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Home Travel StoriesNorthern Spain 2018

Gritty Northern El Bierzo

By Ren Withnell.

This here lodge, I mean chalet, I mean bungalow is lovely. If I'd paid €60 for the night I might grumble about the drip from the water heater, or the fact there's crockery and cutlery but no pans, or the stuck shutter that Sharon's now fixed. Even then I'd be splitting hairs. For €30 it's great value. 

Ren's Honda 500 on the veranda of the bungalow at Cubillos del Sil
Life is hard on the road, really really hard.

As such I seek out the owner. He's nowhere to be found but I recognise a chap he was talking to yesterday and enquire. He speaks zero English but is friendly and willing. He understands "ooooh-no notch-ay mass?" enough to summon the owner via phone. The owner arrives bringing his smile, polite manners and an updated receipt.

This slow travel is really working for us both. Many people stop a night then move on, stop a night then move on. We too used to do this. I, we, were trying to fit as much as possible into the short holidays we have. All we achieved was a relentless melee of packing and unpacking, finding food and trial by endurance of motorcycle mileage. 

This time we've stopped 2 nights in Potes, 3 nights in Burgos and now 2 nights in Ponferrada. We have time to breath, to explore and to enjoy rather than endure. I'm not ready for the whole 2 weeks on a resort kind of holiday yet but I think I've found my pace and hopefully Sharon's too.

Sharon being Sharon is doing Sharon things. I don't understand but it involves hair and clothes and "stuff". Years have taught me it's better to be elsewhere before I get bored so I jump on the bike and head into Ponferrada to get some shopping. 

The mall is big and the hypermarket is huge. If you think Tesco and Asda are trying to cash in with clothing and electricals alongside food then you should see Spanish hypermarkets. Camping kit, car spares, beach things (there's no beach for miles), furniture and so on and so on and so on. It's hard to find the food. 

Back at the bungalow Sharon's ready and a little worried. She'd figured maybe 30-45 minutes not the hour and a half I've been gone. Wow! I didn't realise, sorry. It really is a very big hypermarket.

Ponferrada is not a pretty town, not from what I've seen of the suburbs at least. It feels industrial and hard working, gritty and faded, it feels like Manchester I guess. The Sierra Ancares range of hills (and mountains?) hasn't been brought to my attention either so I figure it plays second fiddle to The Picos. I'm not expecting much but we're here so we might as well go look see.

From our site at Cubillos del Sil the start of our ride is in an industrial setting that is, shall we say, tired and aged. I'm reminded of East Lancashire because while there is life and industry, there is also distinct lack of investment. 

Once we're out of the suburbs I am relieved to find the road climbing into the hills once again. The hills mark the return of the bends and corners once again and I pitch in once again to indulge myself once again. The scenery is not the best we've seen which means I can focus on the next corner. And the next. And the next. 

Another quiet if slightly scruffy and unkempt town offers the chance to fill the bikes with fuel. I'm rather enjoying having the tanks filled by someone else. The staff are mostly young folks and so far we've seen no teenage angst or sullen faces just smiles and courteous, often enthusiastic service. They all seem to want to engage with these 2 British bikers, this young man rides his own motorcycle and helps me with my Spanish. 

An ordinary petrol station in Northern Spain
Bit of go-go juice for the motorcycles with friendly service.

We're under no time pressures today and I've not planned a big route, I've barely planned a route at all. So as we saunter into Lillo del Bierzo I take a random side road just to see where it leads. A church, open fields, 4 storey apartment blocks, and concrete lampposts. Old and new, smart and scruffy, clean and dirty, green and grey, big and small, beauty and ugly. Spain is a mixing pot.

A montage of green fields, old church, 4 storey apartments and a concrete lampost
These images are all taken from the same spot.

I don't know how but we're on the LE4212. This leads into the hills once again and the associated joyous roads. Steep hillsides covered in trees - check. Empty road with thrilling corners - check. Grey skies but no rain - check. A smile on my face - check. 

The landscape, the geography, the feel of our surroundings is different from The Picos De Europa and The Sierra De La Demanda. The trees and the good roads remain but the snow capped rocky mountains are gone. I'm perfectly happy riding here I'm just consciously aware it lacks that little extra spice.

A road cuts along the side of a steep hill covered in hardy trees and scrub
Entertaining roads with tough hard scenery.

The LE4212 leads to the LE4225, another good road. We slow as we approach a cluster of houses then negotiate the narrow lane between the haphazard buildings. It's a struggle to work out which way to go because the broken road looks much the same as the broken driveways. I must have taken a wrong turn, we appear to be on a single track road that's leading into a farmyard. Dammit!

The, well yeah I suppose it is, the road is continues. I have accidentally chosen a route through the village and not a farmyard. Beyond the small hamlet of Anllarinos del Sil the road returns to normal. How surreal.

A stone and wood house that's falling apart and ramshackle by the side of the road
"Sharon! I've found us a house. Just needs a lick of paint."

More by luck than skill the LE4225 continues through hardy countryside and hills and rejoins the LE711 then soon the CL631. By heading south this should lead us straight back to our bungalow.

The CL631 takes us through the countryside. This is hard countryside. The land either side of the road is covered in sharp rough grasses and spiky shrubs. The hills are vast with little agriculture just more resilient scrubland and hardy trees. Here and there mankind has gouged huge quarries and reshaped the landscape. Our skies are heavy and grey yet I don't feel like the rain is coming soon. This is actually good riding weather, comfortably warm and dry.

We finally approach the far reaches of the conurbations around Ponferrada. It's not pretty. We ride by faded shops, small apartment blocks and shuttered buildings that offer no suggestion to their employment. We stop in one town in search of tonight's tea, all we find is concrete and tarmac, characterless buildings and curious stares from the locals under the sun bleached awning of a cafe.

Plain brick and concrete buildings, some stairs that have collapsed
I'm not liking the stairs to this place, otherwise...?

A short stretch of motorway soon sees us back at the bungalow.

I hope I've not given the wrong impression of this area or of our ride today. We may not have ridden to the top of a mountain, revelled in the perfection of nature or sauntered through perfect quaint villages. We have enjoyed more great roads with a panorama that is gritty and sometimes industrial. We've peeped behind the tourist facade. It might not always be beautiful, but I always find it fascinating.

Today hasn't been "the best". Today has been worthwhile. 


If you'd like to advertise on Bikes And Travels contact ren@bikesandtravels.com

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.
Magical Kingdom Sharon's having another amazing day riding around Northern Spain. She's on a high, metaphorically and literally.
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?
Burgos Bimble Sharon explores the city of Burgos, Spain. Architecture, stone masonry, pilgrims and tempting food. But can a city really endear itself to this country girl?
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.
Dam Lost Fearing the weather Sharon is braced for a drenching. Thing is the weather isn't really the problem.
Gritty Northern El Bierzo There's time to explore a different part of Northern Spain today. It might not have the beauty of The Picos De Europa it is however a fascinating area.
Blink Of An Eye Sharon has an interesting day poking around north west Spain. There's a something of a shock in store for the evening.
Back To Beauty, Dodgy Caravan It's time for the dynamic muppets to saunter their way back towards the ferry and Ren is in reflective mood. Wonderful scenery, weird accommodation.
The Good, The Bad And The Musty It's a day of confusing emotions for Sharon, but life is for living. Will this evening's accommodation be as luxurious as the previous evening's?
Beautiful Potes While going to a now familiar town is hardly intrepid at least it means Ren is calm, chilled out and not lost. For once.
Head In The Clouds Sharon is calmed by the wonders of Northern Spain's wondrous scenery as she returns to the comforts of Potes.
Sun, Sand, Sea And Santander The weather has improved now it's time for the dynamic muppets to head back to the ferry. Ren is intrigued by stories or walking across Northern Spain, will we see "Walks And Travels" or W.A.T.?
The Ferry Home It's the dynamic muppet's last day in Spain so it's time to catch the ferry. A mixture of sadness and relief for Ren, but what about the other riders in the queue?
Final Thoughts On Spain Ren crosses the T's and dots the I's on the Spanish trip.
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