The plan this morning was to first spend an hour or so meandering my way along the edge of the rock so as to complete a full circumnavigation. OK, it’s not perhaps the British Isles but it would at least give me claim to having visited most things that Gibraltar can offer. Alas, once I had crept along Europa Road as far as Europa Point – the rock’s most southerly point – I was happy to turn back and retrace my steps back through the main part of the town. The wind at Europa Point was not just strong; it was vicious and to continue along Europa Road to the eastern side of Gibraltar could have been suicidal. The wind was continuing to blow from the east and I feared that I would simply be swept away under its force. So I ended my trip to the British territory by popping into the Morrison’s supermarket. If you have a Morrison’s supermarket near to where you live imagine in your mind standing in the aisle that sells sun protection lotions and other personal hygiene products. It is, I guarantee, identical to the one in which I was standing at around 10am this morning. Another example of the strangeness that is Gibraltar.
It was fairly obvious that wind would be the theme of the day but its effects would be delayed somewhat by my distraction with finding a way through the town of Algeciras back in Spain. The rumours go that Franco built the oil refineries that dominate the coastline to the west of Gibraltar purposefully in that place so that the fumes would blow in the direction of the British. It’s a nice idea (and perhaps he had a smug grin on his face when they were built) but logic would imply that, actually, they are there because it’s a good place for them to be near the Atlantic Ocean but not in an area of outstanding natural beauty. Then again, perhaps it was before they started building. Anyway, what has been created is an area of outstanding un-natural ugliness and in my initially successful attempts to avoid the even greater horror of the main road, I managed to cycle about as close to the oil refineries as you can without being arrested. Spectacularly grim. The concrete fence had been painted with bright, colourful scenes but it didn’t really dent the horrors before my eyes.
The main road couldn’t be avoided forever however and through what remained of Algeciras I tried my best to use side roads but was always brought back to the speed, noise and pollution of the dual carriageway. It was the kind of road that makes you wonder if bicycles are allowed but neither the Guardia Civil or the local police seemed concerned when the passed me. I raised my hand in joy when I saw a sign indicating a cycle lane ahead so I turned off and found it. It was just a pity it lasted only about five metres before leading me into scrubland.
The road did eventually escape Algeciras and started to climb. Over the next 10km I was to ascend to around 340 metres but this was no climb with a nice occasional bit of downhill to allow you to pause; this was southern Spain’s answer to Mont Ventoux. One long climb that was seemingly neverending. It did, of course, at Spain’s answer to Hartside Top. Have you been there? I cycled to the top in 2009 during my Pennine Cycleway ride. It was a blustery day with a dark grey sky. Translate the signs at the Hartside Cafe into Spanish and it could have been the Mirador del Estrecho today. Wild, bleak… and a bloke from Yorkshire ordering a coffee to warm his hands more than to benefit from drinking it.
It was downhill for the rest of the way although as the wind was continuing to blow the effort in climbing a hill was simply replaced by effort trying to stay on the bike. Then it appeared; Tarifa and the Isla de las Palomas, my starting point for the long trek across the continent. Having already visited Tarifa twice since arriving in Andalucia over a month ago I saw no reason to enter the town. I’ll be back there tomorrow morning clutching my Guardia Civil authorisation to access the Isla. Instead I cycled straight past along the now much quieter N340/E5 (take your pick) for about another 4km before arriving at Camping Rio Jara, Europe’s most southerly campsite. If every campsite that I visit in the next few months is as good as this one, I’ll be happy. It’s not perfect (my ultimate preference is for an open area where people travelling without a car and with a small tent like mine can just find an appropriate place) but it’s not far from being so. Best thing of all it has cost me a mere 10 euros. I’m surrounded by a group of French people and having borrowed a mallet from them (I initially asked to borrow a mattress having mixed up the French words for mattress and mallet, a request which initially had them looking at each other in a way that only French people can) I had a good chat with their leader, a Breton who has travelled widely in his windowless camper van. His wife refuses to travel with him unless they take the more traditional windowed camper van. I can see her point. Then again, perhaps if I met his wife, I would see his…
The big cycle starts tomorrow. (And you only have a few hours left to download the previous two books at the ridiculously cheap price of £0.99 so why are you still reading this and not searching for them on the Amazon website??)
P.S. It’s great to be camping again. My mini Alite ‘mayfair’ folding chair is a marvel as is the MSR Windboiler. I would recommend them both!