A Spanish Tour – Planning Despacio Style

Before the covid pandemic, I had a rough plan for a tour in Spain and ferry tickets were booked back in 2019. However, the plague came, that was all cancelled and Brittany Ferry gave me vouchers for a later trip to Santander. In 2022 I scouted around the club for some likely companions and Peter Roberts and TomTom Moody put their hands up straight away and everything was planned and booked for an autumn tour. Yet again misfortune struck and the trip was postponed for another year – thank goodness I had booked flexi tickets with Brittany Ferries who very generously allowed me to move the booking!

By the way, Despacio means slowly or gently and wanting more than just my usual challenging cycling trip, I had a spectacular hike, kayaking as well as sightseeing in the plan. After all 3 weeks of pedalling up and down endless hills is not everybody’s cup of tea.

Northern Spain is really fabulous for cycling – I have done several trips before with Des see https://anerleybc.org/a-charity-pilgrimage-to-north-west-spain/ and https://anerleybc.org/a-tour-of-picos-de-europa-2018/ and wanted a bit more so the plan was to basically go right across from Santander in the North East to Ferrol and A Coruña in the North West. Everything had to fit into 3 weeks as there only 2 ferries per week from between Santander and Portsmouth so it was essential that we could carry our bikes on public transport.

One of the great things about Northern Spain is the narrow gauge Feve Cercanias train system. These trains are mainly small, slow, commuter trains but there are also faster trains from Santander to Oviedo and Oviedo to Ferrol that run twice a day. However, these trains are a bit unreliable and services don’t always link up!

On the above map, the bits marked in red are sections we covered on the local trains. The Cares Gorge is in Green. The bits in blue were covered by bike.

Part 1 Getting to Portsmouth and across the sea to Santander

We decided to go by train from East Croydon to Horsham and cycle from there to Portsmouth. This cuts out all the bits that we do on club rides, many times a year. First tea stop at Pulborough at the Corn Store Tea Room. This is a lovely place for lunch next to the River Arun.

The boys decide they should pose in front of an old bridge on the River Arun.

From Pulborough we made our way smoothly to the South Downs where the going got a lot harder. However, the views northwards across the River Rother valley are spectacular.

The rest of the way to Portsmouth was quite easy – we even had time to stop for another cup of tea at Funtingdon. Eventually we got into Portsmouth a little bit early for our ferry so made our way to the Sip & Castle for an early dinner. An excellent first day

The Portsmouth to Santander ferry is a very relaxing cruise. They even have a bit of entertainment. However, we were hugely embarassed in a quiz so went on deck for some refuge. Here was a crew member telling us about the lighthouses around the island of Ushant before breaking out his accordion.

The journey across the sea was pleasant with very clear skies and great visibility – we saw many dolphins leaping out of the water as we glided across the Bay of Biscay and even witnessed many whales blowing in the distance. After two nights on board, the ferry finally came into Santander.

Getting out of the ferry terminal on a bike is no longer as easy and obvious as it used to be. Instead of riding straight out into downtown Santander, we had to cycle the length of the docks before making our way back to the train station with no easy way of identifying a cycleable road from the double barrels of a motorway. Eventually, Peter asked a couple of passing coppers and they said we could use the abominable looking dual carriageway which took us directly into town.

When we finally got to the train station, we failed to make the next train out – it left bang on time just as we got to the platform. Then came the first issue with the Feve train system – the next train was long overdue and with no signs explaining the delay or how long we might have to wait. We were sent to a different platform to be told that no staff knew when the train would come because a tree had fallen on the line! Luckily we only had a delay of an hour before a train finally came along and we quickly jumped onboard the carriage with bike spaces.

At the end of the line at Cabezón de la Sal we had lunch before starting the series of long climbs up to the Picos de Europa National Park a ride of some 70km. The temperature was around 35 – 40oC and there was very little shade. By the time we got to the area around the Cares Gorge at Poncebos, the heat had taken its toll.

Desperately dehydrated and exhausted

The last stage was flat and beautiful, not that we paid too much attention

More to come next time when we go for a hike along the spectacular Cares Gorge, Kayaking and fight onto a train with hundreds of young people!