Blog-log: Kilometres from ‘Go’: 4563.0 (272 ridden today)
Location: Camping Lago de Somiedo
I had a bad night in the Camping San Rafael, truck traffic persisted all night and I probably ate too well in the transport café/restaurant! But at least this meant I got up early and was on the road around nine. I stayed on the N 624 highway rather than going up onto the new autovia, the A8. But the road was so boring, with straggling ugly villages and no scenery to speak of I quickly changed my mind and before I knew it I was approaching Navia, where it was time to head inland. The little that I saw of Navia was a disappointment; I had imagined a pretty fishing town but the steelworks just at the end of the little estuary completely spoiled the scene, both with its own ugliness and with a hideous blackening of the water and mud flats in the inter tidal zone. I quickly forgot about this, however as the road that I had searched for, the As 12, wound upstream, leaving the river and quickly gaining altitude in a series of ever more sharp curves – a sensational ride!
The Asturian mountains are notoriously green as the weather from the Atlantic system gets bottled up there by the high Picos de Europa just a little way to the east – making the rain come tumbling down! The mountains themselves are much more grand that their height would suggest – by Spanish standards at least. I think this is partly due to settlements, which are located on shoulders of mountain rather than in the valleys or on the heights, as occurs elsewhere. This is a very ancient pattern as was evidenced by the excavated remains of the pre-Roman village of Castro de Pendia, which occupies a similar spot.
The other feature of the Asturian mountains is that they shelter the interior to the south from the worst of the weather, making both the plains of León and the southern flanks of the Cordillera Cantabrica arid – as I was to find at Parque Natural de Somiedo, which is a special nature reserve due to its unique biosphere – and my goal for today. I was also heading into the territory of Matthew Copeland, an acquaintance Ted, whom I’d ‘met’ on the Adventure Bike Rider’s Forum. Matthew and Ted have ‘mapped’ 6,000 kilometres of trail riding which Matthew uses as the basis of his guided ride business: Asturias Bike Tours. We had hoped to meet and over the next few days our paths played a sort of cat and mouse game right around the Cordillera that was never to allow us to have a ‘face-to-face’, sadly!
In the meantime I stopped at the oddly named town of Grandes de Salimes as it was a natural break – I was glad of the coffee that I had there! The next stage, on the As 14 as far as Pola de Allende, wound up and over the Sierra de Rañadoiro on yet another ‘Ace Ride’! This ride is seriously flawed, however, as it is on the Camino de Santiago de Oviedo, which is evidently very popular! Time and time again I would round a right-hand bend, tucking well in to the hedgerow to find small knots of pilgrims covering into the gutter for fear of, what must have seemed to them, two wheeled Armageddon bearing down on them! I got used to this and approached all blind corners with more caution than usual, but that long, meaningful, penetrating stare, especially from the women, that unnerved me more than a little!
I was followed on this ride by a group of bikers who didn’t seem to be in a hurry, and I idly wondered whether this was Matthew leading one of his road rides. But we never coincided – our ways parting, so it seemed, at Pola. Sadly the ride was marred by worsening weather, and it fact I went into the cloud as I approached the summit at Puerto del Palo, so I have no idea what the view was like nor any photographs to record the moment!
After a horrible time riding into the teeth of the holiday traffic heading out of Oviedo on the AS 15 I was glad to turn off into the valley of the Somiedo river and enter the Parque Natural, despite a very narrow road full of Domingueros (Sunday drivers). But suddenly the sun shone and as I rode up into the Vall del Lago and my destination there – going up a series of seriously hairy hairpin bends in the process – to what I have decided is a location close to paradise. Moreover as there’s neither Internet nor mobile phone coverage there – I decided I was going to stay a while!
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!
Blog-log: kilometres from ‘Go’: 3980.9 (232.6 ridden today)
Location: Camping San Fransicso, Louro, Galicia.
I should have guessed it, of course, the weather changed once again, had I but known it this time to set a pattern for the next two weeks of northerly storms rushing right over the bay of Biscay into Northern Spain. But at the time I just assumed this was ‘normal for Galicia’. Rounding the cape from Louro and looking over the Punto los Remedios, Cabo Finisterre and beyond out into the Atlantic proper I could see that we were in for a dull day, to say the least.
I killed some time at the fishing harbour at O Pindo in the hope that the weather might clear a little with the growing day, asking at the bar whether the sun would come out. I should have known better of course, the answer was typically Gallego, “¡Pues, puede que si o puede que no!” – Well, maybe yes or maybe no! But with this climate one can understand why people are like this – a sort of survival philosophy!
I didn’t want to go to Finesterre as you have to ride through the back end of the town to get to that cape, and when you do get there it’s a grotty tourist/pilgrim trap, complete with a market full of trinket stalls and a bar in the lighthouse that serves just about the most expensive beer in Spain! So there was nothing else for it but to carry on. Luckily I’d been here the previous year and the route became obvious as I got nearer – in fact the Cape is signposted from quite a long way away, just outside Cée, albeit on a very circuitous route! If I could have seen it through the fog the countryside here is very pretty, with meadows set among the huge plantations of eucalyptus trees. These are a mixed blessing for Galicia as the introduced species has become dominant, killing the indigenous forest areas with their greater height and growth rate. But the wealth generated by the forests is essential for the Galician economy. Not only in direct employment, which is very high, but the land ownership pattern – although it’s usually managed on a large scale most of the forest is owned by private individuals in small plots – ensures that much of the income goes to the population rather than multinational companies, as is more often the case globally. But for all that the eucalyptus is a gloomy tree and its ubiquity, the forests now range far beyond Galicia (I first saw them as far away as the Sierra de Francia – see day 11) is a depressing reminder of where the road paved with good intentions leads!
Finally the road emerges from the gloom and there is a splendid – if somewhat theoretical! – view of Cabo Touriñan from the village, if you can call it that, of the same name. You can ride right up to the lighthouse and if you’re brave ride along the cliff top. I had thought about wild camping there, but the site is pretty dirty from visitors doing their ‘business’ apparently behind every rock with a half-kilometer radius of the unmanned lighthouse. Furthermore, although I had arrived before anyone else – if anyone else was daft enough to visit on such an inauspicious day! – there was a file of cars belonging to the percebes fishers there, and I’m not sure I would have wanted a rude awakening at their hands!
Percebes are edible Goose barnacles (order Pedunculata) that the Spanish go wild for. Needless to say the best foods are the most difficult to cultivate or find, and the Goose barnacle is perhaps the most difficult, and certainly the most dangerous, of all! They grow attached to the rocks and sea cliffs in their inter-tidal area and the only way to harvest them – although that seems too cosy a word for this perilous occupation! – is to clamber over the rocks at low water. The work is hard, skilled and incredibly dangerous and the percebieros are among the highest paid workers in the huge Galician seafood industry. Take a look at this newsreel about one of the several women percebieras working on the Costa del Muerto, just along the coast. One of the points about the item is that in the previous year the price paid to the percebiero had dropped from over €230 per kilo to around €100 – on a good day a skilled percebiero can collect about five kilos of percebes; nice work if you can get it – but rather them than me!
I had a lot to think about having reached my goal, not least where to go next! I wanted to review my ‘method’ of exploration. So far I’d had three different experiences; revisiting an area I knew at Albarracín, successfully exploring somewhere new at Gredos and a mixed bag of feelings about Portugal. I was getting used to the camping – even sleeping on the hard ground after my airbed’s slow puncture refused to be found! – and the riding long distances over several successive days so that was a plus. But I know that once I turned my wheels in the direction of home the journey would have a different feel. Depite having time (actually money) constraints I decided to stick to the ‘method’ at the expense of a couple of locations that would have to wait for another trip, and I also realised that I could kill two birds with one stone along the way. I wanted to pay a call to a friend in León city and realised that I could do this from a base at the Reserva Natural de Somiedo in the Cordillera Cantabria – the major system of mountains that runs along almost the whole of the north coast, not just in Cantabria. But the star turns of the Cordillera are the Picos de Europa and luckily I had a warm welcome near it’s ‘capital’, Potes. To get to the Somiedo would take tow days riding by my preferred back roads, so I could also do a whistle-stop tour of the Rias Altas, where I’d never been. And just for good measure that part of the trip could start at the Punta de la Estaca de Bares – Spain’s northernmost point!
I rode away from the Cape and got lost in the mountain lanes inland, rather typical of my experience in Galicia and eventually came back to the coast near Corcubión – I’m still not sure how I did this! – riding south from here on the weather had indeed cleared, leaving me with a final view of Finisterre, with the Atlantic mist still hanging on in there – roll on tomorrow and the north coast itself!
Finally, I almost forgot to note the kilometre reading at Cabo Touriñan, to compare with that at cap de Creus, which by then seems an awful long way away: 24,735 kms at Touriñan and 21,309 at Cap de Creus, making 3,426 in sixteen days – quite a respectable figure, especially compared with the ‘Official’ route courtesy of the Repsol guide, avoiding tolls roads and taking the shortest route: 1,244 kms in 16 hours and thirty-four minutes!
It seems strange that I should choose to have a rest day so close to the end of the tour part one – it was less than a hundred kilometers to Cap de Turiñan. But I was shattered and literally had to recharge my batteries. But bearing in mind that I had stumbled across the camp site from paradise at San Fransicso and the weather looked glorious I decided to turn my back on the tour. But I did manage to catch up on some of the blog in the bar after breakfast. But I couldn’t bear to hang around indoors all day so I betook myself to the beach, which the tourist guide pamphlet had told me was, “Occupación – Muy Alta”, no translation necessary I assume!
The beaches here really are fabulous – and in fact once the holiday season really gets going from the Fiesta of Santiago Apóstol at the end of July I guess the Playa de San Fransico will be heaving! White sand, clear water – freezing! In fact most of the coast is a little bit spoilt by rather tacky sporadic development, which was why I wanted to be at Muros. But the beaches themselves are fine and there are reefs and lagoons within walking distance of Louro as well as quieter coves – many of which are naturist beaches.
Apart the usual maintenance the only bike stuff I did was chat to the couple who’d helped me find the camping last evening. They were touring Spain in a similar route to my original plan; starting at Irun on the French/Basque border and then visiting al the cardinal points, Cap de Turiñan included, where that had been yesterday. They are not usual at all – most young Spanish bikers have sports machines and go on holiday by plane like normal people do! What was usual with them is that neither lived in their home town, she was from Madrid and lived in Valladolid while he was actually Greek and had lived in Spain for about four years. He was keen to know about riding in Britain, where he wanted to visit a cousin in Cardiff – I’ll have to get my mate Barcelona Pat onto that one – he’s from The Valleys!
Muros itself was just a few kilometres walk away and did me proud with free tapas at every bar . . . walking home was another matter – but I slept well!
Blog-log: Kilometres from ‘Go’: 3748.3 (202.7 today)
Location: Camping San Francisco, Lauro, Galicia.
I spent a good night although it had become very cold. By this time I was getting used to my half-cocked air bed; I could get to sleep with it inflated and wasn’t bothered then when it leaked slowly – two weeks on the road and I have not problems sleeping on the hard ground! The other knack I’ve learned is to listen to music on the Mac if I have bad neighbours, addicted even to the sepulchral tones of mellow jazz as performed back at Madrid (I bought the CD at the gig and put it on iTunes). I had a relatively short ride to my next camp in the Rias Baixas, furthermore I know both the beginning and the end of the route so didn’t have much of a problem with navigation. Also I’d managed to see the weather on TV and knew it would clear during the day, so as it was early I rolled over and determined to have a bit of a lie in – then I heard the rain begin!
By the time I’d got up and had my tea – thanks to the fantastic Trangia stove I was able to face each day feeling roughly human – the first roll of thunder crashed through echoing around the mountains and it started to pour. If there’s one thing worse than setting up camp in the rain it’s striking it. But luckily I was close to the kitchen building and was able to clean, dry and pack everything there after a dash through the sheltering trees. My tent packs up under the protection of the fly sheet and that I can fold in the separate ground sheet from the ‘lobby’ and strap to whole to the duffle bag without getting wet things inside with the sleeping bag, towels and other delicates. In fact by the time I set off – still at 11.00 as usual I don’t know how! – the rain had stopped and a vile sticky heat was building up, which didn’t help my temper having to wait an age to pay my bill and check out. My last ‘act’ of Portugal was to have a bit of a row with the campsite manager. Although he spoke English at first I answered in Spanish – this becomes a habit here when I speak in Spanish or Catalan far more often than in English – which led him to speak in Portuguese, which by this time, and given the context of a simple transaction, I was able to understand. This reinforced my ‘habit’ of speaking in Spanish which he wouldn’t – I found it inconceivable that he couldn’t! – answer back in. All very fraught and I was glad to hit the road, even though the surface was slimy, the wind buffeting the bike badly as I rode over the otherwise very enjoyable mountain pass on the N202.
Down on the Portuguese bank of the Miño the N301 is a very good road indeed and apart from being cut up a few times by overtaking fast cars as I wrestled with the wind I began to have a good ride. The frontier at Ponte Barxas is closed down of course, but the buildings are still there and the town has the look of a minor garrison, which I suppose it was for many centuries. A few miles further and I stopped for fuel at Cortegada, where I had both my first road intersection and taste of that Galician speciality – lying!
In fact lying isn’t quite the right word. Galicia is a land of mystery and witchcraft that is enhanced by its dense forests and dank climate (which is putting the latter politely!). The Galician reputation is not so much for lying and for not telling the truth, or preferable not saying anything at all. The popular story is that if you ask a Gallego (that’s the word for the language and the people) a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ question the likely answer will be “Well. . .” In this case the happy lady in the patrol garage asked where I was headed and helpfully gave me directions to somewhere else entirely – which I ignored by instinct!
In fact I knew the way over a very enjoyable road and had plotted a ‘short cut’ across the country that avoided the autovia, the old Nacional road that it had replaced and the city of Vigo to which they both go – a very good idea indeed! Not only that but I found myself with yet another ‘Ace Ride’ – I’m going to have a lot of catching up to do when I get home! But for now the PO – 255 road takes you from just outside Cañiza, a nice town now that the N120 has been superceded by the Autovia A52, all the way to Pontevedra over some highly enjoyable mountain passes, lovely rolling countryside and the few villages that is passes through are lovely, especially Fornelos de Montes, an absolute find in this out of the way place – another location that I wish I could have stayed in!
The Ace ride ends at Pontes de Caldes, where it joins the PO 234 and gradually becomes more urban in the penumbra of Pontevedra city. There’s no alternative but to ride through the city but that’s not a problem, rather the opposite as you get your first view of the sea here, or rather the Ria. Rias are sea lochs that run right inland for many miles. Their sheltered waters allow Galicia’s prodigious maritime economy to flourish on the otherwise hostile and tempestuous tempestuous coast. They are also very beautiful with fantastic beached and produce the best seafood on the planet! My aim was to stay here at one of the prettiest of the small sea ports, Muros, actually in Coruna province some way to the north. But the seaside route is very long and tortuous and likely to be clogged with tourist traffic. So my plan was to take the Autopista AP-9 for the short hop to Padrón, avoiding the N550 which I guessed would be horrible – as nacional roads usually are when they run parallel with a toll road. But the wind was so strong I decided to avoid being blown off the bike on the several long viaduct and equally long, howling cuttings that the new construction has. In fact all I saved was the toll, not to bad, as the N550 has equally modern works and as it turned out I had it all but to myself and I was in Padrón, where I had another short cut up my sleeve, almost before I knew it.
Padrón is famous as the birthplace of Jose Camilo Cela, Spain’s fist Nobel laureate and an extraordinary travel writer. We’d stumbled across this house by accident last year whilst traveling through the area and this lead to the following rather typical conversation:
The Spanish Biker, “Oh look, there’s Cela’s birthplace. How odd, I always thought he was from somewhere in Galicia!”
Mrs The Spanish Biker, “This is Galicia, Simon, we’ve been on holiday here for two weeks!”
The Spanish Biker, “Er, oh yeah, so we have”
The other famous thing about Padrón are the lethally spicy green peppers that are a popular tapas throughout Spain, and beyond – they’re available at Waitrose so I’m told! The rule is that one on five blows your head off although everyone now laments that this proportion is now down to one in ten, or worse. There is huge debate about how and why only some peppers, even from the same plant, are hot while other aren’t – all I can say is that if you buy them in or near Padrón they all blow your head off!
The hop over to the coast at Noia is on the AC-308 which is a lovely road through some very wild country, you really feel the proximity of the Atlantic here – fortunately the wind was both subsiding and was blowing straight at me as I went over the top, and by the time I reached the coast the tempest was all but over entirely and the day was turning into a lovely sunny evening. At Muros I had a slight disappointment. The petrol, garage girl told me there was no camp site in the town – I hadn’t checked on Google as I’d had no internet – but I should follow the signs to Camping San Francisco just along the coast. Again in Galicia she wasn’t lying but wasn’t exactly telling the truth either. In fact there are three campsites in Muros, whose municipality included several other villages so they appear as such in Michelin. I found another rather grotty campsite on the beach just outside Muros and was annoyed at the price of €18. So I carried on to Louro and found the San Francisco after asking direction from a biker by the roadside – who turned out to be in the camping too. My heart sank as I saw the ‘1ª Classe’ emblem on the sign, which usually means pricey and caravan crappy. But in fact the place was lovely, set in walled grounds that were formerly part of the monastery next door and the price was only €15. The only snag was that the Wifi only worked in tow chairs at one table in the bar – weird stuff this WiFi, so my blog was destined to get even more out of date!