Spain C2C part 4 – Camino San Salvador – Leon to Oviedo – 138km – 5 days
and – Part 5 – Oviedo to Gijon – 37km – one day.
When I initially planned this ride I didn’t know how we would be leaving Spain and when. I find that booking our return tickets puts a lot of stress onto us to complete the journey in a set time-frame and doesn’t allow for any spontaneity or flexibility in our plans. You may notice that I am already trying to make excuses for having poorly planned this section of our trip – it was only once I had a better idea of when we would finish at the north coast that I found cheap flights back to Edinburgh from Santander. A quick glace at the camino map showed a route that looked absolutely perfect – the Camino San Salvador would take us from Leon to Oviedo, within touching distance of the Spanish coast. And so it was that we merrily trotted off with no research whatsoever on what would be the toughest part of our journey yet. Those of you with your eyes open will be able to see from the map above that the terrain is somewhat challenging in this part of Spain. It is home to a range of mountains called the Picos. I was only vaguely aware that they existed, and I am sure I couldn’t have pointed them out on a map. I know them a little better now.
It started well, with good signposting and a smooth bit of cycle path leading us north from Leon.
Within a few km though we were in terrain so rough and steep we had to remove our bags to get the bikes up the steepest sections before going back down again to fetch the luggage. The bits in between that we were able to ride were stunning though.
Yet another beautiful ride in a national park.
Stopping at the top of the hill to admire the view.
We were both pretty worn out by the time we reached Cabanillas. Although I had wanted to wild-camp, we saw signs for an Albergue and found the idea of a soft bed for the night was too hard to resist. After lots of stunted conversations in bad Spanish on my part we established that the only key for the albergue was in the pocket of a woman visiting her father in hospital in Leon. She would not be back for several days. This was a bit of a blow as we had mentally prepared ourselves for a bit of comfort for the night. It was suggested that we put our tent up outside the church and so we did just that. We both slept so well that we didn’t wake up til 9.30 the next morning.
It was the first time I had put the tent up on a hard surface, using the pillars and a few rocks to peg it out. It worked surprisingly well.
Next day we headed on to La Robla, bought and consumed some supermarket food and lay in the park digesting for a while. If I had known then that we wouldn’t find any more food until we had crossed the Picos mountains I would have eaten a lot more.
I knew things would get a bit steep but we have dealt with that before and so I wasn’t unduly worried.
We rested in the shade of an old hermitage as we gained altitude on the road section.
After the village of Buiza we left the road behind us and began the climb up to the pass.
The path was very good and we got the bikes up and over the pass fairly easily, walking the bikes most of the way.
Water stop on the flagstones at the highest point of the pass. Obviously the path chose the easiest and lowest place to cross the ridgeline, but we were still at about 1,400m in elevation terms, having started the day at around 900m.
We came down from the ridgeline as the evening light hit the snow covered peaks around us – easily one of the most stunning and life-affirming rides I have ever known. The path was downhill, technical enough to be interesting, but not too tricky. As we cycled through the fragrant pines the sound of sheep bells could be heard on the crisp, still evening air – it was simply perfect.
We spent a chilly night camped in the valley only to discover next day that an (unlocked) albergue lay just 4km further along our route. We hadn’t managed to find anywhere selling food since La Robla and after an evening meal and a breakfast sourced from our supplies we were starting to run low. Not wanting to run out of food completely, I had stretched our rations by giving Joe normal portions while I had short rations and kept most of my portion in reserve, believing that we would find somewhere selling food the next day. We didn’t and as we climbed again I was starting to feel the effects of this.
The second big climb we found much more of a challenge. Having come to Spain for some heat, I did not expect to have a snowball fight with my son on this journey, but that was what happened.
Bullseye – this one landed right on the camera lens….
The hills are alive with the sound of loonies who took their bikes up a mountain (or three).
We hauled our bikes up and over the rocky pass, this one much tougher than the the previous day. We didn’t see a single soul on the entire camino save those in the valley villages – on the other routes we always passed early-rising pedestrian pilgrims during the day but nobody else seemed to be travelling this route at the same time as us. This only added to the sense of remoteness we felt as we climbed higher.
Joe kept smiling and bit by bit we made our way up.
The snow patches were impossible to push through in an uphill direction as they were very soft and slippery so traversing across and around them was the only way.
We finally reached the top of the pass. Obviously there were higher peaks around us so we weren’t quite on top of the world, but it still felt pretty good.
After taking this photo I noticed that Joe had a nosebleed. This prompted me to check our altitude, only to find that at 1,561m we were more than 200m higher than the top of Ben Nevis.
I think that had I known this beforehand I would have chosen a different route, believing it to be complete folly to attempt to take a child and two fully-laden bikes up a range of mountains loftier than the highest peak in the British Isles. So it’s a good job I didn’t do my homework properly as Joe derived a real sense of achievement from this part of the journey. The views were also stunning – blue skies, bright sunshine and snow-capped peaks all around us, it was a real privilege just to be there.
One of the great things about Spain is that (unlike Scotland) you can find 3G internet coverage pretty much everywhere you go – even on top of a mountain. This allowed me to see that the three-day blizzard which was forecast for the next day was rapidly approaching and would arrive early and reach us in a couple of hours. I looked up and saw very heavy, snow-laden skies ahead. We hadn’t packed for very low temperatures and did not have enough food to safely sit out a three-day blizzard in our tent, so I found the quickest way down from the ridgeline to the valley below and we temporarily abandoned the camino at this point.
It got a bit chilly……
We gratefully found a bed for the night in the toasty-warm albergue at Payares as it began sleeting. With no kitchen in the hostel we enquired about the availability of food in the village and was told that there wasn’t any. It looked like our much-needed evening meal would be sourced from the vending machine. I found Spain to be rather good at this sort of disinformation though so we tried our luck at the bar anyway and were rewarded with one of the finest meals of our trip – cooked by a woman who also simultaneously ran the bar and looked after her young daughter. I am sure if we had asked she would have given us a tune on the ukulele at the same time too. The huge bucket of fish soup she set before us thawed our marrow and two further courses restored us to fully human again.
The next day the view down the valley looked like this – cold, damp and foggy but thankfully the snow had not fallen at this elevation.
We tried to rejoin the camino but it was precipitously steep with a loose surface that made it dangerous and tiring to ride. I had been keen to avoid taking my son on the busy, narrow, twisting road down the mountain in the foggy conditions, but we didn’t seem to have a choice. It was a bone-numbingly cold descent that threatened to freeze us solid and suck the happiness right out us. The descent just went on and on and on, with countless switchbacks. With no exertion required, our bodies got colder and colder. At every safe opportunity we pulled off the road to rest our brakes and try to warm our fingers. When we finally reached the valley floor we gratefully decamped to a cafe for a couple of hours until we had warmed ourselves all the way through.
The next day we made good progress on the bike path along the river.
Though the route wasn’t quite done with us yet – a bit more climbing was required.
It all looked a bit Alpine.
We passed a lot of these – they are the traditional granary structures – built off the ground to keep rats out of the stores.
We reached Oviedo and the end of the Camino San Salvador in the late afternoon and were rewarded for our efforts with a private room in the Albergue there…..
….where we received the last stamps in our well-travelled pilgrims’ passports.
Part 5 – Oviedo to Gijon – 37km – 1 day.
The following day we picked a quiet road for our final section to the sea at Gijon in order to complete our coast to coast journey. When we reached the beach Joe just ran straight down into the sea he was so happy.
The final total was 1299km or 807 miles. We reached the north coast at Gijon 35 days after leaving the south coast at Faro.
Happy to have completed the trip we took the train to Santander and rested in an Airbnb there for a few days before flying home to Edinburgh.
The view from our Airbnb.
We had the best chocolate-con-churros yet in cafe Aliva in Santander.
We rode our bikes to the airport and packed them in bags once again.
It was great to be able to fit all our luggage into two ‘bags for life’. By doing so we avoided additional charges with Ryanair as these qualify as hand baggage. Our flights cost just 15 Euro each plus 60 Euro for each bike.
It’s not easy to see, but our bikes are sitting on top of the luggage trolley waiting to be loaded here.
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