The last time I went touring on a motorcycle, there were still borders between European countries. I remember this fact distinctly as I shot through one such border, on the E3 that connects Holland and Germany, travelling a bit too quickly.
I could see an odd arrangement of buildings up ahead, and even an elderly gentleman that seemed to be strolling between them, but without spotting any signs, or perhaps not understanding the ones I did see, I just kept going. It was a few miles later when I stopped, as I was expecting to have seen the border by now, that I discovered my error. I spent the next two weeks expecting to get arrested.
So it seemed apt that I met Brother Carle at the Junction 15a Services near Northampton, on the day that the UK Government announced it would be activating Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, and we departed for Portsmouth to connect with the ferry to Spain.
Despite a spirited ride to Portsmouth through the ever-thinning evening traffic, the most interesting anecdote from that part of the journey was to notice how much more BMW 7 Series cars work the air than the other cars. There is a noticeable buffet behind the 7 Series that isn’t present when following most other cars. Not exactly a Bill Bryson quality travel story I will grant you, but there you have it.
The same is true for the overnight ferry to Santander. As it was still early in the holiday season, the boat was lightly loaded, and other than having to slow down overnight due to the rough seas, there is little to say about the crossing, other than the food being expensive, the wine cheap and we arrived a little late.
Despite the light passenger numbers, it seems that the various motorcyclists on the boat had failed to identify each other until we all gathered on deck 2 to disembark. Around 20 of us congregated around our bikes on the last deck to unload, impatiently waiting to be called forward.
I’m not exactly sure what the officer at passport control thought as we arrived, as one semi-organised collective at his barrier, but it was sufficiently intriguing for him to depart the comfort of his chair and walk among us, glancing briefly at our passports.
Those of us with front flip helmets had them raised. As for those with full-face or motocross helmets, they were given the same cursory inspection, although I’m not exactly sure what the passport man was looking at. Perhaps they had their helmets on when they had their passport photos taken.
It’s said that adventure bikes account for the majority of new motorcycle sales and looking at the lineup waiting to embrace the roads around Santander, that is certainly true. Of the 17 motorcycles, I could see around me, only the Goldwing, the Suzuki SV650 with the straight through pipes and Brother Carle’s Fireblade were out of character. The rest of us were a “What-Bike” display of upright tourers featuring BMW GS1200 in abundance, a single KTM, my exquisite Triumph Tiger (yes, I’m biased) and enough Africa Twins to declare independence and start their own country.
Riding on the wrong side of the road, which strangely felt quite natural, we headed towards the nearest petrol station and the first reminder that the EU never managed to align traffic rules The roundabouts (traffic circles for our American readers) in this part of Spain have two distinct lanes around them. Whereas you might imagine that someone driving in the outside lane around the roundabout was going to turn off, rather than carry on around, you can never be sure. For it to happen once could have been just poor driving. Twice and I was feeling unlucky. The third time, I had already decided that nothing less than a 200 meter exclusion zone was required before advancing on to a roundabout.
Having arrived in Santander late due to the weather and having messed about finding a petrol station – why are they always on the other side of the road when your fuel light is on? – A couple of hours on the motorway seemed the best idea to get the majority of our journey to the exquisite Casona Naviega Hotel in Navia, completed. The coastal route we had programmed into the GPS involved running through the towns near Santander, which like any large town are a sprawling mass of supermarkets and DIY stores. With little in the way of entertaining roads to ride, if we were going to be “bored”, we might as well be racking up the miles.
Spanish motorways are wonderful places. Road surfaces are smooth, the tarmac grippy and, unlike so many of the roads in the UK, devoid of potholes. Traffic is sparse, and everyone seems to understand the rules of the road. On the occasions we were passed by someone paying less attention to the speed limits than perhaps their licenses would appreciate, they would always indicate and move to the nearside lane, once safely passed. No tailgating, light flashing or lane hogging. They just got on with the business of moving, politely and succinctly. It is hard to balance these folks with the roundabout rebels encountered earlier – it must be me not understanding the roundabout rules.
Two hours along the motorways and we were ready for some of the roads that we came here for and were not disappointed. The roads in this part of Spain are simply superb. Even though they are essentially back roads, the majority have excellent tarmac. It takes a while to get the timing right so the corners flow neatly together. Yet, with them constantly coming at you, you soon get down to business. If you are planning a trip over here, don’t forget to check your brake pads before you set out. It isn’t the place to run out of brakes and you will be needing them.
Even in the pouring rain, and by heck it did rain, the roads are great fun to ride even for a cautiously progressive rider (slow) such as me.
Looking at the forecast for the coming days suggested that we were going to enjoy a real selection of weather. Normally this translates into the weather forecasters hedging their bets, as they are unsure what will happen. Yet, there is never the wrong weather, just the wrong clothing and we have come prepared for everything short of a blizzard.
We are here to ride some of the best motorcycling roads in Europe, and a little rain isn’t going to confine us to the hotel, no matter how wonderful a place the hotel is.