Our original plan was to visit the chocolate festival in Òbidos this morning; however, our slightly hungover house guest (my youngest) wasn’t really up to a half hour car journey, so we postponed until tomorrow and Harri and I went for a walk from the apartment instead.
After four weeks of inclement weather (most of it too much like Wales for my liking), it finally seems a little more settled. True, it was still windy this morning (the wind unusually coming from the north rather than off the ocean), but at least the sky was cloudless.
We set off around 10.30am, me optimistically dressed in shorts and a vest top, and headed along the beach towards Salir do Porto. The tide was coming in and it was sickening to see the plastic bottles and knotted bundles of nylon twine being tossed onto these pristine sands by the waves.
At the end of the beach, we joined the boardwalks (don’t you just love a coastal boardwalk?) and meandered along to the wooden footbridge that crosses the Rio Tornada. When we first arrived here on the Silver Coast, I’d got it into my head that the towering sand dune on the opposite shore was in fact the tallest in Europe – it turns out I was completely wrong. Salir’s dune might look high when you’re standing at its base, but at just 49 metres tall, this one is a minnow compared to the Grande Dune du Pilat in southeastern France. That monster of a dune measures around 110 metres.
For the second Saturday in succession, it seemed we were going to have plenty of company on our walk. This time, the large group of pilgrims gathering in Salir do Porto seemed to be scouts and guides, each of them carrying a load of Duke of Edinburgh proportions. Whatever these kids are stuffing inside their rucksacks, it’s certainly not their iPads!
Fortunately, scores of them were taking a rest on the ever-so-long stone bench outside Salir’s public swimming pool as we approached; besides, Harri doubted their cloth sack-wearing leader would lead such a long line of youngsters along the exposed clifftops.
The track up to the cliffs is well-hidden unless you know where it is and luckily we did, having both come this way (separately) before. For the uninitiated, you turn right immediately after the cafe to pass behind the two public swimming pools (not yet open for the season). Soon the track widens and rises steeply between deliciously scented pine trees. I came this way when I went looking for the Ruinas da Capela de Santana which stands high on the cliffs overlooking the bay. For over a year now, I’ve enjoyed watching vlogs from Eight Miles From Home. Film-makers Sasha and Jmayel (and their little daughter Story) live in nearby Caldas da Rainha, and it was one of their recent vlogs that made me aware of these ruins. We have a fabulous view of the arch from our apartment lounge, especially at sunset when it’s briefly illuminated by the orange sky.
After a relatively short climb, we emerged onto open clifftops to be treated with incredible views of the Silver Coast in both directions. Ten miles north, the world-famous waves battered the cliffs at Nazaré and, even from this distance, the power of the ocean was evident.
Back on land, the spring landscape was positively bursting with colour thanks to the ubiquitous chorão (crybaby) and gorse. Harri commented that the scenery was not unlike the South West Coast Path in Somerset and I had to agree. One of the advantages here over coastal walking in Exmoor is that, after that first tough uphill section, the footpath is relatively level without all those frustrating returns to sea level … which are almost always followed by another ascent.
We walked some of this coast in May 2017 when we first visited the Silver Coast. It amazes us now, but we somehow managed to walk the coastline from Sitio in Nazaré to Foz do Arelho in just one day carrying heavy rucksacks and in much higher temperatures than we’ve experienced so far this year.
One of the biggest differences between the Silver Coast and the much drier Algarve coastline is the presence of proper grassy meadows scattered with wild flowers, including my favourite poppies. In the south, you’d see chorão growing at the top of beaches; here, there are whole meadows of the pretty succulent.
As we set off so late, we decided to skip elevenses and go straight to lunch. You’d be surprised how hard it is to find somewhere to sit down in these unspoilt coastal landscapes. Eventually, in desperation, we perched on the edge of a little sandy trench, hoping we’d managed to find an ant-free zone.
After lunch, we joined what was to me a very familiar stretch of road. I’d come this way when I’d decided to walk home from Caldas da Rainha two weeks ago (not one of my wisest ideas it must be said). Then, I’d quickly tired of trekking through eucalyptus groves and, seeking a more scenic route, had ended up on the main Foz do Arelho to Salir do Porto road. Eucalyptus are the biggest cause of forest fires in Portugal and yet they continue to be planted in huge numbers for economic reasons. I talk in more detail about the hazard of introducing this nonindigenous species into the country in my travelogue The Via Algarviana: walking 300 km across the Algarve.
For a while we walked in silence, enjoying the sounds of crickets and bees, and looking out for the odd lizard scuttering across our path. We emerged from the footpath between two windmills – one renovated, the other a ruin – to be treated to the most amazing bird’s eye view across the lagoon and beyond.
The next section of our homeward route was optional. There is a large cross at a miradouro above Salir do Porto and Harri wondered whether I fancied clambering to the top of the hill to see it up close. The footpath was steep and stony, but I persevered, all the while wondering how all those heavily-laden pilgrims managed the climb. In fact, the higher I got, the more I was dreading the descent because, as any hiker knows, it’s the coming down that’s generally the worst (and also when I’m most likely to lose my footing).
As is generally the case, Harri had reached the summit way ahead of me and he was very apologetic when I finally caught up with him. Indicating a perfectly-formed flight of stairs to his right, he admitted that in his enthusiasm to reach the top he’d taken the first turning uphill, not realising that there was another, much easier option just around the base of the hillock. The pilgrim route was paved with stone, ours with rocks. Fortunately, I was too busy gazing at the 360 degree views to remain mad at him for long. What an incredible spot to admire the lagoon in its entirely, the twin towns of São Martinho and Salir do Porto and the levels surrounding Alfezeirão. Without doubt, I will come to this magical spot time and time again.
Too soon it was time to descend those steps and head home. At just 14km, it hadn’t been the longest of walks but it had enabled us to fully appreciate the beauty of our new home.
For anyone who’s interested, here’s our route.
PS I’m sorry about the quality of the photographs today. I forgot to put the battery back in my camera so all pics were taken with my android. Not the best, I admit.