Distance: 58 miles
Total Distance: 384 miles
After a cup of coffee and a farewell photo I was all packed up and ready to leave my generous hosts. We connected on WhatsApp and promised to keep in touch and I left the house as they were beginning their first spliff of the day on the balcony.
I rejoined the road and heard Alberto shouting after me as I sped down the hill. I was still laughing at his madness. On every adventure I embark upon I always encounter some overwhelming generosity from strangers and it never fails to touch me, but these two ridiculous characters were something else.
Feeling a little hungover but happy and rested, I rode down the valley, the sun rising up over the hills of Guadalajara either side of me. I was heading to Sigüenza today, a mere 58 miles ahead. A couple of climbs to tackle later but other than that not a particularly strenuous day. The roads were empty and the scenery whizzing by was beautiful. Fields of sunflowers, weird and wonderful totem poles of all colours and a Hindu temple looking particularly out of place in the middle of nowhere, all made for an especially lovely morning.
I stopped in the village of Armuña de Tajuña for my second breakfast. As I lounged on the bench in the sun, munching on a battered croissant, an old man walked past with the biggest, hairiest dog I’ve ever seen in my life. It sauntered up to me and wanted to play, but for some unknown reason the man shouted at it and profusely apologised to me in Spanish before hauling it away. Dog owners who do this are my worst enemy. Just let me play with your damn dog.
My morning culminated in massive climb up to the town of Brihuega. Like all the other places I had passed through on my way north, I was expecting the streets to be empty, not a sign of life to be seen. But it was absolutely rammed. My supposed route through town was blocked by massive wooden gates guarded by police. I could hear music but had no idea what was happening. There were people crowding round the gates all trying to get a look, young kids on their parents’ shoulders craning their necks, old men sitting around drinking. I tried to peer through the masses and see what was happening but the throngs of people were too big. A marching band passed by loudly, but surely this couldn’t be what everyone was out to see?
The band marched off and things went quiet for a bit . There was a hush of expectation and then suddenly I heard a loud gunshot and the crowd began to cheer. From my vantage point I could just about see a group of around 20 men (not a woman among them) running as fast as they could, and following them, a herd of angry-looking bulls.
In planning my route I had more or less selected the fastest route from Gibraltar to London without intentionally seeking out any particular towns or attractions. Due to this I had no idea what to expect from the various towns along the way – it was all just a nice surprise and I took each experience as it came. If I had done the slightest bit of research on the town I was currently in, I would have learned that Brihuega is one of the most popular towns in Spain for bull-running, a sport in which people let bulls chase them for fun. There’s something very admirable about deciding to let yourself be pursued through the streets by a herd of bulls with hundreds of onlookers desperately hoping to see you get gored.
It was over almost as soon as it started, and everyone seemed to escape intact, much to the disappointment of the crowd. I continued on my way, and climbed even further to what initially looked like a pass, but which levelled out into a long flat plateau stretching off to the horizon.
I stopped for lunch in the shade of a big tree and dozed for a few minutes before forcing myself to get up and cover the last 20 miles. Soon the quiet country road reached the highway and I followed a dirt track alongside the busy traffic for a while. The roads are getting busier as I pass by Madrid and soon Pamplona, which doesn;t always make for relaxing cycling, but in a couple of days time I’ll be heading away from civilisation and up into the Pyrenees where I will cross the border into France.
Eventually the plateau came to an end and I began the longest and most exciting descent of the entire journey so far. Three miles and several hundred metres of descent, and it was unbelievably fast. The wind was whipping my face and making my eyes water, tears streaming down my cheeks. I reached a high of 32mph and although it was probably really dangerous to be going so fast, I couldn’t stop myself.
At the bottom I crossed the Río Dulce and began yet another climb at the top of which my destination appeared in front and below me – the beautiful historic city of Sigüenza. Just a short day (58 miles) and I arrived around mid afternoon, still on schedule.
I dropped off my stuff in the hostel I had booked, had a shower and went out to wander round the beautiful city. Prominent in the Spanish Civil War and numerous other conflicts throughout history, Sigüenza is one of the most historically significant cities in the country, and is full of stunning architecture, religious symbols, and narrow maze-like alleyways. I had great fun getting lost in the backstreets of the city.
As I ate some delicious locally-sourced food in a restaurant overlooking the city, I was vaguely listening to the conversation of a group of American tourists when they were approached by an angry-looking Frenchman. This man proceeded to tell this bewildered group of tourists to “Fuck off back to your own fucking country and your fucking President” before storming off. A bizarre thing for a Frenchman in Spain to say.
From eccentric alcoholics to bull-running masochists and hypocritical racists, it’s been a day full of bizarre encounters. I’m going to miss you Spain!