7/9/16 and (Spanish) lunch time in Villafranco del Berzo

Yes, I’m here, 56km on from the lovely Rabanal del Camino and I’ve been up and over Cruz de Fero.

I was up, packed and on the bike at 07:17 before the sun rose.  The sky was lightening from black but I’d had to load the bike by head torch as it was so dark in the courtyard and I needed the bike lights for the first 45 minutes I think.  I couldn’t see what the Garmin was saying as I’d forgotten to switch its backlight on and wasn’t going to stop to change that.  Perhaps as well as the first hour was relentless climbing and I probably wouldn’t have been helped by seeing how slowly I was going, whatever the gradient was at that moment or what my heart rate was.  I decided to keep things as slow as I could without falling off (oh for a couple of lower gears, as I know repeatedly moan here!)

No blame on the Samsung camera, ‘photos can’t convey things.  This was first photocall (and chance to drop the heart rate), sun still wasn’t up.


A bit later and higher and by now the sun was really rising.



And I crawled through the first, absolutely tiny, hamlet.  That’s the first of those circular dwellings I’ve seen and so far the only one but I believe they’re a feature of this area.

It’s all about exposure but this is a fair flavour of what it felt like looking back, but it can’t capture anything  of the sheer vastness of the views.


The cycle route isn’t marked as formally as the walking  route but there are lots of spray painted white arrows on the road where there are turnings so it’s usually easy to find the way.  At one point, now I couldn’t see the gradient on the Garmin as the only way I could keep going was to cycle  standing up, the same white spray paint had painted a grimacing emoticon.  I was not going to stop to take a ‘photo but I appreciated the humour in a wry sort of way: I really felt that someone else, the painter, was his name Elvis?, had suffered as I was.  Of course, I strongly suspect the kindly painters whose work I so much appreciate actually do the roads by infernal combustion engine.  Here’s a later one on a downhilll bit:


Yup, that captured my state well at that point and sure enough, round the next bend the road kicked up again but almost immediately I was at the (false) summit of the Cruz de Fero (cross of iron).  Much of the mound is said to be made of stones that pilgrims carried up there and left asking them to be taken as sins to be wiped out by the pilgrimage.  The man kneeling was very still and  I hope he felt some release as he looked to be asking for something or involved in something profound for him.  As so often on this journey, I felt an intruder, sareligious and didn’t join him and the others there and, after taking my ‘photos and hoping that wasn’t intrusive, I cycled on.  There’s a bit of up and down still and my pedantically, excellently, correct guidebook underlines that the Cruz de Fero is a false summit.  However, the short up and down bit gave me some time to ponder why I wasn’t addressing my sins there.  I decided that, many though they be, (rather religious, Bunyanish phrasing), that’s not really why I’m doing this; I don’t believe there’s someonee (other than those I hurt) to forgive me; nor do I think that dwelling on my failures and failings is what this whole journey is about.


The views in the next short section were sensational but I thik a seriously good camera, moderate telephoto and real skill would be needed to capture it. Trust me, in the early light and the morning haze, it was stunning.


Self-portraits gorging on the sights:




Then this:


Right next to this:



Well, I don’t know about outstanding, but I was a bit smugly thinking I had been quite strong to get there without stopping.  (Yes, OK, there were those photo stops but they were for you, honestly!)

I suspect that the Spanish says “savage descents for 15km” and if it does, it’s right.  The next 15km passed fast.  The road hairpins and the surface is mostly good but with the odd pothole and loose stone and I agreed with the guidebook advice to stop intermittently to let the brakes cool and I used the brakes a lot but still hit 57kph.  You slow to go through the beautiful Al Acebo:


The Garmin says that the highest point was 1,462m, that the elevation gain, by which I think it means the sum total of the upward bits, was 471m, which sounds trivial now, and that the sum descent was 1,055m which I can believe.

The irony was that, having gone to these extremes to avoid roasting today (another yellow heat warning) and despite wearing a long sleeved top and a short sleeved top (what are sleeves?  I’ve hardly worn any since Chartres) … I realised when I hauled into Ponferrada that I was frozen from the windchill on the descent.  I could hardly hold my change until I’d cupped my hands around two cafés cortado (and my first churro of the trip).

Ponferrada templars castle:


Glorious, but the sun was heating up, I was thawing out and I bashed on to the next castle: Villafranca del Bierzo where I am now.


It’s now 14.30 but I’ve found a cheap hotel, put Toto in their garage and been entrusted with the garage key so I can get away early again tomorrow, I’ve uploaded the Garmin data, created the maps, uploaded the ‘photos, done this blog entry, and updated the page about the days so it gives a chronological overview of the posts.  I think that’ll make more sense to anyone joining this blog late or later and I think I needed to do that to take stock.

Here’s today’s height:


You can really see the “outstanding strong” net descent as you can in the gradient map:


Here’s speed:


and heart rate:


Peaked at 162bpm according to Garmin.

Here’s cumulative, elevation only:


OK.  Hotel is fine but room is stuffy so I’m off to see if I can find somewhere in the shade with wifi, and to see some of the sights.  More later.  (Oh dear, and that reminds me, more serious up and down work tomorrow and, I think, most of the way now from here to the end.

Share this:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *