Cycling from Maastricht to Santiago de Compostela

This is the post excerpt.

santiago plaatje route simpel
The two main routes from the Netherlands

Why Santiago de Compostela:

In 2001 I had such a severe knee operation that they couldn’t tell me if i would be able to cycle again long distances. One evening I jokingly said that if the knee would recover well I would cycle to Lourdes, the knee with lots of practice recovered well and I kept my promise. At that point in time I didn’t know about the St. James path or “Jacobsweg”but was given a book by a German friend who heard about the trip, it was called “Der Jakopsweg”. It takes no imagination to understand the double meaning for me given my surname.

In 2011 I got hit by a second pulmonary embolism and I changed radicale my life of being in planes most of the time, well I tried at least for a while.  It was then that I wanted to cycle to SdC but a new challenge at a company called Vistaprint made me put the idea in the fridge..until recently. I’m now in a position again to do my dream ride and have started my preparations.

The plan is to leave in April depending on the weather to make it across the Ardennen without snow and to follow the Old Pelgrimage Route (the blue-green route above). This one is more difficult than the West-route but more beautiful, smaller roads, lower traffic and has some nice climbs in it.


Resume and a link to the book

Dear all,
Why suddenly another message while I’m at home for long already and have done some other great rides like with Gerard, Veen en Roel in the Southern Alps or my 600km non-stop ride?

The reason is that with great help of Janice who saved all blogs, relives and comments we created a photo book with the original text’s, your comments, encouragements and a selection of the many pictures. 

You will also find some new material where I try to answer some of the main question I received and a summary of distance and height meters. 

Here is the link -> https://www.albelli.nl/onlinefotoboek-bekijken/53207c9d-2132-4285-b173-22d2b1b2782a

Enjoy the reading!

Cheers, Will

And now what?

Hi all,
I’m receiving many questions about my blog continuation. With the arrival in Finisterre at point 0,00 I reached the end of my scheduled trip. 

However there were still some more days to fill so I continued cycling, first Porto, now Fatima and I will continue to Lisbon and let’s see what will be next if anything. 

Even though I will not continue the blog I will post the relives here so you can have a look to see where I am with some pictures as well. 

To the Portoguese coast; https://www.relive.cc/view/970737181

To Porto; https://www.relive.cc/view/972094953

Via Aveiro to Lousã; https://www.relive.cc/view/975665500

To Fatima; https://www.relive.cc/view/976661542?r=ride

To Lisbon;  https://www.relive.cc/view/978403578

To Santo André; https://www.relive.cc/view/981432864

To Ajezur; https://www.relive.cc/view/982965359

Final stage to Olhäo (Faro); https://www.relive.cc/view/984689422

To the end of the World

(Typing on phone while watching Real-Atletico in a bar so sorry for all the extra typo’s). 

Yesterday late afternoon I went back to the Plaza in front of the cathedrale and what a difference it was. This was the atmosphere you want to have when you arrive. There were people but it was not crowded and most were Pilgrims either on their own or  with friends/family celebrating their arrival. How different it was when I got there. Thousands of people, many impatient and a big group of drums making noise and streets packed.  When you have been on the bike for eight hours on your own with hardly any traffic the immense group of people takes you by the throat, ths must be why I had the mixed feelings, just wanted to get out of there. When I got back in the hotel I actually noted that I walked 16km according to my tracker..

Originaly I wanted to stay another day but woth the crowds I decided to leave a day early and take the bike and cycle to Finisterre as indicated yesterday. I didn’t check the ride but given it is at the sea ai assumed an easy ride so I took my time and left an hour later after having breakfast in a closeby bar. 

The sun was shining so I dressed accordingly even though it was so early only 8C. It started with a descent as expected but what I didn’t expect was to ride into a thick fog..cccoolld.. then an ascent of 6km hoivering between 5-9% all through forest and then I got at a height that I cycled out of the fog again. A very nice experience and sight. 

Of course Clemens did take a large detour to give me some extra km’s and hm’s but also to drive me through some very nice villages and historic buildings and to present me with great views to.

The route kept going up and down up the hill and back down to the water, but it was a great day for cycling, hardly any wind, sun, 21C lots of forrest and hardly any traffic except for some short patches when we went through the villages. In the villages you often see these typical constructs. They have been built in the past to mainly store corn. And for Erika amd Amy I added a cow too. 

Then I arrived at the peninsula that would lead me to finisterre, it was still a bit of climbing but you had beautiful views on little harbours the villages at the other end of the bay and the Atlantic Ocean. 

Then there was the last 3km climb to get to the Cabo Fisterra and Faro where you cannot get further or you tumble in the ocean 😳. Here you also find the milestone 0.000 for the Camino de Compostela and of course pictures had to be taken and then before cycling back annice Clara on a small terrace overlooking the ocean. Reaching this point gave me a real great feel. According to tradition the Pilgrims burn theor worn out clothes here and there are indeed people that throw their shoes or rucksack in the ocean but I didn’t feel like doing so. 

The picture of me is taking by a very nice young couple from Gdansk who walked from Porto to Santiago but left for exactly then same reason as I did. They experienced the same crowd of mainly tourist because of course it was a long weekend and there is lots to see and they ate going back tomorrow. Also interesting that it was he who struggled most with it so it might be a male thing. We chatted for about half an hour and then I cycled back and found a very basoc and nice room to stay and walked to the harbour to eat fishsoup and paella, but very well prepared. 

This is the end of the planned trip and I arrived sooner than expected. Given I would be out the girls have decided to take their mum to Barcelona for a long weekend so cycling back to Santiago and flying back is no option as I promised not to arrive home when they would be gone. Given I don’t have enough time to cycle all the way home due to commitments I let faith decidewhat to  do next, one option is to cycle back to the France border and take the train home, another is to cycle to Meride or to Madrid. I got the answer at Finisterre..it will be Porto as my next destination. 

 Today I cycled from SdC to Finisterre. In total 130km and >1900hm. 

Here is the link to my relive, this one is really nice, recommend watching it. https://www.relive.cc/view/967656115

Thanks for all the kinds nessages!

Compostela, Certificate of Distance and the Pilgrim Mass

Today despite good intent I still woke up early while I only finished my blog after midnight. A shame but it is what it is. So I left early and went to the formal Pelgrim office to receive the formal documents. 

For this I had to show my pasport with stamps and fill out a form. They gave me the final stamp of the cathedrale and wrote out the Compostela. For this they had to translate my given names into Latin. It is dated 1st of May as this is when I received the final stamp and registered the trip. 

There was also the posibility to receive a certificate of distance which I also wanted. This one says April 30th as this is when I arrived. The total distance travelled is 2605km. To ensure both come back in one piece I bought a role to keep them safe. 

After this I went to the “huiskamer” a home for Dutch speaking pelgrims. Here I had a nice chat with the volunteer called Wil..funny. After two nice cup of coffees I walked the town amd then wekt into the cathedrale. They are currently doing restaurations but there is still enough to see and do. You can embrace St James but this I didn’t do. 

I did sit however more than an hour just on a bench thinking about the rides and some deeper thoughts. There are different masses at different times in the church but at noon there is the mass for the pelgrims. It is all in Spanish but very impressive almost in contrast with all the richness of the church it was a plain mass with a great choir and a non that had a brilliant voice kind of entertaining the audience. 

At the beginning of the mass they declare how many pelgrims registered yesterday afternoon and this morning. It goes by country and for Spain by province. Yes they really said it.. uno pellegrin de Paies Bajos (I hope I spell this right). 

I was hoping to see the Botafumeiro (“censer” in Galician) which is one of the most famous and popular symbols of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. It is a large thurible that hangs by means of a system of pulleys from the main dome of the Cathedral and swings toward the side naves. It takes eight men to move it, who are known as “tiraboleiros”. It weighs 53 kg and measures 1.50 metres; it hangs from a height of 20 metres and can pick up great speed. Unfortunately they never say when they use it except for a handful of given days like Christmas and it is rarely used nowadays. But I was lucky, as it was May 1st the used it to honor the workers..I was really happy. It is difficult to see on the picture but I got a nice video. 

After this I had lunch and did some more walking. It is still cold so this is why I’m back inside writing this short blog. 

Tomorrow I think I will leave for the round trip (multiple days) to Finisterre or the “end of the world” from the time that the Astro- Physicians of the early Middle-Ages thought the Earth was flat. 

I want to thank all that sent such nice messages via all different media last 24 hours..great!

Santiago de Compostela..a final test or Birthday present?

Last night I was so nackered that I slept at 21:15. those two hills plus all the sightseeing made sure I could sleep very well. Of course as per my internal alarm clock I woke up at 04:00 and saw I already received some very nice birthday wishes. One of them a recorded singing by Janice, Bridgett and Jolanda with Obelix in the background…he wasn’t singing. Yes indeed today I turn 52 years young…and yes I look much wiser as once an Italian lady told me. 

With these I managed to fall back asleep until 06:30 and when I checked my Whatsapp I immediately got a video call by Bridget again from my three ladies wishing me happy Birthday live. And not much later other messages also already came in.  Again a nice surprise. 

Now what does the weather tell me this morning;

This is not what I was looking for especially as it also tells me wind from the West up to 60km/h gusts. Well this means a large breakfast and my winter/rain outfit for the day. I was first at the breakfast so had a quiet time and the lady serving warned me that today was not going to be a great day for cycling nor walking. Well we’ll see. 

As soon as I left it was pouring and it didn’t stop. The wind was a bit ridiculous as well but little did I know this was just the beginning. The good thing is that I have good clothing and built up some stamina so the only thing that can really influence my performance is my mindset..therefore look at the bright side..I could also have been working on budgets without any forecast. 

Yes it was cold but the route also made sure that I could keep warm..in the first 40k I alsready had more than 800hm to literally overcome. The route went past Portomarin, a nice village up the hill…but what is this, the gps directive doesn’t go up..Clemens come on! Well rain or no rain I want to see the church up there and get a stamp because to receive the Compostela you need to proof you did the last 200km by bike, the other km’s and stamps don’t count plus you need 2-3 per day if you do approx 80km per day to proof you didn’t take the bus or train. Unfortunately I was too early for the church but could get one in a bar/restaurant and at the top St James was pointing me the way..you can see hewas also wet. 

A little further I went for a coffee talking with a Spanish couple who actually started in Sarria by foot as you need 100km to get a Compostela and Sarria is at 115km by foot from SdC..now I understood why there were so many Albergues there and I see now so many walkers. They couldn’t believe to hear where I started my journey. 

Next to the bar there was a little temple and I saw the door was open. A man greeted me rattling in Spanish and here it comes..never assume. When I spoke back he wanted to know where I came from, that much I understand Spanish now. When I answered he held out his hand and I shook it. I put my passport on his table and he took his stamp but kept it above the passport..it was only then when I realised he was blind so I guided him and he gave me my stamp wishing me a good continuation of the Camino. To me another sign of how you can adopt to your situstion and also to never assume. 

Right after this the weather became really bad. I saw the sky turning a bit greenish and know from experience that this means trouble. I checked around me but I was out in an open field at the highest point of the journey at 720 meter height. Then before I knew it it started to hail..and not just a bit of hail or small ice parts..the heck it came down hard and it really hurt. The only thing I could do was to put the bike cleaning cloth across my helmet and shelter behind my bike. This lasted for five minutes and then it stopped but to me it felt like half an hour. The street had about 2-3 cm of hail on it. 

As said I was at the highest point of the route, it was freezing cold so the hail didn’t melt and of course my route book said..warning steep descent. So what do you do? Wait for the temp to rise or cycle down and risk a fall 90km before SdC? I decided to walk down very carefully to make sure I didn’t slip either. After 20mins of descent the ice started to melt and I carefully started to cycle again. 

The good thing was that I left the forest part and ended up on the N240 where I could ride in the trail created by the cars. 

I now entered the final province. When I arrived in Palas de Rei it was still raining and hail but it melted immediately and here I got another stamp in a very small church or temple as they call it. 

The rest of the journey I did not visit anything anymore. It was Sunday and a lot was closed due to the long weekend, the route book was also focussing on the little streets to take instead of advising what can be visited, the weather just didn’t improve,  the wind actually worsened so the only thing I did was have a couple of stops to warm up, chat a bit with the locals and have a coffee solo espresso.

Then all of a sudden there was blue sky 20km’s before arrival which lasted for 10km and right then I saw cows as well. I also noticed that in Touro every house has its own little water tower to keep the water pressure. The sun and the cows made me smile and as during the whole trip today I kept the good spirit knowing I would arrive in SdC no matter the wind or rain or hail. 

Then route continued, the climbs became more frequent and more steep, the wind increased but then suddenly there it was Santiago de Compostela. I made it..it took me 21 days to cycle 2600km with 28000hm and I loved (almost) every minute of it. So followed the route to the cathedrale. Parked the bike, celebrated in silence and called home. Very difficult to describe the emotions, I’m not even going to try, let’s say mixed. 

After this I went to the hotel, answered all messages received during the day. Took a long shower and washed todays cloths. Talked to a lady that works in the hotel that also lives here where she goes for dinner and my preference is not in the tourist area please. She asked what I would like to eat and when I said Paella she said ah..then we need to find a place that makes these in a larger quantity because smaller quantities is no real paella. She called her favourite restaurant and yes today they made paella, gave me the directions and I had a great meal. 

What an end of the day!

Today I cycled from Sarria ro Santiago the Compostela. In total 129km and 2300hm. 

I you want to relive my ride here is the link but be aware that ai was too late with uploading the pictures to Strava: https://www.relive.cc/view/964783686

Thanks for all the congratulations today for my birthday and the arrival in SdC


I had a great noght sleep and took it easy after yesterdays milage and climb. So went to breakfast and really took my time because they had so many nice things to eat. 

The good news was that there was not the promised rain but partly clouded and temperatures not too low.  The less good news is that when I turned the next page of my route book it said, “make sure you are fot for today because you need to climb the Cebreiro”. The Cebreiro..you need to be fit..glad I live by the day and didn’t see this until now. 

So when I was sleeping I dreamt of bikes cycling in the corridor of my floor a weird dream. But when I left the hotel I understood why thee were almost no rooms available in this town too. There was an atb bike race with thousand of cyclist today, so I had not been dreaming they all kept their bike in their room. 

Before I knew it I was actually part of the pack as cars were stopped but I was allowed to cycle and they went my direction too. You can imagine the laughter of all these guys on nice bikes and me on a trekking bike with luggage. The funny thing was that when it went up I overtook some of them..and of course I pushed it as well. 

Soon I left the town and the cycling course (pfff) and I passed the Termpler castle on the way out. Enough to see again and especially Villafranca del Bierzo was very nice. Not so cycle friendly due to the old and steep streets but worth the rambling. 

In Cacabelos I visited a very small church and collected my stamp as I now need to have at least four a day to proof I did the tour myself. There were also some very nice Cammino signs as well that I hadn’t seen before and cycling out of the village you could see the Pyrenees I had to try to defeat today.  

Right after this the climb started and indeed it turned out to be quite a climb..you start at 500 meter and go in one go to 1300 meter..again my bike and luggage is 32kg but the road was good and traffic quiet. During the climb I entered the Galicia Province. 

I went up until Puerto Pedrafita which was at 1100meter and had a bocadillo filete there. It was in a bar you would never have found without asking the workers again. If the hygiene police would enter it they would close the place but the smell was great as they prepared the meat in a kind f fire place in the middle of the bar. A shame I didn’t want to wait until 13:00. 

When I commenced the climb you could see high up in the sky the new motorway on enormous concrete pillars and you knew you had to go all that way up too but what I didn’t know was that I actually had to climb even higher than this traffic. 

My next stop was Alto do Poio at 1335m where I had a coke zero and met three cyclist on atb’s from Brazil. They started in St Jean and weee complaining about the weather all wearing heave winter gear and I was by that time wesring my shorts (but long sleeve shirt and wind stopper). The views were again very nice and there was a statue showing the Pelgrim in rough wind and I found out in the descent why..amazing what a wind suddenly!

The descend was 12km amd very nice, wide road and not too steep and with headwind the speed was under control too. After this some short climbs theough some small villages like Triacastella followed and I reached Sarria where I had my stop. 

Here I had my traditional Clara and visited the local church just around the corner as I’m based in the old medieval town center, very nice. 

Today I cycled from Ponferrada to Sarria. In total 106km with >1600hm. 

If you want to relive my ride please follow the link; https://www.relive.cc/view/962900555

Thanks for all your likes and messages!

And Erika here we go..

To Cruz de Ferro or not Cruz de Ferro!?

It is a dillemma..for the first time this trip I need to plan, well better I want to plan how many km’s I’m going to do. 

The issue is That for me de Cruz de Ferro is a very important landmark to enjoy as much as I can. I took my little stone with me from home to as per custom add it to the pile of stones that you find there brought by people on their way to SdC from all over the world. The weather forecast for later today is excellent for this climb where tomorrow they predict rain all day. 

But..I also want to really visit Leon and Astorga and explore them well. And if you do this will it then not become too late for Cruz de Ferro?

With the forecast in the morning I worked out that if I would leave early and budget two hours for Leon and ninety minutes for Astorga I would start around 15:00 the ascent to Cruz de Ferro and arrive around 19:00 in Ponferrada. 

So I got up at 06:15 for breakfast at 07:00 and departure at 07:30 as the sun would rise at 07:20. When I woke up and checked the actual temperature I wasn’t too happy with what I saw..it would be -4C excluding any wind impact..

So all winter layers on, and of we go. The ride to Leon is a detour on the route which means you first meed to head straight North in exactly opposite wind direction. And it was really cold especially as I only have wind/rain protective gloves and not the thick winter gloves. 

I arrived at the Leon cathedrale at 09:15 and when I took of the gloves to lock the bike with the second chain I was really struggling to get this done, my hand were bery cold and stiff. I then had to wait until 09:30 until the cathedrale opened, which I didn’t know so by that time I had done full circle to find the entrance as all gates were closed. The outside of the cathedrale is already very impressive. 


Inside I bought my ticket, it was 6 euro and I received 4 euro’s change. One of them dropped on the floor and this is when I noticed that my hand were really frozen. I could only move my thumb and pinky..now try this at home..pick up a coin from the floor with only your thumb and pinky..virtually impossible and it made me look like an idiot in such way that the lady behind me in the queue wanted me to sit down as she thought I was having some brain problem. She was relieved when I explained it was only the cold weather impact. 

The cathedrale inside is magnificent and what made it extra special was the phone with explaination on architecture and how cathedrales are actually build up including all the glass windows was very informative. I learned a lot of new things that will help me understand future visits. 

After the visit my hamds were still not in order so I went into a bar and ordered some hot drinks and warm pastry..very nice and energising. 

Conrado had explained that in Leon I should visit the cathedrale and San Marco so next was San Marco but I lost the way in town (it is not a small town) and suddenly I was on my gps route again and when ai followed that one I droge out of the city so I will need to come back for the San Marco even though I saw a lot of other interesting places lile Casa de Botines by Gaudi. 

In Villar de Mazarife I wanted to visit the St James church but it was locked. In front of the church there were about 30 young lads from Ireland and two local cycling guides. I spent half and hour talking to these two as they wanted to know where I came from, what the route was like etc and then they started to explain alternative routes back where they both were arguing which one was most beautiful. It was a fun break!

The route continued and indeed storks everywhere and I crossed the old bridge in Obriego. 

From there I continued via many small roads to Astorga where there is really a lot to see, many churches and a bishops palace. All very well kept and maintained. A very impressive town where you have no clue when you see it from a distance!

So two places I wanted to take time to visit in the pocket..now what..stay here (I had already done 90km) or still continue and do the climb to 1500 meters to the Cruz de Ferro? Still rain for tomorrow so let’s go!

The ride up was very nice, the temperature increased enough to wear a short sleeve shirt and bibshort and you pass some nice small villages with albergues for the walkers because it is a long and hard walk that can best he done not in one go. The views became nicer and nicer and bingo I’ve seen cyclists, walkers but not yet the third category man with donkey..now it is complete. 

The climb to Cruz de Ferro was not too difficult even though at the end of the day it is more difficult and the 10% you get a couple of times reminds you that you are on a heavy bike with luggage..but hte last two km’s I was lucky and the wind increased and turned into tailwind..very nice. 

The Cruz de Ferro is an iron cross on a tree with the pile of stones known from the time of The Kelt to be that way. I also brought my stone from Maastricht and put it at the cross. Now all my sins have been cleared is one of the explanations of the ritual..hence only a small stone 🙂

Now the descent can commence..so jacket etc on and ready. You descent for about 2 km’s and then you get a climb again of 12%..great to have a jacket and gloves back on again..but then it really starts and it is a very spectacular descend (read I found it too steep) until Molinaseca where I wanted to spend the night. 

There was however a large fire in the fields and I heard lots of firebrigade trucks coming so I was like let’s take the next town which was Ponferrada which is very nice too so it wasn’t a punishment! I arrived at 19:00 so a quick shower and then a beer followed by a carb dinner!

Today I cycled from Mansilla las Mullas to Ponferrada. In total 149km and > 1200hm of which most to Cruz de Ferro. 

If you want to relive my ride please follow this link; https://www.relive.cc/view/961628306

Oh sorry..@Erika..I saw the first Spanish cow..