore train loading facility, of which little survives; only strange embankments and walls forming a railway cutting, and, to our right, a circular depression which used to house a railway turntable for the locomotives needing to turn around at this point.
Continuing through the tree covered landscape, a constant of this section, we arrive at Santelices, where a crossroads offers us the possibility of leaving the Greenway, either to drop down to the El Pobal ironworks or to climb up to the Peñas Negras Mining Interpretation Centre and the mining village of La Arboleda. This latter detour takes us high into the Montes de Triano hills and affords us a view of a spectacular landscape where we can see a large number of abandoned mining operations and the way they have been integrated into the landscape, often in the form of reservoirs and lakes. Nevertheless, it is worth carrying on along the Greenway another 8 km further to the village of Gallarta.
In Gallarta the Basque Mining Museum awaits us with its spectacular views over the Concha Mine which, having been excavated under the original village for decades, now has galleries which are below sea level.
As we continue along the route, punctuated by magnificent views of the village of Putxeta, the Pozo Gerente reservoir, and Playa de La Arena beach, we come across the Borja Mine loader, the El Sobaco tunnel (a 150 metre long tunnel which is disproportionately wide for a narrow gauge railway, equipped with excellent lighting and with a pavement for pedestrians), and the Cotorrio hostel. And further on still we reach the ruins of the El Once loading facility (so called because it is eleven kilometres from the start of the Sestao-Galdames railway line, ‘once’ being the Spanish for ‘eleven’), where we find the end of a long inclined plane, the largest in the area, which used to serve the Saúco Mines at Galdames. After the Picón bend a recreational area invites us to take a break next to the old Los Castaños station. The depression which used to house the turntable where the small locomotives used to turn around still exists today, now converted into a neat little pond.
If we continue along the Greenway, the old San Fermín inclined plane and the Calcos Viejos tunnel (50 m long) lead us towards an urban section where the Greenway runs parallel to the motor traffic, so we will need to take extra care here. After leaving the village, home to the former Hospital Minero de Triano (Triano Mining Hospital), the Mining Museum and the Concha Mine, we rejoin a quieter section, where the Greenway splits in two. One fork takes us to the sea and the other to the Bilbao estuary.
Section II. Cycle path / bidegorri: from Gallarta to the Itsaslur Greenway
Until the imminent refurbishment of the Benedicta tunnel in Sestao restores the original route of the iron ore to the Bilbao estuary where shortly the Greenway will link up with the cycle path (bidegorri) network of Greater Bilbao, we recommend the following route to the sea. We will need to take the bidegorri to our left next to the recreational area which has been set up next to Gallarta’s football ground, following the spectacular bucket line of the Orconera Iron Company, for the barely 8 km stretch separating us from the Cantabrian Sea, the Playa de la Arena beach, and the cliff top Itsaslur Greenway.
At this point it is worth mentioning the Orconera Iron Company’s aerial bucket tramway. This tramway, which used to link the Carmen VII mine in Ortuella with the ore washing facility at Pobeña in Muskiz, could be considered to be the last link in the Montes de Hierro Greenways network. While the original route is impossible to restore (since it was an aerial transport system), the remains of this great engineering feat –considered in its day to be the most important in Europe due to its technical perfection and its length (8 km)-, has spawned another traffic free route in the form of the bidegorri or cycle path which runs between Abanto-Zierbena and Muskiz.
Section III. Itsaslur Greenway. From Pobeña to Kobaron
Once we set foot on the ferrous red beach at Playa de La Arena, it is worth stopping to take a stroll around the dunes and salt marshes, home to such beautiful birds as the heron and such strange birds as the cormorant, before finishing off our journey by accessing the Itsaslur Greenway via a short flight of steps at Pobeña on the far side of the bridge which spans the Barbadun river. Here we can still find traces of the old bucket line, and we link up with another important cultural asset, the Way of St James, and a hostel for pilgrims of that route.
After taking the opportunity to admire the unique mining heritage site of the El Castillo, Josefa and Amalia Vizcaína coastal mines, where a few years ago the sea swept away the only Vizcayan loading facility capable of loading ships on the open sea, we reach our final destination. Later we can enjoy a well-earned rest at the recreational area which signals the end of our marathon journey. Although… after having a rest, those who are eager for more can follow the path on to the Piquillo Greenway, which takes us to the beautiful seaside town and fishing port of Castro Urdiales and the province of Cantabria.
Further information about the Itsaslur Greenway. Click here