Occasionally, I have the maddest ideas. Typically, these involve a walking challenge and (more recently) a little exploration with the help of my Viewranger app. My latest idea was to combine a much-needed trip to my bank and, at the same time, devise a new Walkingworld route from Galé to Albufeira.
Perhaps I should start at the beginning. My debit card just suddenly stopped working one day. The timing could not have been worse: I was alone in a local builders’ merchants where I was employing my português terrível in an attempt to buy a lot of bricks, a fair amount of sand (which I naively imagined came in portable-sized sacks!) and some cement (which does) … and to get everything delivered. Fortunately, the Portuguese are renowned for their patience (even with hapless monoglots like me) and everything was looking promising until my debit card refused to work. The shop owner tried again … and again … he even waited patiently while I disappeared to a nearby ATM. In the end, we agreed I could return the next day to pay in cash.
Our bank doesn’t have a branch in Armação de Pêra, so it was either a trip to Albufeira or São Bartolomeu de Messines. Albufeira seemed the best option so I decided to walk there and back, a round trip of about 27km if I followed the most direct route.
That’s when I had a great idea. Why not seize this opportunity to devise a new route for Walkingworld? Back in the summer, Harri and I did a route which followed the rugged coastline from Galé to Albufeira marina. As you’d expect, the landscape is spectacular; however, following the coastal path takes a fair amount of time (not least because you just want to stop and gaze at the scenery every few minutes) and plenty of energy, not to mention a head for heights.
My thinking was that in a normal year, when there are actually tourists here, there are bound to be plenty of holidaymakers staying in Galé who would enjoy a walk into Albufeira, but might not be keen to tackle the coastal terrain. So, with a little help from Harri’s own Viewranger routes, I plotted my very own route from Galé to Albufeira marina, entirely avoiding the ‘main’ roads (or the ‘top; and ‘bottom’ roads as I like to call them).
Just a little plug for Viewranger here. This wonderful free app has literally transformed my life, in that it has enabled me to go out walking alone when Harri is working without either one of us being concerned I’ll end up hopelessly lost. Admittedly, I still wander a little off-piste occasionally but, since I started using Viewranger, I’ve never once needed to phone Harri to come and find me based on me describing my surroundings (as has happened on more than one occasion in Wales). What’s really amazing about Viewranger is that once you’ve downloaded the mapping for an area, you don’t even need mobile data in order to follow your route. There’s also this lovely little button I can just press and it ‘finds’ me on the map, which is a big help when I do go slightly astray.
Galé to Albufeira
As my proposed Walkingworld route started in Galé, I first headed to Salgados, which was pretty deserted so early in the morning. As I neared this magical place, I sensed someone behind me and spun around. Harri was out for his early morning run and the meanie had been planning to sneak up on me until I foiled him.
In the morning sunshine, the boardwalks were the quietest I’ve seen them in a long time, with the exception of a few solo runners. The lagoon’s water levels were low and there were plenty of storks and herons wading around, searching for food.
It is now mandatory to wear a face mask if you are in a public space where it is not possible to keep a two-metre distance from other people. The boardwalks are clearly such a space and I was more than happy to don my face mask, although it still feels a little odd to be wearing one outside.
My proposed Walkingworld route started at the car park in Galé which was unusually deserted (unusual compared to other years). My heart breaks for the small businesses who have effectively lost an entire season of tourist revenue – the cafes, restaurants and shops who rely on overseas visitors to survive. Yes, things were a little busier here in July and August; however, most businesses need more than two months’ revenue to survive the winter months. And our neighbours tell us the majority of holidaymakers here were Portuguese rather than the bigger-spending northern Europeans.
I get so annoyed when a member of one of Portugal’s various Facebook groups makes a derogatory manner about people only choosing to live in the Algarve if they want to live in over-developed resorts, implying this whole region is wall-to-wall concrete. Why spew such nonsense? Have they lived in the Algarve themselves? Properly explored this stunning region? After two years (plus our winter stays), I am regularly astounded by the natural beauty which exists just a stone’s throw from popular resorts (which incidentally are generally very pretty, whitewashed affairs). Having lived (briefly) on the Silver Coast and the Alentejo, our own opinion is that countryside walking is far more accessible here. It is just so easy to avoid traffic if you follow historic lanes and trails, of which there are literally hundreds, linking larger towns and villages, as well as tiny hamlets. And would you be likely to regularly encounter herds of goat and sheep if the entire region was a concrete jungle? I rest my case.
Within minutes of leaving the car park at Galé, I found myself meandering along a peaceful country road amidst the prettiest rural scenery imaginable and with distant views of Fóia and Picota. The vines may now be dying, but their reddened leaves contrast beautifully against the yellow and green fig leaves. I paused to watch a tractor ploughing the rust-coloured soil and was saddened to see the farmer felt the need to wear a mask.
A little farther along the lane, I realised I’d inadvertently joined the Ecovia do Litoral – a long-distance cycling and hiking route – and a signpost was informing me I was just 7.3km from Albufeira. That didn’t sound too bad.
I’d plotted my route using online mapping so I wasn’t entirely surprised when, having walked for a while along a delightful sandy track lined with stone pine, I veered right only to be faced with a privado sign and a chain blocking the way ahead. Had I been walking for pleasure alone, I’d most certainly have ignored them (the route through the pine looked so enticing); however, clearly I can’t direct Walkingworld’s members across private land even if it did appear to be open woodland. Regretfully, I retraced my steps and joined a quiet road which looked to be heading in roughly the same direction.
Soon I reached Sesmarias, a lovely area on the outskirts of Albufeira where I often used to run when we lived in Cerro Grande (and I was fitter and doing more mileage). Here, you can still find plenty of traditional housing and open green spaces.
I joined the ‘top’ road briefly, then did a little detour to Coelha where I was once again let down by online mapping: what had looked to be a wide track on the satellite image was actually somebody’s drive, closed off with high, metal gates. I belatedly remembered the ‘No Entry sign’ at the top of the road.
This time it didn’t pain me too much to walk back up the hill; my little detour had taken me past some gorgeous old-style villas I’d otherwise never have seen. With traditional Moorish architecture, they had been there long enough to have gorgeous and well-established gardens. Envious? Moi? Of course not!!
Back outside the Hotel Baia Grande, I turned left and within a few metres had spotted a small sculpture garden under the trees. I couldn’t resist a little look around Casa Rosina and was impressed with what I found. I can see us returning here when my in-laws next visit – my father-in-law Garrod Roberts is an artist and sculpture himself.
By now I was beginning to tire a bit, which was worrying as I still a fair distance from Albufeira. It didn’t look like I was going to get to the bank before it closed for lunch either.
Telling myself I must stop dillydallying and get a move on, I marched off in completely the wrong direction, came to another dead end (more housing) and once again was forced to retrace my steps. This, of course, never happens when I’m walking with Harri.
I got a bit of a shock when I reached the historic lane looking down onto Albufeira marina. In a few short months (we later worked out we were last here in June), the marina development had somehow gained a whole new road system. The old road running down to the marina/main road to Albufeira is now only passable to pedestrians and cyclists. Let’s hope it remains that way or I’ll have to update several of my Walkingworld routes (including this one).
I was in for more surprises when I turned into the marina itself. The ugly concrete wall has been transformed, with new shiny signage and planting along its full length. On the hill above, the concrete eyesore of a building site that graced the slopes of Cerro Grande for many years was no more. In its place stood blocks of shiny new apartments.
This was beginning to feel a little unnerving. We spent three happy winters in Albufeira (twelve months in total) and yet my familiar haunts were starting to feel alien. In the midst of a pandemic, it seemed the entire building trade had sprung into action.
Of course, Albufeira isn’t to everyone’s tastes – and to be honest I’m not sure even we would like it here in the middle of a typical summer – however, we had so many good times here and I’m always pleased to have an excuse to head 17km east and revisit our old haunts (though sadly, our favourite local bar shut its doors for the final time earlier this year). Today, I was strolling along Old Town’s clifftop walkway when I bumped into Ty, a smashing South African man and one of the younger customers in Arte Bar. There is no meeting point for ‘the old gang’ anymore, something which saddens us and makes it harder for us to stay in touch with everyone.
The bank was closed when I pulled up at 12.20pm, so I did my other chores – and rested briefly on a bench and ate my bread roll – before returning just after 1pm. Before ordering me a new card, the cashier asked me to try out my bank card in the onsite multi-banco and it worked first time!!
Albufeira to Galé
I’d set off with the thought of perhaps doing two WW routes today, but now I abandoned the idea. For a route to work, it must start and end somewhere interesting, places people want to go (or be). This meant I couldn’t just walk home and log it as a WW route; I’d have to head back to Galé or Armação de Pêra, and only then aim for home. The soles of my feet were aching and the thought of adding even one unnecessary kilometre to my homeward journey filled me with dismay.
Thus, with no real route in mind, I left Lidl and headed downhill past the health centre, crossed the main road and started uphill again (Albufeira is like Newport in this respect … you cannot move far without encountering a hill!).
Having climbed steeply to reach Pateo, I headed towards the water tower and left ‘town’ on a wide track leading into the countryside. Finally, I hatched a plan: I would follow the same route Harri and I had taken when we walked to Phil and Cecilia’s in August, except this time I’d be doing it in reverse. One of the bonuses of the Viewranger app is when it detects your location, it will offer you the option to follow previous routes in the locality. This sounds fantastic, until you realise how many routes we have done in and around Albufeira over the past four years.
Needless to say, I somehow ended up following the ‘wrong’ route and instead of heading downhill to join the main Albufeira to Alcantarilha road, I wandered inland. I wasn’t unduly concerned – in fact, the landscape looked reassuringly familiar – however, if I’d wanted to choose the shortest route home then I’d gone about it the wrong way.
It gradually dawned on me that I was going to end up crossing the wide, sandy landscape to the east of Pêra. This is not the route I would have chosen, but it is very scenic, especially the last few kilometres along the sandy track into the village. I figured the softer ground would provide welcome respite from hard surfaces for my poor aching feet.
There was only one obstacle to overcome: a small stream. As I got closer, I remembered we’d had heavy rain the previous week. I muttered a silent prayer to nobody in particular: please, please let the water be low enough for me to cross the stream without getting wet feet. I was hobbling badly as it was and I could feel a blister developing on the little toe of my left foot. Wet feet was the last thing I needed with several kilometres still to go.
My worst fears were confirmed when I reached the sunken lane approach: it was very wet and muddy. I decided I’d just have to be courageous and walk across the rickety wooden bridge. Quashing my terror, I clambered up the slippery bank, determined to give it a go. I put my best foot forward – and the plank underneath immediately wobbled. Forget about me: my camera, digital recorder and smartphone were at risk here, I thought, attempting to justify my cowardice. There was nothing for it except to grit my teeth and wade through the cold, muddy water.
Half an hour later, I hobbled into Pêra, having barely noticed the beautiful scenery I’d passed through. Another 45 minutes and I was finally home. I had blisters on my toe and my trip to the bank had proved completely pointless (my debit card has worked fine ever since), but on the bright side, I’d discovered a whole new landscape close to Galé and devised a brand new route for Walkingword.
(PS: If anyone is wondering, I walked this route a few weeks’ ago and not during the local lockdown.)