The city of Nice seen from the surrounding hillside bathed in sunshine

Home Travel StoriesNorthern Spain 2018

Sun, Sand, Sea And Santander

By Ren Withnell

Weather huh? We've had a mixed bag all the way around this trip and as we are due to head back to Santander and the ferry the forecast is improving. Bloody typical, it's that Sharon, she's cursed.

The rocky mountain peaks of The Picos De Europa in glorious sun and light cloud
Yeah, great, thanks for showing me this now I'm going home. Pffffft.

In fact, no. I recall my last trip 13 years ago when it was hot hot HOT! Oh man it was hot, lordy it was hot, hell it was HOT. The heat drained me, wasted me and burned me. This time, well OK it would have been ideal for it to have been totally dry but overall it certainly has not been a washout and I'd estimate over 90% of the time it has been good riding weather. Mostly dry, occasionally warm to hot but mostly comfortable in our biking kit. 

As the sun beats down hard this morning I'm not looking forward to putting on my jacket. 

The N621 is open, sort of. We have been informed that it closes in the afternoon during the week for the roadworks and that's what caught us out on our first day in Spain. This being a Saturday morning it should be open. Hopefully.

The Hermida Gorge is impressive. The road winds it's way north from Potes between towering rock faces, trees and rather disconcerting nets to catch falling rocks. My imagination has house sized boulders crashing down on my head, I have to reassure myself the chances of this happening are akin to my winning the lottery, and I don't buy a ticket. 

Steep rock faces, the road through the gorge and the nets to catch falling rocks
WOW! And yikes. The gorge is gorgeous.

What is different today is the traffic. We are flowing with an entourage of cars and a coach, coming in the opposite direction is a constant flood of cars, coaches, trucks and motorcycles, many of them British. We have dealt with traffic aplenty in the larger towns but the countryside has been delightfully peaceful. There have seen other road users but they were few and far between.

Is this the start of the season? Is it because it's a Saturday? Do The Picos suddenly transform from being deserted like The Scottish Highlands to being chaotic like The Lake district overnight? I make a mental note, if we are to return we need to find this out. I wouldn't want to return in mid June or July to find the whole area crawling with nasty horrible tourists. Dammit, I'm a tourist aren't I.

We pass over several road works. From what I can work out several bridges are being upgraded or repaired, some of the netting is being worked on and the road resurfaced too. There's a lot of work to be done and in a very narrow space. Yes, I can see why they have to close the road. 

Soon we're out of the gorge and that's the end of The Picos. We fuel up and hit the motorway east. My focus now is on Santander. I need to find the coast then turn left, that should take us to Cabo Mayor Campsite. I pull in to a motorway services for a brew and to check the maps. It seems almost natural to ask for "tay con letch-ay" and for the counter staff to understand and furnish me with a proper cup of tea.

I've forgotten how big Santander is. I had in my mind a coastal town maybe akin to Southport or Fishgaurd, big enough to get lost in but not daunting and overwhelming. I am daunted and overwhelmed (what is "whelmed"?). Tower blocks, multilane roads, industrial estates, traffic and chaos. I hold firm. As long as I keep on heading to the coast then turn left I'll be fine.

Roundabouts. Traffic lights. 4 lanes of vehicles. Pedestrians. Follow signs for "Centro De La Ciudad". Roundabouts. Junctions. Traffic lights. Through all this I'm fighting the panic and so far I'm winning. I don't understand how this happens but I just know I'm getting close to the coast. I feel the direction not know it.

And there it is! Well I can't actually see the sea but there are no more buildings beyond this point so I figure it's the sea. Now I need to turn left. A handful of junctions later and things start to feel vaguely familiar. I need to check the maps on my phone once then lo and behold! Camping Cabo Mayor is in front of us, it is a miracle!

We get settled in with the tent pitched. The sun is up in a hazy sky and it is getting hot, bloody hot. Inside the tent is stuffy, outside the tent the sun burns the skin and the only relief is within the cool toilets. I'm trying to work out if I'd rather have this or rain. Neither. I laugh to myself, god I'm a miserable git aren't I.

Sharon in the sun posing with the bikes and tent and actually wearing a skirt
It must be hot - Sharon has a skirt on!

The coolest place I can think of is the coast which is a mere few minutes walk from here. Hopefully there will be a cool sea breeze. We saunter past the lighthouse and out onto a promontory. It is still warm but yes, the air that has passed over miles of sea takes the bite out of the heat. 

Looking back from the promontory we see the lighthouse and the sea cliffs
It's just a little cooler out here in the breeze.

We walk a little more and down below the coastal cliffs we see a cove. Golden beach - check, turquoise waters - check, just a few people - check, glorious sun - check. Goodness me it's like we're looking down on an image from a holiday brochure! Beyond the cove is the sprawling metropolis of Santander but we can ignore that from here.

Turquoise waters and golden sands, steep cliffs and a small horseshoe bay in Santander
Oooh look! It's just like the pictures of a holiday brochure.

A long flight of stairs leads us down to the sands. Playa de Matalenas is a haven from the city. Despite this being a warm sun-kissed afternoon the beach is far from overcrowded. Being deep in the cove and by the sea it's a little cooler here too, only a little mind.

I feel like I did when I was a child at the seaside. I have a splash at the water's edge and Sharon joins me. Then I'm reminded I'm an adult with a history. Why? Without my orthotic shoe I can walk but it's uncomfortable. I remember the young boy with 2 legs the same length, he never even noticed. I'm sad for a brief moment then I imagine how this might (not) work if I had no leg. Shut up Ren, you're a lucky sod if ever there was one.

Sand, you can never ever ever get all the sand off your feet before you put your socks back on. Experience tells me this sand will still be haunting me long after I get back home and get back to work. Great.

As we breathlessly reach the top of the cliff from the beach we lean against a wall for a moment. A gentleman, grey of hair, stout of stature with a healthy complexion beneath his white beard nervously approaches us. "Des-kul-pay, ab-lar eeeng-lazy?" He sounds like myself when I'm trying to speak Spanish. I...I bet he's English.

Mike is indeed English and I sense his relief that we are too. He wants to know if we can help him find the Cabo Mayor Campsite. Well, today is your lucky day! Follow us sir, Mike is making his way home after "doing" the Santiago pilgrimage.

As we walk back to the site with Mike I take this opportunity to grill him regarding the pilgrimage. He regales us with tales varying from spiritual awakenings to drunken antics, from foot sore days to flirting with young ladies a third his age, from the peaceful solitude of travel to the joy of new friends. It's been an adventure in many forms.

He's an old chap is Mike but he's as fit as a fiddle. He's not religious, the modern pilgrimage doesn't require that although I feel he is at least soulful if not spiritual. He's already lived a globetrotting life of work related adventure and now in his retirement the Santiago Pilgrimage is a cheap yet challenging way of staying engaged. He's not ready to curl up and die quietly just yet thank you.

We share a brew and later a glass of pop. He's on his way home but his ferry is not for a couple more days and even beyond this he has no way of getting across England and back home. He'll work it out, he's a big boy now.

It's time for bed. The sun has gone down and the air has cooled to an acceptable level. With thoughts of walking across Northern Spain and sleeping in cheap hostels on my mind I drift off.

Sharon smiling at the camera in the tent in Santander Cabo De Mayor Camping
Bedtime Madam. Much to do tomorrow.

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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

Rod said :-
Thanks Ren for continuing to write up of the Spain trip. I am enjoying the write up and look forward to the next posts from yourself and Sharon.
Santander is a confusing town for historical reasons.
The modern tower blocks are built on an ancient footprint. In 1941 Santander suffered a massive fire which burned for two weeks and involved 72000 fire fighters. After much of the town centre was destroyed pressure came from General Franco to rebuild quickly, as many people were homeless.
This resulted in not having enough time to plan the rebuild on a modern grid system, and the planners used the old footprint for much of the reconstruction.
General Franco remained popular for many years in Santander, and Santander was the last town to remove a statue of Franco in 2008.
10/08/2018 04:08:01 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
I've had a little read up on the fire Rod. Crikey that was a proper blaze. Only one person died - a fireman crushed by a collapsing will. It is remarkable many more did not perish.

I know very little about the Spanish Civil War or Franco. I really ought to learn a little more about the history if for no other reason than to avoid a social faux pas when I return. I am interested beyond that motive too.

Useful stuff Rod. I see it as just another city but every city has a story to tell, perhaps if I knew a little more it could bring the city to life a little. Thanks.
10/08/2018 07:41:13 UTC

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