[I’m using the (Un)Inspired Ramblings Facebook page to post some more regular updates and photos in between main blog posts here. You can find it here.]
As I start to write this, I’m back on the Mediterranean coast just north of Valencia, having a little break by the sea. After the amazing views of Montserrat, I’m struggling to piece together the 10 days or so that followed.
I generally head south-west, roughly parallel to the coast but some 30-40 miles inland, making up a route as I go along from some existing GPS tracks, my Viewranger maps, and Google. I pass slowly through, or skirt, the Sistema Prelitoral Central, Muntanyes de Prades, Serra de Montsant, Serra de Llaberia, Serres de Pandols-Cavalls and the Parc Natural Els Port – all hilly, forested areas.
So, reluctantly leaving Montserrat behind me, I initially ride to Igualada for lunch and then head onwards via a mixture of offroad trails and single track.
Once again, churchyards provide welcome sources of water…
…and the Spanish maps prove interesting. This motorway doesn’t exist on my map at all!
Descending a rooty trail at the end of the day as the rain starts, I end up in the village of Pontils just before dark. I speak to the town council office about camping but they just give me directions to a Casa Rural in another village some miles away, so I pedal out of town, up a track and find a secluded field to camp in. As darkness falls, noises come from the woods across the field. I have to remind myself as always that I am undoubtably the scariest thing in the woods that night. Plugging in some headphones to watch a film in my tent helps me become oblivious to where I am and whether anything is happening outside for a couple of hours. I’m just in my own little world…
In the mornings, I often experience a little anxiety to get moving, in case an angry farmer is on his way to find me, as if he somehow would have known I was there. I’m not sure where this comes from – I guess just from the knowledge that technically I shouldn’t be there. This morning, I literally ride out of the field as a pick-up truck with three guys arrives… I just smile as they let me pass, and then pedal off up the trail hastily.
Only ten minutes later I am overtaken by the truck as I push up a steep track in the sun, and a few minutes after that I come across it pulled over, with the three guys heading off into the woods. They are just locals looking for mushrooms to sell in the markets – a common sight here – and just smile at me as I sweat my way past them.
The following night I arrive at the ancient walled city of Montblanc and with a festival in town, and smelly clothes I opt to stay in a huge but empty campsite on the outside of town (the only option) and spend the day in the town, after washing clothes and leaving them out to dry in the sun.
Weirdly, the festival turns out to be based around Playmobil figures. There is an exhibition in a church, and most of the shops have given over part of their displays for figure displays for the kids to hunt for. There are even locals in costume. I don’t quite get the link with the town…and it all seems a little odd…
I spend the following day getting a little lost and pushing up trails in the Muntanyes de Prades, before arriving in the town of Prades for the night. My tolerance to pushing up hills without knowing where I’m going seems to be ever decreasing, so the next morning I start riding south along the roads, though take an early pause to look at the little village of Albarca. I’m not sure building a house on a rock with a big crack in it would get past the health and safety folk back home…
I see a local GR trail heading out the other end of Albarca and decide on a whim to follow it up into the hills. There is a campsite not that many miles on in Poboleda and I can see that it should be possible to follow this walkers path part of the way there, so I decide to slow the pace and enjoy the day heading through a rocky moon scape, without any guilt. The trail roughly follows a bluff on the edge of the Serra del Montsant.
…and is mostly on this pinkish rock…
At times its a tight squeeze…
…and often I’m pushing the bike close to the edge.
So much so, that I decide its a good idea to get the SPOT tracker (which I’ve just got with me for the emergency beacon) off the bike and into my pocket…just in case.
I follow this route for two or three hours and then descend to Cornudella de Montsant to take the road onto Poboleda, rather than carry on following the plethora of trails heading further into the Serra. I stay the night in Poboleda, at a campsite where the pitches sit on terraces between the olive trees.
The following day is spent riding over a series of small ridges, passing through the towns nestling in amongst the valleys – filled with terraced olive groves – that lie in between: Porrera, Falset, Marca, Capcanes and Tivissa.
Sometimes I take concrete roads.
From Tivissa, the following day, I decide to cross over the mountains to the west, taking the road and passing by the town of El Pinell de Brai, with its huge wine cellar…
Those Catalan flags are still everywhere…
Some of them in harder to reach places than others (you may not be able to spot this unless you have a big screen!).
There are many false summits to provide a little torture.
But also regular little towns to stop and drink coffee in.
Camping just outside Bot overnight, the campsite owner tells me that Monroyo and Morello are lovely, and so I decide to visit both, after calling into Horta de Sant Joan first.
A day riding up hot hills with stomach cramps means I struggle into Monroyo and am grateful that there is no campsite, just the lovely Posada Guadalupe hotel for the night. Oh well, if I must… 🙂 The next day I’m in the fortified town of Morello for lunch…
It’s never great to see this at 2pm after stuffing yourself with pork, chips and eggs, dessert and coffee, but in actual fact the ride isn’t too bad…
…and the view back to Morello is fairly impressive.
After afternoon spent climbing, I reach the Col de Ares del Maestrat, from where its downhill to the coast! I cruise down the winding road from the col, which eases out into a long river valley.
This is possibly the first time I’ve seen autumn colours this year, and its nearly November…
The dry river bed makes me glad I filled up with water at the col.
An hour or so down from the col, as dusk begins to fall, I pull off the road onto a rough track and find place to sleep under a tree. Its a clear night and I just roll out my bivvy bag on a groundsheet. Its good to not put the tent up – more discreet, much simpler, less to pack up in the morning. I can hear the road in the distance, but after half an hour hear the unmistakable sound of tyres on gravel. A jeep trundles just passed me, and I wait in anticipation for a telling off, but the driver just gently lifts his hand and acknowledges me, as I do the same. Nobody else passes in the night, and its lovely sleeping out in the open under the stars again.
I’m on the road early the next day, and stop for breakfast at the beautifully restored Ermita de San Pablo in St Pau.
As I’m nearing the outskirts of Castellon de la Plana, I see a strange sight on the road in front of me, and realise that I’m slowly catching up with a Whike!
These strange mixtures of a recumbant bike and windsurfer are made in Holland and have had a bit of publicity recently with Dave Cornthwaite’s 1000 mile journey across the Atacama Desert as part of his Expedition1000 project.
This particular Whike belongs to José Luis Esquer, who is planning to Whike across the USA in just one month in the spring of 2015 to raise money for cancer research. Thats a pretty impressive task – about 180 km a day!
I have a little Whike ride myself and then follow Jose through Castellon and North to Benicasim, where I’m planning to spend a couple of days by the sea. Having become used to receiving some pretty odd looks as I ride the Ogre through villages and towns, its quite strange following Jose to feel perfectly normal in comparison to him – the Whike gets confused and surprised looks wherever it goes!
There is nothing odd to see here at all.
And so, here I am, transported from the magnificence of Monserrat, via some days of lostness and pushing through the hills, some days on the road and some fortified towns, and a long cruise downhill to the coast.
It feels like its time for a little rest…