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Home Travel StoriesNorthern Spain 2018

Lost In Luxury

By Ren Withnell

So far every forecast has been pretty poor. So far we've had one wet afternoon and one heavy shower that passed over. This is, erm, err, oh gosh I must be on holiday I don't know what day it is. Erm...well it's the 7th day in Spain anyhow. 2 bouts of rain in 7 days, not so bad overall.

Today though is another matter. Today every forecast agrees we are going to get wet. What they disagree on is how wet. 

A basic simply map of spain with most of it covered in rain weather symbols
(bad) Artist's impression of the current weather forecast.

We're not going to The Pyrenees, that's been a hard decision. It's wetter than ever there and it would also add quite a few miles to our trip. I'm rather enjoying NOT trying to see everything and everywhere in one go. I have considered Salamanca too. That would add a few miles to the trip although not as many as The Pyrenees. But then it doesn't look like there's many mountains in Salamanca and we are rather enjoying the mountains. And it looks like it'll rain there too.

Oddly the north western corner of Spain still looks wet but not quite as wet. It also has hills. 

Sharon has been blessed with a skill - internet searching. I'd mentioned the north west corner of Spain and before I know what's going on it appears we're booked into a "bungalow" on the outskirts of "Ponferrada" and it will only cost €30. She justifies this by saying "if we're going to get soaking wet it'll be nice to not put the tent up and have somewhere warm and comfortable to dry out". OK sweetie.

There's about 200 miles between here and Ponferrada, most of which is motorway. This will make for a dull ride but motorways are easier to ride in the rain and I won't be getting lost. On the motorways those 200 miles should only take 4 hours, a relatively easy ride.

As we depart the weather is at present fair. There are clouds in the sky, some of them grey and there's a firm breeze. I'm thankful to take the tent down dry and load up before we get a good soaking. I ensure those things that need to stay dry are wrapped and packed.

Ren's Honda CB500X full loaded with all the camping and travel gear at the campsite near Burgos
It's dry! So far.

We roll out onto the roads then find the motorway without much trouble. Following the signs is easy enough and the rain clouds have lifted to a thick white covering. We get a little off track when I come off for fuel but we're soon back on the motorways. 

Something is not right. The weather. It is not raining, in fact it's quite pleasant with light cloud cover and the temperature is ideal for riding. The motorway is not particularly interesting yet thankfully it is flowing well and we are in the countryside. I'm quite calm, just letting the kilometres pass by.

High white clouds fill the sky in Northern Spain as we look out from a petrol station
This Spanish rain seems very dry to me.
At another petrol station Sharon eats a sweet pastry in blue skies with some light cloud
If only the weather would clear Sharon could eat outside.

We stop for a brew and a snack. I recall the last time I was in Spain every cuppa came in a tiny weeny little cup sufficient only to leave my thirst and my tastebuds wanting more. I don't know what is different but it seems the cups are larger and the tea tastes better. Being able to ask "tay, con letch-ay" (tea with milk) might be helping.

My maps have a warning for me. We are on the A231. We're to get on the A66 northbound. I then need to find the N120. NEED...If I end up on the AP71 westbound we're going in the right direction but it's a toll road. If I miss the N120 and stay on the A66 it becomes the AP66 which is a toll road. The junctions are close together. Focus Ren, focus.

As we get closer to Leon the skies are becoming burdened with dark heavy clouds. I feel a dip in the temperatures and I can smell the rain getting closer. It brings a sense of foreboding and doom. I remember we're in an actual building tonight and I mentally thank Sharon for booking us in.

The junction is approaching and I slow a little and concentrate. Do not take the AP71 junction to Astorga! I want to, I feel the bike moving to the right but I force myself not to. Well done boy, well done.

The next junction should be mine. Ah there it is. Argh! No!! Testicles!!! My junction is on the opposite side of the barrier. It's one of those junctions where one slip road peels off the motorway to feed 2 separate junctions. We have a similar thing on the M60 in Manchester. Poop. Damn. (Insert lots of very rude words here.)

We have no choice at all other than to remain on the AP66 northbound. We are going in the wrong direction and we are on a toll road. It was all going so well. I thought I'd moved on from this nonsense. Oh lordy, how far do we have to go north? Where's the next junction? How much will this cost!? I am cross with myself for missing the turn and angry at Spanish motorway engineers for not making things obvious for Johnny Foreigner.

Some 19km (yes...12 miles) later I find a services. I am exasperated and tense, it takes a huge effort not to throw my helmet on the floor or shout at Sharon even though it's not her fault. I have a word with myself. Calm down Ren. No one has died, the bikes are OK, we will work this out and I can afford a toll. Breath and start to find a solution not create more problems.

An ordinary Repsol garage in Spain and Sharon looking at something on her bike seat
Sharon is keeping her head down and out of my way. It's not her fault.

Google maps shows me a road not more than 100 metres away that will take us off the motorway and onto what looks like a nice road going in the right direction. But. It's not actually "connected" to the services or the motorway. Again I've seen things just like this in the UK. We are trapped on the motorway. 

The next junction is 12km north. Again this has what looks like a good road in the right direction. All is not lost. Still, our easy 200 mile ride is rapidly becoming a 230 mile ride. Keep calm. I recall watching a survival program, good advice this, survivors remain calm. Survivors remain calm. They look at the problem and find solutions and don't panic. Survivors remain calm. I'm flapping aren't I.

The junction at La Magdalena can't come soon enough. To use the M6 toll road for a motorcycle is about £3. To use that new bridge in Runcorn is free for motorcycles but cars are charged £2. I reckon our toll for what, 20 miles, will be about £2 to £3 each? It's not what I wanted but it's not the end of the world. 

€5.15...EACH! At least Dick Turpin had the decency to wear a blooming mask. 

The road west from La Magdalena is nice. I, well I guess I'm just not in the mood to enjoy it. I want to punch myself for missing the turning and to punch the people who laid out the roads and to punch whoever came up with the toll pricing. I'm not a violent man and I couldn't fight my way out of a paper bag but I still get cross.

This lovely road feels wrong. I spot a massive damn, I slow to admire it as best my mood will allow and decide to pull in to consult the maps. The valley is beautiful and nestled precipitously under the great wall of the damn. This does nothing for my mood when I realise we are not going in the right direction. Noooooooo!!!

A village is deep down in the valley surrounded by steep hillsides in Northern Spain
It's gorgous, but it's not where I blooming well should be.

Back down the valley. This time I have put my mobile phone into the case on the bars and I am using sat nav. 

Junction after turn after bend after village I follow the digital direction giver. We should have been there for 1500. It's 1630. We've still got another 45 minutes to go. It is quite nice here and I try to lift my mood but I just want to find where we're going, get in and get a brew and calm the hell down. 

It's not raining though. There's dark black clouds to the south and the east and the west and the north, but it's not raining. It will, surely.

Please could you insert a long collection of very rude words here? I dare not write the words in my head right now. Sat-oh-poop navi-freakin-gation my ass! I'm in a one horse backwater hell hole consisting of ramshackle disused industrial buildings, rusty rail tracks, dishevelled houses and broken tarmac streets. And to cap it all off sat crap nav wants me to ride down a one way street - the wrong way. 

It takes another superhuman effort not to stamp on my phone. And breath. Breath. Breath. Deep breaths. Survivors stay calm. Breath. 

I retrace my steps and find the junction where sat blasted nav seemed uncertain where to go. This time it's very clear. This time it knows exactly where it wants me to go. Oh yeah, great, thanks, just take me on a little detour to junksville for a laugh why don't you? Find that funny huh? Well just wait till I go to Google's headquarters and and and...well it won't be very nice where you're going that's all I can say. Pfffft.

Ponferrada appears to be a town like any other. Cubillos del Sil, the suburb where the bungalows are is, well, not exactly pretty. I don't care at all. We are here. We are alive. I do not have to navigate any more. Thank goodness for that. And relax.

Behind a wire fence the bikes are in a car park surrounded by trees at the site
We are here. Praise be we are here. 

There's no-one here. I don't care, there's a patch of grass there, I'll put the tent there if needs be. I call the number on the door and with Spanglish I figure out someone will be with us in about half an hour. I don't care. That's fine. As long as I don't have to go and blooming well find them I'm cool. 

The chap who runs the campsite arrives. Mid 30s, dark skinned, probably quite handsome in that Spanish way and perfectly friendly. The bungalow is what we would call a chalet, this is perfectly fine too. We pay our bill and he takes our passport details. Apparently passport details are collected by the police? I get the feeling the collection of my name and passport number isn't just about chasing damages or unpaid bills.

We are allowed to put the bikes on the porch or veranda of the chalet, I mean bungalow. Excellent. There's a drip from the water heater and one of the shutters on the windows is stuck but at €30 for the night we surely can't expect perfection can we? It is clean and dry and comfortable and I am no longer trying to find my way here. Sorted.

We work out why the bungalow is cheap. Location location location. We are in the suburbs of a city, there's no beach and there's no countryside. Nor are we in the city, there's no suave bars, there's no museums and no galleries. What there is are trees and clever landscaping to hide the fact we're in somewhere quite uninspiring. To look out of a window we could be anywhere so it works well.

Trees and grass abound around the bungalows hiding very well the town beyond
Excellent landscaping hides the ordinary and industrial town beyond. Clever.

We don't care at all. We have a pleasant bungalow and we have motorcycles to explore with, all for about €7 more than a campsite. 

We have seen a few spots of rain on our visors, otherwise despite my getting lost and turning a 4 hour journey into an 8 hour misadventure we have dodged the rain. It is far easier to be amazed now I've calmed down. We have been incredibly lucky.

The small shop in the small town is very very small on options. We end up with Doritos and 2 overpriced and uninspiring frozen meals for the microwave. After a thorough pinging the meals are, well, edible. It's been a fair old day but all's well that ends well. 


We'd be happy to review your biker friendly accomodation here at Bikes And Travels. All you need to do is invite us! ren@bikesandtravels.com (if you don't ask...you don't get smiley)

Building Up To España In the prologue to their journey Ren can't help but feel that the forthcoming journey might be a costly disaster. Forever the optimist.
Getting Ready For Spain Sharon is determined to be ready, organised and prepared for her forthcoming trip to Spain. However life is even more determined to ruin her plans.
Bodging Daaan Saaaf Ren bears witness to an impossible event. Then there's some last minute bodging to be done.
Motorway Miles And Muses Sharon's derriere proves more than tough enough for the big ride across England. Can she manage to lose them emotional luggage while securing her physical luggage though?
To The Ferry What are the chances of Sharon getting out of bed very early twice in the same week. Well she'd better had otherwise the Muppet's will miss the ferry.
Ocean Blue Sharon's more excited than nervous but this is the first time the Kwakker has been aboard ship. That's if customs let her on board.
Lost Off The Ferry The great adventurer and motorcyclist Ren is proving that he is in fact a useless idiot. He can't ride and he can't find a campsite that is open. Oh what will become of the BAT muppets?
Campsite Conundrum Sharon is having way too much fun while Ren is trying to find a place to sleep. Well someone has to be happy when Ren's such a grump.
Discovering The Picos After a troublesome first day in Spain hopefully Sharon and Ren's luck will improve. Thing is they have a 187km detour to reach their destination. There have been worse detours though.
Heaven's Mirror Putting fear and doubt to bed for a while Sharon enjoys the wondrous ecstasy of nature and the joy of riding a motorcycle through it. Oh and a lot of sharp corners too.
Rain In The Picos Will the rain bring doom and gloom to the already grumpy Ren? Luckily there's enough scenery and interesting things to keep him going.
The Sound Of Silence In spite of a dire weather forecast Sharon's day in Spain is filled with the beauty of nature, fond memories and the creation of great new memories.
Riding to Burgos Is motorcycle touring a non stop stream of excitement, beauty, wonder and exploration? Erm, nope. It's a rather ordinary day on the road to Burgos.
Tin Tin It's both a good and bad day for Sharon as she travels from the delights of the mountains to the grim reality of the city and the rain. At least her hair is looking good.
Higher Than I've Ever Been In spite of the weather forecasts. In spite of no longer being in The Picos. In spite of Ren being a pessimist. In spite of all this it seems Northern Spain has more delights in store.
Boots And Burgos Ren is suffering a footwear malfunction and it's time to go and do that city thing. Can Burgos convert Sharon and Ren into city lovers?
Lost In Luxury How to turn a fortuitous and splendid day into a nightmare. Just follow Ren and he'll sort the rest out. Still, it could be worse.
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