Category: cycling

Random Touring Bits

Some random bits from my 2011 tour of France, and Northern Spain.

Camping in France

There are a lot of campsites in France – but about half of them shut at the end of September, some more shut at the end of October, and yet more shut mid November (after the 11th November bank holiday). Not very many open all year.  Confusingly some campsites remain open – but not for tents, only for caravans. It’s not often you can’t find an open site – but sometimes it takes a bit of planning.  When you do find a site, you’ll probably be the only person in an actual tent.  Autumn camping in France seems to mean campervan.

Some trees are too thick to tie a bike to, Tree provision is a big pitch consideration.

Because I often didn’t plan on wildcamping (i do like a shower after a day in the saddle)  it was always a bit of a last minute decision. Usually meaning i didn’t have enough water to re-hydrate and cook. Sometimes i just ate prince biscuits and drank tea – sometimes i cooked then work up dry mouthed.  Better planning and more water carrying capacity might be the way forward.


I did manage to spend the first month with reduced and painful mobility in my right shoulder- no idea what caused it – but I think maybe sleeping on it. It went away again though.

The only medicine I used was anti-fungal cream and 2 tablets of ibuprofen.

Towards the end I  lost some feeling in the fingers on my right hand – they would be tingly at times- and numb at others.  It took a week to feel my little finger again.  All OK now though.

It’s probably a good idea to carry a first aid kit.

Bike Bits

I love my bike.

I intended fit a kick stand before I went, but never got round to it.  I’d still quite like one. (…but)

It’s a good idea to write the code that corresponds to your wheel size on the back of your bike computer – then you’ll know it when you reset your computer trying to change the time.

I also love my non-puncturing tyres.

My saddle kept coming loose near the start – I took it to a man with dead long allan keys and he sorted it.  Pigeon French and gesticulating was involved. He didn’t even charge me.

My bike is a boy magnet.  (I am not)


on The Road

Hills are the best bit.

I took a week off to go bouldering in Font, apart from that I took 4 days off, for sightseeing more than rest. Generally I would cycle about 80km a day – although a few days i just did 50km.

French and Spanish drivers are nice to bikes.  Merci Beaucoup! Gracias!

A woman said to me “if you can do this, you can do anything“. I hadn’t though of it like that, but I liked it.

Loire Valley

The Loire valley is very geared up for cycle touring, in much the same way a railway is geared up for trains. The Loire à Vélo touring route goes sea to source, or vise-versa. It’s well signposted, its largely on quiet roads, or off road. Better yet the Loire valley has really bought into the route, tourist attractions all have bike parking, much of the accommodation has bike friendly certification,  apparently even the trains have special bike carriages.  You can imagine that in summer it’s rammed. I avoided that by going in October.

The Loire is famous for châteaus and wine,  so in some ways it’s not the kind of place you’d expect to find me; I don’t like wine, and nobility bores me quickly.

What I loved about the Loire was the quality of light.  The rivers mirror surface bounces this light around making everything seem a little ethereal.   The Autumn nights were cold, and come morning mist would rise off the river like smoke.  Mid mornings were still cold, but the mist’s  gone, instead the blue sky is everywhere.

Loire Barge

Cold clear mornings on the mirror of the Loire

“The river, a constant companion” is one of the route’s strap-lines, cheesy, but an unparalleled navigational aid. (We’ll neatly sidestep the day I got lost and cycled of the edge of my map; I was looking for a more challenging route – I found it.)  The Loire is a companion with a lot of character. Languid, and indulgent. The area isn’t cheap- it feels firmly aimed at the middle class traveller, there’s no backpacker circuit in evidence.  I was mainly camping, where sites were open, and these where generally nice three and four star sites.  Meals were of excellent quality – but prices also seemed notch above average. The harsh exchange rate no doubt exacerbating perceptions. All in all very sophisticated.


More great reflections

I did check out a couple of the many Loire châteaus. On a rest day in Azay  le Rideau I visited the Château there. The palace is small and neat and both above and below stairs life is exhibited. Oak beams in the roof are like the innards of a ship.  The same afternoon I visited the troglodyte peasant village down the road, they cut their homes  and livestock shelters into limestone banks, complete with refuges for when raiders where sweeping through.  Its good to see both sides of the coin.


There's a lot of Châteaus in the Loire. This one is Azay-le-Rideau.

The other château I visited was retirement home of Leonardo de vinci, Clos Lucé. The main theme here is the man, and his inventions and discoveries – reproductions abound in various sizes – could have done with a bit more interaction I reckoned though; of course I want to play with them, who wouldn’t?

Basque Country Touring

First sight came after 4 days riding down from the Arachorn Basin, through the forests of Landes

Oh My!

Suddenly there’s a skyline, and after a few intakes of breath, I can’t help but smile; game on.

First taste comes in Bayonne, France. In all the best ways it reminds me of Leith a bit. The road in through the docks and industrial estates, is busy with trucks, but I don’t care. Because it turns out I’m a mountain girl at heart and this road takes me there.

Bayonne has such a good vibe I decide to stay a day. Good choice. I eat one of the best meals of the trip, buy a map for Spain, visit the cathedral, and wander round absent-mindedly.




I set of round the coast, because I feel I ought to see Biaritz – I feel ambivalent about it. Then as I head inland the road gets lumpy, and I get reacquainted with my bottom gear.

The border is disappointingly devoid of appropriate signage to lean a bike up against. instead just alot of petrol stations- which don’t have the same photographic narrative. Then it’s over the Puerto de Otxondo (602m) to the Baztan valley.

The next day starts out flat enough, picking it’s way along the valley. It’s Market day in Doneztebe (Santesteban) and the town is busy. There’s garlic and onions piled high, and police direct traffic on the packed streets. Then there’s another climb, the valley twists, narrows and flares, while climbing constantly. The scenery is great, and there’s villages all the way up to the Porte de Usateguieta (695m). From Leitza to Tolosa comes the dowhill, the reward for those hours of climbing.

Saturday in The Basque Country and the bikes are out. There’s boys on hot bikes everywhere, all are imacuatly turned out. There’s no black shorts here – it’s full team kit and it’s way hot.

As I leave Tolosa I’m unsure about if I’m allowed onto the busy dual carriageway of the N1, but there large bunches of cyclists making use of the ample hard shoulder, so I figure I must be. Today’s climb (as recommended by the tourist info office) is from Villabonna to the coast at Zarautz. Traffic is mostly pedal powered, and I’m joined by an international group of three riders near the bottom. They tell me the climb is 7km long, then proceed to chat to me as we climb. I manage to keep pace for a respectable distance, about two thirds of the way, until I wave good bye and stop to take some pics and eat some food.

As I’m coming down I get passed 4 times by a guy in team sky kit doing his hill reps; in my defence I had stopped to take more photos. The red road (on the map) along the coast to Deba wasn’t very busy, and was very scenic.

Deba Beach

Deba, another surf beach

The road from Deba goes up; of course, but then you get an awesome descent into Gernika. (taking the longer sweeping road, rather than the busy short steep descent) Everyone’s heard of Gernika, bombed, then immortalised by Picaso. The town itself isn’t as pretty as many of it’s neighbours. The tourist office tipped me off that the coast road is in bad condition, so bad that it closes tomorrow for maintenance, so if I want to go that way I have to pass today.

In Bermeo I get another example of Basque hospitality, I think I’ve missed they junction, so pull over to check the map. A group of runners clock me and hurdle the barrier into the road to point me in the right direction, proudly extolling the beauty of my route choice. as I carry on round the coast, I’m intercepted by a motorbike who pulls me over for a chat about my bike, and touring in general. my surly is a bike geek magnet, which is fine by me, geeks rule.

The road is indeed in need of repair, but once again it’s soul food scenery. It would be hard to not feel happy riding here.


It is a very pretty, and pretty hilly coastline

The next day starts well, eucalyptus lines the road, thinning often enough to provide tantalising preludes to the vista that awaits at the top of the climb.

Then it’s off round the coast to Bilbao. I opt to stay in a hostel opposite the Guggenheim, this might be the best view in the city. I’m lucky enough to meet a Brazilian, with fluent Spanish, to hang out with, and it’s nice to be less solitary and have a laugh for a while. We spend a day eating, drinking, doing world class art, and riding trams. The Guggenheim is better than good, and I’m kinda blown away by it.

The road out of Bilbao makes its way through large towns and ports for a good while before you get to leave the urban area. The traffics not to bad though. As I pass under the sign that signals the end of the Basque Country I turn to give a little wave, but I’ve already promised myself I’m going back.

The afternoon’s pretty rough, copious coffee and the buzz of the city have left me sleepless, and it turns out that a handful of Liqueur Chocolates are not the ideal cycling lunch. Then again maybe I’m just coming down from my Basque trip.

The route and practicalities of my journey are here: Appendix , and there’s photos too

Basque Country Appendix

I was in the Basque Country as part of a longer tour from St Malo to Santander in Autumn 2011. I cycled down the Landes coast, from Bordeaux to get there.

I blogged about the Basque bit of my trip here; that’s the colour, this is the practicalities of the journey.

My planned route was heavily influenced by molesoup, who blogged about the route they took from Hendyne to Santander.  I  decided to head inland from Bayonne, rather than head  further down the coast to the border. I also ended up heading coastward a bit earlier than them.

The Basque country is crisscrossed with pilgrm routes and as such there’s good provision of cheap, basic accommodation.  Some of it is only available to those carrying a Pilgrims Credential, worth getting your hands on one if you can.


I had great weather, warm but not to hot, with a mix of cloud cover and sunshine, no rain. Although I was informed that the weathers not usually this good and indeed I had just missed heavy flooding.

Day 1 : Bayonne

16th November 2011. Zero Kilometres



Together Bayonne, Anglet, and Biaritz make up one urban sprawl. Bayonne is the one with the history and character. Biaritz is grand and has lots of surfers, and Anglet kind of joins them up. You can probably tell which one I rated.

Unfortunately the Musée Bonnat art gallery was closed for refurbishment.

Accommodation: I stayed at the Hotel Monbar, located in the old town, the internal open stair well was pretty cool, and free wifi.

Day 2: Bayonne to Elizondo

17th November 2011. 65km.

I started off round the coast on the cycle track, to check out Biarritz, then headed inland along the D255 to St-Pee-San-Nivelle. A Short stretch on the D3 takes me to the border. From the Border the N121b heads up over the Puerto de Oxtondo (602m), then down into the Baztan Valley.

Accommodation; I stay at the Kortarixar Aterpea (Albergue)  in Elizondo

Day 3: Elizondo to Tolosa

18th November 2011. 63km.

Carry on along the valley bottom on the N121b, heading towards Doneztebe/Santesteban, from here I took the NA170. There’s a steady climb of 26km from here up to the Porte de Usateguieta (695m), then some down to Leitza.  Theres a bonus bump (495m) , but then it downhill all the way to Tolosa on the GI2130.


Market day in Tolosa

The tourist information in Tolosa were super helpful with advice about onward accommodation and route choices.

Accomodation: I stayed at the Municpal Youth Hotel in Tolosa, just 7 euros for a dorm bed.

Day 4: Tolosa to Deba

19th November 2011.  63km.

Leave Tolosa in the direction of Villabona.  There are some backroads, but you’ll end up on the N1 for a short distance,. From Villabona you cross the railway and backtrack a little (there might be a way to avoid this), before taking the GI 2631 over to Zarautz. From here i took the N634 round the coast to Zumaia, i was a little worried it would be busy, but it was quiet.  Stay on this road over another hill to Deba.


The Busy coastal port of Zumaia

Accommodation: I stayed in the Pilgrim Hostel (keys from the tourist info, but you need a pilgrim credential)

Day 5: Deba to Bakio

20th November 2011. 72km.

To leave Deba cross over the bridge by the train station and take the GI 638 round the coast to Lekeitio.  From here there’s a choice of carrying on round the coast, but i choose to follow some cute boys on bikes along the BI 2238 to Gernika.  From Gernika the BI 2235 to Bermeo isn’t to hilly, but be warned the cycle path out of Bermeo is crazy steep (25% maybe). The BI 3101 to Bakio is very pretty.

Accommodation: I stayed at the very lovely Turismo Rural Gaubeka, the only drawback is that it was up a pretty steep hill.

Day 6:  Bakio to Bilbao

21st November 2011.  50km.

Carrying on along the BI 31o1, the day starts with a climb,   – but the views worth every revolution as you look out over yesterdays hills.  I then caried on round the coast on the BI 3152, and then the BI 2122 and BI 637.  In Algorta I spotted a cycle way that followed the dual carriage way a good way along the estuary.  The cycle way ends near the Potrugalete suspension bridge.  From here I just kept the river on my right and made for Bilbao proper.

Portugalete Suspension Bridge

The Portugalete Suspension Bridge


Day 7: Bilbao

22nd November 2011. Zero km.

Bilbao is a great city – spent a rest day checking out the Guggenheim and eating lots of great food in the old town.


Bilbao - great city


Accommodation: I stayed at the Botxo Gallery Hostel – million dollar views straight over the river and the Guggenheim, for 17 euros a night.

Day 8: Bilbao to Laredo

23rd November 2011. 65km.

I once again kept the coast on my right to leave the city, although you could backtrack to Portugalete and cross the river at the rather cool suspension bridge.  Then headed towards Castro-Urdiales on the N634, then on to Laredo.  I took longer to get out of the city (or more rightly cities) than i thought, and its not pretty.  On the bright side traffic was mostly light.


Alot of the day is spent going under and over the main highway

Day 9 Laredo to Santander

24th November 2011. 35km.

You can take in 2 different ferries on the route between Laredo and Santander – you can take bikes on both for a small surcharge. The first ferry takes you from  the tip of the Laredo peninsular to Santona.  I then followed the CA 141 to Somo and caught another small ferry (operated by Los Reginas) to Santander.  You can also catch this ferry at Pendrena. You dock right into the heart of Santander , next to the international ferry port – convenient.

My Flat Lakes 25

which has hills, and is closer to 30 miles

Finding flat routes in the lakes isn’t that easy – but this is a favourite, non- mental, ride of a few hours. I say non-mental because heading in any other direction means ending up on some pretty steep, quite mental, territory.


Still Waters

In short you leave Langdale and cycle round Coniston lake.


Just go round the lake

Round Coniston - 600m+ of climbingI never really think of the first hill as steep – but then I remember that it has hairpins, so I figure it is. It’ll feel steeper an the way home, even though that side doesn’t look steep – there’s just a tiny stretch that stings, and there’s no relaxing ’til it’s done.

There aren’t many weeks since April when I haven’t done this ride, it fits very nicely into a split shift. It’s been really nice to see it change with the seasons. From the still crisp mornings of April; that month of wall to wall sunshine (remember that!), with hardly any leaves on the trees you could see right through to the lake. Then there was there spring summer transition with flowers and balmy afternoons.

The Bridge at Water Yeat, was still in place in the earlier part of the year – that short cut did make the ride closer to 25miles. It’s also the scene of my first serious decking. The temporary wooden bridge, complete with cyclists dismount sign, had been fine to ride all summer. Then late one evening a bit of a contest with another cyclist put me in the racing frame of mind, the heavens opened, and the resulting, still too fast, descent and unplanned dismount down off-camber wet slats covered in chicken wire saw me sporting great hexagonal scabs.

Dow Crag has been sitting there on the edge of my imagination for a long time. Turning at the bottom of the lake, it dominates the view. Usually saying you should be climbing up here today, not bike riding – it’s probably right; too many sports! But that view always makes me slowdown and look up, and wonder. One day soon!

If you time this ride right, you can head home over Hawkshead Hill – then reward yourself with a stop off at the drunken duck for the best coffee in the world (not before 12 on sundays – 11 rest of week).  OK, so it will set you back £3, but you get a duck biscuit and a million dollar view over Fairfield.

I don’t think i ever got home from this ride without a smile on my face.