Riding to the Picos again

Thursday 1st September 

Today I rode up to the beginning of the Picos up to Riano. The area is stunningly beautiful. There’s a large dam and reservoir that still seemed to be holding a vast amount of water despite obvious signs of its level having gone down.

More low water lever - though lots left in Spain
Water level in the Spanish drought
Somewhere in the Picos de Europe

This is my third visit to the roads of the Picos and it never disappoints. Each time I take different roads the Garmin sending me down a long but entertaining dead end track ending in a gravel trail prohibited to motor vehicles. Another rider maybe would have tried it out to see if it goes where I wanted to end up. 

Near the Picos de Europe

The bike has been great and I have been growing in confidence with it despite noticing I’ve lost a large nut on the bash plate (I needed to tighten the others) and wondering whether the wheel bearing at the front was leaking. I cleaned off the grease and dirt and I don’t think it is. Zooming through lovely twisties mostly 4th and 5th gears was such fun. 

Back here at the campsite things are emptying out and quietening. The pool isn’t open now it’s September and also the bar seems closed. The ‘Chico’ wasn’t there this morning to pay for another night and the grumpy man with the loud voice seemed to be telling me that he will be back tomorrow. There are only two other tents one housing a mysterious young guy who seems rarely around and another with a car of a couple with bicycles with German number plate I think who arrived today to replace the British couple who left today. Also my neighbour a solitary older man who did not respond to my greeting had completely and noiselessly vanished, tent, cycle and all be the time I woke up, scratched my head and looked around. It’s quite nice being at the end of the season. A little forlorn though. It is super quiet. It’s a juggling act with time and the weather. I really want to avoid camping in the rain. It makes everything awkward but I am restless here. There is not much to do up at Laredo I know apart from walk on the beautiful beach. I keep checking the weather to see if it is still raining there. Even if I leave earlyish on Saturday I could spend the afternoon and evening on the coast. 

Solution: I will spend the day tomorrow looking round Leon. Apart from the cathedral there is a gallery of contemporary art and I could head there first. 

Watching a large camper van arrive made the phrase ‘Carry your home with you’ come to mind. Even with the limited space on a moto that’s the idea isn’t it – if you are camping? Maybe not so much if you are using hotels. But I like that idea. I will see if I can use it as an organising principal in future. My early aim of buying and adapting a light weight travel bike with off-road capability has been helpful to recall at times when I have been unsure about what I am doing. So some statement like that is good to have.

I think I’ve said it before but the evenings are the best time here. There is still sunshine but it is a perfect temperature. The sun is low through the trees. If I ever come back to Spain, maybe on the way to (attempt again to) ride the ACT again, I will stay here.

Nice dinner for once
My last meal at the campsite

At Camping Ciudad de Leon

Tuesday 30th August 

I’m now 150 or so miles east and in land from where I was this morning at Camping Rio Ulla in Galicia. H mentioned to me what the temperature was in London today – the same as where I was. I also checked the weather to see that rain was due here tomorrow and in fact all around the coast getting gradually more persistent through the day. Galicia is like Ireland I think, beautifully green, but green because it rains a lot. So, time to chase the good weather again. After looking at a spa hotel in Lugo for £100 a night I looked further east and found a shady campsite with a pool just on the edge of Leon. Good reviews, especially the shade. It was quite a ride and I turned off the motorway avoidance on the gps to get there more quickly. It was a hot and tiring ride in parts reaching up to 30 at times though never higher, thankfully. The diversions where the motorway was closed – or rather had not opened yet – were the most interesting bits and led me down roads full of walkers walking against my direction to St Iago de Compstella. I finally arrived here at 4 having left at shortly after 10. Really?! Did I ride for six hours?

This place, Camping Ciudad de Leon, is so different to the last busy noisy family site. There are no families here. In fact the nearest campers to me are lone men, one travelling by bicycle. There’s a pool but you have to have a lifeguard on duty and buy a hat. I rode down from here to a vast Carrefore supermarket for supper. All was good apart from a lack of ice (I tried a bag of frozen spinach instead). It’s warm here but not horribly hot. I’m fact I noticed how balmy it was just walking back down to my tent with the cicada singing at half past nine in the evening. The evenings were superb at this place. I will have to work out how to deal with the weather. The crucial day Saturday the day before I leave looks like rain all day by the coast. And I will have to see if there is any good riding around here. 

Hotel Miera looks ok and cheap is in a town that’s about 23 mins from Santander. Or I think this is a better plan:

Stay here Weds and Thursday. On Thursday go toward Picos and a town called Riaño and back. 

Friday head up to Laredo Rogation campsite. It’s just to the east of Santander and I’ve stayed there before when I had to catch an early ferry. Some light rain expected on Friday mid afternoon. Saturday seems mostly dry. The weather forecasts seem to change, usually for the better. 

Last night I slept ok but was right under a light which stayed on all night. So I picked up my tent and all my belongings and moved a couple of pitches up the slope away from the light. Let’s see what difference that makes. 

I must learn to relax. I’ve decided today will be a chilled day with just a ride down to the supermarket at lunchtime hoping they will have ice back in stock. I really have nothing to do. Aesthetically this place is not fantastic and has what I presume is a municipal feel to it. But the trees make it a nice setting so it seems to stay cool when the sun shines which it is just starting to do now at. 11.15. There are many very tame robins and a coupe of wild and scrawny cats with big ears. An English neighbour here tells me that there are Bee Eaters here who have a distinctive song. I didn’t see them.

Camping Ciudad de Leon
Before I moved up the hill
My one person city at Camping Ciudad de Leon
My one-man city
Camping Ciudad de Leon
My bike is stupidly trying to hide from me behind a tree
My tame robin friend at Camping Ciudad de Leon
My new friend
Cooking in my one person city outside Leon, Spain

Later on Wednesday. I caught up on my hotel reviews then got the news that our planning appeal was rejected. Shopping was successful including ice. I swam in the pool feeling out of practice. Then had dinner of smoked salmon heated up with some veg. It was disappointing though a local cat took an interest. Latest bike shop desires a new helmet to replace this falling apart and a dongle that enriches low end fuel mix. And to replace the lost bolt. Clutch seems ok. All in brief. 

From Portugal up the coast to Galicia

Monday 29th August 

I’m up and dressed waiting for the sounds of breakfast being prepared so I can eat and start off and leave this oasis back into the real world of camping and cooking. Yesterday, searching on Google, I found what looks to be a good campsite about 3 or 4 hours north from here on the Galician coast called Rio Ulla – because it is sited next to that river. The temperature there is forecast for mid 20s so no heat the struggle with. And reviews are good. I’ve noticed that for probably most campsites reviews are very mixed. Unwelcoming owners and neglected facilities are common themes, and often written about so strongly that they definitely put me off. Let’s see if this one works out. And I mustn’t lose track of what day it is. When  I got out my itinerary the other day I was surprised to see that my boat for home leaves on Sunday and not Monday as I had for some reason in head. 

Later. I’m now at Rio Ulla. I rode for over four hours without a break to get here. I made a point of choosing not to ride on any motorways so definitely made the longer journey here, though much more interesting to ride through towns and see people sitting or walking around. Typically for me, I didn’t stop for lunch in case I missed that last camping space though as I can see there are at least two spaces next to me so I could have been more relaxed about the journey. Now that I’ve told the gps to avoid motorways it really does avoid them and took me through towns and around amazingly twisty and up and down country roads. There was some beautiful riding on tarmac in some places looking like it had just been laid. A very different pleasure and concept to dirt roads. But it is getting dark here quickly so I will write more later. 

This campsite is in a beautiful location and has a swimming pool which I visited to try my developing front crawl.

At Camping Rio Ulla, Galicia Swimming Pool
River Ulla

Spain is very family orientated and the campsite is packed with families and children, so you have to be happy to have a constant level of noise very close to you.

At Camping Rio Ulla, Galicia
I took this picture by accident

Now is a good moment to add some thoughts about the soft luggage that I am using for the first time, the Mosko Moto Reckless 80 setup. It involves heavy duty carriers for panniers and a roll top bag that sits on top of a rack. This set up cost me around €700. On the top it has two large flaps and straps and buckles that fold over and hold down a 22 litre tailbag and other bags that you can squeeze in and tighten down – like shopping. Without a system of pannier racks, the design trick is to keep the side bags from rubbing up against a hot exhaust and melting. The set up just about manages that though I checked a few times just in case. It features two tube like waterproof rolltop bags that slide into the side pockets and can then be strapped down. There are two smaller 4 litre similar bags, same shape but on a smaller scale that fit onto the back of each pouch. Coming from metal panniers and quite square shaped inners, the first thing to notice with this soft system is that the quite narrow cylindrical shape of the side bags means that a lot of the time you have to empty everything out to get to some item that has slipped to the bottom. They have transparent panels which are helpful to show you what’s inside but obviously don’t help with access. Secondly, when even just reasonably full these bags are difficult to push into the holster type structures that hold them. You have to do a lot of pushing and pulling or emptying a few things out first. You can see from the picture above that I resorted to leaving them on the bike to avoid having to do this. Because I was lucky enough to completely avoid any rain on this trip (this must be a first – it was a drought after all), I can’t say how waterproof the system is. I don’t doubt that it is. In future I will buy another tailbag, smaller than 22l to also stash under the top to use to put in shopping or the odd item that didn’t fit in the 22l bag that I used for camping equipment – tent, footprint, sleeping bag, Thermarest, inflatable pillow by Aluft and a Sea to Summit silk sleeping bag liner. My new Helinox camping chair had to be stashed outside this bag. It was a life-saver by the way, though one of the campsites had an old table and chair so I didn’t always use it.

How comfortable should we be camping? Mini review of Helinox Zero chair

Many travellers say they travel light, or ultralight. But they pack 10kgs of cameras. Others pack just a saucepan and leave plates and a mug at home. Everyone’s decisions are a bit crazy. So how comfortable should we be when camping and carrying everything on a motorcycle? A few years ago I realised that Touratech panniers make very comfortable seats at the camp – and useful tables to put your gas stove on, but then what do you sit on when you have decided to travel with soft bags? Crouching or kneeling or alternating between them gets excruciating after not too long. Camp chairs of course. And Helinox seems a favourite worth investigating. See here.

Since Thomas’ review, I think, a lighter more comfortable chair has appeared from Helinox, the Chair Zero. It weighs 525g and packs to a package about 300mm long. The Ground chair is far too low. The Zero is comfortable to lean back into but also easy to get out of without pushing up on the earth. Here it is in my back garden.

its easy to fold up and put together

Its coming to Portugal with me later in the summer. Last year I paired everything down because I didn’t have proper luggage. This year I seem to be adding things one by one…

A trip of two parts: sun and Baxby Manor


I think this has to be a holiday of two parts. Things have opened out. It was good to get away from my last site. It was fine but it was austere in a way that was partly to do with the wild almost constantly wet weather but also to do with the atmosphere on the site. The owners were friendly enough and a young very hard working couple but there was some thing tough and minimal about the way the place was run and about the anecdotes they told about previous campers who underestimated the harshness of the environment.

My Bluetooth stopped working yesterday – it suddenly spat out some instructions in European languages and then died. But riding away this morning in cool and brightening skies felt liberating. The weather definitely helped. It seeps into the spirit – whether good or bad. And then the route I chose through the North Yorkshire Dales was amazing (see the GPX file below), first south and then to the east. It was almost the best I have ever ridden. Up there with the road alongside the Mosel. There were sheep on the road, at one point a great flock of them driven from one field to another by a farmer. And when you see a sign saying that 22 motorcyclists have been killed on that stretch of road you know it must be good. And the bike rode so well today. Movable across the road and into corners so easily just by shifting the weight of my thighs on the seat. 

I must get rid of my BMW brands

The route became lass spectacular as it got closer to the dividing line of the A1, but still enjoyable and by the time I reached Tesco in Thirsk, about 10 miles from the campsite I was staying at, it was warm, very warm. But morale raising treat number three (1 was the lovely route; 2 was the change of weather and 3…) is arriving at Baxby hideaway campsite. It is everything that the last two were not. So what were the other two like? The first was municipal, part of a national park, run by young employees; the second was a small family run business and campsites like this always reflect the personality of the owner – relaxed or fastidious or points in between. Baxby Manor was, I suppose a corporate run site, a well-invested business. But with very clear values about the environment and, on this occasion, about Covid-safeness. Using the washing space has a specific protocol involving changing into indoor shoes, hand washing and carrying around a piece of tissue to wipe down anything you touch. The reception person clearly shared those values and seemed genuinely welcoming. Its a large site divided up by thick (beautifully planted) borders and bushes into amazing spaces.

I had booked ‘The Sanctuary’ which was reached by a footpath around a small field, then through a gate into a dark wood of silver birches and another walk to my own small field, surrounded also by trees so that the nearest other tents are just about invisible.

Oh and one side of the space is made up by a babbling brook. So there are fantastic private spaces. I have a whole stream side clearing in a wood to myself. Camping is usually exposing but here there is privacy. The facilities, as I mention before, are also amazingly clean and newly refurbished I would say large too, in fact a pleasure to use unlike first site where I often kept my eyes closed while using them.

I have hung my huge jacket and helmet on a tree feeling confident about the weather for the first time on this trip. It’s just gone six in the evening and there is no cloud in the sky. I have a log to sit on by a fire pit with flat rocks to prop up my gas stove.

What would make it perfect would be having my bike here by the tent to admire and tinker with.

They even have a kiosk that serves pizza and breakfast.