Route: San Martin de Losa – Hierro – Medina de Pomar – Espinosa de los Monteros – Reinosa – Cervera de Pisuerga – Guardo – Boñar
It was sweltering hot the day I left my campsite next to the potato field.Via San Martin de Losa I rode, all via super quiet country roads and tracks, to Quincoces de Yuso.There’s a bakery and a small fruteria where you can buy all the necessary, provided you are willing to wait long, very long.Service is super slow and, untypical, and in both shops, very unfriendly.
Next up was the ‘Ermita de San Pantaleon de Losa’, a small church built on a high rock.I left my bike at a house with some friendly locals and hiked to the top.The Ermita itself was closed, but the views definitely worth the climb.
Following provincial road BU-550 along the Rio Jerea, I come at a fork.Right will bring me directly to Medina de Pomar, but I drew my route to the left, via the small settlement of Hierro.Nothing to see there, only the fact that I think it
Route: Etxalar – San Sebastian – Lekunberri – Vitoria-Gasteiz – Berberana
Waking up in spain the next morning, me, and the hill tops around me are bathing in a sea of clouds. What a sight. It is if I were a couple of thousand meter above sea level, while I’m standing at barely 400 meters asl. I take it very easy in the morning. The last days have been hectic enough, and I intend to take a hotel for one are two nights in Lesaka.
The downhill over a good track into Etxalar is very steep. This is were the difference between v-brakes and good disc brakes show. I’m torturing my rims. Etxalar is a very neat little town. A tv crew was just making some shots, even of me enterig the village. Who knows I will appear on TVE 🙂
There was a sign outside the tourist info, about Carmen, and an opera, and a girl from
Initially, the Via Lemovicensis has two possible varieties: a northern one via Bourges and a southern one via Nevers. Looking at these options, as always, I could not decide which one to take, so, as always, I decide to do a bit of both. I start on the northern section, allowing me to ride to La Charité-Sur-Loire. From here, I can take a hard option, the GR654 towards Nevers, or an easier option along the Loire River. This way, I think I will see the best of the northern and the southern options on the Via Lemovicensis. The off-road tracks I’m following are marvelous, but there’s some pushing to be done. 16% up, towards La Charité even 26% down….
A little stretch of about hundred meter was overgrown with thorns and fallen trees but mostly it was super pleasant
Some trips start riding away from home, some with a flight and this time with a train ride. I didn’t fancy riding through the built up northern part of Belgium again where it is so hard to find a wild camping spot. So, a train ride to Marcienne-Au-Pont it was. I never heard of the place before, but it happens to be the last train station before the city of Charleroi. A not very appealing city with all the problems of a place in decline. The suburb of Marcienne-Au-Pont did not escape it’s destiny.
A place to leave a.s.a.p.
It was only a kilometer or so the Samber River and the bicycle path alongside it. Some works at the electricity plant forced me of the track and on the first hill after a few kilometer. Much sooner as expected. Months of sedentary life off the bike and in front of a laptop have taken their toll, resulting not only in eleven kg I gained, but also in my condition that has disappeared completely. It’ll take a few months to solve that again.
Descending back to the Samber river, the next hours were easy riding along the bike path and later on the Ravel (old railway lines turned to bike paths). I passed Chimay, where the abbey is famous for making beer and cheese. I read somewhere it can’t be visited, and anyway, on my first day out, I didn’t have ‘time’ for that. The Ravel ends just outside Lompret. I have to tackle some typical steep Ardennes climb before arriving in Couvin where I stop to eat my last Belgian fries for a while. Upon leaving Couvin, a very steep climb leads into the ‘Bois de Petigny’, a forest where I planned to camp. 97 km on day one after that train ride in the morning. Tired, but happy I reached the place.
There is a track going right south through the ‘Bois de Petigny’ towards the French border, but it’s private property. I have to descend towards Oignies-En-Thiérache, where I pick up the last part of the ‘Via Monastica’, a hiking trail in the network of Santiago-de-Compostella routes. The track climbes back into the forest, first sandy, than muddy due to the recent rains.
Back on a small asphalt road, I almost missed the non-descript sign marking the Belgian-French border. This is also the end of the ‘Via Monastica’ and the start of the ‘Via Campaniensis’ one of the trails through France towards Santiago-de-Compostella in Spain.
I am not on my way to Santiago, but in my search for a quiet route through France I stumbled on this one, and why reinvent the hot water ?
Still, I invested a lot of time in researching the route, as it is important to be on dirt roads, away from traffic, but also to avoid the places you can’t pass with a bike.
Rocroi (also written Rocroy) is the first French village on the route. A fortified village in the shape of a star. No more easy Ravels, no more smooth Greenways. From now it’s up and down, just as the terrain goes. I exchanged the Belgian for the French Ardennes. The topography is the same.
A few kilometer outside L’échelle, a village with a beautiful church and the ‘mairie’ in the castle, I already leave the Via Campaniensis for a while and pick up the GR654, the old and now lesser used hiking trail. In Signy-L’abbaye both routes join again and I continue on the Campaniensis.
The landscape is slowly flattening a bit and the forested hills of the Ardennes make place for huge agricultural fields with sometimes amazing views but where the wind blows hard in the face.
South of Hauteville follows such a stretch. Beautiful riding over good gravel, but that wind…. Camping places are hard to find here, let alone places that are a bit protected from the wind.
Sunday, quite some rain is predicted and I want to take a rest day, so need a good place for two nights. I find it in a small forest on a hill top just outside L’écaille.
The rest day is spent with resting(-) and reading a Poirot novel, ‘Appointment With Death’.
Riding towards Reims, I am also leaving the French Ardennes and enter a new department: Marne.
Reims, a town of 185.000 people is a royal city. In the past, kings used to be crowned here. I cycle passed the first Champagne houses, passed the Porte de Mars, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame with her 2.300 statues. Ten para-commando’s, walking in pairs are guardening the cathedral against those who like to bring terror to our region. I also paid a visit to the Basilique Saint-Remi, with a statue of Clovis who was Christened in Reims (but that happened at the Cathedral, not here).
After Reims, I started riding through the vineyards that produce the famous champagne. Gradients are steep, 10, 12, 13%.
The village of Hautvillers is very touristic. Car drivers suddenly are aggressive. No time to lose, I guess. There ’s a church with a tomb for Dom Periginon, the man who supposedly fine-tuned the champagne making process. I think the Dom Periginon champagne house is next to it, but it was closed.
I am descending steeply through more vineyards towards the river Marne, and climb just as steep back up. Epernay, the ‘capital’ of the champagne region is to my left. It doesn’t look very inviting from up in the hills, so I don’t visit it. For the first time this trip, I climbed more than a thousand meter in a day, namely 1.001 meter.
I ride through the outskirts of Sézanne, but don’t really visit the city.
There’s some really nice riding following now, first through a forest, later through endless fields with good views all round. The farmers are hard at work harvesting all the grain. I should have stopped here to camp somewhere. I still had some food, but wanted something nicer, so rode into Anglure where I find the first supermarket since quite a while. Problem is, after Anglure, you soon hit the ‘Canal de la Haute Seine’. Probably the easiest riding I will have in the foreseeable future, but also a bad place to find a spot for the night. One side is the canal, the other side commercial forest with impossible ground to pitch a tent. Eventually I find something next to a corn field. Should ‘ve continued riding a bit longer, because I see better options the next day.
I’m reading Peter Sagans book ‘My World’. I don’t think he really wrote it himself. It has some good bits, but most of it is…. well, just not well written.
Troyes, the capital of Aube departement, is an old medieval town. Stunning cathédral, and way, way too many tourists in the small streets. I rode around a bit, looking at the sights, face mask and my bandana over it, than left town.
That strong head wind I had the last days is back again as well.
After Laines-aux-Bois the road climbs towards Montaigu. Good views again towards the surroundings. A nice long ride through the forest follows, where I have to negotiate the bike passed or over dozens of fallen trees. Than, as you finally ride out of the forest, again, a nice view to the surrounding land below you.
I make it a short day and stop in the pelgrims gîte of Sommeval. Time to do some more laundry, recharge the things I can’t recharge with my little solar panel (laptop & shaver), make a nice meal and sit in the sun.
I redraw the route for tomorrow a bit. There’s an interesting highlight, a bit away from my original route, that I don’t want to miss.
Crossing the ‘Canal de Bourgogone’, and a few hundred meters further on the ‘L’Armançon’ river, I not only left the Aube department and entered Yonne department, I also entered the ‘Bourgogne Franche-Compté’ region.
I’m heading towards the largest cistercian abbey in the world, which stands in the village of Pontigny. I found out about this place only a few days before my departure, and thought it worthwhile to make the detour. I left the Via Campaniensis in Ervy-Le-Chatel and rode via quiet country roads to the abbey. It’s a big thing, but not as big as some cathedrals I saw along the way. Definitely go out and have a look around the back for best views of the building. Inside, it is almost empty.
After my visit to the abbey, I rode towards another famous place to pick up my original route again, Chablis. After the famous Champagne places, I am now in the most famous place of the Bourgogne wines. Vineyards on all hills, as far as the eye can see. Steep hills. Leaving town I have multiple hard stretches, up and down about 15%. It’s hard in what is the hottest day so far on this trip.
I camped in the forest a few kilometer after Saint-Cyr-Les-Colons. It opened up to some fields with splendid views the next morning. An initially easy descent, becoming steeper and steeper led me into Cravant, a town that doesn’t seem to like cyclists as virtually every street has a sign specifically warning it s prohibited for bicycles.
From Cravant I had two options to continue to Vézelay. The hard one, following the Via Campaniensis with, looking at the elevations, some more steep climbing, or an easy one for cyclists along the Canal Du Nivernais. Given the very hard work yesterday out of Chablis, I thought I earned a bit of a relaxed day and chose the latter option. Flat riding, picnic tables, the odd village…. a complete different experience then what I had the last days and a nice change. In Châtel-Censoir I left the canal and climbed over the hill towards Vézelay.
Around the year 1.000, the relics of Saint (Maria) Magdalena were kept in the towns’ basilica to save them from the hands of the Saracens. In the 16th century, the most important relics were burned after all by the Huguenots (= Protestants). There are splendid views to the Morvan region from the park behind the basilica.
This is the end point of the Via Campanienses. Vézelay is also a start point for many ‘pelgrims’ on their way to Santiago de Compostella. There’s a popular route going via Le Puy-En-Velay, but I’ve been there a couple of years ago, so I go west of the Massif Central, following the ‘Via Lemovicensis.
More about that in the next part.
I plan to ride a considerable percentage of this trip off-road so I aimed to lighten the gear as much as possible and I wanted to get rid of the front panniers to ease passage on narrow trails.
As it is not a short trip of a few weeks (I hope), I have to be prepared for weather conditions in the range of -5°C upto 40°C. That, combined with the fact that for this longer trips, I like to have a certain level of comfort (i.e. a decent 2p tent, decent stove & pots, clothing…) going real lightweight won’t be possible.
Cycling with a backpack, even light and small, is not an option for me, I learned in the past. It is sweaty and my back really starts to hurt after a while. So all of the below will be packed in two dry bags and two panniers.
One dry bag in the front with sleeping bag, liner bag and pillow.
The dry bag on the rear rack has the tent and mattress. All the rest is in the two panniers. Initially I wanted to squeeze it all in two small (front) Ortlieb panniers. It is possible, but it would leave no space for food and toilet paper, so I will use the normal standard rear Ortlieb panniers, giving me ample space to carry lots of food for stretches where I won’t see a shop for a while (f.e. Cantabrian Mountains and other parts in Spain and Portugal), or for when I want to carry enough food for a rest day wild camping in the mountains or forest.
Obvious ways to spare a few grams would be to leave the footprint of the tent behind, which I don’t want, for obvious protection. Or, I could use my gas stove i.o. the multifuel stove, but I know from experience these gas canisters are not at all easy to find in remoter areas.
I considered leaving the laptop behind but decided against it. It’s an easy back-up with all my maps and routes in case something happens with the gps, and being away so long (hopefully), means there’s all sorts of stuff one has to arrange from time to time.
I think this is the best I could do to make it as light as possible for this kind of trip.