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 5: Escape across the desert!

Day 5: Thursday June 21st – Escape across the desert!

Blog log: 432 kilometres today – 1,483 total so far.

I had to make a start getting nearer to the Maxitrail party on Saturday and was tempted to join them in their ride out in the morning. One post on their topic was suggesting a start at the Sierra de Moncayo, one of my possible destinations, one the far side of the Ebro depression west of Zaragoza. But I didn’t want to go directly that way as it meant riding through the Monegros, an arid zone an area close to home that I know too much anyway. I also wanted to visit two more valleys in the Pyrenees, the Anso and Hecho, that I only knew a little. Plus I also wanted to avoid the N240 trans-Pyrenean trunk route, which is genuinely horrible!

My other big objective was to ride through the Bardena Blanca ‘desert’! This has become well known in riding circles thanks to an article in Adventure Bike Ride magazine earlier this year, so much so that a large group from my HISS rally went on there on their way to Santander and the ferry home. But got there first having driven through the reserve last autumn! So I knew that the 50 km trail posed no problems for me technically and in the event of a breakdown or accident I was certain that someone would come along soon enough , either other tourists, forest rangers or even the military police from the army base, which is located right in the centre!

The Bardena Blanca - approaching the military zone
The Bardena Blanca – approaching the military zone

The Bardenas, in the plural, are ancient land use areas granted by various royal decrees down the centuries. Almost all of the zone is in Navarre with a bit that runs over the border into Aragon. They are in the arid zone of the great depression formed by the river Ebro and in many respects they are similar to much larger areas of ‘desert’ space in that region (I use ‘desert’ in parentheses because they are just short of being technically desert – but what a few millimetres of rainfall between friends!). Three different zones make up the Bardenas and it’s the arid ‘white’ zone, tha Bardena Blanca, which gets everyone exited. It’s a small river valley with new soft earth that erodes quickly and dramatically mostly from the effects of the stong winds, leading to a remarkable landscape that is much used by movie makers and dare I day it – wannabee Sahara explorers!

Bardena Blanca expanse
Bardena Blanca expanse

Meanwhile I had a great time in the Aragon Pyrenees, passing swiftly and fast out of Navarre and into the Vall de Anso – the pass over from Isaba is truly lovely, but like many of the Pyrenean roads that I feature in my guide, is little more than a country lane. The route passes down the Anso valley which is narrow here, passing along a long but not very dramatic ravine. But before I went that way the trail to the head of the valley was ooooh so inviting! just afew kilomtres of easy trail but worth the diversion .  .  .

Near the head of the Anso Valley
Near the head of the Anso Valley

It also softened me up for crossing La Bardena of course. This trail is super easy as I’ve already mentioned – there’s a strict 30 KPH limit but .  .  .

the Bardena route is sooo inviting!
the Bardena route is sooo inviting!

After that I had a dilemma – I wanted to carry on a spend some time in the Sierra de la Demanda by a nice looking back road to research next year’s HISS rally but the time I’d spent in the Bardena has cut the evening short. So i decided on a quick hop to the camping Moncayo – disaster, it was closed! So I had to ride up to Soria anyway – horrible, the trip meant using the national high road, riding into the sunset and, as I’d quite my lining from my riding suit to go through the desert’ I got b*****y cold to boot as I rode onto the central Meseta in he dusk! Luckily, I knew the camping and was assured a warm welcome!

Day 26: The Sierra de la Demanda

Saturday, July 23rd

Blog-log: 6077.7 kilometres from ‘Go’ (420.7 ridden today)

Location: Camping Entrerobles, Valdeavellano, Soria

Soria is Spain’s least populated province with a population density of just 9 persons per square kilometre. The dominant landscape feature is the Sierra de la Demanda to the north of the capital, Soria itself, and over the border into La Rioja. Originating over 500 million years ago the sierra contains some of the oldest rocks in the Iberian Peninsular, all that time for erosion results in a characteristic rounded shapes to the mountain summits – which average over 2,000 metres (the highest is San Lorenzo at 2,270m). The region is rich in dense forests, ranging from pines on the higher ground to deciduous trees such as birch, beech and poplar in the sheltered valleys.

Typical for Soria: at about 1,100 metres the camp site is nice and cool of a morning - call it dew or call it frost I was glad a a cup of hot tea, full marks to the Trangia stove!

As usual I headed for the nature reserves, both to aid navigation, they’re well signposted, and as they would probably include the most picturesque landscapes. In fact the entire sierra is a Reserva Natural but there are special zones within that. My first goal was the Laguna Negra de Urbión. This is a glacial lake surrounded by dense pine forest that lies under the shadow of the mountain of the same name. The road through Vinuesa didn’t disappoint and I easily found the tarmac lane leading into the  Reserva, despite the season there wasn’t much traffic and the dense forest was certainly something – lovely and cool apart from anything else! But when I got near to the Laguna I found a huge car park stuffed with tourist vehicles – there was even a car park attendant who explained that the Laguna was two kilometres further on, i.e. much too far to walk with all my clobber. So I headed back down another road to the Reserve’s visitor centre, noting along the way that several trails had neither barriers nor prohibition signs – a good omen. The visitor centre is near Vinuesa and was staffed by a young KTM rider – in his civilian clothes I should add – who told me that there are no restrictions to off road riding at all in the entire Sierra. Furthermore, he showed me a trail to the summit of mount Urbión itself – adding the caveat that the last part of the trail was extreme riding – I should think so too!

The Sierra de las Hormazas - typical of the 'Demanda' scenery

For the rest of the day I had devised an anti-clockwise route going deep into the Sierra de la Demanda. It never ceases to amaze me how deserted Spanish roads can be – in plain high season once I had ridden away from Reserve and its attractions I had the roads pretty much entirely to myself – but that wasn’t too surprising really as after I’d reached the Puerto de Santa Inés, which has a new road leading to its even more new ski station, the carriageway deteriorates badly – somewhat typical of Castilla y León I was beginning to think! – and stayed like that for the whole route.

'Normal for Spain' you really do want an Adventure Biker to get the best out of exploring Spain - even if you don't go 'off-road' - the route to the Ace ride over the Puerto de Montenegro

– apart from the road over the Puerto de Montenegro, which is fantastic!


Over into La Rioja the roads got a bit better but not much. I also stupidly ignored a filling station and had to ride right out of the Sierra, all the way to Salas de los Infantes, which in spite of appearances on Michelin is actually on the N224. But all was not in vain as I discovered that the CL117, which is apparently a minor road, is a gem – lovely scenery, fast corners and a good alternative to the N234 to Soria city.

"Oh no, not another gorgeous ravine!"

Furthermore, I also go to go back high into the Sierra to Niela in search of yet more glacial lake – La Laguna Negra de Niela – which I again could ride to in the high season. So instead I took a wonderful back lane deep into the forest to re-emerge onto the LR-113 at the border between La Rioja and Burgos. From here I retraced my steps back to Villavelayo, which looks a good place to stay, and then back to Niela by the back road, climbing up the valley of the Niela river and passing through yet another gorgeous – Oh, no, not another gorgeous ravine! – on the way.

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 21: To Cantabria and the Picos de Europa

Monday, July 18th

Blog-log: Kilometres from ‘Go’: 5098.4 (277.7 today)

Location: Casa Gustavo, Potes, Cantabria.

When I arrived at Lago de Somiedo I was so impressed with the landscape I decided to have a non-bike day and walk the seven or so kilometres to the glacial lakes at the head of the valley, the Lagos de Saliencia. But the rotten weather put a stop to that so my next stage was to ride over to Cantabria and the Picos de Europa. I’d worked out a route to ride out of the Somiedo by a side door, so to speak, the As 265 from la Riera to La Plaza, which turned out to be a much way into the valley than following the river northwards from its exit to the river Barca at Belmonte.

The distant Picos de Europa aren't very high by Spanish standards, but they trap precipitation in Asturias, immediately to the west

After a very stiff climb I had fantastic views over to Cantabria and the distant Picos but it was much more easy to see than to ride; at La Plaza I chose to take the most route via Pola de la Lena (the word Pola occurs often in Asturian place names, it refers to one village being the principal of several, normally of a river valley), rather than head south over the Puerto Ventana, where I would have rejoined the fantastic CL 625 (see day 20) but run the risk of yet more horrible Leonese roads as well as having a very heebie-jeebies ride to Riaño, my gateway to the Picos.

Looking back from the Puerto de San Isidro: I left the wet weather behind only to encounter seriously low temperatures on the 'milder' face on the Cordillera Cantábrica back in León!

The ride over to Pola de la Lena was great, with some lovely scenery and lakeside stopping places – nice for the ducks but no good for swimming sadly! – but Pola itself is a large semi-industrial town and I was to find out the other side of Asturias’s character from here on. The region is known for its coal and steel industries, being part of Spain’s ‘Rust Belt’ and as I followed the AS 112 up towards the Puerto de San Isidro it was strange to ride past active pits, complete with winding gear and trains of tiny hopper wagons at the pit heads – a level of coal mining I thought a thing of the past! Again I was struck to wonder what life is like in these villages, but more I realized that Asturias really does have two completely different characters, as I’d been told several times in the past; the rural and the industrial are as different as chalk and cheese and sadly the industrial valleys really are an eyesore – and make either boring or frustration riding to boot. So for route planning it is worth looking carefully at the maps for symbols tat indicate mining, obviously, but also look for concentrations of railway lines, which are still very much part of the scene in the north of Spain in the form of FEVE, the very large network of narrow gauge lines that traverse the entire north coast.

Asturias has captured my heart, however, I think I've seen some of the most lovely scenery I've ever known - and the food's not half bad too!

It was quite a relief to begin the long climb to the Puerto de San Isidro and into some very wild countryside indeed – bleak isn’t it! But it was a sad disappointment to find the summit completely ruined by a hideous ski resort development! Following the route drops down through very bare countryside back into León, lovely in its way but a big contrast to the greens of Asturias. I made a big map reading error having stopped for fuel at Pueblo de Lillo – I was too busy putting on all my clothes against the cold and stocking up on hot coffee to actually read the map! In fact the route north and east right outside the filling station and I’d ridden a good dozen kilometres further south before I realized I was going badly wrong.

You find custom bike riders in the strangest of places: the Puerto de Las Señales being very much one of them!

The upside of this was the route over the Sierra de Corteguero and the Puerto de Las Señales, one of the most remote areas I’ve ever known. I’d been playing a game of ‘hop-skip-jump’ with another rider since turning round south of Pueblo de Lillo – the silence left by his passing was broken only by the ring tone of his mobile some way further down the lane!

The Picos are nothing short of dramatic - what is becoming for me typical of the Summer of 2011!

But arriving at the Picos as the light faded and the weather worsened made it all the more worthwhile, especially as I was going to sleep under a fixed roof – the first since Madrid on Days 6 and 7 and a bed – the first since Tarragona on Day 2 – Nice!

Reaching the Puerto de San Glorio is an 'event' by any standards: it's worth taking the short detour to the Mirador de Llesba!