Spain C2C Part 2 – Seville to Astorga – the Ruta via de la Plata – 22 days – 768km.
We spent a couple of days in Seville as we had to wait until the Tuesday after Easter for certain places to open again. We have been there before, but it’s a great city with a fantastic atmosphere so it was no hardship to spend more time there.
We went to a flamenco show, enjoyed some great food and hung out in a few bars.
Spot the 0% alcohol beer……..
On the Tuesday after Easter (day nine of our trip) we collected our ‘pilgrim’s passports’ from the tourist office and got them stamped to show that we started our trip in Seville. Getting them stamped at the start and at points along our journey would allow us to make use of facilities offered to pilgrims travelling the Ruta via de la Plata. As we are not religious people at all we were not planning on continuing to Santiago de Compostela but making our way to the northern Spainish coast and then on homewards.
There are a vast number of Camino de Santiago routes that criss-cross Spain and Portugal on their way to Santiago de Compostella. The expectation is that when you travel a camino, you will have to endure hardship and struggle and in the process become a humbler, more understanding person with a new perspective on life. It is a sort of suffering cure, taken by those in search of deeper meaning in their lives – to endure the hardship of the trail is to draw strength from what you have achieved. I immediately felt a difference in how we were greeted once we began the camino – we were’t treated as tourists or even cyclists any more, but pilgrims or peregrinos and as such entitled to kindness and understanding due to the difficulty of our endeavour.
The route is marked by the symbol of the clam shell – the emblem of St James – the saint whose bones are said to be enshrined in the cathedral at Santiago de Compostella.
In the course of planning this trip I learned that there is not just one Camino de Santiago as I had thought – the famous Camino Frances, shown in dark red on this map – but many. There is a massive network of camino routes linking Europe’s cathedral towns to the final destination of Santiago de Compostella in the northwest corner of Spain.
The Ruta via de la Plata is an old Roman road which links Seville in the south with Astorga in the north of Spain, a distance of around 800km. It was later (c.9th century AD) adopted as a pilgrimage route and linked with the other camino paths in the north of the country. To start with we found the road to be arrow-straight with a good surface. I allowed myself to hope that it might be like this for the entire length of our journey, only for that bubble to be quickly burst.
The path deteriorated into a rough track and then followed a rocky stream bed, giving us an early taste of what was to come.
We spent our first camino night in the pilgrims hostel in Castilblanco de Los Arroyos. I don’t have a photo for you as we arrived very late and were turfed out very early the next morning. My teenager was not amused. After a tough day the day before and a late night we were both very tired and heavy-legged as we set off north on the camino next day. An initial road section lead to the beautiful and remote national park.
It’s always very difficult to accurately portray the steepness of a slope in photographs and this one doesn’t do the hill here justice.
We realised that we were at a genuinely tough section when we saw the memorial to the pilgrim who had sadly died climbing this very hill two years before.
The first three days were very tough and I began to doubt our ability to complete the route. Obviously it is a hiking path and not designed for bikes. Most cyclists take the road and avoid the national parks and rough sections of the route, but for all its hardship, this seems a shame to me as it would mean missing out on the chance to spend time in stunningly beautiful surroundings.
At a lunch stop one day I found a Spanish coin from 1879 lying in the dirt of the trail. It’s not particularly rare or special, but I like to think of it being dropped there by a pilgrim of old.
We were grateful of the pilgrims’ hostel facilities where we found them. They varied in price from ‘donativo’ (donations requested) to around 12 Euro a night for a bed in a shared dorm. I was glad I had brought earplugs – we had to share sleeping space with a lot of snoring men!
An interestingly lethal looking toaster contraption in one of the hostels. Fire safety issues abound in the albergues – plugs hanging off walls and bare wires are not uncommon – I found it best to figure out the quickest way from our beds to the fire exit and then try to put the risks out of mind.
We met some amazing people in the hostels, like Adriana and Gianfranco from Italy. As Adriana is blind they travel together on a tandem – my mind boggled at the practical complexities of this and I took a mental bow at them for the incredible achievement of what they were undertaking. Chapeau Gianfranco and Adriana!
Once we left the national park the route got easier with more dusty back roads to ride and less rocky tracks to push the bikes up.
We may not be religious, but we ate a lot of loaves and fishes…. garlic anchovies on fresh Spanish bread, washed down with cold 0% beer makes a fine picnic.
The region had suffered its wettest Spring in history and we found a lot of flooding to contend with. This is why we often ride in crocs……
In some places the albergue were a bit basic, whereas others showed a high level of investment, like this brand new hostel in Los Santos de Maimona, a bargain at only 7 Euro a night. Using the hostels meant the chance to recharge my phone and batteries, take a shower and use the washing machine. On a long trip like this we were very glad of them. As the hostels are designed with hikers in mind they occur at roughly 25km intervals along the route.
After the heat of the Algarve we found the central part of Spain to have very varied weather – we managed to cycle across Spain during the wettest and coldest April on record. Storm clouds on the horizon…. we tried to outrun them but they caught us in the end.
No, a saddlebag doesn’t function as an effective mudguard….
Passing the Roman aqueduct at Merida….
The further north we went, the colder it got, until the TV in cafes we stopped at started showing scenes like these, just 120km to the north of us. I hadn’t packed for snow….
The land was utterly sodden – I had fitted the wrong tyres on our bikes and so we slid about all over the place and got very wet. Progress was very, very slow. My hoped-for target of 50km a day was pretty modest and well within Joe’s capabilities, but there were days when we struggled to make 30km a day in the conditions.
Some sections we just had to push – it was a lot softer than this photo shows.
….though the turtles were happy at least.
We struggled to cross many of the rivers that would have been benign streams just a couple of weeks before….
It was quite dangerous in places. Here we arrived just in time to help a friend we had made at one of the hostels across the river.
…and here Joe is hanging on very tight to his lightweight bike to prevent it being swept away…
He had fun in the paddling pool though… (note the snow on the mountains behind him).
As handy as the hostels were, I will always chose to camp if given the choice. We went in and out of various national parks during our trip and this was dawn at our bivvy spot in one of them…
Nothing tastes quite like coffee……
and toast that has been cooked on our wee twig brazier then slathered in olive oil.
The national parks were incredibly beautiful and offered the chance for some excellent single track riding with some short but fun downhill sections.
Usually followed by a bit of rockiness and pushing….
The views were stunning though – the wild flowers had benefitted from all the rain.
We passed under the famous Roman arch of Caparra, a day I remember as very tough as we didn’t find any resupply points and so were on short rations.
This is Joe at the pilgrim monument on top of a very large hill in an otherwise pancake-flat plain. It was roasting hot that day and I had a complete sense of humour failure at hauling my bike to the top of this bloody hill just so we could go back down again. Joe just laughed at his ranting, swearing mother and insisted we had to do it or we weren’t doing the route properly. Admittedly the views were good.
A good bit of cycle path took us to the beautiful city of Salamanca, where we stopped for a rest day. I have driven past Salamanca many times without stopping so it was good to see what I had been missing. It’s stunning, so I won’t be passing without stopping in the future.
Salamanca cafe culture….
The main square in Salamanca – reminiscent of St Marks in Venice.
Reading in the park in the shade.
Sweetie shop, Salamanca.
We lost the best part of a day hanging around Banos de Montemajor because I really wanted to swim in the Roman baths there. Finally, after four hours of waiting for siesta to be over we requested tickets to the Roman baths, paid our money and were shown into this… a very nice bath but not the Roman one. I was gutted but we didn’t have time to go to the correct one after all that.
Leaving Banos de Montemayor….
The camino as we travelled north from Banos de Montemayor. This is something like what the original surface of the Ruta via de la Plata would have looked like.
Even when we stopped for a rest I couldn’t keep the boy from pedalling…..
I have no idea what these things are – we thought at first they were foot baths for weary pilgrims, but then we noticed that they were full of huge fish!
We worked our way north through the towns and villages, often travelling with snow-capped mountains to our side. I was not expecting that in central Spain in April, I must admit.
The walled city of Galisteo… we arrived just minutes before the supermarket closed for siesta….. phew.
More national park camino shots….
Me and my boy.
Uh-oh. There may be trouble ahead….. we routed around this.
This was my favourite albergue of the trip – all the better because we had the whole place to ourselves. They were a bit like a cross between a bothy and a youth hostel.
We ate tapas washed down with 0% beer in the sunshine……
Established that fried egg flavour crisps are every bit as bogging as they sound….
…and never let it be said that I don’t take my boy to some of the best lunch spots in town – here we are sheltering from a rain shower outside Aldi – a good opportunity to pack food in our bellies rather than trying to cram it into our bags.
With the end of the Ruta via de la Plata calling our names we sped along on this old railway track towards Astorga.
Where we posed for the obligatory photo with the statue of the peregrino at the end of the camino.