UK to Sahara and back?

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RobinS
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UK to Sahara and back?

Postby RobinS » 29 Sep 2016, 12:57pm

MrsS and I did a three month tour around France and Northern Spain this last spring/early summer, and are thinking of going a bit further afield next year.

I have this vague idea of ferry to Santander or Bilbao, cycle across Spain to Gibraltar or Algeciras, Ferry to Morroco or Ceuta, then cycle via Fes into the Sahara. Return across the High Atlas to Marrakesh, then cycle/ferry home again.

Has anyone done this, or parts of it? Any ideas of routes? We plan to take camping kit - are there enough campsites in Morocco? If not, and wild camping what are water supplies like?

Any guidance or first hand experience appreciated!

Robin

whoof
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Re: UK to Sahara and back?

Postby whoof » 29 Sep 2016, 1:10pm

Never been but here's the FOC's guidance to Morocco.

There's an update on hiking in the mountains but it's very vague, perhaps you can look into this further if you are going to this area.

https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/morocco


I remember seeing a TV programme about Nick Crane cycling in the Atlas mountains but it was some time ago (1990) not sure it will be much use but here's a link to a book.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Atlas-Biker-Mo ... 1855092107

mercalia
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Re: UK to Sahara and back?

Postby mercalia » 29 Sep 2016, 1:11pm

I wonder how many replies you will get ? maybe they didnt come back?

Loopy
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Re: UK to Sahara and back?

Postby Loopy » 29 Sep 2016, 1:22pm

Hiya - coincidentally, we've done both Spain and Morocco as family cycling trips, although not linked as you are suggesting. Last summer we flew into Gibraltar and cycled back to Santander using the Via de la Plata - great route, although you might find following the waymarks a bit more challenging heading south. A few years ago (2013) we flew into Agadir in Morocco and did a two week loop round the Anti Atlas Mountains down to the Sahara at Tata and then back to Agadir for the flight home. We had absolutely no problems - stayed in cheap hotels, some campsites, some wild camping (difficult to get off the beaten track out of sight of goatherds!) and one memorable night when we were invited to stay with a local family. We found the locals to be generally charming, no hassle and deeply upset that their country is being seen as hazardous by travellers.

I would say go. Lots of useful information on routes over on 'crazy guy on a bike'. You won't regret it.

Loopy

RobinS
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Re: UK to Sahara and back?

Postby RobinS » 29 Sep 2016, 1:33pm

Checked the FCO guidance - the high risk from terrorism is no worse than the UK or France, so nothing to put us off there. Will have a look for Nick Crane's book.

Loopy - thanks for the encouraging comments. What makes you think the Via de la Plata would be harder to follow southwards? (we could do it on the return trip, and find a different route south).

Will have a look on 'crazy guy on a bike'

Robin

Loopy
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Re: UK to Sahara and back?

Postby Loopy » 29 Sep 2016, 1:47pm

Ha - yes, of course you'll be heading north in the way home, so no problem following the Via de la Plata. It is extremely well waymarked once you pick up the yellow arrows from Seville. From Gibraltar we just followed minor roads to get to Seville, then picked up the river to get into the centre of Seville (great bike routes into the city). Near the Cathedral you pick up the 'credenciale' or Pilgrim Passport from a nearby hotel (sorry can't remember the name but the Cathedral will point you in the right direction) and that gets you access to numerous cheap Albergues, or hostels along the way. The route is mostly off road on farm tracks, or on minor lanes, and marked constantly by yellow arrows. We did it on a range of bikes - Trek hybrid, Dawes Karakum, Edinburgh Bikes Cyclocross and my Disk Trucker. They were fine on most sections you'd want to ride (some sections were more like dry river beds and you'd be pushing whatever you were riding!). Any rough sections are generally few and far between. We left the Via e La Plata at Buenavente and headed through Leon over the Picos to Santander - great riding and a bit cooler than further south in August! Only thing we did wrong, was I had low riders on the front of my disc trucker - they were a bit problematic on some of the rougher or narrower off road sections. Would have been nice if they were slightly higher off the ground - but nothing serious. It's a great route and you would certainly have fun riding it north, and taking a different route south over to the east of Spain.

Morrocco, we went in a figure of 8 - sorry haven't got my diary to hand, but headed SE from Agadir, to Igherm, down to Tata, back a different rout to Igherm, back to Taroudant, then back to Agadir. All great fun on reasonable quiet roads.

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b1ke
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Re: UK to Sahara and back?

Postby b1ke » 29 Sep 2016, 2:45pm

I've cycled through Spain, generally following the route of the Via de la Plata after coming down from Santander over the Cantabrian mountains. We followed the N630 from Benevente to Seville which was very quiet after Zamora. Plenty of albergues en route where you get to chat to other travelers.

We sailed from Tarifa to Tangiers and followed the coast south. There are a fair amount of campsites on the coast, but hotels can also be very cheap if you're on a budget. We also wild camped when other options weren't available. Did the High Atlas and Anti-Atlas on a previous trip and stayed in cheap hotels on that one.

If you're cycling in winter bear in mind that prevailing winds are north westerly. Not sure how far into the desert you're planning on going but towns get more sparse south of Tan Tan.
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thirdcrank
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Re: UK to Sahara and back?

Postby thirdcrank » 29 Sep 2016, 4:01pm

My initial thought was that forum member takeonafrica might be able to help but she doesn't appear to have been active on here recently.

She has a website and from it here's a map of a route which took her way beyond the sahara

http://www.everytrail.com/view_trip.php?trip_id=765079

There's also a contact page and it would be nice to think she would share advice, rather than just having a book to sell.

http://takeonafrica.com/contact/

(IIRC she originally came on here for advice when the sprocket on her Rohloff hub had been worn down almost round.)

RobinS
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Re: UK to Sahara and back?

Postby RobinS » 29 Sep 2016, 6:03pm

The Spanish section looks to be fine - Maybe down near the east coast, and back via the Via de la Plata. The Morocco section could be more problematical. As we are committed to working the winter ski season in the Alps we won't be back in the UK to prepare until May - and Ramadan starts late May next year (not a good time to be cycling in Morocco I gather, due to lack of availability of food during the day), so Morocco would need to be after late June through July. As we hoped to go as far as Merzouga and the Erg Cheggi dunes I am not sure if it would just be too hot to cycle? Has anyone been there in high summer?

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matt2matt2002
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Re: UK to Sahara and back?

Postby matt2matt2002 » 30 Sep 2016, 12:50pm

Sorry to jump in here but I am thinking of the Marrakech area for next Feb. 1 month tour.
Not too cold?
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nirakaro
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Re: UK to Sahara and back?

Postby nirakaro » 30 Sep 2016, 1:51pm

thirdcrank wrote: it would be nice to think she would share advice, rather than just having a book to sell.

However the book is well worth buying.

matt2matt2002 wrote:Sorry to jump in here but I am thinking of the Marrakech area for next Feb. 1 month tour.
Not too cold?

Marrakech in February is a bit like summer in England - teeshirt in the daytime, need a fleece in the evening.

amaferanga
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Re: UK to Sahara and back?

Postby amaferanga » 30 Sep 2016, 7:14pm

I followed bits of Nick Crane's route in the Atlas, starting and finishing in Marakesh back in 2007 and much of it was absolutely stunning. We did just under 3 weeks, with a mix of guest houses and wild camping. The book is a great read and it's possible to plot most of his route from the details in the book.

It was early April and we had some snow showers, but all the high passes were clear. Very cold at night, but still hot during the day. I think Feb would be a bad time to think about doing any high mountain routes, but would be ok at lower altitudes around Marakesh. I don't think July/August would be much fun - too hot and I suspect too many 4x4s and camper vans.

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b1ke
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Re: UK to Sahara and back?

Postby b1ke » 30 Sep 2016, 7:21pm

Cycled over the Tizi n Test pass in the High Atlas mid February a few years ago and it was fine. Snow on the side of the road. My avatar pic is from that tour. The nights were pretty nippy but the days hot. Beautiful mountain range.
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Farawayvisions
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Re: UK to Sahara and back?

Postby Farawayvisions » 2 Oct 2016, 6:25pm

I've cycled in Morocco during December on two occasions. Stayed in cheap hotels, gites and wildcamped. Only once when we were wildcamping did we manage to stay unseen - that was in the desert. The people are friendly and the food is cheap but during Ramadan it can be difficult to find places with food during the day (outside tourist hotspots). Summer can be blisteringly hot. I've ridden in the Anti Atlas and the High Atlas and plan on taking a longer tour this year. You might find some of my posts useful and there are a few routes you can dowload too, plus you're welcome to ask me specific questions.
I spent a couple of months in Morocco when I was sailing which really helped me to understand the culture, though there is always something new to discover and learn.
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iviehoff
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Re: UK to Sahara and back?

Postby iviehoff » 3 Oct 2016, 8:51am

In the more touristed parts of Morocco, the locals are, shall we say, intrusive. It is hard enough trying to eat a packed lunch by the roadside in some areas. I have more than once had to pack up my lunch, leave, and eat it somewhere else, where I would be permitted to eat it without every mouthful demanded off me by a large and insistent audience. Their begging hands are under your chin. On one occasion they were even holding on to me. One day the lunch remained uneaten in our panniers as there was no practical opportunity to eat it, due to continuous presence of insistent people, we even had a bicycle escort for a large part of the day. You do not want to be wild camping in the presence of such people. Your every action would be watched, your every possession and mouthful demanded as a gift, up close and personal.

But this is far from being a universal issue, there are certainly many areas where you will not be so bothered.

The FCO says the terrorism risk is high. The reality is that there have been rather few terrorist incidents in Morocco, fewer than in France. Clearly given its location and so forth, there is always the possibility of things turning nasty, but so far things haven't happened.

It mentions hiking in the mountains. Certainly the remote villagers in the popular hiking/touristed areas are among the most intrusive people in Morocco, and I wouldn't go hiking in the mountains without a guide to tell them leave me and my possessions alone by the effective methods that they have and you do not. But I think it is actually referring to a couple of more serious incidents of armed banditry that occurred in the Jbel Sahro, an area popular for winter hiking. I think that's a while ago now.

The other thing to be careful of is the drug growing areas, they aren't so fond of passers-by seeing what they are up to. In the past, at least, it used to be an opportunity for extortion, in collaboration with the local police who'd throw you in the nick, I don't know if that still goes on. The problem area was particularly the Rif.