Day 1 - Here We Go Again

Sunday 10th July  2016

Seasoned readers of these blogs will recall that Mick and I didn't really get good value from last year's tour in the Picos de Europa mountains of Northern Spain.

The rain set in on our first evening out of Santander and continued pretty much without respite for the next few days. Mountain passes were enshrouded in cloud as we tiptoed over the passes, and the valley roads were drenched and treacherous.

After a couple of days we gave up on this beautiful part of the world and hightailed it into the Pyrenees and over into sunny France.

We always reckoned we would have to give it another try and so here we go again, heading over the Bay of Biscay on the flagship of the Brittany Ferries fleet, the Pont-Avon, en route from Plymouth to Santander.
We are accompanied on this trip by Mick's son Sean on his GS, making his first trip abroad on a bike. It will be a challenging learning curve for him.

Our tour will take us on a wiggly route through the Pi…

Day 2 - Fish and Taxis

Monday 11th July 2016

The sea is calm next morning but the ferry is an hour late docking in Santander. We fight our way through a thousand Harley Davidsons on deck 2.  Eventually we are off and thread our ways through the narrow streets and out of town.

The A8 is one of the most beautiful motorways in Europe. It swoops and rolls along the northern coast of Cantabria and Asturias where the mountains touch the sea.

Our first night of camping is on the cliff tops near Luarca, a lovely little harbour settlement reminiscent of a Cornish fishing village. it is a steep walk down to the town but worth it.

The little harbour is full of boats and a fantastic sunset presents a scene from a movie as the sun dips down into the Atlantic and floods the harbour with red-orange light.

We find a harbour-side fish restaurant and settle in for the evening. Mick has tuna, Sean has veal and I have a small pink fish, no idea what it was but it was delicious. Sean reckons it was a piranha.

We ask the…

Day 3 - Wriggling through the Picos

Tuesday 12th July 2016

This far west, and on euro time, the sun doesn't come up much before 7am. We make coffee and pack the gear, then collect bread, croissants and eggs from the camp shop when it opens. We are on the road at 10am.

Today is a mountain bimble day. We head south into the mountains and then follow a winding route up and down the Picos heights, wriggling around the amazing roads, in an overall easterly direction.

This is technical riding at its best. It's a challenge and pretty tiring hauling the big old K around the switchback roads. But there is virtually no traffic here in the heart of the Picos range and the road surfaces are, in the main, quite excellent.

We stop for coffee at the inappropriately named Casa El Terrible. As always in Spain the coffee is excellent (and cheap - please note England).

We total 200 miles from 10am to 6.30pm and end the day at Riano, at a beautiful campsite high on the hillside overlooking the lake below.

We cross 3 or 4 hi…

Day 4 - Up and Down Again

Wednesday 13th July 2016

It is a very cold night up here at 1200 metres elevation. But so quiet when the wind drops in the evening. There is only a handful of fellow campers and our nearest neigbours are 100 metres away.

In the morning we leave Camping Riano and head down into the village for fuel. Sean has a visor malfunction as he is setting off and I have ridden several kilometres along the lakeside before I realise there is no-one in my mirrors.

 I swing back around and findMick and Sean near the filling station. Sean's visor fixing screw had come loose on one side but by the time I get back to there it is already fixed and we can get on our way.

It's another great road. We wind our way up to the top of a pass where there is a side road signed as a photo opportunity, so we have to ride up. 

This little side track takes us a couple of kilometres up to the crest of a hill where a wonderful view of the central Picos is revealed
There is an old guy there with his famil…

Day 5 - Across the Gap

Thursday 14th July 2016

It's Bastille Day today but since we are still in Spain it doesn't register here. We are up early. The campsite at Laredo is another one where the shop doesn't open until 9am so we don't wait for that but get packed and on our way soon after 8.
Today we are heading across the gap between the Cantabrian Mountains and the Pyrenees.

We don't want another day like yesterday. As it turns out today's route is just as far but almost all of it is motorway so the kilometres fly by.
We ride along the spectacular A8 to the outskirts of Bilbao, sometimes riding above rocky Atlantic bays and sandy beaches.
The route skirts Bilbao and drops us onto another fast new motorway past Pamplona. Last year Mick and I rode this way but the motorway was not yet open and the old road was slow with heavy traffic.

Today it is fast, new and exhilarating as we sweep through high-tech tunnels and bypass all the small villages. There is a vicious wind howling dow…

Day 6 - Over the Pyrenees into France

Friday July 15th 2016

It is a lovely morning up here on the hill at Camping Ain. We enjoy a breakfast of coffee, croissants and boiled eggs cooked up on our camping stoves as a wonderful sunrise does it's thing over the mountain.

Then potential disaster as Sean finds his (hydraulic) clutch has decided overnight to lose all pressure. Mick comes to the driving down into the town to find a garage that stocks Dot 4 brake fluid. Sean gets it topped up and pumps the lever. Oh joy, it's working again.

The road to Ainsa is amazing. First a motorway stretch then up into foothills on a new road with tunnels and sweeping curves.

We stop for coffee in Fiscal and enjoy the view from the cafe terrace. Then it's uphill all the way as we follow a river up a twisty climb of 1,000 metres to the Tunnel d'Aragnouet-Bielsa.
It burrows through a high peak on the border, one side in Spain and the other in France.

The road down on the French side is newly resurfaced and loops and twist thr…

Day 7 - Hot and sweaty

Saturday 16th July 2016

As usual we are the only ones up and about early. It seems to be the norm on these campsites. No-one appears before 8am or later. To my mind they are missing the best part of the day.

The sun rises above the mountains that surround this pretty camping ground. We have breakfast at the camp cafe, croissants, bread, jam, coffee and orange juice. Full service has been restored this morning.

It's very quiet as the camp stirs itself into life.

We are on the road soon after 9am with the prospect of a long boring day of autoroute driving ahead. We have to cross the vast plain that separates the Pyrenees from the Alps. With around 350 miles planned for the day I have opted to take the autoroute toll roads

We will travel past Carcassonne, Toulon, Avignon and Marseille before leaving the motorways and heading up into the hills to the western end of the Verdon Gorge.

Traffic problems beset us almost immediately. I guess it is the first day of the French summer ho…