Before setting off on this little trip across the continent I wrote a piece for the website about my plans for cycling through each of the seven countries from Spain to Norway. I’m now nearly finished in Spain – just the small matter of climbing the Pyrenees tomorrow morning and heading into France – so today, a day off the bike in Pamplona, seems a good time to reflect upon how it all went. I’ll do the same after each country. Before you read my reflections upon cycling in Spain you may want to read through the pre-trip notes that can be found here.
Done that? Good. In terms of the route from Tarifa to Pamplona, I did follow almost all of the planned route apart from in the first few days when, instead of continuing along the coast from Cádiz to Huelva, I headed north to Jerez – a town that I hadn’t managed to visit during my month learning Spanish in Cádiz in March – and then north to Seville. The Ruta de la Plata starts in Seville so again this made good sense.
I’m delighted that I did manage to start the ride on the end of the Isla de las Palomas and it was certainly worth the effort of writing to the tourist office / Guardia Civil / Parque Natural to gain their permission to do so. I’m sure any half decent geographer (or even a georgraphy teacher) would be able to give a convincing argument that the southern tip of the continent is actually at the Tarifa side of the short bridge to the island but when you get there it doesn’t feel that way.
There was certainly a bit of ‘what the hell am I doing?‘ during those first few days cycling north along the beautiful Costa de Luz but the fact that it was such nice cycling – and in complete contrast to the built up mess of the Costa del Sol (where I had been staying for a few days prior to the departure from Tarifa and along which, via curious Gibraltar, I needed to cycle for two short days) – more than negated any desire to stop before I’d barely started and return home, tail between my legs. The last minute decision to visit the centre of Cadiz boosted my moral; I was on very familiar territory and it was nice to bump along on the cobbles that I had become very accustomed to over the previous few weeks.
The remainder of my trip across Spain was of course dominated by the two pilgrim routes – the Caminos de Santiago – the Ruta de la Plata from Seville to Benavente and then the Camino Francés (the one that we generally know as the Camino de Santiago but which is only one of several) as far as the French border. In reality it would have been a very long and slow trip if I had decided to follow the walking routes themselves with their stoney paths. Easy on a mountain bike but less so on a touring bike. The decision to simply follow the adjacent roads was ultimately the correct one and I would suggest anyone thinking of doing something similar in the future to consider this option seriously. Probably 80% of the time I was cycling upon very high quality surfaces on roads that were little used by other traffic. This has been due to the proximity of an alternative toll free motorway. The walking routes bear the name ‘Camino de Santiago’ as did my N roads. I often noticed signs referring to the autovia in western Spain as the Ruta de la Plata. It’s nice that however you choose to travel you are made to feel that you have done the ‘proper’ route.
As a little aside to the cycling, one thing that I’ve been surprised by are the sheer numbers of people walking the northern Camino de Santiago (the French one). I find it rather ironic that many people set off on the trail for ‘spiritual’ reasons i.e. they aren’t religious but want time to think and reflect upon life. Could I recommend that if you want to give yourself time to think and reflect on a personal level, the chances are that you’re more likely to get a peaceful time to yourself on the hard shoulder on the M1. Consider alternatives (perhaps the Ruta de la Plata?) as the French Camino is a very busy place!
Campsites – 6
Hotels (budget) – 6
Hotels (a bit less budget) – 5
Youth Hostel – 1
WarmShowers – 1
Auberge – 1
Campsites averaged about €12 per night (the one in Cáceres that tried to charge me €21 resulted in me returning to the centre and booking into a hotel that wasn’t so much more expensive but far more convenient to discover the city). Most budget hotels were around €25 and the ‘not so budget’ ones were in the big cities where I took a day off and were generally around €50-€60 per night. The auberge was free thanks to the help of tabloid journalist Dirk (the guy I thought was a priest) as, of course, was my WarmShowers night. All credit to Juan in Palencia for being the only one of about ten WarmShowers ‘hosts’ that I contacted who offered me a place to stay. Some people need to seriously consider the reciprocal nature of WarmShowers. I say no more.
The people that you meet make the journey however and it’s always nice chatting to fellow travellers or indeed locals that you bump into along the way. Paul and his ‘Mercedes days’ will always bring a smile to my face when the going gets tough. Of the 17 cycling days so far I would class only one of them as a ‘Mercedes day’ (one where you wonder why you didn’t just buy a Mercedes instead) and that was the horrid grind of a ride from Benavente to Palencia that was, inevitably, cycling day 13… It was perfect timing to be hosted by Juan that night in his warm flat, to eat his good food and to meet his charming friends!
On the other end of the cycling spectrum, two days stand out from the rest; cycling day 10 over the Sierra to Salamanca and then yesterday, again over the mountains, to here in Pamplona. They were hard days but ultimately the most rewarding in terms of the ‘experience’.
My average – which needs to be about 75 km per day – is now 76.9 km which is excellent. It did dip down to the mid 60s after the end of the first week of cycling but a few long days – notably the 133 km required to get to Salamanca – put it back on course.
The weather has been OK. It is April and northern Spain does feel more British in terms of the climate than I expected it to. After the mainly excellent weather in March in Cádiz perhaps I was lulled into a false sense of believing that as soon as February was over, the sun shone everywhere in Spain. That’s clearly not the case and my wet weather gear has been deployed on more than one occasion.
It’s worth noting that in terms of continental cycling I have now been doing so for not just the 17 days in 2015 but also the 12 days I spent cycling here in 2013. So, after 29 days on the roads of Spain, I am ready to move on and into a different country, number 2 of this trip, France.
All the above pictures incidentally are from my Instagram account.