Cycle touring

Journal: Cycling the Camino de Santiago

This blog is the journal I wrote while cycling the Camino. I’ll add more about the planning and preparation, soon!

Day 1: León to San Justo de la Vega

Set off late morning, the anticipated excessive faffing and a quick trip to Aldi for supplies meant a slower start. Getting out of León was a bit tricky but a bit of pushing bikes down one-way streets following the yellow arrows and we were clear.

A mix of trail and road, the roads had wide edges for bikes giving us lots of smooth tarmac to get some miles under our pedals. After Hospital De Orbigo, we opted for the trail over rough track to Cruceiro de Santo Toribio which provided a hearty dose of Type 2 fun in the heat and dust.

Arrived in San Justo de la Vega at just after 4pm. Now snoozing and contemplating dinner.

Day 2: San Justo de la Vega to El Acebo

An earlier start leaving Santo Justo de la Vega. We stopped in Astorga on the hunt for sellos (stamps in our credencial to show we have completed the Camino) but with the cathedral closed we headed on to Santa Catalina de Somoza for breakfast coffee and cake after the first climb of the day. A flat section on small but excellent roads along side the walker’s path gave respite before the big pull. We stopped at a medieval themed cafe for water before setting off for the highest point on the Camino.

At 1,505m above sea level, Cruz de Ferro is a place of significance, it is here that you leave a stone or token. I took a piece of gritstone from Stanage Edge, a place I have walked and climbed often, and left it in memory of three lovely people who died far too young. It was a moment of personal reflection too: it has taken a lot to get me here, but I’d made it and perhaps this is the start of a bigger change.

The next section was one to set the heart racing: firstly another set of descents and climbs (I am now sporting a set of chainring shaped holes in my calf following a wobble on a steep up bit) then 5km of brake-bashing descent 500m straight down to the gorgeous El Acebo where we are spending the night. Buen Camino!

Day 3: El Acebo to Villafranca del Bierzo

El Acebo is just blummin’ lovely. We were very reluctant to leave the mountain and with a shorter day ahead we took our time over breakfast. The air had the cold tang of high ground and, with the mantra ‘be bold, start cold’, we set off. 10km of down hill later and we peeled our frozen bodies off the bikes to look for coffee in Ponferrada.

Ponferrada is a larger town with the benefit of bike shops to pick up some spare brake pads. After a day in the mountains the bustle of navigating the market to get out and the route along the busy main road recommended by the cyclist guide was unpleasant. A stop at Cacabelos for fizzy drinks and sellos delivered by a sparkly-eyed elderly man at the church made up for Ponferrada.

A last haul up hill past a sweet smelling winery and we swung round the twisty streets of Villafranca del Bierzo and a rest day with Mum and Dad.

Day 4: rest day in Villafranca

Met up with mum and dad and had a fab evening and day doing very little except strolling round the town and keeping the bars in business. Stopped by the Ave Fenix albergue for a sello and ended up meeting a guy who used to live in the small Dorset town where my parents live.

We had a fantastic dinner in the hostel to reduce the calorie deficit in readiness for a challenging day ahead.

Day 5: Villafranca to Pedrafita de Cebreiro

The day of up. 30km of up, all the way from Villafranca to Pedrafita de Cebreiro. Not many photos of the day but I was pleasantly surprised that I pedalled the whole way and didn’t have to hike the bike and didn’t really drop to type 2 fun either. We wound our way through small villages on a quiet road to a perfectly nice hotel and another excellent menu del peregrino.

Day 6: Pedrafita de Cebreiro to Sarria

Sunrise was subdued above thick cloud that covered Pedrafita and the surrounding mountains, so lights were fitted to bikes and high viz tops donned. The first 5km to O’Cebreiro was more of the same up from yesterday making a tough start to the ride. A coffee and cake for breakfast as a warm up surrounded by the thatched cottages provided a kick start and we set off towards Sarria.

The broad road turned to tracks through villages after Triacastela, sometimes turning to rough gravel tracks through farms and hamlets with a bit of hike-a-bike needed.

The day was slightly spoilt by a car pulling out of a parking space with out looking resulting in me decking the bike and ending up with a bloody knee. Application of my first aid skills and plenty medicinal red wine over dinner helped! Buen Camino!

Day 7: Sarria to Portomarin

A short but sweet day today. Sarria is a popular start for walkers and the paths were noticeably busier. The usual start to the day’s ride seems to be a lung-bursting steep ascent and today was no different. A lot of the trail to Portomarin is on tracks, the plan was to miss the most hike-a-bike bits and pick up the country lanes later in the ride.

We headed for the village of Peruscallo for coffee first. While chomping on a delicious pastry and chocolate concoction, we made a decision about the day’s plans. Combining the number of people on the paths (its Sunday so lots of families out for the day) and that, after riding a short distance I was a little concerned my tumble yesterday had caused a bit of damage to the bike, we decided to stick to the smoother main roads. This meant we rode across the bridge to Portomarin at lunchtime and met with mum and dad again for a much needed cuppa while checking the bikes over before wandering into the village for a beer or two.

Rest day tomorrow!

Day 8: rest day in Portomarin

Rest day! Walked along the flooded valley where Portomarin used to be before the river was dammed in the 1960s. Unlike Ladybower Reservoir in the Peak District, lots of the old village is still intact, including the bridge which locals still use when the level is low and the old bandstand.

It was hot today, 27C so most of today was spent in the shade reading. Met a guy called Russell who is funding his Camino by busking and caught up with the Canadian lady from Sarria.

Rested and ready for a longer hot day tomorrow!

Day 9: Portomarin to Arzúa

The long day – brought to you with a good dose of Type 2 fun. We set off under cloudy skies, to the gentle sound of the neighbouring hens joyfully eating their breakfast.

Our breakfast stop was 8km down the road at Gonzar in a bustling cafe. The country road then wound its way up to today’s summit at 700m before unwinding down to Palais de Rei. Then came a good deal of tarmac. Smooth and with gentle inclines it was to a road cyclist a small piece of heaven, but it wasn’t my cup of tea. And good tea is important!

A diversion on to the back roads with a small dose of tracks mixed in lightened my mood as did the opportunity to help a fellow cyclist who’s hired bike needed the strategic application of some cable ties. The road then lead to a lunch stop, Casa Domingo at Ponte Campaña. Excellent tortilla was chomped on by us, but the sparrows got most of the bread!

The hotel at Arzúa was a much welcome sight and after a shower and beer all was right in the world again. Another entertaining conversation with fellow Peregrinos over dinner ensued before collapsing into bed.

Can’t quite believe tomorrow is the last day on the bike.

Day 10: Arzúa to Santiago

Pushing the bike out the hotel lock up, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from today’s ride. The trail follows the main road into Santiago so we decided to swap between the two depending on the terrain and volume of traffic (both those with engines and those with feet).

In the end, the trails were not too busy and are easy to ride on a tourer. The landscape is rolling countryside: beautiful and green and hard on the legs! A now usual stop for coffee at a cafe and sello broke the morning ride but with the end so close we didn’t pause for long.

At the top of what I renamed ‘Hill of a hundred false summits’ An enterprising man-with-van had set up a stall selling tourist tat and, more importantly, bananas. Refuelled, we began to leave the countryside and ride into the suburbs.

The last kilometre was on foot, pushing the bikes through narrow cobbled roads, down steps and past the noisy hubbub of the crowds. Down a last flight of steps and past a Galician piper (think bagpipes but with a single drone) and we turned, finally into Praza do Obradoiro.

Done. My first ever cycle tour. It won’t be my last and I’d still like to walk the whole 800km from St Jean some time. Buen Camino!

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