Part 2 of Pete’s bike tour from Oviedo to Lisbon, we rejoin our intrepid adventurers in Porto.
Day 6 Porto to Fuguera do Foz; 129km, 954m climbing
Rain, the first proper wet weather of the week greeted us in the morning. The new members of the group were keen to get going so we agreed on the route and two of us set off for the bike shop, the others on the road south. I should say at this point that I was the only person with a functioning satnav, JK’s having given up the ghost somewhere in France. We found the bike shop, waited for them to open and then got back on the road courtesy of the purchase of a brand new stem – a good solution to a tricky problem. We were back in the game. Having got away from Porto neatly we were pretty soon bearing down on our rendezvous point 20km away. It was still raining, but not cold – the rolling roads and decent pace kept us reasonably comfortable. We stopped at a cafe and called the others, they were just outside town.
We waited, and waited some more. 45 mins later they’d given up trying to find us so now we had to find them. 3km later we clocked the bikes outside another cafe and finally we were a group. More coffees, a mid-morning brandy and another round of Pastel de Nata’s (custard tarts) – it was midday and we’d covered 25km.
We finally found a rhythm as we passed along a long finger of land north of Aveiro, with the sea on one side and a lagoon on the other it was a a serene place to travel through. Here there were impressive modern villa’s, a world away from the sleepy villages further north. We arrived at the ferry terminal with 20 mins to go, just time to get some sandwiches for the trip. 15 mins later and still no sign of the food, which was coming out from the kitchen one at time. I waited for five sandwiches to appear and then dashed for the ferry – turns out we had six in the end so if the bar owner is reading this I owe you €1.50, sorry.
It was a short trip over the estuary, the sun came out and we had a bit of a dig on the other side to get warmed up. Aveiro was a quaint, pretty seaside town that looked like Disneyland but beyond there it was beautiful, quite roads through the pine forest. The road was dead straight, the highway 6km to the east when the surface abruptly changed to a rough, rocky pathway with the odd patch of tarmac to head for. It stayed like that for 25 long km’s but it was fun in a curious sort of way, you had to concentrate on picking a decent line and avoid the wheel-sized holes along the way. We’re never far from the coast on this section so we pulled into a seaside town for a warming ale or two, the sun came out and all was well with the world.
By 6pm we’d got through the pave section and back onto quiet roads, we found a picture-postcard village 5km from home and stopped for a drink. Everyone was in great spirits -the varied nature of the day, the terrain and the weather all had contributed to a feeling of camaraderie amongst the group.
More fun was to follow as we headed right towards the sea and a steep climb over a headland with tremendous views looking back up the coast. Not far now but then road pitched downwards again and the paved surface abruptly ended, replaced with a steep, uphill rutted track – by now our lights were on as we tried to pick a line through the gullies. Eventually we all navigated our way through and rejoined the main road for one last hair-raising descent down through town and into our hotel. It was in a quiet spot that had seen better days but right by the pounding surf and with a fantastic restaurant just down the road. We tucked into a fish feast and with plenty of local wine on board we recounted the travails of the day, all of us on a high after such a memorable start to this leg of the trip.
Day 7 Fuguera do Foz to Foz do Arelho; 144km, 1154m climbing
The sun was out and it promised to be a good day. We were following the coast south but the satnav said north, back over the headland we climbed the day before. We climbed 250m, at least it was paved this time and through beautiful pine scented forest. Once on the top I kept picking up signs for yesterdays destinations, but nothing for further south. After an hour I had to admit I’d loaded the wrong route and we turned back and headed towards the original start point. Once there things didn’t improve as the route had us on a dual carriageway and then a busy highway bridge over a wide estuary. I’ve crossed the Severn and Humber bridges a’wheel but for some it was an unpleasant first major river crossing by bike.
Things improved once we left town, we decided to stick on the main highway to make up time – I had a more ‘direct’ route through the forest but we couldn’t be sure it would be navigable, let alone paved. Once again we’d lost time time in the morning but this time we were under pressure to get to to Nazare, 80km away, where we were being met by my two sisters and a friend who were joining us for the last couple of days. We hit a long, dead-straight road through the forest, with the gentle rises you could see for 20km ahead but in truth we were travelling slowly. We’d planned for lunch in Nazare but were running late, 2pm, 3pm went by and still we were a way off. Some of the party were struggling to keep going without food and the tough start to the day. We spilt into groups and made our own way into town. Nazare was an interesting place, with a cobbled cathedral square high up on the cliffs (more climbing) and a wide sandy beach below. No time to take photos though as I tried to make the rendezvous, then guide the others into position. Everyone finally made it, we enjoyed some lunch (at tea-time) and prepared to take on the final 30km.
We were now a party of nine, and my two sisters were fairly inexperienced having only ridden a max of 40km previously. No gentle introduction for them, we rolled along the seafront for 5 km’s or so and then the road pitched violently upwards. It was a steep slope but when I looked back round I saw them doggedly working their way up, refusing to give in. I knew then they would be ok – what they lacked in experience they made up for with grit and determination. Over the top we regrouped for the descent. I’d studied the profile and knew there was one more big lump to tackle, by now it was getting dark but emboldened by the first climb this one was despatched easily enough. We rolled along the tops, high above the sea below in the inky darkness. And then the lights of town appeared and as we headed downwards we spotted a sign for the hotel, saving us from having to climb back up from the coast. Thank-you Agua d’Alma – we stayed at many lovely places but yours was a truly beautiful refuge. I will be back.
There was a bit of a party atmosphere that night, a mixture of relief after a tough day and excitement for what was to follow. We hit a local bar and once again the wine and beer flowed. There was bullfighting on the TV, it still goes on in parts of Portugal, which made for a grim spectacle. On the way out we saw this sign – not quite sure about the maths though as we’d already covered 800km since Oviedo.
Day 8 Foz do Arelho to Sintra; 114km, 1354m climbing
I checked and rechecked the route before we set off. This was going to be a long day, nearly 3 times longer than anything the girls had ridden before with tough finish in the hills around Sintra. We got away around 9.30am, not bad, and rolled along at a reasonable speed, stopping periodically to let the group come back together. We’d left the coast road now, a shame but it would have added an extra 30km. We stopped in Obidos to admire the castle and the Roman acqueduct then pushed on to a coffee stop at 30km. So far so good. The roads were quiet, the surfaces good and the weather perfect. At Torres de Vedras, 58km I spotted this statue and a perfect photo opportunity;
After lunch things got a bit more serious, the hills arrived in quick succession. We climbed in single file, everyone at their own pace. Spirits flagged, but never the collective determination of all to get through the day. The hills kept coming, getting steeper now. We stopped at a cafe halfway up one long, nasty section. Coke, Ice-cream, Beer – choose your weapon, sometimes all 3 were required. As the sun started to drift behind the hills we hit a fast downhill dual carriageway, odd in such a rural area but a signal that Sintra, and Lisbon were not far away. We turned right off the main road and could see Sintra and it’s castle in the distance. The optimists judged this to be level with our viewpoint but I knew better, there were still two more small climbs to negotiate. I’ve been at the ragged end of a long ride many times in the past so it was with no small amount of pride that I helped my sisters over those final miles and into our final destination.
Another beautiful hotel, this one a collection of small cottages around a pool and the main house, it was all very calm and serene. This was the penultinate day, the last day of real riding with only the procession into Lisbon to complete the journey. Friends, wives and husbands of the riders joined us later that evening and we partied late into the night.
Day 9 Sintra to Lisbon; 48km, 269m climbing
Despite the relentless boozing I’d managed thus far to avoid any hangover. Not this morning, it had been a long, late evening tucking into endless bottles of wine. Still, not to far to go and leisurely departure time of 10am, make that 10.30am. Out of the hotel and down the road and immediately off-course, I couldn’t find the right road out of town. We doubled back, consulted phones, satnav etc and eventually picked our way through town and out the other side. Local club riders were out in force, all heading for the nicely graded hill we were faced with immediately out of town. Just because we were in the hills and the destination is at sea-level doesn’t mean it’s all downhill, a disheartening revelation for some. The climb done, we settled in for a long fast descent to the coast at Cascais. Along the way we assembled for this;
We arrived at a busy junction, and picked up a minor road to Cascais, another short sharp climb to get over the motorway and then we were again tumbling down the other side towards the sea. Cascais is a pretty smart place, large expensive villas line the roads and the whole area feels more like the South of France. The setting for the beach is glorious though, and we spend an hour or so here swimming, drinking and generally postponing the end of the trip.
We recreated the cover of ‘The Undertones’ on the sea wall but we couldn’t delay any longer – friends and family were waiting in the main square in Lisbon. For a few miles there was perfect bike path along the seafront, a chance to take some group riding photos framed by the beach and the sea.
Alas, the bike path ran out and we were back on the main highway into town. One last photo op in a subway, this one an homage to any hip-hop album you care to recall from the 90’s;
Lisbon was getting closer, we could see the bridge and once at Belem we could leave the road and ride along the seafront. With 3km to go we had to rejoin the road and one of my sisters hit a tramline and went down heavily. Shaken but undeterred she carried on but by now we all needed to get in and the job done. I know central Lisbon so could count down the km’s to our final destination at the Praca do Commercio. We rounded one last corner and there it was – we tried, and failed, to ride in Tour de France style across the road. In truth we dribbled over the line but no matter, our work here was done.
What to say in conclusion? A big thanks to all the riders; Sean for the jokes and relentless banter; Glenn for racing me up the hills; DaveM, my roomy; DaveB, my wingman; Colin, Blackburn’s finest and Alison, queen of the hills. Special mention to my sisters Anna and Katie for their incredible effort and tenacity. Finally, and most importantly to JK who had the idea, got the the team together and inspired so many others along the way. You nailed it.
ps. JK was raising money for a local charity helping Syrian refugees, to date he’s raised £5,501 – link above.
pps. Just found out Anna broke her elbow in that tumble on the way to Lisbon, ouch – GWS.
Postcript: A final thank-you to James at Spokesman Bicycle Repairs – after only 30km into the ride JK’s headset seized up nearly derailing the whole adventure before it even started. Not only did he drop everything to help get us back on the road, he donated his fee to the charity – a simple act of kindness that will not be forgotten.