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1998 Tour of te Pyrenees

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The Route

Date

From

To

Mode

Distance Cycled

6 July

Swillington

Portsmouth

Car, Train, Bike

1.82

7 July

Portsmouth

Portsmouth

Bike

53.16

8 July

Portsmouth

Santurtzi

Ferry

Nil

9 July

Portsmouth

Santurtzi/Azpeitia

Ferry/Bike

59.33

10 July

Azpeitia

Santesteban

Bike

45.21

11 July

Santesteban

Larceveau

Bike

42.58

12 July

Larceveau

Arudy

Bike

48.60

13 July

Arudy

Bigorre

Bike

41.75

14 July

Bigorre

Luchon

Bike

45.21

15 July

Luchon

Salardu

Bike

26.89

16 July

Salardu

Sort

Bike

42.25

17 July

Sort

Urgel

Bike

32.89

18 July

Urgel

Porte

Bike

44.04

19 July

Porte

Elne

Bike

82.66

20 July

Elne

Barcelona

Bike/Train

18.11

21 July

Barcelona

Bilbao

Train/Bike

17.30

22 July

Bilbao

Algorta

Ferry/Bike

32.26

23 July

Algorta

Santurtzi

Bike

3.49

24 July

Santurtzi

Portsmouth

Ferry/Bike

3.90

25 July

Portsmouth

Swillington

Train/Bike/Car

3.87

     

Total

645.35

Monday 6 July

I drove from Halkirk to a friend’s house at Poulton-Le-Fylde near Blackpool. He agreed to look after my car for the three weeks I planned to be away. My friend Tony and his wife were away for the weekend but we had arranged that I would leave the car in his secluded drive and put the keys through his letterbox. I then assembled the bike and attached the luggage to the panniers before I cycled the short distance to the local railway station.

I got on a train without having to wait. The guard was helpful and found a space for the bike allowing me to relax and enjoy the ride. The train arrived in Preston at 1030 where I had to wait until 1153 for the Basingstoke train. From there I caught the 1658 train that arrived at 1806 at Portsmouth harbour. Both trains had spacious guard’s vans with plenty of room for the bike.

Just near the station there was a hotel and a pub offering accommodation. The hotel was full but the pub had a single room available with en-suite facilities for only £25. I had to take the bike into the room with me. It rained heavily for most of the evening. The BBC weather forecast displayed a satellite picture showing thunderstorms over the Pyrenees.

I had a meal at the pub then went for a stroll. I wandered into a large enclosed area and was immediately challenged by an MOD policeman who asked to see my pass, I told him I didn’t have it with me and did an about turn. Most of the land in and around Portsmouth is owned by the MOD. There are many blocks of flats for Navy personnel who fill most of the many pubs in the town.

Distance cycled = 1.82 miles.

Tuesday 7 July

I left the pub after a good breakfast at 0930. I intended to cycle to Southampton and return to Portsmouth in time to catch the 2000 hours ferry to Bilbao. I cycled the one-mile or so to the ferry terminal to check out where I had to go in the evening before I set off out of Portsmouth. I soon found a cycle route that followed a coastal path to Hilsea. The route followed the water’s edge to a roundabout where I joined the main A27 road to Southampton. A few miles later I left the road and cycled to a marina that had a few shops and cafes. I had a break then re-joined the A27. I stopped off at the small town of Portchester where I bought some food and got some cash from a Nat West Bank cash machine. The road was quite hilly at times but not too difficult. I cycled west through Fareham, Titchfield and Lochs Heath to Southampton. The going was good and the weather was pleasant with warm sunshine.

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The road was quite hilly between Fareham and Southampton but I could expect a lot worse in the Pyrenees. Before the road crossed the river Itchen into Southampton I took a wrong turning and ended up in Woolston. I dropped down to the estuary bank and had lunch in a pleasant spot with good views of Southampton and surrounding areas. I found a route up to the Itchen Bridge and cycled over the River Itchen into the centre of Southampton. I did a quick tour of the centre then returned towards Portsmouth via the A27. Portsmouth is well served by cycle tracks.

I arrived at the ferry terminal at 1600 hours and joined a small queue of vehicles. I noticed that the car in front of me was bought at Dunnets in Thurso. I didn’t know the occupants but I spoke to them later and we wished each other a pleasant holiday.

I bought some Spanish currency in the ferry terminal and had a couple of beers. We boarded at 1900 hours.

The Pride of Bilbao is a big ship. It has eight decks with a total of 768 cabins (two, three and four berth) providing accommodation for about two thousand people. The population of Halkirk is only 900.

I had booked my ferry ticket and cabin a few months earlier. The return ticket cost me £130 plus £15 for the bike plus the cost of a cabin. There were only double cabins available and I decided to go Club class and was charged £270. The total cost was therefore £415 excluding meals.

After I tied the bike to a stanchion I unhooked my luggage and climbed the stairs from the car deck up to deck 5 in search of my cabin. I checked in at a desk on deck 5 and was given a key-card for cabin 5110. The numbering system was designed to confuse; my luggage was heavy, I was tired and in need of a shower and it was with relief when I found the cabin several minutes later.

The cabin was spacious with a large double bed, satellite TV and two large windows. There was a cubicle containing a toilet, shower and wash basin with complementary toiletries. There was also a complementary half bottle of Champagne.

After I showered I watched some of the World Cup semi-final between Brazil and Holland then drank the Champagne before setting off to explore the ship and find a restaurant.

Most of the facilities were on decks 6, 7 and 8. On deck 6 there was a cafeteria, reception and duty free shop. Deck 7 had four restaurants, a cabaret lounge, a casino and a few bars. Deck 8 had two cinemas, a bar and a few lounges.

I had an excellent dinner in the carvery then went to bed early full of anticipation, food and more than a little alcohol.

Distance cycled = 53.16 miles.

Wednesday 8 July

I had a relaxing day reading, watching television, eating and exploring the ship. In the evening, just after leaving the shower, I looked through the windows and saw a school of dolphins escorting the ship through the Bay of Biscay.

Later that evening I watched France beat Croatia to gain a place in the World Cup final.

The staff on board were mostly Spanish and they were very helpful. Half of the passengers were Spanish and half were British with a high proportion of Scots.

The weather was clear most of the way but it became cloudy as we approached the northern coast of Spain.

Thursday 9 July

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The ferry arrived on time at 0800 in the port of Santurtzi just to the north of Bilbao. I had an early breakfast on the ferry and packed all my belongings before descending to the car decks to collect my bike. When the bow doors opened I cycled up the ramp and on to dry Spanish land. A scruffy guy asked to see my passport but he was pleasant enough.

At the exit to the port area a guard informed me, in Spanish with a few hand gestures, that the main road to Bilbao is a motorway and cyclists are not allowed. I thanked him and paid close attention to the signposts.

The road to Bilbao took me through some very industrial areas with many derelict buildings. I saw a few touring cyclists heading in the opposite direction to catch the ferry home.

When I reached Bilbao it was the rush hour and the traffic was very heavy but the traffic management system was excellent and other road users were considerate. When I reached the centre of the city the traffic was at a standstill but I noticed a small café and decided to have a break.

I left my bike in view against a wall and took my valuables with me in a small rucksack. What I wanted was a large coffee and a decent sized sandwich to give me enough carbohydrate for the steep climb out of Bilbao. I noticed a number of small delicacies on the top of the counter/bar and asked the proprietor for a coffee and one delicacy. He asked if I wanted café solo. I thought he was asking if I only wanted one so I said "Si". He brought me a small cup of very strong black coffee. It was good but I needed more liquid.

I left the café and re-joined the heavy traffic as I searched for a way out of the city. I selected a road that headed in the general direction I needed and hoped for the best. After stopping in a supermarket to buy some provisions I started a steep climb unsure if I was on the right road.

I followed signs for the airport and miraculously got on the correct road. It became even steeper but I managed okay. Luckily the weather was overcast and cool. Navigating was not easy, none of the sign-posted towns appeared on the map but I headed in the direction of Donostia San Sebastian. There was a motorway the whole way but I took the old road which was a good width and popular with cyclists. I saw many cyclists (none carrying luggage) and without exception we offered each other a greeting as we passed.

The road climbed to a height of 314m (1030ft) according to a sign, then dropped steeply to a large town that again did not appear on the map. I cycled through many picturesque towns but I saw no hotels. I eventually reached a turnoff sign-posted for Azpeitia and was able to locate my position accurately on the map.

The road climbed steeply for three or four miles then dropped down to a small town called Azkpitia. The next town was Azpeitia and I stopped at the first hotel I came to (the Loiola Hotel).

After locking my bike in the underground garage I carried my bags up to my room on the third floor. My first task was to undress and have a shower. I then washed out my cycling clothes and hung them out to dry on the balcony before I fell asleep. Two hours later I woke up wondering where the hell I was.

The room was very comfortable with shower, double bed, television and balcony overlooking a pleasant tree-lined avenue. After I had struggled back to consciousness I went down to the bar and had two beers.

The barman asked me about my journey and when I told him I intended to get the train back from Portbou to Bilbao via Barcelona he used the internet to get me train times and prices. He told me that all roads out of Azpeitia involved steep climbs and he wished me good luck.

I then walked into the town in the hot evening sunshine and bought a few provisions for the next day.

I had decided to eat at the hotel and meals were served from 2100 hours. The dining room was large but there were only three other diners.

I asked for the steak and was given an undercooked piece of meat, three chips, and a grilled pepper. It was not enough for me so I went to my room and made a large sandwich before I went to bed early.

Today I had cycled 59.33 miles.

Friday 10 July

The hotel bill was £42.29 for dinner, bed and breakfast and one beer.

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I left the hotel at 0930. I headed towards Santesteban and had to make three steep climbs, each over 2000ft. The highest was 679m (2228ft). The climbing started soon after I left Azpeitia. The going was hard but I got into my stride by selecting the easiest gear on the bike and just taking my time.

Although it was cloudy it was quite warm and the sweat poured out. I soon drank all of my water.

I saw many sawmills and factory units making wood products. There were many old factories sounding very busy as I cycled past.

The road dropped down to the town of Tolosa but the decline was not as pleasant as I had hoped. Most of the time I was out of the saddle to absorb bumps in the road and I had to keep constant pressure on the brakes. By the time I reached the bottom my feet had gone to sleep and my hands showed signs of rigor mortis.

On the uphill sections I saw many small lizards skittering about and I also saw quite a few dead snakes on the road.

When I reached Tolosa I stopped at a bar for a cold orange drink. It was quite busy at 1130 with many of the clientele drinking strong alcoholic drinks.

When I left Tolosa I again found that the signposts were poor; none of the destinations appeared on the map. I took the most likely road and hoped it was the correct one. I didn’t find out for sure until I had gone about 20 miles.

I had another steep climb and an eventual drop to the small town of Leitza. I noticed that most of the signs had the "t" crossed out. I discovered later that the Basques objected to the use of Spanish place-names. My destination, Santesteban, was still about 20 miles away. There was another steep climb to over 2000 feet. The sun was now shining and it was very warm. At the top of the climb I was still 15 miles from my destination and I hoped that it would be downhill.

I saw many people working in the fields. Most of the fields were on very steep hills and I am sure that the tractors that were being driven must sometimes topple over.

The quality of the road became much worse. On the downhill stretches I had to keep my brakes full on to avoid wheel damage. The road repair gang must have had a grudge against cyclists. They didn’t even try to flatten out the patches at the side of the road. Close to Santesteban I came across the road crew. They made the bandits facing the Magnificent Seven look like cheerleaders.

As I approached Santesteban I found that I got cramp in many parts of my body. As the sweat dried it left many salt patches in my black Lycra shorts. Before I set off again tomorrow I’ll make sure I eat enough salt.

Santesteban didn’t look promising. I couldn’t find any hotels but after I had cycled around the town a few times I found a small hostel with an adjoining restaurant. When I asked for a single room the landlady looked at me with suspicion. She reluctantly said "yes" and then asked if I would pay in advance. I said that I would be eating dinner later so it would be better if I settled up in the morning. She agreed but demanded my passport as insurance.

After I had a shower I lay on the bed for a few minutes and listened to the sounds of the foreign streets before I explored the small town. In the early evening the streets were deserted. A few shops were open and I bought provisions for tomorrow. I found that none of the shops stocked Diet Coke.

The restaurant opened at 2100 hours by which time I was ready for it. No one spoke English but I managed to order soup, pork and ice cream. The meal was served with chilled red wine. It was excellent. There were no potatoes but it was served with plenty of bread. The pork was served with a delicious sauce containing peas and mushrooms.

Many other diners arrived at about 2200 hours and must have still been eating at midnight. Spaniards usually have large lunches lasting for two to three hours, then work until 1900. They have late evening meals (lighter than lunch) and go to bed late.

Distance cycled = 45.21 miles.

Saturday 11 July

I got up at 0800 wanting breakfast and wanting to get away by 0900. There was an elderly gent downstairs who told me in Spanish that breakfast would be served when the women got up. I went for a walk. I got the feeling that the hostel wouldn’t accept credit cards so I searched for a cash machine. I found one inside a locked door. To gain entry I had to swipe my card through a reader to open a door. I withdrew 10000pts (about £50) that should keep me going at these prices.

I didn’t get away until 1030. Dinner, bed and breakfast plus a half bottle of red wine cost only 6600pts (£26.32). The room and fittings were excellent and the place had real character. In the dining room, the television was on constantly showing pictures from the bull-ring in nearby Pamplona. No one spoke a word of English but I got by okay.

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The day started cloudy with the mountaintops obscured by mist. It was perfect weather for cycling. The signposts were now indicating that the French border was ahead. I had never been to France and I was looking forward to being there when they hopefully won the World Cup.

I cycled through a few towns and then left the main road to enter France via the Col d’Ispeguy at 672m (2205ft). The climb was fairly gentle at first and the road passed through a few attractive farming villages. As I cycled through one, a horse drawn cart pulled in front of me. The open cart contained ripe horse manure. The smell was incredible. I put on a spurt of speed, passed the driver and disappeared from his view in no time.

Further up the valley I found a nice stopping place and had some bread and cheese that I had bought in Santesteban. As I set off it started to drizzle but it was welcome. The countryside was beautiful. There was a river, many trees, cattle and sheep in the small fields, little traffic and pleasant weather conditions.

The road started its steep climb from the valley bottom and took many hairpins to the top of the Col four miles ahead. Three miles from the top I decided that I would stop for a short rest and a drink of water after every half mile. It gave me something to aim for and before I knew it I was at the top. Behind me was Spain and ahead was France. There was no border and no guards checking passports, not even a sign, just a café at the summit.

After a few minutes enjoying the view above the clouds I set off into France. Again the drop did not compensate for all of the hard work I had done getting to the top. I had to keep the brakes full on due to the poor road conditions and the hairpin bends.

Half way down the descent I met a group of cyclists going the other way. They were well spread out and they all waved. The last guy looked very uncomfortable but he still acknowledged me. It was quite damp on the way down but at the bottom it was sunny and warm.

There were no barriers at the side of the road and there was often a precipitous drop. The first French town I encountered was St Etienne de-Balgarry. It looked well worth a stop but I had to carry on. There were many short, steep hills to negotiate and I was feeling quite tired as I approached the busy town of St. Jean Pied-de-Port.

I stopped at the first bank I saw and withdrew 600Fr (about £60). As I turned around I was surrounded by a group of excited sixteen-year old girls. They all spoke at the same time, in French and very loud. I asked them if they spoke English and one of them did. She showed me an egg and explained that they would like to exchange the egg for my bike and me. She went on to explain that they were part of a large group of kids from Paris on holiday and one of their games involved exchanging small items for unusual objects. I was the unusual object.

She asked me to accompany them to a nearby church where I would be logged. I first had to sign a piece of paper and then I was escorted through the busy streets to a pair of supervisors who wrote down a few details. I was then free to go and my escorts lost interest in me. I didn’t even get to keep the egg.

I then set off in my intended direction intent on getting some miles behind me. The road was difficult with short, steep hills and the weather was hot. I arrived at Larceveau at 1700 hours. The road ahead included a high Col with little prospect of a hotel so I decided to stay the night in Larceveau.

There were two hotels in the small town. The staff in the first hotel were setting up for a wedding reception and, although none of them spoke English, they told me that they had a wedding booked and music would be playing until 0500. I said "no thanks" and went to the next hotel.

I said to the lady at the reception "Je voudrais un chambre avec douche, pour un nuit, pour un personne sil vous plait". After she showed me the room I put my bike in a garage and then I wearily carried my baggage up to the room. The bath/shower was unusual. It was a square tub with a seating shelf. I filled it with warm water and soaked for over an hour whilst reading a book.

After I washed most of my clothes I went down for dinner in the hotel restaurant. The meal was excellent. I started with mushroom soup followed by half a melon filled with red wine. The main course was thin sliced beef served with a delicious potato, cheese, and onion bake.

Just across the road from the restaurant I saw a group of youngsters playing a racquet game. They were in a courtyard about the size of a badminton court and took it in turns to hit a ball against a high wall at one end of the court. They seemed to spend most of their time retrieving the ball when it bounced out of the court.

Today was mostly cloudy but the sun came out to make it a very pleasant evening.

A large party came into the restaurant at about 9pm. Each of the four women in the party carried a small dog. Each dog was given a chair to sit on and the women fed them small pieces of food throughout the meal.

Today I had cycled 42.58 miles.

Sunday 12 July

The bill for dinner, bed and breakfast was 302Fr (£31.10).

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After a breakfast consisting of coffee, orange juice and bread and butter I set off at 0900. The streets were deserted as I cycled through the village towards the high hills to the east. It was partly cloudy but it was warm and still. The countryside was beautiful.

The first seven miles was uphill to Col-de-Osguel at 392m (1286ft). As I stopped for a rest all I could hear was the sound of bells from the cattle, sheep and horses roaming the hills.

Again I saw many cyclists travelling in both directions, one of who stopped and spoke to me, as I was drinking water. He told me, in French that he was doing a circuit of the hills and that it was a pastime of many locals.

The drop down to the other side of the hill was welcome. From the summit I could see many tall trees. By now the sky was cloudless and the sun was hot. I passed through beautiful farming countryside to Maulleon Licharre. As I passed through the town I saw many French flags and bars full of people looking forward to the World Cup Final. As I cycled through the town I saw a beautiful woman getting out of a sports car. She knew I was looking at her and rewarded me with a wonderful smile. We exchanged a wave but I reluctantly decided to continue cycling.

The day became hotter as I continued on to the main road to Oloron-St-Marie. To the south I could see the towering peaks of the Pyrenees revealed through the haze. I decided that I preferred cycling in the mountains. I dislike cycling on the flat with the busy traffic and the hot sun; I find it uncomfortable. I can handle the mountains as long as I have enough water to drink; the trouble is, I need a tankerfull.

I was feeling tired and thirsty and the road seemed endless. I found no stopping places, the road was flat but the wind was against me and the sun was relentless. I eventually reached Oloron and entered the town centre. I found a bar and had two orange drinks and a cheese sandwich. Since I entered France I saw many signs indicating the Route Fromage.

I was now cycling in the hottest part of the day and it was hard. It was Sunday and there was nothing open. I continued a long hard cycle through many closed villages with nothing to offer the traveller. I arrived in the small town of Arudy. Signs indicated that it had two hotels. I decided to give it a go and checked in at the Hotel France.

The room was basic and old fashioned but it was adequate. It had a shower but no toilet and strangely it had a bidet – I would have found a toilet more useful.

I showered, slept for an hour and then went to the bar for a few beers before dining.

I had an excellent dinner starting with soup, followed by grilled beefsteak served with fried diced potato and finished off with plain ice cream. It sounds basic but it was served with style and the dinner had a sense of occasion. There were few other guests at the hotel but the dining room was busy.

I spent the evening watching the World Cup final when France beat Brazil 3-0.

After the match the whole town took to the streets in celebration. The hotel overlooked the main square, around which many cars paraded and sounded their horns. Even the Gendarmes joined in driving round and round with the French flag flying from the window and shouting loudly long into the night. I enjoyed the evening and the celebrations made me feel a little emotional.

Distance cycled = 48.60 miles.

Monday 13 July

The bill for dinner (with a half litre of wine), bed, breakfast and a few beers was 369Fr (£38.51).

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I bought provisions for the day at a local shop and set off in great conditions. The sky was cloudy and there was no wind but it was warm. I found it difficult to find my way out of the town; I wanted to go east but the road took me south. I found a small road that would take me where I was heading but it was almost vertical for two miles. It was worth the effort because the next 15 miles were all gently downhill. I passed through some beautiful farming countryside and many picturesque villages.

Again the tops of the high mountains to the south were obscured by cloud but I could see the vertical walls of the mountains as I progressed east. Tomorrow I will be taking on the very steep mountain roads for the first time.

I joined the main Lourdes-Pau road and made good progress towards Lourdes. At St-Pe-de-Bigorre the main road became extremely narrow. The buildings with their shuttered windows looked directly onto the road. If residents wanted to open the shutters they could easily cause a traffic pile-up.

As I cycled past a small T-junction a car edged out into the main road with the driver looking in the opposite direction. He was almost fully into the road before he noticed me and braked. There was a screech of tyres and I had to swerve across the road to avoid being hit.

I decided to stop for a rest and some food at the next opportunity. On the outskirts of the town I saw a sign saying ‘Pique Nique’ and stopped at a riverside picnic spot. I got out a bottle of Diet Coke, a sandwich and an apple and started to eat. As I was doing this, a family arrived at a nearby table. There was a father and mother, a boy of around 10 and a girl of around 8. The girl watched everything I did in contrast with the parents who didn’t give me a glance. Every mouthful of food was watched with great interest. I took a drink of Coke after a large mouthful of sandwich. With hindsight the next few moments seemed to occur in slow motion. As the Coke hit the back of my throat it caused me to convulse. The Coke I had drunk and the sandwich were propelled at a terrific velocity from my mouth all over the table in front of me. Both the girl and myself were horrified. I quickly gathered my belongings and left but the parents continued to pointedly ignore their surroundings.

I continued towards Lourdes and when I arrived I decided to drop down into the town to see what was what. It was a steep drop and the centre of the town was packed with crowds of people. There were many shops selling crap. Every other person was a nun. Most of the shops sold small bouquets of flowers to the hordes of visitors who had come to see a large ornate building. My attention was drawn to the fast flowing river where I saw an inflatable dinghy full of youngsters navigating the rapids in the centre of the town. I left Lourdes as soon as I could. It looked beautiful but it was tacky.

The road east took me through more farming areas and climbed over some low hills. I arrived in Bagnere-de-Bigorre at around 1600 hours. It was quite a big town but as usual I selected the first hotel I came across. The Hotel de La Paix was a good choice. I was able to take my bike into the hotel foyer and leave it out of sight. The two women doing most of the work impressed me with their attitude. They were very helpful and concerned about my needs. The room was excellent with a television so I could check on the progress of the Tour de France.

After I showered and washed my clothes I slept for three hours. When I awoke I was a little low in blood sugar and went down to dinner a little worse for wear from my perspective. I told the women that I was a diabetic and they seemed to understand. The meal I had contained enough carbohydrates but the meat was undercooked for my taste.

I felt a lot better after the meal. I took the advice of one of the ladies and went to the local casino where I saw poor people inserting endless coins into slot machines. The roulette tables were empty but a large dance hall was full of people. I left at about 1015 and walked back to the hotel in the rain.

Tomorrow I will be cycling into the Pyrenees proper.

Distance cycled = 41.75 miles.

Tuesday 14 July

I was charged 410.4Fr (£42.83) for dinner (with wine), bed, breakfast and a few beers.

The day started cloudy and cool with light drizzle at times. The road ahead followed the route taken by the Tour de France and there were signs indicating that the roads would be closed in a week or so when the riders arrive.

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As I approached the small town of Campan I noticed the green fields and the swollen streams carrying water from the high mountains. In the town itself I didn’t see a living soul but at regular intervals I saw stuffed dummies dressed in old-fashioned clothing. On the street corners there were small groups of dummy shoppers apparently conversing. Many of the shops had queues of similarly dressed dummies outside. As I left the town I saw more groups of dummies in the fields up to about ten miles away. I didn’t see a single living person.

At a road junction I met some other cyclists who seemed to be lost. They were heading to the Ordesa National Park, an area that I would love to visit but I was heading elsewhere.

As I progressed, the road climbed gently at first but the slope soon started to increase. There were signs every 1km showing the altitude and the number of metres to be climbed in the next 1km. I saw many cyclists in both directions on racing bikes. Many of them were surprised to see me on a touring bike with panniers and luggage at such a high altitude.

I found the going difficult. The highest I had ever cycled to in the past was in Norway last year when I reached 1250m (4101ft); when I reached Col d’Aspin at 1489m (4885ft) I felt that I was on the top of the world and that I had reached it under my own steam.

At the top of the Col the low cloud remained behind me but ahead there were breaks and I could see the town of Arreau far below; it was a beautiful sight. I stopped at the top for a few minutes and was joined by a group of cyclists. One of them was a gorgeous blonde girl. She smiled sweetly and then placed a finger against one nostril and emptied the other nostril close to my feet. Charming.

I set off down the steep mountainside. The going was not easy and when I reached the bottom I was frozen. I had lunch and a rest in the town of Arreau in warm sunshine. I also bought postcards and postage stamps from a nearby shop.

I set off again and cycled through some beautiful countryside. The road soon started to climb again. At about 1400 hours I was in need of more water but the few shops I saw were closed. I later discovered that it was the French national day. I eventually found an open restaurant and the owner kindly gave me bottled water from his refrigerator with no charge.

The road became steeper and the climb to Col Pegresourde was spectacular. On the way up I came across a car parked at the side of the road. Two little girls in the car shouted "allez, allez, allez.." to encourage me as I passed. Thankfully the weather was cloudy and cool but I still drank all of my water before I reached the top.

On the way up I was passed by a few groups of racing cyclists all of whom waved and exchanged a greeting. At the top of the Col, they had vehicles waiting to take them home.

The Col is at a height of 1569m (5148ft), another record for me.

At the top I found a café. I went in to buy water and found that it was packed with people. The room was foggy with a strange smelling smoke. After I had bought chilled water I left the café feeling light headed.

The drop down to Luchon was fantastic. The road was excellent and at times I was travelling at almost 50 mph. During a fast stretch I felt something hit my thigh and stick to it. I was unable to even look down to see what it was never mind brush it off. If I had taken my eyes off the road for even a moment I could have ended up at the bottom of a deep ravine. A few moments later I felt a sharp pain but all I could do was continue to the bottom of the mountain. When I reached Luchon 20 minutes later I looked at my leg but found no trace of a wound.

The top of the mountain was covered in cloud and it was cool although I was very warm and wet from perspiration due to the hard cycling. The fast descent caused my body temperature to fall by about 100 degrees. When I reached the warm sunshine of Luchon I was shivering so much that I couldn’t cycle in a straight line.

Bagneres-de-Luchon is a beautiful town. It has a long tree-lined avenue of attractive shops with many hotels and interesting features. I cycled through the town and stopped at a small hotel. I went into the reception area, still shivering, and asked for a room. The receptionist advised me to wrap myself in newspapers for the mountain descents like the Tour de France cyclists.

I decided to eat at the hotel and was served soup, fish with courgettes, followed by ice cream. The hotel was quiet and most of the other guests were elderly but I wasn’t here for the action.

In the evening I walked along the avenue enjoying the warm air and the scent of the many flowers.

Distance cycled = 45.21 miles.

Wednesday 15 July

The bill for dinner, bed and breakfast was 400 Fr (£41.79). The hotel did not accept credit cards so I had to walk back into the town to get cash from a cash machine.

My route today will take me back into Spain with a fair bit of hill climbing.

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When I set off the road was very quiet with little traffic. I always find it difficult to find my way out of towns. I instinctively know the direction I should take but my route is never confirmed until I find a signpost for a town that appears on my map.

It was a steep climb to Col Portiltou at 1293m (4242ft) but the weather conditions were good. The border between France and Spain was at the summit. The only indication I had was a signpost showing the speed limits for the different classes of road in Spain. As I climbed the mountain there were many trees on the French side all the way up to the Col but as I started the descent into Spain they soon diminished to reveal fantastic views.

The road quality seemed to deteriorate as I crossed the border. It was a steep decline initially but the road soon levelled off for a few miles before it became steep again.

I stopped at a roadside picnic area high above a valley and had a rest in hot sunshine. There were many butterflies around, different sizes and types and the view of the valley below was fantastic. There were many high mountains all around; the mountain at the other side of the valley had pipes carrying water from about two thirds up to a hydro station on the valley floor. I could see a road following the valley bottom and I could see large trucks moving slowly from France to the north deeper into Spain to the south. From where I was I could see the road for about 15 miles climbing higher into the Pyrenees to the south.

I quickly dropped down to the valley floor where it was very hot and joined the N230 to start the long climb from Bosost to Salardu. I found that the road rose gently and I was able to maintain a steady speed of over 15mph for quite a few miles. I stopped at a roadside café to get fresh water and a drink of cold orange. The traffic was light and I saw no cyclists heading in my direction.

I reached Viella feeling tired due to the heat but I was confident that I could reach Salardu. From Viella the road became much steeper but it was still manageable. In all of the small villages there was evidence of much building of good quality hotels and houses, no doubt to take advantage of the next skiing season.

I eventually reached Salardu on a steep section of the road and checked in at La Cuma Hotel and Restaurant. I was charged only 5100 pts (£21.12) for dinner, bed and breakfast.

Today I cycled only 26.89 miles but it felt much further in the heat.

As I unpacked my belongings I found that the lid on my shampoo bottle wasn’t secure and the contents had emptied over my belongings. It took a long time to clear up but it taught me a lesson.

I had dinner in the small hotel restaurant and I found that the owner/waitress spoke a dialect of Spanish that I did not understand. I wanted to order Spanish food but I could not make her understand and I ended up with a small piece of steak and chips. A little later some Spaniards arrived and I watched them eat a terrific Spanish meal.

From the restaurant window, as the sun was clearing the last of the high mountains, I could see a small group of buildings on the shoulder of the mountain above the town. According to my map, that was where I would be cycling the next day.

Distance cycled = 26.89 miles.

Thursday 16 July

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The sky was clear and blue and the winds were light as I set off but at this height it was nice and cool. After a long straight stretch I noticed a mountain high above me to the south. I then came across many hairpin bends. I was soon surrounded by a large swarm of flies. The sweat that I produced must have attracted them. The only respite I got was when I was travelling at more than 12mph, which wasn’t very often when I was climbing the hills. The flies almost ruined the day for me but I soon forgot them on the downhill section. As I climbed higher I noticed that the mountain to the south seemed smaller. It wasn’t long before I was looking down on the mountain.

The road reached a height of 2072m (6798ft) at Col de la Bonaigua. There was a ski lift operating and taking people almost to the summit of a nearby mountain. I stopped at a café at the Col and watched the many cattle wandering around the area.

I stayed at the Col for about 30 minutes before beginning the descent. The road down was fantastic; it was smooth and often straight and I reached a speed of 43mph. As I descended I could feel the air getting hotter. The road now followed a river all the way down to Sort and beyond. A strong headwind made my progress difficult. I had to pedal hard even though it was downhill.

I stopped for lunch at a beautiful lakeside spot and watched water skiers and canoeists enjoying the conditions.

I continued south to Sort as the day became much hotter. When I stopped for a drink I noticed some very large flying insects circling me. They seemed to be weighing me up and got closer and closer. I decided to set off again and put some distance between the predatory insects and myself.

I arrived in Sort after cycling 42.25 miles.

I found a large hotel and checked in. I was able to leave my bike in a locked store that was almost full of skiing equipment.

After I had showered I opened the balcony shutters vertically and was exposed to the blazing sun. That wasn’t all that I was exposed to. Directly opposite there was a hotel and on most of the balconies there were people having a siesta. I quickly closed the shutters and went to sleep.

When I awoke I found that water was leaking from the room above but it was confined to the bathroom.

I had dinner in the hotel and bought provisions from a small shop before going to bed early.

The bill for dinner, bed and breakfast was £30.49 in a good quality hotel.

Distance cycled = 42.25 miles.

Friday 17 July

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It was a beautiful start to the day. I left the hotel in hot sunshine at around 0930 and took the minor road, N260. The flies soon took an interest in me and completely spoiled the climb for me. They got into my ears, nose and mouth and had me cursing loudly. I used a small towel as a weapon to diminish the swarm that followed me but it had only a temporary effect. I passed a few cattle, each of which had it’s own swarm of flies. I thought that some of my flies could have been pestering one of those cows a few moments earlier. I was not flattered by the fact that the flies didn’t find the cows more attractive.

For no apparent reason, the flies disappeared and I was able to just sit for a few minutes and enjoy the beautiful scenery. I had stopped sweating and the flies lost interest in me. The climb continued.

I eventually reached a height of 1725m (5659ft) as indicated by a sign at the top. Luckily I found cafes at appropriate spots where I could buy some water, as I needed it. In one bar, two American tourists were each given a pint of cold lager. In the evenings I had asked many times for a large beer only to be given a small glass. Now that I was not able to drink it, it was available. The b****rds.

I was becoming accustomed to the wonderful views. The road at the other side descended only slowly to begin with and I came to a viewpoint with many picnic spaces. It was hot. I could see the route all the way down to the valley floor.

I had lunch in the company of many different kinds of butterfly. A few drivers stopped and asked me about my journey and wished me luck.

Up to now the traffic had been very light but when I reached the valley floor I joined a busy main road. It was about seven miles to the next town and when I arrived the temperature was in the high eighties. I was tired and I needed a rest so I located a decent looking back street hotel and checked in.

I again had to carry all my gear almost to the top floor. The room was adequate with en suite facilities. I badly needed a shower but there were no towels. I wandered the corridor and found an empty double room with its door open, so I entered and took a pile of towels. After I had showered there was a knock on the door and it was the maid with a large pile of towels. I didn’t want tell her that I had helped myself so I accepted them and put them next to the large pile I had pilfered. I then opened a cupboard and found that it was full of towels. In total I had about thirty towels. I could have opened a stall to sell them and retired on the proceeds.

I had a good meal in the hotel and spent a few hours watching television and reading in the restaurant. As I was reading a policeman entered the bar area and ordered a drink. He was there for quite a time and had more than a few drinks. I found it strange to see a policeman in uniform with a gun in a holster hanging from his belt drinking alcoholic drinks.

Distance cycled = 32.89 miles.

Saturday 18 July

The bill for dinner, bed and breakfast with wine was only £21.58. A similar hotel in Norway last year would have cost me about £80.

Today I would be entering the country of Andorra which has a population of only 58 000 and an area of 181 square miles. The economy is dominated by tourism but farming activities are apparent.

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The sale of duty free products is undertaken on a large scale. Many of the shops sold motorbikes and cars and there seemed to be more petrol stations than houses.

I left the hotel at about 0930. It was quite cool but the sun was shining. The road into Andorra was of a good quality. When I reached the border, traffic was diverted into rows but I was ignored; I just kept cycling through the border and I was not challenged. When I got past the border the cycling was relentlessly uphill. I saw many garages selling cheap petrol and numerous large retail centres.

Most of Andorra consists of a narrow canyon along which the road runs, with the occasional small town. The capital, Andorra La Vella, was very busy. There were many jewellery stores, car sales and car parts shops, along with shops selling motorbikes and accessories.

The climb out of the capital was steep. Although the sun was hot, the air was fresh and there was a pleasant breeze. The last town in the country is Soldeu where the road is very steep but at least there was a bar where I could stock up on cold water.

The climb from Soldeu became even steeper and after a long straight climb I encountered a number of hairpins to the highest point at 2407m (7897ft) above sea level, the highpoint of my holiday. I enjoyed the climb. On the way up I saw no other cyclists and I could hear thunder from the north although I came across no rain. The view to the south was of high mountains and ski slopes but I saw no snow. When I reached the top there were many sightseers and I received applause from a coach-load of German tourists.

Image80.gif (126130 bytes)At the top, there were two petrol stations and a café but it was almost 1700 hours and I had to make tracks. About two kilometres down the other side I came upon the border town of Pas de La Casa. It was packed with shoppers. The town is devoted to duty free shopping and there were many coach-loads of tourists spending their cash.

The border with France is just outside the town. I was waved through the police checkpoint but there was a very long line of traffic waiting to get through. A few miles further on I came to another checkpoint, with French police searching many of the vehicles. Again, I was waved through.

I was surprised to find that the road began to climb again. I was now in an area that looked very similar to the northern Scottish Highlands. I was surprised that the road started to climb again to Col de Puymorens before dropping down to the town of Porte-Puymorens. Many car drivers sounded their horns and waved encouragement. By now it was nearly 1800 hours so I kept my eyes open for a hotel. I found an excellent one, for my needs, at Porte-Puymorens.

I could see the hotel from high above and when I arrived, it looked deserted. Inside the bar I came across a man of around 35. I asked him, in French, for a single room with shower for one person, for one night. He very patiently let me finish and then asked me, in perfect English, if I wished to conduct the rest of our conversation in English as he, being French, could not understand a word I had said.

The room I got was a large treble. The evening was sunny, but cool and fresh. Just outside my window there was an idle ski lift awaiting the first snows of the coming winter. The first thing I did was, as usual, take a shower. The light switch for the bathroom didn’t work but I found that the mirror lights worked fine. The lights had very fancy bulbs pointing to the ceiling and providing enough illumination for the whole room.

When I entered the shower cubicle I found that the showerhead was not secure and when I turned it on the water pressure caused it to move. The first thing I did was to get the water temperature as I liked it and the next priority was to set the flow so that the showerhead was in a position that suited me. I started by washing my hair and turned around to rinse all of the soap out. As I did so I accidentally nudged the lever which set the temperature to minimum but also set the flow of water to maximum. The effect was incredible. I was immediately drenched with ice cold water and the showerhead went berserk. A moment later it went vertical and sprayed water, at maximum flow, above the shower curtain and into the bathroom. Both of the fancy light bulbs shattered, plunging me into darkness, and I could hear the sound of breaking glass as it hit the bathroom floor. It took me a while to regain my senses but when I did I decided to finish my shower and then deal with the devastation. I had visions of me explaining to the patient man I met earlier that, through no fault of my own, I had flooded the bathroom, shattered two fancy light bulbs and covered the floor with glass. He wouldn’t have been so patient then. As it turned out I simply swept the glass up, placed it in the bin and replaced the two bulbs from a box-full I found in a cupboard. The water had dried by the time I got up in the morning.

After I had had a good evening meal I left the restaurant area to go outside to my room. Just outside the hotel entrance there was a phone box. I checked to see if it was coin operated but I found that, in common with every other phone box I had seen in France, it only accepted cards.

As I left the phone box, a car approached and the driver shouted from the window "Barcelona?" I suspected that he was a drug addict needing money and offering people a trip to the city was his way of getting it. I said "No thanks" and went to bed.

Distance cycled = 44.04 miles.

Sunday 19 July

The bill for the hotel was £36.42. After a good breakfast, I set off not knowing whether to expect high hills or low level cycling. The first eleven miles were gently downhill to Bourg-Madame.

From there it was slightly uphill against the wind and in hot sunshine to Saillagouse where I bought water and fruit. The road continued uphill but it wasn’t too steep. I was surprised when I came to Col de La Perche and discovered that I was still at a height of about1750m (5741ft). From here it was spectacularly downhill almost all the way down to the Perpignan region.

I passed through some incredible scenery; the road followed a deep canyon for mile after mile. I passed through a fortified town that must have been easy to attack. All you had to do was drop rocks from the cliffs overlooking the town. As I descended it became much hotter but I found the going relatively easy.

I decided not to go into Perpignan but to take a more direct route to the Mediterranean coast. I was now on the lookout for a hotel but I didn’t see one for a long time. Eventually, after cycling 82.66 miles, I found a guesthouse in the small town of Elne, only about five miles from the coast.

I locked my bike in the garage but it didn’t offer much protection as the doors were left wide open all night. Luckily the bike was still there the next morning.

Evening meals were not provided at the guesthouse but I was directed to a good restaurant near the outskirts of the town. On my way there I took a wrong turning and walked through a small housing estate for a while before I retraced my steps back to the main road. I got many strange looks from people in the estate who didn’t seem to welcome strangers.

 I had an excellent meal at the restaurant sitting at a roadside table (it was a very quiet road) enjoying the warm evening sunshine and spent the rest of the evening reading.

Distance cycled = 82.66 miles.

Monday 20 July

The bill for bed and breakfast was £30.90.

I set off to St Cyprien then followed the coast road south to Argeles-Plage. I was able to cycle right to the beach and spent an hour or so relaxing in the sun having achieved my ambition of cycling the length of the Pyrenees.

As I slowly cycled along the wide promenade many people took an interest in the bike and me. I saw people nudging each other and pointing at my panniers.

After a rest I cycled further south in search of a railway station. I reached Coulloure and eventually found one in the busy town. I had to wait for about two hours in the hot sun before the train arrived. There were no facilities for the bike so I had to stand with it in the doorway between the carriages. People getting on and off at each station had to climb over the bike and other luggage.

After about 50 minutes the train arrived in Portbou at the border with Spain. It was a busy train station and I joined a long queue for tickets. The ticket salesman spoke excellent English and told me all I needed to catch the train.

The line to Barcelona is electrified and the train was very modern and clean. There was one drawback however. Again there were no facilities for the bike. I had to lift it up five steps (with the luggage it was quite heavy) and when I got on board I had to leave it leaning against the automatic doors. Each time the train stopped I had to move it to let people on and off. Four Spanish men told me I would soon be able to leave it leaning against the left side doors as all stations beyond the next but one would use only the right side doors all the way to Barcelona.

The journey took about four hours but I enjoyed seeing the countryside and watching the people.

I didn’t know at which station to get off so I just followed when most of the people disembarked. It was a mistake because it was a subway. There were crowds of people getting off and I was faced with an almost vertical staircase. I stood back for a while but a woman soon approached and, in English, volunteered the services of her husband to help me lift the bike up the stairs. I was grateful. 

When I left the station I entered the busy centre of Barcelona in the rush hour. I circled the central part of the city for about an hour in search of a hotel without success.

The few hotels that I found were full but eventually I looked down a side street and found one. The hotel didn’t have a restaurant but recommended one nearby. I had a great meal in the small restaurant then spent the rest of the evening in the small adjoining bar watching highlights of the day’s bullfighting on the television.

Distance cycled = 18.11 miles.

Tuesday 21 July

The bill for bed and breakfast was £35.79. After breakfast I went to the main railway station with the aid of a map of the centre of Barcelona provided by the hotel.

After a good night’s sleep I was much more at ease cycling through the busy streets. The whole traffic management system was excellent, particularly for cyclists. We even had our own traffic light system. At the busy junctions, the lights stopped all of the cars and then, as if from nowhere, hundreds of cyclists would appear and disperse down the many canyon-like streets.

As I waited at a busy junction, two Spanish cyclists stopped for a chat and asked me about my journey. At the very large travel interchange I booked an overnight train from Barcelona to Bilbao that departed at 2125 in the evening. I had the rest of the day to explore the city of Barcelona.

The map I had showed a harbour area so I dropped down through the city and headed in that direction. Barcelona is much bigger than I expected. The streets are in a grid arrangement and cover a vast area. When I reached the harbour area I found many marinas and to the north there were several miles of good beaches. I know there are many more things to see in Barcelona but I spent most of the day relaxing in this area. I was unable to do much exploring because of the need to stay with my bike.

In the early evening I stopped at a bar for a beer. I left the bike leaning against a wall and went to use the small back room. When I returned no more than three minutes later my bike had gone. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had carried a small bag containing my wallet with me but my tickets, passport and more importantly my insulin, were with the bike.

I immediately went up a nearby side street as I considered it to be the most likely escape route for an opportunist thief. In the distance I could see a youngster of about fifteen struggling to get on and ride my bike away. I soon caught him, dragged him off and took hold of the bike. The barman and a stallholder had seen me give chase and came to help but by then the thief had escaped into the crowd. I could easily have murdered him. My first reaction was anger that anyone could do such a thing but, as I finished the beer, I was relieved that I had all my belongings back.

I then made my way back to the travel interchange and explored the facilities. The platforms were deep underground but there was a lift. I had a meal in a decent café then made my way to the train. I had only ever travelled on a sleeper service from Inverness to Glasgow when I had a comfortable double cabin to myself. I had no idea what to expect on this train service.

The ticket I had been given indicated the coach and cabin number and I found it easily. I was disappointed to find that the cabin had six berths and there was no room for the bike. The guard indicated that the bike should be dismantled and stowed underneath the bottom bunk. An English speaking Spanish passenger negotiated with the guard and got him to limit the number of people in our cabin to four. This allowed me to stow the bike in the space between the bunks.

The train ticket, with bunk, and with the bike free, cost £63.44, which, considering the distance travelled (about 350 miles), was good value.

Distance cycled = 17.30 miles.

Wednesday 22 July

The train arrived in Bilbao at around 0800. I let everyone get off first before I carried my belongings to the platform and packed the luggage on the bike. I had to manhandle the bike up several flights of stairs to street level. I was now eager to get back on the ferry but I had a day and a night to spend in the Bilbao area before it sailed at 1230 on Thursday.

The population of Bilbao is around 370,000 a little more than Bradford and about twice that of Aberdeen. It is one of the main industrial cities of Spain and is a major seaport.

The sky was clear blue and the sunshine was warm as I slowly cycled through the city streets in search of the Guggenheim Museum. I crossed to the east shore of the river and headed north. I soon found it. Although I was unable to go inside (I was unwilling to leave the bike unattended) I could appreciate the controversy the design of the building must have generated.

I continued further north and found myself in a quiet residential area. Most of the buildings contained apartments, usually three floors high. The bottom floor often consisted of garages or shops with the occasional roadside café. As I cycled along one quiet street I heard a voice shouting in Spanish, coming from above. A few moments later I heard it again and when I looked up I saw several parrots in cages arranged on the balconies.

I stopped in a small street café and enjoyed the sounds and sights of this pleasant part of Bilbao, but I didn’t take my eyes off my bike for a moment.

I decided to cycle the five or so miles to Santurtzi to make sure I knew from where to catch the P&O ferry. I passed many steel mills and chemical plants on the way. After I had checked out the ferry terminal and determined where I will go tomorrow I went in search of a hotel. I spent many hours searching nearly every street in vain. I decided to cross the river and continue searching. I passed through a few attractive estates and eventually arrived at Getxo where I checked in at the Hotel Los Tamrises.

It was a high quality hotel and when I checked in I felt that I had to pass a short entrance examination. The receptionist took my details, demanded my passport and summoned a porter to take my bike away and lock it in the garage. He returned to help me with my luggage up to my room on the top floor (as usual).

As I was checking in, a posh speaking Englishman arrived and was met by an English speaking Spaniard. They were obviously on business. I fancied that the Englishman was a DTi official and was across here to sign a trade agreement. He looked ill at ease and uncomfortable in the heat and, judging by his sunburned face, had spent most of the day in the sun.

The room was excellent. It had a large comfortable double bed, mini bar, satellite television and top class en suite facilities. After I had showered (for the first time in two days) I watched the progress of the Tour de France cyclists then went for a walk. There was a packed beach in front of the hotel and a quiet road with a walkway leading to a pier from which there were many fishermen casting their lines into the bay. I walked slowly to the end of the pier then strolled back to the hotel.

When I returned to the hotel, the beach was almost empty and the bar was filling up. I felt that I would have gladly spent the previous two weeks here, but if I had, I would have missed all of the fantastic things that I had seen.

I had a meal in the restaurant and while I was eating I witnessed the best sunset I have ever seen. From my single table I looked north-west over the heads of other diners, past a few late beach volleyball players across the bay where the sun was sinking just to the right of a high headland. It made me feel good. The waiters, in their smart uniforms, were very attentive and made me feel important.

The English businessman was being entertained by his Spanish host at an adjacent table. Whilst every other person in the restaurant wore casual clothes in the warm evening, he looked very uncomfortable in shirt and tie.

Distance cycled = 32.26 miles.

Thursday 23 July

The bill for dinner, bed and breakfast was the most expensive for the holiday but it was only £51.99. The standard of service was very high and the setting was breathtaking.

When I checked out, the porter delivered my bike to the main entrance for me. I loaded the luggage and set off on the short journey across the river to Santurtzi. I could see the Pride of Bilbao sitting proudly at its berth across the river.

I followed the coast to the river crossing point and was amazed at the short distance compared to the many miles I cycled the day before in search of a hotel.

I soon arrived at the ferry terminal and joined a queue of motorists, motorcyclists, and one other cyclist. We had to wait for about three hours in the open in hot sunshine with no facilities but I was well prepared. I chatted to a motorcycling couple for a while before a lone cyclist joined us and told us that he had spent a few months exploring the beaches of Portugal.

As we were chatting, a mixed group of motorcyclists arrived. By their very nature, motorcyclists are non-conformist. This group was very non-conformist. They were noisy, dirty and confrontational. I turned to the pleasant motorcycling couple I was chatting to and asked if they were friends of theirs.

While we were waiting, a number of pollsters asked us a series of questions about our stay in Spain. They asked one member from each group about their academic qualifications, how much they had spent during their visit, and what had attracted them to Spain. They also gave us a questionnaire to complete. As I was filling mine in, I looked up and saw one of the bikers eating his.

We were allowed onto the ferry at the expected time. It was good to enter my pre-booked double cabin and enjoy the facilities on offer. I had another 30 hours on board a very comfortable vessel to look forward to. Most people were reluctant to leave the sunshine and spent as long as they could on deck soaking up the sun as we left Spain.

The journey to Portsmouth was enjoyable. I had one night on board and took advantage of the excellent restaurant.

Distance cycled = 3.49 miles.

Friday 24 July

I spent some of the day in the well-stocked duty free shop and spent time watching Sky News to catch up on events. The main news was the drugs scandal associated with the Tour de France.

The approach to Portsmouth was busy. There were many large vessels converging on the same small area on the coastline and as we got nearer there were many marker buoys directing the traffic.

There were many naval ships docked in Portsmouth. I saw three aircraft carriers, fitted with ramps for Harriers, plus many other vessels. I wanted to take a photograph but I had run out of film.

The ferry docked on time at 1700 hours. Cyclists and motorcyclists were allowed off first. As we left the ferry we were directed to a Customs checkpoint where an official asked each of us if we were British. I said "Si Signor" and carried on.

I joined the busy road into Portsmouth in search of a hotel or guesthouse. I reached Southsea, just to the east of Portsmouth and checked in at a small guesthouse. It was basic but adequate for one night. I had a meal at a nearby small restaurant then had a few beers at a pub. 

Distance cycled = 3.90 miles.

Saturday 25 July

The bill for bed and breakfast was only £18.

I left the guesthouse at about 0930 and cycled to the railway station that I had arrived at nearly three weeks earlier. I had two hours to wait for the train and I spent it watching the ferries crossing the Solent to the Isle of White. Each returning ferry carried hundreds of people either simply visiting or on business to Portsmouth. It was pleasant to just sit and watch people.

The train service all of the way to Blackpool was excellent. I was able to leave the bike in the guard’s vans and sit comfortably in the adjacent coaches. Don’t let anyone say that British railway services are inferior to French or Spanish services.

While I was waiting for a train from Preston to Blackpool I saw a familiar face on the platform. I met Jim Cowie and his family on their way for a holiday in Blackpool. Jim used to play squash at the Thurso & District Squash Club.

When I arrived at Poulton-Le-Fylde I was faced with an almost vertical staircase. There was a lift close by but it wasn’t working. When I returned to the staircase most of the other passengers had disappeared but there was a girl who couldn’t carry her heavy suitcase up the steep steps. I carried her suitcase up and said goodbye then returned for my bike. I managed it one step at a time and felt a sense of achievement when I reached the deserted ticket office at the top (don’t forget I had recently cycled to eight thousand feet in the Pyrenees). I felt that the railway companies got it right to get me here but let the girl and me down completely at the end of our journeys.

I left the ticket office and joined the single-track road just outside. I cycled the two miles to Tony’s house and to my relief I found my car in one piece in his secluded drive. Tony and his wife were away for the weekend so again I didn’t get a chance to see them. I retrieved the car keys from a prearranged hiding place and then dismantled my bike and loaded the bike and luggage in the car.

Unfortunately I had left the handbrake on and after seventeen days sitting motionless the rear callipers had seized. It took a while to persuade the callipers to release their grip but I then drove home without incident.

Next year I intend to go to Iceland via Shetland and the Faroe Isles.

Distance cycled = 3.87 miles.

Last modified: Sunday August 26, 2018 21:29