Day 9: Grand, laddie, well grand: the Sierra de Gredos

Wednesday, July 6th Sierra de Gredos.

Blog-log: Kilometres from ‘Go’:  2379.6 (306.6 ridden today).

Location: Camping Sierra de Gredos, Hoyos del Espino, Ávila.

I was so impressed with the Puerto del Pico that I planned my day’s ride around it, hoping to profit by the morning light for better photography. But first I rode further north along the N 502, to the Puerto de Menga to see if it was worth the extra mileage – it was, oh yes it was!

As I was taking a panorama of the Puerto four British bikes whizzed by and I managed to get a panning shot of the first. I went on down the pass myself and back again, passing a classic VW camper along the way, I was in no hurry – I knew where I’d catch up with the gang!

Nothing I had read prepared me for the grandeur of the Gredos landscape. I was struggling for comparisons with the Scottish highlands, where I’ve never been, when providence sent five Scotsmen to my aid. Asking whether there was a comparison all echoed that although similar these mountains were much bigger than the highlands – “And better!” added one, who shall remain nameless!

Leaving the main road section behind I wanted to circumnavigate the Gredos, riding west down the valley of the Tietar to near the western extreme of the sierra. As I mentioned in Day 8’s blog, the area along the base of the Sierra, called the Vega de Gredos, is dotted with ‘spa’ type resort towns. Although the valley is beautiful enough, with ever more rich woodland and small fields, always with the Gredos lurking to your right and the plains of Extremadura on your left, and the road itself is really lovely for riding, the towns, which get larger as you go further west, tend to straggle and you never seem to get going before slowing down again. I imagine that at weekends and in the holidays these places will be a real pain, but in fact I ‘profited’ – as the saying goes – from the numerous restaurants along the way and had an excellent meal for just 8 Euros – a price that would raise eyebrows back home in Catalonia!

But the best was certainly yet to come. I’d found a route over the western extreme of the range, rather than going all the way on to Placencia. The road passes close by the Monastery of Juste and leads though Peornal, the highest village in Extremadura according to the guard at the monastery, where I had got lost!

This ‘road’ is little more than a lane and is in terrible condition to boot. This posed no problem to my bike – another reason why ‘Adventure’ bikes are such a good idea; even if you don’t plan to ride off-road (which you should never do alone in Spain) you never know what you’re going to come up against. As the road wound up through oak woods, whose dense growths of bracken – rare in Spain – indicate a very wet climate indeed, I passed a guy on a Harley Sportster, having slowed and got the ‘Thumbs Up – All OK‘ signal I rode on, thinking what a harum-scarum ride the guy must have been having – but what the heck, he was out there!

 

I expected Peornal to be a one-street-two-dogs kind of a place but in fact it’s almost a town, quite welcome after so much isolation. But the drop down into the Jerte valley was amazing: the entire valley is covered with cherry trees, a huge contrast to the stark vegatation above the treeling before you reach Peornal – in Spring it must be fantastic!

Despite being the national highway between Ávila and Placencia, the N110 was local traffic only – a mixed blessing during the post-lunch/siesta time of day! – leaving the steep and extremely bendy ride up the Puerto de Tornavacas all to myself. This would definitely class as an ‘Ace Ride’ but for the fact that there’s no overtaking at all right the way to the top – and the visibility is too bad to make up – so if you got stuck behind something it would drive you crazy! Onwards from the Puerto the road is on level ground as far as El Barco de Ávila, a pretty town with a castle, medieval walls, Roman bridge over the river – which in turn has lots of lovely cool looking bathing places – shame I was running out of time . . . I had to be back at the village in time for the shops – all the better to ride the thus-far unridden section of the AV – 941, bliss!

Dozens of cool streams pour down from the Sierra de Gredos into the torrid heat of the plains of Extremadura; each one has its favourite bathing places!

Barco de Avila must be a bleak place in winter - but it's a pleasant town and worth aiming for on a ride out

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