Making a difference – sponsored ride for Cancer Research

It’s about time I started posting again so what better motivation than to help promote Graham Lampkin’s epic ride through Spain and France on his 1960 vintage Royal Enfield trials bike!

Over the winter we’ve been working out his itinerary from Santander to the Pyrenees, passing through majestic scenery, some of Spain’s best and most famous trails and, er, as many towns whose name begins with ‘L’ as possible!

Do check out Graham’s site: Lampy goes to L and back – get the ‘L’ joke! 🙂 – for the full story or you can donate directly via his entry on the Just Giving fund raising platform.

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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!

Day 24: the Spanish Biker’s fan club!

Thursday, July 21st Casa Gustavo.

Bloglog: No riding today

The day was dull, I’d done my planned ride around the Picos the day before and the WiFi worked in my bedroom – so I spent the entire day sitting up in bed with the Mac, Marmite sandwiches with real Cheddar cheese – thanks Lisa – and totally enjoyed myself!

In the evening I caught up with the Suffolk branch of The Spanish Biker’s fan club. Andy and I had been following each other’s progress around Spain and Portugal for some weeks and we finally coincided at Potes somewhat to our mutual surprise! In fact my extra rest days at Casa Gustavo and an accident in Portugal were responsible for our time in the Picos overlapping.

The two couples, Andy and Gosia, and Winky and Sarah had been down to the Faro bash and were on their way back to the Bilbao ferry. Their campsite was at Turieno just outside a kilometre or so from Potes and Casa Gustavo is about the same distance in the opposite side, so an alcohol positive meeting was possible! This latter being the reason that neither Andy nor I remembered to take a snappy of this historic event despite both of us bringing our cameras specifically for the purpose!

It was good to talk some bike talk – the merits of modern tyres/brakes, bikes owned in the ’70: Kawasaki KH series three cylinder 2-strokes (Winky) Ducati singles (me), terrible riding conditions in Portugal (Winky and Sarah had been knocked off their bike in a hot-and-run incident in Coimbra, the place I hated so much!) – and to have a wander around Potes from bar to bar. Although in fact we only had a couple of beers before I had to head back to a pre-arranged barbecue and left the Suffolk brigade looking for a restaurant – no shortage in Potes at reasonable cost as far as I could see. And we’d also been able to find a mountain equipment shop to buy warm clothing for their walking trip into the Picos on the Fuente De cable car – hint: get there before 10.00 to avoid the queues! – scheduled for the next day.

I guess the main point of this post is to stress that Potes is a really useful base to explore the Picos. With the one caveat about the N 261 road (see Day 23) you can’t fault Potes, plenty of accommodation, plenty of good shops, bars and restaurants and ‘extras’ such as mountain guides if that’s what you want. A nice place.

Day 23: Touring the Picos de Europa: a good day!

Wednesday, July 20th Casa Gustavo.

Bloglog: Kilometres from ‘Go’: 5322.7 (224.3 today)

Find accommodation in the Picos de Europa

This was one of the highlights of the ‘Tour’ and I guess I don’t need to point this out too much! From Potes the definitive route is over the Puerto de San Glorio – in good weather this time, down the Desfiladero de los Beyos, along the sierra on the AS 114 and back into the Picos via the Desfiladerio de la Hermida. Except – you should do it the other way round!


The Puetro de San Glorio really is a ‘must do’ of any trip into Northern Spain. At the top it’s definitely worth taking the 2 km detour to the Mirador de Llesba – amazing – I just had to go back and get more images of the views. The restricted access for trail riding is made more poignant in places like this – sadly one can’t help feeling that some of the off-road contingent have been the force behind such restrictions; local feeling about noise nuisance runs high, unusual in the normally easy going Spain. Fortunately there are plenty of other sierras in Spain where the scenery isn’t quite so fantastic – few places can beat the Picos in this respect (see below) but where the riding is, if anything, even better – read on to Day 26 for an example!

Approaching the Picos from the west toward Cain gives fantastic views which just get better as you ride right to the foot of the cliffs – and the road isn’t half bad either!

In fact I intended to have another no-bike day and picnic with Lisa and her family. But stuff happened and I set off quite late in the morning. I had also decided to take a walk through the Desfiladero de Río Cares – another tourist hot spot. The ravine was a bit of a disappointment mainly because I know so many ravines in Spain, so there wasn’t much so very new to me. Having said that I’ would recommend it to others as it is certainly in The Premier League as far as ravines go. OK, it’s full of tourists, but that’s only in July and August I imagine and at least I was able to leave my riding gear in a helpful restaurant while I went walkabout – otherwise I couldn’t have done it! Furthermore, although the village of Cain de Valdeon, at the entrance to the ravine, is little more than a strip of restaurants and hostals, I had a very good meal at reasonable cost – so fair’s fair – go there, do the walk – and the road to Cain is fabulous into the bargain!

The Desfiladero de Cares is one of the classic walks in the Picos de Europa – definitely worth a day’s excursion if you can afford the time! The walk onward from Camarmeña at the far end takes on a climb to the Peña de Maín, but no-one will blame you for taking the funicular railway there!

Moving on, I joined the N 625 at the base of the Puerto Pontón and roode on over to the head of the Desfiladero de los Bayos. This is most definitely an Ace Ride, but it is much better going uphill rather than down – as I noticed from the numerous Spanish registered bikes doing just that!  The views are much better that way – I spent a lot of time looking back over my shoulder! – and the sharper bends are in shady defiles in the terrain that obviously suffer intense frost damage in winter. Riding through these was quite horrible as I rode from brilliant sunshine into deep shade so my vision was badly affected when I most needed it as the potholes – if I can call them that as most about the size of a billiards table! – were plenty deep! In contrast the uphill side of the road seemed OK as they were a bit more in the sunlight.

At 2,478 m the Peña Santa de Enol is a dwarf by Spanish standards – just don’t tell anyone I said so!

The AS 114 runs a short distance away from the Picos along what amounts to a secondary range just to the north. And the juxtaposition of the Picos seen with the lower hills in the foreground makes for the prettiest of views. In fact I think this is what makes the Picos so incredibly special – they really are a ‘Must do’ for any visit to Spain! As I mentioned earlier, at around 2,500 metres the Picos aren’t particularly high by Spanish standards, nor are they very extensive – the Pyrenees are about 300 kilometres in extent, of which a good 150 kilometres range over 3,000 metres (the highest peak in the Pyrenees, Aneto, is 3,404 metres), but the Picos appear to be much more spectacular as they rise close to the sea as opposed to being well inland and already surrounded by high ground. Furthermore, the Picos themselves rise up amongst some lower parts of the Cordillera Cantábrica which are extremely verdant. And the biking is pretty good too!

Looking  over the mountains that surround the Picos themselves: these ‘hills’ are very inviting and inspired my subsequent route.

Back to the ride then. My jolly along the AS 114 ended at Panes where I headed back into the range towards Potes and ‘home’ on the N621, where I was looking forward to riding up the Desfiladero de Hermida – a route I’d last done well over 20 years ago! What a disappointment! I’d had expected the road itself to have been improved since my last trip, when it was the usual potholed mishmash of rough surfaces typical of Spain in those days. In fact it was the same road entirely apart from numerous layers of new tarmac that simply amplified the bumpiness of the foundation as well as making a frightening drop off the edge. Worse, by the time got there the column of day trippers, including dozens of coaches, were heading back to the coastal resorts. The coaches were the worst problem as they have to swing right into the opposite carriageway to take the sharp corners. So the lesson is to take this trip anti-clockwise and to treat the Desfiladero de Hermida as a means to an end – as lesson I used to good effect when I moved on – see Day 25. More generally: a route from Santander to Southern Spain going west of Madrid (see Long Distance Routes: Santander-Algeciras) would be to head west along the coast as far as San Vicente de la Barquera and then the A 114 to Cangas, N 625 to Riano and on into the wilds of León . . . ah, next year’s trip begins to take shape!

Day 22: recuparation and some running repairs – to the human frame this time!

Tuesday, July 19th

Blog-log: Kilometres from ‘Go’:  5098.4 (none today)

Location: Casa Gustavo, nr. Potes, Cantabria.

One reason I needed to touch base was that I’d lost a filling – all that octopus in León – and my friend Lisa at casa Gustavo had kindly twisted a few arms to get me an emergency appointment at the dentist – no mean feat during the holiday season. But it meant I was grounded for the day apart from a brief sojourn into Potes, ‘capital’ of the Picos. I’ve been there nearly twenty years ago and found it very ‘touristy’ then – it’s more so now but does serve the very useful purpose of keeping most of the worse aspects of the Picos’s popularity in one place, leaving the rest for the more adventurous explorers. I’ve nothing against popular tourism – we’re all tourist one way or another after all – and I cheerfully admit to being one of those who wandered around the Picos at the top of the Fuente De cable car in my sandals – espadrilles in fact, which is even worse!

Potes is lovely - it reminds me of small towns in Snowdonia - tourist trap of my childhood!

It should be said that Potes is also a living town and I found essential supplies, such as meths that actually burns (see camping guide) and, obviously, a dentist!

But it is touristy!

In the meantime it was great to be in good company among friends – a somewhat daunting experience after so many weeks alone! – and a welcome change to catch up on some sleep and plan a great ride out the following day.

Getting a cat 'fix' is all part of feeling at home!