With more than 1.500 hectares (approximately half that of Muniellos), this forest is the largest beech forest in Asturias and one of the largest in the entire Iberian Peninsula. A "fayeu" that is part of the Fuentes del Narcea, Degaña and Ibias Natural Park and that it is very close to the Muniellos Biosphere Reserve.
The town of Hermo Monastery which gives its name to the forest, is a hidden place full of legends. One of the most fabulous settings in southwestern Asturias.
Monasteries, covens and xanas
The town is located about 34 kilometers from the capital of Cangas del Narcea, in a border area with lands from León. Located at more than 1.000 meters of altitude, its population does not exceed 30 inhabitants. Here we find several traditional houses with a stable, granary and yew tree included, some of them emblazoned. Its greatest jewel is the parish church; rest of a monastery Founded in the XNUMXth century by the bishops Severino and Ariulfo who were escaping from Muslim control in the south of the peninsula. The Church would be reformed in the late Middle Ages and inside it has astonishing mural paintings. Among others, the representations of death and San Miguel defeating evil with his spear stand out.
Legend has it that the people on either side of the provincial boundaries avoided, especially at night, the spring of Vega del Palo, because in this plain near the forest the witches danced and participated in sexual orgies with the devils of Satan (who presided over the covens incarnated in a male goat). The thick forest, untamed and "dark", has always caused a primitive fear to the inhabitants of these parts. They used to use blessed laurel to heal when they had strange wounds and scratches, as they attributed them to the witch bites and not to the own rubbing with the vegetation of the frond.
There are also xanas myths in this environment. A slender figure of a woman appeared before the patrons, handing out a shiny white laundry. Until a daring neighbor ventured into her domain to steal a cloak she liked. Since then, a voice from beyond the grave began to torment him: he would experience a thousand sufferings. The thief had to entrust himself to Santina and offered her the cape to escape the curse.
The Forest of Hermo
The Hermo Monastery Forest makes the whole area even more mysterious and unique. The fact that a beech forest of such dimensions is capable of intruding into Muniellos, "oak territory", is something very unusual in itself. We are also talking about one of the most notable beech forests in the entire country. It extends over ten kilometers along the northern slope of the Sierra de Degaña, on the left bank of the Narcea river. Precisely the sources that give rise to this great Asturian river are mapped in some of the closest levels, as well as in the valley of the old monastery itself.
When the hiker sets foot in this beech forest, it is as if he were entering a painting. The vividness of the colors is so overwhelming that not even the best photographs can do it justice. Very little undergrowth due to lack of light, rocks covered with moss and lichen laden trees, predominating the vulgarly known as old man's beards or goatee's beards, which adds lugubrious brushstrokes in many areas. In the part closest to the source of the Narcea river, the woodcock or arcea They can be seen relatively easily at sunset and their songs coincide with those of the tawny owl. Many fauna take shelter in its foliage, including -unlikely but not impossible to see- Bears.
Throughout its almost virgin extension you can see the traces of the hand of man. there is still mine remains and the tracks that were made to reach them and be able to transport the mineral (many decades ago). The Hermo beech forest, especially well endowed with good wood, although it has not been exploited for many years, served as raw material for part of the ships of the Invincible Armada.
Routes through the forest of Hermo
Although there are plenty of reasons to visit it, this forest is one of the least known and least traveled in all of Spain, among other reasons because it is privately owned and there are no approved trails that cross it. We will not find marked circuits or any indicators of "PR" or "GR" (small or large routes), or multicolored beacons. Surprise the "no entry" at some crossroads, although we come across them in steps theoretically in the public domain, belonging to the old Cañada or Camino Real that united since time immemorial: Gedrez-Monastery-Braña del Narcea-Caboalles.
These circumstances scare away the hiker and reinforce the ostracism of the forest. Now, this is not inconvenient to approach to admire it in a more than simple way. The winding and narrow road that from the town of lame goes into the valley to Monasterio de Hermo, invites us to drive slowly, especially from gedrez, which is when the valley narrows and the mass of beeches on the right slope begins to star in the landscape. In the sections where the river runs parallel to the asphalt, the beauty is total.
After reaching the town of Monasterio de Hermo we can still continue by road, between old mining operations. The road will end up becoming a track that brings us closer to the Brañas del Narcea. The ascent will allow us to contemplate the immensity of Monte de Hermo and the hillside covered with beech trees, which can only be reached on foot in short stretches along tracks and paths. This is the ideal place to get out of the car and discover the interior of the beech forest, yes: leaving everything as we have found it; without making unnecessary noise and being respectful with the properties and the environment; walking without leaving paths and trails; without moving logs, branches, or stones; WITHOUT MAKING FIRE OR THROWING GARBAGE.
In Las Brañas, five cabins are preserved in perfect condition, as well as a small chapel, close to a source of crystalline water. From here the path starts towards Fuentes del Narcea and the vega del palo: “A la Veiga'l Palo. To the devil's offering. Above cadavas, and below artos."
Photographs: © Roberto Molero on Flickr