A Fantastic Journey
Cycling across Spain with Alan and Pauline Lord
Climbing up to Vitoria
Plaza Major Uruena
A Fantastic Journey is the only real description of this ride, because that is exactly what it was. A journey into territory far away from the normal tourist routes. Where the only indication of the 21st century was the motor car. And where English is rarely been heard, let alone spoken.
Following our long cycle rides of the previous two years and because bad weather caused us to call a halt last year near Bayonne, we decided to continue our ride to Gibraltar. However we decided to change the route to take in more of the real Spain. It may not appear to some to be the best route. It certainly was not the quickest. It did however encompass many places we wanted to see. Some were Towns and Cities, some were geographic places such as Parque Naturals and Mountain Ranges. Our route took us through the following major cities and towns: San Sebastian; Vitoria; Burgos; Palencia; Toro; Salamanca; Bejar; Trujillo; Merida; Constantina; Seville; Arcos de la Frontera; Tarifa; Gibraltar.
Our journey started in Bayonne on Thursday 19th September and ended in Gibraltar on Monday 7th October. Not all these were days in the saddle, as we covered 884 Miles in 17 days cycling. The other two days were sightseeing in Salamanca and Seville.
A nice feature of a bicycle tour is that the speed is ideal for observing the many different types of terrain that are passed through. We were privileged to see coastal areas with cliffs and rocky promontories that equalled those of the southwest of England. Mountains higher that any in the British Isles. The seeming endless northern plains with their vast fields of cereal crops. The high plains of Extremadura, with moor like appearance, and yes even some sheep. Hills of the Sierra Morena adorned with miles and miles of Olive Groves. The vast Cotton Fields of the Quadalquivir valley. And the most spectacular of all the Parque Natural de Montefrague with high rocky crags and glistening lakes. This area has an abundance of wild animals and large birds, including lynx, wild boar and eagles
In addition to natural, there were many wondrous man made sights in the cities, towns and villages we passed through. All had a different appeal. Salamanca with itís architectural beauty in sandstone buildings spanning many of the University, the oldest in Spain. The grand quadrangle of the Plaza Major, the best one we saw. And the historic House of Shells, a notable staging post for many pilgrims. Burgos the home of El Cid with its large ornate Gothic Cathedral, built over many centuries in limestone. It is impossible to estimate how long those stonemasons took to delicately work the stone. The hill top beauty of Arcos de la Frontera town on the precipice of the hillside. Trujillo with itís castles and buildings paid for by the captured treasures of the old conquistadors. Pizarro, Orellan and others were natives of this town.
Plaza Major Salamanca
Enjoyment came from meeting people of differing cultures as we travel first East to West then North to South. The friendliness of the people in the Basque country. Experiencing the poorness of the people living in mud buildings in villages on the plains. Where breeding wild pigeons in dovecotes is still a good source of food. Seeing the enjoyment of families out for the evening, not staying indoors watching television. In the Plazas parents socialise while children play their playground games. Something that we have lost in England.
Plaza Major Trujillo
There were some many highlights to this tour, the outstanding one was our time in Salamanca. There is something truly magical about this city. A place that everyone should visit. Others highlights were experiencing Trujillo with itís historical past. Reaching Tarifa the most southerly point in Europe. Watching over 20 eagles soaring on the thermals in the Parque Natural, a sight we shall never forget. Also having a huge Vulture with at least a 10 foot wingspan, fly within a few feet of us. It has to be the biggest bird we have ever seen in flight
The emotional times were the feeling of total satisfaction when very tired we reached Trujillo after 87 hard miles. This happened because at Plasena Pauline decided to carry on to the next hotel. What we did not know was that the next hotel was 50 miles away and for 10 miles of that the road was officially closed. Total joy when first seeing the Rif mountains across the Straits of Gibraltar. It took a lot of self control not to break out in tears. A feeling of pride and accomplishment when lounging on the sea front at La Linea. Proud of the fact we had made it and Paulineís 3 years of studying Spanish had carried us through. Accomplishment that one gets when having completed something really worthwhile. Like many aspects of life only if you ever do something like this will you truly understand these emotions.
On a journey such as this, one can normally expect that in addition moments of elation, there will be moments of depression. Yet we did not have a down moment. Yes it was tough crossing the Sierra Grande mountains with the wind against. It was exhausting cycling across the high plain into Llerena with wind and rain in our faces. And it was upsetting to see what the city of Merida had done to the ruins of Roman aqueducts. At no time did we ever did we wish to be somewhere else. This trip was far too enjoyable.
Europes most southerly point
Arcos de la Frontera
Tarifa Rif mountains across the Straits of Gibraltar
Spot the Ape Gibraltar
Parque Natural de Montefraque