The final journey home: Portsmouth to Cambridge via the ill-fated M25

Just for completeness, here are the last stages of the journey home, to be fleshed out later:
I slept poorly on the boat,
in fact I slept badly for the whole trip! Gathering down on the very lowest deck as the boat came in to Portsmouth was a nice opportunity to chat to the others with bikes.
They were a pleasantly friendly and interesting group which restored my positive feelings towards bikers. There were at least 4 other 1200gs bikes there including the new water cooled model which its owner was very pleased with though the electric suspension turfed him off the bike when his pillion got off for the first time, he said. We made it up the very steep ramp and then I sped out of the port and up onto the motorway and up the A3 to the M25 at a really good pace. The bike’s fuel gauge has not been its strongest feature and it is on its third one since I’ve owned it. Telling me I had 66 miles left, then 68 then 72 miles should have made me stop for petrol but I thought I could make the next stop apparently 25 miles away. But of course I ground to a halt by the exit to the M40 and had to be rescued and re-fuelled by the RAC – the first time I have called them out.
I also learnt that 40 minutes of leaving the ignition on to keep the hazard lights flashing drains the battery to a point where it needs an on-hand RAC person’s charger to get the engine going.

When riding in the rain in Spain, water leaked into the tiny hole in the GPS screen (caused by me dropping it a couple of years back). So the route only starts from after I filled up with petrol near Uxbridge and is inaccurate.
Coming home at EveryTrail

Eventually, after stopping for something to eat at South Mimms on the A1 – which seems more like a business meeting centre than a motorway service station, I got home by 4pm.

Home after bike trip
I have to say I was exhausted – and still am. But It was a successful trip and most of the lessons I learnt from my last trip to Sweden I was able to put in to practice.


From Laredo to Bilbao Port in the rain

Tuesday 10th September
I made it! I am on the ferry, now just less than one hour into our voyage and we’re definitely swaying.
Last night was the usual sleeping and dreaming and waking but the alarm on my watch, followed shortly by my phone went off when it was still dark and felt like the middle of the night, just after 7 and with the aid of my trusty head torch I was packed up and ready to ride out as I heard the campsite gate being opened just before 8. But it was dark and raining on the road and really difficult to see, out of town and up onto the motorway for a 35 minute journey to the port just this side of Bilbao.
Laredo to Bilbao in the rain at EveryTrail

It was difficult to find the way to the boat, as the whole portside area was under an inch of water so all the road markings were invisible and I rode around in and out of cones and lanes to finally get to the route to get into the Brittany Ferries queues. Phew. Please take queue number 43, said the woman in the booth. By this time I was soaked. I joined a queue of riderless bikes and wondered what shelter everyone had found. A lorry driver called to me that all the other bike riders were sheltering in the café and I walked over and squeezed into a small bus shelter like space already full and a half dozen or so bikers came before we got the call ‘now the motos’. Someone there was sharing his experience of travelling the middle East: ‘I went to Dubai airport once. I thought I was at a shepherd’s convention’. Much laughter. Interesting. When you are new to a group or on the edges its always the vocal members that you notice and assume they stand for the whole.
Driving on involved a steep decline down to the very bottom deck, which with the wet weather, caused widespread fear as I could tell from the rider in front of me and the comments of others. I stayed to watch Bertha get tied down then managed to get into my cabin just after it had been cleaned, saving waiting around in wet clothes.
After showering (with the ship’s many times laundered and barely there towels) I made straight to the restaurant and watched from the window as the last trucks drove on down below and we moved away, diagonally it seemed, from the quay. A lone remaining worker in bright orange stayed in the rain to see the boat leave, then got into his van and drove off. All the immigration police had already left a good half an hour before.
At the port Bilbao, Brittany Ferries

I ordered full breakfast in French (its ‘full breakfast’ but to be said in a slightly artificial way). I normally avoid all that but after a fortnight of crouching over a stove eating various varieties of pasta (they were all delicious – I am not complaining) I was not going to skimp on comforts for this 24 hours.
So now in my rather swaying cabin (I have a porthole this time), with the heating turned up and my clothes hanging on anything available to dry, I am going to start looking at some documents for the university’s Research Excellence Framework. I’m hoping the 130 mile ride back up to Cambridge tomorrow morning is dry.

Pictures so far are here.

Thoughts about Laredo

When I arrived here I felt apprehensive about the place but with the warm sun low over the sea shining onto my tent it is just beautiful. The sunset was one of the most beautiful I’ve seen.
Sunset at Laredo Spain

This is my last full day on this trip and I awoke with barely a cloud in the sky. It should be a beautiful day to sit and walk by the sea. Last night there was a constant thumping of dance music, a couple of miles away but persistent and headache-feulling. And in the other direction down the coast, I am sure, is a kennel, where hundreds of dogs pine and bark incessantly for their masters and mistresses. Strange this is such a beautiful setting but penetrated by such constant noise.

This morning I went for a walk, partly to pass time, out of curiosity about this town and partly to make sure I knew the way to the main road for the morning’s quick getaway. This part of Laredo is strange. As soon as you leave this little area, and pass the stables full of horses and ponies to rent, it seems to be dominated by what looks to me like high rise public housing, as well as a hospital with various old people making their way towards it, and, rather tastelessly I think, a funeral parlour directly opposite it. There are lots of old often fat men sitting around. There is a grid of brand new roads around here with grassy lots in each square. Clearly there were plans afoot for more flat building but the recession must have struck.


As an after thought I turned right instead of left toward the campsite as it looked like there was another opening toward the sea in that direction – we must be on a small promontory. A street from the main drag, things turned into a more upmarket feeling, with again flats but clearly holiday flats and a huge wide beach with a handful of people strolling up and down or a few swimming. By this time I was rather hot, being overdressed in a vain effort to keep my non-biking clothes vaguely clean for the social life on the boat, so I came back to the site. I used the shop – large but the usual poor quality and no fresh produce unless I missed it and the person there had no English. And the only camping gas they have comes in cans that don’t fit my stove. I’m nearly out and not sure I can get one more meal out of what I have.

I walked for 2 hours on the beach from the campsite, past the boat club, under the pier and found myself the other side of the headland and a beautiful sweep of beach, with only a dozen or so people in sight.

The site is emptying out as I thought it might. At first it seemed heavily populated but it seems full of caravans and awnings that people leave here.

From Potes to Laredo near Bilbao

From Potes to Laredo at EveryTrail

Saturday! 7th
Well, it rained yesterday evening so I got into my sleeping bag and tried to sleep but the rain kept me awake until it stopped some time shortly after dark. This morning its damp and cool. The showers are thankfully short though my flimsy travel towel is getting damper – in fact everything is getting grubby now. Its now that you yearn for those simple pleasures of a nice bed, bathroom, bath towels and a proper kitchen. But the roughing it is part of the fun – honestly. I bought some fresh bread from the shop and have my little jam containers purloined from the hotel for breakfast with a cup of tea (tea bags with dried milk – but its fine). It was delicious. It seems to have taken nearly the whole holiday to find fresh food. I shall stay put today, maybe walk into Potes (its 4k) and head off to the coast tomorrow, Sunday. I also read most of Venture into the Interior. Its interesting to have a parallel journey going on in my imagination. It gives some added status to my venture to Spain.
La Isla Picos de Europa camping
Before I left an extremely garrulous Dutch man engaged me in conversation. He is here, he said, because he won a competition to see the final stage of a cycle race around Spain. He said last night he met two girls down in Potes, half his age, who told him about a party which he accompanied them to. He says he got back to the site at 6am. He says he is an oil and grease salesman. He is travelling with two tents and was living life on this site in a large four person tent, though he showed me, just after I had got my earplugs in and helmet on, his spare tent, a Coleman 3 person tent packed up that weighed 5kgs.

Sunday 8th

The last campsite probably at Laredo. The ride was fine, just under 100 miles, first of the Picos road going north from Potes, then some nice coast road where the sun came out and then, the unavoidable motorway going from near Santander over towards Bilbao. Despite having the coordinates for this place, I got taken down unpromising roads into industrial estates before finally deciding to just look for signs and follow them. So I arrived. It’s a bit unprepossessing to start with. For sure it is right by the Parque Natural estuary/beach but there’s a peerless fence around it and it is a rather full slightly down at heel family site for the Spanish. The site owner pointed out that there are tables scattered around the site and that I should camp next to one. Actually they are sinks – washing up sinks and I am right next to one of them. They are useful, very useful to cook on, to wash up conveniently, get water to drink and cook, but incredibly ugly. Its ok. And the sun came out for a while and the temperature rose to 29. While I can see that back in the mountains there is dark cloud and rain. So I think it was a good move to come out to the coast. A British couple and a young Spanish couple have arrived since I got here. I’m looking forward to some good walks by the sea tomorrow.

Leon to Potes via the Picos

Leon to Potes through the Picos at EveryTrail

Today presented a few challenges. Breakfast at the hotel was everything a hotel breakfast could be, huge variety and potentially endless, although much of it came in little containers that left a small mountain of litter on my table afterwards. Breakfast was deserted. I’ve been avoiding coffee for the last four days and it is definitely helping my stomach.
I had half a plan to head over to the Picos again and camp at Potes which Alan Rogers gives a good rating for. But the first challenge was to escape the underground car park. It presents a steep and winding concrete road up onto the street and not only that, you have to stop on the steep incline, press the button on the wall for the door to open above you and then spring out up the last part of the slope and onto the street.; OK in a car but a little tricky on a big heavy bike. I made it but with the odour of burning clutch in the air that seemed to hang in my nostrils for a while after I had ridden out of town.
I had an idea of the route, quite tight and twisty after a while and I found eventually I got into a new technique with countersteering and leaning the bike under me while I kept relatively upright. It was making corners feel much more under control. But havint just discovered this, I think we must have crossed into a different autonomous region because the road surface suddenly became much worse, full of potholes, tar banding and negative cambers. So I slowed down. Then I got high enough to be riding in cloud and at times I could only see a few yards in front of me, this combined with tight 2nd gear bends with sheer drops on one side and overhanging rock on the other. Now add the odd cow wandering over the road and you have the full picture.
After a while I reached an iconic biker location, the Puerto San Gloria, a lookout on a spectacular downward hairpin complete with a few sports bikes parked and their riders looking through the mist to the valley below. I did not stop to join them. I barely saw them and kept going down concentrating for grim death.

Eventually the mist cleared but the bends did not ease up for another 15k. But I made it down to Camping La Ilsa Picos de Europe campsite just out of Potes by 2pm. I could have revisited a site a stayed at on the way down but that would have meant another hour travelling so I decided to stay. I was initially a bit iffey about the site – it’s a bit featureless and next to a road (though behind a stone wall) but I warmed to it: English is spoken and the shop sells some fresh produce and chilled white wine. The wifi also reaches to me tent on occasions.
After tonight – just three more nights before the ferry.
Tonight I am cooking my most elaborate variation of a pasta dish: local organic onion and beef tomato cooked in olive oil with herbs, chorizo and pasta and white wine. Meanwhile a woman is playing an elaborate hiding the ball game with a large, lovely old dog. I have no idea of the breed. It pretends to growl at her and prance off as she tries to get something out of its mouth. Humans and animals. Maybe we learn something from them – or from our relationships with them.