The Portuguese Way – Day 10

Date: 12 April 2018

Walked from: Anadia

Walked to: Albergharia-a-Velha

Distance: 35.5 km

It was a long walking day, but then once you’re soaking wet (I believe the correct meteorological expression for describing today’s weather is to say that it was peeing it down) and have already been walking in rain for hours, what difference does an extra 17km more than I actually needed to do really make anyway? And apparently rain is good for the skin. Or the soul. Or something.

Today’s 35.5 km may have been walked in trying climactic conditions, and almost entirely along roads (some of which had a bit more traffic than was necessarily ideal), but I laughed my arse off all day. Some of that was me giggling at the absurdity of my choice of holiday, but it was mainly because I walked again with Tim, who, despite presenting the linguistic barrier of speaking American-English, is hilarious – and a fellow huge fan of one of the best films of recent years… obviously I mean ‘Muppets Most Wanted’.

Comedic company aside, the highlight of today (even more so than the lunch eaten just before exiting the Lidl store we’d ducked into, and which was consumed – the lunch, not the supermarket – as we stood staring out at the rain) was definitely the hostel in Albergharia-a-Velha. A friendly, helpful host (he cleaned and dried our soaking wet walking clothes for us), the excellent company of a very nice Polish woman called Magdalena and a huge pasta and two bottles of wine dinner that set us back less than €6 in the local supermarket were all Very Good Things indeed.

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The Portuguese Way – Day 9

Date: 11 April 2018

Walked from: Coimbra

Walked to: Anadia

Distance: 34 km

We were sitting outside the church in the village of Mala, sharing random items of food from our backpacks, when an elderly lady, dressed from head to toe in black, beckoned me over to her. I was handed a plastic carrier bag with something quite large and fairly heavy in it. Bread! Possibly the biggest loaf of bread I’d ever seen! And although I had no idea what she was saying to me, or vice-versa, it was clearly meant as a gift for me and Tim, my new walking buddy who I’d met seven or eight kilometres before (and who, you may be able to tell from the photo below, has a quite incredible beard) and who you can see in the photo below, holding said bread aloft. It was so lovely of her, so kind… and yet, I confess that when we first tried to sample the bread we were a bit confused. It was rock hard. There was no way to break into it. We thought perhaps it was provided to us as a weapon to protect us from the local dog population, or as an extra burden for us to carry on our way to Santiago. Turns out it was a delicious brioche, which softened after a few hours, and which we had for most of our dinner, accompanied by red wine and cheese.

Approaching the town of Mealhada we had a further encounter with another elderly lady (photo of the lady below, for illustration) who seemed determined to stop us walking on our intended (way marked) route. Again, we had no bloody idea what she was saying to us, but as so much of the route for the past few days (and even earlier today) had been the scene of much flooding, we thought perhaps it was that. When she was clear that we’d just start walking that way and walk back if we had to, she decided we needed a guide and stomped along with us for almost a kilometre before realising we weren’t for turning. I am confident she was trying to help us and it was very kind of her to go out of her way, but as the route was in fact fine, I fear the reason for her concern will remain a mystery.

The third and final elderly-Portuguese-lady-who-we-couldn’t-understand ‘shout out’ of the day goes to the lovely nun at the Saint Jose social centre, who gave us a welcome home for the night in the spic and span ‘donativo’ (AKA give what you like) hostel the nuns provide for weary walkers in Anadia. She gave us very detailed instructions about the hostel and the town; we didn’t understand and she knew we didn’t, but it was all done with great humour and kindness, and made for a fitting end to a fun day of random encounters. Oh, and it didn’t rain on the walk today either. Woo hoo!!!

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The Portuguese Way – Day 8

Date: 10 April 2018

Walked from: Rabaçal

Walked to: Coimbra

Distance: 30.5 km

How best to describe today’s walk? Wet underfoot? Wet inside boot? Wet inside so-called waterproof jacket? Or just, rather like the 80s band; wet, wet, wet.

I only took a couple of photos today, both taken in the two 10 minute interludes where it wasn’t raining heavily, so forgive the pretty unimaginative imagery. I would have liked some pictures of the swollen waters of the Dos Mouros river; I spent most of the first 12km of today walking beside – and at times effectively in – that particular body of Portuguese water. Sadly the rain was so heavy at that point that there was no way my phone was coming out of the relative safety of my pocket to take any holiday snaps. Nor do I have photos of the ruins at Conimbriga – the largest and best preserved Roman settlement in Portugal, no less – because at that point all I wanted was to get out of the rain for 10 minutes, and have a hot chocolate. Plus, and I’ll admit to being a philistine here, there’s only so much excitement I can muster about some old foundations. I DID take a photo of a house covered in tiles that instantly evoke the 70s, and another of the poor old Roman aqueduct on the approach to Coimbra, which has had a section removed so a duel carriageway can run through. Could they not have built a little tunnel? Seriously?

Anyway, I’ve been in Coimbra, my home for the night, since 1.30pm this afternoon. After a delicious and absurdly cheap late lunch (photo of lovely local restaurant above), I’ve dedicated much of my afternoon to listening to the rain continue to fall outside while attempting to dry out my clothes from today. Coimbra itself looks like a great place to spend some time – this university city (it’s the equivalent of our Oxford and Cambridge) was the capital of Portugal from 1145 to 1255, and today hosts a huge amount of lovely looking cafes and restaurants, as well as some dead important historical buildings that I’m not going to have time to see on this trip. I hope you don’t read this blog for educational purposes, because if so, I’m seriously letting you down today. #sorrynotsorry

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The Portuguese Way – Day 7

Date: 9 April 2018

Walked from: Alvaiázere

Walked to: Rabaçal

Distance: 31.6 km

When I was walking the French Way to Santiago in October, much of the talk on the trail was of the forest fires in Portugal and northern Spain. I am pleased to say that there will be no such worries on this trip: the countryside is sodden with water, and more of it continued to fall from the skies today, although not in the monsoon like quantities that are predicted for tomorrow. I edged my way around one flooded footpath today, but another defeated me, and faced with the option of an unplanned swim or a shorter route to the next village via the road, the lure of the tarmac won.

It was another lovely day of walking, despite the weather. The route undulated its way through cork forests, small vineyards, olive groves and other farming land, often taking me along narrow footpaths bordered by the type of lichen-covered stone walls I’m more accustomed to seeing in Yorkshire than the Iberian peninsula.

I stopped for 20 minutes in the town of Ansião to fill up on a mixture of fat and sugar based nutritional goodness that I’m sure most athletes will have in their dietary regimes (I think I may be developing an addiction to pastel de natas – delicious custard tarts) but the rain made me disinclined to stop, which meant I arrived in tonight’s hostel for the wonderfully early time of 1.30pm – plenty of time to relax and enjoy the sensation of not walking before carrying on tomorrow 😀

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The Portuguese Way – Day 6

Date: 8 April 2018

Walked from: Tomar

Walked to: Alvaiázere

Distance: 30.5km

I took the day off yesterday so I could see Tomar’s Castle (first picture) and the connecting buildings, which look down over the town and house some of the most impressive art and architecture I’ve ever seen. Just amazing, and well deserving of its World Heritage Site status. I then largely sat on my arse for the rest of the day, enjoying doing nothing after walking over 100 miles in just five days!

Anyway, I was back on the road, refreshed and ready to go, for 6.45am this morning, leaving Tomar as the day broke. I like to get my walking in early so I have more time to relax, but I was also trying to avoid the heavy rain (currently doing its thing outside). I am delighted to say it had the good grace to hold off until I was at the friendly pilgrim hostel here in Alvaiázere; the fact that I only stopped once, for a cake and hot chocolate breakfast at the friendly cafe in tiny Soianda probably helped with avoiding the wet stuff – I was done for the day by 1.40pm.

Today’s walk was beautiful (if a little sodden in parts because of the recent rains), from the forest tracks past eucalyptus, oak and cork trees, to the many citrus trees busting with ready-to-pick lemons and oranges, to the final five kilometres on the cobble-stoned village roads that eventually led into Alvaiázere. The bit I didn’t love so much, on the aforementioned cobbled streets, were all the snarling dogs I had to navigate on my way past, including a particularly feisty gang of five smallish but very aggressive canines (If you’ve seen ‘Up’, think of the evil dogs, controlled by electric collar, who can only be distracted from their devious intent by squirrels). I channeled my inner dog trainer, walking backwards and shouting the most English possible ‘NO’ available (think 1940s stern upper-middle class matron, complete with tweed walking outfit – and matching hat and immovable perm) as I went.

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The Portuguese Way, Day 5

Date: 6 April 2018

Walked from: Golegã

Walked to: Tomar

Distance: 31km

The weather forecast for today was showing the image that strikes dread into most walkers: the notorious ‘black clouds with two rain drops’ icon. But it also suggested it would be dry until around 10am, so I headed off alone just after seven this morning, and walked my socks off, not stopping until I had an early lunch 4.5 hours and 20km later. Mother Nature (aka sheer blind luck) rewarded me by not raining until the final 4km of my walk; it started to fall hard and fast as I arrived into the old town of Tomar.

My guidebook describes Tomar as being ‘the quintessential medieval pilgrim town’, as well as having ‘the most perfect examples of Templar layout and architecture to survive to this day’. I can vouch for the fact that I passed some truly incredible buildings on the way to my hotel, but if I’d attempted any photos my phone would have drowned in the attempt. If the rain ever stops (and right now I am giving serious consideration to signing up for an ark-building course) I’ll try to get some pictures before I leave.

I really enjoyed today’s walk. Thanks to the power of Nurofen, the muscle pain in my left calf that developed yesterday afternoon largely cleared up as I walked, leaving me to enjoy a hike that was predominantly free of traffic. Once I figured out how to leave Golegã (where plastic bags full of freshly baked bread rolls hung on people’s front doors, ready – I assume – for their breakfast), the route took me along quiet country tracks and lanes to the faded grandeur of Quinta Cardiga, an estate of beautiful but seriously dilapidated old buildings (on the outskirts of Vila Nova Barquina) which have variously served as a royal palace, pilgrim hospital, and home to nobility. It’s a grand old place, right on the Tejo river, and deserves some serious love. From there the Portuguese Way finally hit some hills, albeit small ones. An hour or so of woodland walking took me through the hillside village of Grou and down to Asseiceira, where I stopped to eat next to an out of use fountain. Then it was a quick trot down the side of a fairly busy road before a pleasant walk along the railway line that goes into Tomar. The rain really started to fall just before I got to the outskirts of São Lourenço, where a monastery was built to commemorate an an important battle from the late 1300s that establish Portugal’s independence from Spain. I’m afraid my interest in a hot shower outweighed any desire to explore this significant historical site in more detail, even though the victorious Portuguese king was married to a Lancastrian lass called Philippa. Must. Try. Harder…

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The Portuguese Way, Day 4

Date: 5 April 2018

Walked from: Santarém

Walked to: Golegã

Distance: 33km

I started walking waaaaaaaaaay too late today. I know from bitter experience not to take breakfast somewhere that starts serving it at stupid-o’clock-late (aka 8am), but that’s what I did. And because of that, I didn’t start walking until 9am… which, combined with a few slight wrong-turns along the way, meant we didn’t finish until after 6pm. Brutal; I’m not doing that again on this trip. That said, Susan and I did get to have one last meal with the lovely Massimo and Valter before they headed off on the Fatima route and we continued on our way northwards to Santiago. And the nice lady at the hostel took a photo of our temporary walking gang, so it wasn’t all bad!

Length of walking day aside, today’s weather, after an initially misty start in Santerém, was sunny and warm, which made for some really pleasant walking (aside from the final 6km trudge along a busy road towards the end, which mainly featured fast cars and very little in the way of a shoulder for us poor pedestrians). The route out of Santarém was particularly lovely, passing through vineyards and other farming land for much of the day, before stopping at a heart-warmingly friendly cafe in the village of Vale de Figueira.

Two different lots of friendly farmers concluded that we were either lost or making a big mistake with our chosen route as we passed through the low-lying land to the south of Azinhaga (the birth place of José Saramago, the first Portuguese writer to win the Nobel Prize for literature), and drove up to us along the farm tracks to give us directions. In the case of the first farmers, we had already concluded that we needed to head in the direction they suggested. With the second one, we were actually on the route we had planned to take, but he seemed very determined we shouldn’t go that way (I surmised from our miming at each other / trying out some Spanish, that deep mud might have been an issue had we continued in that direction, and, frankly, it was just easier to do as he said. He then drove on to the turn off and made sure we took it before heading off – what a gent!

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