Riding the Via de la Plata was an incredible life experience for me.
TO BE CONTINUED
Getting to from the UK to Sevilla
I took three trains from my seaside village in the North of England down through Darlington, then Kings Cross (St Pancras), to Gatwick in the South, and stayed in a cheap Travelodge hotel close to the airport. I tried my best to get a good night’s sleep but the Eurovision Song Contest was on (haha, I could’t resist), and I was so conscious that I had to be out of the hotel before 0430 that I struggled to fall in to a deep sleep.
After less than three hours of broken sleep (I felt fine), I got my stuff together and made my way to Gatwick airport. This was the first time I had ever taken a bike on a plane, and the whole process was very straightforward. I needn’t have worried.
As the plane slowly descended over the Spanish countryside en route to Sevilla, I felt extremely nervous. Not knowing what the next 8 days had in store was exciting. How hard would it be? Would it be too hot? What if my bike box had been left in Gatwick, or what if it had been damaged in transit?
It was 10.50am when I landed in Sevilla. While I was waiting for my bike to appear on the baggage carousel, I made way to the toilets and changed in to my cycling gear and by the time I returned, my bike box was swinging by. I lugged it off and pulled it in to the corner of the baggage claim hall where I set about opening it up and building it up.
Building the bike up, packing the bike luggage and fitting and tweaking the gear took the best part of 90-minutes. Seeing the bike built-up and realizing everything had gone perfectly to plan was so reassuring. I think I had the biggest smile as I pulled out of the airport in to the heat.
Via de la Plata. Day 1 (Half day): 90.61km (69.6km of VdlP)
It was a Sunday and the roads were quiet, so I hopped on to the motorway and made my way to the city centre of Sevilla. My first stop was Triana Backpackers where I obtained my Credeciale (akin to a passport that is stamped at every overnight stop during the camino). After pumping my tyres up a little more, I took directions to the Cathedral and set off.
Locating a Camino or VdlP sign from the start point was impossible. I circled the Cathedral several times, rode down each street that lead from the Cathedral, but couldn’t see any sign. Deflated, I stopped and ordered a pizza and a cerveza in the hope of spotting a fellow cyclist or pilgrim.
Nope, it was just full of locals and tourists enjoying the heatwave. I rode back to Trianna Backpackers and they pointed out a tiny sign on the wall and explained I should keep an eye out for similar ones as they pointed me down the road.
My capacity for taking directions in English is dismal. I tend to remember the first instruction, and forget the rest. By the time I reached the end of the road I knew I had to turn left, but that was it. I asked several people for directions, and people didn’t seem to know, but they pointed me north.
Hours passed, and I was very pissed off. I rode past a sign that said the temperature was 42C. I knew there was a heatwave, but I was expecting temperatures of 37C!
By an incredible stroke of fortunate did I find the camino. I set off along a motorway heading north. I hadn’t been to the toilet since the airport, so I stopped at a roundabout and propped my bike against a pillar while I sought out a place to stop. As I was stretching, I noticed this pillar had details of the VdlP. Around the corner, I spotted a huge scallop shell (the camino sign), and then noticed a series of yellow arrows. This was it. I was finally on my way!
Within the first kilometre I had taken a wrong turn, and didn’t realise until I’d gone an extra 1.5km. I turned back, found my way, and this time I was off!
Sevilla to Guillena (22.7km)
The first part of this leg was fairly industrial, following the motorway (N-630), but I really enjoyed the small town of Santiponce, its streets lined with orange trees. The heat, whilst I absolutely loved it, was energy-sapping, and I found myself drinking one litre of water every hour.
I loved the rural section that followed, with eucalyptus groves and sweeping views of the countryside. The terrain was a lovely gravel track and was a breeze to ride on. I struggled to find my way out of Guillena initially, and after 20-minutes of no success, I resorted to asking for directions in a bar.
Guillena to Castilblanco de los Arroyos (17.5km)
After a short stretch of road out of Guillena, the camino to Castilblanco really tested me. I barely spent a moment in the saddle as I was either standing or pushing the bike!
I passed a farm of orange groves before starting an ascent up a dirt track lined by olive trees each side. The road was extremely rocky, cambered with deep ravines that cut through the path. It was very technical and at times, unrideable. Further up, the terrain would switch from loose stones to deep sand. The path was winding, hilly and challenging. A lot of this section involved carrying and pushing the bike. In the heat, it was exhausting.
The path then opened up on to a main road (very quiet). I couldn’t see any signs. I started off in one direction, then changed my mind to follow another. I had just 500ml of water left, and very aware that I couldn’t afford to waste too much time. I used my Gamin to point me in the right direction, and the camino followed a main road (A-8002) in to Castilblanco.
Upon arriving, I was utterly exhausted. The heat during the difficult section had really got to me. I hadn’t planned on riding during the hottest parts of the day, but I couldn’t resist – and I also felt compelled to make up for lost time earlier in the day.
I propped my bike up and laid down on a bench. Although it was probably only 4pm, I had no desire to put in any more miles in today and planned to find somewhere to stay.
I spent an hour on that bench, very dazed, before convincing myself that by cycling the next 30km I would have achieved a more respectable mileage for the day; another 3% off the total tally for the VdlP.
Castilblanco de los Arroyos to Almaden de la Plata (29.3Km)
I don’t know why, but I didn’t take the main road that lead through the town of Castilblanco. I therefore didn’t pass a single shop and I was in need of water. I talked myself out of cycling 500m back in to town to find a shop, and convinced myself I would pass a shop between now and Almaden. This turned out to be wrong.
I had less than 400ml for this stage. After the first few kilometres on the road the camino went off-road. I knew it would be suicidal to attempt the off-road section without fluids, so I decided to keep to the road in hope of finding a shop or service station.
I was very conservative with my water, but with 12km to go, I had ran out completely. It was a very difficult ride in to Almadn, and I cursed every pedal stroke during the climb of Calvario. I was knackered.
Descending in to Almaden, I stopped at the first bar I saw and ordered 2L of water and a cerveza. I enjoyed a Menu del Dia: a starter of pasta and pork, some chicken and chips, and a flan.
The ‘Casa Concha’ bar/hotel was very nice and cost just 20 Euros.