Thanks to two cycling fans (Jorge Padrones and Antonio Ortiz) who have written us and given us some photographs, we can present you an ideal route for gravel cycling in Spain. It is the Canal de Castilla Route. It is a route that runs from Valladolid to the beginning of the Canal de Castilla along the Camino de Santiago and then travels the entire route of the Canal de Castilla, which was built in the 18th century.
Here we detail his experience and I hope that you will be encouraged to do it or, if you are from another country, keep it on your wish list to do gravel when you visit Spain.
Description of the Route through the Castilla Canal
The Canal de Castilla is one of the largest hydraulic engineering works in Spain. It was built in the 18th century with the aim of transporting wheat from the plateau to the northern seaports, as well as bringing coal to the plateau from these. The arrival of the railway made it obsolete, falling into disuse.
In this transport system, the barges were pulled by oxen or other animals from “towlines” or tracks that run alongside the canal, being able to use today as a route for our adventures.
The Canal de Castilla is born in the Palentina town of Alar del Rey, to the north of that province and although it has several branches, our objective was to travel the main one that would take us to Valladolid with a total route of 150 kilometers. We decided to leave from Valladolid, so we also had to make a one-way route to spend the night in Alar del Rey and the next day to return through the Duero Canal.
For our outward route we chose to go from Valladolid using the Camino de Santiago route from Madrid to the Leonese town of Sahagún, where the Camino de Santiago de Madrid unites with the French, to later cross the province of Palencia by tracks and some sections road to Alar del Rey to end the first day.
This one-way route is very varied and picturesque, crossing one of the areas that most define the Castilian lands and moors; the so-called Tierra de Campos, where we will cross its endless cereal fields with short but pronounced heights that will make us strive for part of the journey.
From the first part of the route we highlight towns such as Wamba, with the Ossuary that contains more than 3000 monks’ skulls, the view over the fields from the Peñaflor de Hornija viewpoint, the beautiful town of Medina de Rioseco with its historical complex and streets arcades where we can also see the dock where the second branch of the Canal de Castilla ends.
From there we enter Tierra de Campos with its rounded hills and always rolling on tracks in good condition with some stone. We also cross numerous towns where we can get water from their sources. It is worth highlighting the towns of Villalón de Campos, Grajal de Campos and Sahagún, where it is worth making a stop either to refuel or to spend the night depending on our rhythm since we will take approximately 120 km of route, remaining about 80 km to Alar.
The last part of this one-way route passes through a pre-mountain terrain and the tracks and the landscape changes from the eternal cereal crops to an environment in which the forests begin to appear and we can enjoy some of the most beautiful tracks between Sahagun and Saldaña. Starting from Saldaña, we use a local road to do the last 30 kilometers given the time, although the route can also be done on tracks.
After the well-deserved rest in Alar and regain strength, the next morning we started the route of the Canal de Castilla, from the point where it marks its beginning and with the aim of ending in Valladolid 150 kms away, where it empties into the river Pisuerga.
The route is mostly a track in good condition with sections with some stone that will make us use ourselves thoroughly if we want to ride fast. As it is a route that always follows the canal, there is always shaded to shelter in, and the temperature is always pleasant.
During the tour we will see numerous locks, the means that ships have to bridge the unevenness in the canals and hydraulic works, including some triple locks that are true works of art. Some of the bridges that we pass are also curious, as the Canal de Castilla intersects with the Carrión river, passing over it by means of a bridge built for this purpose.
One of the points to consider, especially with regard to our water reserves, is that the Canal does not pass through the center of any town, only passing remarkably close to the towns Fromista, Palencia and Dueñas. For the other towns, we would have to leave the canal route and return after our stop.
- Circular route starting and ending in Valladolid.
- The outward journey is along the Camino de Santiago de Madrid and then connects by tracks and roads with Alar del Rey, the starting point of the Canal de Castilla. The outward route is very varied, crossing the typical Castilian moors and fields through the so-called “Tierra de Campos” to end in the pre-mountain of Palencia.
- The return is carried out entirely by following the route of the Canal de Castilla, an 18th century engineering work that changed the way merchandise was transported to the plateau. Easy and pleasant route for Gravel and Mountain bikes.
- The route was carried out in 2 days, spending the night in Alar del Rey where the Canal de Castilla begins, although there are many options to do it in more days, enjoying the route and stopping in historic towns.
Canal de Castilla Route
- Distance: 151 km
- Average speed: 16.1 km / h
- Ascent: 200 m
- Descent: 300 m
Canal de Castilla route along the Camino de Santiago
- Distance: 201 km
- Average speed: 17.5 km / h
- Ascent: 1,560 m
- Descent: 1,390 m
The Canal de Castilla is an adventure for all audiences, with hardly any unevenness, without technical difficulties, with a 100% journey through roads without contact with cars and with the beauty of the Canal and the towns and lands that surround it and that has notes of classic cycling.