by ‘Spanish Jon’
Twelve bikes recently returned from a stunning trip to the Picos in Northern Spain, organised by Graham. Eight of us had our partners as pillion, so there were twenty of us in total, on a wide variety of machines. We all left home on Tuesday 27 September, with all but one of us arriving in Spain on the Santander ferry, as planned, the next day…. Exactly why one of us missed the ferry is another story involving a lost passport and a kind postwoman, but perhaps best ‘left on tour’.
Brittany Ferries bill this 24-hour crossing from Portsmouth rather optimistically as a cruise. The Pont Aven is their current flagship, and is certainly a very big and upmarket ferry (at 184m long/2,400 passengers/250 cars). The infamous Bay of Biscay was kind to us and we had calm crossings in both directions, with plenty of time to get to know each other better in the bars and restaurants.
We had booked a hotel near Potes, arriving there on Wednesday evening after a short 1½-hour ride from the port. Our instructions for Thursday were simple and very civilized – assemble in the hotel car park with full tanks and be ready to leave at 10 am.
To get us in the mood, Graham took us on a ‘tyre and sump warmer’ up to the Mirador viewing point at over 1,500m altitude on the N-621 mountain pass. For Picos newbies like your correspondent, this was something of a shock, without doubt the most technically challenging road I had ever ridden. (‘Had,’ note: Graham soon found many more….) Not predictable like the more famous Italian passes where a left bend usually follows a right as you ascend, but sprinkled with blind corners, often tightening into 180º hairpins, no traffic but random cows higher up, all clearly well trained to leave their smelly deposits just out of sight around corners. Above the winter snow-line even the Spanish don’t maintain their road surfaces as well, so there was also some loose surface, but no UK-style potholes. Unfortunately, the pass was closed for repairs just before its highest point, blocking a key route out from Potes for us for the entire holiday and necessitating some major route re-planning by Graham.
After stopping to admire the statue and views we set off for the Fuente De cable car where we had lunch at the 1800m high station, which has simply stunning views over the Picos.
Then it was off to Covadonga through ‘The Gorge” and down ‘The Blue Railing Road’ (our names for these favourite sections of the AS-114). Because of the closed pass we got to know these roads very well.
We have nothing like them in the UK. ‘The Gorge’, while not as extreme as the Mirador, is tight and technical, right up against a towering rock face on one side and a plummeting drop the other as it snakes its way down the side of the said gorge through amazing scenery a biker like me dares barely glance at. The Blue Railing Road, on the other hand, is fast and sweeping with long wide open bends that go on for ever (well, at least 15 km) with the alarming drop at its outer edge protected by – you guessed it – blue railings.
Friday took us to Riaño for lunch. En route we used another pass, the Puerta de Piedrasluengas, and took in the views over the Liébana valley from its viewing point before stopping for coffee in Cervera de Pisuerga. This route also introduced us to ‘The Corkscrew’ (P-215), which needs no further explanation. Riaño itself sits on the shore of a massive artificial reservoir created in the 1980s by damming the Esla River to deliver hydroelectric power. The builders thoughtfully constructed excellent roads and bridges across the water, clearly just for bikers like us to enjoy. Certainly there were very few cars to get in our way. Because of the closed pass we were forced to use the Blue Railing Road and the Gorge to get home. Such a trial.
Saturday took us on our longest ride so far, to the excellent lunch stop we had discovered in Riaño (thanks Den), but this time via Cangas where many of us had a rather long, unscheduled stop chatting to some natives (remember, what goes on tour, stays on tour). After lunch it was Puerto de Tarna on the CL635 and down the ‘bumpy road’ (we are nothing if not original, and Graham likes to find at least one track…) to Puebla de Lillo on the LE-333. On to Boñar for a fuel stop before a faster journey home using an unusually straight piece of road (for us), the CL-626.
As we passed through Guardo on our return we happened on a helpfully totally unsigned and brand new roundabout over the crest of a small rise. As we unwittingly approached we were all perhaps guilty of some target fixation on a horribly gravel-strewn lay-by exit, right on a corner (note to non- bikers: we really hate gravel on bends). The gravel was the clue to the hidden roundabout construction. No sooner were we scanning distance again
but we were on a roundabout from nowhere. In my mirrors I saw confused bikes going in all directions as we tried to navigate the new construction. Happily there was no drama and an orderly line continued over the mountain to home.
After the long day on Saturday, we had a gentler and shorter sightseeing day on Sunday, via the Gorge and the Blue Railing Road (sigh) to the coast and Ribadesella.
Here we spent two hours exploring the town, some of us enjoying a vintage car and truck display on the quayside before heading on the N-634 back to Cangas and on to the pink limestone Basilica at Covadonga where we spent an hour exploring the magnificent building and having coffee.
Sadly, that was our last day: on Monday we started late and took the scenic route back to Santander and the ferry. We had ridden 1000 miles in 4 full days of riding on roads that we can only dream of in the UK; perfectly maintained, grippy tarmac with very little traffic, no rain and stunning scenery.
Add in the great company and banter and there was a great holiday. Thanks for the company of Graham ‘O Great Leader’ Board; Scott ‘Fruit Fly’ and Virginia Walker; ‘Top Gun’ Den and Andrea; Martin ‘Stephen Spielberg’ and Gill Barrett; Steve ‘Memory Man’ Gibson; Paul ‘Daddy Bear’ and daughter ‘Goldilocks’ Rogerson; Paul ‘Scouser’ and Gerry Burke; ‘Pistol’ Pete and Lin Maxwell; ‘Saxy’ Andy Homoky (he wishes…); ‘Gentleman’ John and Zoe Homoky; and Gerry ‘Waltzer’ Dodd and Joan.
A great trip!