30th Sept – 8th Oct: Madrid to Bilbao

We’ve been back in the UK for just over a week now. It’s great to be back, lovely to be catching up with family and friends and getting our fix of all those things we’ve been missing for the last year and a bit – marmite, Cheddar cheese, copious cups of tea, our mums’ home-cooking, sleeping in a bed, etc! It’s also a little sad that this particular adventure is over, now we just have to work out what comes next…                            

As we reflect on the past year, and continue to gorge ourselves on tea, etc here’s a summary of our short Spanish odyssey.   

We cycled about 350 miles from Madrid to Bilbao. It was great, the perfect way to ease ourselves back into Europe. It was also tough. When we decided to cycle this last bit we didn’t notice that there would be three mountain ranges to cross over, for example! Nevertheless the excitement at being homeward bound, plus plenty of cheap wine, cured meats and great cheese spurred us on to the ferry!  

We found Madrid in the middle of a late September heatwave - the perfect excuse to stop often and enjoy chilled San Miguels and Tinto de Verano (red wine, ice and lemonade). Our return to Europe was made extra special as my mum, Linda came to meet us and enjoy the Spanish capital with us for a few days. We were also very lucky to stay with warmshowers host Carlos. Him and his girlfriend and their very fluffy cat were very tolerant of us spreding ourselves around their flat, putting the bikes together, and waiting for our new tent to arrive by courier from Blighty.

Day 1: Madrid to Cogolludo                           

Apparently the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain - we felt not a drop as we ploughed across the flat, dusty land of Castilla y La Mancha north of Madrid.

We pedaled past a lot of solar parks, many of them much larger than this one. In recent years, before the economy slumped, Spain heavily subsidised solar energy encouraging people to make use of the abundant scorchio!

Day 2: Cogolludo to Cantalojas                         

A sunny morning in Colgolludo - hitting up the bakery for breakfast.

Climb number one: the Sierra Gorda. May be roughly translated as the 'Fat Range' - make of that what you will!

Ned practices his circus skills on the down sections.

In the middle of the day's climbing we stopped for lunch at the pueblo of Umbralejo. In this picture perfect village an educational project is run by the government bringing kids from all over Spain to live for a week in the middle of nowhere in the sierra. There were some impressive kitchen gardens and a table tennis table for a spot of lunchtime competition. Ned beat me, but only just! Here in Umbralejo we could see the 'black architecture' for which the region is famous. The houses are made from local slate which is very dark in colour.

That was a 10% gradient going UP! The climbing wasn't over.

Looking back at the steep road and down into the valley of the river Sorbe

A castle in Castilla, one of many perched in impressive locations all over this arid region.

Presenting our brand new tent - the MSR Mutha Hubba. What a beauty: featuring enough space to swing a pannier, double vestibules (his 'n' hers) and it's not too heavy either. Our first night camping in Cantalojas.

Day 3: Cantalojas to El Burgo de Osma                    

There are also a lot of wind farms. And where there's wind turbines, yes there's wind - unfortunately often in our faces.

                   

  

We arrived in the small town of Ayllon at lunchtime on Sunday to find the main plaza full of people and a delicious, rich meaty smell wafting through the air. Lured by the aroma we found two huge bubbling cauldrons of beef stew called 'caldereta'. Once a year the town municipality puts on a big feast for one euro per person including wine, and we'd arrived just in time. What luck! We settled in with with some day-trippers from Madrid to enjoy the feed and some respite from the heat - 29 degrees C in the sun.

Day 4: El Burgo de Osma to Quintanar de la Sierra                  

The next day our luck on the food front changed. After crawling out of the bush that we had camped in the night before we set off to search for breakfast - looking forward to steaming cafe con leche and croissants. As we cycled from one deserted village to another we began to lose hope until someone told us about the imminent arrival of the bread man. We hung around and joined the jubilant crowd of people buying their daily bread. That day we breakfasted and lunched on bread and honey. One thing we took for granted is how easy it would be to buy food in Spain. We neglected to consider that we would be cycling through some of the most under-populated areas of the country and that most Spanish shops close for four hours in the middle of the day. It was an unforeseen culture shock after Colombia where you never have to worry about food, as long as you are not too fussy about the quality you will never go hungry!

Entrance to the spectacular canyon of the Rio Lobos. We went a bit off-piste here, following a hiking trail through the canyon.

Some technical sections!

Some very narrow sections!

               

   

Vilviestre del Pinar

Day 5: Quintanar de la Sierra to Anguiano              

The campsite was closed for the season in Quintanar de la Sierra so we set up camp nextdoor to the site, amongst the pines. It proved to be an eventful night. First we got rumbled by the local police who had seen us setting up our not so stealth camp. Luckily they were very understanding and let us carry on cooking up our sausages and lentils, and gave us permission to stay the night. Phew! Later we received another visitor - one who was not quite so courteous. A hungry fox, obviously missing the tasty morsels usually to be had in the campsite, launched numerous attacks on our tent in its search for food. We slept in fits and starts, woken often by the little critter scrabbling around. In the morning we discovered that it had stolen our milk, chewed up my shoelaces, and made a tear in our brand new tent! Outrageous!

Climb number two: Sierra de la Demanda

Neila

The eerie landscape of the reservoir Mansilla. The water was very low and the whole place had a strange, deathly quiet atmosphere.

During the damming and flooding of the area this village was abandoned and left to the ravages of time and water.

        

         

Day 6:  Anguiano to Miranda de Ebro     

        

Anguiano (and the end of the canyon of Rio Najerilla!)

The vineyards of La Rioja.

      

The day's ride took us through Santo Domingo de la Calzada, a beautiful town on the Camino de Santiago pilgrim's trail. Ned couldn't resist masquerading as a pilgrim!

Setting up camp just beyond Miranda de Ebro, the light was beautiful and we were surrounded by the high mountains of La Rioja and the Basque country.

 Day 7: Miranda de Ebro to Orduña     

  

Feeling happy about climb number three: Sierra de Arkamo

As always the hard work paid off. At the top of the climb we were treated to a thrilling descent down into Basque country. After six and a half days under blue skies and sunshine we descended into Autumn - whizzing through clouds of falling leaves, shivering at the new chill in the air.

The view of the peaks from the town of Orduña. They reminded me of the prows of ships moored up in the mist.

Our last night camping in Spain. The barman at the restaurant where we enjoyed an epic, boozy lunch kindly offered us his garden as a camp spot. As well as a flat, spongy surface we had full use of his outdoor pool, al fresco shower and laden fig tree. We enjoyed cold showers in his garden watching out for passing trains so that we could hide our modesty from the commuters from Bilbao!

Day 8: Orduña to Bilbao  

The short stretch into Bilbao seemed to whiz by, and we forgot to take any pictures in our excitement at reaching our destination! Here's Ned in front of the Guggenheim.

After a night in Bilbao we caught the ferry over to Portsmouth. We nearly didn’t make it on time. The port is actually 15 miles away from the city centre and we got a bit lost on the way. If it hadn’t been for three kind mountain cyclists who took pity on us and showed us the best way to the terminal who knows, we might still be cycling around the Basque country looking for Brittany Ferries!  

So that’s it. In the coming weeks I’m going to reflect on the trip and write some more musings for anyone that is interested – hopefully returning to the long lost farming theme…! In the meantime it remains for us to say a massive thank you to everyone we have met and who have helped us in our trip of a lifetime. Muchísimas gracias por todo!

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