Spain: Castilla y León, Prt 2

Route: Valladolid – Palencia – Alar Del Rey – Medina de Rioseco – Tordesillas – Salamanca – Puerto de Béjar
Route Castilla y Leon 2
My route in this part of the blog, going first north from Valladolid, then south through Salamanca back towards the Extremadura.

Leaving Castilla y Leóns capital Valladolid, I may have found the easier terrain to cycle, along the Castilla Canal, but now the weather conditions turned against me. The weather forecast predicted seven days of almost continuous rain. The path along the canal is just gravel, so it could become a dirty mess.

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Typical stretch of the path along the Castilla Canal.
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A map of the Castilla Canals. I started with the southern fork in Valladolid, then cycled to the northern tip in Alar Del Rey, returned the same way towards Grijota and then the northern fork towards Medina de Rioseco.

The canal on my left side, I only had to look to the right for a possible camping spot. But there is the railway line from Madrid to Irun. As the sky got darker and darker, I took a right turn, away from the canal in Las Ventas, hoping to find a spot for the night. It’s all fields here and in the end I settled for a field which was recently mowed and plowed and with a line of trees protecting me for the strong winds.

Just after I pitched the tent, the downpour started, with more winds.

Next morning I found the tent to be surrounded completely by mud, the tent pegs could barely hold the tent up in the soft stuff. I packed as carefully as possible, trying to get everything more or less clean. The bike was leaning against a tree, with a flat tyre in the back. Oh, perfect, this is the exact time and place I dream of to change tubes.

I rode on to Palencia and was lucky to have a window of two hours without rain and settled down in a hotel for two nights. Went around a bit on the second day to look at the town.

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Catédral de San Antolin, Palencia
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Above the entrance door of the cathedral.

Continuing along the Castilla Canal, it forks a bit after the village Grijota. I take the right fork, going north. For a while, I ride just next to the small ‘Canal de la Retencion’. Behind a line of trees, fifty meters further on runs the Canal de Castilla parallel to it. The path is muddy, spongy from all the rain. I cross the Rio Carrion, that same river I already met in the Cordillera Cantabrica, where they dammed it to create the Embalse de Camporredondo and the Embalse de Compuerto. With all these damming, diverting the water into into irrigation channels, etc…. not much is left of the natural flow of the river and I guess no serious fish life can survive that way. But I did see a polecat, or something similar from the marten family today.

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One of the locks in the canal.
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At the crossing of the Castilla Canal and the Rio Carrion, where the river is feeding the canal and the ‘Acequia de Palencia’.
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Impressive evening skies….
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…. and misty mornings. This was actually not a bad place to camp at the ‘Puente Del Gallo’. The bridge may look impressive, but it is just on a dirt road leading into the fields

I left the canal to have a look at the village of Fromista, only a kilometer or so to the west. On my ride into town I saw another cyclist coming from the opposite direction. He was riding a BMC mountainbike. Together we went to have a look at the Roman San Pedro church in town.

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The beautiful Roman church of San Martin in Fromista. the church was constructed around 1066 and restored between 1896 and 1904. It is one of the most perfect preserved Romaneque buildings.
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The church of San Pedro, also in Fromista. This one is in Gothic style and founded in the 15th century.

After a visit to the local panaderia, the small supermarket and the gas station to top of my fuel bottle, we rode together back to the canal.

The most popular Camino de Santiago, the ‘Camino Frances’ is following the Castilla Canal here for three kilometer and of course I was not really visiting Fromista or riding along the canal with another cyclist, but with my virtual self in May 2017, when I rode this stretch on my way from Galician coast to the Mediterranean Sea. You can read all about that here.

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Lock just outside Fromista. I gues you can control the water level further downstream with this kind of lock, but a barge will never be able to go through something like this 🙂
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Choose your pilgrims way.
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In 2017, I took the path to right, this time I will go straight along the canal.

I continued north along the canal all the way to the northern terminus at Alar Del Rey, not a very appealing place with sixties styles apartment blocks of eight floors or so. After a quick refill of the water bottles and a visit to the local tiny supermarket, I headed straight back the way I came. I had seen an electricity building with a nice awning under which I thought I could pitch the tent. Lots of rain was predicted. When I arrived, the space appeared to be too small and I had to settle for something less protected. I went down some dirt paths to the river Pisuergo where I saw some trees which might give shelter, but just like the fields, all the ground between the trees had been plowed and was a bumpy, muddy mess. Good camping spots are pretty hard to find along this canal.

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Aqueducto de Abanades. Below is the Rio Valdavia, on top the Castilla Canal.
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Suspension bridge for hikers and bikers, a few kilometer before the northern terminus of the canal.
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Riding late into the sunset.

Apart from a few drops, rain didn’t bother me too much on the 90 kilometer stretch back to the junction where I now took the northern fork of the canal towards Medina de Rioseco. There was that climatological nuisance every cyclists hates. A head wind and it became harder and harder every day. Easy riding along canals to give the legs a rest ? Forget it !

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Autumn is in full swing. Chilly morning with lots of humidity.

And not only that, even though the temperatures have dropped to a few degrees above freezing at night, and don’t reach the twenties anymore during the day, an incredible amount of flies, mosquitos and wasps make life impossible when you stop. At this moment, with an intense wind outside, there are at least 50 flies on my panniers outside, just as much on the outer tent, and again that many between the outer and inner tent. This are really becoming Australian situations. This is not normal and something I have never seen anywhere in Europe, also never in Spain in the past. They also have the behaviour of the Australian bush fly, i.e., they come and sit on you, go for your eyes and ears.

It is horrible.

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But of course, autumn also equals beautiful colors once the sun is out.

Two more interesting villages I visited along the canal were Becerril de Campos and Paredes de Nava. The former was apparently elected as most beautiful village of Spain in 2016. It had some nice old buildings, but I preferred the latter. More spectacular than the villages was the +/- 1,4 meter long snake I saw today.

The beautiful little town of Medina de Rioseco is the terminus of de Castilla canal.Honestly, I’m not sad it’s over.While I cannot say anything ‘bad’ about it, it was the least interesting part of this trip so far.

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Most locks had such a dilapidated building next to it.
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The basin near the terminus of the canal at Medina de Rioseco.
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The main street in the historical center of Medina de Rioseco was all in this style.
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The hat (capirote). It is worn during the Easter period and has something to do with atoning for the sins.
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Iglesia de Santa Cruz in Medina de Rioseco.
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Iglesia de Santa Maria. There is also a third impressive church in the little town for Santiago.
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Church of ‘San Ginés’ in the village Villabragima.

From Castromonte I took a little detour to La Santa Espina, to visit the monastery, built in 1147 by Doña Sancha de Castilla, the sister of King Alfonso VII. Originally it was a Cistercian abbey but nowadays it is a center for agricultural education.

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The monastery in La Santa Espina.
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‘Castillo de los Enriquez’. There are plenty of castles in Castilly y Leon and this ‘Castle of the Enriquez family’ in the village Torrelobaton is a fine example. It was built around 1420 and reconstructed in 1538 after it was attacked during the Revolt of the Comuneros in 1521.

Being ‘freed’ from the canal, I can start looking for camping places both sides off the road or track again. I pitched the tent in a pine forest three kilometer before Tordesillas, a place which rings a bell with everybody, no doubt.

We all remember it of course from history class ! Tordesillas is the place where in 1494 a treaty was signed between Spain and Portugal, which divided the then known non-European world (basically South America) in Spanish (Castillian) and Portugese spheres. More than five hundred years down the road we still see the effect of this, with a Portugese speaking Brazil and Spanish speaking rest of South-America.

There is a great museum with interesting maps about it all in Tordesillas.

It was closed (Monday). Sigh.

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Tordesillas.

In Tordesillas I also meet the Douro River again. I follow the ‘Senda Del Duero’, a hiking trail along the river, for a while. It is not always close to the river.

The trail is mostly good, sometimes bumpy or sandy with from time to time great vistas to the river.

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Rio Doura, near Castronuño.

After crossing the river over the Presa de San Jose near Castronuño, I leave the Douro which flows towards Zamora and further on to Portugal. Me, I take a good, quiet asphalt to La Bovéda de Torro.

After this town, I made my way over some fantastic gravel further south.

I camped on a hill top, about 930 m from where one has fantastic view to the outlines of the Sierra Guadarrama and Sierra Bejar.

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Entering the province of Zamora again. Remember, that’s the same province I entered weeks ago after crossing the Montes de Leon, on my way to Portugal.
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Excellent gravel roads.

My mattress started delaminating near the foot end about a week ago and I urgently need a new one. I thought about taking asphalt to speed up to Salamanca, where I can find one, but first starting riding a bit more  gravel roads.

Soon I was thinking “Why would I go and ride between cars and trucks when I have so much fun on the gravel ?”

The Decathlon website stated they had only one Therm-A-Rest mattress left in Salamanca, so on the one hand I was in a hurry to grab it, but on the other hand I experienced that the information on Decathlons website can’t be trusted, so I decided to give riding fun priority over buying mattresses.

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Just before entering Salamanca. Not a pleasant welcome into town. I can’t comprehend people do this. I have a feeling I see it less frequent then a few years ago, but still you have morons doing it. Giving them a fine is no solution, because officially they have nothing, so they won’t pay. I guess no sane person can think this kind of behaviour is ok, so only severe punishment is justifed. I propose cutting off an arm, and show it on tv. I have a slight feeling people will think twice before doing this again.

Two kilometer before Salamanca, I could see the towers of the cathedral already, I had a flat. Multiple punctures from a steel wire out of a car tyre. Here in Salamanca, I cross again my own tracks, this time from April 2017. At that time there were a lot of people near the cathedral.

Now, corona times…. I was standing here all alone. I visited the cathedral this time (6 € entry fee !)

Also here, I was all alone.

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Plaza Mayor, Salamanca. Impressive.
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Towers of the Iglesia de la Clerecia.
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Tower of the Salamanca Cathedral.
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The famous entrance. It is a hundred times more spectacular as in this picture, taken in the shade.
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Inside the cathedral, the ceiling of the tower.
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Also the tower.
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The ‘Capilla de Todos los Santos’ (all Saints), inside the cathedral.
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Also in the ‘Capilla de Todos los Santos’.

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Later in the afternoon, following the bike path along the Tormes River (which I crossed already a while ago on my way to Segovia), I rode to Decathlon.

A very bizar situation arose. They had one more Therm-A-Rest but refused to sell it to me first. After a whole discussion, they gave in. Bizar.

Bought new shoes, long pants to cycle and a soft shell to keep me warmer.

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A view towards the cathedral in Salamanca from the bike path along the Tormes river.

Riding south of Salamanca, I take the off-road Via de la Plata. I still had my own waypoints of good wild camping spots so I knew exactly where I was going.

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The famous, simple cross on the Via de la Plata, just south of Salamanca (you can see the city in the distance).  I made the same picture with my mtb in 2017, in following post: https://bike-a-way.com/2017/04/30/via-de-la-plata/
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At this place, just south of Salamanca, Wellington was leading a battle on 22 July 1812 (the Battle of Arapiles). An Anglo-Portugese army defeated the French army during the ‘Peninsular War’.  Spanish troops were present as well but didn’t take part in the battle. They were positioned in a way to prevent a French retreat.  Two months later, Madrid would fall.   But of course…. that track you see is also the Via de la Plata and my way south.
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Wellington was also the guy who beat Napoleon in Waterloo, Belgium in 1815. It was a very tight battle, which Napoleon should always have won. Napoleon (and the French) ruled over (what’s now called) Belgium until then, after he got it from the Habsburgers when he defeated them in Italy. Napoleon was actually pretty good to Belgium, and it was he who gave the instructions to build the first docks and shipyards in the port of Antwerp. This sign here in Spain puts something indeed real clearly. ‘The prince of Orange, used as Wellingtons’ aide-de-camp’. The prince licked Wellington’s ass for years, and this is why Wellington pushed Belgium into the hands of the Netherlands (to create a larger buffer state with Prussia). Not the best period in Belgian history, and barely 15 years later, Belgium gained its independence  in 1830. In theory, the country will celebrate its 200 years independence in 2030.  I wonder whether we’re gonna make it. Often called ‘the battlefield of Europe’ with virtually all European powers and nations ruling and fighting there, from Romans, to Vikings, Spanish, Habsburgers, French and Germans, the country faces now a much severer enemy: incompetent, corrupt, nasty, selfish politicians, who may cause the country to split up before its 200th anniversary.
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Cool trees south of San Pedro de Rozados.

This is a real nice stretch of the Via de la Plata and I was looking forward to ride it again. About ten kilometer after San Pedro de Rozados follows a short, steep climb (pushing required) to a hill top full of wind mills. An English lady hiking towards Santiago told me this is the highest point on the Via de la Plata. No idea wheter this info is correct.

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The highest point on the Via de la Plata ?

I knew from my visit in 2017 that after tackling this hill, I would enter some land with excellent wild camping possibilities.

After that good night, I rode the short distance to Valverde de Valdelacasa and settled down in the pilgrims albergue. Lots of wind and torrential rain was predicted for the coming night.

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You can still see the slightly elevated Roman road, a few millennia old. Who knows Julius Caeser himself rode here when he was on holiday ? The milestones along the track are 2.70 meter high.
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The ‘tungsten’ (wolfram) open pit mine of Los Santos. Tungsten has the highest melting point of all the elements discovered, melting at 3,422 °C. Its density is 19.25 times that of water, much higher (about 1.7 times) than that of lead. So many things you learn from a cycling blog…. 😉
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Fetching water in Valverde de Valdelacasa…
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… where I took water in 2017 as well 🙂

Waking up in my room in the albergue, a quick glance through the window showed all surrounding mountains covered in thick, ugly, grey clouds and the downpour had changed the street in a river a few centimeter deep. The cleaning lady showed up before 10 am and I had to evacuate my room. The four Spanish cyclists who slept in the dormitory had left already.

“Why on earth would somebody go out in this weather ?”, I wondered.

But I’ve seen (most) people doing that before. Or I am an incredible pancake, or those people’s holiday must be calculated down to the minute and they’ve got no time to lose.

Anyway, by 11 am it was just raining instead of the earlier downpour. “Don’t be a soft potato for once”, I told myself and went out.

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The village Valverde de Valdelacasa from my window in the albergue. I normally won’t stay in albergues, but this one also had private rooms and was excellent value for money.
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The Sierra de Bejar in the distance packed in dirty grey clouds.

It was Friday. I was 36 km from the post office in Hervas and although the tracking showed the package I was waiting for since more than a month was still stuck in Madrid, I wanted to go and check whether it might have arrived by some miracle.

Not a hundred meters, really, less than hundred meters I was on my bike, and they opened all gates in the sky. What a downpour Few hundred meters further, asphalt changed in sand…. mud. After 3,8 km I noticed the rear tyre was almost flat.

“Aaah, f*%k, not now !”.

Refusing to change the tyre on the muddy road, I gave it 72 pumps and continued riding.

Exactly two kilometer further… almost flat again.

A hundred pumps this time.

I had to pump a third time before reaching the next village, La Calzada de Béjar.

“I’ll never make it before 14:30 (closing time of the post office) like this.And what’s the point, racing to a post office to collect a package which is still hundreds of kilometer away in Madrid, according to the tracking ?

“Better shelter a bit here”, I told myself, because it’s not only raining, but a real strong ice-cold storm wind is blowing from the side as well.

On the other hand, I was wet already. And what if this tracking was wrong and my package was sitting in Hervas. They only hold it for two weeks before it is returned to sender. If I don’t check, it might be on its way back to Belgium before it ever officially arrived……

I jumped back on my bike, after giving the tyre one hundred pumps.

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View to cloud covered, wind swept Sierra de Béjar.

At 14:10 I arrived at the post office with twenty minutes to spare. The last part from Béjar to Hervas is really easy over the via verde. In total, I stopped nine time to inflate the tyre.

Nonchalant, I asked the post employee for my package, as if I was sure it would be there.

Even more nonchalant, he handed it over to me.

“Break now my wooden shoe”, I thought. (But lesson learned. In future I’ll use DHL to send packages. Maybe 10 euro more expensive, but they come and collect the package at home, and they guarantee delivery almost anywhere in the world in two days. No more postal services for me).

Well, it makes life a lot easier. I rode back to the via verde verde where the former railway station has an awning under which I could replace the worn rear tyre with the new one from my package, and put another tube inside (the slime tube was way too slimy to patch). I’ve ridden about 5.000 km on the old tyre, which is not bad for a knobby tyre, on a loaded bike over rough terrain.

Time to start a new chapter of my trip in the Extremadura.

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