Another feature of today's ride - at least its early stages, anyway - was the number of poppies that lined the roadside and that, at times, filled whole fields. The Battle of the Somme has been in the news this week as it began a hundred years ago; on 1st July 1916, to be precise. Seeing all the poppies brought the Somme to my mind and I kept singing The Farm’s All Together Now, involuntarily in my head, as I was riding along. The song is not about the Battle of The Somme; but it is about the First World War, and specifically the Christmas Day truce that saw fighting cease at various points along The Western Front on 25th December 1914. Seeing whole swathes of poppies at any time is emotional, but it felt especially poignant this week, and the song – which always makes the hairs on my neck stand to attention - had to be today’s ‘Song for the day’ (see below).
I stopped halfway along the ride at a town called Miranda de Ebro and specifically, at a branch of the Spanish-owned supermarket chain, Mercadona. There was a branch or Mercadona opposite the camp site that Julie and I stayed on, at Benicassim in October 2014. I know it might not sound very significant, or emotional – it’s only a bloody supermarket after all – but like big stores at home, each Mercadona is laid out in the same style and according to the same floor plan. So as soon as I entered today’s branch, I was transported back to 2014 and walking round the Benicassim store with Julie, trying to ascertain which groceries were vegetarian, which were vegan, and which were organic. As I often comment; it feels like only yesterday and yet, simultaneously, a whole lifetime ago.
I have received lots of messages in the run up to my ride, and during it, and in many of these, people have told me how amazing I am for attempting this current challenge. I don’t know if I have let these messages go to my head and whether I am experiencing delusions of grandeur, but my next stop, in the centre of Miranda de Ebro, was at a café called The Daily Planet. The coffee was super, if nothing else!
The hotel I was heading for – the El Mirador de la Chana (Camino Valpierre, 1, 26340 San Asensio) – is in La Rioja region of Spain, and I passed vineyard after vineyard during the second half of today’s ride, along with any number of bottling plants. The ride had been very straightforward up to this point and although there was an ‘off road’ section to negotiate - the final 4 miles to the hotel - I still managed to arrive earlier than expected, at 3 PM. The El Mirador de la Chana is not an expensive hotel – none of the accommodation that I have booked on this trip could be described as ‘expensive’ – but it is absolutely beautiful, and Julie would have love it: The gorgeous balcony overlooking the valley, the vineyards, and the mountains beyond; the communal area complete with well-stocked bookcase; the ‘old-fashioned' artefacts dotted around the place (telephone, sewing machine, radio, gramophone, and so on), the bedroom, with its huge windows affording the same view as the balcony and with an old fashioned bed warmer hanging on the wall; and the bathroom, with the same finishing touches that Julie lent to our own bathroom in our own home. And the hospitality of the owner, Anna, matched the décor and ambience of her beautiful hotel. I haven't been drinking as a rule since Julie died - there is no knowing where my emotions will lead me after I have consumed alcohol – but as soon as I arrived this afternoon, Anna ushered me straight to the outdoor balcony, sat me down, disappeared, and returned two minutes later with a can of San Miguel and an old-fashioned beer class; a ‘proper glass’, as Julie would have called it. I enjoyed the beer while looking out across the vineyards and wondering just what Julie would have made of all this; of the hotel and of the journey, had we have made it together as part of a holiday, rather than me having made it alone, as part of a pilgrimage.
I went for a ride around the town of San Asensio in the evening and enjoyed a meal at the Juli Carmen cafeteria. The main square, outside the cafeteria, was bustling with local people out for the evening and there was a constant buzz as a myriad of conversations competed with each other. It was lovely just to sit and watch people doing nothing but talk to each other. They weren’t playing on their mobile phones – either making calls or looking at their screens; they didn’t have headphones in their ears; they weren’t reading newspapers and failing to lift their gaze from the page long enough to make eye contact with the person opposite and, God forbid, have to say “hello”. They were just talking, and laughing, and at times it seemed, shouting. It was wonderful to see and to hear, even if I didn’t have a clue what was being said. And yes, you’ve guessed it; Julie would have loved it.
Distance 45 miles (72 km)
Time spent in the saddle: 3 hours 30 mins
Elevation gained: 1,400 feet
Maximum Speed: 32.8 miles per hour
Average speed: 13 miles per hour
Total distance now covered: 384 miles (618 km)
Julie and I used to always have a 'song of the day' whenever we were on our travels, and that is a tradition that I have decided to continue. Song of the day for today - day 11 of my bike ride back to Julie's beach - is All Together Now by The Farm. This is a song about the working class being sent to fight in World War One and about the unofficial truce that saw fighting stop at various points along the Western Front on 25th December 1914. The presence of poppies on long stretches of today's ride, coupled with this week marking the centenary of when The Battle of the Somme began, mean that the song is an appropriate choice for today. I should also mention, however, that at the AGM of the Widowed & Young charity (WAY), held in Liverpool in March, the DJ played the song in tribute to WAY members and what he called our ‘incredible positivity and spirit’. Totally out of context this may have been; but it was nevertheless a lovely moment when everyone joined hands and sang their hearts out on the dance floor. “A spirit stronger than war was at work that night”. All together now; onwards and upwards. K xx