My FEVE journey started on a cool March afternoon. The air was damp – that sort-of in-betweeny weather that promises all seasons in one. The skies were overcast, though, raincoat at the ready, I was still hopeful that the little just-present finger of sunshine would continue to work its way through the clouds. Sustained by a café con leche and tortilla from the compact station café, I was ready to board my train from Pravia to Oviedo. A moment later, it shuffled up to the platform, I boarded, bid farewell to my erstwhile travelling companion, the doors closed, and we were off.
The ‘we’ of whom I speak consisted of myself and the train, and one other passenger, a stubble-faced man zipped into a khaki waterproof. A lock of his short hair reached away from his head towards the front of the train, as though particularly eager to pursue the onward way. A couple of stops later, and we were joined by a mother and daughter who sat in the row in front of me, and an executive-looking blonde woman in the next carriage. Clearly, Saturday afternoons on this line are not exactly overrun! Oviedo was just over an hour away, so I settled down, spread out my backpack (well, no one was going to need the seat next to me any time soon) and familiarised myself with my surroundings.
The grey-and-red-speckled seats were standard rail furniture, just what you might expect to see on any commuter service back home. At either end of each carriage, a digital scrolling display announced, in bright red lettering, the next station stop. This was helpful, as the geography of the area was relatively unknown to me, and being able to rely on the train knowing where it was going was comforting. Had I been so taken, I could have traced my route along a map, led by my digital guide, my fingers taking the place of the train, the gradients and topography simply lines on a page.
Now, I love maps as much as the next person, but counting down the stops to my destination was not the attraction of this mode of travel. My plan of Asturias, my notes and my timetable all were discarded, papering the seat beside me. My sole attention was on the real thing – the geography, the scenery, the splendid and (best of all) real landscape beyond my window. It may be one of the world’s oldest clichés, but here is rings true – the joy of travelling by FEVE is not the destination, but the journey itself.
And what a journey! It started mundanely enough, rolling through suburban stations, past car parks and pylons. But there, framing the near-distant horizon, were green-clothed mountains, undulating promisingly. By now, the sun had won out against the rain. A few tattered clouds remained, defeated in the azure sky, or billowing like a white flag of surrender. Light glistened through trees as we left town and bisected a wooded valley, grassy meadows were viridescent. I was fascinated and enthralled by the sublime, and so green, countryside. But then, all of a sudden, the palette changed. Emerald was mingled with sapphire, green turned to blue and sparkling turquoise as we crossed a river. I cannot remember the last time I saw water so clear. I grabbed my camera and took as many photographs and videos as I could before we left the river behind, desperate to capture and keep it for myself. I was half-aware of my fellow passengers shooting inquisitive looks my way, wondering what the curious English woman was doing. Perhaps they knew what I yet did not – that this was far from being my one-and-only chance to enjoy the beautiful, rippling blue. For this section of the FEVE railway runs through an intricate network of tributaries flowing slowly down to the Cantabrian sea. Their names they donate to the villages that we passed, and thus the names of the stations also – Nora, Trubia, Soto…
They call this Green Spain, but it could just as accurately be called Blue Spain, at least it could on this half-spring-half-still-winter afternoon. Sky and stream accompanied us for most of the rest of the journey, mountain and valley and tree and field also close companions. A gathering of Asturian cattle seemed oblivious to our passing, though their russet hides and ivory horns certainly grabbed my attention. As our journey moved towards its end, a far-off cloud began to darken, thickening from its core outwards, pregnant with rain. The shadow it cast dimmed, but did not extinguish the colourful landscape. As a speckle of water hit my window, I began to appreciate how it was that Asturias remains so green and full of vitality. After all, without the rain, the lush grass would not grow so verdantly, nor would the rivers run so beguilingly. The climate, in all its seasons, brings life to this green corner of Spain.