The problem with writing these updates a couple of days after the events is that I forget so much so quickly. It can be very frustrating but here goes…
I had breakfast in the centre of Perpignan and was still not sure which route to take into Spain. I had two choices. Firstly the shorter option would have been to cross the border slightly inland at the Col de Perthus. It was only about 200m high so wouldn’t have involved too much vertical effort but it would have been extremely busy. The col is the crossing point for both the motorway and the main road and no doubt at the border everything would have melted into one horrendous former border crossing area. I have driven through this crossing before and have images in my mind of great swathes of Tarmac. The longer, coastal option seemed to be more enticing so I took it.
It wasn’t without road issues itself however as when the D914 became a dual carriageway a few kilometres south of Perpignan I was unceremoniously thrown off and into the countryside to find my own route towards the coast. I shouldn’t grumble as the roads were obviously much quieter, the views of the Pyrenees much more spectacular (and my eyes could linger over the view to a much greater extent than if I were concentrating on the traffic of the main road) and the cycle simply nicer.
I eventually reached the coast again at Argelès at which point the road started to climb and wind around the shoreline through Port-Vendres, Banyuls-sur-Mer and then finally Cerbère where I paused for one last bite to eat before entering Spain. The pictures from this part of the cycle can be seen in the last but one post (‘La Côte Rouge’).
The border itself seemed to be celebrated more by the Spanish than by the French. The French frontier sign had been graffitied with the scrawl ‘Northern Catalonia’ whereas on the Spanish side everything was neat and tidy. There was a strange folly and various signs explaining and commemorating forced deportation during the Franco years. I read a few and then cycled down into the first Spanish town, Portbou.
Many of my border crossings so far have been gradual affairs, from Italy into France for example over the top of a remote col and through the former Yugoslavia where there are only subtle changes between the now separate countries. Here however it was more of an abrupt change and there was an assault on the senses as I tried to rapidly adjust. I continued to follow the coastal road as far as Llança and could have continued further through the much-recommended Cap de Creus and especially the town of Roses. But I didn’t choosing instead to make up time by once again heading slightly inland. Initially I intended cycling to Figueres and then back to the coast at L’Estartit where Dave Cocker had invited me to spend the night on the campsite where he lives with his wife for seven months during the year. However I got bored of the long, straight main road so took my chances and tried to fathom a way for myself across country. Unfortunately my Spanish maps are scale 1:400,000 which means much less detail than the 1:200,000 French ones (despite them being in the same Michelin ‘regional’ maps series). This meant that much time was spent consulting Google maps to work out the exact route that I needed to take, sometimes every few minutes. I do hope that this isn’t a sign of things to come over the next couple of weeks as I work my way down through Spain and into Portugal. I suppose when I get to the Vias Verdes (see earlier post) the route finding should be fairly simple. On the subject of which… Something strange happened in the middle of the countryside en route to my meeting point with Dave in the small town of Torroella. I stumbled across a sign for the Eurovelo 8. It was the first one in over 4,000km so clearly quite a moment for some celebration. I paused and took some photos as if I had just stumbled upon a long lost friend. I later did some investigating and discovered that the Eurovelo 8 signs were piggy-backing upon a circular route that guides cyclists around Catalonia. The portion of the route heading from north to south (or south to north) has also been labelled as route number 8. Ironically I didn’t or rather couldn’t follow them as I was on a mission to meet up with Dave but it was good to see that the Eurovelo 8 does indeed exist in reality albeit for just the limited portion of the route in northern Spain.
I suppose it wasn’t difficult for Dave Cocker to identify me as I approached the car park of the Carrefour supermarket in Torroella. He waved at me and I cycled over to shake his hand. It was nice to hear a Yorkshire accent again (I don’t hear them that often living as I do in the south of England) and it made me smile. We cycled together to the coast and to the campsite where Dave has his small complex of caravan and additions. He even had what he referred to as a ‘shed’. It was an impressive assembly and most mod cons were at the disposal of Dave and Pauline for their months in the Spanish sun. I was able to pitch my tent in one corner of the area allocated to Dave and we spent the rest of the evening eating, drinking and watching the England v. Scotland match on ITV. It was a little surreal. We were joined by two of their campsite friends and the evening continued as it might on any suburban housing estate back in the UK when the neighbours had been invited round for a drink. It just didn’t get cold.