Pretty as Obidos was, I was looking forward to heading back to the coast today. Harri’s brilliant planning meant we had visited pretty much everywhere on my original list but there was still one last place I wanted to see.
Peniche had caught my eye several years ago, mainly because of the photograph used to promote the port to tourists on many websites. The intriguing Fort of São João Baptista is actually located on the largest of the Berlengas islands, about ten kilometres offshore. We could see the island in the distance when we walked into Foz do Arelho, but it was obscured by the late afternoon haze. The fort’s walkway and bridge leading to the seventeenth-century fort has always reminded me of the narrow path leading to the church of Agios Ioannis Kastri on Skopelos where the wedding scenes in Mamma Mia were filmed.
But I’m getting ahead of myself – we had plenty of walking to do before we reached Peniche. Obidos was blissfully quiet as we strolled out of town, the tourists yet to spill onto its narrow streets in their hundreds. Harri spotted a few early birds, no doubt overnighters like us, taking their lives in their hands as they made their way along the unguarded town walls. Generous to a fault, he gave me one last opportunity to join them, but I declined, knowing that even if I managed to fumble my way up the stone steps, I would at some point look down and freeze.
We left Obidos through the same arch in the wall as we arrived, and joined a narrow footpath running alongside a stream. Every now and then, I’d turn around and see how far we’d come since leaving Obidos (a hilltop castle is a great landmark). We stayed on the footpath, walking among high, swaying grasses, for over an hour, passing no-one except one elderly cyclist.
It was late morning and very hot when we at last joined the lagoon on its most southerly ‘arm’ (today’s forecast was 34 degrees). Having walked several miles to reach this shallow stretch of salt water, it seemed strange to think it once reached Obidos; in fact, there are medieval drawings which depict boats next to the town walls.
As they lapped gently against the pebble beach, the warm lagoon waters were very tempting. Nearby, a heron was venturing into the water, prompting Harri to do the same. It was an idyllic spot, though not as easy to get into the water as he’d envisaged (there was too much mud underfoot). There were several vehicles parked on the shore opposite and we watched as several canoeists entered the water and paddled along the water’s edge towards the distant ocean. I would have been happy to laze around in that perfect spot all afternoon, but there were miles to be walked and it was already past noon. If we wanted to reach Peniche at a reasonable time, Harri reminded me, we needed to get going.
Except, by now, it far too hot for walking (in fact, the hottest day of our trip so far). We followed the lagoon’s shoreline for a while before entering a large area of eucalyptus forest. Here, there was at least some shade, although the steep and rutted nature of many tracks did not make for easy hiking and brought back memories of those scorching, airless days we spent walking the Via Algarviana two years earlier.
Harri had loosely plotted our route with online mapping; however, with numerous tracks going off in every direction and no visual landmarks (just trees, trees and more trees) it was often difficult to work out which way we needed to turn. There was little consistency as far as online mapping was concerned either. One particularly poor quality trail was marked on Strava, but plunged us steeply downhill through trees with a huge ‘Harri, stand there and catch me if I fall’ drop at the end, while a ten-foot wide track which would have been fine for vehicles to drive along wasn’t mapped at all.
It was frustrating to know the ocean was over there, somewhere to our right, but that several million eucalyptus trees were blocking our view of the waves. An enormous cricket flew into my chest and I screamed, my first thought being that it was a bat!
We stopped for a much-needed beer in at the small seaside resort of Ferrel, where I finally tasted my first ice-cream of the holiday (a rather delicious scoop of Carte D’or caramel flavour). Judging from the abundance of bars and restaurants – and the numerous surf shops – Ferrel is a popular holiday destination, which made the trusting behaviour of a young girl at a neighbouring outside table even more surprising. On her own and (presumably) needing the ladies, she disappeared inside leaving her mobile and purse lying on the table next to us (complete strangers who were about to leave). I asked my 21-year-old if she would ever do such a thing in a similar venue in South Wales and she looked at me as if I was mad!
Back on the road, we were now catching tantalising glimpses of Peniche and the biggest Berlengas island. This stretch of coast felt like a developing tourist area, not yet fully established but with plenty of recently-built apartments and hotels. Having longed to reach the coast again, this less-than-scenic route into Peniche was not exactly what I’d envisaged. We were sorely tempted to rejoin the beach on the far side of the sand dune system, but with some distance still to walk and our previous disastrous experiences of Silver Coast beach walking, we thought it best we stick with the long, boring (but fast) cycle path.
Fortunately, the historic city of Peniche was much more appealing aesthetically than its sprawling modern suburbs. Geologically speaking, the headland on which the old city was built is fascinating, with spectacular limestone cliffs dating back to the Jurassic period (that one geological period we all are familiar with!). By contrast, the red granite of the nearby Berlengas islands dates back to the Precambrian era and are cited as evidence of continental drift and geological activity in the region.
On October 27, 1892 the British cargo ship Roumania ran aground off the coast of Peniche while sailing from Liverpool to Bombay and 113 of the 122 people on board died.
We had pre-booked a studio flat for the night, and were pleasantly surprised at how spacious it was, with a good-sized fitted kitchen and dining area at one end, a sitting area with settee, then the bed and wardrobe at the far end. We agreed we could have happily lived there for a few months without getting under one another’s feet.
After a shower and a restorative cuppa, we set off to explore Peniche. There was a bit of a nip in the air as we strolled out to the Fortaleza de Peniche. Built by King João III in 1557 and completed in 1645 by King João IV, the fort was of vital military importance until 1897. It was here that German and Austrian prisoners were held during the First World War. We briefly thought we were going to be allowed to look around, before learning that the outer gates were only open because there was a private event for children taking place. Still, it was interesting to walk around the perimeter of this vast fort, a National Monument since 1938.
We wandered past traditional white-washed properties where local people had claimed sections of the clifftop as their own and developed pretty and unusual outdoor spaces. This was my favourite part of Peniche, and it seemed the local cat population agreed with me for they lazed around everywhere
If you want to follow in our footsteps, download our route from Obidos to Peniche (25.1km).
The Via Algarviana – an English guide to the ‘Algarve Way’ by Harri Garrod Roberts is available from online bookstores, included Amazon’s Kindle store and is priced at £2.99.
The Via Algarviana: walking 300km across the Algarve by Tracy Burton is available in paperback (£5.99) and Kindle edition (£2.99) from Amazon.