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May 31 2008

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European Wander ’08

Part 13

Braganca to Picos and Pyrenees – Portugal, Spain (and a bit of France) – 1032 miles

13th Map

31 July

Branganca to Arenas de Cabrales, Portugal to Spain, 223 miles

It was good to be back on the bike again. The weather wasn’t so hot this morning so we had a nice cool ride and the rain managed to stay away despite the clouds looking so ominous.

We had a good run to the Picos going through a variety of landscapes. As we travelled through it was interesting to see the different styles of houses and materials used. We passed through one place where the houses looked like they’d been built with mud and stones – they didn’t look particularly robust as many of them had fallen down. One way round this appears to have been to cut into the dunes – we saw a lot of dunes with doors and chimneys! (Unfortunately the photos didn’t come out as they were too close to focus properly as we rode past). We also saw quite a few stork nests, these always look really big and messy.

Portugal

Double-decker Stork nests

Eventually we came into the Picos area.

Portugal

Back into familiar territory

We realised that we were riding on a road that we had been along before. Last time we were here the SatNav took us to the top of a mountain and presented us with a goat’s track to the hotel we were staying at. We were on our Hayabusa at the time and it was out of the question to ride down it so we had to turn round and go 25 miles round the mountain – good job it was an excellent road. Here we were riding it again. The view was as stunning as before and the road was as twisty as we remembered.

Portugal

How could you forget a view like this?

Eventually we turned up at our hotel. It’s really laid back and is geared towards ‘activity clients’ – which I suppose we were! We were shown to our room and…what a view! It would be easy to just lay on the bed and look out of the window for the days that we were here, but there’s riding to do and more mountains to see….

Picos

Picture window

1 August

Ride round the Picos, 194 miles

We spent the day riding round the Picos mountains including revisiting some of the roads we travelled along last time we were here in 2006. We actually pulled up at a roadside cafe and then realised it was one we’d stopped at last time!

The scenery is spectacular. The mountains are very imposing and granite grey providing a lovely backdrop to the huge, green reservoirs. The roads are twisting and narrow and not too busy so not many heart-stopping moments when those damn camper vans come along!

Picos

Not sure what they used this little building for but there were a couple of them around so they must be a local speciality!

Picos

The view goes on for ever

Just as we were heading back we missed a turn. Mrs. Sat Nav kept telling us to make a U-turn but we were on a twisty mountain road that we were enjoying so we carried on. Eventually, the SatNav told us to take a right which we took. We found ourselves going up roads that were getting smaller and smaller. We passed through a tiny village with roads no wider than a car, past a man asleep on a bench who stirred as we went past him and up to The Road…well it was probably going to be a road sometime but they either forgot the surface or it wasn’t finished yet…

Picos

This track is much, much steeper than it appears from the photo

If we’d been on a Fazer we’d have turned round by now… ;-)…which would almost certainly have been the sensible option but we weren’t on a Fazer so we kept going (there’s something about the GS that ensures Kevin finds tracks such as these irresistible)…on and up and up and up…all the time thinking “I hope we don’t have to come back down here”. The Road got rougher and rougher as it got steeper and twistier and we climbed around 450 metres in 2 miles of track.

At the top we crossed a cattle grid and the track leveled out as we rode though a field full of cows and horses. Unfortunately the weather was beginning to deteriorate and we were a bit concerned that we’d be stuck on the mountain in mist.

Picos

Not so bad now (I only took photo’s when the track was reasonable and I wasn’t sitting perfectly still too afraid to move!)

There was a gravel path (you can see it going off to the left in the photo) but it didn’t look like it went anywhere so we carried on along this road hoping that it would resolve into a proper road. As luck wouldn’t have it, it didn’t…

Picos

The end of The Road… (we subsequently discovered this was less than 2 miles from where it rejoined a tarmac road)

All we could do now was turn round and retrace our steps. and that GS, even without all our luggage in it, is very heavy…

Picos

“Well you did want adventure!!” Kevin performing a 20-point turn

Going back down emphasised just how steep and twisty the road had been. Clutch out in 1st gear, just a tiny bit of brakes as even 1st gear lets the bike go too fast to make the rubble-strewn hairpin at the bottom of each downhill section, ensure the wheels don’t lock on the gravel that is all over the road or we’ll be off, and a lot of buttock clenching!

Picos

Twisty and steep

Picos

With the odd steep hairpin for good measure

Eventually we got back to civilisation and that small village where the old man had woken up and sleepily watched us as we rode past him again. The village is so pressed for space that the road goes through someone’s house!

Picos

Memories of rural Portugal

After that adventure we set the Sat Nav to take us back without going on ‘green lanes’ and remained on tarmac for the rest of the day.

2 August

Arenas de Cabrales to Jaca (Pyrenees) 302 miles

The run to the Pyrenees took us through flatter (compared to the mountains we’d just been in) farm land. At one point we thought we were in Sunflower Central as nearly all the fields around us for many miles were full of sunflowers. We noticed they were nearly always facing away from us, perhaps they are shy!

Picos

Admiring the sunflowers

3 August

Ride round the Pyrenees (Spain/France/Spain) – 312 miles

This day started off with a Mrs. Sat Nav special – we’d only been going 2 minutes when she took us up a farm track which finished at a railway line. Kevin was willing to tackle the railway but when I checked the track on the other side it didn’t appear to go anywhere; the Spanish maps are better than they were but they’re by no means perfect yet.

Picos

This is looking horribly familiar!

Never mind, the view at the end was good so we just turned round and started again!

As we rode round the mountains we came across numerous abandoned villages. It was very sad and got me to wondering what happened. Was it a result of farming methods changing, or populations getting older and smaller? Who knows? Some of the villages were just 3 or 4 house hamlets, others were complete villages including a church. The access road to the one below has been blocked with a huge boulder so we didn’t get the chance to go and explore further.

Picos

Ghost Town

The Pyrenees seem to have more trees than in the Picos and some of the peaks are covered in yellow plants. There are also many reservoirs. but the water isn’t so green as in the Picos – we saw one which was the odd turquoise colour of our local chalk pit. Most of them were grey-ish.

Our route took us into France and it was quite surprising how different the county looked even though it was only a few miles away. What comes first, the border or the landscape and buildings?

Picos

A ‘Tour de France’ route (those lines going across the hill are the road)

We found ourselves traversing another one of the Tour de France routes. If any further evidence was needed as to how nutty and fit those guys are, it was this route! We saw lots of encouraging messages painted on the road. It’s easy to see why they are required!! The photo above doesn’t show just how tall that mountain is – it looks quite mild, but believe me it isn’t! The two little buttresses are hairpin bends and they were hairy enough on our bike.

And then you get to the top and…

Picos

Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!

We finished up our ride on a very small road which was not at all busy. Once again we peaked at a lovely lookout point.

Picos

Another view that goes on for miles and miles

The road surface wasn’t that great, probably because it’s a little-used road. Once we’d nearly spilled on some melted tar we took it a bit more gently and had a slower pootle back to the hotel.

Tomorrow’s ride is going to be long and boring – we’ll be travelling to Western France mostly along the motorways.

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