Camino de Santiago

April-May 2023

Martin Malins

Following the Route of the Pilgrims

The Camino is a long-established pilgrimage to the tomb of St James in Santiago de Compostela, considered to be the start of Christianity in Spain. Nowadays it has become an international trip made by visitors from Spain and all over the world with or without any religious significance. Until Covid over 350,000 pilgrims arrived per year, of which about 10% cycled. I accidentally found myself riding the first 200km from Biarritz to Bilbao last year and was determined to come back and finish the job. Flights to and from meant that the trip would need to take 10 days riding, averaging 70km a day.

Most pilgrims use the Camino Francés which cuts across the flat terrain via the city of León. However, I was set on the Camino de Norte which has a reputation for being hilly and lived up to it! I mostly stayed in budget hotels although hardened ‘peregrinos’ use the basic hostels. 

My stops along the route were mostly in quiet coastal towns, the only major city en route was Gijón. Unusually for Spain the Northern coast is almost devoid of international tourists, although it experiences a huge influx of visitors from Madrid and other cities during the summer due to its cool climate and enticing beaches. The route also included a couple of foot / bike ferries which removed a lot of extra riding. 

Along the route I passed many hundreds of walkers but fewer cyclists as we were all travelling at the same pace. It's very important to plot a route that uses roads rather than just following the seashell signs as the walking route goes off road for about a sixth of the distance and cycling these sections on a road bike is impossible.

As the route passed right past Asturias airport it was an ideal opportunity for Ann to fly out from Gatwick and join me for the last 3 days, taking trains and buses between the last 4 hotels.

 These last 3 days also proved to be the hardest averaging 100km per day and involved the longest ride, the highest altitude (720m) and the longest climb (440m gain), but gradients were generally much more gentle than in the UK. I met a couple of other riders at one of the stops, one a Cuban from Florida and another from Argentina. 

On the last day the route merged with the Francés and the numbers of walkers increased 10-fold! a fantastic climax to a memorable journey as everyone converged at the cathedral for the obligatory photo. Last job of the day was to collect a bike box from the post office to transport the bike back! (it's cheaper to take it back on the flight but you can also have it sent all the way back to the UK) 

Highly recommended and fairly doable by anyone with some experience of cycle touring.