Friday, 27 August 2010


We are now in Leon for two nights. Not Lyon France. Now that would be a long cycle. And it´s spelt differently anyway! No, Leon Spain, past our half way point from Logrono to Santiago de Compostela. As I write this I´ve left Pauline sitting out in the midday sun guarding our bikes.
If you´re a city lover then the ones we have been to so far, Burgos and now Leon, are well worth a visit. Their medieval architeture in the old parts is something to behold, though Burgos is far prettier than Leon. We had a world of adventure getting from the campsite on the outskirts, to a large supermarket in town. There was zero provision for bicycles and we ended up going via goodness knows where. It was worth however, as next door to the supermarket was a McDonalds and we indulged in fries and coke!!
The countryside though is something of a stark contrast. As we cycled through vast areas of open agricultural land I am reminded in parts of being in California, such is the parched earth and scant number of trees, with the odd vineyard thrown in. Then within a few miles we would go through an ancient isolated village, some abandoned long ago, and the adobe brick built crumbling houses together with the smell of stagnant water reminded me more of India.
Our campsites have contrasted considerably too. Two days ago we met a couple who started walking the Camino in Geneva! They were of the opinion that the Spanish campsites are not well suited to the solo camper and had been appalled at some of the prices, and I had to agree. One of the things that is particularly annoying is that in two campsites so far we have been charged three Euros each for having a bicycle! This is the same charge if you have a motorbike, but, incredibly, if you bring a polluting car onto the campsite it works out cheaper than 2 bicycles!! On Sunday and Monday nights we will be staying in our first Albergues, so we will have a comparisom to make.
When I cycle at home I am acutely aware of the intolerence of car drivers toward cyclists. Here in Spain though it is a breath of fresh air. In Burgos, but sadly not in Leon, there were networks of purpose-made cycle ways, complete with their own direction signs and traffic lights. I also find that when I´m on a busy roundabout all the traffic gives way to cycles and at no point to date have I heard one person sound their horn, even when I make an obvious mistake.
As we cycle along many people spot the sea shell, the symbol of the Camino de Santiago, on the front of our barbags and shout ¨Bon Camino!¨ Which roughly means have a good Camino. Even car drivers will slow down beside you, wind their window down and wish you buen Camino. It really is quite uplifting. You never hear that in Scotland: ¨hey pal, have a good West Highland Way!¨
I am now getting more used to the intense heat and I´m more the colour of a fresh croissant than a boiled lobster! That said it stops at my ankles, above my knees and upper arms! We continue to set out at 7am as the sun is rising and regularly reach our destination by noon, then we can sit out the afternoon heat. We will soon have steep climbs ahead of us as we have to traverse two 1500m passes. Hopefully we will have cloudy breezy days to help us.
I guess I should sign off now and get back to Pauline cooking in the sun.
5 new pics on the Flickr site that go with this blog:

Monday, 23 August 2010


Well, I made it, in one piece and on schedule, to meet up with Pauline in northern Spain. I loved the adventure of getting there, taking a variety of forms of transport, starting by train, then ship then bus. Two and a half days since leaving home I arrived in Logrono bus station and there was Polly. It was great to see her and the feeling was mutual.

My first night in Logrono was in a very dusty, grass-free campsite where Pauline had stayed for two days awaiting my arrival and catching up on chores. This campsite seemed to be the norm for Spain, and I got the impression that Pauline was not as pleased with them as France.
My first day in the saddle saw us cover 70km, about 50 miles, part of which was through the hottest part of the day. Needless to say my arms and legs took on the shade of well done crayfish and despite several vats of water I was somewhat dehydrated. The campsite for this night was hideous. Situated on the outskirts of Santo Domingo it was a privately run camping ground. The majority of pitches were cabins and for caravans, but unlike what you might expect they were all crammed in with inches between each. The ground then left for tents was ridiculous. Hard to describe. Picture 6 foot square, dust covered, hard as concrete, grass-less ground, with the kerb to the road as one edge and chain link fencing separating you from the site´s gas container on the other, then that pretty much does it. To cap it all this was the most expensive campsite so far! Neither of us was very pleased.

The following morning we were up at 5am and on the road at very first light at 7am in order to miss the heat of the day. It was literally freezing first thing and an absolute joy. Our destination for the day was Burgos, the financial capital of Spain, and one which had been recomended to me by friends Willie and Moira, and lived up to its recomendation. Once again though we found ourselves still on the road during the hottest part of the day and the traffic was pretty scary as the draft from trucks would wobble both mine and Pauline´s bikes.

The campsite this night was run by the local government and was both cheap and excellent. We picked a quiet, grassy, very shady area and settled down to a well earned day off the road. We dozed for the afternoon waiting for it to cool off, while I adapted a t-shirt with extra material to create more cover for my arms whilst cycling. A scary journey along a major road in busy traffic was then taken to a suggested out-of-town shopping precinct as we had to find a map of the next section of the journey. We had no luck and despite trying several petrol stations we didn´t find our map. We did however spot it in a local book shop the following day, but being a Sunday everything was closed. The cathedral in the centre is very impressive, if not a little over the top. Parts of its architecture seemed to differ vastly in date and some even had an Islamic look about it. The shady tree lined walkways along the river bank were great and led all the way back to the campsite. It was a great place to be and made up for the disappointment of the route from Logrono so far.

And so to today, the cycle to Castrojeriz. We had hoped to start every day at 7am but we didn´t leave Burgos until 10.15am as we had to buy the much needed map from the city book shop. It was a great cycling day as a strong breeze had picked up which helped to keep us cool. It built to quite a strong head wind as the day went on, but we both preferred to have it than not. We were now cycling through open farmland with giant fields of sunflowers and past tiny little isolated villages with vast crumbly churches. It was fab. We were out there, doing it, and I was loving every minute of sharing it with Pauline.

Lunch was taken in this small concrete bus shelter on the summit of a hill in the middle of nowhere. Quite surreal but a welcome shade from the sun. I then put on my newly adapted "t-shirt-sleeve-lengthiners" (which I intend to patent) to protect me from the sun, and a while later changed from shorts into thin, long trousers. Honestly, there´s Pauline in shorts and t-shirt and me covered head to toe! I´d be as well to cycle the Camino in a burka!

Maybe that´s a good title for the book!?

Some snaps you might enjoy:
Graham´s Flickr
Better pictures from Pauline:

Monday, 16 August 2010

The adventure begins

The panniers are packed, the tickets are bought and the spare pants are securely stored. It's now the start of a great adventure that will see me meet up with Pauline in Spain, to cycle the famous Comino to Santiago de Compostela.

The first part of my journey is easy: by train to London. There is little time to waste however, as I have just 55 minutes to cycle, fully loaded up, across London to Waterloo station . . . in rush hour traffic! From there it is a simple train journey to Portsmouth harbour.

I'm looking forward to the next stage after that, which will be a 36 hour crossing to Bilbao in north east Spain. Part of that journey however, does involve going through the Bay of Biscay. Hopefully I'll be King of the World as opposed to prince of the head-down-the-toilet.

I'm most apprehensive about getting from the port of Bilbao, which is amongst the less than picturesque parts of the ancient Basque city, through unfamiliar streets, into the centre, to find the bus station.

It doesn't end there however. At least I hope not. I have bought a bus ticket to take me from Bilbao, two hours south, to Logrono to meet Pauline, however, at this stage my bicycle is not booked on. I had zero success with the less-than-helpful staff of the bus company on the phone, so I'm just keeping my fingers crossed that all will be fine. Thanks to a friend of mine, Laura, who speaks fluent Spanish, I was able to find out some valuable information about packing the bike for the bus. Hopefully I can then get it stored for the journey.

So by mid afternoon on Thursday 19 August I hope to be seeing one friendly face I haven't seen for a couple of months.

I'll be trying to blog at some point, but Pauline will be continuing her blog as we go, which you can find at this link:

Monday, 9 August 2010

Pilgrims and stories

I've just completed a very enjoyable week in the company of 14 budding writers.

The theme of the workshop, run at Edinburgh University, was the generation of story ideas following through to how to develop this idea into a polished screenplay that someone would want to buy.

I must admit to being a little selfish to begin with as the workshop started at the very beginning of "how to". However, as the course progressed I realised that over the past few years I have drifted away from the process and as a result I have often become lost in the direction, which usually always leads to me giving up. As the week progressed it refocused my mind, so much so that today in a meeting with a new co-writer for a new screenplay, I found myself confident in being able to map the way forward.

To cut a long story short (pardon the pun) and stop boring you, it basically goes: think of an idea: write a two-pager on the story (how it starts, what happens, how it ends): then write a ten-pager scene-by-scene (paragraphs) of what happens in the film from beginning to end: and then, and ONLY then, start writing the script. Up to now I have tended to rush in and start writing the script too early and ended up becoming bored and disillusioned.

On every day of the course I cycled in along the Innocent Railway, regardless of the weather. This wasn't just some mean spirited way to save money, though that was motivation in itself, but served as getting me in shape for the coming weeks.

Which brings me to extend an apology to my readers in advance: I'm afraid I will be absent until early September as I am leaving to join my intrepid world cyclist friend Pauline in Spain (hopefully I will be able to source internet access and write a blog at some point).

We are to meet up in the town of Logrono in northeast Spain, roughly 85 miles south of Bilbao. From there we will cycle for 3 weeks along the famous Camino, or Pilgrims Way, finishing at Santiago de Compostela, from where I will fly home.

Pauline will only have been away just over 6 weeks when we meet up, but it seems much longer. Our original plan was to meet up at Christmas in Chile, but due to timings this had to be cancelled. So Europe seemed a good option. It also allows me to replace some of her equipment.

It also gets me away from bloody shed building for a while!!

So can't wait, I must say. And who knows, maybe there's a film in there somewhere!

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Misery, Monsoons and Musings

I went to see the new film Inception this week, starring Leonardo Di'caprio. Not one of my wisest decisions. For the first time in a number of years I felt myself wishing it to end. It was very drawn out and to be honest, not a lot happened. The special effects were very impressive, as one comes to expect these days, but the narrative of the film as a whole was not entertaining. There was a distinct effort to confuse the audience with the premise of the film, no doubt hoping to distract us from the fact nothing was really going to happen. Misery had beset me, if only because of the knowledge that this last minute decision foray into the cinema to see this drivel had cost me almost £8.

The following day I set myself the task of progressing the conversion of my garden shed into an office, a project that I wrote about recently. I am pleased with the progress, having finished the two smaller sheds for bikes and tools. The interior of the "office" is now well on the way to completion, requiring just electricity and a door. But the whole project has been hampered by the deluge of rain that is Scotland's monsoon this year. Thanks to the jet stream being firmly parked over the top of my house there isn't going to be a hose pipe ban any time soon.
I'm convinced the starlings and sparrows have been gathering in twos at the shed door on hearing wood being nailed together, in the hope they will get safe passage when the forty days are up.

Every day since my friend Pauline left the country on her world cycle, it has rained. At one point in the office project I had to move a very large rain water collection barrel. In order to move it without giving myself a hernia I had to empty it first. We're talking many gallons of water here. Once moved it was connected back up to collect the run-off from just the shed roof, an area of only four square metres. Thanks to the Great Flood reenactment taking place every day, it took just 36 hours to fill!!

But there is hope. At least for me anyway. Shortly I will leave these sodden shores and venture to Spain to meet up with Pauline for three weeks of what I hope will be sun-drenched cycle paths along the Camino route, between Bilbao and Santiago de Compestala, a distance of 470 miles. I'm very much looking forward to the adventure, but also to be meeting up with Pauline on her European leg of her global expedition.

There will be no further office project work this coming week however, as I will be musing scripts and viewing films as part of a 5-day writing course at Edinburgh University. The UK film and TV industry is very quiet at the moment, partly due to the holidays, but more to do with the major cutbacks by the new government and subsequent worries by major companies. At times like this I turn my attention to personal development, this time on the writing side. I'm hopeful that not only will it improve my ability to write a story, but it may also inspire me to pen something original.

Maybe it's time for a reworking of Noah's Ark, set in Scotland!