Fishermen’s Trail: Day 9 Carrapateira – Vila do Bispo (16km)

Little did I know what was ahead

We undertook to walk the Fishermen’s Trail from beginning to end – no ifs no buts – which meant we would be sticking with the ‘difficult’ route to Vila do Bispo today, despite an inland alternative being available. Had I known quite how tough some of the coastal sections were going to be, I’d have pushed for us to walk the Historic Way – five kilometres longer but described as ‘easy’.

I woke feeling dispirited and lacking in energy. Certainly, we’d consumed too much vinho verde last night, but I’d been looking forward to being in Carrapateira again and it just hadn’t lived up to my expectations. Instead, the place felt unloved and down-at-heel … like a British seaside resort mid-winter but without the promenade or sea views. I suppose we could return in a month or two to find a very different vibe about the place, who knows?

Carrapateira is not a place you can leave early: neither the minimarket nor the local café (Clube Cultural E Recreativo Os Amigos Da Carrapateira) open their doors until 9am. There’d been nowhere to purchase food yesterday so we had no option but to wait. We decided to check out of Casa da Olivia, stroll down to the café and then continue on our way.

Not the healthiest of breakfasts but delicious

The sky looked a bit brighter than yesterday; however, it was surprisingly chilly for the end of May. At 9.02am, the queue for the café spilled onto the cobbled pavement, but fortunately the girl serving was friendly and efficient and we were soon sitting down with a pot of tea, a coffee, two delicious sticky cakes and two slices of salame de chocolate (for later). Our total bill was 7,30 euros.

Meanwhile, Harri was having terrible trouble getting any mobile data. We’d had good wi-fi at Casa da Olivia, but it seemed to be impossible to get onto the internet now we’d left. In the end, he was forced to walk back to Alecrim and use their wi-fi signal to log onto Outdoor Active (so we could follow the GPX route and track our progress). This is the first time we can recall having an issue with mobile data since walking the Via Algarviana in May 2015 (and some of those eastern villages were pretty remote).

Harri outside last night’s restaurant

When we finally left Carrapateira, it was only for me to realise that I’d left my walking poles in the ladies’ toilets. We’ve spent this entire trip trying to lose our poles … Harri says it’ll be a miracle if we get home with all four stashed in our rucksacks.

At 9.55am – and with a hint of sunshine pushing through the clouds – we finally got going. As we’ve progressed south, we’ve noticed the vegetation is becoming more Mediterranean and there are now noticeably more succulents, e.g. agaves, and cacti dotted around the landscape.

The vegetation was becoming more familiar

This stretch of coastline is completely new to us. Last time, we walked from Carrapateira to Vila do Bispo we were following the Historic Way which passes through Pedralva. Pedralva is a traditional, white-washed village with narrow cobbled streets which had become a virtual ghost town until Lisbon businessman Antonio Ferreira stumbled upon it and transformed its fortunes. I have fond memories of drinking beer and listening to Bob Marley’s music in Pedralva.

Leaving Carrapateira under grey clouds

When we saw a viewpoint signposted Ponta do Castelo, we followed the raised boardwalks to take a look at the clifftop excavations. Archaeologists have unearthed an Islamic village with at least 15 dwellings dating back to the 12th–13th centuries. While the site is impressive – and was likely once used as a lookout, perhaps for whalers – I couldn’t help wondering how much longer this old stonework could cling to the eroding cliffs. Everywhere we looked, there was evidence of rock falls; a nearby causeway and its access road looked particularly vulnerable to the fortunes of these crumbling cliffs.

The excavations are perilously close to the cliff edge

Soon, we were descending to sea level again. Praia do Amado is a massively popular surfers’ beach, with several cafés and surf schools located here. Burton-Roberts rules dictate that we may leave an official coastal trail providing we are walking closer to the coast so we walked on the beach alongside the water’s edge.

We could see other hikers walking to the end of Praia do Amado and leaving the beach across rocks and then climbing via a steep footpath so we decided to do the same. This ‘detour’ would mean cutting out a steep ascent followed by an immediate descent.

We’re still heading south

The footpath wasn’t great, with loose stones and a steep gradient, but eventually we joined a track and continued to the clifftop. I was glad I had my poles with me. We paused for a breather and to admire the far-reaching views behind us. We’d only been walking an hour or so and we’d already covered three miles, which wasn’t bad given the terrain. Two more steep valleys to circumnavigate and then it would all be plain sailing to Vila do Bispo… or so Harri assured me.

The real trouble started when we were approaching Praia da Murração, another beautiful beach offering more shelter than many along this stretch of wild coastline.

Praia da Murração

There’s a sign before you reach the beach advising hikers that if sea conditions are not suitable, not to take any chances and opt for the circular route, i.e. on the track high above the beach. The tide was low and the sea very calm, so we decided it was safe to descend to sea level and cross the beach as the hikers ahead of us were doing. It wasn’t long before I was very much regretting this decision. I admit I’m a wuss but I really don’t like dangling from clifftops or slipping and sliding on steep footpaths.

Harri left me briefly while he worked out the best way down, but the route he discovered had a huge, scary drop. This didn’t feel like a safe way forward to me. I have actually frozen in the past, unable to continue forward or edge backwards. In the end, I clambered back up the cliff to follow the main footpath to the beach (which we should have done in the first place).

A beautiful but treacherous stretch of coastline

The hikers ahead of us, unencumbered by rucksacks, and clearly far more courageous than me, were already halfway across the beach by now.

Unfortunately, there was more to come. The next uphill section was horrendously steep, so much so that I nearly wobbled over backwards at one point. We reached a cairn at the top of the cliff and immediately headed downhill again. This was the stuff of nightmares: one foot wrong and you could disappear off the end of the cliff.

We joined the Fishermen’s Trail again and breathed a sigh of relief. Until this point, Harri believed our trials and tribulations were a result of us opting to stay on the beach as long as possible. However, now we were back on the official route the footpath remained just as steep and dangerous underfoot. I found myself swearing at Dick (my dictaphone) and only just managed to stay upright when I skidded downhill (a huge thank you to my – as yet nameless – poles).

Leaving the beach on a rocky footpath

I really do think the Rota Vicentina website needs to make the technical nature of the route between Carrapateira to Vila do Bispo clearer. As Harri commented, the ‘loose, vertiginous, narrow, scary nature’ of today’s coast path has come as a bit of a shock as we haven’t encountered anything this perilous up to now. Yes, there have been a lot of vertiginous sections with the footpaths meandering dangerously close to the cliff edge, but until today I’ve not felt frightened. I’m now concerned about what horrors the day after tomorrow’s stage – the hardest of the entire trail – will bring. If it’s worse than this, I don’t know if I’m up to it. I can do distance, I can do hills, but this stretch of walking was something else entirely.

Time to come down again

We emerged from the last coastal valley of the day and, for once, I was perfectly happy to wave farewell to the coast.

Harri’s summary of the entire hair-raising episode:

‘We possibly made the wrong decision – or probably. It’s hard to tell because we don’t know what the waymarked path was like. That could have been hairy in places as well. I doubt it was as hairy as the unofficial one but we saw the tide was out, we could see a path at the far end of the beach, we could see other people doing it. It looked like it was going to cut off a big chunk of path away from the sea – which it did actually – but it was far slower than we thought. And then just as we got back onto the waymarked route and were breathing a sigh of relief, the waymarked route did a very steep, slippery descent.’

Note he doesn’t mention terror, goosebumps or a near-death experience. Maybe he’s right and I am a wuss?

Yet another descent

The walking was easier away from the coast and for some time we followed a wide, stony track with deep ravines to our right. We chatted to a young backpacker from the Netherlands for a while, who made the flat trails of her homeland sound very appealing.

Vila do Bispo is beautifully located but the town itself isn’t terribly impressive. Sadly, what could have been a pretty cobbled square in the centre of town has been allowed to be turned into haphazard car parking.

N.B. I stopped taking photographs on the scariest bits so don’t be deceived by the gentler gradients of the footpaths in these pics.

Figures in Vila do Bispo

Accommodation

We stayed at Fonte Velha in the middle of Vila do Bispo. The accommodation is a converted farmhouse and is absolutely beautiful. We paid 80 euros for a double room and breakfast; however, you can save on an evening meal because there is a large, shared kitchen (with indoor and outdoor dining tables) plus a nearby Lidl.

Our ground floor bedroom – the bedside tables were made of tree stumps

We hadn’t expected to have cooking facilities tonight so that was a really nice surprise.  Our ground floor room was stunning with gorgeous décor and all the little bathroom luxuries I love (the body lotion, shampoo and body wash were all oriental lemon fragrance).

There’s plenty of space for everyone in this kitchen (plus outside dining)

Plenty of space for everyone in the kitchen, although we were all extremely mindful of taking it in turns to use the cooker. One couple had bought olive oil and were encouraging others to use it.

Highlights

Praia do Amado attracts many surfers – and learners

Praia do Amado is beautiful and the perfect place to stop for a breather or even bathe if you have time.

Downsides

Harri contemplating the next drop

The terrain.

My advice to anyone planning to walk this section of the Rota Vicentina is: don’t do it!! Stick to the Historic Way between Carrapateira and Vila do Bispo. Harri has pointed out that not everyone minds skidding down terrifying slopes of loose stones. If that’s you, then maybe this is the route for you.

More information

If you’re interested in finding out more visit rotavicentina.com

Routinely Nomadic have produced lots of information about the Rota Vicentina and the Stingy Nomads have also produced free guides to walking the Historical Way and the Fishermen’s Trail.

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