Via Verdes

Posted by on 10, Jul 2022 in 2022 - Camino, Spain, Tilly the Tandem

Via Verdes

Spain has a great network of Via Verdes – Greenways- old railway lines converted into multi use paths.  They are usually relatively flat and if there is an incline it’s 2% or less.  We followed one north out of Burgos on the Old Santander to the Med railway.  This was the last railway built privately in Spain and was started in 1924.  It never got finished and the project was killed by the World Bank in 1959, falling 36km short of Santander. It’s now largely a Via Verde, though the longest tunnel built in Spain (at that time) of 7km has collapsed meaning a significant detour for walkers and cyclists if they follow the path all the way to Santander, which we aren’t doing.

It’s a gorgeous cycle route as it passes almost inaccessible countryside, with no roads and building anywhere for long stretches.  When you do pass a few houses there’s usually a derelict station looking quite forlorn and sad.  It’s a pity these weren’t renovated when the line was converted to a path.  

It’s also almost all on a gradient, so the first 20km leaving Burgos were all up, then the next 40km all down. It’s a very gentle gradient but we managed to roll for about 15km after reaching the summit.  We might have rolled further but the thunder storm behind us that was creeping up encouraged us to pedal a bit to try to out run it.  It’s definitely one of our favourite all time cycles, but rural Spain is full of those!

We reached our village for the night and yet again rolled into Oña, a gorgeous little place with a couple of small squares lined with bars and restaurants and an enormous old Monastery.  The hotel owner told us that it was bigger than the village and though no longer a monastery it still is an amazing sight and a glimpse into a vanished past. 

Our room had a glorious view of the church and tower and the bells, which chimed every quarter of an hour…. Errrr.  That’s going to make sleeping a bit problematic we thought, but after Linda cooked a fabulous pasta in the communal hotel kitchen we wandered around the village, had a drink and then retired for the night just as people were starting to go for dinner!  Nothing new there then. 

In front of the church we noticed there was a bonfire with a Guy on top with hair a bit like Bojo.  Now I’m not advocating burning our glorious almost ex leader / buffoon (depending on your politcal leaning) but by the time he was set on fire we were sound asleep and missed his demise and when we opened the curtains, around midnight, to see what all the noise was about he’d been turned into something useful for the garden and people were milling around his ashes not looking sad at all.  This was the feast for the Nativity of St John the Baptist and the whole village (minus us sleepy heads) had been there for the inferno and fireworks, which we also slept through!

The next morning we set off on the last bit of the via verde and then had to divert on to the road as the bridges were not finished yet to the next town.  The Spanish via Verdes are superb and they spend money encouraging tourists to the region to cycle and walk here. We were, however the only cyclists we saw on the whole route, perhaps due to it being midweek or early in the season, but I’d highly recommend this route.

Our way off the Via Verde was following a small road back along the river to Miranda.  This was again another gorgeous cycle as the valley got narrower and narrower until we squeezed through a gorge with the river beside us and the mountains towering above us at 1400m (4500ft).

A great hotel, an Indian and a nice bar made a fab end to the day and left us ready for the next days short hop to Vitoria, the capital of the Basque area.

The route there is not nice.  There is a small valley that the road, rail and river follows to get between the mountains.  It’s so narrow that until they built the motorway there was only one road, and that’s the road we had to take. This is a dual carriageway and is a slightly eerie experience.  The old truck stops and service stations are all abandoned as all the traffic now uses the motorway and we did feel a bit like we were in an apocalyptic movie.

Getting to this road is actually almost impossible for a cyclist though. 5 years ago when we cycled through here on our Gibraltar to the UK trip we actually took the motorway for one junction as that really is the only road for a short section.  This year there was a great big No Bikes sign up to prevent us and we had to wind our way across farm tracks avoiding the 5 million snails on there own personal Camino’s crossing the road but we did  eventually find our way back to the dual carriageway.

Vitoria- Gasteiz is the capital of the Basque region and home to a large monument commemorating Wellington’s victory over the French own the liberation of Spain from Napoleon. We obviously paid our respects to it and commented that now under Brexit he’d never have been able to liberate Spain as it took more than the 90 days he’d be allowed in the country as one of the Brexit Dividends!

Loads of local people on this trip have commented on Brexit to us and, as yet, none have had anything good to say about it all commenting that it’s so bad for the UK and EU.  Obviously the Daily Mails readership doesn’t extend to the EU.

Anyway, we had a day off in Vitoria and did very very little except rest.  We set off the following day, southwards (errr, lost again!) on another Via Verde to climb out of Vitoria on another old railway that snaked its way up into the hills.  We left it just as it darted into the mountains and had a gorgeous cycle through the valley on a perfect day, stopping at a church for lunch on a bench before arriving at a small village for the night where again vegetarian meant tuna salad or Spanish omelette. We’re beginning to look forward to France!!

The road then begins to climb as it joins yet another via Verde bound for San Sebastian just as we rolled into a campsite (first time in 2600km of carrying our tent!) for a quiet night preparing for the long downhill.

This via Verde has 37 tunnels covering around 6km in length, one was 2.7km long and some are lit, some aren’t and some are like cycling a river bed.  The route is miles from civilisation and is a fabulous quiet route with just you and the birds, but the surface can be challenging.  A lady ahead of us fell off her bike after zooming past us.  She didn’t have any lights and really in the tunnels you need a good headlight to see all the potholes and cracks in the water.

We were fine but quite slow, especially considering it was downhill for most of the day and we eventually arrived at the Atlantic and San Sebastian, surprisingly a lot more tired than you’d imagine from basically a long roll.  The surface varied from ok to extremely poor, with repairs consisting of tipping loose barrow loads of rubble into holes then waiting for cyclists to fall off on them to flatten them down.  We did an awful lot of hopping on and off Tilly and even then cycleable sections were quite ‘technical’.  Still, we both thoroughly enjoyed the ride / roll / push and of course, the tunnels, but were ready for another rest day in San Sebastian.

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