Travel StoriesNorthern Spain 2018
Discovering The Picos
By Ren Withnell
Yesterday, well yesterday certainly did not pan out the way I had hoped. However this room is comfortable, there's wifi and all is well. I need to formulate a good solid plan today. Why do I need a good solid plan? Well without a good solid plan how can it all go horribly wrong?
It seems the N621 which would swiftly sweep us down to Potes and the campsite that was recommend to us is closed. I stare at Google maps. I need to head 45km west to Santianes. Then take the N634 south to Coviella. Then take the N625 to Riaño before picking up the other side of the N621 to take us to Potes.
This is a 187km detour. There appears to be a shorter route through the hills but I fear we'll just get lost and end up having to be rescued. At least this way I think, I hope, there is a chance we can achieve our objective. The shorter route is not much shorter anyhow.
The campsite should be open. Our friends were there last week but in the interest of being thorough we check out the webite. I also check out another campsite in the same locality, that appears to be open. I also ensure there's a few hotels in Potes just in case. Pfffft. It seems it's only the coastal campsites are closed, these inland ones appear to be open from around Easter.
Will we be able to get our bikes out of the "ga-ra-he"? The lady on reception looks the same as the one last night...but slightly different. In Spanglish we manage to understand that they are sisters. She comes outside with us and opens the garage with a remote control, within are our motorcycles. They too have had a comfortable night and even socialised with the other bikes in there.
Yeah. We struck lucky here.
This morning the clouds are grey and misty. If one weather forecast is to be believed then we're going to require a boat, if another forecast is to be believed we may possibly need sunglasses. If you don't like the weather forecast for Spain then shop around, there's plenty of them and they're all different.
Hardly the blue skies as featured in holiday brochures.
We ride out the garage onto the main road and almost immediately onto the motorway. By some luck we're even going in the correct direction. The miles, sorry kilometres, roll by. Today I work out the motorway junctions are not numbered sequentially like ours but by the number of kilometres they are along the motorway. If you get on at junction 155 and you hope to come off at junction 200 you have 45 kilometres to ride. You might have to do some subtraction if you're travelling in the opposite direction. Very very sensible.
Things are going well, which worries me. I have exited the motorway at the correct point. We have seen some large hills as we travelled the motorway and now we appear to be in them. This lush green Yorkshire Dales type farmland very quickly gives way to more angular, steep and rocky features. This comes complete with some interesting and enjoyable bends in the road. Golly, I hope The Picos is all like this.
The weather isn't ideal but the scenery is improving with each mile.
N625 To Cangas De something or other, that's our turning. Right ok good, if I can get to Reyno, Riena, Regina or whatever it's called then we're cooking on gas. We've managed 65km and I am still not yet officially lost.
These hills are bigger. Most are covered in dense forestry, there's the odd valley floor with a few cattle grazing and a selection of monolithic grey rocky outcrops appear more and more regularly. I'm reminded of The Lake District without the hoards of cars and fell walkers. Oh, we're on the wrong side of the road too. Strangely I seem to manage being all wrong well today. The mist seems to be clearing slowly.
I think I want to stop for a drink and to soak this all in rather than pass through it. If I don't get lost we'll cover 187km today. That's what, erm, about 120 miles, probably less. Yeah, time should be on our side I reckon. I spy a small cafe bar, they're very common here in Spain and I pull in. This is Puente de Vega, it is beautiful and quite Spanish.
The weather is improving and so are our surroundings.
The young chap behind the bar is handsome, enthusiastic and most welcoming. He speaks a little more English than I Spanish and helps me with a few words. I order 2 bottles of Coke and join Sharon outside in the shade of a parasol. Yes, the sun is shining. I might even venture to say it is...well...warm?
I find it most peculiar and fascinating to hear a short stout elderly farmer type chap, smoking outside and sipping a small beer, talk to another man in Spanish. I recognise the occasional word but otherwise their conversation is gobbledegook. Logically I understand how this works yet my mind screams "How can this be!"
"I think this is a lovely road sweetie."
This road is spectacular. The hills. The mountains. The corners. The lack of traffic. The scenery. We sweep and curve and rise and fall and then it happens.
Stunning, fabulous, glorious, wonderful, amazing.
I'm not breaking the 90kmh limit, I don't need to. I am carving around sharp corners, the sort of corners on the kind of road that everyone talks about. You know - The Grossglockner Pass, The Stelvio Pass, Transfagara?an Highway, those sort of places. I'm not in The Alps or Norway or Romania, I'm in Northern Spain.
Tip the bike in, monitor the radius, feel the tyres bite the road, feather the throttle - ooh a dab on the rear it's sharper than I thought, see the exit, roll on the power, line up for the next, tip the bike in... Sharon is nowhere to be seen but that next corner looks so very very inviting. Here I go again!
At the next short straight I ease off to allow Sharon to catch up. She'll be a while - oh! Nope, there she is. She isn't keeping up with me or matching my pace but I estimate she's but a mere fraction of a second off through each corner, that is all. This continues for some miles - I mean kilometres.
Wiggly? I'd say so. Absolutely delightful.
I wonder how Sharon feels about this? She was worried about taking on the notorious Applecross pass last year but she managed that without incident. She's been terrified by some horrible switchbacks in the past. These corners, well they're different. They are sharp but not full on switchbacks or hairpins. You could, with a great deal of effort, get an articulated lorry through.
I pull in for a breather and to allow Sharon to rest. She is in a state of mixed emotions. She is in awe due to our surroundings, she is in shock due to the sharp bends, she is thrilled to have taken on the bends and taken them on well and she is so happy just be have the opportunity to be here and do this. We sip some water then carry on.
Oh my goodness gracious me! I absolutely have to find somewhere to stop! Ahhh, there we go.
Stunning, fabulous, glorious, wonderful, amazing.
It is hard to believe I am seeing this in the flesh.
We see this kind of scenery when we watch TV programs. We see this kind of scenery when we see other traveller's facebook and blog posts. We see this kind of scenery used to advertise things. We never expected to see it for ourselves. This kind of scenery is unreal, it lives in the world of "other people" and photoshopped marketing not our world of work and traffic and ordinary mundane life.
And yet here it is, before us, real reality not virtual reality, in our eyes not via a screen. Odd. I am seeing it yet I am struggling to accept it is here before me in full 3d genuine perfection. Weird.
I've not seen anything like this in Manchester.
After a thousand corners Riaño comes into view, I daresay I'm almost thankful for the rest. It seems to be a small place but Google maps tells me there's a fuel station here.
I have read a story on Facebook regarding a gentleman being fined for crossing a solid white line in the centre of the road to turn across the carriageway to access a petrol station. As I approach this station there is a solid white line in the centre of the road. Oh poop. A hundred metres later I spot a short section, very short section, of broken white line to access a small industrial estate. I use this to turn around.
Here in Spain it seems the old ways are still going. No self service here. This is the second time we've had the bikes filled for us and this young man is happy, enthusiastic and joyfully willing. I pay inside then ask him "Potes?" pointing up the road.
"Si, si! blah blah blah blah blah blah!!" as he enthusiastically and wildly gesticulates in the same direction. I think he's telling me yes, straight on, keep on going. I leave with a large smile on my face. He's the second delightful and keen young man we've met today.
We're now on the N621. More bends. More dramatic vistas. We approach an old worn out car moving slowly in the opposite direction. The sullen driver gesticulates for us to slow down. We do. A quarter kilometre further I observe a herd of cattle upon the road. I stop and wait for them to pass as they are driven on by people both young and old, male and female. I get the sense this is a family or small community moving their stock from the lowlands to the highlands as summer approaches. I'm guessing.
We don't see this in Manchester that often too.
They've come a long way. For many more kilometres I have to reign in my exuberant riding due to the risk of a cow pat on my line. I want to be cross because they've spoiled my fun but this is Spain. Maybe things are done differently here, maybe I don't own the road, maybe this is their land and their life. Whoa! That's a big old cow turd right there.
After the cattle poop has disappeared the road surface changes from a light orange stone colour to a darker smoother blacker tarmac. I think we've crossed a political boundary. This makes the cornering even better.
We need to stop again. I'm not tired or bored or saddle sore. There's simply too much to take in. The road, the bends, the views, the mountains, it's all too much to rush through. I want to absorb it, revel in it and bathe in it.
There is far too much to see at speed.
There's somewhere to stop on a sharp corner with some weird kind of deer statue. There's also a couple of other bikers there. The reg plates are familiar, they're English. There's been very little traffic indeed along here though there have been a few bikes and from what I've glimpsed of their reg plates they've all been British.
There's 2 ladies, one on an MT07 and the other a Street Triple. They're younger than us and I sense they're close friends. There's a couple 2-up on a large KTM adventure machine, they're almost regulars here. A few other Brit bikers come and go in the 20 minutes we spend there.
Here I am over 1,000 miles from home. I'm on an adventure, I'm exploring and doing something few other bikers do. Well. Except. Apart from all the other bikers that we pass on the road and the several that we meet on this little layby and the ones that all told me to come to The Picos. I feel like I'm a million miles from home and yet I feel as though I'm just around the corner from home. I don't even need to speak Spanish. Pffffft.
We get the Brits to take our picture.
More amazing bends, more perfect tarmac and the now omnipresent spectacular countryside is absorbed. I breath it all in as deeply as I can trying to squeeze every milligram of pleasure from this. As the road approaches Potes it eases into a gentle flow. I have a quiet word with myself.
These moments are rare. Like millions of other people my life is primarily a mix of ordinary roads with fair scenery, work and domestic duties, everyday issues and problems to be solved. I have a fine life and I am fortunate but moments like these, the exquisite blissful moments, are still rare.
I'm actually spoiling the moment by trying too hard to revel in it too much.
Potes is bustling but small enough to keep its character and remain undaunting. I stop in a supermarket car park to consult the maps then we're on our way once more.
The lady in the campsite reception is friendly, slightly older and she has the most ridiculous eye lashes, I can't stop looking at them. Unlike the UK our passports are recorded but no payment is taken, that is to be done when we leave. I figure if they have our passport details and we depart without payment we can be tracked down like Harrison Ford in The Fugitive. I need to control my imagination.
Bliss. The campsite is open. The sun is shining and while it's a little sticky it's not uncomfortably hot. I did not get us lost. I now know where the supermarket is for tonight's tea. The campsite is high quality and our surroundings are striking. Today has been a good day. That is something of an understatement.
We're here and the tent is up. Sorted.
We hop onto my bike to return to the supermarket, it's a little too far to walk. As we hunt for a meal we can cook with one stove and 2 pans I share a concern with Sharon. I think today has ruined the rest of our holiday. We have seen scenery to compare with The Alps and The Highlands, I could not choose which is best. We have enjoyed roads that are the equal, possibly better than The Highlands. We have had perfect weather - not too hot or too cold.
Anything after today must surely be an anticlimax.
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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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
martin said :-
I have followed your Spanish trip with great interest, great roads and scenery. Interesting pics too. Your writing style is very entertaining, I will look forward to reading more.
17/6/2018 9:32:10 PM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Cheers martin. It is good to see that people read this and enjoy it. The travelogues aren't asking questions or seeking opinions and as such they don't elicit many comments. This often leaves me wondering if people do read them so thank you.
18/6/2018 6:50:52 AM UTC
Henrik said :-
Lack of response can be a little un-motivating, so just wanted to say I am starting to read up more in detail, and on the latest articles as well, thanks for this one, good to hear you had a nice trip overall, got no idea if I will ever make it to Spain myself, so nice to read about it, if nothing else, certainly not last on my list, but also not first :-)
29/7/2018 7:16:27 AM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Thanks Henrik. I'm glad to know someone is reading my writing too!
30/7/2018 7:04:42 AM UTC
Shepherd said :-
Another lurker making his way through your travel blog Ren, and it's kept me entertained whilst I sit in a Bulgarian hotel room wishing the Sun would disappear and leave some snow to ski on !
So, your travel stories are read by a lot more people than those who let you know.
A great read, albeit a little later than it was published ... I'm catching up though :-)
10/3/2019 2:41:18 PM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Thanks Shepherd. What a conundrum! I spend all year wishing the sun would come out and there's you begging for it to remain hidden. I would think Bulgaria is warming up right now so I'd just ski in the grass, make the most of it.
10/3/2019 7:31:21 PM UTC
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Travel StoriesNorthern Spain 2018