As you arrive in Cantabria from the East, you will find El Astillero, which is the entry of a place that at the beginning may seem somewhere without much to see. But it’s not like that, and we’ll explain why.
Its church hasn’t any particular merits, although it keeps a Churrigueresque altarpiece from the eighteenth century. The interesting thing in El Astillero, in fact, has much more to do with the naval cannon that today is located in the park that overlooks the bay.
Because here, as you may have guessed by its name, ships were built. Huge vessels loaded with artillery with which the Spanish fleet dominated the seven seas, and of which, a ship in the centre of the municipal shield reminds us of.
It seems that everything started in 1581 when Felipe II needed ships to escort the gold that crossed the ocean every single day. This area was chosen as a construction site for the quality of its wood and because its bay, sheltered from the wind, was perfect to launch those marine machines.
So for a couple of centuries on this site, lots of ships would try its waters, and some of them would make history. Like the Real Felipe ship, which took his hundredth cannons to the battle of Toulon and was, at the time, one of the most magnificent ships in the world. And, above all, like the San Juan Nepomuceno.
This ship was made in Guarnizo, El Astillero, in 1765 and it would become famous thanks to the heroism of its captain, Cosme Damián Churruca, in the battle of Trafalgar. Our friend Cosme did not want to surrender, even when everything was lost and they were in the middle of an infernal fire. He forbade his officers to do so while he remained breathless and the San Juan Nepomuceno ended surrounded by six British ships firing at them with their cannons. One of them ripped Churruca’s leg, who, they say, stuck his stump in a flour barrel so he could still stand even if he could not move.
After killing the captain, and with the deck full of corpses, the ship finally surrendered. The English took possession of it, placed a plaque in recognition of the Basque sailor and ordered that, henceforth, anyone who entered the cabin that Churruca had occupied, had to take their hat off.
And as the way things happen in history, in 1835, barely thirty years later, a battalion of British volunteers and adventurers arrived at El Astillero to fight against the Carlists in the Cantabrian and Basque Mountains. They risked their life for some coins, and a few who managed to get out alive would write books telling their adventures.
It is even possible that some of them stayed here when, sometime later, the mining company La Orconera began to operate. It had English and Spanish partners. An old mineral loading bay made of iron survived from this mine, which you can also see on this site where there seemed to be nothing of interest to see.