Day 25: To the heart of Spain – the Sistema Ibérico

Friday, July 22nd Camping Entrerobles, Valdeavellano, Soria

Bloglog: Kilometres from ‘Go’: 5743.4 (420.7 today)

Today was another ‘long leap’ day to a completely different part of Spain, Soria province in the Sistema Ibérico, at the extreme east of Castilla-y-León. The ride was not only just about the longest in a single day, but I also had a deadline to keep. I’d ordered a replacement brake lever for me to collect at BMW Motorrad in the provincial capital, Soria. But the following Monday was a fiesta, and I’d be trapped in the region until the Tuesday of I failed to make it by 19.00, the early closing time common to all mechanics, motor dealers, etc.

So I had to ‘escape’ from the Picos by a road to set me in the right direction to head south east over some of the more boring parts of the Central Meseta – the tableland that many riders and tourists in general mistake as consisting of most of central Spain. This is far from the truth; it’s just that the major routes stick to this flat landscape in order to avoid navigating the immense areas of high mountains that criss-cross the heart of the Iberian Peninsular.

Looking back into the Desfiladero de Hermida I begun to enjoy myself once more!

I could have taken the CA 184/CL 627 to Cervera de Pisuerga, and I certainly recommend this route, especially for arriving at the Picos for its fantastic views alone, but I already knew this road and the route would have meant an even longer ride through the boring bit and, much worse, having to pass through Burgos. Meanwhile I’d found a back road that left the Picos from the Desfiladero de Hermida at the spa village of Hermida itself. Lisa had conformed that this road was in good condition so despite its tortuous nature I set off – after a very late start, hung-over from the previous night’s party!

Bye-bye Picos de Europa - Hello 'hidden' Cantabria!

I had two treats in store however: the ride itself over the C 282 was both stunning and deserted, and gave me another take on ‘unspoilt’ areas of Cantabria, which, to be frank, is a bit too neat and tidy for my taste – I like the countryside to be a bit more mucky boots than green wellies if you see what I mean! The other treat was riding through the Parque Natural de Saja-Besaya, somewhere that I’d never heard of!

According to the English Wikipedia the Parque Natural de Saja-Besaya doesn't exist - but it does!

This densely forested region is huge in extent, the Parque itself account for 24,500 hectares and looks by my Michelin map to be about half of the region and hardly populated at all. Furthermore, despite the fact that the Parque is an important reserve for the threatened indigenous species of bear, the Oso Pardo, there are only about 500 ha of specially protected land, which implies that the rest is open to public access of all kinds, including trail riding! Once in the few areas where you can see the scenery, most of the time one rides in eerily dense forest – or was it my worsening hangover! – the landscape is magnificent, ranging in altitude from 200 to over 2,000 metres in steeply sided valleys. Definitely worth a further visit!

Passing over the Parque boundary at Puerto de Palombera on the CA 280 the forest suddenly disappears and one enters the valley of the river Ebro, my destination both to visit the source of the mighty river – Spain’s longest (the longer river Tagus, Day  4, flows through Portugal, losing countable kilometres in the process) – and to stop for a much needed café cortado, extra hot because I had begun to freeze!

The source of the Ebro River is a big draw for tourists, complete with tacky monuments - just like the Thames!

The Ebro starts in full flow, with the river being about five metres across at the site of its source, which is quite a tourist place as one can imagine. Apart from this I wanted to take a look at the start of the new GR-99 long distance walking route which I understand is now made up to cycling standards all the way down to the mouth of the river at the famous, and very beautiful, Ebro Delta on the Mediterranean, 930 kms away!

From here on my journey became very tedious indeed, especially the N 232, which is a potential route from Santander to the Sistema Ibérica but for the fact that the section between Villarcayo, where it is joined by the apparently less important CL 629, and Oña, where it is joined by the N629, is absolutely appalling riding – neither the first nor the last road in Castllia-y-León that I wouldn’t recommend even to my enemies! – so I’ll have to revisit my route plan for Santander-Algeciras keeping east of Madrid!

I'm not the only Spanish Biker who needs a coffee break - the BMW R1000 RS was one of the dream bikes of my youth, but this one was a fake, an R650 in disguise!

On the plus side the N 232 took me right up to Logroño where I headed off into the hills on the N 111 directly to Soria, without having to consult my map even once. This route crosses the Sierra de la Demanda, whose northern face was swathed in dense and very cold fog. I was beginning to wonder whether I’d made the right choice of destination – Soria is notoriously cold – when I rode through the tunnel at the Puerto de Piqueras, emerging into brilliant sunshine on the southern side!

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