Tag Archives: Bicycle

Viñales, Cuba

When we were planning our trip to Cuba, we’d decided to skip the green valleys of Cuba’s primary tobacco growing region as we’re non-smokers, we’d see two other national parks in the east and we’d read other travellers’ reports that the weather is unpredictable.

However, once we arrived in Cuba, everyone we met, and I do mean everyone, said that we simply had to fit it in because it’s so beautiful.

We did, and they were right!

Finding ourselves firmly on the typical tourist trail, we were able to try Cubanacan who are the other state-run coach company, which transfers from a lot of the swanky central hotels in Havana and is a lot more convenient (and cheaper) than getting a taxi to the Viazul bus station. The coach trip was pleasant and uneventful, until the final descent into the Valle de Viñales and we caught our first glimpse of the unique mogote strewn landscape..

View of the Viñales countryside from the bus

Our first glimpse of the unique Viñales landscape, lush fields strewn with limestone karsts called ‘mogotes’

From what we could make out, the little town of Viñales exists almost entirely for the service of tourists. The main street is lined with cafes and restaurants, a handful of shops, a bank, and a money exchange, while the rest of the town is comprised of casa particulars – we varied our route through the town’s back streets and it seemed like every house had a room for rent!

View of the church and town square in Viñales

The pretty little church in Viñales

Once we’d settled ourselves into our casa and had a spot of lunch, we picked a direction and went exploring. The main street isn’t very long and we soon found ourselves down a dirt track between the deep red fields dotted with tobacco drying sheds.

A typical trail through the countryside of Viñales - deep red earth and pointed roofs of tobacco leaf drying sheds

We could see from the hoof prints that we’d found one of the popular horse trails. These steep-roofed huts are tobacco drying sheds, the leaves are hung inside like kippers!

Horseback riding is a very popular activity in Viñales, and while we can see the appeal of letting the horse do the work so you can appreciate the scenery, we favoured the cycling option and arranged to hire a couple of bikes through our casa.

Julie and I with mountain bikes in Viñales

Just about to set off with a vague plan in our heads. Delightfully, my rental mountain bike was a ‘Flying Pigeon’!

No sooner had we set off than I attempted to change gears and the chain snapped! While a friendly gentleman helped me look for the missing link in the road, Julie made her way back to our casa to get in touch with the lad who’d rented us the bikes, who just happened to ride past, came over and simply swapped the disabled ‘Flying Pigeon’ for a double suspension ‘Mongoose’. I thanked them both, met up with Julie and we set off again..

Viñales national park entrance, a road heads off into the distance between two large limestone karsts

Just north of the town is the striking official entrance to the Parque Nacional Viñales

Not having intended to visit Viñales, we hadn’t done a lot of research about the area and the bike rental was simply that – here’s a bike, see you later! – no maps, hints, or suggestions! We used a combination of the Lonely Planet and the offline maps of Cuba on my phone to plan out a rough loop that took us past the Cueva del Indio, through a town called the Republica del Chile and the recommended Valle el Silencio.

Viñales countryside

The lush valleys of Viñales – as well as tobacco, the Cubans grow coffee, sugarcane, oranges, bananas, pineapples and avocados here

Julie cycling in the Valle de Viñales

Cycling was a fantastic way to explore this amazing countryside

Viñales is a lovely place to cycle. It’s pretty flat, the scenery is varied and interesting, there are plenty of trails and when we were on the roads there wasn’t much traffic. Outside of the town there are a few places to stop for refreshments and lunch dotted here and there, though the further we travelled they were fewer and farther between. The second half of our route took us out into the wilds and it had gone 3pm by the time we found somewhere for lunch. We’d consumed all of our snacks and 4 bottles of water cycling through the heat of the day, and we hadn’t realised how ready for a break we were!

A glass of sugarcane juice in the Valle el Silencio

A well earned glass of sugarcane juice at our rest-stop in the Valle el Silencio

The eco-farm we found in the Valle el Silencio is very much on the independent tour guide itinerary as it’s well set up for small groups of tourists. We shared a main meal between us which was plenty, and included in the price was a tour of the adjacent organic farm which we were a little reluctant to do at first as we feared it’d be a hard sell. Our bottoms weren’t quite ready to get back onto the bikes so we relented to the tour and it turned out to be really interesting.

Collage of produce growing at tiny organic farm. Green coffee beans, a beehive and cocoa pods

Just some of the organic produce this tiny farm grows. Clockwise from the top: coffee; a beehive for pollination of their fruit trees and honey, of course; a cocoa tree

Our young guide explained that what they grow and harvest here is primarily used in the restaurant and to feed the family. They grow a little bit of everything, I lost count of the different types of fruit but something we hadn’t seen in our travels thus far was cocoa growing on the tree.

The tour also included one of the farmers demonstrating how cigars are made in the countryside and as we’d seen them made by hand in the Partagas factory in Havana, it was fun to spot the differences in their technique and unlike in Partagas he was happy for us to take pictures..

Cigar rolling demonstration

Before the final wrapper leaf is applied, the cigar would be tightly rolled in a scrap of paper for 2 days, a step that he skipped for the purposes of demonstration. And of course they’re for sale, any quantity you like for 3CUCs (£2.10) each

Apart from a short and deeply rutted part of track immediately after our late lunch stop, the remaining trail was easy going and we slowly descended through the Valle el Silencio back to Viñales. We tracked our ride on Strava and logged just over 20 miles!

For our final full day in Viñales we hiked in the other direction from our bicycle ride, notionally in the direction of a large, outdoor painting on the side of a mogote that depicts evolution and is totally panned in TripAdvisor reviews. How bad could it be? Could it be so bad that it’s actually good?

Mural de la Prehistoria, Viñales

Fortunately there’s no entrance fee to stand in wonder at this almost undecipherable eyesore as it’s unmissable from the road

Moving somewhat swiftly on, the farm tracks circled round the defaced mogote and made for a fairly long but gentle walk through peaceful farmland. No noisy polluting engines, just the rustle of the gentle breeze through the fields.

Viñales countryside

Caballo, dinero, por favor

The track eventually met up with the main but not too busy road back into Viñales, and before we knew it we were back. Thank you to those that convinced us to change our plans – we’re really pleased we went – it was a peaceful, un-hassly, nature filled and relaxing change after our time in Havana.

G2C2C Day 6: Rookhope to Tynemouth (then home)

Distance cycled to Tynemouth 43.2 miles / 69.5 km
Distance cycled from Tynemouth to home 12.4 miles / 20 km
Cumulative distance cycled 298.2 miles / 479.9 km
Elevation (daily total) 2050 feet / 625 m
Total cycling time 5h
Total time (including breaks) 6h 20
Average speed 11.1 mph / 17.9 kmph
Weather conditions Sunny

After a solid 9 hours sleep we departed for the final day of riding from Rookhope. The official route is often closed during shooting season and an on-road alternative must be taken. Fortunately for us, there is no shooting on a Sunday and so after a hard 1 mile climb up a rocky track (with tired legs and cold muscles) we emerged onto beautiful moorland with just the occasional grouse cackle to break the silence and the morning’s mist swirling in the valley below.

Moorland track above RookhopeDeserted moorland track above Rookhope

The four miles of moorland path ended at Parkhead Station from where we blasted downhill along the Waskerley Way path and it wasn’t long before we arrived at the old smelt wagon at Lydgett’s Junction in Consett and started along paths well known to us from our training rides. The Derwent Valley path has some great downhills through forest and over viaducts before emerging on the south side of the River Tyne.

Derwent Valley pathZooming along the Derwent Valley

We’d arranged to meet family in Tynemouth for celebratory fish and chips so by the time we reached Newcastle, lunch was overdue and despite our best efforts at refueling with biscuits and jelly babies (pro-tip, thanks Jo!) we were getting tired and the last few miles were a bit of a struggle. We had a real sense of achievement as we crested the cliff near Tynemouth Priory before descending to the beach for the obligatory photo with the back wheel in the sea.

C2C - the end!

G2C2C Day 5: Penrith to Rookhope

Distance cycled 40.1 miles / 64.5 km
Cumulative distance cycled 242.6 miles / 390.4 km
Elevation (daily total) 4922 feet / 1500 m
Total cycling time 4h 10min
Total time (including breaks) 7h 25min
Average speed 9.7 mph / 15.6 kmph
Weather conditions Perfect for hills – overcast and little to no wind
Punctures One

If the word of Day 2 was headwind, then the word of today was hillclimb – anyone we’ve spoken to that has either done the C2C or knows the route mentions the 4mile climb up Hartside.

The start from Penrith was a series of small but challenging uphills of varying gradients which nicely warmed the legs, but our heads were full of thoughts of the Hartside climb to come, and a little under 2 hours in we’d started.. 40 odd minutes later we were sitting at the infamous Hartside Cafe wondering what all the fuss was about! I’m not saying Hartside wasn’t tough, but we agreed that Whinlatter Pass the previous day was tougher.

Made it!

After a hot chocolate and slice of cake at the cafe, we set off towards Rookhope. The smooth declining road on the other side of the climb restored our average speed and with spectacular scenery was infinitely more enjoyable than the way up.

But what goes down must come up.

Obviously we’d looked at the profile of the day’s ride, but all eyes were on Hartside with just a cursory mention of the subsequent peaks.. and with our guards lowered the route delivered punishing steep hill after punishing steep hill. We’re talking easiest gear and out of the saddle steep. Like a grownup version of the roller coaster start out of Brampton on day 2, we climbed and then dropped through spectacular scenery.

Scenery entering Northumberland on C2C

Stopping to take a picture after a crest and after we’d just crossed into Northumberland, I heard a babbling brook on one side and a curious popping noise coming from my back wheel. I looked down to find the seal of my rear tyre valve blowing bubbles! Over 200 miles and we have our first puncture..

Andrew's impromptu bike workshop on the side of the road.  As we'd brought spare inner tubes we just swapped it out rather than finding and patching the hole

Andrew’s impromptu bike workshop on the side of the road. As we’d brought spare inner tubes we just swapped it out rather than finding and patching the hole

Thankfully we ended the day on a nice 5mile downhill stretch past abandoned mines and mills into Rookhope, where we’ll be staying for the night in a cartoon-decorated caravan!

Our cartoon caravan home in Rookhope!

Our cartoon caravan home in Rookhope!

G2C2C Day 4: Whitehaven to Penrith

Distance cycled 59.4 miles / 95.6 km
Cumulative distance cycled 202.5 miles / 325.9 km
Elevation (daily total) 5355 feet / 1632 m
Total cycling time 6h 44min
Total time (including breaks) 10h
Average speed 8.8 mph / 14.2 kmph
Weather conditions Mostly cloudy with the sun breaking through occasionally, and no wind!

C2C Start in WhitehavenAt the C2C start sculpture in Whitehaven harbour

Phew, that was a tough day. The first section of the C2C out of Whitehaven is a really nice surfaced railway path rising slowly up into the Lake District, this is followed by undulating country roads past Ennerdale Water, around Loweswater, and across the top of Crummock Water. So far, so good, and great views as well.

LoweswaterView across Loweswater from the C2C path

Next was the day’s first serious climb up to Whinlatter Pass. The first part was steep but on road and then forest trail and we reached the top with just a couple of rest stops and no walking so were feeling pretty good about it, then it was a fun descent through the forest towards Keswick. After Keswick we deviated slightly from the standard path up another steep climb to Castlerigg Stone Circle.

Castlerigg Stone CircleThe standing stones at Castlerigg Stone Circle have been in place for 4,500 years. They are situated on a natural plateau surrounded on all sides by mountains

Andrew had twisted my arm to continue on the alternative route, from this point it’s called the Old Coach Road section. On our map it is marked as suitable for “experienced mountain bikers only” but he insisted it would be fine. At first it was, but the path soon got too steep and covered in loose rock and gravel for us to ride up (Andrew fell over three times before he relented – he’s fine) and we had to walk most of the way to the top. Once it had levelled out we could ride OK and the views were superb, but it really slowed us down and tired us out.

Old Coach RoadThe rutted gravelly path of the Old Coach Road section, and the amazing views

It seemed like an awfully long way down to Penrith but we made it and hopefully not too worse for wear. A shorter distance tomorrow but lots of hills.

G2C2C Day 2: Brampton to Whitehaven

Distance cycled 80.4 miles / 129.4 km
Cumulative distance cycled 143.1 miles / 230.3 km
Elevation (daily total) 2096 feet / 640 m
Total cycling time 7h 53 mins
Total time (including breaks) 10h
Average speed 10.2 mph / 16.4 kmph
Weather conditions Started out fine getting steadily more cloudy until 1pm when we had 2 hours of light drizzle. Strong headwind along the coast

After a short climb out of Brampton we descended along quiet country roads to Carlisle. We felt like we were going pretty fast and the weather was lovely. As we neared the Solway Firth coastal road the clouds darkened and we hit a horrible headwind which stayed with us for the whole day and seriously tired us out. The majority of the day was essentially flat and we felt as if we should have been zooming along but it wasn’t to be.

Beside the Solway FirthThe views along the Solway Firth were the highlight of the day

We found the signposting along today’s section to be a bit patchy and had to cross-check our route against what we had loaded into Strava several times. As we were finishing up our lunchtime Ullswater pie we could feel the temperature dropping and the drizzle soon began. It wasn’t as bad as the full afternoon of rain which the forecast had promised but we definitely couldn’t appreciate the scenery as much as if it had been dry and sunny.

Ullswater pieAfter yesterday’s post I know that you’re all dying to know what Ullswater Pie is – here you go, imagine a lattice topped pork pie filled with ham, chicken and stuffing. Yum!

G2C2C Day 2 - Rainy selfieStill smiling despite the rain

For the final twenty miles towards Whitehaven the path followed the coast through Maryport and Workington, the sun came out for a while which improved our mood but didn’t chase away the headwind. As we rounded the corner before arriving in Whitehaven, we thought we were going to have to climb the steep road onto the clifftop, but fortunately the path peeled off beside the railway line along the base of the cliffs, a dramatic end to the day.

Hadrian's Cycleway between Maryport and WorkingtonA bit of sunshine on the coastal path between Maryport and Workington

No cycling tomorrow, we’re going to have a good long sleep, a full English breakfast and a day of lazing around. There may or may not be a blog post depending on how we feel.