Today we head for France with the Pyrenées behind us…. climbing steeply out of Donastia we passed a lovely farmhouse, typically Basque
set against a landscape of hills leading to the mountains.
We enjoyed a straightforward ride towards the French border along a lovely rural road,
we even managed to find a little poohsticks bridge for a short interlude….
Crossing the border at Irun/Hendaye meant we had to have the necessay border crossing picture!
Hendaye provided a picturesque lunch stop in a little park overlooking the port with Spain on the other side.
Our route along the coast was rather undulating and quite tiring but we were able to have a little beach stop to paddle in the Atlantic, even though it was a little chilly (but sunny).
We were aiming for a small town called Urt on the Adur river beyond Bayonne, but by the time we got to the outskirts of Bayonne we felt it was time to find a campsite and pitch our tent for the night. We managed to find a well appointed site fairly easily, but with the reception being shut, officially we couldn’t book in. However, a quick scout round the site meant we could find a little spot for pitching our tent.
Having had some hot cups of rooibosch tea and taken down our tent, we laid it out to dry off the condensation that had formed overnight on the inside surface of the outer tent, we were able to get on the road by 10.30.
With memories of our hard day yesterday, and thoughts of the hills to come we set out with some trepidation towards the coast and a little town called Deba, some 11 miles away, on a largely down route.
Once there, we had our breakfast in the sunshine on the beach .. yogurt, banana and gluten free biscuits provided an energy rich start for our intended journey. A bar in the town provided a welcome hot coffee and hot chocolate. It’s situation opposite the railway station soon got Molly thinking!
Whilst I was away purchasing provisions for our lunch, Molly did some further thinking… sadly, whilst shopping, I noticed I had lost the run of my Euro cash card… so a nervous re-visit to the bar and a scan around where we had been seated outside produced no card. So ensuring the online app was set to freeze further use of the card, I contacted the card issuer to block further use and requested the issue of a replacement (to be mailed out to us via Abi & Guy in France.)
Fortunately, Molly also had a card so we were still able to pay for things. Molly’s thought processes resulted in a proposal to catch the train from Deba, where we were stopped, to Donastia our day’s destination …. after a very brief discussion (!) we decided to make use of our tandem’s capacity to divide into two and be packed into bags…
An hourly train sevice to Donastia meant we didn’t have to wait long for our train to Donastia with our now 11 pieces of luggage. The fare for the two of us was just €9.80 for the 45 minute journey.
At Donastia we then re-assembled our steed again and were soon off to find the Airbnb room we had booked in Josemari’s flat, some 5km from the seafront.
Setting out towards Donastia / San Sebastian felt like the start of our journey proper as we headed to France.
This leg turned out to be a little arduous, although at the beginning it was lovely, following a small country lane with views of the Pyrenees foothills, characterised by lots of Pyreneean style farms dotted abiut the hillsides.
Further along our route though, we encountered a number of sharp inclines and at one point we were having to negotiate a deeply rutted forest track. The ruts, combined with steep hills meant that we were reduced to pushing our tandem foot by foot to reach decent surfacing the other side of the hill.
Lesson learnt for the route planner we were using… make sure the setting “avoid unsurfaced roads” was set!
As we reached Eibar it was evident there were no official campsites, so we had to look for a suitable wild camping spot so that we could pitch our tent. Fortunately it wasn’t too far along the road before we spotted a suitabke level spot beside the river where we couod pitch our tent.
Just as well, since by this time we were deep into the foothills of the Pyrenees with steep sided valleys that accommodated road(s), railway and the odd house with little other flat terrain..
As it turned out, the spot was perfect apart from a preponderance of very young bramble seedlings which needed to be cleared away. Getting our Trangia cooker out, we were able to prepare a decent and filling hot dinner of gluten free pasta and tomato sauce.
Travelling by sea has its own special rythymn…. the setting sail is a very definate departure as you leave the port and all its activity. Our sailing was 21:00 so we were leaving all the lights of Portsmouth and heading out to dark sea past the Isle of Wight. Then one settles into the gentle vibration of the propellors and slight roll of the sea.
To ensure we were rested for our arrival in Bilbao we had booked an ‘internal cabin’ for the 2 night journey to reach Northern Spain. And we had a very comfortable trip.
Because we were in an internal cabin we were amused to find we had our very own “window” of a backlit canvas showing a beautiful sunny morning, looking out to a small veranda and the sea beyond the half open shutters.
Our crossing was lovely and smooth and during the bright sunny day, crossing the sparkling Bay of Biscay, we were able to see porpoises playing in the water at some distance from the ship. Apparently, as one enters the deep waters off the continental shelf, it is quite common to see whales, dolphins and porpoises in the water.
Arrival in Bilbao was straightforward for our (now necessary) stamp in our passport to enter the Schengen Zone as our status as 3rd country citizens. Exiting the port area was a little traumatic since we had started following the signs to Bilbao, little realising the route led us to an “autovia” which, understandably, was no entry for cyclists…. so crossing busy dual carriageways, we retraced our route back to a roundabout, where we could pick up the local roads to the next town called Getxo. The x pronounced “ch” in Basque.
We were fortunate to find a Warmshowers host, Sofia, who was able to accommodate us for two nights whilst we explored the area. Because Sofia wasn’t back from work till 18:00 we spent the time exploring the neighbourhood which was very close to a World Heritage Site … the Transporter Bridge the “Puente de Vizcaya Zubia”.
To experience this novel mode of transport and to reach where Sofia lived we bought our €1.80 ticket to cross the river with our tandem to Getxo.
Because I like reading information boards to find out a little of where I am, I noticed there was a display showing other notable transporter bridges around the world.
It was amusing to find that Widnes and Warrington were featured amongst others (both towns quite close to Chester!).
Molly is not quite such a museum nerd as me, so she elected to stay beside our fully laden tandem beside the bridge whilst I explored it a little. Little did she know this exploration involved a lift up to the upper pedestrian platform level to get to the amazing view at the top, and then walk over to the other side and catching the transporter bridge back again.
After an hour she messaged me asking “how long does it take to explore a bloody bridge”!
We then pedalled with all our luggage on the pleasant level route into Bilbao along mostly dedicated cycle paths. Once there we hit upon the idea of utilising the city tour bus as a mobile left luggage depositary, whilst also enjoying an orientation tour of Bilbao! The ticket was valid for 24hours so we could go on a second tour the following day.
Meeting Sofia was a pleasure, and she was a very generous host.
She told us of her “Camino” solo on her bike to Rome on a budget of just €10 a night, reaching there after just one month of pedalling solo. Quite a feat.
The next day we whizzed down on our unladen tandem beside the river, mostly on dedicated cycle paths to explore the interesting city of Bilbao.
Parking up beside the world famous Guggenheim Museum (which we had visited some 15 years before) we basked in the warm sunshine with our chocolate and coffee drinks before getting on a city tour bus to get orientated.
Following our bus tour we decided to visit the old market hall, the station and the ‘funicular’ as interesting features worthy of further exploration.
The frontage of the old Bilbao station was amazing…. and inside another working station close by was a superb stained glass window.
The market was full of a wide range of stalls selling an enticing range of fresh vegetables and fruit, bread, cakes and drinks. And best of all, there was a bread stall, with half of its space devoted solely to gluten free bread and cakes. Heaven!
The funicular was fun… and part of Bilbao’s public transport infrastructure. And at the top there was a lovely park with an amazing view over the city.
After a full day of sightseeing we pedalled our way back to Getxo to spend an enjoyable evening with Sofia. She led us by bike (and us on our tandem) to a pretty village “la puerte viejo” some 6km away where we shared drinks at a waterside bar.
Tomorrow, onwards towards San Sebastian!
Mileage: 28 miles approx over our stay
Total distance travelled: 69 miles
Ascent: 600ft ascent on our various journeys over our stay