Guest Blog, Ken Scott, author of Cycling the Camino de Santiago
Let's start at the beginning.
We were heading west towards the Atlantic coast, to a place called Salles, 42 km away and we decided to use Google Maps on a smartphone for directions. We clicked on the bicycle icon so that the app took us onto the cycle paths and avoided roads wherever possible.
The D214 took us onto the D1010 in the direction of La Barp. The D-roads in France are a cyclist’s dream, with good surfaces and the road to Salles was as almost perfectly flat. Our entire elevation for the day was only 121 m.
There were few cars on the road considering it was a Saturday morning and although the scenery was quite bland, we enjoyed the long, straight, tree-lined roads. You have Napoleon to thank for those tree-lined roads that shelter you from the heat of the sun. He had them planted in the early 1800s to protect his marching Grande Armee from the hot summer sun.
We were in no hurry but made good time as we took it easy, averaging around 16 km per hour. We stopped for a couple of beers and lunch on the outskirts of Le Barp and stayed for nearly two hours and got talking to a table of locals. I was surprised but pleased that one of the men was Spanish and we were able to hold a conversation with him. He told us he lived there and that there were a lot of Spanish speaking people in the village, which surprised me because we were still 200 km from the Spanish border. He was quick to tell me that he isn´t Spanish, but Basque and reminded me that we were very close to the French Basque country. He said the Basque people had inhabited the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains and parts of Southern France for thousands of years. We said goodbye to our Basque friend and his French drinking partners and headed west towards the Route d’Argiles down a small street called the Chemin de Tutou. It took us into a forest and we followed the Google cycle app as it spoke instructions every few hundred metres. It’s worth pointing out that there is an alternative route to Salles, via the D1010 and then the D108, but we much preferred the mystery of the forest.
We had booked an Airbnb property on the outskirts of Salles, 2 km from the village, in the heart of the forest. An hour or so from our destination, we typed the exact address into Google Maps.
It was a 12 km ride from La Barp and the app took us right to the door. The small cottage was in the owner’s garden. Bernadette is an elderly lady who lives in the main house on her own. She greeted us with mint tea and we spent a little time with her speaking mostly in Spanish, but Caroline drifted into her university French from time to time. Bernadette showed us the small cottage which had two single beds downstairs and a double bed upstairs. As Caroline booked all of the accommodation and being the only girl, the rule was that she took the best bed, so she claimed the upstairs mezzanine section of the house.
It had been some years since I last camped and was eager to try out my new, one-man tent, so I pitched it at the side of the cottage. The lads who were due in later that evening could have the two single beds.
Each member of our group carried a tent and a sleeping bag on the back of our bike. Even if you are not camping, I would still recommend you take these items as part of your emergency action plan. If we had to set up camp by the side of the road, we knew we could survive whatever nature threw at us. Remember, albergues get full, campsites are few and far between in some places and hotels and guest houses can get booked up many days in advance. There are some great lightweight sleeping bags that weigh less than half a kilo. Tents these days weigh next to nothing and there are dozens of great products on Amazon including the waterproof, two in one combination, the Bivvy Bag, if you want to travel super light.
We met one young couple on the Camino the following week, who had walked 32 km that day and intended to lay their heads in the albergue where we were staying. It was full, and the girl was quite distressed when she heard the next resting spot was more than 10 km away. I had a word with the owner who said they were welcome to camp wherever they could find a spot. As long as they were eating and drinking there, there would be no charge. They could use the toilets and showers too. The only problem was they didn’t have any tents or sleeping bags. We had a bed for the night, so we offered them our tents and sleeping bags and they took us up on the offer. It’s worth bearing in mind that most albergue owners are happy to allow camping on their land. They want to sell food and beer, that’s where they make their money. Make it a golden rule always to carry something you can sleep in, an insurance policy if you like. That way you can enjoy the day worry-free.