I found nowhere open for breakfast in Alija and so headed on to the next village on the map. Finding no bar or shop there either, I retired to a bus-shelter and brewed up some tea to wash down a breakfast of Bananas and nuts, thankful for my forethought in Eroski the previous day.
After passing through Benavente I tried taking a direct route south through irrigated farm land, in the hope that I could avoid using the A6 motorway to cross the River Esla and would find an un-marked farm track or ford. There was no such crossing and every track I tried petered out and dumped me into another muddy field. I turned back to the main road and put my trust back into the map, taking a circuitous route along minor country roads to get me to a bridge across the river.
After hopping from sleepy village to comatose village I was finally able to find somewhere with an open kitchen and caught a late lunch in Santovenia; bean stew, churrasco steak and a glass of wine to lift my flagging spirits before heading on into the rolling meseta of Castilla Leon. To compensate for the morning’s diversion to cross the river, I was now pushing into a cold damp headwind that occasionally relented into a side-wind spitting rain across the plain. I was looking for places to stay or camp from about 17.30, with no luck. The villages were dead, and the landscape exclusively open arable farm land with barely a bush to provide a sheltered camp site.
I continued to Castro Nuevo de los Arcos hoping for a hostal to provide some shelter from the dark skies and damp winds, seemingly like the rest of this corner of Castilla Leon, the village was deserted and it’s bar was closed but I was at least able to find someone who could advise me on accomodation for the night. Unfortunately their only advice was for me to keep riding to the next major town, Toro – 30 km up-wind across this rolling landscape of arable fields. I arrived into Toro around 8.30 and found my way to the Maria de Molina Hotel. Three whole stars of unparalleled luxury, where I was able to once more unpack my damp panniers, dry out my kit take a warm shower and luxuriate in the wonder of radiators.
Clearly, I no longer had the luxury of following a defined route of painted arrows and guidebooks, Albergues and bars offering “Menu del Peregrino” every 5km. So I headed to the hotel bar and sat to plan out the remaining route from Toro.
I had covered over 170km since yesterday lunchtime in Astorga, so clearly it was feasible for me to ride over 100km per day but I did not want to become a slave to the odometer. I was being asked pointedly when I was due to arrive home and my vague cycle-tourist response of “Sometime Sunday, maybe Monday, depends on the wind.” was not boding well for being allowed to go out and tour again.
I would aim for Avila, 147km from Toro, taking a route that would allow stopping off in either Medina del Campo or Arévalo if necessary.
From Ávila I would ride over the Sierra de Madrid into San Martin de Valdiglesias and drop into Toledo at Almorox aiming to camp in one of two campsites in Hormigos on Saturday night to allow a quick 50km sprint home to Bargas on Sunday morning.