Scenery & Sights . . .
. . . and all about the Bike
Got up. Sat in chair. At lunch. Sat in chair. Drank beer. Sat in chair. Ate Dinner. Drank Wine. Sat in Chair. Went to bed.
As you can see, the day after our epic climb to watch La Vuelta was not exactly packed with activity. In fact, I did manage a short walk around the campsite to the top of the hill behind to see the view. The old legs were struggling though . . .
One of the things about the Picos, and Asturias in general, is the quantity and value for money of the food. I have already mentioned some belly-busting meals of local Asturian fare, but this also extend to the very hedgerows. Overhanging our cabin is a hazelnut tree, and the fruit clearly ripens early here compared to Britain because the nuts have been falling on our heads as we sit. I decided to avail myself of nature's bounty, and very nice they were too . . .
As another example, how about having this lemon tree outside your front door . . .
We are back at San Vicente on the return leg. At the usual coffee stop in the transport café outside Panes I noticed that Colin had devised an ingenious method of keeping his bar-bag dry. Clearly a patent is in the offing, with the only disadvantages that I can see being the lack of complete coverage (though this could be easily remedied by using a more capacious pair of grundies) and the propensity for them to blow off into one's face, thereby rendering the cyclist both blind and incapabale at the same time . . .
While at the campsite we will once more eat in the restaurant, and this is my last chance to cajole Colin into an authentic attempt at pouring the sidra Asturian style, though we are now in Cantabria it must be said.
Well, this is what we came for - to see the Tour of Spain. On Saturday the plan was to cycle down to Panes then further down the river valley and find a spot where the race passed. As it turned out there was an ideal place, on a small bridge across the river near to several restaurants and bars. Unlike the Tour de France La Vuelta is a much more relaxed affair, reflecting the Spanish character I would assume. So, although we arrived at 1 pm and the race was due to pass between 2.30 and 3 pm, there was no guarantee that this would be the case. Nevertheless we managed to get in a 3-course menu del dia. As we sat eating there was a certain amount of twitchiness that we would miss the race but as it turned out we finished in good time to seet he race . . . 'mañana, mañana' as they say in Spain.
But the main event was today, the mountain-top finish at Lago de Covadonga. We set off at 10.30, in good time to ride to the top of the mountain to see the race. We stopped at the bottom for a cafe con leche and, being caught out before on this climb, I elected to indulge in a bocadillo - bacon and cheese bap to you - becaus the next 12 km would be foodless. I can assure you that it kept me company all the way up . . . burp! The sun was out at this point; the climb to the lago (lake) is unretlentingly steep; on and on it went as I winched myself up; the sweat runnning down may face and into my eyes, down through my shorts and into my socks, oozing from every pore of my body. I daren't stop becuase I'd never get going again, even grabbing a drinks bottle was a technically challenging event . . . but I eventually gained the summit at 1120 m . . .
. . . then back down about 4 km to watch the race pass . . .
Contador and Valverde fighting it out on the steep part . . .
. . . and Froome trailing behind . . .
Bloody knackered - me, I mean.
Today the group spilt, with one party setting off for the climb to La Covadonga, and the other on a mystery tour of my design. We all set off together towards Cangas de Onis, whereupon Greg, Lou, Mike D, JJ and I peeled away in the direction of Arriondas and thence in the direction of Oviedo along the dual carriageway . . . so far not so scenic. The plan was to get to a mountain road that went up to Cazo and looped round back to Cangas - those roads with green next to them on the Michelin map that designate a scenic route. We were late starting and further delayed by a fruitless search for a bike shop and flip-flop emporium in Cangas, but eventually we made it to the start of the climb, and climb we did . . . for 18 continuous km up a mountain road with only the goats, cows and their bells, and a lone delivery man (shuttling up and down in his van dropping off bread and fags) for company.
Up we went, then up again, then up and up and up and up . . . back and forth this way and that as the road looped and climbed its inexorable way to the top of the Sierra de Faces. Eventually we reached the summit and were rewarded with spectacular views, but by this time it was 2 pm and we had brought only bits of cake and Haribo to eat, and had seen absolutely no place to buy provisions for 18 km.
Just as we were comtemplating whether to eat JJ two Spanish mountain bikers appeared from a nearby track and hailed us well met. In one of those coincidences that weave a golden thread into the rich tapestry of life one of the duo spoke perfect English and informed us that his companion had been regaling him for the past hour about Casa Ricardo, a restaurant in the nearby village which served local Asturian food in mountainous quantities for a very little money. So, thanking him profusely and thinking that it seemed like a scene out of Lord of the Rings we made haste to said casa where we spent the next two hours gorging on a casserole of flambada, goats stew and creme caramel, accompanied by vino and sidra. . . just like les dejeuners of old.
Eventually we had to leave and wobbled out, completely stuffed, in preparation for the remaining 30 km of our journey. Now, you may wonder how we managed this in our engorged state, but as fate would have it we had chosen to ride the 'right' way around the mountain, and the journey back to Cangas was through a picturesque canyon along what was essentially a false flat.
A race back to the campsite finished us off - I just manged to reel Colin in yards before the entrance . . . Ha!
Today we picked up two honorary members of SBCC, Dave and Helen, for a ride into the mountains then down towards the seaside. The weather has turned from scorching hot sun to overcast and low cloud - just as well as it turned out. The first climb of the day was really three climbs, up and down and up and down from Labra to the alto del torno at 550 m.
Lou had the first puncture of the tour on day 1 . . . and she now has the 2nd and 3rd. On the final descent her rear tyre blew off the wheel again - a brown trouser moment in anyones language - only for it to happen once more as soon as fixed and inflated. Greg has now swapped wheels in true gentlemanly fashion so if it blows off again he will be the one to hurtle over the edge of the precipice into the valley below - I'm sure he knows this. On the bottom part of the mountain workmen were tarting up the verges in preparation for La Vuelta, which will traverse the same route, but managed to dislodge lots of sharp rocks in the process. As a result, Dave suffrered a tyre cut which required patches and superglue to repair - the tour tool kit is coming in handy this trip.
Eventually we arrive at our destination, a beachfront cafe, for lunch . . . only to find that the kitchen is fermo. The girl did make us some nice smoked salmon and cheese sandwiches, but only one each! As regular readers will know I have fallen into the habit of 3-course déjeuner with wine while on tour, so a single bap will simply not suffice . . . I had to supplement with a bag of crisps and a piece of cake from the back pocket.
The sun came out by the time we reached the sea but I had forgotten my bucket and spade . . . so we cleared the kids out of the boat for a group photo . . .
The return was an equally long climb back up to the campsite where I have already tucked in to bread and jam, and a crisp sandwich before dinner - the training programme is in full swing.
Well, sort of . . . after the excesses of the previous day . . . . . . and evening . . .
. . . we decided to have a relatively sedate day around the campsite. Several of the most althletically elite members of the SBCC elected to spend the day 'recovering' . . .
. . . but not before seeking out provisions from the the local shop which is located 1 mile down the road. Surprisingly well provisioned - like a Spar on amphetimines.
Mike and I, eschewing the chance for a day of tapering before tomorrow's mountainous attempt, decided to go adventuring down the hill towards Cangas de Onis, ideally on flat bits but I'm not convinced that this is possible. . . .
. . . later, we found several things of interest:
Cangas de Onis is not far, there are many hills that lead to absolutley nowhere and the beer is good. Also, there is some sort of 'cow thing' going on there which may or may not merit further investigation . . .
. . . and I don't make a very attractive Dutch girl . . .
Despite all these obstacles, Mike and I made it back up the hill to the campsite.
This evening I volunteered to cook so treated 'Cabin No. 2' to one of my signiature dishes . . . yes, you guessed it folks, the Evans Lentil Chilli! As you can see, eveyone has the rictus smile of buttock clenching enjoyment that is one of the consequences of this repaste. . . .
Today we went 'West of the Picos' . . . as Lee van Cleef would say. Well, not exactly because we are actually in the Picos, at Camping Picos de Europa to be exact. After some pre-ride fettling - JJ lashing his saddlebag with bailing twine and Greg had fixing Colin's gear changer to allow him to get on the big front ring (why this would be necessary I have no idea since Colin hardly ever uses it) we left Playa del Oyambre in glorius sunshine.
After stopping for the tortilla at the usual SBCC cafe stop, the route took us through some wonderful scenery, chamois clinging to the high peaks and vultures circling above . . . probably waiting for one of us. The temperatue hit the 30s, the water bottles ran low, and JJ lost his shorts somewhere between there and here . . . Luckily we had no mechanicals today other the fettling before the off, which was just as well because the BIG HILL was yet to come!
We stopped for lunch just before the BIG HILL. It took longer to order than to eat what with eight people with none, and one with some, Spanish trying to navigate the menu. I managed easily by resorting to picking random items from the menu del dia - Colin said 'dos', Greg said 'tres' and Mike said 'whatever four is in Spanish' . . . you get the idea.
And so, we come to the BIG HILL. At the bottom a chap went past us wearing longs. . . the temperature was in the 30s by this point and the sun was roasting us as we cycled beside the rock face of the mountain, the sweat was pouring down into my shorts, the helmet was off and I was dousing my cap in water. . . maybe he felt the cold? As you can see from the look of Colin at the top of the hill, neither longs nor his big ring were necessary . . .
So we arrive at the campsite and straight into the shop for ice cold cerveza. Thinking they were unoccupied, Greg has liberated the clothes pegs from all of the adjoining cabins, only for their occupants to return from days out at the beach . . . We have said nothing.
The SBCC set off for the Tour of Spain with sun shining on us at the Ferryport. This time, we have bowed to the inevitabilities of age, not to mention insomnia, and booked cabins for the crossing. Hence, I am hoping for a restful night's sleep; in contrast to the last time when we slept in the restaraunt, where the lights never go out and the cleaners start vacuuming at 6 am. Of course, since four of us are sharing a cabin a good night's sleep might not happen in any case . . .
Infortunately S was not best pleased because she couldn't come with us . . .
So, we repaired to the bar for pre-dinner drinks . . . already I managed a contretemps with a bloke jumping the queue . . . never happens in Wetherspoons I think. The crossing was calm and our cabin small, but that didn't matter becuase JJ has a hard head and survived the frequent encounters with the edge of the metal bunk. So, we hove in to Santander and set off for San Vicente by a route which JJ had reconnoitred in the spring . . . well he said he had, and we found it after only two wrong turns.
It was hot, high 20s centrigrade, but there was a cooling wind to mitigate the worst effects - unfortunately it was a headwind. Lou has the distinction of the first puncture of the tour, a spectacular affair which blew the tyre off the wheel and split the inner tube . . . and her spare had a hole in it. What can a girl do but call on not one, not two . . . but three OGs to fix the wheel . . .
That's one down. A mile or two down the road and Marks rack starts to fall apart. Luckily, always alert to potential problems with mudguards, gear hangars and the like, I am prepared with various nuts, bolts and washers, so an instant repair was effected.
We arrived at Playa del Ombre none the worse for wear and I am contemplating the first cold one as I write. . .
. . . I can't say that the sidra is as good as the cidre but the rosada de la casa was just fine.
Everyone has been asking "why has the blog stopped?" I could say that I have had writers block but, truth be told, I just couldn't be a***d. So, here is a summary of our activites, now that I've got round to doing it.
We decided to to take a day trip to Pontivy once more, so set off at the crack of 9.30. On the way we passed a long distance race along one of the Grand Randonée routes. We have encountered this before so it must be a regular event. Several things characterise these races but the singluar one which stands out is the disproportionate number of Japanese competitors wearing hi-vis vests (of the type you would use when the car breaks down on the motorway) and knee-length compression socks; and that everyone seems to be experiencing a considerable amount of pain. We spotted the first of these unfortunates as we approached Silfiac but quickly distanced them on the long downhill stretch toward Clegurec, but then disaster . . . the first, and only, puncture of the tour befell HEVANS001 . . . "S, we have a problem" I shouted over my shoulder. The roadside repair was relatively straightforward, but as I was faffing around trying to find the tyre piercing culprit, who should amble past but said randonneurs . . . the hare and the tortoise springs to mind. So, we never reached Pontivy, but instead bactracked for le dejeuner of moules at a nice lakeside restaurant in the middle of nowhere where we were the only customers. "Another tough day at the office" I said to S as we tucked into the moules et cidre. . .
On the way back to the gîte we once again attempted to find the menhir, from which we were distracted in our quest by the blackberry largesse, and this time were successful. The informational board held forth various theories for it being there, but I prefer my own: that it was a place of sacrificial worship where unfortunate offerings were brought and lashed to the stone before being summarily despatched, or left for the Gods to devour by proxy of having birds peck away at their flesh; or alternatively that it was a potent fertility symbol representing a giant . . . well, you get the idea. Needless to say, S was unimpressed with any of my suppositions, and demonstrated her definition of fertility with retrospective knowledge of the consequences having two grown up 'children', who will doubtless be cleaning the house, preparing a sumptuous meal, making our bed and plumping the pillows in anticipation of our imminent return . . .
So, the final day arrived, and we had to quit our gîte and make a dash for Morlaix up the voie verte - 25 uphill miles pulling the trailer. I made it . . . just, by unaccountably drafitng behind S's wheel for at least 100 yards . . and we arrived in Morlaix to enjoy a traditional beer at Café d'Europe, and thence to Hotel du Port. S was determined to have a diner traditionnel, so we ended up at Le Marmite . . . well you know what they say, you either love it or hate it! The menu was chalked up on little slates which the waiter presented to us balanced on a miniature easel. Thus placed, and as I was holding forth to S that the poor lad must have been drafted in to cover for the regular help, I knocked it off it's perch wherewith it crashed to the floor and splintered into a thousand fragments, thereby invalidating anything that came out of my mouth for the next hour or so. Luckily we were the first in, so no-one was around to witness my faux pas and laugh loudly. . . other than the waiter . . . and S . . . and billions people who read this blog . . .
The last day saw us make a leisurely progress to Roscoff where we indulged in the tradiaitonal harbourside moules et frites, then onto the ferry . . .
and home . . .
Today we visited the Roman remains at Locuon. Behind the church in this small Breton village is a Roman quarry where granite blocks were hewn to build the town of Carhaix some considerable miles distant. Apparently, it was worth carting it all the way to Carhaix because, apart from labour costs being considerably lower than they are today with a surfeit of Breton slaves, the granite is high in white mica so resembles marble when in situ. Within the quarry there is the later addition of a chapel with the usual Virgin Mary and accompanying religious paraphenalia set into the quarry walls etc. . .
More interestingly, you can still see the 2000 year old tool marks on the granite blocks that form the wall of the quarry.
In addition, there is a Roman road from the village to - I dunno, Paris? - which S was keen to follow . . . so we did until it got a bit too MTB for her ( i.e. grass more than 3 inches), so here she is on the return journey to the main road . . .
Quite apart from that, we have tracked down the pungent odure emanating from the kitchen. It seems that it is not after all S's cycling shoes but the wheel of rustic camambert that we purchased several days ago . . . clearly it is coming to full ripeness, so we shall have to eat it.
And so, we arrive at our usual return stop at Pete & Keith's beautiful chambre d'hote. This year, however, I have booked the gîte for a full week to allow S to recover from nine days of roughing it with only my lentil and bean curry to eat. The weather seems to be on the turn, i.e. raining, so the gîte comes at an opportune moment - all in the plan I say to S . . .
Surprise 1: who should we see in Plouërdut but le chat précieux, or a French relative perhaps. As you can see, she knew who her mère was . . .
Surprise 2: we came across this water feature in the middle of nowhere, the kind of thing you might encounter in Yorkshire perhaps, where a retired engineer has exercised his lifetime skills in a more pleasurable pursuit. What is not evident from the photo is that this was an animated scene, the see-saw going up and down, the helicopter rotor trurning, all the machinery rotating away and the various figures going about their business . . . all powered by the flowing stream!
Surprise 3: l'atelier bistrot - what a fantastic restaurant in Langoelan! We had the plat du jour of mussels in gazpacho soup, followed by a main course of poulet with shredded courgette, green beans, roast potato and pea purée, then dessert of apple binet in a mint and raspberry couli, follwed by coffee and half a litre of wine - all for €25! We will return . . .
Well, it had to happen, our luck couldn't last. On day 10 the heavens opened and hosed it down on our campsite. Consequently, there is very little to relate unless you count squatting in a dripping tent waiting for gaps in the downpour to enable to making of tea/dinner and go to the toilet block. We did get out for a quick walk around the the lac in the alternate direction to last time and came across a holiday chalet village (a French version of Bultins but with better food I would imagine) where I availed myself of their free and unprotected wi-fi access in the communal bar at a cost of 1.5 chocolats for the price of 2 given that my cup was half empty - in this case, as I commented to S, my alleged cynicism being amply demonstrated by embodiment in physical realilty. No matter, I was able to upload the last blog post until we were ushered to one side to make room for the kiddies talent contest.
On day 11 we broke camp for the last time this holiday. Luckily the day dawned dry and S was up with alacrity at the prospect of seven consecuitive nights in a real bed with sheets and a mattress, and a table and chairs to sit on, with cold beer in the fridge, and a washing machine to expurge that 'camping whiff' (aka Eau de Glastonbury) hat hangs about everything when you have to stuff all your clothes into two small bags every day so that the clean and dirty are in such close proximity that eventually one is unable to distinguish between them. Talking of 'camping whiff', as we were packing up it did occur to me to mention something which had been preying on my mind since our arrival, but which I though best not to mentin to S . . . Now, as anyone who has been camping will know, the proximity of the toilet block is in inverse relation to the desireability of a particular pitch. The is also an inviolate law that, on returning to the tent after brushing of teeth and other bedtime ablutions and zipping up the sleeping bag, the urge to go to the toilet instantly comes upon one, even if you've just been. However, the toilet block is a half mile trek away in the dark and (likely) rain, and you are now wearing your favourite jimjams which, while being perfectly comfortable nightime attire, will not attract any admiring glances . . . so you think 'stuff it' and try to get to sleep. Now, one of two things will happen:
1. You fail to nod off and eventually have to give in to nature's call and set off across country;
2. You go to sleep, but awaken at 2 am in thrall to an urgent and all consuming need to empty your bladder. But now it is pitch black and has definitely started to rain, so there ensues an extended period of fumbling with zips and head torch, location of flip-flops and perhaps a waterproof jacket, not forgetting toilet roll if that has also become is necessary because there is never any in these municipal campsites . . . and during these logistical gymnastics, the equivalent of D-day preparations, all the time things are getting more urgent, ampllified by the sprint to the block in the chilly night air . . . well, you get the idea.
My point is that if you are so encamped at the far end of the site, especially with a load of kids in tow, the temptation to short circuit this whole farrago by just going in the hedge round the back of the tent, au naturelle so to speak, is exceedingly great. I can assure readers that we are made of sterner stuff than that, but this might explain the whiffy smell that had emanated from the corner of our pitch since we arrived . . need I say more.