Africa, the second largest continent on earth and the second largest population. According to paleoanthropologists, Eastern Africa is the oldest inhabited place on Earth and the birthplace of the human species. The earliest human evidence being found in Ethiopia’s Omo Kibish area with fossil finds dated to some 200,000 years ago. According to the United Nations, there are 54 countries in Africa. Nigeria being the most populous and the Seychelles the least.
I start this leg of the trip in Cairo, Egypt. A sprawling city with a population in excess of 16 million, it is one of the most densely populated cities in the world. The city looks like a building site. Skyscrapers half finished, major roads full of sand and everything else you can imagine. However, it is not as chaotic as say New Dehli or Tehran.
I’m currently staying in the Maadi district. It’s on the edge of Cairo, mainly home to expats and wealthy Egyptians. It’s a very peaceful neighbourhood and the road outside my accommodation leads directly south. They build the housing blocks right on top of the next one, with little gaps and then left half finished. I counted one tower block, 45 storeys.
Today I visited the world famous Pyramids of Giza.
Situated on the Giza Plateau, the Pyramids rise above Cairo. Some might find the views from the Pyramids less than ideal, expecting expanses of desert and that certainly isn’t the case.
I paid 120 Egyptian Pounds for my ticket to enter the complex and the first monument you come across is the Sphinx, the human headed lion. At this point, the hawkers are out in force offering camel and horse rides.
From the Sphinx you walk up a gentle rocky slope and the Khufu Pyramid greets you. Standing over 137m high and constructed using 2 million stone rocks, it’s some structure.
I then ambled about trying to dodge the attention of camel hawkers. To be fair I didn’t get as much hassle as I was expecting.
I stayed at the site for about 4 hours before making my way over to Tahrir Square.
Tahrir square (liberation square) is also known as ‘Martyr Square’ and has been the focal point of many demonstrations in Cairo. In 2011, 50,000 protestors gathered in Tahrir Square to protests against the former president, Hosni Mubarak. Unfortunately, Tahrir Square has also been the scene of sexual assaults against women.
Basically, Tahrir Square is a traffic roundabout. The Mogamma government building above, has been used in Egyptian cinema as a symbol of all that is wrong with Egyptian society with all its unbearable bureaucracy, I can relate to that.
A 24 hour ferry journey from Portsmouth to Santander went by smoothly. Six other touring cyclists were also taking the journey South. A solo female from Canada, heading towards Madrid. A couple on a tandem, a Brit heading back to Portsmouth via France and Derek and Mick cycling around Spain and Portugal for 4 months.
Once we disembarked the ship, I joined up with Derek and Mick and spent the next hour or so cycling around Santander looking for a place to sleep. We eventually found a room in a hostel near the port.
The next morning we obtained our Camino de Santiago passports which allows pilgrims to sleep at Alburges and hostels at special rates. With everything in order, I took the local ferry across the bay from Santander to Playa de Somo. From Somo I took the road CA – 141 until the turn off towards Guemes. The road towards Guemes was tree lined, rolling and little traffic. A popular Argentinian man named Martin Miguel de Guemes, whose father was from Santander, had once organized local gauchos in Northwestern Argentina to resist royalist forces loyal to Spain during the Argentine War of Independence.
From Guemes I followed the back roads passing through San Mames de Meruelo, Escalante before arriving back on the semi busy road near Cicero. From Cicero the road undulated towards the bridge into Colindres. When I arrived in the fish smelling town of Colindres, I located the Alburge de Municipal, paid my 5 Euros and had the full hostel to myself.
The following morning, rain had descended on Northern Spain. I followed the main coast road towards the seaside town of Laredo, paradise lost. From Laredo a long climb ensued. By the time I had reached the peak and zoomed down the hill towards Liendo, I was soaked to the bone.
More stiff climbing followed until I reached the turnoff towards Valle de Villaverde. I joined onto road CA -151 and beautiful alpine forests and moody dark green mountains shadowed the road.
After 25 Km, the climbing began as I headed towards Balmaseda. Long straight climbs with no mercy, soaked to the bone, I was now in Basque Country. When I arrived in Balmaseda I located the Alburge Municipal and moved in. All clothes wet, impossible to dry!
From Balmaseda the climbing continues. The road snakes in and out of the Basque Country and into the neighbouring Burgos region. The scenery is beautiful, but the climbing is tough.
I folllowed the road towards the medieval town of Artziniega dwarfed by the surrounding mountains.
Through Artziniega, another long stiff climb followed, reminiscent of climbs in Turkey.
I reached Menagarai and stopped for a break. Whilst chewing on my sandwich, a man stopped in his van and asked if I would like to come with him to a remote place in the mountains.
I agreed, he put my bicycle in his van and we drove 15 km on a small but beautiful road towards Cozuela on the Basque – Burgos border.
He introduced me to the few inhabitants who were staying at his lovely cabins, before I set off on foot exploring the local environment. I discovered waterfalls, forests and a beautiful mountain range.
I spent the night sleeping on the patio of one of the cabins.
The next morning, I set off back towards Menagarai in the rain.
Back on track, I reached the town of Amurrio soaked after more steep climbing. I stopped in Amurrio for lunch before pushing on.
The road towards Vitoria-Gasteiz from Amurrio was tough. Lots of climbs and no hard shoulder.
I gained over 300 meters in 2.5km near the village of Altube.
Through the town of Murgia I reached the village of Letona as it was becoming dark. At this point, I wasn’t sure where I was heading but there didn’t seem to be any other options apart from a dirt track.
Onto the dirt track I goes and I noticed an abandoned workshop. I moved in for the night. I ate chocolate and biscuits for supper washed down with a coffee, it was a cold night.
The next morning, I continued along the dirt track, through a village, more dirt tracks, before arriving at the local airport.
At the airport I asked for directions into Vitoria-Gasteiz. From afar the city looks very industrial. The capital of the Basque Country, Vitoria-Gasteiz is rated as one of the best places to live in Spain. Voted the European Green Capital in 2012, the locals are dubbed bean sacks! Fracking is banned in Basque Country through the hard work of its citizens. Let’s ban fracking in the UK.
One night in Vitoria-Gasteiz was enough. I met a 20 year old Swedish lad, who had cycled from Sweden to China and across the states. Heading back to Sweden, via France. A wise head on young shoulders, respect to him
I headed out of Vitoria in a South easterly direction. I picked up a rail trail on the outskirts and stayed on it until reaching Argandona.
From the rail trail I picked up the road A132. Alpine forests either side, the cold air encourages me onwards.
I climb upto 887m and zoom down 7km into the small hamlet of Azaceta. A light breeze punctures through my clothes, I can see my breath, keep moving.
I reach the Umbrian looking hamlet of Bujanda and join onto another rail trail.
From Bujanda it’s traffic free all the way to Estella if your heading that way, about 40km.
I reached Sta Cruz de Campezo and was surprised the trail kept going. The surrounding mountains, a kaleidoscope of colours. I am now in the foothills of the Sierra de Codés, under the watchful gaze of the Loar and Costalera mountains, near the Basque/Navarro border.
The Navarro Vasco trail is so peaceful. The trail is dotted with old stations, viaducts and tunnels forming part of a fascinating piece of railway heritage, known affectionately as El Trenico (The Little Train).
When I reach the village of Acado, I decide to head south. The scenery changed almost immediately. Gone are the beautiful green alpine mountains standing tall with dignity. Welcome to an agricultural zone of multi colours.
Well versed in renewable energy, the state of Navarro is Europe’s shining light. I pass lots of wind and solar energy farms as I head towards Los Arcos.
Los Arcos is a peaceful hamlet on The Pilgramage to Santiago route. A pension/hostel is located here for the pilgrims. I decided to push on, passing colourful vineyards.
From Los Arcos the road rolled through some beautiful desert like landscape.
I reached the village of Sesma just before dark. I was able to fill my water bottles before pushing on until reaching a forest. I found a great spot to camp and enjoy the solitude of the forest. The wind rustled through the trees, music to my ears.
Last night the sky was just spectacular. Clear, stars shining bright through the opening in the trees.
This morning, I awoke to sunlight piercing through the branches. The wind silent, beautiful, magical. I make a coffee and pack.
I am now cycling on route NA 129 in a southerly direction. Wind turbines dot the landscape as I approach the village of Lodosa. I keep moving enjoying my surroundings. I have the Rio Erbo to my right. The second longest river on the Iberian Peninsula.
I stop in Carcar for supplies. A small village on a hillside. I like the fact that I shop locally, my money staying within the community. I eat and move on.
Through Carcar, I pick up route NA134 which is busier with heavy goods traffic and tractors. Vineyards are everywhere, the surrounding landscape a rainbow of colours.
The road is flat, I imagine the earth with no buildings, empty and vast. I wave at the cops as I pass through a town, no helmet on, I’m playing the game!
I stop for break at the side of the road. I eat my last remaining snacks and quench my thirst with pure clean water.
As I’m having my break, a shepherd passes by with his flock. It turns out he’s Arabian. I take a photo, he asks for money. I say I don’t understand, he leaves me alone.
I can get by in Spanish ok. It’s far from perfect, but the more I listen and learn, the words come back.
I am now only 20km from Tuleda, the second largest city in the province after Pamplona. I am also cycling on the widest hard shoulder in the world. Orange coloured mountains to my left, a sight to behold.
I reached Tuleda, a city with a lot of history. I slept on a bench for the night, a great contrast from the night before. I woke the following morning and decided a rest day was due. The hostel here is reasonable priced.
A famous Jewish traveller by the name Benjamin originated from Tudela. Back in the 12th century, his intrepid travels took him to the lands of Asia, Europe and Africa. He set off from Zaragoza, my next destination.
From Tudela, I crossed the River Ebro and travelled south along road NA126. Flat cycling, agricultural land to my right, desert mountain scenery to my left.
I passed through the sleepy towns of Cabanillas and Fustinanas without any fuss. I had a canal to my right, with a very rideable dirt track alongside it, but with little traffic I decided to keep to the road.
After 40km I crossed into the Aragón region, province of Zaragoza. The road immediately deteriorated, maybe due to more farming traffic than a lack of maintenance on behalf of the local municipality.
I reached the village of Alagon, had lunch in the plaza and pushed on. Following the signs towards Zaragoza, I somehow ended up on the Spanish equivalent of a motorway, the A68. I pulled off this road after one junction, into the village of Pinseque, through some farmers fields, a couple of wrong turns here and there before I eventually found the road I needed.
I picked up the semi busy N232 and rode straight into Zaragoza. Known for its folklore, local gastronomy and landmarks, the city is also home to the largest collection of Francisco de Goya’s work, considered one of Spain’s most influential artists.
I got lazy and spent the night in Zaragoza. The next morning I picked up road N11 and headed eastwards. More flat cycling, little traffic because it was Sunday.
I reached the town of Bujaraloz without much incident. The scenery was fairly bland, I spent much of the day singing to myself.
At some point in the journey it did feel like I was cycling through a desert.
The highlight of the day was finding a great place to camp. With the village of Penalba to far off the road to consider a detour. I passed a service station and climbed a small hill. At the top of this hill I just stopped, noticed a dirt track, pedalled down it and set up camp.
I spent the night looking at the sky, it was amazing. No light pollution, crystal clear.
Thank you for giving me the strength and the conviction to complete the task you entrusted to me.
Thank you for guiding me straight and true through the many obstacles in my path. And for keeping me resolute when all around seemed lost.
Thank you for your protection and your many signs along the way.
Thank you for any good that I may have done, I’m so sorry about the bad.
Thank you for the friends I have made. Please watch over them as you watch over me.
Thank you for finally allowing me to rest. I’m so very tired, but I go now to my rest at peace. Knowing that I have done right with my time on this earth.
I will fight the good fight, I will finish the race, I will keep the faith.
I was so tired, I didn’t rise and get moving till gone 11.30. The N11 was busy with heavy goods vehicles. I reached Fraga, had something to eat and decided to change the route.
From Fraga I decided to head directly south along the river Cinca towards Massalcoreig. The traffic died off immediately.
Vineyards and olive groves lined the road, I had found my little bit of peace for the day. At Massalcorieg, I turned left up a hill and made my way towards the village of Seros.
The road was beautiful, I could have been in Egypt.
I reached the hamlet of Seros but unfortunately all the shops where closed, siesta time.
However, I did pass a shop named….
I was now in Catalonia. I crossed the Segre River and a long climb ensued.
I was also in a big fruit growing region. The landscape was dotted with fruit trees, all empty!! I stopped for supplies at the village of Maials. I had to wait until 1730 for the local shop to open before pushing on to find a place to camp.
It was cold during the night. I woke the following morning and Jack Frost had left his mark. Everything was white. Good job the sleeping bag goes down to -15.
With a few undulations and the sun beating down, I soon arrived in the town of Flix. An industrial town situated on the River Ebro, Flix was the site of a major battle during the Spanish Civil War. Named the Battle of the Ebro, the International Brigades defeated Francos fascists forces at Flix, losing 3000 soliders.
After stopping for lunch in Flix, I pushed on along the C12 knowing a long climb was forthcoming. Surrounded by beautiful alpine forests it was such a shame to see a nuclear power plant. It really spoilt the scenery.
I pedalled along the river Ebro until reaching the town of Mora d’Ebre. Flat cycling until the turnoff towards Tivissa. Here the climbing began, all 15km. Steep to begin with, I reached Tivissa and had a well earned break.
Alpine forest cloaked the Montalt mountains. The climbing continued from Tivissa. The sun was cracking flags, slow going.
I reached the top, a sign read 500m. It felt like I had climbed to the moon! The glory took me all 12km down to the coast. The scenery on the downhill was beautiful. I didn’t stop for any photos, I just kept going. I passed through the villages of Vandellos and Masboquera without blinking.
I reached the beach at Miami Platja, so happy, haha. Tough day. It was warmer, people wearing shorts and t shirts. I slept on the beach, I didn’t bother putting the tent up.
Packed up this morning and set off northwards along the coast. Deserted beaches, sun shining, peace on Earth. I stopped in a cafe for breakfast and had a chat with the English owners. 13 years living in Spain, with no intention of heading back to Blighty. Can’t say I blame them.
It took me most of the day to cycle 30km to reach Tarragona. I passed through the resorts of Cambrils and Salou. I can imagine it’s chaos in these towns during peak season.
From Tarragona, I pedalled upto Sitges and took the train into the centre of Barcelona. I slept at the airport for two nights before catching a flight to Cairo.
A new beginning, a new journey. As always the first steps are always the hardest. For the last 12 months, I’ve been working for a company named SUMA, a food cooperative based in West Yorkshire, UK. A fantastic company to work for and my decision to leave and head towards Africa on my bicycle wasn’t taken lightly. I’ve also been living in my trusty campervan, a converted ford transit and it’s been great. No bills to pay, just finish work and head to the mountains and spend quality time in nature. I was also engaged in fighting the might of the antiquated fossil fuel industry with the anti-fracking movement in Lancashire which is still ongoing. Through this movement I have met some wonderful, intelligent and passionate people, who I hold in high regard.
So the decision to explore the African continent on my bicycle wasn’t taken lightly. But, here I am again, starting off on another adventure from the front door of my long suffering parents.
A fresh October morning, I cycled through the damp, quiet streets of my home village. Closed down pubs and takeaway joints line the main thoroughfare, a village in need of the right investment. Over the railway bridge and onto the canal, a murial added colour to the faded red brick surroundings.
I pushed on down the Rochdale canal towards Manchester, passing through Middleton, Moston and Newton Heath with trepidation, probably the most dangerous areas of the whole trip.
I reached the Etihad Stadium, the home of Manchester City, cycled a full lap like a Buddhist walking round a temple complex and pushed on along the Ashton canal.
Light rain greeted me as I ambled towards Marple. Steep cobble pathways over bridges, wet and slippery underfoot, pushing the bicycle upwards, precarious and unwanted challenges, the adventure had begun. Through Marple and Disley, I reached the picturesque village of Whalley Bridge and stopped for a sandwich lunch, next stop Buxton.
From Whalley Bridge to Buxton there is a 7 mile climb, appropriately named long hill. It’s a steady rise with quite a bit of traffic. I stopped for a break half way up and spoke to a local man out taking photos. He commented on how autumn was late arriving, noting that the trees over the other valley where late in changing there colours by about three weeks. I mentioned the F word and he implied that the government had its citizens best interests at heart. We shook hands and wished each other well, both carrying on with our respective life journeys.
Onwards and upwards grinding out the long hill, I reached the peak and zoomed down into Buxton. Through Buxton and onto the Tissington Trail, a light relief from the road and the encroaching darkness. I pedalled non stop out the other end and onto some back lanes. Up and down, up and down, the dark night was approaching. I just kept going until finally reaching Derby just before 8. A long first day but I had finally set off.
Do I feel young or old? Today is my 44th birthday. I’ve just cycled 38 miles, something I wouldn’t have been able to do in my twenties! Cycling the country lanes of Derbyshire and Warwickshire, using the cycle network routes 6 & 52, I didn’t see a single motorised vehicle for most of the day.
I’ve not spoken to anyone either, not a bad thing, but when I’m out cycling, I’m usually having a conversation with myself or I have some cheesy pop song in my head, playing over and over again. Today was different, my mind was quiet and clear and no cheeesy pop songs either! I’ve just been cycling along in peace watching the squirrels go bye!!
However, the cold wind is whistling in my ears. I can feel it’s cold bite telling me not to stop for too long. ‘Keep moving and keep warm’ cold wisdom informs me. Don’t forget to drink plenty of water too!!
National cycle route 52 is also known as the Bosworth Trail, named after the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Basically, 2 rich cock wavers, one named Richard from the House of York and the other, Henry from the house of Lancaster, paid aload of poor people to have a fight in a peaceful field in Leicestershire. Richard lost, his hat was passed to Henry at Stoke Golding and his crew had a party. The end of the War of the Roses.
Being autumn or backend as it used to be called in Northern England, I didn’t see any roses today, only brown/yellowy leaves lining the edges of the lanes. The clocks have gone back and the daylight has dropped rapidly. Winter in the northern hemisphere is on the horizon.
So it’s been a peaceful 44th after a week long session in Derby. It’s been great catching up with an old friend, he has done me proud. I’m spending the night in Nuneaton. Tomorrow, I hope to get past Coventry and make headway towards Oxford.
Nuneaton, the birthplace of the Independent filmmaker Ken Loach. Known for his socialist ideals, his films are about ordinary people and the ordeals they face, well worth a watch if your interested in British culture.
I departed Nuneaton this chilly morning along the Coventry canal. As sometimes happens with canal towpaths, the trail was narrow and bumpy, probably more suited for horses pulling barges. As I neared Coventry, I stopped for a break and the first passerby stop for a chat. A delightful Punjabi man name Suki, a vegan and who had recently backpacked Myanmar was interested in my story. We exchanged a few details regarding Suma and my website and wished each other well.
i pushed on through Coventry only stopping to purchase a msr cooking flask. I then whizzed through the southern outskirts of leafy Coventry on back lanes and major roads.
My next port of call was to be Kenilworth, a town with plenty of history. The largest siege in English history happened at Kenilworth Castle in 1266. The siege was part of the English civil war between the forces of Simon de Montfort who led a rebellion against the Royalist army. I did intend to stop and have a look around, but the cycle route took me to the outskirts of the town. So I kept on cycling picking up the Grand Union canal into Lemington Spa.
Lemington Spa, a nice little town named after the River Learn and some quality architecture can be viewed. I was now in middle England and it all felt rather posh and eloquent!
The next day I followed Clemens Road out of the town, where an unfortunate incident with a gate post, saw my front pannier bag break. Nothing could be done to fix the problem, id done a proper job! I googled and found a bicycle shop to replace the bags and was soon on my way.
Small narrow lanes and winding country roads, I found myself in the lovely village of Fenny Compton. I struck up a conversation with a lady who came at me holding a camcorder and told me to get off her land. I was setting up the tripod to get a selfie at the end of her bellmouth. She then accused me of being a huntsman! When I pointed out to her that I wasn’t but I had seen a group of 30 farmers congregating down the road with shotguns, she told me to ‘go and get them’. When I replied ‘ok, let’s both go and confront them’ she refused. So, not only had she told me to get off her land, she then wanted to send the lamb to the slaughter. Moral of the story, don’t tell people to do something that you won’t do yourself.
The lady then decided to give me a lecture on being a vegan whilst wearing leather shoes. She was talking to me as if I’d just come from another planet and wasn’t conscious of such things. She was just rude. Leave me alone.
So I carried on through the Warwickshire country lanes on National cycle route 5, which would eventually bring me to Banbury in Oxfordshire.
The above photo was my first and last impression of Banbury. The factory caught on fire in May this year, looks like it’s still smoking and not contributing to the destruction of the planet at all!! So I found the centre of Banbury and stopped to make a sandwich.
From Banbury I continued following cycling route 5 and it was lovely.
Through small villages and sometimes through fields, it was great. I reached the outskirts of Outer Warton and a lovely lady informed me there was a great place to camp just before middle Barton.
I cycled on for another 3 miles keeping my eyes open for a farm shop.
I arrived in Middle Barton, spotted the farm shop. I bought some tomatoes and was duly pointed in the direction of the woods by the farmshop owner. A great spot it was too.
It was such a good spot to camp, I didn’t surface the next morning till late. Once I had packed up, it was gone 10am.
From Middle Barton my next destination was to be Oxford. Keeping to National Cycle Network 5 the route into Oxford is lovely. From Middle Barton the route is mostly off road through narrow lanes until Woodstock.
Woodstock, Oxfordshire is a beautiful old market town. A few of the buildings date back to the 17th century. Just up the road is Blenheim Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The palace was paid for by the nation and given to the 1st Duke of Marlborough. Winston Churchill, the twice Prime Minister of the UK was born here! On this occasion, I decided not to visit Blenheim Palace.
From Woodstock to Oxford the cycle route hugs a main road. I cycled into the centre of Oxford, famous for its universities. I must say, the architecture is pretty impressive. Lots of people bobbing about on bicycles, tourists everywhere, Oxford looks a good place to be.
The River Thames at Oxford is also known under its alternative name The Isis, I learn something new everyday! I followed the river out of the city towards Radley. Flat cycling all the way to Abingdon, where I picked up supplies. I then continued a little further until I reached a side road just after Clifton Hampden train station. It was getting dark and I was lucky to find a place to camp.
A wild white layer of mist had silently encroached upon the surrounding meadows overnight. The tent this morning was covered in dew, silken like. Packed away wet, hard to dry when the summer breeze has gone.
I set off through the back lanes towards Little Wittenham and came across the Earth Trust environmental centre.
The Earth Trusts main focus is on people and how sustainable lifestyles are possible. As well as exploring new and innovative ways of looking after the environment, the Earth Trust also boasts an internationally acclaimed woodland where the Earth Trust team study climate change and disease impacts on trees. It was a good and interesting visit.
From Little Wittenham, my next stop was the old market town of Wallingford which lies at the foot of the Chilterns, an area of natural beauty. A few miles outside Wallingford is the interesting not for profit organisation CABI, whose aim is to provide scientific expertise, that improves people’s lives by solving agricultural and environmental problems.
From Wallingford I headed into the Chilterns following National Cycle Network 5. Beautiful cycling an area of real beauty.
The Chiltern woodland is mainly compromised of beech trees interspersed with farmland and little hamlets. The sun came out and the cycling was wonderful.
At times it felt like I was zig zagging up one lane, taking a right turn, then a mile later turning right again and cycling back down a parallel lane. It was lovely.
Through the Chilterns and I was soon entering the largest town in England without the city status, Reading. Here I stayed for the night, doing my best to try and dry the tent.
The following morning the sky was very English, grey. The lovely cycle route 23 took me out of Reading through parkland, canal towpaths and lanes. As I arrived in Bramley a man posting a letter on a bicycle invited me back to his house.
A keen cyclist having done a few tours himself, Keith was intrigued to know more about me. His lovely wife cooked me a meal and warmed my flask, whilst Keith and I chatted about routes. A hungry cyclist appreciates such hospitality. Thank you.
From Bramley I continued along cycle route 23. Through Basingstoke without any issues, I was soon cycling the backroads.
I reached the wealthy village of Bradley late in the afternoon and was approached by a man named. Aidan. A down to Earth local farmer, married to an Italian lady he met in New York back in the 80’s, he was a wealth of knowledge about all things Italian. By the time we stopped chatting it was dark. He pointed me in the direction of an abandoned shed and here I stayed for the night.
It was cold during the night and it felt even colder this morning. After making a brew and packing, I hit the lanes just before 11am. Through the village of Medstead and into the South Downs. Through the South Downs, which didn’t live up to my expectations, mainly farmland. I reached Portsmouth and the end of the UK line.
A beautiful route through the backbone of England. Oxfordshire in particular was especially beautiful. Next stop Santander and hopefully some warmer weather.