Friday, 4 February 2011

The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain (a retro blog).

A few years ago my sister and I hatched a mad plan. We decided to go and visit an old childhood friend for a long weekend.....................................The only slight complication was that our friend lives in central Spain, we were going to do the trip on my motorbike and the only time we were both free to go was in October!
We'd practically grown up with Jill and her brother Noel, their parents were family friends and we'd holidayed together as families when we were kids. When she finished college Jill had gone to Spain to teach English and had never come back. She met a Spanish guy (Carlos) and set up her own language School in her adopted home town of Caceres. My sis (Jules) and I had bumped into her from time to time when she was home in Yorkshire visiting her family and Jules had visited her in Spain while she was on holiday there. I'd not been to Spain since I was a kid.
   We booked the ferry from Portsmouth to Bilbao in northern Spain and hoped for a settled spell of weather and began getting the necessary kit together for the trip. I managed to blag an intercom so Jules could navigate from the rear of the bike, Jules went out and bought new bike leathers for the trip and either already had or borrowed the other bike gear she'd need. All too soon it was time to go.
I left Helensburgh and rode south to spend the night at Jules' house in Manchester, the forecast was pretty bad for the whole trip and as I was passing Preston on the M6 the heavens opened. It was the kind of rain that looks like it's bouncing back up as it's so heavy and the traffic slowed to about 20mph. I could do nothing but laugh to myself at the absurdity of my situation as my supposedly waterproof bike boots filled up with water! Eventually it moderated to a downpour and I arrived at Jules' place a little soggy but otherwise unscathed.
Next morning it was dry but overcast as we left Manchester and continued south. The forecast was for more rain, indeed the whole trip sounded like it was going to be a damp and windy affair, not great riding conditions.
Thankfully my bike was a capable beast, a Honda VFR 800 sports tourer, capable of 150mph but comfy and surefooted with ABS and electric heated handgrips!
As we passed Stoke on Trent the rain started again, we didn't need to stop as we'd assumed it would rain and already had wet weather gear on. Jules had never been on the back of this particular bike before (although she's been a biker on and off as long as me) and when we stopped for lunch on the M6 toll she admitted she was feeling it a bit (riding a bike is like any activity, you become more comfortable the more you do it). We made good time down England (there was no reason to dawdle in such crap weather) and we realised we were going to arrive in Portsmouth too early so we stopped at a Little Chef and had cherry pancakes with ice cream and a thousand cups of tea to kill time.
 The ferry was reassuringly huge with bars, restaurants and a nightclub, once I'd watched the guys tie my bike down we went up and got our cabin (it was an inside cabin, all the outside ones had already been booked) and got out of our wet gear and had a nice hot shower then we headed off to explore and eat dinner. The ferry was busy with people heading to Spain for the half-term holiday and everyone was checking out the facilities for the 36 hour crossing. We barely noticed that we'd left Portsmouth but almost immediately the sea became quite rough. After eating Jules started to feel a bit ropey and headed back to the cabin to lie down and start eating sea sickness pills, I headed to the bar with my book and chilled out whilst reading  and necking a few pints. After a little while the boat became deserted as everyone became affected by the ferry's lurching progress, fortunately I felt okay so I kept the Australian barmaid company in her deserted realm for a few hours! When I got back to the cabin Jules had got rid of her dinner and was looking distinctly green, poor girl!
During the night we were kept awake by bow door banging and I became convinced that my beautiful bike would be reduced to a pile of broken plastic down on the car deck. The journey dragged on as we turned into the Bay of Biscay the swell peaked at 8 metres! The ferry was like a ghost ship and I only felt comfy either lying in my bed or upstairs where there were windows and I could keep the horizon in view. Poor Jules continued to be violently sick through the crossing but I was okay. Eventually we docked in Bilbao and with some trepidation we headed down to the car deck to see what remained of my bike, amazingly it was unscathed, those P&O guys know how to tie stuff down!
We rode out of Bilbao on a dual carriageway, it was dry but overcast and pretty cold (the air temperature gauge on the bike was showing 6 degrees C) the road rose sharply out of Bilbao and once we were clear of the city I gunned the bike up to 120mph. I wasn't bothered about getting caught speeding, traps aren't too frequent in Spain and I knew it'd be an on the spot fine if I was unlucky enough to get caught and no points, it was a chance to let my baby fly! The countryside was rugged but scenic, reminding me of the top of the Pennines in Britain and as we progressed south the road became a single carriageway and I slowed to a more sensible speed. We stopped briefly for coffee and fuel then pushed on.
As the morning wore on the weather started to get brighter, it warmed up and the scenery became stunning. This was what I'd hoped riding in Spain would be like, deserted well surfaced roads, great scenery and sunshine, even my boots started to dry out! Around 2pm we stopped for lunch at a roadside hotel.
We had a long lazy lunch before hitting the road again, we still had a fair way to go (it's almost 400 miles from Bilbao to Caceres) and the road was now winding and slow if you got stuck behind traffic. We did some exciting overtakes and I managed to get the front wheel up overtaking a truck (no mean feat on a fully laden 220kg bike!)
We hit Caceres right on rush hour. I'd expected a sleepy quiet town but it was a busy regional centre. Jules now decided that she couldn't remember where Jill and Carlos lived so we spent a fraught half hour exploring the town's one way system and doing a few laps! Eventually we got lucky and Jill met us and guided us to her house (named "Echo Hill" after a place near where we grew up).

Time to catch up, meet Mimi (Jill and Carlos' adopted daughter), freshen up and take an evening stroll (dinner is very late in Spain). It was beautiful, Caceres is a lovely old university town with stunning architecture and great views.

After a stroll we ate dinner then Jill dragged us out to her local for some pints of Guinness (really!) while Carlos kindly took on babysitting duties. We eventually emerged from the pub at 3am and wobbled home where Jill tried to unlock the door without waking everyone up!
The next morning we woke late, Jill had classes to take, Carlos was at work and Mimi was at school so Jules and I entertained ourselves wandering about, drinking coffee and generally trying to recover from the excesses of the night before.
Caceres is famous for it's population of storks, most had flown south for winter but one or two remained.


After lunch we wandered back to meet Jill and Mimi and went to the local plaza for a drink and to enjoy the afternoon sunshine while Mimi played. 

Later we met Carlos from work and went out sightseeing and for dinner.

Then it was home for an earlier night in readiness for the journey back up Spain the next morning.
Carlos warned us that the forecast was terrible as we loaded up the bike and prepared to leave but there was nothing for it but to push on. We had to catch the ferry back in a days time as Jules had to be back at work and the ferry only runs twice a week.
As we left Caceres it was dry but overcast with a strong blustery wind. Within half an hour the rain had started lashing down and the wind gained in strength. It was scary as the bike was blown off course by the ferocious gusts and visibility was really bad overtaking the heavy traffic. After a while I got into a rhythm (you can only stay scared for so long before you settle down and start to adapt to the conditions) but it was far from pleasant. It all went quiet on the intercom and I guessed that Jules was getting cold so after a couple of hours we stopped at a strange roadside place for a coffee and cake and to warm up then it was back out into the relentless rain and wind. The morning passed in a blur and we had lunch in the Spanish equivalent of a truck stop (complete with starched white table cloths and waiters in formal dress!) No one batted an eyelid at two soggy foreigners in bike leathers though. Then it was on towards Burgos where we left our route down and headed northwest to skirt the edge of the Picos de Europa national park. We stopped for fuel and the rain let up then the road started to rise and sweeping turn followed sweeping turn it was superb riding and we both enjoyed trying to ground the footrests on the fantastic constant radius bends and hairpins. The road topped out at a high pass then plummeted down into a series of canyons that reminded me of a cowboy film.

   By now it was getting late so it was time to look for somewhere to stop. We chanced upon a nice quiet hotel just off the main road and an easy morning's ride from Bilbao. We got a room and enjoyed a relaxing evening with a nice meal, and a few drinks (just what we needed after a day of contrasting riding conditions).
The next morning we took a token cheesy matching leathers team photo in our room before leaving!
We rode north to the coast then took the motorway which runs from Santander to Bilbao, it was easy riding and the sun was out although the blustery wind remained. We made Bilbao in good time and had a long wait on the docks before we were allowed to board the ferry.
Eventually we boarded and went through the cabin allocation ritual again. As the ship left Bilbao it was still calm and sunny but Jules had been tucking into the seasickness pills since we'd first arrived at the docks in preparation for what we knew was to come! We had a nice time watching the goings on from the top of the ship as she departed.

Then it was back into the rough weather ritual during the return crossing. Jules managed a bit better this time and sent me to forage for food for her to eat without the risk of leaving the cabin too often!
She did manage the odd foray into the outside world though!
We docked in Portsmouth in the evening, it was dark but not raining and we just pushed on back up to Manchester and the oasis that was Jules place. I chilled out there the next day then bimbled back to Scotland.
It was a bit of a crazy idea to go all that way for such a short stay and at that time of year but the abiding memories are of a fun trip, some beautiful scenery and great company.

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