Cycling in Spain 2019


Day 1 - and the day before.

For this year’s trip the famous five had decided to eschew all the hassle and fuss - not to mention bubble wrap and gaffer tape - of air travel on favour of a long, leisurely ferry crossing from Portsmouth to Santander. So on the Monday prior to travel, we were all basking in smug mode with no other major concerns about the journey other than how many underpants are needed for a two week trip, and whether Dave would remember his passport.


But as is often the case, the sense of security was false as, at 3:30pm on the day before travel , a text delivered the unbelievable news that the ferry had been cancelled due to a fire on a previous sailing. After two hours of repeat dialling to the helpline number, a very helpful lady called Felicity offered an alternative ferry in six days time which would effectively halve our trip.


And so after a day of group contemplation of the possible alternatives, we decided on doing precisely what we had planned to avoid - that is, wrap our bikes in bubble wrap and fly to Spain!


Courtesy of Lyn and Kaz, we were transported to the hallowed city of Manchester and its famed Ringway airport. Check in proved remarkably easy. Thank you to all the Easyjet and airport staff who made it so. The only hiccup was that on close inspection, one of our number had packed rather more than the allowance of two CO2 cylinders in his hold luggage. So 7 cylinder Dave as he will henceforth be known had to ditch two of said cylinders to bring our group allowance down to legal limits.


One issue that had bothered at least one of our membership in the planning for the trip was an oft repeated insight to the effect that "Spain is the third most mountainous country in Europe", voiced mainly by Rob. To which the rest of us replied - " but it's flat in the map!" But as we flew in to land at Bilbao,we saw hills. Lots of them. Viewed from the air it looked like someone had copied and pasted hundreds of Wrekins onto a map of Shropshire.


After landing, the baggage reclaim miraculously delivered all our bikes in one piece and after half an hour of unpacking and reconstruction, we were ready to start our adventure. Already we knew we were in foreign parts - the complete absence of drink dispensers or Spa shops at the airport was a give away. Which was a shame as we had all drink all our water in the plane.


Cycling off, we followed Arabella who guided us on an interesting route through the outskirts of Bilbao and out into the countryside. More of Arabella later. A couple of mechanical issues well, issued, but 30km later we found our hotel - which was closed. But after phoning the owner we were let in and eventually found our rooms, but the promised restaurant was closed. So at 9:30, we walked into the nearest village to find a bar selling beer and crisps - our first taste of Spanish food!


Day 2 - A Slightly Hilly Day - Godexola to Arija


43km and 1014m of ascent in the morning

53km and 710m of ascent in the afternoon


After a good night’s sleep we enjoyed a nice breakfast including home made bread and water melon. And hot milk on cornflakes! Just like home! We needed to get Rob’s bike sorted - the chain kept slipping in between the cogs on the rear mech - and the hotelier told us there was a bike mechanic 200m from the hotel. It sounded too good to be true but it wasn’t! After only a short wait the mechanic was a bit perplexed as to the cause of the problem which eventually turned out to be that the 9 cogs on the rear mech couldn’t be correctly operated by the 8 settings on the gear change. So a new rear cassette with only 8 cogs was duly fitted. Problem solved, all for the princely sum of €13!! There’s a Harry Potter related joke somewhere here about a cog and three quarters but I can’t think of one.


Speeding merrily on our way, Arabella soon steered us onto a minor road which turned into a track which turned into a 5km stretch of muddy off-road malarkey. How we laughed. Especially when Rob fell off whilst crossing a stream. Which he didn’t need to do. He interpreted the instruction to 'dismount and turn left' as ‘turn right and fall off’. Well, he is from Kings Heath.


During all this, the Garmin was proudly announcing we were cycling on an unsurfaced road. Really? I’d never have noticed. Then it said it was 'Ready to navigate'. Really? What else had it in mind to be doing? Seriously, one day the Garmin is going to need a good talking to - a conversation almost certainly involving a hammer.


The going slowed as Dave's mudguards clogged up with, well, mud. Finally the assault course ended and we met a tarmac road once we had pushed the bikes over a narrow bridge adorned with a rusting gate made out of bedstead. And why not.


The road trundled on uphill for a few km - not that steep at first, only a 0.2 SAF. (Readers may have come across Dave's 'steep as .....' measurement of hill gradient before). But then things got a little more taxing as the road went up and up and then even more up. Doesn't it get bored? The summit at 740m was finally reached. The descent didn't seem to last very long at all and it was freezing. We were 10km away from our planned lunch stop at Epinos de Monteros but we couldn't wait that long. Urgently needing to warm up and refuel, we stopped at a roadside garage for a welcome lunch of eight different tapas dishes two coffees each and one diabetic apple strudel for Baz. All for €6 each. Just like being back at home in a Shell garage.


Refreshed, fed and warmed we set off - 58km to go which according to Arabella should take us just over 3 hours. That's taking it a bit slow we thought, and then found out why. More hills followed by more hills. About 25km of them. Rob complained he had to keep getting off and push so his dad could keep up.


Where’s the down we were all thinking. We each had to deal with a few mental torments to get to the top. This was at pretty village called Argomendo - a name rather easily mis-read as something else.


Pushing on the sun came out and we were too hot. And then it went in and we were freezing. It finally disappeared behind some serious cloud and so we stopped and layered up as best we could. Cycling on we eventually caught site of our destination - a lake called Embalse del Ebro and the small town of Arija at its edge.


The lake loomed ahead looking more like a remote Scottish loch than anything we expected to find in sunny Spain. We were all running on empty by now and with a few km to go, the road kindly twisted away from the lake and up another bloody hill! How very droll. And then with only two km to go Arabella decided to lead us off road down a farm track, across a grass field and onto another rough track running parallel to a perfectly good tarmac road. She will have her little joke.


Arriving at the hotel, we were pleased to find it was closed. At least the main door was locked and no-one answered the door bell. But opening a side door into what looked like the entrance to someone's house, we spilled into a warm and welcoming bar. Having checked in and put the bikes in a side garage, we quickly dressed for dinner -as we do - and partook of a great meal involving lots of chips which never tasted better - well almost. After that and a couple of beers, we decided that today had been a bit of a ball aching slog too far. Tomorrow's route looked just as bad and so a bit of re-routing was required. Which took quite a while not helped by the fact that the wifi password could only be entered successfully by the hotel owner. Glenn was of course hugely impressed. And so a new plan was formed .....


Day 3 - A Sad Goodbye - Arija to Salinas de Pisuerga


74km and 618m ascent


After a good night's sleep we came down to a breakfast of sliced pig and cakes. With a side order of sliced tomato and apricot jam. And cellophane wrapped croissant. And the sound of rain on the windows. Not a good sign. Outside, we lubricated the bikes - well Roger did - and loaded the panniers. It was freezing. With some trepidation, we set off into the cold and rain. Here and there, the sun was trying to break through but failing. In the end it gave up and buggered off.


In a short while, Roger had to stop to adjust a bit of pannier trouble. Then Baz lost a bolt out of his cleats. Then his chain came off.


And then after a little while further, Rob conveyed the very sad news that he couldn’t go on and he’d go back to the hotel and get a taxi back to Santander. Yesterday had been really hard and he wasn't at his best, so a brave decision was made. Sad times.


So then there were four. After sad goodbyes to Rob, we pressed on along a quiet undulating road through a freezing headwind and pin pricks of rain. The route hugged the southern shore of the lake and we passed wind blown trees hanging with mistletoe until we veered away to the south leaving the lake - and Rob behind. In parts the scenery looked like the west coast of Scotland and in others, there were enough gorse bushes and cold headwinds to make it feel like Anglesey - but without the hydrangeas.


Eventually, we got to Quintanas de Hormiguera and stopped for second breakfast and coffee at service station that catered mainly for motorway traffic. Rob texted to say he had got to Santander and had booked into a hotel. Bet he was warmer then we were! 28km done and 36km to go.


Setting off again, we cycled along virtually deserted roads until Arabella decided to have her little joke again and sent us down 4 km of very rough track. Thanks. After that we hit tarmac again and by now it had warmed up and wind was at our backs for a change. Passing through a nice little village we stopped on a bridge to take photographs of storks nesting and the ford where the road used to cross the stream. As is often the case with all of us, the item you need - in this case Dave's camera - is always in the other pannier - not the one you look in first. There were lots of pollarded plane trees that Baz thought looked a bit scary.


After that, we were off road again for about 5km ending up at a massive cement factory. The scenic route then Arabella? Following the road parallel to the single track railway line from the factory, we turned onto a main road and cycled at least 5km on a really well maintained, wide and green painted cycle path. Just like Newport. Leaving this, we followed a quiet undulating road to the small village of Salinas de Pisuerga and our very nice hotel for the night. The hotel was renovated from an old mill. Really good. After checking in and showers, we walked into the village for a coffee, then a beer and crisps and then back to the hotel for another beer and a relax in the lounge overlooking the mill stream. Photos were put on FaceTube. We listened to background music of a sultry, jazzy, bluesy and eventually rather depressing female vocalist until it got too much and we went to our rooms. After a bit of a relax and a recharging of batteries (literally) we walked back into the village for our evening meal.


The bar cum cafe cum pub soon filled up with locals - some of whom were here this afternoon and had hung around, some were people popping in for an after work beer. It was all very relaxed, friendly and good humoured. The landlord was exceptionally helpful and through a combination of his English and our Spanish we ordered local lemon based aperitifs and then food. Ok. It was rather more his English than our Spanish.


Baz and Dave had veal. Roger had something that may or may not involve pigs trotters. Glenn had risotto. They played lots of Stones, Neil Young and Cream on the stereo. Brill.


Roger and Dave ordered more of the lemon based rocket fuel. Baz and Glenn ordered a glass of Rioja only to be told by the waitress words to the effect of ‘you don’t want to drink that rubbish’ and so we had the local Ribera. Lovely. So we all had another except for Roger who had tea. Cheers to Rob who is probably snoozing in Santander. Or perhaps he’s out clubbing. Buenos noches to all our readers.


Day 4 - A Coffee Shop - Salinas de Pusuerga to Moratinos


44.6 km and 351 ascent in the morning

44.6km and 342m ascent in the afternoon


There was a grey and overcast start to the day but the sun started to peek through as we sat down to a very nice breakfast of fruit n fibre, tostadas, tortilla and biscuits. Dave started a new trend by adding pepper to his coffee.


After packing we waited in the hotel lobby whilst the guy on reception phoned his colleague who had the key to where our bikes had been stored overnight. His kitchen. This took some time. But eventually we set off. It was freezing.


Now is a good time to have a word about the weather. We had planned our trip to Spain to be at a time of year to avoid cycling in lots of heat. In the event, we’ve rather overdone our caution - it’s too bloody cold. Only 2degC this morning.


Cycling over a narrow medieval bridge, we turned right onto what turned out to be 3km of rough track. We passed through sleepy villages on concrete paths then more rough track. After half an hour we begin to get some feeling back into our dingers. Well of course I meant ‘fingers’ but predictive text being what it is..... Apparently, it’s inventor has recently fried and his (or her) funfair is next payday.


There were snow capped peaks of the Picos de Europa ahead as we cycled through fields with cattle grazing, a cuckoo calling from afar, more mistletoe'd trees, a meandering river to our right and Baz stopping for a leak on our left. We were still off road after 12km and stopped to take photos next to another gate made from a bedstead. From nowhere the thought occurred that in all probability, we will never be here again.


Here and there, cold air was clinging to the shadows of overhanging trees and yet, out of the shade, the sun shone down from a cloudless blue sky. Soon it had warmed up enough for us to stop to get layers off. Apparently Dave’s waterproof is now called ‘a four eyed ....’ because it put up a fight trying to get it into his panniers.


Finally, at the end of the off road track we gratefully joined a road - only to confront a 3km climb - mostly at 0.7 SAF. As the road eventually plateau’d out, we saw a car park ahead with a small tiled building we thought might be a coffee shop but it was actually where they kept the rubbish bins.


There followed a grinding 23km on the P-225 as we ignored Arabella’s off road predilections so we could just get the distance done.


Cycling through four or five coffee shop- less villages we were on perfect rust brown tarmac with a vast open countryside around us. Nothing much happened for ages except the tarmac turned grey.


And then in Buenavista de Valdavia, there was a coffee shop. And it was open! Sitting outside in the sun we were soon drinking coffee con leche and eating cheese sandwiches the size of Wales. Dave cut his into triangles to show he’s posh. Lying back in the sun, Roger ventured the observation that we were exhibiting reptilian behaviour. Which brought to mind the lyrics from ‘Me or Him’. So with apologies to Roger Waters:


“You wake up in the morning, get something for the pot,

Wonder why the sun makes the rocks feel hot,

Draw on the walls, eat, get laid

Back in the good old days

Then some damn fool invents the wheel

Listen to the brake rim squeal,

You spend all day looking for a coffee shop ........”


After lunch we faced another climb before the landscape flattened out as if we were on top of the earth. After passing through Saldana Palencia and across another medieval bridge we turned onto the P 235 - a virtually straight road which we sped along for the next 20km, taking turns to strike out in front. I say ‘sped’ but that might be a bit of an exaggeration.


And finally, Arabella took us down an off road track - the Camino de Santiago itself - to the very nice Hostel Moratinos. We checked in and had beers outside - the sun by now had won its battle with the cold air. Wonderful. Roger tried to stand up and very nearly didn’t. But he then went off to take photos of a wine store disguised as a hill. As you do.


The hostel rooms were really good. They had complementary bananas and Twix and a little bottle of water - and a hair drier! After showers and a bit of a rest we came down to sit outside in the glorious sunshine only to be pestered by millions of may flies. Dave said they were used as bait in fishing - in which case why don’t they bugger off to find a lake somewhere. So we went inside to be faced with a dinner menu with far too much choice for our enfeebled brains.


After having soup the size of a swimming pool and a main course the size of something very big, we sat around talking bollocks as you do. Or as we do. And over coffee, we watched a bloke in orange trousers and sandals doing stretches at the bar. Oh please. The conversation turned more serious as Roger recounted amazing tales of his Mum, especially her horrendous experiences through the war. The things our generation have to be very, very grateful for.


To end the evening, a young, shy and retiring German student joined us - he started the Camino in France 9 days ago and is walking the whole way to Satiago. He mentioned his ex-girlfriend more than once - something we were not entirely surprised about. Enough respect nonetheless.



Day 5 - Hola! - Morantinos to Carrion de los Condes


28km and 118m of ascent


A bright sunny morning saw a constant buzz of walkers preparing for their day on the historic and for some, a life-affirming or even spiritual pilgrimage route - the Camino de Santiago. The morning saw us watching a tv programme about man in a pony tail who looked like the Fonz training badly behaved dogs and their pathetically stupid irresponsible owners. Why, why, why. On so many levels, why. Not that I've got a strong opinion either way.


After a breakfast of coffee, toast, fried eggs, and bacon, we reluctantly dragged ourselves away from the pointless tv programme to prepare for the day.


But first we explored the village and the small earth mound which is called a bodega which was tunnelled out in times gone by to create spaces to make and store wine and vegetables. And quite possibly, eggs and bacon.


It was cold. Setting off, we could understand why virtually all the walkers were clothed in leggings and big anoraks - clearly they had done their research rather more diligently than us.


The first few km were on rough track with big open fields on either side and an equally big sky above. We shouted ‘hola’ to the many walkers we passed - some were exuberant and in high spirits, some rather more lost in their own thoughts. Weighed down with backpacks and covering the miles day after day made us feel that all who have undertaken this challenge deserve our respect - even the slightly annoying vicar who was on a tv programme featuring herself and six or seven other 'celebrities' walking the Camino. She is sometimes on radio 2 talking about god with a slightly annoying Yorkshire accent. The vicar’s accent that is. But you never know.


Leaving the dirt track Camino, we turned onto a quiet, well surfaced road. There followed a short climb and then 4km section with complementary bitter, biting wind - either head on or from the side. No feeling in our dingers yet again. We turned off into the welcome shelter of the Calle Mayor of a small village and then came across the even more welcome of a coffee bar cum hostel which was busy with walkers eating late - or second - breakfasts or a very early paella based lunch. Sitting outside where the wind couldn't get us, we talked about a glass bridge in China, vertigo and other phobias. As we do.


Remounting our trusty steeds we hit a 9 km perfectly straight dirt track exposed to the horrible side wind yet again. Then Arabella took us onto a D shaped detour for no apparent reason other than to make us cycle through a drainage channel. After rejoining the PP 2411 road, we 'sped' along for 3km into Carrion de los Condes. In the village we pass a petrol garage and Dave wondered if they sold paella. Or maybe the Ginster’s pasty empire has extended this far out. Or Tyrell's crisps. Who knows. Our hotel for the night is a renovated Monastery. Baz is delighted.


We had a bit of a double booking altercation at reception which was easily sorted and then, as our rooms were not yet ready, we put our bikes in the bike store and headed to the bar for lunch. Dave and Glenn had pizza whilst Roger and Baz brave the tapas menu - garlic mushrooms and variations of potatoes.


Looking around, we noticed that all the guests seemed a bit 'Sunday lunch' posh - not including us of course. Mind you, Baz and Glenn have four poster beds!! After checking into our rooms, showering and the usual bag sorting activities, we wandered into the historic town which had built up over the centuries catering for Camino pilgrims. Very hard to get your head around their worldview so embedded in religious doctrine and belief.


Back at the hotel, we sat outside and discussed various route amendments as we were worried that the combination of off-road cycling, serious hills and that bloody awful wind would cause us one or two problems in the coming week that we would rather live without. So a decision was reached to change the route again. Hotels were cancelled and others booked and new routes plotted. And so, we are off to the seaside!! But not yet - two more days of Camino first.


We met at 7:30 for beers in the bar before our dinner at 8:00 in the hotel restaurant which we couldn't find. "Donde esta el restaurante?" We asked at reception. "Upstairs" was the reply. On arrival, the very nice waitress gave us menus in English - we've no idea what gave it away. The meal, service, wine and deserts were all wonderful. We won't make you envious by spelling out the details.


Over the second bottle of local red wine, we talked about what we might have done differently in our lives. But that’s another story completely and it's time we were all in bed. Duerma bien.



Day 6 - A Cathedral And An Irish Bar - Carrion de la Condes to Burgos


86km and 615m ascent


We awoke after our slightly disturbed sleep in too hot rooms. But we had enjoyed our stay. Nice prints in the rooms, marble staircases, bedrooms opening on to a wide wooden floored four sided gallery overlooking the rather wonderful cloister below. How we suffer.


Breakfast was good - lots of choice but a bit limited in the cereal department. We’ll let Tripadvisor know. The coffee machine had a white light flashing onto the cup as the coffee trickled in. Why. There is no reasonable answer to that question. And the rotary toaster didn’t. That is, it was rotary but it didn't toast.


Roger was worried about how much Baz and Glenn were eating - what did they know that he didn’t about the route ahead. Actually, it was a cross between comfort eating, carbo-loading and stalling for time.


As with every morning, we set about lubricating to reduce as much friction as possible. Then we did the bikes. Old joke I know.


Cycling through the town, we stopped at an ATM after nearly being hit by a car whose driver had forgotten where the indicators were. Then we followed an 80km ride along a quiet and well surfaced and undulating road - the N120. Cars and lorries that overtook gave us loads of room - really courteous driving we have experienced almost everywhere on the trip so far.


At one stage, a cyclist overtook is on his carbon road bike and Baz waited at least a minute before the testosterone kicked in and he gave chase. He nearly caught him too! As Baz pushed ahead, Dave speculated that the main reason was that he was drawn to the Cathedral in Burgos - the third largest in Spain. Baz tended to disagree.


The weather was much warmer today. Or rather, there was much less wind. We stopped after 12 km for a pit stop and de-layer.


We passed a small village called Villadiezma - with a big church. Or rather it was a big church with a small village. At some point, Baz made unnecessary comments about Glenn’s Castelli cycle shorts


The N 120 ran alongside a motorway - both were very quiet. Cycling through a small town we passed a man tending what would have been a roadside verge if he hadn’t turned it into an allotment. He was weeding his lettuces. Thought you’d like to know.


We had hoped to stop for a coffee in Osorno. But it was closed. On the road out we find a hostel - the Hostel Los Chopos - make of that what you will. We had coffee and cake in the sun putting the world to rights - with no beer!


As per the instructions from the owner of the night’s hotel, we had to phone 15 min before we arrived so the owner could make sure he’d be out. Only joking.


We slogged up long hills past fields with large piles of stones dotted around. With 10km to go we meet the Camino again with its complement of knackered looking walkers. Soon after, we passed through an amazing intersection of a river, two motorways, road, railways and trails. Without Arabella this would have been an absolute nightmare.


Not long after, she took us on a frankly unnecessary dirt track. Thanks. This turned into a quiet road through the outskirts of Burgos before we re-joined the main road. We veered of onto the cycle track which led us through a lovely, long Chestnut tree lined boulevard. Turning left at a roundabout, we cycled along the pedestrian streets surrounding the impressive cathedral. Then we cycled straight passed our rooms for the night. After asking a passer bye in Glenn's best Spanish, we were put right and were welcomed into a dark and frankly forbidding entrance hall where we temporarily left our bikes. Climbing a rickety wooden staircase we stepped into another world - a beautifully appointed, modern apartment with three twin rooms. All white paint and wet rooms. And an honesty box! The nice owner of the apartment had some trouble getting his phone to work so he could take photos of our passports. After that, he led us into an underground car park where we padlocked our bikes.


Burgos is lovely. Lots of pedestrian streets surrounding a massive

Cathedral which Baz declined to enter due to one or two theological differences. At the ticket desk - yes, you pay to go in - the woman in front of us had to tell her life story at the kiosk and then empty everything out of her bag to find something trivial. Oh how we laughed.


The cathedral is amazing, the most splendid parts being the stonework carving. There was also enough gold leaf to cover a very big gold leafed thing on show off your gold leaf thingy day - rather innocuous and glaring compared to the simplicity and beauty of the stone masons's art.


After that, we met up with Baz to have drinks in the plaza outside. Then we moved on to an Irish bar where we sat outside whilst Baz went back to the apartment to get his drugs. We waited quite a while to be served because the waiter had a) no sort of eye contact whatsoever, and b) hadn't finished his fag yet. Eventually Rog - yes Rog! - gave up waiting and went in to order at the bar. At most of the tables around us, there were young people enjoying each other's company - remarkably few smoking given this is Spain.


On one side of the square there was a doorway (closed) through which one could enter into “Madame Kalula Bodeguita Cubana”. The mind boggles, or possibly bodeguitas.


Walking back towards the apartment we found a nice tapas bar where we no idea what we were ordering except it involved glasses of red wine. Various fish, sea food and meat items were consumed whilst Glenn had a boiled potato sprinkled with paprika. There then followed discussion of a way back when Jenny Saville art exhibition as we kept our eye on the Man City v Leicester score. 0-0 at half time as I write.


As if we hadn’t had enough excitement for one day, we went back to the apartment to use the honesty bar! Coffee and Pringles. What more could you ask for. Buenas noches a todos nuestros lectores.


Day 7 - I See A Sea Shell - Burgos to Santa Dominico de la Calzada


69km and 582m ascent


The day started with a do it yourself breakfast which involved using a coffee machine with no instructions. What could go wrong? Retrieving our bikes from the underground car park, the automatic doors of which desperately needed the ministrations of Roger and his oil can, we packed up, loaded the panniers and consulted Arabella for today’s route. She guided us in what can only be described as an 'interesting' first few km. First she kept changing the direction in a vaguely random way at the same time as showing off her vast knowledge of Spanish street names. Next, she guided us down a passageway which had steps going down. Next after we had peddled for a while through a park, she thought more steps would be a good idea - this time up. Both of these suggestions we decided to ignore. A final flurry of weird direction took us along a path with a fence across it blocking the way. How droll.


But in no time, we were back on our old friend the N-120 which was way busier than it had been yesterday - probably because yesterday had been a national holiday. Lorries roared past through busy industrial areas but after about 16km it went quieter and also warmer. So we could feel not only our dingers but our beet as well.


We passed a building with a big sign saying ‘Hotel Versus Restaurant ‘. Apparently the score was 1-0 courtesy of a 30m screamer into the top corner of the net. We were in good Kompany.


After a few more on of the N-120 we felt like a change and so started to follow the Camino itself. We nearly strayed off route into a military compound but thought better of it. Finding the right track we passed under a bridge and then rejoined the N-120 for a short while before taking a side road to the left. We we cruised down to San Juan de Ortega which had a coffee shop which was open yesterday.


By now we had abandoned the route finding efforts of both Garmin and Arabella and placed our trust in a map book Glenn had bought off eBay. The book was great if you were following the Camino in its usual East to West direction and could speak German. Which we weren’t and we can't. (Well we can but don't like to show off). So we needed to move backwards from one page to the next whilst also reading each map from left to right. It was the work of a child. But unfortunately we didn’t have one available so after a mere 20 minutes, we worked it out for ourselves.


There followed a very pleasant if uphill road into San Juan de Ortega where we sat outside in the by now warming sun eating a coffee and sandwich based second breakfast. And ham and cheese pasties (not Ginsters). And cake. A Dutch man on an electrically assisted bike came up and we swapped route notes. Not only was he cycling to Santiago but also back again to Santander, catching the ferry to Portsmouth and then cycling to Harwich. How good is that!


We continued cycling along rough tracks between pine trees that Glenn's son Charles and friend Cory had walked a few years before. This brought on a small emotional moment for Glenn. They had walked from London to Africa. Just repeat that. London to Africa. And we think it's a long way to the next cup of coffee.


Cycling on past large bushes decked with bright purple flowers that looked like a kind of lavender, we passed more and more walkers on their pilgrimage. Or whatever was their motivation. Come to think if it, what the heck was ours?! Some of the pilgrims had a saucer sized necklace in the shape of a sea shell - the appropriated 'logo' of the Camino - with a large red cross painted on. Baz is gagging for one.


Following long, rough, stony tracks which Roger loves, we then descended down more of the same rough track which Roger loved even more! We wished we had Baz's disc brakes. The path's surface then got a little more sensible, but not its profile. There was an incredibly steep down of about 200m followed by a similarly steep ascent the other side - at least a 0.9 SAF. Two of our party decided early doors that the only way up was pushing. One had a go and very nearly cycled to the top. Another also let the testosterone kick in and made it all the way. Who you will want to know. Let's just call him birthday boy.


Gradually the pines gave out to deciduous trees not yet in leaf and we continued down the stony track braking hard all the way and trying not to let the front wheel skid from under us. Nearing the bottom though, Rogers pannier fastening broke. We mended it using Velcro cable ties and then checked out the cafeteria at the rather ostentatious hotel at Losantos where the lady serving had clearly had training at Waitrose. Setting off after sandwiches and coke, Baz noticed his rear tyre was flat so we stopped to mend it. Cracking on for a lovely 8km along the busy but slightly downhill road and with a great tailwind behind, we made good progress peaking at 37mph according to techno Dave's Garmin. But then Baz’s tyre went down again in the small town of Belorado. Replacing the inner tube yet again we tried three different CO2 contraptions for blowing up the tyre and realised non of them came with instructions either! Job finally done, we had a great decent for the next 6km or so till Dave needed to stop to stretch his toes. Good job Baz brought mole grips.


Cycling into San Dominigo de la Calzada, we rode straight past our hotel yet again - it looked a bit on the posh side for us so we studiously ignored the sign until Glenn went in to check. At check in we observed that the posher and more expensive the hotel, the more paperwork was needed. Any thoughts anyone? Thereafter we went to our very nice rooms and after showers reconvened in the hotel lobby.


We wandered round the town which was mostly pedestrianised and very pleasant. There were yet more ubiquitous plane trees which were pollarded so that branches from one trees were encouraged to grow out, touch, and eventually bond with the branches from the next. How very lovely. To Baz's displeasure, we eventually found the entrance to the cathedral which was at the side of the building and looked like the entrance to a public library or possibly a dry cleaners. Inside was an interesting art exhibition, too much gold leaf and for reasons unexplained, a huge model of various medieval scenes made out of Duplo.


Following that ecstasy, we sat outside for a beer but were blessed to be sat next to a table of French - or at least French speaking - noisy men singing some form of song they clearly thought was hilarious. As is always the case there was a ring leader egging the others on right up to the point they realised he was an idiot and started avoiding eye contact and pretend to find something important to attend to on their phones.


We eventually prized ourselves away from the French choir to visit a quiet bar where we had potatas bravas and or squid in batter. Followed by various variants on paella. Then we had cheesecake disguised as strawberries and cream and vice versa. Yes, Dave ate the wrong one. Thanks. After discussing the state of the world - again - specifically how old Glenn actually was, we watched a bit of the Liverpool v Barca game. 1:0 after 13 minutes as I write. In the end Dave was so concerned as to the quality of the refereeing decisions that he could no longer watch.


We wander back through the calm and quiet late evening boulevards dotted with pavement bars and intertwined plane trees. The warmth and stillness and serenity of it all. And so to bed. But OMG, Liverpool 4, Barcelona 0!!! That is amazing!!


Gracias por todos tus saludos mi cumpleaños.


Day 8 - Un Dia Bastardo - Santo Dominica de la Calzada to Sollido


120km and 1437m ascent


Breakfast was in the vaulted refectory of the renovated monastery in which I assume is where we were staying. Don’t tell Baz. Breakfast included all the usual things except for an absence of egg based products and a coffee pot that didn’t dribble. Increasing on the trip, we have noticed a strange logic at work as to the location of the various buffet items. Butter next to the toast and bread? No, let’s put it by the yogurt. Bowls by the cereal? You must be joking. Anyway, the next point of note on our trip was that Baz is running low on drugs. So we message Kaz and hope she can post some more out to him.


Leaving the town, we turned onto the A-232 which was yet another long, straight road. There was a strong headwind and so it was rather unforgiving - there was no where to hide. But as if to prove us wrong there was then a really nice 2km decent into Casalsrriena. By then it had warmed up a tad and so a bit of delayering was called for.


Cycling through a deserted village - nothing new there, they all are - we powered up a very steep hill Rob would have loved. Obviously I use the term ‘powered’ rather loosely. Arabella then took us onto a gravel track in order to cut a corner which was a bit of a pain. In the middle of nowhere, google earth offers where you can find a cash machine but not a path that isn’t as RAF.


The track was possibly a beach in the Jurassic period but you’d think they could have tidied it up by now. It was, in many respects just like the Camino de Santiago we had been following for the last few days - just the absence of walkers, hostels, and anywhere to get a cheese sandwich. This was just a track. It didn’t have a name. It hadn’t been reified into a thing. If the bones of St James had been placed in Soncillo where we were headed, it would probably have been called the Camino de Soncillo - if you get my drift o. The scenery was awesome - big fields of barley, vines and rape seed. The problem is it slows the pace and there’s always a risk of a puncture. After about 5km we gratefully back onto tarmac - the N-232. Immediately there was an absolutely bastard headwind. And then it rained for a bit. And then there was a puncture. 20km done. Rain having stopped and puncture repaired, we set off. And then there was another puncture. Both in the space of ten minutes on whose bike? Let’s call him Lance.


The bastard headwind then turned into a bastard side wind blowing us us all over the road. It was safer to keep in the centre to avoid being blown into the ditch or barriers at the side. The occasional hedge provided some respite from this for at least 100m before it started again. At one point a lorry passed so close you could smell the driver's aftershave and Glenn gesticulated where he could shove the empty bottle. This was turning into a day you would tell your grandchildren about. Provided they were old enough not to be phased by repetitions of the word ‘bastard’.


There was more rain. There was sun. And there was plenty of bastard wind. The road turned into the N-1 and we cycled west into the wind. After 5 relentless km we turned off back onto the N-232 heading north west.


Following another uphill slog, there was a brief respite of a couple of km into Pancorbo - where miraculously there was an open cafe. The smallest range of sandwiches were on offer (3), so coffee and cake it is then. €9 for the lot at the questionably named Coffee bar Morale.


A note here about the long white line painted on the road to separate it from the cycle lane. It’s long. It’s white. It’s always there. It goes on forever. That about covers it.


With 89km to go, it’s 11:55 and lunch is called for. But there was no answer. Though a relief from the incessant consumerist marketing back home, the odd sign saying ‘Tapas bar ahead - open 24/7’ would have been brilliant. Or a corner shop. It makes you wonder if the locals actually eat anything.


Heading into yet more wind slowing us to less than 8km an hour at times, things were feeling desperate. We saw two people wandering around a field, probably looking for food.


According to a thankfully discredited theory of causality, all this wind is punishment because Baz hadn’t visited the cathedral in San Domingo de la Calzada to look at the perfectly awful sculpture of Christ with the wrong number of ribs being crucified wearing a red skirt.


Then we turn slightly north and into a valley. There is a very nice decent and the wind goes away - as Dave has been politely asking it to for three hours. In Ona we are all knackered. 66km done by 2:30. 54km to go. We enter a small snack bar with an eating area at the back, and order egg and chips and various bits of pig. Gratefully refuelled we go outside and and an English man appears from nowhere and takes a photo for us.


Refreshed a bit we cycled on through a limestone gorge with a few nice descents but then the wind came back with a vengeance. Then the road hair pinned up. We stop to take photos and a video - no one back home would believe this wind.


Further on we turn off the N-232 and see a monstrous hill ahead. Wonderful. The wind is horrendous and at one stage blows Baz onto the other side of the road pointing down hill! After half an hour of incessant slog, we reach the sign saying ‘Portillo de Manzanedo, 1010m' and we were relived to be still in one piece and at the top. Except we were not at the top - there was another 2km of climb ahead. Bastards.


Then followed a long winding decent mixed in with the occasional climb. The wind was still a pain so care was needed. 90km done at 16:40, 30km to go.


At last we reached Soncillo and Arabella guided us to where the hotel wasn't. After consulting with a local couple, we found it hidden down a concrete track at least a km away from where says it is. Glenn is hugely impressed. When we get there it looks quaint and rural. It's another renovated mill. And it’s deserted. We let ourselves in and phone the hotelier who arrives ten minutes later. We sort out the rooms and decide against showers in favour of cycling back into town for dinner.


Which is wonderful. The incredibly helpful waitress wrote down the menu choices so we could Google-translate them and order. We have a three course meal, two beers each, and a bottle of wine and it comes to €46. Amazing. Midway through, Dave goes to the ladies.


Very well refreshed we cycle back to the hotel in the dark, lock up the bikes and hit the sack, relieved to have survived an amazingly challenging day - a bit of a bastard.



Day 9 - A Bit Of A Wet One - Sollido to Santa Vincente de la Barquera


96km and 1072m ascent


We woke to the rather unbelievable news that Tottenham had done a Liverpool and drawn 3-3 with Ajax thus winning on the away goals rule. Amazing.


Breakfast was accompanied by the strains of a radio station playing on the landlady's phone. And there was I thinking 'sweet child of mine' couldn't sound any worse.


We had a nice start, cold but sunny. After 9km Dave asked how far we had to go. 'Thursday' answered Glenn who had misheard him. After another km we hit a 2km hill, and slogged up, mostly in bottom gear. Seeing the brown sign at the 'top' we were naturally suspicious. But it was the top and from there we could see lake Ebro where we had stayed in Arija a week or so ago - so this must have been the road Rob's taxi had taken on his way to the airport at Santander.


Pressing on we sped down a massive 7km descent on the drops all the way to get enough leverage on the brakes. Glenn was in his element at 70km/hr. Bax not far behind but Dave and Rog were a little more cautious. We passed quite a few vintage cars going up including six or seven Rolls Royce, and a few Bentleys. We had coffee to let the rims cool off and then hit even more decent into wooded valley and past a roadside goat with a very impressive set of horns.


Entering the nice town of Onteneda which seemed a bit more busy and active than we’ve seen so far, we stop at a pharmacy for Dave to buy deodorant and Bas goes in on the off chance they would have his drugs. And they have!!


These are the same drugs that require a special certificate from a GP to get couriered abroad but can be bought double strength in a tiny pharmacy in a small Spanish town for €1:35. Even more American inspired litigation paranoia on the way no doubt.

It’s 18 deg C - the flashing pharmacy sign says so.


Moving on, the valley widens out and it gets busier. So much so, there are no places secluded enough for a pit stop. We are now in the environs of Santander and stop for lunch in Vargas. Almost half way covered by 12:30. The nice restaurant owner explains the menu del dia - a three course meal and wine, all for €9 each. We all have a salad to start except Dave who has a swimming pool of lentil soup with floating sausages.


After lunch, there is 3km gentle climb to village of La Montana through rolling countryside, the road lined with old, pollarded plane trees. Dave vehemently disputes the word 'gentle'. Descending we pass under the A8 motorway and round three roundabouts in succession without a single direction sign. Thanks.


Cycling through the centre of the busy and not particularly pleasant town of Torrelavega on intermittent and confusing cycle lanes, we eventually leave the traffic of the N-232 and head uphill on a quieter road to Santallina del Mar. Passing through, we noticed pilgrims on this version of the Campanino de Santiago (the Campanino North) and lots of French coaches probably heading for the nearby zoo or cave art museum - more of which in a couple of days time.


Not far out from the village, Baz lets us know his daily puncture has arrived so we stop to replace the tube. His rear rim is clearly giving him trouble. That and his knee which keeps locking out when he gets off the bike. It is raining on and off and then on again and then it kept on being on. Feeling pretty miserable, we pressed on and after being held up by two sets of roadworks, finally arrived in Comillas where we could see the sea! If it hadn't been raining it would have looked lovely. But it was so it didn't. Although Dave said the sight of the sea lifted his spirits somewhat. Ahh, bless. Another 10km and we crossed the causeway into San Vincente and found our hotel - as far out from the town centre as possible. Oops!


We checked in, warmed up, showered and rested until hunger came knocking. It's still raining and we following google maps to the nearest open restaurant. Which is closed. Actually, the nearest restaurant is, as the crow flies, on the other side of the estuary but google maps doesn't point out that to reach it, you'd have to be Jesus.


Further on we enter what looks like a posh hotel and have a beer waiting for the restaurant to open. It’s very white with no soft furnishing whatsoever. Consequently it’s very noisy. But very friendly and helpful. We have more beers and they bring a selections of nuts - not in a bowl but on a saucer. So they go everywhere. We try to make sense of the menu but Rog and Dave have forgotten their reading glasses. Baz has a pair and then he and Rog chose a main course that the waiter says isn’t available today - but then he comes back and says that it is. We talk about ridiculous speed and people trying to break various records - as well as various limbs. The weather man on the tv is wearing an untucked shirt, no tie and grey trainers. And he didn’t even say 'scorchio'. Anyway it’s sun and clouds tomorrow.


To maintain the football theme of the last couple of days, Valencia have just scored against Arsenal. So 2-3 aggregate. Then Arsenal score.


Baz and Rog have a paella the size of a big paella. Dave had egg and chips and a piece of leather. Glenn has a a plate of roasted veg. We all eat too much. Then we talk about Dave’s rugby league training experience and then we have cheesecake on a slate with barely a nod to the idea of a cheesecake needing to have a significant biscuit base. Leaving the restaurant we head back to the hotel.


Arsenal have won 7:3 on aggregate. And it’s still sodding raining.


Day 10 - A Cycle Free Day - Santa Vincente de la Barquera


We woke with the thought - no cycling today! After a nice breakfast of juice, coffee, and tostada - the olive oil came in little cartons like jam does - we get ready to wander into town.


The hotel is a bit weird - or rather, it has some weird sculptures dotted around - cactus made from plastic Jerry cans anyone? It is landscaped with hundreds of old railway sleepers, and it’s next to a boat yard that is in the process of becoming a junkyard. It's on the commercial side of the estuary and there are docks and fishing activities going on. There is a monotony of apartment blocks behind. By the bridge near where we ate last night there is a modern building with dozens of balconies. Which is great for the view for those on the balcony but not such a great view for those having to look at it.


It's a cloudy but clear day. No rain is forecast thankfully. San Vincente de la Barquera is a port dating back to the Romans and developed into an important stop over for pilgrims following the northern Camino. It was probably quite quaint at one time but now it’s all 1960’s and 70's modern. The few smaller, older buildings are dwarfed and hemmed in by the more modern cousins. It’s not really a proper town as there’s no bike shop. At 9:50 it still has that waking up feel. No where is open. Except a fish monger. There’s a huge vending machine selling milk. A little later we stop for coffee. There are tables outside in a construction that looks like a bus station. We have sugar free cakes and Viennese slices. Rog heads to the back of the restaurant to ‘avail himself’.


There is dead spider crab on the wall and we discuss its feeding habits. No one is very sure - perhaps we were all away that day.

We wander towards the causeway then back again past palm trees, lots of camper vans and a bus station that looks like a bus station. It's all very out of season touristy. The restaurants all have photos of the food. Nice. We lean over the harbour wall. We see two fish. In a pleasant square with a surround of coppiced plane trees, branches entwined. They are everywhere. Gardeners World must be a bit limited over here. A man is jet washing the paving. By 11, shops have opened and its getting warmer. In a bookshop we see a relief map of where we have cycled. Should have looked at one earlier.


We wander up a load of steps to the older part of the town and examine the defensive walls and the outside of the ancient church and castle, then return to get lunch down by the harbour. Dave and Glenn are good boys and have salad whilst Baz and Rog have the menu del dia. And we all have beers. Then we get the delightful news that the ferry home has been cancelled. After a mere 15 minutes of being kept on hold, we are told that we can sail back two days later - not exactly convenient but much less of a ball ache than trying to fly instead. So arrangements are made and extra hotels booked. Whoever pronounced that it is better to travel than to arrive is talking bollocks and has never encountered Brittany Ferries.


After a bit of a siesta, Dave and Rog catch the newly emergent sun on what yesterday seemed a hopelessly optimistic sun deck. Glenn and Baz join them and soon it’s beer o’clock. We talk about sports cars being unpredictable and hard to handle. No comparisons at all are made. A motorcycle courier arrived and we think he’s bringing Baz’s drugs posted from England. But he hasn’t.


By 18:30 it has clouded over and we get ready to go back into town for dinner. Which is pizza. The restaurant owner is helpful but comes across as someone not to mess with. So we don’t.


Day 11 - A Bit Of A Tower - San Vincente to Santillana del Mar




We awake to a cloudy day. The sun terrace looks hopelessly optimistic again. At 7:45 there are church bells calling the faithful. Baz is calling something else entirely. Breakfast consists of good orange juice, coffee and Tostada. Baz cheats by cake-loading.


Dave regales about a judge on a TV art programme. Apparently he wears red overalls and is a college of art lecturer. He's also a bit of a dick. Then we slag off the vicar on one of the other 'celebrities who can paint a bit' art programmes.


As we don’t have far to go today we don’t hurry. But eventually we prize ourselves from the breakfast table and having packed and paid, we descend the steep drive and Dave positions himself on the wrong side of road. Heading back over the causeway we see locals out for their Saturday morning run or bike ride. They seem to be kitted out as if it's still winter but in comparison to some of our other morning starts, it doesn't seem too cold to us.


The road into Comillas is a lot more undulating than we remembered when cycled in the other direction two days ago. As we arrive, the local fire and ambulance services are setting up some sort of event on a large playing field. Probably some form of emergency services It's a Knockout.


At first sight, Comillas is much more interesting and quaint than San Vincente was although the guidebook we are using doesn't have the same opinion. That's because it's wrong. We see quite a lot of Camino del Norte pilgrims and we stop in a nice square whilst Rog goes to tourist info for a map. We have a coffee and listen to the trance music emanating from what looks like a Goth clothes and accessories shop. The square should be pedestrianised but it isn’t. Three cars drive in and then out again for no obvious reason. A taxi and then a white car drive in, stop, leave the engine idling whilst watching the planet die. A cycling club pass by all in flash green and orange kit with matching helmets - except one rider in a pink shirt who obviously didn't get the message. A helicopter hovers noisily overhead whilst a coach load of people take five minutes to do a group photo in front of a statue.


We cycle the short way to El Capricho - a house complete with tower designed by Antoni Gaudi. It's an amazing place. Whilst a bit over the top with its ceramic tile outside, the inside is fantastic. The furniture, the ceilings, the staircases, the flooring and the attic beams are all created beautifully with fantastic attention to detail. The whole effect seems to make everyone happy. Dave loves it and wants to move in.


Moving on, we have another coffee in another square. There are loads of cafes and restaurants but few people - it must get rammed in high season. There is a lovely cobbled square outside the church perfectly ruined by the parked cars, one of which nearly knocks Roger over because the driver hasn't worked out how to use the wing mirrors yet.


Cycling on, Dave's mudguard is rubbing against the tyre and in closer inspection, something stuck from the Jurassic period is prized away. All along the road there are traffic lights on red designed to slow traffic when entering built up areas. When a car approaches, they will change to flashing amber or green. But if a bike approaches nothing happens. So we have to stop and wait for a car to come along to trigger the change, or simply cycle through on red - which we do and hope no one is watching.


We meet an English man on an electric bike who is waiting on the roadside because he has lost his wife. He seems pleased about this. A little while later they both speed past us up a hill. We might have muttered something.


We had been told that Santillana del Mar was like Bourton on the Water - possibly by an art lecturer in a red overall - but it isn't. It's perfectly lovely. The approaches are a bit busy with cars and coaches but the cobbled pedestrianised streets are a delight. We stop at a snack bar for lunch and eventually the owner gets the idea that in order to make any money it might be a good idea to serve us.


We all have things and chips and then cycle off to find our hotel right in the village centre. It's wonderful. The very helpful lady at reception checks us in and we store the bikes in a side room. The hotel is wooden floored and wooden beamed and has an amazing number of staircases. We shower and rest and then head out onto the patterned cobbled streets. There are lovely stone buildings, ornate stone carvings of coats of arms and a calm and peaceful atmosphere. Inevitably, there are a few toy swords and tacky T shirt shops. We head into Romanesque cloisters where Dave finds out that the wire fence designed to stop people getting to close to the intricate stonework isn't electrified. On one side of the cloister, there is a huge diorama of scenes depicting the life of Christ - like a Nativity scene plus the next six chapters. In the church, there is huge cross nailed to the wall - an interesting reversal.


Outside, Baz is impressed by a carpenters workshop where you can watch furniture being made but can't take photographs. After a bit more mooching it's beer o’clock but Rog has coffee. A family next to us let their two young boys play with newly bought toy guns on the church steps. Just a bit of irony there then. As we continue to watch the world go by, Glenn notices that Dave has odd socks on - he had the opposite pair on yesterday. Rogers are black. Baz’s are blue and possibly inside out.


We have another beer. Rog doesn't want a beer and they don’t do zumo. The waitress says something we don’t understand but we order it anyway. Thankfully it isn’t cannabis. We carry on people judging. Two young boys have 'Dinosaurs are forever' T shirts which seems to be pushing the 'lies we tell to children' category a bit far.


We wander back to the hotel via a cash point which is behind bars so it can't escape. Dinner is at the El Jardin restaurant. We have vino Tinto del la Casa which is very, very nice has a graph on the label for reasons unknown.


We order but there’s a bit of an altercation with the waitress who worries we have ordered too many potatoes. After much dialogue we cut down on the starters and order Spanish style cracked eggs thinking this means omelettes. It doesn’t. It means fried eggs on a bed of chips and in Glenn’s case, a pile of mushrooms in blue cheese. Delicious. The others have variations of squid. The meals are served in a cross between a deep frying pan and a wok. Baz worries that this might catch on at home.


By now the restaurant is filling up and we have a local version of biscuit-less cheesecake and talk about caving, cable cars, claustrophobia, magnetic resonance scans, and the Birkenhead tunnel. Then we pay. Or rather Baz pays because he is in charge of the kitty.


Back at the hotel we have another beer - or rather, half a glass of beer and half a glass of foam - and try to find our way up the innumerable staircases to bed. Buenas noches a todos nuestros lectores.


Day 12 - A Bit Of Cave Art - Santillana del Mar


Hopefully yesterday’s blog managed to be published but there was no facetube update as the hotel Wi-fi disappeared at 11:00. There’s a relationship at work here - the posher and more expensive hotels, the more bureaucracy at check in and the more problematic and reliable the Wi-fi. Not that it bothers me. Just saying.


We slept well except for the noise outside at two in the morning as the pilgrims on the Camino de leggless passed by. And its another cycle-free day today.


Breakfast was a little weird. The was little fruit apart from apples and oranges - Rog had to make his own zumo. There were no egg based products or bacon. But we did have the world’s largest croissants.


Afterwards, we walk 2km uphill to the Altimira cave and it’s adjacent museum. There are two coach loads of kids on a school trip along with their slightly harassed-looking teachers. Dave and Rog try not to look smug. Whilst we are queuing the coaches naturally leave the engines running.


The ticket office is a nightmare designed to let the queue build up as much as possible. Even though it’s free to go in at the weekend, the people in front of us take the age of a donkey negotiating their tickets. Once inside, we wander round the museum which is informative and interesting and then use our timed tickets to go to see a weird film about early humans making clothes and and a bear going into a cave for a pee. Then we go into a re-creation of the cave where the artwork was found in the 1880’s. Since the discovery, so many people have visited the actual cave that their body heat, moisture and CO2 were damaging the paintings to a point that they were at risk of permanent damage.


So now the real cave is closed and we have to make do with the reconstruction. Which is itself a brilliant achievement. They used laser scanning techniques to construct an exact copy of the cave and then reproduced the artwork as authentically as possible. It served to show the large number of paintings - mostly on the cave ceiling - of horses, bison and deer.


Apparently there isn’t a relationship between cave art animals and the staple diet of the artists. A tradition that continues to this day which explains why so many artists feel drawn to paint bowls of fruit they are never going to eat. Also, there are virtually no contemporary artworks depicting cake.


We walk back into town ruminating on our various disappointments with the museum. We realise it’s a difficult job to illustrate a convincing story of how the cave art came into being and what life was like at the time. But we’re sure a bit more could have been achieved. We go into the main square - the plaza royal - which is really a triangle. It’s pedestrianised apart from the cars. We sit down for lunch but the restaurant doesn’t serve food until 1 so we’re forced to have a beer. Or zumo for Dave and Rog. We talk about the origins and development of the human species but still can’t come up with an adequate explanation of the evolutionary cul de sac that is Brexit.


We order our food and Glenn asks for partillada de verduritas de temporada in a pronunciation the waitress clearly finds hilarious. As we eat, the wind picks up and blows the A frame menu sign over. After coffee we go back to the hotel for a siesta but have to vacate the rooms for the cleaners to go in and brave whatever items of smelly bike gear we’ve left lying around.


Returning to our rooms for extra fiesta, Glenn gets bored and head into the village for ice cream. Then he sits on the sheltered sun terrace of the hotel and has a beer and works on the day’s blog.


Later, we head out for a final explore of Santillana and end up in an enclosed courtyard which catches the sun. We have beers and watch people on other tables struggle with a strange contraption to pump cider out of a bottle and into a glass held in a wooden hoop at an angle. Some of it goes in. We don't know what is so very wrong about picking the bottle up and pouring in the time honoured manner. Techno savvy Dave listens to the St. Helen’s rugby league game on his phone but struggles to find how to turn it off.


Dinner is the menu del dia. Rog and Baz have pasta to start, Dave and Glenn have asparagus. The desert is cheesecake - again, cake and cream and no biscuit. Rog has Black Forest gateau but no cherries and Baz has Quesada Pasiega - a sort of flat crem brûlée which is what we had last night - and also what was on offer at breakfast this morning. And probably tomorrow morning as well.


Back in the hotel we have beer or brandy. And Coke Zero. This latter took some translating with the very helpful lady behind the bar. We ask for crisps but end up with green olives. On the next table, three ladies of a certain age are deep in conversation. They discuss whether it’s better to poison or electrocute their husbands. Or whether to buy a Kawasaki or a Honda this time round. Or possibly something about cave painting. We'll never know.


Day 13 - A Seaside Ride - Santillana del Mar to Santander




Breakfast conversation revolved around comments about monotone accents, precipitated by three of our cousins from across the Atlantic sitting on another table. One of the three very occasionally paused for breath whilst the other two used these rare opportunities to try to get one in edge ways. That aside, breakfast included the innovation of cheese on toast for Glenn made possible by the electric grill positioned, rather unusually, next to the bread. Sitting on the far side of the room, it was not possible to tell when the toast was ready so we adopted the smoke signal approach. One of us happened to mention that this was a commonly employed technique at home. After that there was some significant cake loading even though we only had a relatively few km to go today.


After packing, we retrieved our bikes and sped into our by now, slick morning routine. Glenn pays the bill whilst Roger lubricates all the bikes. Dave tries to find his gloves whilst Baz asks at reception if they're quite certain his drugs haven't arrived.


That done, we leap onto the saddle and we're off. Obviously 'leap' might not be quite the right word. Arabella takes us onto a circuitous route 12km through lovely countryside to the seaside town of Suances but thinks it's a big joke wanting to take us down a set of steps to get to the promenade.


We stop for a while to have our photos taken and watch the waves rolling onto the wide, sandy beach. There's not much traditional seaside activity going on but it is still early in the season. Then we go for a coffee but have to wait a while to be served because a bunch of local police officers have got there first. Dave feels his Spanish had come on sufficiently to order the coffees himself.


Sitting outside but in the shelter of a glass er, shelter, we talk about grandchildren and being called grandad. Note to Charles and to Saph - you're parents will be giving you strict instructions on this matter, should the case arise.


Cycling on, we think it would be lovely if there was a cycle path heading inland along the estuary to save us the uphill slog onto the headland above. Out of nowhere, a nice English lady stops to tell us that there is indeed a cycle path heading inland along the estuary to save us the uphill slog onto the headland above, and points us in the right direction. It's wonderful, well surfaced and quiet. It hugs the side of the river for a good 7km and passes reed beds, small boats and a very big sewage works - which also looks like it produces bio-methane to generate electricity. Not long after that, the path is blocked for 'path works' and we have to push the bikes up a narrow path and onto a road which crosses a bridge and we are into heavy industry and heavy traffic. A little later, Arabella mercifully turns us onto what looks like a service road into a housing estate. That’s because it is a service road onto a housing estate. This then becomes a track which in turn becomes a dead end. Either Arabella wasn't paying attention to the GPS, or Glenn wasn't paying attention to Arabella.


We are aiming for a restaurant for lunch which looks like it will have views across the estuary we have just cycled along. But it doesn't. In any case, the man at the bar says the menu of the day is not available but there are sandwiches. Which is fine. Then a nice waitress from Rumania comes to our table and says there are no sandwiches but we can have the menu of the day. Which we have because it would be rude not too. There is meat paella which turns out to be seafood. And mixed salad. This is followed by something called ribs which the carnivores have, and seem to enjoy. Pudding is cake of one sort or another. Baz and Glenn have banana cake which isn't cake made from bananas, but cake made from cake with layers of bananas and custard. We all have a glass of red wine because it's included in the price, and again, it would be rude not to. Whilst finishing our meal we get a text from Brittany Ferries which Glenn reads with trepidation expecting yet another cancellation. But it's not, it's just a bit of an adjustment to the sailing times. And then Dave gets a phone call from Jeff at the company he has booked a minibus rental from to take us home from Plymouth. Jeff says the vehicle he said we could have isn't sort of well actually available but do we want a small lorry instead. Strangely, Dave declined the offer in a manner that frankly surprised us all. They are playing 'Under Pressure' on the stereo.


After lunch we heave our very full bodies onto the bikes and Arabella takes us on a quiet track, over a motorway and up a very, very steep hill. As steep as steep as Dave might say. Some of the party decide to begin a walking holiday at this point.


We rejoin a main road into Santander and then follow the route through lanes and housing estates into the town itself. By now the wind has picked up as it often does after lunch ..... The traffic is a bit of a pain as well but soon we are within 400m of our hotel which Arabella says is on a street best reached down another flight of steps. We decline the offer.


After check in, we leave our bikes in the lobby of the hotel and then we rest and then we shower and then we do a bit more resting.


We head out for a beer and use google maps to find a bar. The first one is closed, the second one is closed, and the third and fourth are full of old, bald men but as we only qualify on one of those criteria, we move on. The fifth is a music bar with pictures of very young Bowie, Richards, Lennon, Jagger, Morrisey et al lining the walls. It implies they’ve all drunk here. Not that any of them would remember.


We head for a tapas bar which turns out to be the Il Boccone Italian restaurant so Glenn must have pressed the wrong button. It is empty apart from one man at a table for two. How sad. We are led through to another room and start the meal with lovely Fiocca served with something we can't recognise. We have a very nice Chianti to accompany. The interior decor is interesting made from old boxes and pallets but all done rather nicely. The room is empty but now we’ve set the trend it’ll be rammed later.


We have a sort of pickled veggie starter - sottaceto - which is excellent and the waiter is proud to point out its a typical Sicilian dish - even though he’s from Genoa.


Dave’s main course is a four cheese pasta. We have pizza which is unusual in an indeterminate way but is delicious. For desert, Baz has sugar free panna cotta. Rog and Dave have a limoncello.

Glenn has cafe con correcto. Then we have a Mirto del Contradino. We are in Spain after all.



Day 14 - A Bit Of Bombas - Santander


13km 1600 steps


We find out breakfast isn’t included by the hotel bill so we have a coffee in the bar instead. And then follow google maps to a restaurant five minutes walk away it says serves breakfast. And it does. We have more coffee, zumo, Spanish omelette and croissant but no cake. It has a music theme. Violins on the wall. Glenn wonders whether google messing him about. After too much excitement watching Spanish daytime tv, we head to the cathedral but end up in a fish market. That's after a tour of the actual market on the upper floor. Lots of sights and sounds, colours, noise and smells.


After that, we do find the cathedral and Baz sits outside to read his book. We go in and pay €1 each to look round the lovely cloisters, and a scale model showing the Santander of 1755. There's a video which shows how the various changes from the port's humble origins have occurred. The cathedral itself is quite stark and echoing. But there is the obligatory application of gold leaf above the two altars. Instead of lighting an actual candle, you have to insert a coin to make an led fake candle light up. Nice to see religion keeping up with the times. The security guard tells us we can also enter the lower floor which has a low vaulted ceiling and has massive columns supporting the weight of the main building above. We hope.


Outside in the square, we meet up with Baz for more coffee and/or coke. It's very warm in the morning sunshine and we wander to the port area and to the Centro Botin exhibition centre, an amazing steel clad cantilevered building designed by Renzo Piano - he of the Paris Pompidou Centre and the London Shard fame - or infamy depending on your point of view. Inside, we mooch round the shop and Rog finds a bargain.


Further along the wide promenade, we pass lovely Art Deco and older buildings followed by dreadful sixties stuff - what were they thinking? We pass an unpretentious old port building and venture inside for a beer before lunch. Over our drinks, we spend quite a time translating the menu which looks really interesting. Everything is local and organic. Having more or less decided on what we are going to order, a really nice young waiter comes over and in perfect English explains everything, corrects some our speculative and inaccurate translations, and makes recommendations. Brilliant. Even down to the wine - we are given some Rioja and Ribera to taste and decide on the latter. They’ve even got Wi-fi with no password. Phenomenal. The restaurant is called Caseta de Bombas. Go there. The only downside is a Dyson air blade hand dryer in the toilets that doesn't dry your hands but does spray water all over your legs.


Rog has seen that a little further on, there is a maritime museum which we decide to visit. It has a wonderful aquarium in the basement and we spend quite a long time watching the various fish, sharks and rays swim about - quite happily it seems. Let's hope we don't mess up the planet even more so that future generations don't have to rely on sea life centres to see these wonderful creatures.


On the other floors of the museum there are good displays of sea life, boatbuilding, fishing, trade and navigation and the skeleton of a whale hanging from the ceiling. Afterwards, we wander back to the hotel which we manage to find even without Arabella - Glenn's phone battery has died.


After a bit of a rest in our rooms, we decide on the questionably named Frida's Street Food restaurant to eat. We guess it is named after Frida Kahlo, a Mexican artist. It doesn't open until eight so on the way we stop off at a bar for a beer. It's all very busy and the waitress does not, at first sight, poses a sense of humour. However, she soon melts in front of Dave’s enviable charm. We have a beer and then another. We use the ashtray to stop the table wobbling - she isn’t too impressed about that but does bring us extra crisps when we ask. Dave comments that there's a lot more smoking in Spain than at home. Which there is, but there's a lot less than we had expected. However, the group of women on the next table do their best to prove us wrong. We talk about solicitors and then funeral plans and making cakes with hard boiled eggs.


We find our chosen restaurant and its empty. It's quirky but pleasing - they’ve made an effort with everything - the food, the furniture, the music. It serves Tex Mex street food and again, we agonise over the menu before a nice English speaking waiter in a straw hat takes pity and saves us all the bother. The food is cooked in the kitchen upstairs and is delivered down via a home made dumb waiter constructed from wood, pulleys, a washing line and a metal mesh container full of white stones.


We share humus which is like nothing we’ve ever had before. Absolutely fabulous. For main course we have various tacos and ensaladas which are excellent. Not for the first time on the holiday, we eat slowly as we don't want the food to end.


For unknown reasons, Dave and Baz recount their past lives of occasional violence and aggression. Not Rog or Glenn obviously. Then we reminisce about our previous cycling trips - The Lejog, the Loire before we are distracted by the arrival of puddings descending on the dumb waiter. Exceptional. Then we are treated to Lemon tequila on the house. It's all too much.



Day 15 - Heading For Home - Santander To Plymouth


11km 1400 steps


We arrange to leave the bikes and bags at the hotel whilst we sight see for the day - our ferry home is due to leave this evening.

Breakfast is in the hotel bar and we talk about Rivilous set design as you do.


Outside, it’s hot and sunny with just a little breeze. We walk north along the promenade and pass people having what looks like a conference break outside the Oceanography Institute. It all looks innocent enough but I think there’s something fishy going on.


We walk across a lovely beach and have coffee at Restaurante Balneario la Magdalena. Time passes in the sunshine and Glenn sells a house. We have more coffee, do some reading, make some phone calls, and watch the world go by. We talk about Gordon Banks and Peter Stilton.


We ask for the bill and it is very unclear whether the waiter has understood or not - a dismissive shrug can be interpreted in so many ways. Eventually it arrives and we pay and leave him a tip - don’t be such a grump.


On the way back, we see a man catch a fish. We return

to the same restaurant as yesterday for lunch but the friendly waiter we had then isn’t here. But the new one brings us olives and small cheese toasties. We get an email about Baz’s drugs - couriered out from England, they’ve taken five days to get to the hotel we were at three nights ago. We’re not going back for them now.


We order our lunch and everything is wonderful. It’s all cooked from scratch so different items appear sooner, and others later. And it doesn’t matter as we are in no particular hurry. The way it perhaps should be a little more often than it is. Una bottela de vino tinto Ribera is consumed. We talk about McDonald’s because it is so far removed from where we are.


Back outside, a massive Dutch ship is manoeuvring in the harbour. To misquote Douglas Adams, it floats in exactly the same way as bricks don’t. On the way back to the hotel, Glenn goes into a Carrefour supermarket to buy some wine. He meets the others outside a bookshop which opens at 16:15 after a 2 and a quarter hour lunch. See comment above. Dave buys a small rolled up relief map showing both Camino’s we have travelled along - the Nort and the Frances. The lady on the till has to make a phone call to complete the transaction. She does this for the next customer also. And the next.


After retrieving our bikes and bags from the hotel, we cycle the short way to the ferry port and check in. But we can’t because our bikes are classed as vehicles and so we have to cycle to the car and lorry entrance. Check in is comparatively straight forward and we put our bikes in lane 0 as instructed to await boarding. Meanwhile we sit in the sun at a cafe and try not to listen to the woman on next table explaining to her companions that she always allowed her boys to bring friends into the house. Really? Any more of this and I’ll gnaw my own leg off. I fall asleep instead.


We queue in row 0 with hundreds of motorbikes and start loading at 6:15 and in an hour we’ve gone all of 100m only to be directed across to row 10. I kid you not. Then we wait for another half hour next to a motorcyclist whose forgotten how to turn the engine off. After a while Baz goes over to ask him and he says if he turns it off it might not start again. Bollocks. Finally one of the staff has the good sense to wave the cyclists on board - us and two Dutch guys.


Once on board we expect a special place for the bikes but in fact it’s a corner of the car deck up against a wire mesh grill onto which we are told to tie the bikes with a piece of string. We start doing this and then the guy who gave this instruction says we can’t put them there. Dave politely points out we were doing what we were told. So he just shrugs. Another one. So we continue to tie the bikes up against a notice that says do not block this entrance. They don’t seem to have a clue. Welcome aboard. Climbing the stairs there are adverts for perfume. This is clearly more important than telling you where the cabins are. After finding them Dave and Rog think they’ve been shortchanged - there’s only one bed - the other is in the ceiling. Eventually we sit in the bar with Guinness and Pringles under a flashing light listening to disco Dave phone home.


The WiFi doesn’t seem to be working which cheers Glenn up enormously. A loud shuddering indicates we are on our way - and there’s no fire. After an awful lot of shuddering we haven’t moved at all. Maybe someone had forgotten to pull up the anchor - or whatever they do. Not long after a pianist starts playing. It’s a nice touch. The theme from The Titanic may not have been the wisest choice. Only joking. Then it all goes jazzy. Nice.


All of a sudden we’re in France. At least the restaurant is. We have an excellent meal which all goes horribly wrong when Dave and Baz go up for dessert. They both have added ‘bloody funny tasting custard’ to their puds which turn out to be vinaigrette. A rather different translation of 'creme anglaise' but an excellent end to another amazing Famous Five trip - Rob there in spirit at least.