Back in October, I approached Walkingworld to ask if they would consider venturing into the Algarve, metaphorically speaking.
The site – an online walking community – has been around for quite a few years now, yet had no contributors covering southern Portugal. I hoped to put that right, focusing on routes in the central Algarve area, while my friend Denise (also a keen hiker) would concentrate her efforts on devising walks in the eastern Algarve.
Walkingworld generates its income by offering subscribers annual membership (currently £18 a year with a discount for those renewing their membership). For not much more than the price of a single hiking guidebook, walkers have access to a huge library of routes, covering the UK, France, Spain and Portugal. There are even some in Norway and Australia.
As well as printable mapping, subscribers can also download walks direct to their phone or tablet using the Walkingworld app. As Walkingworld explains, ‘With this app you can follow the walk route, complete with instructions and pictures, and see your position on an OS map.’
Harri was a contributor to the site in the days when the routes needed to be marked out on paper mapping and popped in the post. How times have changed!
Most of his routes were local to south-east Wales rather than located in popular hiking areas; however, over the years there have been a surprisingly high number of downloads every year bringing in welcome royalties.
The website is a great resource for those who love walking, particularly hikers who enjoy exploring new areas and don’t want to buy a new guidebook for every weekend jaunt. Denise and I were delighted when Chris (one of the founders) responded, saying they would be happy to extend the Portugal section to include the Algarve.
Having been given the go-ahead, I couldn’t wait to get started. I’d worked closely with Harri when he was producing his own walks, thus I was confident about what was required in terms of description, instructions and photographs. All walks are categorised – gentle stroll, easy walk, moderate walk, strenuous and mountain challenge – however there are guidelines to help with this.
When I started out, I thought the most difficult part would be coming up with interesting walks which introduced walkers to landscapes and landmarks they might otherwise miss, e.g. the Chapel of Bones (Capela dos Ossos) in Alcantarilha or the myriad of traditional cobbled lanes in Pêra.
I was wrong. The biggest change since Harri’s contributor days (and my biggest challenge) was the requirement to produce digital mapping. Though I was a regular user of Viewranger (it’s proved extremely helpful when I’m off wandering on my own and get lost), it’s a whole different ballgame using the app to produce an accurate map (and thus GPX file), with the right number of waymarks to correspond with the instructions and photographs.
Thank goodness Chris and her team have the patience of saints because my early maps have been sprinkled liberally with errant waymarks. I am learning that it’s crucial to check, double-check and triple-check your mapping before you convert it to a GPX file. Even one superfluous waymark on the route will subsequently mess up the numbering of everything else. Chris, if you’re reading this, I am so sorry about all those mistakes!
As the result of a lot of hand-holding, I now have three ‘live’ walks on the site and another two ‘booked’*. Denise is following close on my heels and her first walks in the Tavira region and the Ria Formosa will soon be available to download.
*(The purpose of booking a route is to avoid two contributors preparing almost identical routes at the same time. Note, you are only allowed to book two walks at a time.)
Some of Walkingworld’s contributors have contributed hundreds of walks to the site since it was launched. I’m certain their continued loyalty comes down to the very warm welcome you encounter when you first start out. Sure, there are contributor guidelines on the website, but Chris understands that not everyone gets it right first time … or the second and third come to that.
For my first route, I returned to Albufeira, but as I’m getting to know the Silves/Lagoa municipalities, I’m coming up with lots more ideas for interesting walks. In fact, I’m probably exploring this new area more enthusiastically as a result of my outdoor writing pursuits. I now find myself studying online mapping at length, figuring out how the various villages and landmarks can be linked avoiding main roads.
Not all my expeditions have been entirely successful. On one memorable occasion while we were living in Alcantarilha, I decided to do some exploration on my way home from Continente supermarket in Armação de Pêra carrying a rucksack and one large holdall as you do. My attempts to cross a wooded valley were aborted time after time when a promising track or footpath ended at an imposing villa or building site, or just disappeared over a (small) cliff edge. Eventually, I had no choice but to admit defeat; however, even then things didn’t go smoothly and I ended up being turfed off the private land I’d strayed on to. Thankfully, I have since worked out a decent route through the valley so watch this space.
Another challenge for an outdoor writer is finding the most scenic (and traffic free) walk through a town or village. I revisited Pêra three times to ensure the final route was the best one possible and re-walked sections of Salgados to make sure my instructions were as clear as they could be.
With spring just around the corner, there’s never been a better time to start planning this year’s walking calendar. Whether you’re staying close to home, or exploring pastures new, it’s well worth checking out walkingworld.com
And if you’re heading to the Algarve, check out some of the walks Denise and I are putting online. Who knows, we might one day make it to Walkingworld’s exclusive 100+ Walks Club.