It’s a bit odd cycling on my own again after around 10 days of riding with other people, but I need to make tracks down to Southern Spain, whereas Richard is continuing on to the end of the Camino de Frances. After that he’ll head down into Portugal and follow the coast around to Spain then France; who knows, maybe we’ll meet up again in Marseille, but more likely to be Cromer next year sometime!
Here are my routes and stats for the last couple of days:
- 10 July: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/829094841
- 11 July: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/830089325
–> 10 July – to Zamora
I was sad to part ways with Richard, however as I’ve already said I’m sure we’ll meet again. I’ve also heard from River who is still pedalling away somewhere behind us; not sure exactly where but he wants to try to finish the Camino de Frances, and get all the way to Santiago de Compestella before heading back to Korea then Japan – good for him.
I was up and ready to leave by 07.30, bidding Richard ‘Buen Camino’ then cycling off to find the road South. It turned out to be pretty easy getting out of Leon, riding West until I found the river then joining the main road that wasn’t the motorway.
Today mostly involved pedalling, a lot, in pretty hot and dry conditions. There wasn’t a lot to see apart from farmland, and at one point a glorious wide river. I wanted to get to Zamora, but could stop at Benavente if it proved to challenging. As it turned out my legs were in fine form after a rest day, and I covered around 165km; some of those weren’t entirely intentional!
Once out of Leon I took a side road to avoid the dual carriageway, and ended up riding through a field, but managed to get back on tarmac after a short scramble across a dried up-stream bed; added to the adventure. I also passed a large herd of sheep, the first I’ve seen in a while. Luckily their shepherd had them under control and they didn’t try to ambush me; lots of clanking from the bells they had on though.
I reached Benavente in good time, a pleasant but unremarkable town, and decided to carry on, taking another side route to avoid more dual carriageway, which probably added on 10 miles to the day’s ride; it was more interesting that the N630 though.
I pedalled past a lot of fields of sweet corn, with concrete irrigation channels keeping everything watered; there were hundreds of them, and water flowing everywhere. It must be quite a challenge and result in quite a large water bill to keep everything growing. I also rode past acres of what I think were Mediterranean Oaks, and am wondering if they use the acorns from these to feed pigs. The area is famous for pig farming and the resulting bacon, or Spanish equivalent thereof; cured meat mostly, very tasty it is too. After a bit of a climb I rode over the River Esla, which had a pilgrim trail running alongside it. The river is pretty impressive, and reminded me of the scene from the Fellowship of the Rings where they’re all paddling, as opposed to pedalling, out Lothlorien.
After my roundabout route I rejoined the N630, which proved to be very quiet as all the traffic takes the newer motorway. It was mostly slightly downhill, with the occasional climb reminding me that riding in temperatures of over 35 degrees Celsius is tricky; lots of water consumed. I made it to Zamora, heading through the town in search of the campsite on the other side of the city.
After pedalling down a lot of tracks, and meeting a Belgium couple doing the same but in a car, and also failing to find the campsite, I had to retreat back to Zamora; the campsite, in fact two of them, must have closed. I was pretty hot and tired by this point, however with the assistance of Google I located the pilgrim hostel in the city and headed there. It was a relief to pull up and receive a warm welcome from the hosts; lovely old building next to church, and nice and cool due to thick stone walls.
The Aubergue in Zamora is a ‘Donativo’, which means as long as you have your pilgrim credentials (phew) you pay what you can afford. It’s always good to turn up somewhere and receive a friendly welcome, and this has been pretty much consistent with all the pilgrim hostels I’ve stayed in. The host showed me around, and where to put my stuff, and pointed out the thermometer in the shade which read 35 degrees Celsius. After some pasta salad, bread, cheese and Marmite that I prepared in the hostel kitchen, I took advantage of the guitar donated by a pilgrim in 2012. It was lovely playing again after a couple of months without my guitar, and the acoustics were great in the old stone building.
The hostel has a curfew of 22.00, so after chatting to a few of the other visitors I headed out for a quick look around Zamora, accompanied by Marcus who hails from the Reunion Islands. Marcus is 49 and has been on the road, walking constantly, for 23 years. He has visited loads of places including South America, most of the countries in Europe, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and many more; I had a look at his passport and the number of stamps was amazing. He seems to mostly rely on the kindness of strangers, but tries to take the odd bit of work for a meal or accommodation, or busks with his pipes. He had some great stories and seems to be in love with his lifestyle, shunning materialism and just trying to get along with everyone he meets (my laptop and photo taking antics amused him). He’s also on his way South, having started the Camino in St-Jean-Pied-de -Port and heading to Seville.
Zamora isn’t a big city, and didn’t take long to walk around (especially at Marcus’ pace), so we made it back to the hostel before curfew. The dormitory was full (10 beds), and everyone wanted to get to sleep early to be up by 06.00 in order to start walking or pedalling, to miss the worst of the days heat. I found it a little tricky to get to sleep, despite having cycled over 100 miles, due to the chorus of snoring going on; Marcus had the right idea of sleeping in the courtyard! I read for a bit but did eventually doze off.
Tomorrow it’s on to Salamanca; really looking forward to that.
–> 11 July – to Salamanca
Much shorter ride today; just 74km taking about four and a half hours. I hadn’t slept very well due to the chorus of snoring, but at least it was cool in the Aubergue. I was up at 06.00, which is turning into the norm, had a bit of breakfast supplied by the hostel, and was on the road/cobbled street by 07.00.
The ride down to Salamanca was mostly unremarkable, however at least I avoided the heat of the day, arriving in the city at about 11.00.
I’m looking forward to getting through central Spain and down to the Mediterranean, as I think I prefer cycling next to the sea. It should be cooler with more shade opportunities for a start, and they’ll be more to see and experience.
My first stop in Salamanca was for a Panini, then I just had a wander about for a couple of hours, taking in the sights, of which there are many. I had thought I might make Salamanca for my birthday, however it was worth slowing down a bit on the Camino de Frances, and I’m only 6 days late; not sure I could have gone much faster on the Camino anyway, due to the rough terrain and heat.
The architecture in the city is amazing, and well worth a visit just to wander around the Old Town, taking in the University buildings and Cathedral, as well as lots of other churches and bits of the old city walls. Salamanca is the gateway to Northern Spain, or my gateway to the South, and is definitely a highlight. It’s the capital of the province of Castille & Leon, and one of the most important university towns in the country. The University was founded in 1134, and is the oldest in Spain, and one of the oldest in Europe.
The city was originally founded by a Celtic Tribe; the Vettones. Hannibal had a go at it, but once the Carthaginians were dealt with it prospered under Roman rule, and they build the road I’m following; Via de Plata, or Ruta de la Plata as it’s known now. After the Roman Empire declined the Visigoths arrived, then the Moors took it over in 712AD, but the Christians got it back in 939AD; Spain has seen a lot of fighting over the years, but I guess all of Europe has.
There was a big battle here in 1812, during the Napoleonic wars; pretty sure Sharpe was involved, but didn’t see any Sean Bean type statues around. The battle is notable as it was one of the first that resulted in a massive amount of carnage due to cannon fire; lots of people were killed.
Despite it being midday, and getting hot, the streets and plazas were bustling with people; mostly tourists, or locals selling to tourists. I passed a large group of nuns being shown around, a pilgrim towing a cart using a harness, and recognised accents and languages from all over the world; particularly a lot of Americans, so Salamanca must be on the European tour list.
I paused in the enormous Plaza Mayor to enjoy a Naranja flavoured slush puppy (very refreshing), admire the view, and just take in the atmosphere of this old city. The Plaza Mayor is a massive square, part of the Old Town but feels very much like the centre of the city. A cloister like walkway runs around the outside, lined with shops, restaurants and purveyors of ice-cream.
Having satisfied my sightseeing requirements, and taken far too many photos, I made my way out of the city to the campsite Regio, to the South East over the River Tormes. There’s a much more modern side to Salamanca, with all the usual shops you’d expect, but I’ll spare you any photos of that.
Camping Regio, in Santa Marta de Tormes, is a great campsite, with excellent wi-fi, and good toilet block, and plenty of shady spots to pitch your tent. I decided a siesta was in order before doing anything else, then set up my tent, washed Smaug using a handy car wash hose pipe area, did a bit of laundry, then found a local supermarket to buy some dinner. There a restaurant and small shop on site, but I’m trying to save a bit of money.
Having washed Smaug I noticed that the pedal click has eased up a bit; I’m wondering if it only happens when the bike get’s hot and metal expands. I’ll have to do a bit more tinkering to see if I can make it permanently go away. All in all Smaug is running pretty well still, although I need to keep an eye on the front tyre as it might have a very slow puncture. I’ll get a service done when I make it to Tarifa in any case.
After speaking to my brother, and Mum and Dad who made it back to the UK okay, I spent the evening doing some planning, starting to write this blog post (they take ages, I write too much!), and enjoying some Rose wine. There was a wedding in the hotel next door, and lots of music accompanying the outdoor ceremony which was nice. Also lots of bikers using the campsite, with some pretty impressive machines.
A few of points worth noting on Spain; it’s cheap if you avoid buying stuff in the tourist spots. My dinner shop probably would have cost twice as much in the UK, and there are always bargains to be had. As with France the wine is very reasonable. Secondly the drivers so far have been really patient and careful around me on my bike, which is really encouraging to see as I wasn’t sure they would be. Thirdly the people are really friendly and hospitable, almost always saying hello, especially when you’re on the trail; I’m quite often asked if I’m alright and whether I need anything by road cyclists who pass me.
Longer day tomorrow as I head over the mountains and down to Plasencia, where there should be another campsite. After that it’ll be on to Carceres, and onwards on the Ruta de la Plata, or N630 as it’s called now, which is far less romantic. I’m a little worried about the heat, but seem to be coping fine as long as I start early (about 7.00), and drink a lot of water. I reckon I should be in Tarifa by the end of next week, if not before, which’ll mark the end of the ride down from Nordkapp, a real milestone, and the start of the next leg along the Mediterranean coast; really looking forward to that.