We moved on from Gijon, via Oviedo, to a small town on the north coast called Navia. It was only a short drive there, 37km total. The mountains in the north of Spain spill right down to the coast, with a blanket of tall, thin trees covering their slopes. They provide beautiful views but also clearly presented a difficult headache for those tasked with providing traffic routes through. The route was bright and clear, passing over several long and very high viaducts and hard-won semi-circular tunnels cut through solid rock. The greenness of the north coast continued to surprise us, looking more like Yorkshire or sometimes Cornwall, than the common thought of dusty Spanish countryside.
In Navia, we visited services for Benny and then a local supermarket for supplies, before heading up to our proposed camp spot for the next few days. This was what we hoped would be a rather special aire, near the village of Ortiguera, set on a cliff edge – and it didn’t disappoint. Expecting it to be busy, we were pleasantly surprised to note only three or four other vans were already here, although we had deliberately arrived early with the intent of avoiding disappointment. We chose our spot, deciding to park orthogonal to the other vans on a narrow strip of grass, allowing views of the sea and adjacent bays from our door and kitchen window, rather than from the front cab like the others.
The weather clouded over a little, but the below bay was too inviting to miss, so we headed down the numerous steps to the sand, finding it void of people – our own private beach. We considered a swim, but the waves were crashing heavily in a dip and creating a huge undertow right at the water’s edge, so we decided that prudence should prevail today, not knowing the local conditions and wanting to avoid any possible issues. We watched the surf crash, studying its motion to best understand the possibility of strong undertows and potential complications. We passed a very pleasant afternoon on the sand with only our toes dipped in the cool water, with no one else arriving in all the time we were there. Later we returned to Benny for dinner and after enjoyed a short walk to a local church and lighthouse as we watched the sun go down and the skies darken to black, threatening storms.
The weather had abruptly changed by the following morning; the sun was out, glowing in a clear blue sky and lifting the whole vista from our windows to yet another level. The frothy, white rolling surf hitting the yellow sand and dark grey jutting cliffs formed the impressive backdrop for our luxurious breakfast of oven-warmed butter croissants with blueberry jam. Then, it was time (long overdue) for our bikes to make another appearance – we packed a picnic lunch and began our cycle first back towards Navia town, all downhill on narrow, empty country roads, enjoying the cooling breeze but knowing full well we’d pay for the free ride later in the day.
Having no proper maps, as they are difficult to obtain anywhere, Mr Garmin came into his own in allowing us to locate the precise route we wished to follow, at least for a short while – The Camino del Norte, an alternative, but piously equally acceptable, northern portion of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route. Known as St. James’ Way, the route has no official starting point, but runs from over 750km away in France, crosses the Pyrenees and extends beyond to the city of Santiago de Compostela in the far north west of Spain. Whilst others may, we had no illusions of completing the whole way but wanted to cycle and later walk a small portion to get a taste for the route and those pilgrims on it.
We located our first official shell emblem route marker on the bridge into Navia, allowing us to pick up the trail heading west, and we instantly got lost again and had to double back. We changed route with Garmin’s help and, via a small alleyway and what looked like someone’s driveway, we finally found other markers to lead us on the correct path. We paid almost immediately for the downhill into town, going straight back up to the cliff top height we’d started from, with lungs and legs screaming, to reach the village of Jarrio. The path is officially a walking route, so it was difficult in places to cycle along, with narrow, rutted paths, and even railway tracks to cross by lifting the bikes over, but the bikes proved a massive advantage on certain portions when on road or downhill. We followed the marker shells after colourful shells, when we could spot them, but mostly relied on Mr Garmin to keep us on the straight and narrow (well, more literally winding and inclined), feeling it was more of a treasure hunt than a proper cycle. Perhaps, as per original intent, it’s a route more suited to being explored on foot.
After only 10km or so, we decided to leave the path to the pilgrims and head more north rather than further west, heading through the village of Cartavio and on, down a very steep entry road to the Playa de Torbas. We locked up our bikes and climbed down the steep steps, but the pebble beach with jagged rocks was a little disappointing at the time of our visit, for being entirely in shade. We walked a little on the clifftop above, then back on the bikes for a lung-bursting 500m of practically vertical cycling back out to the main coastal path.
We repeated this a couple more times at each subsequent beach we passed, up and down the steep entry roads, but they all were stony with jagged rocks, no sand in sight – we arrived a few hundred thousand years too early for these coves to provide us with the perfect, glorious setting of perfect white sand we were wishing for.
Doodling around the back roads of this headland was a cyclist’s delight – no road traffic and lots to add interest. The fields were still full of as yet unharvested sweetcorn, the farm buildings in either disrepair or brand new in an eccentric, modernist architectural vernacular that looked quite out of place in such a rural community. We returned to the tiny town of Ortiguera, clinging to the cliffs on each side of the bay, and descended to the central harbour at the heart of the town. This proved a mistake, as there was little to see and we had to work all the way back up to the cliff top to return to the main road – no easy task. It would be wrong to suggest that we managed this without some walking and pushing of our bikes up the steep, narrow concrete roads.
We got back near to where Benny was perched on the cliff edge, and passed by what seemed like a local wedding party with hundreds of guests, at a large pink-coloured hall near the local lighthouse. There were bagpipers playing and much revelry, so we sat on the stone wall on the clifftop, overlooking the sea, and listened to the party atmosphere as we ate our lunch.
Even with only 21km covered today, we felt we’d explored the local headland to our satisfaction, so we packed away our bikes and walked down to our local beach for a relaxing afternoon in the sun, reading and watching the surf break. With more understanding of the crashing surf, we managed a short dip in the cool Atlantic water before the challenging work of sitting still and relaxing properly began. Local culture, cycle, swim, read; we’ll call that a full day and leave Navia and its surrounding area with a full sense of contentment.