18 & 19 July – to Tarifa and end of Stage 1

The last two days of stage 1 of my tour, routes and stats below; I felt very excited to be getting close to Tarifa, after what for me has been an epic pedal across Europe, from its Northernmost to Southernmost points.

–> 18 July – Cadiz and Conil de la Frontera
I travelled 61.65km today, but only pedalled about 51km, as I took the ferry to Cadiz from El Puerto de Santa Maria. Cycling into Cadiz from my overnight stop would have proved a very roundabout route, as cyclists aren’t allowed over the bridges. I decided to split the ride down to Tarifa over two days, to allow time to see a bit of Cadiz, and permit a more leisurely pace.

I thought the Catamaran ferry to Cadiz started running at 09.00, however it turns out it doesn’t start until 10.00 on Saturdays, so I had an hour and a half to burn by the time I arrived at the ferry terminal. El Puerto de Santa Maria was quite busy as I took a quick tour around its streets, with a bustling market, and lots of people eating breakfast in the many street cafes. At the market I saw a couple of stalls selling Prickly Pear fruits, and watched a lady deftly peeling pears one after another, in rapid succession, using a short knife; they look a bit like kiwi fruit when peeled.

After a swift look around and realising I might have been here before, when I visited my brother at flying school in Jerez several years ago, I returned to the ferry terminal and bought a ticket; very reasonable at €2.85. The ‘voyage’ over to Cadiz only took about 20 minutes, but it was lovely to be on the sea, with a cool breeze, and the deck gently rolling in the swell. If I wasn’t cycle touring I’d love to sail around the coast; bit more expensive though. Smaug wasn’t particularly happy about being out on open water, so I left him below decks in a cubby hole for the duration. I was privy to some great views of Cadiz during the crossing, and saw lots of small boats bobbing about, either fishing or sailing.

Once off the boat I visited to the nearby Tourist Information Office to get a map, and also checked with them about cycling East out of the city; yes it was alright to cycle on the Autovia for a bit. The ancient city of Cadiz was originally founded as far back as 1104BC, by the Phoenicians, although some say the city was founded by Hercules after completing his 10th labour. The Phoenicians were a massive trading culture around the Mediterranean, from 1550BC to 300BC, and sound pretty advanced for their time; I wouldn’t be surprised if archaeology that can be attributed to them has been blown ISIS recently, b*st!!ds! Of course the Romans also figure in its history, as do the Carthaginians, so a really interesting place to visit.

I spent a few hours wandering about, taking in the cathedral, the narrow city streets packed with small shops and people, several parks including a lovely botanical garden, and the city’s several beaches as I cycled a circuit around perimeter. The beaches were packed with people basking in the sun; I don’t see the attraction myself, however the beach volleyball was entertaining to watch for a bit. I also passed several stalls selling Churros, and really must try some soon; they’re like doughnuts – fried dough, cooked fresh, and often served with chocolate sauce.

Cadiz is definitely a big tourist trap, and very busy, so it was quite a relief to make my way East and out of the city. I had to join the Autovia for several kilometres, to Chiclana de la Frontera,  as there’s no other road to use on the narrow strip of land that connects Cadiz to San Fernando. Although cyclists are allowed to cycle on the Autovia, it was still very busy. The hard shoulder was nice and wide but I had to be pretty careful but assertive when crossing the slip roads.

I stopped for a cheeky Mcdonalds in Chiclana, but shouldn’t have bothered as it wasn’t very nice, and the Wifi didn’t work which was a first for this particular fast food chain. It was only a short ride down to Conil de la Frontera, which turned out to be bigger than I expected, and a resort in its own right. The town was thronged but pleasant to walk around, and even better once I’d found a cold can of Kas (Fanta equivalent) to drink. There was a 3 piece band busking near the beach as a walked through, with a merry crowd of Spanish holiday makers dancing to the drum, trumpet and saxophone combination; I think the band may have been English, nothing like music to bring people together.

A couple of kilometres riding brought me to a campsite picked at random from the several situated around Conil de la Frontera; Rosaleda Camping. It has a good ACSI review, and to be fair the facilities and pitch were fine, but it turned out to be the most expensive campsite of the tour so far at €24. I couldn’t be bothered to find somewhere else, so settled in for the evening on my own private and well shaded pitch, enjoying a siesta before doing anything else. I hope this isn’t the beginning of expensive campsites as I travel up the South coast of Spain, however it could easily be the case; might have to throw in the odd wild camp to balance the books, however I’m not going to worry too much about it until after Tarifa; one day to go!

The stars were lovely and bright this evening, and I spent a long time lying down gazing up at them, enjoying the darkness and falling temperature. I really must give some thought as to exactly what I’m doing post Tarifa; I know I’m heading to Marseille, to hopefully meet up with old friends, and then on to Istanbul, but need to decide whether to visit Africa or not.

–> 19 July – Tarifa, end of stage 1
The day was finally upon me, the final leg to Tarifa and the end of this stage of my tour; I felt pretty excited when I woke up, but did faff quite a lot packing up, and was consequently a little late leaving. A late departure isn’t such a problem down on the coast, as it’s several degrees cooler than inland thanks to a sea breeze and the odd bit of cloud.

Conil was quiet as I cycled through it, and then on to El Palmar, passing fields full of cows regarding me suspiciously; at least they don’t have a tendency to start following me, or even chasing me on the other side of the fence, like they did when I toured in Scotland, don’t know what all that was about.

After Zahora I hit a steep climb up through a natural park, but in general it was fairly easy riding compared with the rigours of central Spain. I even cycled under cloud cover for a bit, which came as a welcome surprise; lovely cool breeze with moisture in the air. Other features of the today’s ride:

  • Snails on fence posts, thousands of them
  • Wind farms; Spain must produce a lot of its energy from renewable sources, which is great to see, especially after perusing a few recent climate change reports which aren’t happy reading in the slightest. I worry that it’s too late to reverse a lot the changes that are going to happen over the next few hundred years, with sea levels rising; what sort of world are future generations going to be left with?!
  • Fences made out of cactus; these make an excellent barrier to just about anything I imagine, and you get to harvest prickly pear fruit as a secondary benefit. Note: must include equivalent in my parallel novel idea.
  • Cycled past Trafalgar and its lighthouse, no naval battles in evidence today.

I had to head inland at Zahara, as the coast road stopped, taking the main road (N340) the rest of the way to Tarifa. The road was moderately busy, but fine to cycle on, especially with the hard shoulder to use. A French family passed me, slowing down to ask for directions to Tarifa; I pointed down the road and said ‘vingt kilometres’, slightly bemused at how they could be lost when there are lots of road signs, but happy I could help out.

After a final climb I came down out of the hills to a long stretch alongside the beach that runs all the way to Tarifa, which has various sections for windsurfers and kite surfers, but never the twain shall meet. I passed the Rio Jara campsite, where I intended to stay for a few days, before heading into town to complete this stage of my tour; Nordkapp, the northernmost point of Europe accessible by road, to Tarifa, the Southernmost point, awesome.

Here are some stats covering the ride from Nordkapp to Tarifa (haven’t included the few hundred miles I did in the UK):

  • Distance pedalled: 4,452 miles or 7,165km (need to double-check Garmin has counted it right but appears correct)
  • Number of days: 75
  • Average distance per day (including rest days): approx 96km or 60 miles
  • Number of rest days: urrr, maybe 3, need to check, people keep saying I should have more, and I will when I feel like one, but I enjoy the pedalling
  • Number of punctures: 5
  • Number of new spokes: 6 (all at once due to chain slippage spoke mangling incident)
  • Number of new chains and rear cassettes: 1 of each
  • Number of new saddles: 1 – the Brooks saddle has been a wonderful replacement
  • Min temperature: 0 degrees Celsius, although might’ve dipped below that some nights
  • Max temperatures: About 42 degrees Celsius
  • Favourite stop: Got to be Tarifa, however loads of great stops along the way
  • Next target: Probably Marseille area

I felt pretty elated cycling into Tarifa itself, letting out an involuntary whoop as I approached the beach and Isla de Tarifa. The island can be reached by a causeway, but you can’t get onto it without a permit as there’s a Guarda Civil base there, as well as a lighthouse. Crossing the causeway to the gate was enough of me, with the Atlantic on one side, the Mediterranean on the other, and Africa just 12km across the Straits of Gibraltar. I hadn’t quite realised how close Morocco is, it being clearly visible and almost looking within swimming distance; wouldn’t like to try it though, lot of ships and I bet the currents are pretty fierce.

I paused for quite some time at the end of the causeway, reflecting on my journey and the things I’d seen along the way. I’d made it, stage 1 of my tour completed, with a travelling Lobster, Smaug and the road being my constant companions, along with some great people met as I pedalled through 10 countries to get here (including England). It had been a journey of considerable contrasts, from the frozen North, with lakes covered in ice, and snow abounding, to the verdant stretches of forest in Sweden and down into Denmark and central Europe, amazing old cities, points of solitude followed by great companionship on the Camino de Santiago, and then hot arid stretches through Spain to get down to the cooler coast. Wow. One constant thing, as always, is just how friendly and helpful most people are when you’re on the road, often interested in what you’re doing and ready to assist should the need arise. The majority of the human race really are the same, good and hospitable people, often with their own stories to tell.

After a quick phone call to say hello to my parents, I made my way back into Tarifa town itself, watching a traveller lead a laden horse across the causeway; his horse was packed with tent and equipment in the same way Smaug is, I wonder where he’s travelled from. I took a stroll around, mostly taking in the old town which has a lovely atmosphere, with lots of small shops and restaurants, and with a lively atmosphere but in no way trashy like some coastal towns can get. Definitely looking forward to spending a few days here.

Feeling relaxed and happy I pedalled the few kilometres out-of-town to the Rio Jara campsite, my home for the next few days. It’s a great campsite, and not as expensive as I feared at €15  night, with a bar/restaurant, small supermarket, shaded pitches and access straight onto the beach. Once set up I watched the kite-surfers out on beach; lots of kites zooming back and forth. A bit later on several were careering up and down the river next to the campsite, doing some pretty impressive jumps in the process.

As night fell I could see many lights twinkling across the straits in Morocco, which appeared if anything closer in the darkness. I still need to decide what I’m doing next; Morocco is very tempting, despite a few Foreign Office warnings to the contrary, however it might be better to plan a more extensive trip for some point in the future. I’m also keen to start my journey back up to France to meet up with friends I haven’t seen in about 20 years. All stuff to mull over during my stay here.

Thanks for following my  blog thus far, I hope you have found it interesting and enjoyable. As always if you have any spare pennies please consider making a donation to the Big C via my charity page.

10 thoughts on “18 & 19 July – to Tarifa and end of Stage 1

  1. AndrewGills

    Nice work. While I wont make a donation on your page, I will make a donation to the Big C through an Australian charity instead. Hope this is an acceptable alternative from the other side of the world

    Liked by 1 person

    1. SelfPropelled Post author

      Thanks Andrew, that’s kind of you and more than acceptable. Donations by no means mandatory but all goes towards helping people with effected by Cancer. Must catch up with your blog soon!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. SelfPropelled Post author

      Thanks Tony, still amazes me just how far the last of Britain tour is! Had lovely couple of days in Tarifa, doing not very much, now on my way up the Spanish coast; Costa del Sol awaits…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Phil Shaw

    Amazing stuff James… Big pat on back😃👍🚴 just catching up as I’m so enjoying my GB Tour & am in the same site in Kessingland that u stayed in! Just hope my tent is Baboon proof😳

    Liked by 1 person


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