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I love leaving Aberystwyth

I love leaving Aberystwyth! Especially when I am off to Spain on my annual motorbike work trip. You see I am writing my second Spanish travel book and naturally this requires of me the dedication to go and spend a couple of weeks riding the back-roads, trying out bars and tapas, catching fiestas, meeting people, sketching scenes and taking photographs. Everything is ready days before – the bike is fuelled and packed and the excitement is growing, tomorrow I will get away from Aberystwyth! I always wake up far too early and spend a fruitless hour or so trying to go back to sleep before giving in to the urge to leave. With luck it’s dry and the low sun promises warmth to come. But even rain can’t dampen my thirst for the road, for the un-reeling tarmac between me and the horizon. I love the run up to Eisteddfa Gurig; just past Dyffryn Castell the last trees give ground and the valley stretches out it’s palm to me. The road ahead visible in many places for nearly 2 kilometres. “What’s coming down? What’s going up?” Two Mansell-Davies tankers; no worries, I’ll have them before Llangurig if not Sweet Lamb. Aberystwyth squats in my mirrors but can’t grasp my shoulder, soon I’ll be over the watershed and it will be forgotten. The days pass. A day with sea and dolphins. “Somewhere in La Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman…” Pulls his horse to a roadside stop, ground hitches her and slowly removes his helmet. Across the skyline march an army of enormous giants, each sedately wheeling their three arms in menacing gestures of defiance. It is good to stop. Take a deep breath of the thick hot air of Spain, like a tasty chunk of chorizo it assaults your senses with strength and subtlety. The sharp tang of verge-heated wild herbs overlays the dust kicked up by my horse’s hooves as we left the tarmac and came to rest on the rutted dirt of the hard shoulder. Unhurriedly I remove my gloves and jacket. As I drop them across my ‘Rocinante’s’ seat I feel a year’s worth of busy-ness and stress begin to slide from me, alongside the thin trickles of sweat that start as the great August sky of Spain settles over me.(*) Days of dust and sun as I ride my black steed across the plains of La Mancha. 1200 cc of Moto Guzzi Stelvio, tall and long-legged, he can go for at least 450 km without sustenance, I’m the week link. In Burgos I catch the last day of the fiesta of San Pedro y San Pablo which winds down at 4 am. Another night at Paco’s small dark bar locals with a couple of guitars play just for themselves. 6th July. 500 Km in one day. From close to Burgos I take the back-roads past Logroño and on to Riglos’s towering red pillars. 35° to 45°; a hair dryer full blast into my open-face helmet. The last 40 km to Sos del Rey Catolico some of the worst mal estado I have ever come across. The cool elegance of the Parador and the medieval stone streets a balm. The names of the places I visit a delicious tapa in themselves; from Arruda dos Vinhos up the spine of the Sierras Gredos and Guadarrama, Aragon and Navarra. Four times strangers stop to ask if I need directions. Through all the days the wide vistas of mountains and quiet river valleys of the back-roads of Spain. A banquet of experiences. Then comes the morning when one must reluctantly head for the ferry. Panniers stuffed with vino tinto, chorizo and manchego. The dust and bugs of España a skin on bike and jacket. From Rhayader the pace picks up, every bend a fond friend. After nearly 5,000 km the bike and I are one. No conscious movements manipulate the bike, I just think the flow and it happens. Onward to Aberystwyth. From Llangurig no vehicle lasts long before being swept into my past. Then comes the moment as one crests Eisteddfa Gurig and the valley of the Afon Castell opens its hand in front of you, the swinging bends draw one seaward to where Aberystwyth waits to embrace. I love arriving at Aberystwyth. I’ve been doing it for 35 years.

(*) Extract from my book ‘Back Roads of Spain’ available for Kindle on Amazon and other e-readers through their stores, only three hard copies left.  Photograph courtesy of Jim Simon – best of friends.

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