27/5/16. We were now approaching the main thing that had attracted us to the island of Shikoku in the first place – before we knew about the other lovely sights such as the 88 temples and the Iya Valley.
We headed for the Tourist Information Office in Imabari to see if we could get more details of this attraction. We saw no signs for the office but kept consulting the iPad to make sure we were going the right way. Eventually we arrived at the indicated position to find a large shopping mall on the edge of the city. It really didn’t feel as though we were in the right place but Google Maps was adamant that it was here so we had a look round.
And it was! The helpful people found some information, which even included details of campsites, so we were delighted.
We had read that Imabari had a nice castle and that 2 of the 88 temples were close by so we decided to take a look at these on the way. The first temple (no. 56 on the list) was small and a coachload of pilgrims took up most of the available space so we were not particularly impressed. We headed on to no. 55 which was much better – both larger and quieter. Pictures will soon be on the Temples photo page.
The castle was rather nice too with a seawater moat. We didn’t go in but enjoyed eating our lunch taking in the view.
It was now time for the main attractions! We headed north out of the city and soon caught sight of the first of these – a bridge spanning the stretch of water between Shikoku and the first of a chain of islands leading to the main island of Honshu. You may be asking why we were so keen to see these bridges (there are nine in all across the straits). It is for two reasons. Firstly, although they were built primarily to carry the expressway, there is also separate provision for cyclists alongside the road! And secondly, the islands sounded very attractive.
The first bridge is spectacular! The Kurushina-Kaikyo Bridge is over 4 km long and 70 m high, and was the world’s first bridge with three suspended sections. It is also high above the surrounding land so it was a long climb to join the expressway which was already up in the air, initially on switchbacks clinging to the side of the hill but then on a spiral concrete roadway exclusively for cyclists and pedestrians.
It is certainly popular with cyclists as we were passed by a constant stream of bikes going in both directions. They were a mixture of the “lycra brigade” and others in more everyday clothing out for a day’s ride. We only saw one other touring cyclist – a Western lady heading towards Shikoku. We didn’t get a chance to compare notes as she sped past downhill while we were climbing on the bridge itself.
We have seen 5 other tourers – a group of 4 when we were on the Bonnet Bus and another chap on the grim road out if Shikoku-Chuo who also showed no inclination to stop for a chat.
Descending from the bridge the cycle route left the expressway and joined the old road which, aside from two short sections, wound its way around the contours for 11 km to the next bridge. As we rode along beside the channel we could see the currents which are fearsome when the tides are at their peak. The water can flow at more than 10 knots and whirlpools can sometimes be seen. Not a place for small boats – much better on a bike.
After crossing two more bridges we reached our campsite on the island of Omishima. The booklet we had been given at the tourist information said this was a “paid for” site but when we arrived at 5.30 there was nobody around so we just pitched the tent. Feeling filthy after two longish days in the saddle and having missed out on a shower the previous night (there were none at the free site) we were grateful that there was a public onsen within spitting distance. We headed there forthwith and emerged feeling much better and cleaner.
Japanese baths induce strange feelings that are difficult to describe! You feel drained but alive, totally relaxed but invigorated – and certainly much cleaner!