While farming has always been the foremost livelihood of the people of Ponga, it is the use and customs of wood that set Ponga apart. Since medieval times, and maybe earlier, the people of the area have collectively distributed amongst themselves the rights to the commons, including the forests. This communal and sustainable use of forest resources by the people has been vital in the conservation of the landscape and wildlife of the Ponga region, and the 37% mature forest cover of the park is atribute to their wisdom and culture. Traditionally, wood washarvested for personal use (construction, household crafts, andfuel), for making into charcoal to sell to the fishing villages ofthe Ribadesella area on the Asturian coast, and to sell to local blacksmiths to fire their forges, and was even traded across the high passes into the territory of León. One of the household items made by the people was the madreña, the traditional wooden clog of Asturias.
Forest exploitation on a far bigger scale was the objective behind the construction of the railway up the Semeldón valley, in the south of Ponga. Wood could then be loaded onto trains and taken to the coast. Flooding due to heavy rainfall in 1938 washed the bridges, tracks, and associated buildings away, with some loss of life. Part of the route above Sellaño can be walked along with care.
As the traditional and harmonious ways of life fade away in Ponga, the remote villages and hamlets are being abandoned. In many cases only the older inhabitants were left behind,and as they died off in the final few decades of the twentieth century, no-one took their places. One of the most evocative settlements of the area is Vallemoro ("valley of the Moor"), withits main cobbled street and decaying houses, clinging to a steepvalley side. Tolivia is another ghost-village, reachable only by footpath from the steep west side of the Beyos Gorge.
The villages of the Beyos Gorge are referred to collectively as the "Pueblos Beyuscos", and are renowned primarily for their awe-inspiring settings high on the steep gorge sides. San Ignacio isthe best-known, but there are also Canisqueso, Baimon (which can be reached on foot along the "postman's path" up the gorge side),Caviella (now abandoned), Casielles, Viboli, and Rubriellos (also abandoned, and the only village on the east side of the gorge).Granaries ("hórreos") in these villages differ from those of the rest of Asturias in having roofs which slope in only two directions instead of four, known as "granaries of the two rains" - their basic form being of function over ornamentation, proof of the hard living conditions of the area. The distinctive Beyos cheese originates in and around the gorge, and is still produced primarilyin Ponga.
Two festivals in Ponga are worthy of note. The "fiesta del aguinaldo" takes place in San Juan de Beleño on New Year'sDay, when the young men of the villages ride around on horseback, accompanied by children on donkeys, singing songs, and visiting the homes of young ladies in order to exchange gifts. The "guirria" appears at the same time, a brightly dressed figure cavorting throughthe streets, kissing the girls and smearing ashes on the boys. The "romería" (religious festival) of "la Santina de Arcenorio" occurs in September, at the remote hermitage of Arcenorio, at 1420m above sea-level.
Ponga used to be a hunting area, most notably for capercaillie. Hunting isnow not allowed inside the natural park.
To read more about the Ponga mountains, click on the chapter headings at the top of this page.