Thursday, July 7th Sierra de Gredos.
Blog-log: Kilometres from ‘Go’: 2491.2 (111.6 today)
Location: Camping Sierra de Gredos, Hoyos del Espino, Ávila.
I was so impressed with my day at the riding around the sierra on Day 9 that I decided to stay on and explore the mountains in detail. I had also realised that I would be passing through the Sierra de Francia on my way to the Toca da Raposa campsite in Portugal on the next leg of my voyage – as that is what it’s seeming to become!
The main massif of the Gredos is all but impassable to road bikes as there are only a few access roads to villages and farms. There are also drop-off points for hikers, more below. Having said that I asked about off-road riding within the Park at the tourist office as well as wild camping. Basically off-road riding is sound as long as there are no signs to the contrary – of which I saw one or two that seemed mainly about private property. Regarding wild camping it’s no go at all in the Park, but fine everywhere else. The Park is roughly the area bounded by the main roads that I rode yesterday: Arenas de San Pedro, Juste, Barco de Avila and along the AV – 941 through the villages to the N 502. This is obvious enough when you are there; the park area is where the dramatic peaks are and all the picture postcard views! But the Gredos range also includes an equal area to the north of the AV – 941, and this is where I wanted to explore today.
Here the landscape is more open but no less imposing, just different, and was the area that so impressed our Hibernian friends yesterday – they didn’t know what there were missing by rushing off south, although their planned night out in Cordoba made me jealous!
I’d planned a circular route that would bring me back via Barco de Ávila, where I hope, eventually, to get a regional map of Castile y Leon! But I quickly changed my mind once I was on the ground and my ‘little’ jaunt ended up quite a day – a growing habit on this trip. One of the great things about riding to the northern part of the range is the amazing view back over the higher mountains to the south. The details seen from the AV – 941 are fantastic, but from a distance they are breathtaking – and in one case heart stopping!
My first point of call was to carry on up past my campsite along a road that I hitherto didn’t know existed! This is the ??? that goes to the ‘Plataforma de Gredos’ and having watched several motor coaches going too and fro I imagine the ‘Plataforma’ would be a spectacular viewpoint, so certainly worth the diversion early in the morning before the grackles arrived! But I was wrong, the road ends high up in a cleft in the range, but about a kilometre short of the other side – far too far to walk in full riding kit, even in the cold of the early morning at that altitude! The ride was definitely worth it for the scenery, if not the actual biking but in fact the ‘Plataforma’ a bit of a hole – there a sort of kiosk and a shelter that groups of young hikers had been using as a bivouac. This is an example of the difference between regulation and enforcement in Spain – a note here for potential wild campers and off-road riders: if you are behaving reasonably then the official view is largely tolerant of almost everything, the forestry police have rather bigger fish to fry – like illegally hunting wolves and bears, which is big business and, according to an acquaintance of mine in Catalonia who is a Forestal, a very dangerous business indeed for the police involved! The other lesson is the incredible tolerance given to youth – and in Spain one is considered a ‘Joven’ until age 35! – so if you fall into this category, or your youthful good looks can carry the impression off, then smile sweetly at the officer and hope for the best! Finally – I noticed the following day that there is another road out of this valley, which I’ll include on the detailed map.
Talking of the grace of youth. I’d no sooner headed off north and I just had to stop and make a panorama of the wider aspect of the Gredos when the cyclist I’d overtaken earlier stopped and we got chatting. Daan Jacobs makes my trip pale into insignificance! He’d set off in Early April from Holland and entered Spain via Irún, in the far northwest extreme of the Pyrenees, rode down through the Pyrenees and then followed a similar route to my Trans-Mediterranean, i.e. taking the inland side of the Littoral mountain ranges. He’d also included Albarracín, where I’d just left and on all the way to Cádiz in the far south before riding back up through Extremadura, where he’d done an elaborate detour and wound up in the same village as my camping, Hoyos del Espino. Phew!
We chatted about how amazing Spain is – he clearly relished reliving the memory – and the pro’s and cons of traveling alone, the down side of touring, i.e. you miss so much, etc. Then a shrug, a handshake and we were on our separate ways – that’s good traveling in my book!
I’d planned my route to cross a remote part of the Sierra so that I passed by the source of the river Alberche, which passes through Alberche and in which Pablo (see Day 8) was possibly swimming even as I rode! This detour took me to a big surprise, the breathtaking, or should that be jaw dropping – I’m running out of superlatives let alone adjectives on this trip! – Puerto de Peñanegra (1.909 metres), where the Gredos abruptly ends with a precipitous drop onto the plains of Leon – which stretched away into a seemly limitless distance!
Having stopped for coffee, more attempts at panoramas, etc. I worked out a return route that makes a round trip for some future traveler, and a stunning – this is the heart stopping one! – first view of the Gredos if riders use the route to come this way!