Cycling The Camino De Santiago… In The ‘Wrong’ Direction

imageNot that I have done this yet, but it is part of next year’s plan to cycle along the Eurovelo 3 from Santiago de Compostela to Trondheim (and beyond, along the Eurovelo 1 to North Cape). Yesterday’s trip to London (see previous post / video) allowed me a quick visit to Stanford’s where I picked up a copy of the Michelin ‘zoom’ map which not only comes in a walking / cycling-friendly booklet format but is also printed on a scale of 1:150,000. I have never cycled with such paper mapping detail at my fingertips and I am already quite excited about the prospect of doing so! But stop! Let’s not get too carried away; I still know very little about the route other than the fact that it starts (in Spain) at St. Jean-Pied-de-Port (which by the sounds of it is actually in France – it is, I’ve just checked – ignore the previous bracketed info.) and finishes in Santiago de Compostela, the fabled resting place for the bones of St. James himself (although I’m sure his many bones are scattered across Europe in multiple numbers…). I digress. Back to the cycling. Mmm… That’s a relevant point to begin with. Is the route cyclable?image

My initial assumptions were that it wasn’t but when I looked at the Eurovelo map of Europe and compared it to the route of the Camino, I was pleased to see that the suggested paths for walkers and cyclists were more or less identical through Leon, Burgos and Pamplona. It was a promising start. Perhaps my main concern should not be with route-finding but with trying to avoid knocking over all the pilgrims travelling on foot and heading in the opposite direction. A quick Internet search comes up with a useful site listing ’50 quirky bike rides’ of which ‘Cycling the Camino de Santiago’ is just one. Written by a chap called Rob Ainsley, it looks as though it is the online support for a book of the same name. There is even a podcast and an accompanying article in the CTC’s Cycle magazine. Give me a few minutes whilst I listen and read…

Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 14.50.29Interesting stuff. I particularly liked the podcast – very professional and engaging, despite the bagpipes (but he does warn you about that a very start…). Some points to ponder; he explains that he completed the route on a mountain bike – see the picture – and looking at some of the other pictures accompanying the article, you can see why as the tracks do look a little rough to say the least. That said, in the CTC magazine, he does point out that if he were to do the trip again, he would ‘take a tourer‘ explaining that the route for walkers does follow the road for much of its length and for any parts which are too much of a challenge, the tarmac road option is never far away. A mixture of the two is suggested. As for accommodation, it sounds as though cycling in April – my plan is to set off on Saturday 18th April from Santiago de Compostela – is about the perfect time to do so as the crowds in the summer pack out the hostels. Ainsley does mention that some ‘hard line refuges are said to turn away cyclists...’ and I do wonder if they take even greater exception to cyclists who are completing the journey from west to east. Then again, how would they know? The stamps in the map book? Perhaps I shall just not ask for them. Away from the cycling, the following are listed as the 20 tourist highlights of the trip;

  • Roncesvalles’s awesome historic monastery-refuge
  • Pamplona’s bull-running culture
  • Ridgetop views west of it
  • Eunate’s odd church
  • Puente de la Reina’s historic bridge
  • Cirauqui’s original Roman road surface and bridge
  • Free wine fountain at Irache
  • Parkland outside Logroño
  • Storks in sandstone cliffs at Najera
  • Hens in the church at Santa Domingo de la Calzada
  • Burgos centre
  • View from ridge overlooking Hornillos
  • Romanesque church at Fromista
  • Ancient bridge at Hospital de Orbega
  • Maragatos villages
  • Abandoned mountaintop village of Foncebadón and downhill after
  • Mountaintop village of O Cebreiro with ancient thatched huts
  • Descent after it to moved-and-rebuilt reservoir town of Porto Marin
  • Farming villages around Ligonde
  • Arriving at Santiago de Compostela

…albeit for me in reverse of course. Any additional thoughts? Please let me know.

UPDATE: This post has resulted in much chat on Facebook – here is the link.

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2 replies »

  1. The Camino goes beyond Santiago to reach the Atlantic at Cape Finisterre – although most people stop at Santiago. In most places, the original route is now a paved road – the parallel pathways through the forests were developed later to make the experience more enjoyable for walkers. I don’t know how the ambergues (pilgrim hostels) will respond to somebody going backwards – although if there are spare beds then I don’t think there will be much of a problem. Until recently, most pilgrims would have gone there and back on the Camino.

    However, the albergues are strict about pilgrims having a stamped ‘credential’. My guess is that most (or many) will not let somebody stay without a credential that is in order.

    I have not witnessed any anti-biker feelings in the albergues, but bikers are often admitted much later than walkers (who often book in around lunchtime).

    The Camino(s) also run northwards through France – although I understand that the route is not as developed as in Spain.

What do you think?