Day 30 The Big Iberian Trip - León

99.3km 903m gained 801 lost

Yesterday we arrived in León from Benevante completing a tough but excellent day's cycling. Today we are resting up, doing some sight seeing and resting up for tomorrow and what promises to be the toughest day of trip, the day we cross the Cantabrian Mountains.

Now you can get from Benavente to Leon along the N630, it's not the recommended route, but is shorter. Christine, who prefers the straightest line between two points, had her misgivings. The promise that we would adopt a two stop strategy, one involving a proper lunch, was however enough to clinch the deal.



Although the scenery wasn't brilliant it was interesting. There was lots of variety with a stunning clear blue sky scratched with jetstreams. The terrain felt essentially flat (hard to believe we clocked up 900m of climb) and part of Spain's central meseta plateau. The altitude, around 800m, means that spring has only just sprung and the leaves on the vines for example are hardly out and an long way behind their more advanced cousins in the Extramadorous.

Another feature that took a bit of working out was the endless hobbit houses built into the side of anything reassembling a hill. At first we thought they were either old nuclear bunkers or something like the cave houses I've seen in Andulucia. What we think they are, are mini-brick kilns. There isn't much in the way of rock in these parts for people to build their houses and localised brick making looks like it's emerged as the alternative.

The first pit-stop was in some god forsaken village to the south of La Beneza and was the first place to be open in 50km. The huge cafe had about 4 old men in it, racy posters on the wall, and a young woman serving. Hoping for tapas, we were disappointed, all she had was a wrapped up chocolate filled croissant. After eating them quickly we left the old men with their posters.

The croissant however took the edge off our appetite so we didn't stop in La Beneza but instead continued north. An unexpected detour marked for pedestrians took us away from the main road and alongside the river Orbigo. I felt sure we were going to hit gravel but we didn't and on arriving at Castillo Dr San Pelayo we decided to stop at the bar Natal for our second pit stop. On first impressions this didn't look much better than the first, with a elderly clientele playing cards in the corner of a tiny bar. The matron then took us along a corridor, past the toilets, and into a massive dining room. Noticing our surprise she took us round another corner and proudly showed us another dining room as big as the first.


It turned out that we had stumbled upon a restaurant that specialised in serving trout from the river we had been tracking for the last 40 mins. We didn't understand what she meant by her recommended menu but were happy to except it.

The first course was a slab of trout pate, very pink and rich and totally delicious. Next came a huge casserole containing two large poached trout in a hot pimento sauce, again utterly delicious. Before we could finish the sauce, the casserole was taken away to be returned minutes later full of thick slices of soggy bread laced with garlic, which had soaked up the hot trouty pimento sauce. We did our best to make an impression on this coup de grace but despite best efforts couldn't finish it. It was a lovely meal, all the better for being totally unexpected.

For the last third of the route we followed a road east into Leon, the N130, busy with heavy lorries. For the most part there was a large hard shoulder so it was safe enough but the lorries were big. They included a number of exceptional loads, nose cones for the military Airbus which I think is being assembled near here. Anyway, while we had about 30 kms of this, a 90 min ordeal, it's also part of the main pilgrim route and dozens of 'peregrinos' were on an all day trial by endurance trudging alongside us out of León in the opposite direction.



Apart from the pilgrims, Leon is lovely place with lots to see. The cathedral is fabulous. The audio guide, for once, was brilliant and provided a succinct and informative history of the building and how it fitted in with the history of western art. After our massive lunch, dinner was a modest affair but we did find a bar where the beer, brewed on the premises, was served in pint glasses. The barman said they made the beer using English malt from Maris Otter barley. I gently corrected his pronunciation and said I knew it well as my father used to grow it on his farm in Lincolnshire in the 1970s. He was very pleased with this information and passed it on to some of his customers, but his beer, while excellent, left me homesick for the real thing.

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