Friday , July 15th
Blog-log: Kilometres from ‘Go’: 4291.0 (310.1 ridden today)
Location: Camping San Rafael, Foz, Galicia.
I could have stayed at Louro for weeks, the place was beginning to come alive from the start of the high tourist season, which begins with the second weekend in July – but that’s another story! The day started out well enough with a good start in sunny weather – quite the opposite from what you expect from Galicia! I had to retrace my steps to Noia and then hoped to take the attractive looking AC 543 road to Santiago de Compostela. But the turn off that by-passes the town led directly onto a new autovia – so new that it appears on Google’s satellite images as a piece of earthworks and doesn’t appears on the map at all! I wasn’t too sorry as I could see the old road which passes through several straggly villages and I was able to enjoy the scenery without losing any time. I also kept nice and cool – in preparation for Santiago.
My route took me right through Santiago although there is a way around this didn’t look very obvious from the map. As I’d read and heard that Santiago is small I decided to go for the centre. Well, the centre is small but I got lost in the outskirts and began to boil. This was partly my own fault as I’d ridden right into the historic area using the cathedral as a landmark, parked up and wandered into the Praza do Obradoiro, which is famous for its views of the west door of the cathedral. The place is indeed pretty spectacular but I was more interested in people watching – I’ll let the professional guides do the photos of the historic buildings!
I was to become familiar with the pilgrims routes to Santiago and the way that it affects the region – hundreds of thousands of people are out there during the year, and I was to learn later that in León, which is on the Camino Francés or French Route, over 4,000 pilgrims pass through each day! I’ve come across several pilgrim’s routes and smaller religious sites over the years, both in eastern Spain where I live and over the Pyrenees in France. I am always struck by how grasping and, can I say, cynical the local hostelries are, and I was prepared for Santiago to have that kind of atmosphere too. But as I walked around the narrow streets, crowded with bars and restaurants, that surround the cathedral it all struck me as fine, much more like a university town like Oxford or Cambridge, which indeed Santiago is, and I felt the temptation to stay a night.
Nevertheless I pressed on, guided by the local constabulary – one of whom directed me right through the Praza do Obradoiro before his partner reminded him that traffic is prohibited! This is quite normal for Spain. In the horribly gridlocked Arenas de San Pedro in the Gredos (see Day 9) a local policeman helpfully held up the traffic on the main road to let me out of a side street – down which I’d happily been riding against the one way system! I now rode through Galicia’s agricultural heartland, lovely green rolling countryside – very Middle English looking. I rode on the N 634, which is a major trunk route, but had no problems as it was lunchtime and the road was almost empty, especially of truck traffic. A golden rule of riding in Spain is to take this opportunity; between one and three the roads are universally empty – as is one’ stomach, sadly, and in an area like this, notorious for its food, the delicious smells from the roadside restaurants as one flies by are a heavy cross to bear!
My route to the Punta de la Estaca de Bares took me directly there from A Pontes, whose colossal cooling towers from the power station there were quite a surprise after all that rural idyll! Further on the Sierra de Faladoira was another surprise – I’ve never in my life seen so many wind turbines! This doesn’t come across very well in the image, but the beasts stride away into the far distance, crowding every horizon and the mountain ridges in between. However this enhances the drama of the landscape and taken together with the amazing highway I decided to call the AC 101 an ‘Ace Ride’, which indeed it is, especially as the end of the road, the northernmost point of the Iberian Peninsular, is such a dramatic spot!
As I approached the coast the weather deteriorated and by the time I rode east it closed in completely. My impressions of the Rias Altas – and I was only looking for an impression to decide whether to return some day – was of a lovely coastline for sailors but of limited value to bikers – too much traffic, too many little villages, and the only town that I visited, Viveiro, was rather horrible. The campsite here had bad revues in Spanish, suffering the worst effects of being owned and run by the Town Hall (Sp. = ajuntamiento). In fact I couldn’t even find it and after riding along the town’s ‘strip’ of cheep bars and pizza joints and disco’s I had no desire to search too thoroughly.
I guess that I’ll have to go back to the Rias Altas, not least because I have many friends who originate from that part of the Spain. I imagine that like many Spanish resorts Viveiro isn’t representative of the region as a whole, rather it caters for one important sector of a very varied market – some Spanish people are just as fond of sun, sea and sex as some of the rest of us – and I love the westernmost extreme of the Rias Altas region around Muxia, which is about as remote as you can get.
In the meantime I went on to Foz, whose campsite was recommended, especially for its warm welcome. In fact by this point the pretty coastline had finished and a long sandy-duney stretch of rather dismal villages straggles along the N 642 highway. I did have a warm welcome at Foz and I did find a magic restaurant in an unprepossessing ‘greasy-spoon’ on the highway just inland of the site. But I would go there again as I now know about Asturias – just a bit further east!