This trip proved to be much tougher than any previous one, despite my keeping to river valleys, and my daily progress was often painfully slow. But I was motivated to keep pushing on as I was raising a lot of money for 'Médecins Sans Frontières' (Doctors Without Borders - MSF). And, of course, I did have a really great time! Here are some photos that I took along the way.
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426 km / 266 miles, 5 days, solo
My route took me past the castle in the middle of Caerphilly and through the 1.7 km cyclepath tunnel south of Bath. But I was exhausted after these first 5 days and spent time resting with my Mum and sister Jenny in Dorset. Jenny captured my early-morning start to catch the ferry across the Channel to France.
1437 km / 898 miles, 21 days, solo
France has become a regular destination for me in recent years, so I'm only including a few special photos this time.
Mont St.Michel looked eerily beautiful across the bay from the Cherbourg peninsula. I went out of my way to visit Frespech where Di and I had swung scythes on an IVS workcamp in our late 20's, but the staff at the resulting centre for handicapped adults didn't want to know and told me to go away in no uncertain terms - which was SO disappointing. I crossed the Pyrenees into Spain on the 'Camino de Santiago' pilgrims' trail which starts in St.Jean-Pied-de-Port.
I met lots of nice people along the way. Here are a kind couple near Lessay who insisted on plying me with homemade cider after I stopped to ask the way. Isabelle and Steffan provide traditional hospitality at their thoroughly recommended Auberge in Daon near the River Mayonne. And I bumped into Gustave and Agnes in the north of France and again, quite by chance, in the Dordogne, where they bought me a meal in a lovely restaurant.
My teenage friend Claude joined me for a day in Bergerac and we had a wonderful time reliving old times, eating well and tripping on the river. Sylvie and Didier took pity on me in the rain and gave me a slap-up lunch in their converted old church at Moncrabeau.
1552 km / 970 miles, 24 days, solo
Spanish roads are generally well-maintained and don't carry much traffic, so cycling was easy. However wild-camping posed more of a problem due to the scarcity of hiding places in the wide open plains so, since I often found myself following Camino pilgrim routes, I also stayed in some of their hostels. There's a bar in most Spanish villages where cheap homemade snacks are readily available.
You're spoilt for choice if you like beautiful cathedrals and churches. These three are at Lizarra Estella, Burgos and Salamanca.
I was feeling quite unwell by the time I reached Logroño, so I caught the train to Burgos where I stayed with friends Ana, Pedro, Lara and Sergio, a cycling family whom I've know for several years, for a week. Burgos is a cycle-friendly city, thanks in no small way to Pedro, and it has many very realistic bronze sculptures.
As in so many other parts of the World, children gather when a stranger arrives in town and are often delighted when you take their photograph. I could have listened to 'Little Boy Quique' in Seville all day - his one-man blues style was as good as it gets, despite his never having travelled anywhere near the Mississippi.
Some wonderful bridges, the first dating from Roman times in Salamanca, the second a Roman aqueduct in Mérida, and the third a modern bridge in Seville.
The Altantic coast north of Tarifa must be one of the few bits of unspoilt coastline left in Spain (but for how long?). Here I met and joined Beccy and Rob, on a much longer cycletour than me, for a few days. But they had more sense than me, choosing the road rather than an impossibly sandy, 10 km track that quite exhausted me.
Tarifa is the southernmost point of mainland Europe, marked by a map which conveniently shows where I'd come from.
The cycle path to Gibraltar includes 3 bits of motorway, 2 of which don't even have a full hard-shoulder. And here's another Spanish curiosity - they tell you when you're not in a tunnel!
2 km / 1 mile, 10 mins, solo
My first sighting of 'the Rock' from just west of Algeciras and a view from the top looking back into Spain. This place is more english than England itself! The people treated me well and donated generously when I stood and collected funds for MSF.
Di flew out to Gibraltar and we spent a lovely week together, mainly in southern Spain visiting some of the places I'd discovered on my own and others that I'd wanted, but been unable, to reach.
That's Africa across the sea behind Di, an amazing tree in Cadiz, and a typical Andalucian village.
© Di + Chris Bell