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Thursday, 12 July 2012

Updates

Hello dear reader.....

As of today (16th July) the blog has been updated with a brief narrative and a few photo's. This is very much a first draft but hopefully it gives a flavour of the ride. There will be more to follow about the pilgrimage and some reflections.

I have been astounded by the amount of interest and support. To say that I am grateful is a real understatement.

It is my intention to try and produce some powerpoint presentations from the ride along with a short talk (me, cycling, short??) all to continue to raise funds for both the Crypt and the Furniture Store. Please do get in contact if you would like to know more or if the idea of a short talk is of any use.

Best wishes

Monday, 9 July 2012

Day 20 Home

It was a long day. We were on the ferry crossing the channel at 7:00 and then it was simply driving north dropping people off. We got to Leeds at 4:00.

It was great to be home with so many stories to tell.

This had been the most challenging ride I had ever done. It was also the most rewarding. Would I do it again? Absolutely, but next time I get home an easier way!

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Day 19 Hendaye to Bayonne & home

Irun / Hendaye to Bayonne and beyond
After being awake a lot for much of the night we were up at 5:45. We packed the bags and eventually went the short distance from the hostal to the railway station. We arrived there about 6:50 to check the information we had about trains to Bayonne. The train was stood in the station and due to go in just 4 minutes. Tickets were quickly bought courtesy of a lovely lady in the SNCF office; bikes and bodies were thrown on the train very rapidly and we were off. We arrived in Bayonne at 7:30, just 2 hours before our rendezvous with the bike bus. We ambled through Bayonne checking directions against the map that we had and we quickly found the F1 hotel that was our pick up point. We were first there but shortly joined by Janet who had also cycled to Santiago but she had cycled back too – much less stressful even if more time consuming! The bus had been held up crossing the Channel the day before so we received a text message telling us that the pick up would be about 10:30. It really didn’t matter – we had made it!
Once we were on the bus I went out like a light. I slept for about 4 hours during which time we had a tour of Toulouse and Lourdes before finally heading north, and home.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Day 18 Ourence to Irun

Ourence to Irun
We are up at 5:45. Ricky thinks it’s a straight road back to the station, I think we have to turn somewhere. On that basis we go back up to the main road and then I start to walk back in the direction of the station, the click clack of Malcolm’s cleats following not far behind. The click clack stops and Malcolm rides past me just as I spot a junction ahead where we turn left. Malcolm goes straight on. It takes a while for Malcolm to come back but we had allowed plenty of time. It was just coming light as we got to the station.
The next journey to Leon was the part where we had needed to reserve bike spaces. There were only three spaces available in total and we had all three. Despite that there was already a bike hanging there when we boarded but the train conductor was not causing us any problems. It was a long journey to Leon and we recognised quite a few places. We went past the McDonalds in Ponferrada and we recognised immediately the green bridge that we had cycled over in Astorga. At Leon we had a two hour wait so we went off the station in search of food. By coincidence, we were not far from where we had slept by the river several days before and we went off in search of the same McDonalds that Chris had failed to find. It took us a while as it was well hidden in the trees.
We were back on the station in plenty of time to get the next train to Palencia where we had 40 minutes between trains and had to get new tickets for the final leg to Irun. We disembarked at Palencia on a middle platform so decided to leave the bikes while we went to buy tickets to Irun. This we did, fortuitously just asking for tickets for us (and getting our Spanish Senior citizens discount too) and not mentioning bikes. On our schedule this train had no restrictions on bike numbers. According to the information screens our train was leaving from Platform 4, the same platform we had arrived on. This looked like an easy transfer.
There is much announcing done over the loudspeakers so I go and check the information screens. Our train is now leaving on Platform 2. Not a problem as platforms 2 and 4 are together. Then a train pulls in to Platform 4 just as ours is due. I check the information screens again. This train is also going to Irun but it’s an express so no bikes. Our train is three minutes behind this on platform 2. The express has stopped with the locomotive just where Malcolm is stood. Being Spain, the driver opens the cab door and comes out for a smoke. Malcolm asks if the train is going to Irun. “Si” is the answer, at which point there is immediate confusion with Malcolm saying this is our train etc and me saying no it isn’t. No lives were lost during the discussion.
McDonalds - Leon
Our train does arrive (platform 2) and we get on. Bikes are in coach 3 and we immediately find that there are only three spaces. These are already taken, but we are on the train. It’s a busy one too as today is the bull run day in Pamplona. Happily the conductor is a nice chap and we stay on the train. It’s a long journey to Irun and I spend two hours talking to Francesco from Vigo with much help from the Spanish phrasebook. We arrive in Irun just turned 9:00 after travelling all day. We are tired and now need to get from Irun, in Spain, to Hendaye, in France. This is a short hop and effectively it is the same place straddling the border. The signs in Irun station point us rather portentously to the International Train Station. This turns out to be a metro type of station hidden amongst a row of shops. We buy tickets and then manoeuvre fully loaded bikes through underground type ticket barriers, breaking one in the process. We then have to carry fully loaded bikes down two wets of stairs to the platform. The train arrives quickly, we spot the bike spaces in the first carriage and off we go again.
Letting the train take the strain
The International Train Station in Hendaye stops very close to the SNCF station and Ricky goes in to check train times. The station is just closing for the night and there are no further trains. We are told that the first train to Bayonne is 7.45 next morning. This is marked Paris on the boards but the first stop is Bayonne, we are told. I ask about accommodation and see a blue light across the street flashing “Hostal”. At this point we realise Malcolm is missing and it transpires that he went into town to look for an aubergue where he has stayed before. We go into town but cannot find the aubergue so go back to the hotel by the station finally booking in at 11:00, dog tired.
We are just 20 miles from the pick up point tomorrow morning. Everything has worked out according to plan so far. I sleep for a while but then I wake full of anxiety about travelling the final leg.

Day 17 Santiago to Ourence

Monte do Gozo to Santiago de Compestela
5.39 (total 561.36)
No rush to get up this morning so we let all the other pilgrims get up first and finally got up at 7:30. After getting up we pack our bags again and go down to the onsite cafeteria for a breakfast. Monte do Gozo compares well with Morecombe and Butlins all rolled into one. It’s row after row of accommodation blocks most of which are stood empty. There are some school trips in at the bottom of the site and the aubergue at the top. The cafe is in the middle and it’s empty.
Renfe leave trains anywhaer
After breakfast it’s really a matter of passing time until we catch the train to Ourence. We go back down to the cathedral and the square. Chris and I go into the cathedral for the later part of the midday pilgrims mass and see the spectacle of the censor being swung up to the ceiling. Inside the cathedral, it’s like being in Briggate on Christmas Eve as people mill around despite the mass taking place. The service itself is impressive with priests being fully robed, another very mellow organ playing and another nun with a wonderful singing voice. In the square I am fascinated watching all the comings and goings. Quite large parties arrive singing having walked who knows how far. Smaller groups huddle together. Individuals hug and greet others who they have me on the road. This includes us as we recognise other cyclists whom we have met over the past two weeks. I muse on the cathedral watching all this ever changing tapestry. We shall be gone tomorrow but others will replace us for s short while until they too are replaced.
We have coffee and say our goodbye’s to Chris who is heading off to the north coast and making his way back to Bayonne. We pass some time in a local park and meet Billy Boyle again for a long chat before we finally make our way to the train station to set off for Ourence.
Hostal Lido
We have no problems catching the train and we find that the front carriage has plenty of room for the bikes. Again we were shown true kindness by a lady at the station who probably recognised our anxiety. She responded by taking us to the train (which was already sat in the station) explained where the bikes needed to go and then saw us nicely settled before leaving us. We settle down for the two hour journey through Galicea and enjoy the scenery as it winds past the windows. We had expected a glut of hotels, UK style, at the station in Ourence but this was not to be. We had to travel down into the town and then the only place we could find was a very posh looking four star hotel. We asked passers by and one lady did an internet search on her phone for us and then directed us to the Hostal Lido where we got a room for three for just €47. Once booked in Ricky and I just wanted a shower and sleep whilst Malcolm went out to find some food.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Day 16 Santiago and planning the return

Monte do Gozo to Santiago de Compestela
8.35 (total 555.96)
Getting back to Bayonne is proving difficult. We enquired at Tourist Information and they told us that we cannot take bikes on trains. We then went to the station where we were told we can take bikes on regional trains only. And there are limited spaces for bikes on some trains so reservations need to be made. Already we have talked about alternatives such as flying home as we have spotted that bikes can be sent on from Santiago for €49. We have also talked about heading to Santander for the ferry.
We decided to try and head back tomorrow (Friday) so that we had a buffer of a day should we need it, and so we could be back in Bayonne with time to spare. In the event this proves not possible as there are no spaces for the bikes on the part of the journey that we need to reserve bike spaces. Jose at the station does manage to make the reservations for Saturday but as there is no connecting train from Santiago on Saturday we have to set off on Friday night. By doing this we can get to Irun / Hendaye on the Spanish / French border by late Saturday night. Phone calls home (and then to Liz in France) suggest that there is a train from Hendaye to Bayonne about 7:00 on Sunday morning but this is not certain. If all this works then we will be in Bayonne for 8:00 Sunday morning in time to meet up with the Bike Express at 9:30. Not a lot of room for error.
The schedule is
Santiago cathedral
Friday 17:20 Santiago to Ourence
Saturday 8.42 to arrive Leon 12:45
Saturday 14:45 to arrive Palencia 16:10
Saturday 16:52 to arrive Irun 21:08
Saturday find our way from Irun to Hendaye
Sunday about 7:00 to Bayonne
We book tickets as far as Palencia knowing that there is much that can go wrong.
The rest of the day is spent in Santiago but frankly, I am disappointed. The cathedral is imposing but the whole place is full of tourists and feels brash after spending two weeks in rural areas in the company of pilgrims. I am happy sitting in the cathedral and watching the square as it pulses with life. I take a tour of the cathedral including visiting the relics of St James but then I go back to Monte do Gozo to wash clothes. After that I sit with Chris and Pedro in the cafe watching the Tour de France.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Day 15 Palas de Rei to Santiago

Palas de Rei to Santiago de Compestela (Monte do Gozo)
40.33 (total 547.61)
Everyone was up by 6:30 feeling ok but washed out. Not only had everyone been ill but we had not eaten for the best part of 24 hours. Not good when you are cycling and using up calories. We HAVE to get to Santiago today. We decide that today we have to keep stopping / eating to get energy levels back. We eat breakfast in the hotel before joining the constant procession of folk heading west out of the town and towards Santiago. And today it is cool and wet.
There still hills to climb and we all find that we are dropping down to very low gears as soon as we start to climb. We stop at a garage to get some chocolate bars and then at a cafe for coffee and tostadas. We are all still feeling very flat with not a lot in the legs.
We roll through Arzua and the hills are softening a bit. The rain clears away and the humidity with it. A sleep stop is called and everyone flakes out on some roadside benches. It is now cool but clear and fresh. Just as we think it is getting easier we are faced with a 3k slog out of Amenal but we now have less than 10 miles to Santiago. At the top of the climb and following some signs that take cyclists off the road, we find the Santiago boundary stone just before we reach the airport. As far as we are concerned, we are there. Various calls home are made followed by various photo’s being taken. We then set off again around the airport, through Lavacolla and San Marcos to Monte do Gozo to meet up with Malcolm.
We find the aubergue, again up a very steep climb, and book in before catching a bus down to Santiago. Once there we go to the Pilgrims Office to collect our Compostela and then we ate before starting immediately to plan the return journey back to Bayonne.