Travelling Northern Spain – A tale of Picos and Pinchos (2/3)

The Potes Triangle

The following morning was bright and clear with barely a cloud in the sky. Our planned route was around the coveted Potes Triangle. Unsurprisingly a triangular route around the Picos de Europa. Looking at it on a map it seemed to offer everything from hairpins, tight curves and faster sections with long sweepers. We had also planned a trip up and down the historical Cavadonga gorge along the way to the northwest of the route.

The Portuguese group were in the process of loading up and then left in a northerly direction. If I was to assume they were riding the triangle then they were going anticlockwise which would give us a clear run clockwise as per the planned route.

With the opportunity to travel light we left our luggage in the hotel room and set off towards the centre of Potes before peeling off to the left on the N-621 before reaching the centre. The conditions were close to perfect as we started the steady climb. The road surface inspired confidence and I was soon throwing the big GSA around the bends while enjoying the views. The vistas don’t quite take your breath in the way that they do in the Alps but this could be excused such are the excellent roads and riding.

We stopped at the Mirador del Corzo – Port of San Glorio overlook. It seemed to be a popular spot on account of the number of tour stickers left by previous travellers. I made my contribution with an old Alps 2019 sticker that I had spare. It was maybe out of place and out of context but it is all I had. This was also the home to a statue of a deer. We had been promised deer, wolves and bears but I was yet to see any, let alone be attacked by any threatening wildlife. The statue seemed harmless enough and while I don’t know its story, the shiny patches suggested you give it a rub for luck. I obliged.

The run down to the lakes at Riaño offered a change in riding. The curves got tighter and the overhanging rock often felt a little close for comfort. The road hugged the contours of the rock such that many of the bends were blind. In addition, the roads were quite narrow in places and there was a bit of caution not to meet something travelling from the opposite direction.

The bends were somewhat relentless with the bike constantly flicking left and right. Each bend would come within seconds of the last as they followed the natural path of rock and valley. It was great fun but somewhat of a relief when the roads opened up towards Riaño. We had hoped to drop into the centre and grab a drink but as with much of the journey almost everything seemed closed.

When you just want coffee and cake

I’d never considered what would be the season. Early May just fell in place for everyone’s commitments and judging by the packed ferry we weren’t alone in being desperate to get back into Europe after such a period of travel disruption. What was becoming obvious was that our usual habit of spotting a frequent roadside cafe and stopping was not an option. We would have to either plan ahead or do without. Besides, I’d ditched the kitchen and stove in favour of cameras.

The centre of Riaño felt like a ghost town so after circling a couple of times we left. The road flowed through long fast sweeping bends in contrast to the previous roads. It was a refreshing change and allowed us to stretch the legs of the 1250. At Puerto del Ponton on the N-625 the road reverted to type. The route again followed the natural landscape and its many curves. The route dropped down until eventually following the valley floor along the path of the Sella River.

Having been denied refreshment at Riaño it was a relief to reach the busy town of Cangas de Onís to the top right of our inverted triangle. We were presented with an oasis of open bars, restaurants and cafes. The usual selection of bocadillo sat on the counter of our selected bar. This and a drink of cold coke were all we needed to recharge and refresh.

The Cavadonga Gorge

In c.722 the Moors were defeated in the Asturias at the Battle of Cavadonga. It was the first Christian victory in the Iberian Peninsula over the Arabs who were invading from North Africa. This was the start of the 770-year effort to expel Muslim rulers governing the Iberia during the Reconquista. The Cavadonga gorge that the Christians retreated to and from where they mounted their ambush was our next destination.

I was perhaps thinking that Cavadonga was a small valley with steep sides suitable for chucking a few spears at the Muslims. In reality, it was a relentless climb with steep drops to the side of the road. It’s a good 11 miles from the AS-114 where we had peeled off towards Cavadonga. I’d imagine that the Moors were just too knackered to fight. Certainly, that’s how I was feeling. Many of the bends had made me dizzy and since there’s little else up there other than a car park we stayed just long enough to compose ourselves before the ride back down. The mist had descended on the gorge so we were thankfully spared the views of the roadside drops.

Rejoining the AS-114 we put the tight bends behind us and enjoyed fast sweeping bends for the rest of the run-around and back to Potes with only the briefest of comfort stops at Panes.

Breaking the triangle

The following day’s mission was to put some distance between us and Potes and to get us in a good position to do a route I’d selected through the Asturias. On the face of it, it looked to be faster sweeping roads that we had had over the past couple of days in the Picos. However, we still had business on the triangle before we left.

Within the triangle lies the LE-2703 up through the viewpoint at Puerto de Pandetrave, down through the small village of Posada de Valdeón, before emerging near Puerto del Ponton on the west of the triangle. I had this in mind the previous day while passing on the full Potes Triangle run. I had glanced up to where we were to turn off the triangle and noted how sketchy the track looked. Indeed it was a poor gravelly track lacking the maintenance we had observed on other roads. A check of Google street view however allayed any fears as it showed the track would become a perfectly navigable road.

We turned onto the track and carefully negotiated the road. It was inconsistent with the occasional patch of gravel that could catch out the unwary. We soon reached the viewpoint at Puerto de Pandetrave with all indications that the road thereafter was in good condition. Having taken a few photos of the scenery a local pulled up in a van and proceeded to unload a mountain bike. He seemed very keen to educate us on the area and showed us on a roadside map how far we could take our bikes up the mountain track.

I’m not sure if he appreciated what a dual-sport Metzeler TOURANCE™ NEXT tyre was but it wasn’t going up that rocky track with a fully loaded R1250GS Adventure. We amused him the best we could by appearing interested in the possibility but as soon as he left, so did we.

The roads did indeed improve and we were graced with a good quality tarmac which soon dropped into the village of Posada de Valdeón. Spotting a local worker with a coffee standing outside a cafe that otherwise looked closed we parked up. The Bar Picos de Europa was indeed open and we sought refreshment with the obligatory cafe con leche.

One thing of note in this region of Spain and one that was certainly working to our advantage is that you rarely get a drink without free food. This could be some pinchos with a beer or cold drink or cakes and biscuits with a coffee. Not just the first drink either. The gesture would be repeated on each drink. Used wisely you can forego paying for lunch, which is what we often did.

As stated, our intention was to put some distance between us and the Picos and from Riano we picked up the CL-635 and then the AS-117 with a fantastic and engaging climb towards Mirador valle de Campon. We were soon bearing down on Oviedo before heading south through Parque Natural Las Ubiñas-La Mesa.

Villa de san Martin

I had a box to tick although I nearly missed it. I wanted to get a photo at San Martin, for obvious reasons. The AS-228 that runs into Villa de San Martin is a beauty of a fast road and I was enjoying it. Almost as much as a local on a Triumph (Street Triple?) who had despatched my riding companions before realising that this pod of fat 1250 GSA adventure bikes were motoring. They had obviously misjudged what would be required to pass all of us. Despite me leaving the door open for them to pass they thought better of it leaving me little option but to pick up the pace rather than have the Triumph up my back end.

I approached San Martin at pace having lost all perception of where we were having been in sports bike mode. Spotting the sign I quickly pulled over to get my shot.

We left San Martin with the knowledge that we had maybe an hour ride to our overnight destination. The challenging stuff was behind us so we could settle in and enjoy the scenery and pretty much on the hour we arrived at the indicated location. There was no sign but a bar looked very similar to the pictures on the booking confirmation. In fact, most of the stone-walled buildings looked like the picture on my paperwork. Laden with bags we entered the deserted bar to find where to check-in.

A puzzled woman soon appeared wondering why three guys on adventure bikes were wandering around her bar. The awkward situation was compounded by her not being able to speak English and my not being able to speak Spanish. Despite me trying to communicate on a basic level with words that might be understandable and form some common ground she continued to talk to me at speed and in Spanish.

I produced my booking confirmation and immediately realised by the body language and gestures that this wasn’t the place. There was no let-up in her talking despite me not understanding any of it. It was clear from the pointing that the place we wanted was in the direction of her finger. I nodded and thought the best way to break off this engagement was to quit with the simple words and go full English. “Cheers love, I’ve got the gist. It’s over there, got it. I’ve got the address and I’ll just chuck it in the sat nav. Thanks for your help, I’ll find it”. I know she had no idea what I was saying but it had the desired effect and she walked off to her bar.

While everyone loaded the bikes back up I found the destination on the Navigator 6, clearly shown as an accommodation POI. It was 100 yards back the way we had come and then 3.5km down a single track on the opposite side of the road. The accommodation was a quaint stone-built rustic style property surrounded by the Natural de Babia Nature Reserve.

Rural means rural part 2

Based on the experience on our first night in Spain and given the remote location I did have some concerns that I had not had when making the booking. Again it stated that there was a bar and restaurant however I was told that they don’t serve a la carte and the dinners that were provided needed to be pre-booked, which is exactly what I had done.

Any fear I had when we entered the building and received a warm welcome. Our host spoke good English and we were soon settled in with a cold beer. The property was also home to three huskies and we found common ground as I whipped out my phone and showed pictures of my American Akita back home. We were told that they were originally from Bilbao but wanted to move and set up the business away from it all.

I suspect that she was a chef as the food that had been of such concern was one of the best meals I have ever had. The menu started with a goat’s cheese salad with avocado accompanied by a balsamic and olive oil dressing. There was an additional candied sweet crunch that I regret not asking what it was. This was followed by the most succulent pork in a jus (it would be wrong to just call it gravy. The first two dishes were mopped up with the huge fist-sized chunks of bread that are typically served at every meal in this region of Spain. Finally, a strawberry cream dessert to die for. Unlike our previous experience the husband of our host, despite no apparent English, knew to keep us in wine and beer.

The weather had warmed up considerably since our arrival in Spain but we were reminded of our remote and elevated location the following morning with thick frost on the bikes. The sun was rising above the mountains and the shadows were receding down the road. So much so that by the time we had emerged from our breakfast the sun had removed all trace of the ice that had formed.

Around the Asturias

As the sun shone the bikes were loaded and we were on our way. I had a looping route through the Asturias which would then lead us south to Ponferrada. If there was any concern over the weather I had no doubts that we would be able to warm our bones there. As it was there were no concerns, it was a glorious day and we had some glorious roads ahead of us.

Our route would take us to Villablino from which we would be taking an almost kidney-shaped anticlockwise route around this region of the Asturias before returning through Villablino once again and then south to Ponferrada.

We picked up the LE-497 just past Villablino. The eastern section of this route would climb and descend through fast sweepers with a few hairpin climbs. As you pass from Castile and Leon to the Asturias the road changes to the AS-213. It’s a stunning road that continues through to Cangas del Narcea which is the oldest municipality in the Principality of Asturias in Spain. It is also the largest municipality in Asturias. 

Deviating slightly from our planned route for a fuel stop on the far side of Cangas del Narcea, we turned around and headed out of town on the AS-15. This was a lower road and snaked along the path of the Rio Narcea. We made good pace and were soon bearing down on Villablino again.

We picked up the CL-631 which was a good fast route down to Ponferrada. This was never intended to be a long day since we had planned to hit the bars in Ponferrada and do some sightseeing around the fortress occupied by the Knights Templar in the Middle Ages, the Castillo de los Templarios.

Ponferrada

By the time we arrived at Ponferrada around midday, the sun was shining and the temperature was in the upper twenties. Sometime before our departure I was in the local BMW dealer booking a service. It was during this visit that my Navigator VI started playing up. It had happened once before but rectified itself. The screen jumped around as if some ghostly hand was operating it, fumbling randomly at the buttons. It’s a common problem on this model and unsurprisingly known as ‘ghosting’.

I was told that a screen recalibration is a usual fix but I had a particularly bad case and the device was crashing during the calibration routine. Frustratingly the unit was just out of warranty and the dealer was getting nowhere with BMW. I know that people have had units replaced and I also knew that newer models support a newer part number suggesting that revisions have been made.

I was concerned that this was going to be an issue on the trip but didn’t have the time or the appetite to engage in a customer service battle with BMW or Garmin. The other bikes had Navigators that had not shown any symptoms so the backup plan was to make sure that the routes were loaded on those devices. In fact, one of them was the newer model.

I understand that the problem is that the polymer screen can be affected by temperature causing the screen to register these ‘ghost’ interactions. I was aware that my device had been sitting in a cool garage all winter and with this in mind, I went about a warm-up and deep clean with my computer screen cleaner. It worked and I finally managed to do a full-screen recalibration.

Fingers crossed it had behaved exemplary up to now with the previous destination problem being put down to my human error when marking the hotel’s location. However, in the Ponferrada sunshine, I had no concerns that the satnav would have any issues with the cold.

Those city streets

What would be a problem would be the satnav interpretation of inner-city road layouts. I was aware that the parking would be under the plaza that our hotel overlooks as is typical in Spain. In fact, they have some reserved parking slots and we had requested one confident that all three motorcycles would happily fit in the space of a single car. The entrance to the underground parking was not direct but I had planned a route that would lead us around the inner city to its location.

The problem now was the Navigator was asking me to go down streets that appeared to me to be no entry. I have experienced this before during my time visiting my Dads apartment and our frequent trips to do banking in Fuengirola. Again the parking is under the plaza and to access it we would cross traffic and go down an access road that only locals and those in the know would even think of using. I think this was one of those circumstances but I’d already bailed and the satnav was screaming at me to recalculate.

I knew exactly where I wanted to be and on a map it would appear simple. It was the signage denying me access that was the problem. I’d pulled into a carpark to see what my options were. I pulled up the single destination waypoint, the entrance to the car park. Strangely the route now decided it wanted to take my right out of town and approach from the opposite side. This was despite me thinking I was only 100 yards away or so from where I wanted to be. I circled the carpark to make sure the satnav was calibrated to the direction I was pointing. It made no difference and it still wanted to take me out of town and across a bridge that looked like it was going to take me on a carretera way out of town.

Fighting the traffic and barking directions over the comms to my companions who were falling behind in the maze of lanes and roundabouts I finally picked up the suggested route. We swung around the opposite side of the plaza and were suddenly right in front of the ramp down to the underground parking we were looking for. The cool underground carpark was a welcome change from the heat and frustration of the last twenty minutes. We descended again until we found the designated spot on level -2.

We crossed the Plaza Ayuntamiento and into the hotel. The checking was refreshingly brief and efficient. It was clear that we were in a place well used to dealing with tourists. Ponferrada is the last major town on the French route of the Camino de Santiago before it reaches Santiago de Compostela. The Camino de Santiago, known in English as the Way of St James, is a network of pilgrims’ ways or pilgrimages leading to the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

to be continuedin part 3

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