Camchain and tensioner seen up close in a cutaway bike engine

Home Travel StoriesNorthern Spain 2018

Lost Off The Ferry

By Ren Withnell

I have slept and I have slept well. I'm up early though. I wander and I ponder and I sit and I wander. Sharon gets up and we decide to go mad and pay (a lot(£8.90)) for a full breakfast. This passes another hour. I trouble the ex-servicemen a while then bother Sharon then sit and look at the sea then sit and watch the news on the lounge TV. It's 1130. We don't dock until 1415. 

A distant ship way across on the horizon can just be made out
Ooooh look! Another ship...

With an hour to go I'm preparing. I'm trying to burn the map of the port and surrounding area into my brain. I must avoid the motorway south as it's a toll motorway and that will never do. I would like to get to Burgos which is, as you'd expect, south. I could attempt to ride through the city of Bilbao though I believe it would be easier to knit with chewing gum.

I must absolutely remember to ride on the wrong side of the road. 

Remember the bikes were strapped down by the ferry staff? Good job really. They've squashed the bikes in so closely the front wheel of the bike behind mine is pulling on my number plate but it has survived, unlike the plate of another rider which has split and cracked around the fixing nuts. The deckhands are applying clear heavy duty tape while an official looking chap makes notes. 

The motorcycles are squashed into a corner on the ferry
They pack 'em in tight on the ferry.

Please beware how your bike is stowed. Don't let them put your bike or the people around you's bikes into a position where damage may occur. Be polite but firm. No major harm done and the owner seems happy to accept it as "one of them things".

Keep to the right, keep to the right. The last time I got off a ferry into Spain was the first time I'd ever ridden on the right. I now have a little more experience yet it still disorientates me greatly. 

Wait what eh? The map I have burned into my head has been unloaded between the fluster of getting off the ferry and saying repeatedly to myself "Ride on the right ride on the right." I have zero understanding of where I am, where I am supposed to be going or any sense of direction. I flap and panic internally, eternally I remain stoic. I keep to the right and turn right at the first roundabout. I feel safer keeping right.

I appear to be on a large gas or oil facility. I have Sharon behind me, that's good. I have no idea what the speed limit is. That's bad, I slow to 30kmh (not mph, kmh) to be safe. I also appear to have the ex-servicemen behind me. That's embarrassing. I'm Ren from Bikes And Travels, the great wanderer, explorer and adventurer. Here I am riding like a novice doing his CBT in a car park. After reading horror stories of big fines for speeding I dare not speed up.

This goes on for a mile or so until I spot a sign for Zierbena, I remember that name at least from the maps. I take the turn and thankfully the ex-servicemen carry on. Oh the shame. 

I spot a car park and park up simply to collect myself, my thoughts and my ego, what's left of it. There is something different though. I have experienced this before so I know it is normal for me, I know it's not a major disaster, I know I will recover and life will go on. It's not the dignified and confident start I was hoping for but we are unharmed and the bikes are fine, these always the most important things.

Come on Ren, we can do better than this. I consult the maps and formulate a plan. Up this road, through Muskiz, onto Balmaseda then Santecilla. I shall then re-consult the maps for further instructions. I get to Sopuerta and carry on. This road becomes incredibly twisty, I wonder how Sharon's coping - oh there she is, she's doing fine. Then I find I'm back up towards the blasted coast and looking at the A8 motorway.

Think Ren think! 

I've taken a wrong turn. I could try and head back through the country towards Burgos but the roads are all narrow and it's already 1545. It's a fair ride to Burgos. Plan B? Potes has a campsite that's been recommended to us and it's in The Picos. All I need to do is follow the A8 to junction 272 and head left. Stuff it, we're going to Potes.

The motorway is fine. It takes a while before 272 arrives and we fill up just off the motorway junction. We then hit the N621.

Oh I say! Once we've cleared a couple of towns and my head is starting to adjust to everything being on the wrong side - the road opens up to some rather pleasing bends amidst green hills. Maybe them there Picos thingies might be alright after all. I do hope so. Potes ought not to be too far away now. I want to get the tent pitched, find some food and settle in, calm myself and relax.

The hills get steeper and larger. The road gets twistier. Before long we are riding though a gorge with towering rock faces on either side and glimpses of a river down below. I'm reminded of Cheddar Gorge but this is longer and larger. This is delightful.

Rocky and steep the road to Potes is down in the bottom of the gorge
Oh this is nice. I do hope The Picos is all this good.

Ah - roadworks ahead. I slow down to a stop. A workman has closed the road, I guess they'll be moving a truck or dragging something across the lane. No problem, we can wait. There's one car in front of us and as we wait 2 more arrive behind. I get off the bike.

Several minutes later I approach the worked. "Que esta?" I think I'm asking something although I don't know what. I recognise one word in his garbled, mumbled reply - "Cerrado". Oh poop, that means closed.

With the help of another driver, some gesticulation and mixed Spanglish I work out the road is closed and staying closed. There is apparently a campsite back up on the coast, about 25km back from whence we've just come from. Urgh. Bummer. It is now 1800 and I really want to be chilling out by now.

Trucks and roadworks in the majestic setting of the gorge
Dammit! What a beautiful place to close a road huh?

Downbeaten and disheartened we return. It takes several tired attempts and a large detour until we find the campsite. It's closed. The man hanging around the site manages with my limited Spanish to tell me there's another one along the coast. Urgh. Bummer. It is now 1930

Another wrong turn, a bit of motorway and eventually we're in La Franca. This campsite too is firmly shut. Oh for crying out load! Google maps points us to another one just down the road. I leave Sharon to go and look. Closed. Blast. Damn. Poop. Argh! What the hell are we to do? It is now 2045.

Back with Sharon a chap is exiting the second closed campsite. He explains the season starts on June the 1st and we're welcome to return then. Yeah, great, that's really helpful thanks. Today is the 24th of May.

I talk to Sharon. We are tired. We are hungry. We are in a pickle. I can see us spending a cold and hungry night trying to sleep in our bike kit under that tree over there. We discuss the hotel down the road, that's at least 65 euros a night. I do seem to recall some kind of hotel back up the road. Urgh, let us go and see. It's now 2115.

La Parra. Despite it's grand title of a restaurant hotel the car park is vast and several large lorries suggest this is more of a truck stop than a salubrious suave Spanish Ritz. However at €40 for the night it is...affordable given our current predicament. This will have to do.

"Los Motos, Bien aqui?" 
"Blah blah mumble blah - Gar-ah-he - blah mumble blah". I think I heard something that sounds like garage in there. We are pointed to an open large garage across the parking area, we ride the bikes in there. Within we find a couple of cars and remarkably a small collection of motorcycles! Well this is working out OK isn't it.

The garage under a house, circled in red, on a large vast area with lorries on it
The accomodation for the bikes is very nice.
Inside the garage is smart and spacious with several other motorcycles inside
The bikes are in good company this evening too.

As we lock up a Mercedes rolls into the garage. A man, probably in his 60s gets out. I'm expecting a tirade in Spanish that will probably translate into "What the hell are you random people doing parking your bikes in my big garage!!" Nope. He barely registers any interest save to mumble more Spanish with the word "ocho" in there several times. I figure the garage will be locked and we can gain access after 0800?

Back at the hotel I notice a wall with pictures of rally cars and racing motorcycles upon it, kind of like a memory board. Here's my thinking. The pictures appear to be from the 60s 70s or 80s. The chap in the pictures could be the younger version of the chap in the garage. Somehow the garage, the chap, the motorcycles in the garage and this wall in the hotel are all connected.

A collection of pictures and parts from motorsport on the wall of the hotel
I think someone was a racer in his younger days. 

The room is fine, actually it's perfectly fine. Clean, en-suite and spacious. We share a pizza for tea and have a coke. This is not at all what we had planned or expected and yet the bikes are in a garage, our accommodation is very comfortable and we are in good health. It's not what we planned but we are perfectly fine and dandy, that's what matters.

Oh and one other positive. It's been a grey day here in Spain but - I whisper this quietly - there have been a couple of spots on the visors but it's not rained. Shhhhhhh...!

Tell the BAT readers about your bike, your trip or your motorcycling tips. Contact

Building Up To EspaƱa 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.?
Splish Splash Santander The beauty and grandeur of the The Picos means Sharon does not want to leave, ever. It's back to the city, ready to sail home. Fear not, there's still pleasures to be found.
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.

Reader's Comments

Ian Soady said :-
That made me laugh. Despite my vast(?) experience of continental bike travel, the time I used the ferry to get to Spain & the Pyrenees I had a similar experience.

I happened to be first off the ferry on the mighty Norton Commando and set off in fine style. I was navigating via a map in the top of the tank bag and knew I should be heading for St somewhere - unfortunately it was on a fold of the map so couldn't see the full name. Anyway a couple of miles out of Bilbao I saw signs to St Something so assumed I was on the right track as I thundered through the countryside vaguely wondering why the gaggle of GSXRs and R1s whose riders had told me they were also making for the Pyrenees hadn't shot past me.

After about 20 miles it struck me that as the Pyrenees were to the east, I should be seeing the Bay of Biscay to my left. So why was it glinting at me over the right hand side of the bars?

Of course I was going in entirely the wrong direction so had to turn round and retrace my wheeltracks. But it was a nice sunny day and I found a decent hotel near Pamplona so not wasted time.

I had a compass fitted to the Triumph Tiger and it was very handy but unfortunately won't work with steel petrol tanks.

One day I'll tell you how I navigated through the centre of Turin by keeping the sun on my left.....

Keep the tales coming as I love to hear about other people's unfortunate experiences......
14/06/2018 04:26:36 UTC
Bill said :-
Ian your story reminded me of
Traveling in Germany pre sat nav days with direction in tank bag top.
Directions said head to Saint somewhere and left at T junction, arrived at Saint somewhere several laps of the village later still no T junction . Finally spotted a local took the map to him and lots of pointing (as I have no German and he had no English) after some more pointing and arm waving the penny dropped. We were in Saint somewhere in the valley we should of been Saint somewhere on the hill almost 100 KLM away so now a long ride back to the fork in the road where we should of gone right not left to the place with the same name.
Also remember a T junction in southern Ireland where both left and right were signposted to the same place :-)
14/06/2018 08:39:08 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
I'm glad it's not just me then.

I do have my mobile phone that "does" navigation and does it acceptably well. There's 2 reasons why I don't use it ALL the time.

Firstly despite my regular cock-ups I am actually quite good at navigation. It is a skill I have developed over the years. As Ian suggests I use pointers like the sun (if it bothers to show) as well as instinct. If I always used sat nav I'd lose these skills.

Secondly my set up to use the phone as sat nav is "sub optimal". Because I don't use it all the time I haven't made the effort to get things just right. I have a cheap zip up case on the bars and if it's raining despite its claims it's not waterproof. I've no power to the case either so the phone only lasts about half an hour.

I'm still resistant to sat nav. Maybe I'm being old school and stupid. Maybe I find it distracting. Maybe...maybe it's just too easy and I like making life hard for myself. Maybe I'll get over it.
15/06/2018 07:31:20 UTC
Bill said :-
Ren there is no such thing as getting lost, it is just a visit to places you did not know in advance you were going to visit. Some of the best biking roads and places I have found have often been by accident.
15/06/2018 01:59:32 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
I often tell Sharon there's no such thing as lost. You might not find the most efficient route and discover some amazing places by accident though.

I found the French Alps by getting lost. That was quite a discovery.
15/06/2018 04:24:28 UTC

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