Spain 2006

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I fancied a holiday. The weather in South Wales had been cold and wet for some time and the forecasts for Spain, on BBC teletext, were always much better so I set off, intending to get some cycling done.

Photographs are referred to, in the text, by numbers [1] and full versions of the photographs may be examined by hitting the "PHOTO" link near the photograph itself. The cycling trips are described in blue and are followed by data provided by my VDO 1.0+ cycle computer:

Total Time
(including rests)
Ride Time
(in saddle)

Wed Dec 20th

I left home at about 11:15 in the morning, in brilliant sunshine which lasted less than ten miles. Exit 36 of the M4 was in thick fog, as was the rest of the M4 well past the Severn crossing. The fog cleared near Bath and I continued to Portsmouth, arriving at 15:30, and waited in the St. Malo queue (the first boat to leave) for an hour. When the gate opened:

"Hello. I want to buy a ticket to St. Malo."
"You should have gone to the Booking Hall, over there. You can go there now, or you can wait here until I've sorted all of these cars"

There were only a couple of dozen cars, so I waited. Half an hour later ...

"Do you want a cabin, or a reclining chair?"
"A reclining chair is fine"
"Sorry. there are no reclining chairs left. You can maybe share a cabin?"
"How much is a cabin?"

Her computer screen filled up with numbers. The smallest was 250 quid. For a single trip. Extortionate.

"Don't worry. I'll drive to Dover, and see what they can do,"

So I drove to Dover, through more thick fog, arriving at 20:00. A hundred quid is still excessive but I crossed to Calais and drove to Vron, near Abbeville on the road to Rouen, parked up and went to sleep in the car, probably in the middle of somebody's farm, at just past midnight (GMT).


Thu Dec 21

I continued through Rouen, Chartres, along memory lane through Voves to Orleans (I'd cycled this way on my way to and from Corsica in 1998), Vierzon, and on to Bordeaux. Most of this in bright sunshine. I slept in the car again, in some forestry, on the road towards Lacanau on the Atlantic coast. It was a cold night.


Fri Dec 22

Back on the autoroute and I continued South. Forty miles down the road, a police motorcyclist pulled me over and indicated that I follow him to a big carpark in an industrial area. I wasn't the only one. "131 kph" he wrote on a piece of paper. I nodded. 80 mph sounds about right, although the 66 mph speed limit on the motorway seems excessively cautious. He also wrote down "90 Euros". I checked my wallet. I had 75 Euros, which I showed him. No problem: I followed him again, to the nearest cash machine along some seriously icy roads, and then we returned to his car park. He'd made a mistake. The fine was only 45 Euros. Saves me looking for a cash machine later, I thought. I continued through the Basque country to Bilbao and Santander, where I turned South to the Eastern end of the Ebro reservoir. Cycling around this (65km, hopefully on fairly flat roads) sounded like a nice first bit of exercise so I parked up again, in spite of the rain coming over the pass, near Corconte, and slept in the car.


Sat Dec 23

Thick fog, and the puddle behind the car is now frozen solid. Not a good cycling day. South again, through some well frozen but scenic landscape, through Burgos and around the Madrid ring road to the motorway to Cordoba. Suddenly, a huge traffic jam, and only ten miles in one hour. Thirty miles south of Madrid, I'd had enough so I took the first reasonable exit and continued on the normal roads, which were long, straight, and quiet. I rejoined the motorway at Montoro, where it was nowhere near as congested as it had been earlier, and continued to Cordoba and towards Antequera. I knew the roads around Campillos and Ronda (from my paragliding days) so I went towards Campillos, then on to Ardales and finally found a quiet spot to sleep just off the mountain road between Ardales and El Burgo. I'm not sure what "Cota deportivo de Casa" means but I slept there anyway.


Sun Dec 24

I woke up at 08:30 in thick fog, so I rolled over and went back to sleep. By nine the sun was up and the fog had cleared instantly. Ready for action, I got dressed and parked the car in El Burgo, took the bike off the roof, sprayed the chain with oil, and set off at 10:45.

From Burgos [1] I went South over a pass, the puerto de Las Abejas, then down to Yunquera and Alozaina [2], and back North through Casarabonela [3] and then up [4] over a slightly higher pass, down along some seriously dodgy roads, towards the Ardales - El Burgo road that I'd driven along yesterday. Signposting on this road is not the best so, unsure at an obscure junction, I saw a car approaching. I held up my hand so I could ask directions but he just drove past, talking into his mobile. And a Merry Christmas to you too! Fortunately, I guessed right and was back at the car at 16:40.

05:55 50.3 km 1115 m 04:32

It was nice to get some exercise after four days in the car! I drove on to Ronda la Vieja where, back in my flying days, I'd spent Christmas night in my motor-home about ten years ago. This time I slept, in the car, in the garden of a delelict house.


Mon Dec 25

I'd consulted the map the evening before and had already changed my plan. I tried to find the road to Zahara de la Sierra (one of the more famous pueblos blancos) but signposts to it were nonexistent. I got as far as the Algodonales road where the signs said "Algodonales: turn left" where, on my map, "turn right" would have been more sensible. Spain is full of nice new roads, which my 15 year old map doesn't know about, and I'd been on one of them. I turned left, drove past Algodonales, and left again on the "old" road back to Ronda and parked up, near the reservoir, just below Zahara.

A late start (11:00) saw me climbing, in bright sunlight, towards the pass towards Grazalema and, as I got higher, all I could see were zigzags in front of me going on for ever. It slowly dawned on me that I'd driven up this road many years ago. On a paragliding course we'd parked my car at the bottom of the hill, gone up to the pass in the school's van, and flown off the nearest hill down to my car. Paragliding, in the Grazalema National Park, was illegal but that didn't bother us. It was my first "real" big flight. As I was driving back up to the school's van I remember thinking "this is a pig of a road" which fact had escaped me while I was being driven up. Now, cycling up, it was much more of a pig, but very scenic [1]. 800 metres of ascent, in three and a half hours, finishing over a sheet of ice [2] near the top where the road was hiding from the sun, saw me at the top [3]: the Puerte de Las Palomas. The sign says 1350 metres, probably referring to the hill from which I flew. The pass itself is (much) nearer 1200 metres. I stopped for Christmas lunch (a ham sandwich) in Grazalema [4] on the way down. A small ascent (100m) saw me back on the old road, along the reservoir, back to Zahara.

05:25 38.9 k 800 m 03:47

Back at the car, I drove back to Ronda, and through Gaucin to Jimena de la Frontera. Andalucia is a beautiful place and this road, from Ronda to Jimena, is absolutely spectacular! I could happily cycle around here for ever. I continued to Los Barrios (just North of Gibraltar) where, since the new motorway has been built, there are many spots on the "old" road. I slept, in the car again, near there.


Tue Dec 26

I drove to Barbate, near the Cape of Trafalgar, and had a quiet day. I fancied a rest.

I cycled down south, along the coast, to Zahara de los Atunes, then inland to the main road, North to Vejer de la Frontera, and back to Barbate. Supposedly flat roads (that was the intention!) but still enough uphill work! Not a very scenic day: I did take some photographs, but they weren't too interesting.

04:00 48.2 k 339 m 03:06

In the evening I drove back East to Marbella, on the coast road, then headed inland to Coin and Mijas where, again, I parked up and slept in the car again.


Wed Dec 27

I drove to Alhaurin El Grande, and cycled a short but hilly route. Cloudy all day. Christmas day has, so far, been the only really sunny day.

North to Coin, then along the Ronda road for 5 miles, after which a left turn took me through the hills to Guaro and Monda, then back along the Coin bypass and the road to Mijas, before turning back to Alhaurin.

04:00 39.2 k 681 m 03:06

In the evening I drove to Malaga then North to Casabermeja which has a hotel. After a week in the car it's definitely time for a shower. I think I'm the only guest. I'm not surprised. Casabermeja looks like a real dump. Definitely not worth a visit. In the evening I walked up and down the town looking for a decent restaurant. I passed the first one that I found, a big mistake as it was the only one in town, and on my way back - well, it wasn't too bad.


Thu Dec 28

I skipped breakfast, started at 09:55, and headed to Colmenar then continued South on the mountain road to Malaga. I reached the high point, the puerto de Leon, after 580 meters of ascent, at 13:40 and stopped for breakfast (a ham sandwich and two cans of coke) at the cafe on the pass.

Just after the pass I turned right, according to my map along a (very!) minor road, to take me down to the valley (to the rio Guadalmedina). It was surprisingly good quality for a while but badly signposted. At the first junction, all of the signposts [1] said "Hotel: this way" or "Tennis courts: that way" but nothing really useful. Only one of the roads had a "give way" sign so I assumed that the other two roads were the "main road". I continued for a mile and reached a choice between a big, locked, green gate and a forestry road. More pedaling reached a sort of road sign [2]: "A la carretera 4.6 km" or back to the main road, with a lot of ascent, the way I'd come, or "Jotron: 3.4 km" the way I was pointing, so I continued, further downhill to a junction [3] where all three other roads were barred with chains. The more you cycle downhill the more determined you become to find a way through, as cycling all the way back up is not appealing. Also, I can now see the motorway running up the valley. I can almost smell the diesel fumes!

I guessed again, taking the most "downhill" option but this road [4] just deteriorated further. It suddenly stopped, with two fallen trees blocking it, but above the slope behind the fallen trees I saw a sign. Nobody just puts signs up, in the middle of a forest, so I assumed the presence of a road and manhandled the bike over the trees and up the slope. It wasn't actually a road [5] but there was evidence that some sort of tracked vehicle has been along there, so I turned downhill along a sort of clearing, with signs saying "Natural Park" every so often. This clearing became seriously steep (about 1 in 3) in places so I walked the bike downhill for about half a mile, losing about 300 metres altitude in the process.

I came out at a road. When I say a road [6] I mean a forestry track, but even that was a giant step forwards. I could start pedaling again, not that I needed to do much of that, and soon I could see the motorway again. At 16:00 I reached it. According to my map I should be able to cycle under the motorway and up, on the far side of the river, to the other Malaga-Casabermeja road along which I could cycle back to the hotel. Fat chance! Where I was and where I should have been had parted company some time back. Where I was [7] had no real roads, and all of my enquiries revealed that the only way out was along the motorway. My Spanish is terrible but the answer "Casabermeja? Solamente para Autovia!" is fairly self-explanatory.

So I continued past the big "no cycles, horses, pedestrians, or tractors" sign onto the motorway which fortunately had a variable, but wide most of the time, hard shoulder. It was also extremely well built with nice easy gradients and I started really enjoying it. Of course none of the exits led anywhere, as far as I could tell from the signs, so I just continued along it. Then I saw a rather worrying sign: "Tunnel". I suddenly remembered, from the drive up to Casabermeja yesterday, that there were three of them. Does the hard shoulder continue through the tunnel? No, but there was a pavement about a yard wide so I used that. It was covered in gravel, stones, and bits of lorry tyre but it was just about adequate. One of the nice things about tunnels is that, as there are lots of lorries constantly thundering through, there is also a constant wind through them which makes pedaling a lot easier. After eight miles of motorway, I took the exit for my hotel. Actually the Hotel is on the motorway access road so I also cycled over the motorway bridge [8] too, and simply crossed the access road, arriving back at the Hotel at 17:45.


07:50 47.4 k 1020 m 04:50

Fri Dec 29

I left my Hotel, partly as planned, and partly as it was closing for the weekend, and drove to El Palo, a few kilometers East of Malaga. At last another nice, sunny, day!

I started cycling up the road to Olias [1], where I stopped for lunch. Continuing up through the hills [2,3] brought me out at the Puerto de Leon, over which I'd gone yesterday, but this time I took the direct descent [4] into Malaga and followed the coast road back to the car.


06:45 48.1 k 1076 m 04:36

I drove to Alhama de Granada, parked the car in somebody's field, and slept in it.


Sat Dec 30

I drove to the dam at Bermejales, and parked.

I headed North-East, over a pass [1] with no name to Agron and on to Ventas de Huelma. I found the required roadsign [2] (only because according to the map it must be there somewhere) and set off towards Cacin. A long descent [3] into Cacin, which shouldn't really have come as a surprise as Cacin is on the river which is dammed, was followed by a steep ascent [4] back up to the Alhama - Bermejales road and a short descent back to the car.


05:12 40.7 k 850 m 03:48

I drove to Granada, and parked in Pinos Genil.


Sun Dec 31

Mount Teide, on the island of Tenerife, is the highest peak in Spain. The highest peak in mainland Spain, at 3477 metres, is Mulhacen and the plan for today was simple. Just cycle as far up it as possible.

The 09:25 start was very cold but, after about twenty minutes, the sun started to shine on me [1] and, in just under an hour, I had reached the junction with the new road [2, 3] up to the Sierra Nevada. The climb [4] continued. After another hour, at 11:40, I stopped for breakfast at the bar of the "La Higuera" hotel. It is amazing how the hills, near where the car is parked, and which seemed huge at the start of the climb, gradually get relegated [5 ... 8] to molehills. As I got higher [9] so did the sun and the climb, a monotonous plod mainly in bottom gear, continued. The snow cover was variable: quite a lot on North-facing slopes. Photographs [10 and 11] were taken in the same place. Eventually the ski resort of Solynieve came into view. At this point even the distant hills were looking small. I stopped at the "Altitude 2000" sign [12] for a cigarette and, with less than a mile to go to the bars of Solynieve, my legs had had almost enough. There were enough coca-cola shops on the way down too! I was back at the car in 55 minutes, and this includes a 20 minute refueling stop!


07:36 44.0 k 1268 m 04:36

At 17:30 I started the drive home, still in bright sunshine. There's a nice new motorway, going North from Granada, through Jaen and Bailen, which joins the Madrid - Cordoba road. The traffic, apart from around Madrid, was very quiet. It was even quieter North of the Puerto de Somosierra. Hardly another car on the road! I had intended stopping at the Ebro reservoir on the way home, and cycling around it as I'd planned on the way South, but rain around Burgos persuaded me to just keep driving. The difficulty about driving through Spain on New Year's Eve involves the Petrol stations. They are all shut. After 100 miles I eventually spotted one which was open, although reaching it involved two illegal u-turns across a dual carriageway, and I filled up. New year happened in a place called Monasterio de Rodilla. It's a ghost town. The only lights on, in town, were the traffic lights. I won't be back there, especially if I'm looking for a good time, in a hurry. The traffic increased a bit in the Basque region, but France was the real pain. Everybody seemed to be driving home, probably totally pissed, and at about 25 mph, at three in the morning. I kept driving, getting as far as a picnic area just North of Bordeaux, at about 05:30.

Mon Jan 1

Up in the morning (09:30) and out on the job. Drive like the devil for my pay! No further problems apart from buying petrol. French supermarkets have reduced prices and cornered the market, putting most real petrol stations out of business. 24 hour service is all well and good but an automated service which accepts only French credit cards has its drawbacks. Fortunately I have memorized the phrase "British credit cards don't work. If I give you 50 Euros (cash) can you use your card to fill my car?" pretty well. I got home at 02:00.

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