From Gibraltar to Amsterdam

From Gibraltar to Amsterdam

By Richard Starkey

One of our lovely customers, Richard, got in touch to tell us about his off-road bikepacking trip from Gibraltar to Amsterdam. He did on his Camino Ti and with plenty of Alpkit bikepacking bags. Here're the details.

I’ve always preferred an A to B ride over a loop, so when I was lucky enough to get a month off work this summer, I decided to stretch the idea a bit further than usual.

Wanting to take the Camino Ti, I needed a route that would give me lots of bikepacking freedom and as much gravel and off-road riding as possible. 

I’d always fancied riding along the Camino Frances to or from Santiago de Compostela, but a quick route plan on Komoot showed a ride back to Hertfordshire was roughly 2,000km. I wouldn’t be getting a month off work again any time soon so looked for something a little further.

When looking at the Camino route map I noticed another Camino from the south - the Via De La Plata – stretching from Seville to the Bay of Biscay in the North.  An ancient, off-road route with ‘large sections that are more or less the same as they were two thousand years ago’ – that description sealed the deal.

If I started in Gibraltar and crossed to Cadiz I could easily join the route at Seville, follow it north and then turn east on to the Camino Frances to Pamplona, from where Komoot could find me a mix of gravel and EuroVelo routes over the Pyrenees and along the west coast of Europe all the way to the ferry terminal at Amsterdam – roughly 3,300km all in.

Planning on a mix of wild camping, campsites and hotels I decided to take the Elan hooped bivvy, a light sleeping bag and a Cloud Base sleeping mat.  I swapped out the Dyno hub for a new Sonder Juice 110 and dug out my Flare solar panel for power.

I arrived right in the middle of the heatwave that was covering Southern Europe, and this meant that temperatures most days through Spain and Southern France were bumping around the thirties and occasionally up to forty – this was going to take some getting used to when combined with the climbing, gravel and average distances I’d signed up to.

 The Via De La Plata didn’t disappoint.  Being one of the least travelled Caminos, I rarely saw any pilgrims on the trail, let alone cyclists and this just added to the feeling of isolation and remoteness I was hoping for.

 The flat gravel plains below Seville quickly turned into long gravel climbs followed by high plains, almost alpine climbing near Bejar and on to big wheat fields and roman ruins in Extremadura and essentially desert and castle ruins between Zamora and Palencia.

Turning east on to the Camino Frances meant travelling against the hundreds of pilgrims walking to Santiago that had been absent from the Via De La Plata, the next three days were full of shouts of ‘buen camino!’ from the pilgrims, the Rioja vineyards, and a smattering of pine forests.

 After turning north again after Pamplona (and the best food on the trip) came some great gravel climbing over the Pyrenees to the French border that put almost all the climbing behind me.

Although flat, the west coast of France was arguably the hardest section due to temps hitting 40 degrees plus and trying to push average distances a bit higher, but was made easier by being joined by a good friend for the leg to St Malo.   

 

I remember someone helpfully shouting ‘c’est 42 degrees, toi idiot!’ as we ground out endless pine forest tracks without ever seeing the sea – we took the advice and had a well needed rest day on the Il de Re.

On through the Loire (complete with wild beavers), Brittany and the Cherbourg peninsula, ‘Little Switzerland’, Caen, the Normandy beaches and eventually Dieppe.

 On a whim I decided to cut inland to visit the war memorial at Arras where family members are commemorated, before heading north again the following day for the Belgian border and moules frites in Bruges.

The final full day was a long canal and coast ride from Bruges to Amsterdam, the only day that I saw any really bad weather. The final 75km to Amsterdam was into a vicious headwind and torrential rain, which was bizarrely welcome after the temperatures earlier in the trip, and easy to endure knowing there was a hotel waiting for me before the ferry home the following day.

There are too many amazing places to mention but big highlights had to be:

  • Flamingos on the flood plain south of Seville
  • The ruins of Merida
  • The seemingly endless singletrack after Grimaldo
  • The Roman milestones counting you in to Salamanca
  • The pintxos in Pamplona
  • The beautiful road climb to the French border from Bera
  • The Victorian transporter bridge at Rochefort
  • The medieval town of Dinan
  • The disused railway line route through ‘Little Switzerland’ near Caen
  • Bruges and its beer

And there were too many lovely and helpful people to mention but:

  • Manuel who rode with me and got me back on track after some dreadful navigation north of Seville
  • Juan, who let me draft him into Salamanca after getting cooked on a 40 degree day
  • Denis who let me use his cowshed to avoid the worst of the Dutch weather and fed me homemade cheese

Sad that the trip was ending, but happy to be heading home to see the family I found the only spare seat in the ferry bar on a table with a chapter of Hell’s Angels from Manchester.

They were returning from a Norwegian road trip to see the world’s biggest bonfire in Alesund, the next bikepacking trip is already forming in my mind…

Overall, the ride came in at just under 3,400km with 27km of climbing over 24 days with 4 rest days, only one puncture and miraculously no mechanicals… I couldn’t have been happier with my kit choices.

Sonder Camino

Sonder Camino
Award-winning gravel bike

cloud base inflatable sleeping mat Alpkit

Cloud Base Sleeping Mat
Lightweight, inflatable camping mat

bikepacking bags

Bikepacking Bags
Weather resistant bikepacking bags

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