Sunday, 27 April 2014


It is not unusual for the question of why we undertake these journeys to be mooted. Although for many the answer is simply that we are quite mad or masochistic, I like to think this is not the only reason, although I accept that a level of insanity is probably a prerequisite.
It is probably the journey itself which is the attraction; the never knowing where the day will end; the physical challenge of unknown terrain; the comradeship which accompanies the necessary self –reliance; the many and varied people we meet on the way; the satisfaction of finishing what you have begun. And most of all we are grateful for the fact that our health continues to allow us to participate in an activity that we so thoroughly enjoy.   
All three of the journeys we have made have been immensely satisfying but also very different. The first was very long and required a good deal of steely commitment; the second was physically less challenging as following rivers tends to be quite flat, but it took us into new areas of Europe and ended with an intimate acquaintance with the health service provision in Hungary! And this final one has certainly been the shortest but physically the most demanding in view of the crumpled nature of the topography of Northern Spain. (Hills, hills and even the odd mountain).
We have been privileged to visit some of the most beautiful cities in Europe and to traverse diverse and stunning landscapes. We have received an unprecedented education in history, geography and cross cultural understanding in a very practical way. Riding a bike has given us the freedom to simply stop and explore aspects of nature, culture and the kindness of many nationalities. We look forward to planning and undertaking further little expeditions for as long as our health and strength will allow. Methinks I will take a slightly close look at the geography of the next one and make sure that my ‘granny gear’ is functioning!

It would be gratifying if you, dear reader, would join us for the next venture so watch this space and many, many thanks for all your supportive comments.

The Final, Final Day

Santiago – Airport car park.
Just when you think it is all over you discover there is more to come. Despite attempting to enjoy a slightly more casual approach to the morning, our internal alarm clocks were so finely tuned that by 0630 we were both awake and with nothing better to do, roused ourselves for the last packing session and the final short ride to collect the car. What could be simpler! Quite a lot it would seem. We were pretty certain of our route out of the city even though we knew we would be competing with the rush hour traffic which, I have to say, was very patient, stuck, as it was, behind two slow moving bikes and trailers and with few opportunities to overtake without serious risk of collision with oncoming vehicles. It was, therefore, with some relief that we stopped at a set of traffic lights in the hope of regaining some lost oxygen. Relief which was swiftly erased as Al found his right foot firmly attached to his pedal! Normally this would be a good thing, but not when one is trying to dismount!  Hopping on his free foot, and after much ankle twisting and pulling, he finally gave up the struggle and relinquished the shoe to the pedal. Now in one very fetching stockinged foot, but thankfully clear of the road, he resorted to various small tool devices to gently release the cleat but, as is often the case, brute force was the only answer and with a final hefty yank, the pedal finally gave up its hold on the shoe. Now that it was visible, the problem was obvious; a screw was missing and thus the cleat was in permanent swivel mode. With only ten kilometres to go it was well within the ability of Mr. Improvisation, to carry on using the flat side of the pedal. Thus, we continued our exit of Santiago and faced our final hill challenge, which we completed without resorting to pushing!
Sweating and smelly, we found the car waiting for us. The very last chore now was to load equipment and finally hoist the bikes onto the bike rack. With the loading complete, Al commented, “I’ll plug in the electrics before fixing the rack ‘cos it’s easier,” “Can you fetch me the adapter, please.” “Right ho.”
A rapid, but thorough search of the glove box produced many gadgets………but not the adapter! And no amount of hunting in less obvious places revealed  this vital implement.
“Oh, bother.” Now I have to say this was not the actual phrase voiced but it was delivered without rancour (very scary).

“It must have got left on the tractor!” (Only 1500kilometres away). With a calm that some might find surprising and quite alarming, we re-organised the packing to include the two bikes inside the car! A quick change and a wipe down with baby wipes on the forecourt, and a final check to see nothing was left behind and off we set on the long journey home.. 

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Until the Next Time

Tuesday:   22. 04.2014
SANTIAGO!      -    22Kms 251m
My apologies to one and all but that was as far as I got with the blog yesterday before I conked out, fingers unable to contact the correct keys, and thence fell into a comatosed sleep. (Me, not my fingers)
Not down and out for long though and before I begin on the end, I must mention Al’s meeting with a Franciscan monk. It was as we arrived at the San Martin Hotel and I was momentarily absent, locating our allocated room and Al had just commenced unpacking the trailers in the garage. When I returned, he said excitedly, “This must be a religious place. I have just had a conversation with an English Franciscan monk.” “Wow,” saith I, “That’s a first.” Later, at dinner we spotted said monk who was not a monk and not even a man, just a body dressed as she thought a true pilgrim should – no hair, long brown habit and sandals! In competition though, was a very tall, leggy, slim and attractive young lady with just a smidgeon of blond hair who looked not at all like a pilgrim more a front page Vogue model. Just a small example of the variety of folk who undertake the journey. We, on the other hand found ourselves sharing our meal with a delightful couple nearer to our age, who nonetheless had lived a complicated existence – maybe that is the prerequisite for this experience?
Anyway, we are here in Santiago after ascertaining on the way that our car is still in the car park and that we will be able to collect it tomorrow – at least I think that is what we have arranged. It was one of those arm waving and speaking slowly types of conversation. But guess what? We still had a further 10 kilometres of riding to reach Santiago and yes, we were still going up and down and the return tomorrow morning will be our final ‘push’ of this little expedition. We know it will be a push cos we rode down it this morning.
Not like the Advert
Arriving in Santiago was a relief and somewhat underwhelming, as we mixed with the city traffic and rapidly made the decision to dismount and continue on foot with Herman and Sherman in hot pursuit. Cycle lanes, or even widish roads are not on the Santiago agenda. Studiously avoiding injuring the humourless populace, we did locate the cathedral, encased in plastic and scaffolding (not all of it). We joined the queue of pelicans at the official pilgrims’ office and humbly received our last stamp and a certificate! How’s that then! (Anybody out there read Latin, for such is the language of the certificate- it would be satisfying to know what it actually says particularly as my name is, apparently, something like Miriam!)
We are spending our final few hours, visiting the old part of the city, which has sadly succumbed to commercialism in the form of endless souvenir shops, hotels, bars and beggars. The old buildings, however, retain their charm and the cathedrals is, as one would expect, overpowering in its splendour. We shall partake of a slightly less splendid supper and resort to a well-earned early night.
I hope that you, dear reader, have enjoyed reading this blog as much as I have enjoyed writing it except on those occasions when I would rather have been kipping! No, seriously, it has been a pleasure and helps us oldies to remember the things we have done, places we have visited and the pain we have endured.

Until the next event!

The Pelicans are Coming

Monday:   21. 04. 2014
Portomarin – Pedrouzo         74kms     920 m
Before I commence with this day’s ventures, I must make comment on the San Martin Hotel that was not very easy to find but a gem nonetheless. We were greeted with a very warm and friendly welcome and the hospitality continued throughout an excellent meal and a very substantial breakfast – not without the inevitable toast, but lots of other bits as well. In view of what was to come an altogether superb wake up call.
Pelicans by the Score
It is difficult to describe today without resorting to the type of expletives which would be inappropriate to a pilgrimage! For those of you who bother to read the statistics that I religiously include, it will become clear that the physical effort required today was considerable. To make things even more of a challenge, it has been wet, cold and windy! BUT we are now less than 20 kilometres from journey’s end.

I may just have mentioned the descent to the hotel yesterday, well the ascent required most of my breakfast calories and that was just to regain the route! Said route then made an eeeenormous climb most of which we pushed. Sort of set the scene for the rest of the day. 

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Marie's Target

It’s time to mention fundraising again. Marie’s target of £50 seemed a little meagre but then I remembered she worked in management for a Welsh Health Trust where zeros were added and omitted according to the week’s targets. £500 is her target. We’ve nearly done our bit…………Many thanks.  for Breast Cancer Care 

Hypothermia and Cow Shit

Sunday:   20. 04.2014
Alto do Polo – Portomarin       67kms    509m
I was correct about the early call of the rooster, in fact there were two: one in perfect voice and the other suffering from a nasty case of laryngitis. It had the same effect though. By 0730 we were eating (yes, you’ve guessed it) two pieces of toast! Once again, the coffee and juice were excellent.
The weather had changed not at all from when we arrived and was damp, foggy and very cold with intermittent rain! Now you would think that two so called practiced outdoor education specialist would understand the rudiments of mountain weather! Hmmm….even the best make mistakes and unable to see the descent, which was very long and steep and fast, we had seriously underestimated the wind chill factor. Twelve kilometres later Al was hypothermic staggering from his bike and shaking like a jelly.(so out of it I had to think about how to stop the bike - ed.) A less caring person than myself?, might have found the situation amusing (we did later) but at the time, coffee seemed a good idea along with more clothes. During this thawing process, we were overtaken by the three young female cyclists who had shared our albergue. They weren’t cold, or at least not then, but a couple of kilometres later they were stationary flapping hands and feet!
Two hours later and still wearing all our warm and waterproof gear, we hunted for a bus shelter in order to partake of the remains of the coffee. We are something of experts on bus shelters and the only one available was on the shabby side, very shabby side. However, it still retained a roof and a bench – what more does one require? A bit less litter, perhaps.
Our journey today, has followed the inevitable ups, downs and ups all made a tinsy bit more hazardous as a result of the wet and, I have to say, a lot of shit. If I thought the incident the day before yesterday was unfortunate, today it would seem the farmers had all decided to move their cows to new pastures having first ensured that they all had an enema. No shit on shoes, just splashed onto everything else. Lots and lots of good luck!
A bit fed up with traffic, we thought to follow the recommended route from our magic book which encouraged us to share a road, which was likely to have short sections of gravelly bits, with the pelicans. All initial indications were that this might make for a good short cut. Alas and alack, after a couple kilometres, the few gravelly bits became a stream with stepping stones. Now we have negotiated some odd hurdles in the past but Herman and Sherman absolutely refused to hop from one stone to the next! Another good idea that came to nought.
We still reached our destination fairly early and managed to find shelter under the porch of the yacht club (closed) as the heavens did their best to soak us yet again! So now very damp and a little dispirited, and it being Easter Sunday and some kind of fete in the town, I was not confident of finding decent accommodation. Wrong! Mr. Locator of Refuge, searched his book and came up with a name. I wandered around accosting innocent folk with a request for directions to no avail. Then, ta rah, the Guardia not only explained the whereabouts of the hotel, but actually took us to a point where we could see it. Hmm…………… the bottom of a very steep and wet hill. With the trailers threatening to overtake the bikes we successfully reached the bottom and proceeded to locate this fabulous refuge. Never in a month of Sundays would we have found it without the help of plod. So, many thanks.

Tomorrow, I suspect, will be more of the same but ever nearing our goal.


Saturday:  19. 04.2014
Cacabelos – Alto do Polo   51kms    914m   (stopped by rain and fog)
I know that I was really fatigued when I sat down to write last night. As a result there were three things worthy of comment which I had forgotten. Old age!?
1. Right at the start of all the climbing that was to come and after a short break to take on fluids, Al glanced at me to acknowledge that we were ready for the off. And, indeed, he went. I tried but failed to get my shoe in the cleat. On inspecting my shoe, I discovered that I had managed to stand in an enormous pile of shit! It was either produced by a massive dog or something of similar size. As Al was disappearing up the hill, I searched in vain for some implement to prise the muck from said shoe. A piece of stone was the best I could find at short notice so I hopped around and finally removed the shoe and removed as much of the offending muck, as I could.  By this time Speedy had reached the top of the hill and was almost out of sight. He did, however, stop and wait………..eventually. Hot and bothered and feeling abandoned I was pretty harsh and accusatory with my “ I got shit on my shoe” “Hardly my fault!” he retorted, with justification, but it is always so much more satisfying to blame someone else for your own carelessness. Anyway, I think shit on your shoe is supposed to be lucky?
2. Our lunch stop took in a large pile of stones which are, apparently an accumulation of stones carried by and left by pelicans who have brought the stone from their home! We have not carried an entirely useless and heavy stone from home so our contribution was nil but we admired the efforts of others.
3. Having gasped our way up to the top of our climb, we were looking forward to a speedy descent. It was, however, very steep and after a couple of kilometres the tarmac metamorphosed into concrete and cobbles through a teeny village. Thankfully, Hawkeye spotted the change before we wobbled onto it. As the weather was dry, it was not that dangerous, but we took the safe, if undignified option, of walking. 
All that was yesterday and so I have just asked Al to comment on the highlights for today and his comment was,”Uphill!” And this is so true. From the time we left Cacabelos the road rose ahead.  Much of it was rideable but a good few sections were reduced to walkable. No bad thing really as it gives the arm muscles a chance to do their thing. Legs are looking like Malta legs as the weather has hitherto been very hot and sunny. This evening has come as a bit of a shock: low cloud, rain and very low temperatures. No more sun-tan then.
In need of accommodation, we have stopped at an alberque run by a real Julie Walters waitress, except she is the owner and general manager. For the princely sum of 28 Euros we have a double room with an ensuite, and a three course meal with wine! Mind you, Al is dicing with death by strangulation in his sleeping bag again! There will be no lie-in as the cockerel is housed below with his entourage of hens. Likely to be up with the lark and eating toast before eight. I doubt we will be treated to a full English!

More ups and downs to come tomorrow but progress is steady and thanks again one and all for your comments. (Getting quite a lot of those from passing cyclists; we think they are complimentary but we could be quite wrong!)

Friday, 18 April 2014

Getting too old for this?

Friday  18.04.2014
Astorga – Cacabelos          73kms    650m
Despite the drums and the parading of various religious icons which went on late into the night, your two heathens took to their beds at a sensible hour and slept. In view of today’s experience it was a jolly good thing!
As we expected of our four star hotel, breakfast was a real treat. Sadly, I could only manage juice, cereal, yoghurt, toast, cheese and coffee. Al did a little better by adding cold meats to his plate. There was even scrambled egg and sausages but the prospect of a nasty bout of indigestion discouraged us from consuming them.
So an excellent start. However, the town had not finished its celebrations and we were obliged to walk the walk between crowd and preparations for yet another ceremony. There were two big stages, much media attention and two cyclists strutting their stuff.  So, we could be on Spanish tele! Hopefully not.
The nicest thing about today was the fact that we were well away from the main routes and so encountered very little traffic, although what there was, took no prisoners. It is astounding that along a narrow road, inhabited by numerous walking pelicans and the odd bike, and despite the speed limit of around 40 kilometres/hour, many /most drivers paid scant regard to anything other than jamming their respective feet on the accelerator.
(my dandelion theory has been blown out of the water; nearly every other yellow plant was mmm… yes, a dandelion.)
nuff said
I think I am allowed the luxury of commenting on the physical effort required today in view of the fact that we are so tired we can hardly speak. It was knackering! We still have at least one more ride of similar difficulty but I think I might try and convince Hercules that his midget of a wife is feeling all of her 67 years and might need a shorter day. (That was one of our hardest days but we still kept pace with a few 25 yr olds – well done Mary – promise it will be shorter tomorrow – Ed.) Having said all that, the countryside has been fabulous and we were able to admire it during the intervals when, on the descent we had to stop periodically to allow the brakes to cook down!

Stones carried by pilgrims from their home
We have now ditched all pretence at searching out a cheap night and homed in on an hotel. But…… it is Easter and all the Spanish, it seems, have abandoned their perfectly adequate homes and filled the hotels. So, the hotel was full! Nonetheless, there are always lovely people wanting to help and one such, seeing our dilemma, led us to a second hotel and left us with instructions as to how to locate the alberque. We purloined the last room in the hotel and are now in recovery. 

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Ailish's Birthday and Doctor Who

Thursday  17.04.2014     Ailish’ 18th Birthday!
Bercianos Real Camino – Astorga via Leon  93kms    299m
Wow, what a day this has been. The pelicans in the room next door put paid to my lie-in ‘til 0715 by rising at 0600, flushing toilets opening and closing doors and generally conversing with much merriment. I stuck almost to my guns and got out of bed at 0700. By 0800 we were almost ready and waiting at the door of the bar to access our breakfast. Two big pieces of toast this morning and two tubs of butter and jam.  
Anyway off we trot and eventually find the road we want amongst the maze. I have to confess at this point that we stayed in the only village without an old church. The one in existence was so new it wasn’t even finished! Don’t know what happened to the old one.
We seem to have developed this habit of arriving in cities at the most inopportune moments. Today was no exception. Leon was celebrating – what I don’t know. We have tried between us to work out what comes before Good Friday and think that it may be Maundy Thursday?! No doubt some of you will know. As a result of all this activity, it was absolutely impossible to reach the cathedral without killing half the populace. Throngs of folk; for they were there in their thousands!  So we did indeed follow the sun and a very helpful lady who waved us vehemently in the direction of yet another plaza with a church and a Parador. Once there, however, we found our route out of Leon. Neither the route in or out of this city could be described as anything other than very mediocre. In fact, I thought Leon to be an unwashed and unloved city. Maybe others will disagree. Still, leave it behind we did, up yet another long, hot and busy hill. It has to be said that we have experienced really good weather as we have seen nothing in the way of rain or cold. (tempting fate –ed.)Today though, had memories of Italy with its unrelenting long roads with no shade at all. We did eventually find a tree with a few leaves providing just enough shade to keep ones head in the shade – mine!
Astorga Cathedral

At some point on the route Mr. I would like a nice place to stop tonight, had seen a sign for a four star hotel in Astorga. “That sounds nice.”  saith he. “Mmmm….. and how far is it?” I ventured to ask. With a careless shrug, he dismissed my question with an “Oh, not that far.” Hmmm……………now 90 plus kilometres later we are in a great venue, a beautiful town and we will hopefully be offered more than two pieces of toast for breakfast which is included in the vast sum we have forked our for one night’s stay.
Angels of Stone

Tomorrow is a 25 kilometre climb so two bits of toast ain’t going to go far!

(With thousands of pelicans marching west and now the Angels of Stone, I'm beginning to think this is a Doctor Who set -Ed.)

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

No Dandelions

Wednesday:  16.04.2014
Fromista – Bercianos Real Camino  74.8km  141m
We passed a comfortable night and promptly at 0730 we were seated, waiting for breakfast. The orange juice was freshly squeezed and delicious; the rest has to be described as meagre – two small pieces of toast, one sachet of jam and one of butter and a single cup of very good coffee. But generally not quite enough.  If my Spanish existed at all, I might have asked for more and probably we would have got some.
The actual ride today has been the least momentous thus far. It has been uncomplicated, warm and relatively flat with vast tracts of fields on either side of the route and snow covered mountains in the distance.
There's a lot of them about
( I think that we may have found the only place where the dandelion does not exist. I have scoured the verges and hedgerows for just a hint of a yellow dandy but to no avail. I really thought they were set to take over the world! Obviously not in northern Spain.)
On the other hand, churches are two a penny. All shapes and sizes but absolutely everywhere. Mostly, it seems the villages have grown around the church in an entirely higgeldy piggeldy fashion. We are passing this night in one such village. In fact, I am trying to write this blog accompanied by the sound of several groups of very pissed Spanish elders, playing, I know not what, except that it requires much roaring, shouting and outbursts of laughter.
We had planned on spending tonight in Sahagun but made the wise decision to proceed further towards Leon so making tomorrow a little less long. Very glad we did as

Sahagun was not a pleasant looking town and this dutty village feels so much more genuine. Anyway, if you can’t beat ‘em, (the locals I mean) then join ‘em so we did and partook of a beer or two. Sitting next to us was a French lady (not pissed) who had carelessly misplaced her husband.  So for a time we all speculated on where he might be until a car pulled up with said husband in the back. Much relief and merriment followed although he seemed anxious to justify his absence while his wife just seemed relieved to have him back! (No accounting for taste).
Look Hard-the Next Challenge is There!

Tomorrow requires a traverse of Leon, the last of the large cities that we have to negotiate. The guide books do their level best to be helpful but directions are often vague and misleading so if the sun continues to shine it may be a case of “ Go west young (or in our case, old) man!” We shall see!

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Just Humps

Tuesday:  15.04. 2014
Burgos – Fromista     80kms   286m
Why is it that when you have to get up at seven, there is silence in the hotel:  When one has no need of leaping out of bed, (us yesterday,) all the pilgrims in the hotel rise at 06.15 and assume that everyone else shares their enthusiasm for such an early wake -up call by ensuring that doors are well slammed and voices are kept to an absolute maximum. (Moan over – just don’t understand peoples thoughtlessness). Anyway they are no longer called pilgrims by us as we began in English with the word pilgrim, the French is pellerin and the Spanish is pelegrinos so these have all morfed into “pelicans!”  
Anyway, things were going well: we had breakfast , checked out, loaded the trailers and then my helmet decided that it wanted to be centre of attention by refusing to adjust to the size of my head. It obstinately remained at the appropriate size for a six year old until Mr. Fix It tore off the casing, revealed the required mechanism, twiddled a bit and stuck it on my head. Hoorah!                                                                          
Well, the way out of Burgos for us pelicans was a vast improvement on the way in. We followed a well organised cycle track along very lush boulevards until it finally ran out on the outskirts of the city and we took to the road. (And we had a toot and a wave from the police on motorbikes – that’s a first). For a few kilometres only, we shared the route with traffic which then joined the motorway and we didn’t!  Always keep on the right side of the law! Henceforward, we saw only a handful of vehicles all day!
2/3 of the Journey Complet

The sun has shone, the birds have sung their little hearts out and we have really enjoyed a day of peace on the roads and almost nothing in the way of climbing. It has also reminded us that we can easily complete 80 kilometres in a day and we now recognise that we have actually completed a lot of uphills! Today’s efforts were just humps.
And just in case you are reading this, Ailish, I have finally managed to find a general store which had stamps! So your card will probably arrive sometime next week!
And finally a note to all dog owners! Please keep them secure in your yard or garden. Two yappy Yorkies (Rats) literally leaped under the wheels of my bike almost killing themselves and possibly me in the process. I am still waiting for some PhD student to explain this weird anomaly of dogs being able to hear bikes from long distances even when the road is full of cars and lorries. Unrestrained they then proceed to terrify the cyclist depending on the size of the dog!

Otherwise a really super day and thanks to all those folk who have sent emails or  posted words of encouragement. Much appreciated along with the toots.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Day in Burgos

Two More for Old Bones on Bikes

Fantastic day out in this beautiful centre of Burgos
The Cathedral

Incredible architecture

We know you're out there.We'd love to hear from you. How about some comments ?

The Long Downhill

Sunday:  13. 04. 2014
Santo Domingo de la Calzada – Burgos      71kms    530m
Good morning to you all. It is now Monday and we have decided, very  sensibly, in my opinion, to take today as a rest day. It was clear from our arrival here in Burgos, that the centre of the city is something to be admired and explored, thus sealing our existing but tentative idea of a day off.
However, this is really yesterday’s blog so having insured that we had paid our dues, the receptionist nun allowed us access to our bikes and we were packed and away pretty efficiently. Quite a chilly start to the ride but lots of friendly toots (does make a difference). By lunch stop, and after the vagaries of the usual ups downs and maybes, the sun was up and the world astir. Over our meagre repast, Al decided to peruse the upcoming route. Not always a terribly good idea.

However, in this instance, the horrendous climb which was to follow immediately was entirely mitigated by an extraordinary downhill of some twenty kilometres all the way into Burgos! How about that! What’s more, it was all true.
I Can't Believe It's Downhill
The long run into the centre of the city was very unattractive along a route bounded on both sides by unloved buildings graffiti and the usual plethora of small factories. Having no clear idea of where we were going, we thought to follow the signs for the cathedral based on the assumption that we would find, in that area, some indication of the camino. Soooo pleased it was Sunday and therefore crossing three lanes of traffic was marginally less terrifying than vying with midweek traffic. Nothing though prepared us for our first sighting of the gateway into the cathedral square. The word awesome is, in my opinion, over used but I can think of no other way to describe this first impression of the cathedral. Still on an indrawn breath, we found ourselves hailed by a loud voice crying “Have you ridden from Wales?” NO! Thence ensued a conversation with a very friendly Scot who was delivering a brand new Bentley to Edinburgh. How do people find these jobs!
More urgently for us, we needed information on how to find our bike friendly hostel and some cash from a hole in wall. An “OPEN” tourist info provided both and in short order we found ourselves solvent again and inside a very acceptable room for two whole nights!
Having the time for a perusal of the view from the window I could not help noticing and, calling Alan’s attention to, a statue in the square. I do admire these actors who paint themselves and hold a pose for hours hoping to make a few bob from passing tourists. These two were exceptional: putting up with people leaning on them and placing sunglasses on their heads…….. They are still there this morning! Real statues! What a dork.
View from the Hotel -Notice Mary's Living Statues
With a little more leisure time available, it seemed a good idea to touch base with a human voice, so I made a quick call to Kate. “How’s it going, mum!  Are you enjoying yourselves?” she chirruped. “We’re fine but it is hard work.” Quoth I.  “Not as fit as last time then.” came the response! Just to put the record straight and make me feel better, thus far, this has been topographically much more of a going uphill kind of challenge!

Still, today we are off to explore and enjoy the sights of Burgos and just revel in wandering. Until tomorrow then.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Sleeping with Nuns

Saturday.  12. 04. 2014
Viana – Santo Domingo de la Calzada via Lognono.   62kms  460m
We made breakfast for 0700! All eaten in silentish mode as folk geared up for the day. By 0830, we were on our way and the first person we should pass, was the kind and helpful gentleman of the previous evening. He thoughtfully waved us through, either not wanting to break our flow or maybe not in the mood for a conversation. He did ask if we found good accommodation and we thumbed up.
Pictures =Churches, Statues or Sculptures
Once again our magic book came up trumps and we located the cycle route through  Lognono, or, at least, very nearly. One small misplacement which was no bad thing ‘cos it took us past a supermarket and we added another ton of weight to the trailers. Sunday tomorrow – Be prepared! We corrected our misplacement by accosting very helpful people who waved arms, spoke very quickly, but nonetheless managed to convey the necessary corrections. Track, for such it was, meant slow pedalling and spinning back wheel but it went through a very fine park area and as it was Saturday we spent some time weaving around excited small children.

It seems the Spanish are reorganising road systems – nothing new there but made for a few tricky decisions in order to avoid doing a Sicilian job on the motorway. You will be delighted to hear that, through no fault of our own this time, we did pass a debatable 1 kilometre on the A 12 motorway! No trouble with plod though and a quick exit led us into Santo Domingo de la Calzada .  A few kilometres short of our expected destination but have found a hostel for tonight run by an order of nuns. Single beds, but otherwise very comfortable with our very own facilities and no expectation of death by sleeping bag!

Choose your bed

Friday:  11. 04.2014
Puento la Reina  -  Viana                      63kms  773m
A good start! I ordered what I thought was a breakfast but somewhere in the translation the word breakfast was lost. Nonetheless, we received two large pieces of toast with jam and butter, a glass of juice and then a white coffee ‘cos we couldn’t remember the Spanish for black coffee. Yes thanks, have got it now!
The bikes have been safely locked away each night and this night was no exception: the only small problem was the key provided did not fit the lock. Always a Mr. Nice Guy around when you want one and this one ferretted around in a shed and came up with a key to fit the hole. Hoorah! Bikes were released, packed up (still takes ages) and off we went…………….Uphill, just for a change.
Weather still hot and sunny but today we are the scenery is beautiful. Interesting to note that new cultivation is taking place in otherwise very arid soil. GM?  We have passed through delightful villages all with churches and quiet roads as the newish motorway has taken most of the traffic away from the old main road so cycling is a pleasure or so I keep telling my protesting muscles. Have found some that I forgotten I had!
Navigation has been made easier since I purchased a book in St. Jean etc the title of which for any mad bugger who wants to replicate our example, “Sur les chemins de Compostelle, Le Camino Frances a velo.” Authors:  Marie-Helen et Pierre Costes. It has saved us hours of head scratching – not quite eliminated that past-time but reduced it to manageable proportions.
We arrived in Viana, eventually and set about the evening ritual of searching our accommodation. As ever tourist information was SHUT but as we admired this gorgeous little town, a very helpful German  gentleman suggested that we take a look at rooms that he had found for himself. (People are so forthcoming.)  Anyway, in this instance, the rooms were fully booked by the time I made enquiries so having thanked him profusely and wished him well, I returned to the search and made for the hotel. Oops, no reservation, no room! Back down the hill to the Alberge. No rooms for two available! After much gesticulating, we were awarded a room for eight but with only us inhabitants. Fine!

A grand group of pilgrims from  all over the world were already ensconced and we joined them for our evening meal (the remains of lunch) but washed down with a bottle of wine. As breakfast was to be served at 0700 hrs, on the dot we were in our bunks by 21.30 with Al fighting to stay alive in his sleeping bag!  Hee, hee.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Breast Cancer Care

For all you happy readers who may wish to support our efforts for the charity Breast Cancer Care, please  follow the link to Marie's "Justgiving" site. Many thanks

Thursday, 10 April 2014

It's Not Raceday

Thursday 10. 04. 2014
Roncesvalles – Puento la Reina via Pamplona!   78kms   620m
Munched our way through a hearty breakfast after a much less traumatic night for Mr. Grumpy, who found himself with nothing to grump about …ah, except the absence of a wifi connection. But as nobody else had one, it was obviously a general fault  -  thank goodness!
What - No Bulls
If we thought Pamplona would be an easy ride, we were not that wrong. Having made my purchase of a book of maps for the bike route, we had neither of us realised that a green line running through Pamplona was, in actual fact a cycle path! We did work it out pretty quickly when we reached the outskirts and what a bonus it turned out to be. Seven kilometres of no cars just the odd pedestrian to try and avoid and the odd hound. And, it finished at the correct bridge just several metres!..... below the church. As we scraped together a lunch from our diminishing resources, Al reminded me that this was the town famous for its bull running. Thankfully this was not raceday. Getting onto the town had proved so straight forward that we were lulled into a sense of false security – getting out was altogether different but eye opening.
We diligently followed the shells which some generous soul had incorporated into the road, and passed through the old, the wealthy and the poverty stricken. But, we did emerge on the other side and then momentarily (just for an hour or so) misplaced ourselves. Our cycling brothers came to our aid (eventually) and after a bit of a detour, we were back en route.  After another f……ing climb, it was all downhill to Puento la Reina, a bath and an excellent and well priced meal. (13 euros for 3 courses and all the wine or beer you could drink!!! – Ed.)

Have turned an interesting shade of pink below my shorts and sleeves. Never occurred to me it would be hot and sunny! Dooh! 

1112 metres

Wednesday  09. 04. 2014
Palais – St. Jean-Pied-de-Port  - Roncesvalles   61 kms  1112m
Poor old Mr. Grumpy had a fright of a night of fighting with his sleeping bag which does its level best to throttle him and bind is legs. And apparently the bed was very unforgiving. I, on the hand had a very pleasant night. Our little hostess was anxious that we should eat our breakfast pdq as the hostel was supposed to be empty by 09.00. As breakfast consisted of a few slices of bread and jam and a coffee, we did indeed make short work of it.

Our first pause of the day was at St.Jean etc which was positively bustling with pilgrims!  Obviously the place to be seen and from which to start you journey. We just found it all a bit pretentious and difficult to search out those things we wanted – like maps! We have a habit of suddenly finding ourselves bereft of navigational aids. However, lovely hostess of the morning had provided an address for the Pelegrins Boutique!, where I not only found the appropriate maps but we had more passport stamping! I mumbled something to the man in the shop about having to cross the Pyrenees and with a knowledgeable smile he assured me that “yes, it was a long climb but gradual and only ever about 5%.” What a load of cobblers! It was long, that much was accurate, and except for the ever increasing 10% gradients, so was the gradual climb! Suffice to say we finally reached the top! With your undoubted intelligence, dear reader, I am sure I need not expound on our sense of relief.
Our  start is beyond the far horizon
A couple of kilometres downhill and we reached our hostel and a very welcome beer and a bed with sheets!

(I can’t believe she hasn’t mentioned the 1112 metre of ascent! I think that’s close to our record in 1 day –Ed.)


Tuesday  08.04.2014 Hagetmau – St. Palais
65 kms    725m (min!)
Phew, and phew again. What a day! If we thought we were upping and downing on Friday and Saturday, that was just the warm up! However, we certainly feel a sense of satisfaction and also a little more confidence in that the Pyrenees will not defeat us, even if we do have to do a bit of walking – or even quite a lot of walking. Actually walking does not in any way describe the activity of pushing a bike and Herman or Sherman up a climb! Nonetheless, in mitigation, the weather has been dry and cool with only a slight wind which was behind us – a very novel experience. Old nostril wind will undoubtedly make a come-back at some stage.
One of the great advantages of either walking or pedalling very slowly uphill, is the opportunity to observe nature in the verges. Why we try to tame our gardens to the extent that we do (or some of us anyway) seems almost an insult the natural flora. There are just hundreds of beautiful plants of all shapes and colours which thrive in spite of the traffic. Marvellous!
In case, dear reader, you are interested in my general observations, which I have to admit is a displacement activity, I am bemused by the proliferation of hairdressers in even the tiddliest villages which have no other form of life! Must be a lot of hair around.
We have also seen and, even explored in some cases, an awful lot of churches; to be expected really in view of the fact that this is a pilgrim route. I suspect the church photos will end the way of our mountain shots- “Where was that?” 
Well another day has almost ended and we are ensconced on a delightful hostel for pilgrims or folk who are following this route. It’s an old Franciscan monastery looked after by a delightful little lady. For a room and breakfast it is a bargain at 24 Euros!
 We are looking forward to our night’s rest and giving my elephant time to rejuvenate. He has taken a bit of a bashing today. I suspect the same will be true of tomorrow. Bonne nuit!

Passport stamping – a new hobby

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

No Bikes Allowed?

Retions – Hagetmau    65kms   (quite a bit of height gained. Enough to have me pushing)
Well what a day and it all started so well.  Alan had managed to post the blog which I hope was okay because my intellect and definitely my ability to punctuate decreases with wine and time and there was no time this morning to go through it and check.
Anyway, back to today. Whaa…. It would appear that the maps with which we have been provided are so out of date that a major motorway has come into existence and has not been acknowledged as a ‘maybe’! However, the day commenced with a good breakfast and cheery au revoir from our hosts and an uneventful ride through Roquefort and out the other side. At this point things got a bit iffy. Our map indicated a route following the D932. No worries, we found it but we are still not sure that we should have been riding along it. It was unquestionably a clearway and a dual carriageway and we were riding on the hard shoulder (memories of Sicily!). No jobs worth appeared so on we went as we could find no suitable alternative. The experience is not to be recommended. The speed limit was 110 kms / hr which is interpreted by the motorist as at least 20 kms/hr faster. So pootling along at about 15 – 20 kms/hr being overtaken by racing cars was not a lot of fun.
If we thought that was bad (you may have noted dear reader that there are a lot of moans in this blog) when we entered Mont de Marsan our map failed completely and we were obliged to walk along one way streets, get thoroughly lost, walk a few more one way streets and finally re- emerge on the far side of town onto yet more dual carriageway!  It was quick (the dual carriageway) but nerve racking and temperatures were increasing with the hour so we reached Sever in something of a lather. Sever town was attainable only after climbing a hill which could not be ridden with Herman and Sherman and pushing was only just accomplishable. Did get more stamps in the passports though. You see, every cloud and all that…………..
Hagetmau was our target for the day and only required one more push (very worried about the Pyrenees!) and we finally arrived hot and sweaty and in need of good shower. After several fruitless attempts to rouse any hoteliers we finally made a bad phone connections with one of them who, although half-shut – the story of our lives – was able to provide a room but no food. We found the food once we had eradicated the bodily odours. All is now tranquil and I am off to my bed. So until tomorrow, when we have been encouragingly told we will reach the foothills of the mountains, I bid you adieu.

(Sudacrem is being used copiously and Mary is hitting the Nightnurse to allay the effects of a heavy cold. The Pyrenees could be a difficult couple of days! – Ed.)

Monday, 7 April 2014

A Flat Bit!

Sunday 06.04.2014    
 Monsegur – near Retions     86kms 420m

 It had rained overnight but had the good sense to clear up as we roused ourselves for a fourth day in the saddle. To facilitate our departure, we were required to push both the bikes and the trailers through the full length of the bar under the scrutiny of the regulars who had arrived for their coffee laced or otherwise I don’t know. We had nearly reached the door when one of the regulars recognised the flag and exclaimed that his wife was Welsh! They just get everywhere.
At least leaving Monsegur was downhill but the euphoria lasted only a short while before the inevitable ups and downs. Today though, they were much reduced and by lunch time we had reached Les Landes and almost flat terrain. As you would expect this route takes in a lot of churches but Bazas sported a particularly magnificent example and , in fact the entire town was worthy of exploration. It was also decision time!

If our guide book was to be believed, there was little in the way of accommodation over the next thirty or so kilometres. Mmmm… the weather is warm but the tent is not a great choice! So, as it is Sunday and the roads are bereft of lorries, we took a chance on the main road which would save time. It did, but at some cost. Memories of Sweden emerged as we bowled along through endless trees in an almost straight line. Efficient but without romance. Despite our best efforts, the chambre d’hote we had targeted had ‘nothing – rien’. Onward! Why do roads always become so bumpy when legs and lungs want nothing more than to abandon all hope?  The only other mention in the great guide book was a hostellerie on the main road which had lots of space and a restaurant so our cheese and bread will live to see another day. 
Saturday  05.04.2014  
Mussidan – Montsegur        65kms    581m
It is still not quite light at seven o’clock  but the birds are wittering and twittering so it feels like morning. By eight we had joined our hostess in the ‘kitchen’ where breakfast lay in wait along with our hostess. Plenty to eat and all accompanied by a constant chatter in French requiring unusual levels of concentration so early in the day. Having received our complicated instructions for locking up and ensuring the dog did not escape during our departure, we finally deposited the keys in the round green box and set off on day three.
It has to be said that if it had not been April, I would have been unsurprised to see snow – it was very, very cold and foggy, but Mr. Optimism assured me that it would warm up. Correct as ever and after about 10 kms I needed to use a hedge and also reduce my layers!
Today was another day of continuous ups and downs or, to be posh, peaks and troughs, and not insignificant inclines, hence the rather disappointing mileage. The weather continued to improve and we ate our lunch outside yet another shut church, on a bench in the sunshine which was a real pleasure. Mind you, we are not doing well on getting our cards stamped as everywhere has closed doors!

The final climb into Monsegur clinched the decision to overnight in the town. Located a bar with chambre d’hote and very nice it is too even if the wifi is somewhat inadequate. This is a real Deborah and Brendan place with lots of shabby chic and good taste and probably, most importantly, inexpensive! (and a bar downstairs bren - ed) Tomorrow looks much the same from a pedalling point of view so heads down and off we go again.

A More ModestAffair

Friday   04. 04. 2014
Sorges – Mussidan  65kms  310 m.
The hotel concierge promised us sunshine! France Meteo had it right! – wet and windy, improving in the afternoon. Having frozen to death yesterday I took the precaution of donning multiple layers with the obvious outcome -too hot! The weather was not entirely to blame as the morning was another continuous series of ups and downs which under normal circumstances (ie. bike sans trailers) would have been a dawdle. Still, it wasn’t raining all the time and the wind was almost positive.
Navigating through Perigueux was something of a challenge but as we had some prior knowledge of the town and had a vague idea of where we were trying to go, it could have been much worse. Following a few red dots on a copied 1:100000 map is not to be recommended! A continuous flow of overtaking cars only increases the panic. However, we emerged on the other side of the town on the correct road and without having a great falling out! Hoorah! (If we thought Euro Velo was badly signposted, the Compostela bicycle route is entirely bereft of any signs). Good job Master Navigator is always on the case! AND the weather did improve – a bit.
Following last evening’s indulgence, tonight is a much more modest affair. Bread and cheese washed down with the inevitable bottle of wine purchased at great expense from Intermarche and a very comfortable, friendly and moderately priced chambre d’hote.  A demain.    

We're Off Again (in the rain)

Thursday 03.04.2014
Home – Sorges   Nearly 80kms    631m
For those of you who know this area will, no doubt, be wondering how it took us nearly 80kms to reach Sorges from home. Easy – the route that the Pilgrims obviously took meanders up hill and down dale and from east to west and not once follows the river valley (which I would consider the sensible choice, but then who am I to argue.) I suspect this will be a continuing feature of this ride!
We had delayed our departure by a day as we were somewhat jaded after our journey to Santiago to deliver the car to the airport car park! On Wednesday morning we were congratulating ourselves on our decision, as it was blowing a hooley! But the saints were having a laugh because, this morning, it was not blowing but pouring with rain and temperatures had plummeted. Undaunted we were saddled up by 09.30 and began the short climb from the house to the railway line in Oradour. It is only two kilometres but it was still a bit of a huff and puff! As we eased into our rhythm, sure enough, we began to roll along. However, as is normal to our journeying, after some twenty kilometres my bladder was overfull (I know - too much information). We stopped at the café/bar in Bussiere Gallant Gare where I asked very politely in my very best French if I could use the toilet. Now, bear in mind that I was very wet, very cold and busting for a pee and for the first time in France my request was refused! Do not frequent said bar! Nought for it but to cross legs and find a convenience in the railway station which posed no problem.
Suitably relieved, the ride continued up and down and more up and down and yet more up and down but was very pretty even in the rain which did not cease. As temperatures continued to drop, by lunch time we were very cold and in need of extra clothing. (More like Norway than France but no nostril wind – must be grateful for small, actually quite large, mercies). 

Our reward for completing our first day was an overnight in an hotel with a fabulous, if far too large, meal and a pretty hefty bill! We’ll be pedalling very hard tomorrow and without the need for calories.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

A Pilgrimage!

Surprise, surprise! You could be forgiven for feeling abandoned, dear reader, but read on and you will find this is not so. The title of this entry may provide a tiny clue as to our next Old Bones venture.
It is still something of a mystery as to where these ideas originate but, it seems that once the seed is planted, growth is almost inevitable. So despite appearances, we have continued to sort of train through a very wet winter while contemplating a foray in spring. I am reliably informed that Spring is now official although the view from my window does nothing to corroborate this theory. (Not warm and raining!)
A pilgrim route, which this is, may not seem an obvious choice in view of our lack of religious beliefs but the road it follows is likely to be interesting and expand our knowledge of the importance of this way. We are unlikely to experience an epiphany I think, but Northern Spain has always had its attractions for us – the wild Atlantic ocean, the Picos mountains and family holidays  – none of which we will encounter on the path of St. James! But the memories will be nearby.
Oradour sur Vayres to Santiago de Compostella is a relatively modest undertaking but Old Bones are still getting older! (a pathetic excuse). As the Master Mind has been carrying out most of the research- well, all of it really – I am blissfully unaware of the distance or the severity or otherwise of the proposed journey. (around 1,500kms!!! –ed.)  So safe in my ignorance, I shall mount my bike and pedal off!
In the meantime, it has come of something of a surprise that, having made no ride of any significance last year, we have spent a lot of time relearning the logistics required for several weeks in the saddle: fortunately Mr. Organised has retained the information from the previous trips and has spent much time revisiting his beloved lists. I do not mock! Without them, we would still be scuttling around, scratching our heads. So far, so good. Bikes are running well, trailers are serviced and packed and, thus far, all bones are in good shape! Please touch as much wood as you can find!
The actual mounting our bikes from the front gate and committing to the ride will happen next Wednesday as we are using this interim period to drive to Santiago and leave the car in a car park near the airport and return home by air. Thus, in theory, when we arrive in Santiago in a few weeks’ time, the car will be waiting to transport us back home. Great in theory, hope it all works in practice!
Hopefully, the next posting on the blog will be from somewhere in France in about a week’s time. This does rather depend on how well legs and lungs have adapted to pedalling all day with Herman and Sherman trailing behind! Still, poking a few keys on the computer shouldn’t make too many demands on physical resources.
We look forward to your joining us on our trek and, as ever, will welcome your comments, however they are conveyed. Until next week!

NB: Earlier this year Jim, the father of our son in law, died after a long fight with cancer. In response, we are hoping that this ride may raise some sponsorship for cancer charities. Marie will be facilitating this aspect so please look out for further information should you wish to make a donation.