RSF - The Off Road Cycling Club

The Adventure Starts Here


 Les Guilleries

 The gravel tracks of les Guilleries

 A glimpse of the river Ter


Just along from my mother in-law's house, the tarmac becomes dirt. It's two years since I last rode this way. The small matter of a pandemic putting paid to visits to my wife's home village - Sant Julià de Vilatorta in Catalunya. Cycling, as for all of us, curtailed by the consequences of COVID-19: lockdowns limited me to seeking out the bridleways within reasonable riding distance of home; and, when knocked for six by the virus, the bike collected dust. Those days of incapacity were wretched. Reading the RSF journal provided a vicarious taste of the outdoors and helped no end in lifting the spirits. But now a chance to venture beyond the UK. With jabs received, PCR tests taken, umpteen forms filled and QR codes scanned, Catalan family, friends, and rough-stuff can once again be seen.

The entrance to the fountain at Puig lagullaI'm soon puffing. Not COVID, the recovery is complete, but rather suffering from being what the locals call a guiri: a pale skinned North European. It's August, and despite some clouds, it's hot (15 °C with drizzle suits me better). I don't skimp on the water; I've ridden pretty much all of today's planned route before and know where bidons can be replenished. I shouldn’t get caught out for water, nor by terrain. Riding around Puig-L'Aquila yesterday was a different story for the latter. The map said Carretera, which I interpret as a small road. A gravel track at worst, surely? A rock garden at a trail centre, more like. But then, taking the bike for a walk is in the spirit of the RSF. That's not to say the going today is easy, the start is up, crunching across gravel then a slog up a ramp of exposed sandstone. I arrive at Coll de Portell; no Pyrenean monster but as the lowest point between two peaks, a col nonetheless. The first of many jays glides in and out of view. How many of the oaks that surround are the result of the jay's habit of caching acorns?



Yesterday's and today's ride is in the espai natural of Les Guilleries. Heavily forested and littered with caves, in the 1600s this mountainous region was a haunt of Serrallonga, the Catalan Robin Hood. It's still fit for a bandit or two - empty trails abound, with tree upon tree either side. You could have quite an adventure exploring all of the trails. My route will take in just a snippet of this stunning landscape.
The Panta de SauIn breaching the col, I descend on ferric red switchbacks and soon pass a masia (la Verneda de Sant Feliu) that must have been of some importance - the country house has a sizeable chapel attached. More switchbacks but with ascent, and I'm on a sealed road. Which, you're getting the picture of the topography, twists and turns as it heads down past Vilanova de Sau. Further twists, further turns, more height lost. Light and shade alternate on the roadside - an open zoetrope for company. The descent ends at the Pantà de Sau, a reservoir formed by the damming of the river Ter. The spire of the church of Sant Romà de Sau (a village lost to the reservoir) just protruding beyond the water.


The terrain ultimately outfoxes me: an unexplored track starts as smooth berms but gives way to rocks and more rocks. I reach a road that follows the shore of the reservoir. Closed to motor vehicles, it is mine alone and with the characteristic strata of Vall de Sau - Collsacabra to my right. I press on, the road is crumbling concrete, I used to ride it when skinny-tyred Italian thoroughbreds were my thing, fancying myself to be Roger de Vlaeminck skimming across the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix. Not so now. Mentally, I may be every age I've been (some days I disappoint myself by behaving like a 16-year-old, other days by behaving like a 46-year-old) but physically, I'm more fifth than my second decade (“A spring chicken!”, I hear some of you cry). Well, you cut your cloth accordingly, and I'm at ease with contemplative cyclotourism. A gap opens in the trees, and an expanse by the water's edge allows time to saviour the tranquillity and beauty; to become lost in this moment with no distractions nor obligations. I return to Sant Julià: at times on-road and other times off; quiet villages passed by or through.
I've been coming here for twenty-odd years now; it's become a special place. If you want to sample a Catalunya that’s far from the madding crowds of the Costa Brava, you'd be hard pushed to surpass Les Guilleries.


Chris Pilkington
August 2021