Having opted to go running yesterday, we chose to spend our ‘outdoor moment’ walking today and duly set off in the direction of Porches Velhos.
For those who don’t know the area, Porches Velhos is the stuff of dreams, the place I dream of living if/when I ever get around to penning that bestseller. It’s not very far from here at all, just a few kilometres in fact; however, it has a completely different feel about it to Montes Mourinhos … all sprawling gardens, stone terracing and pine woodlands. There is no ‘dog alley’ in Porches Velhos, simply because there are no real streets, just gorgeous villas with wonderful vistas linked by empty roads and tracks. Okay, I admit it, I’m green with envy. What makes me sad is the majority of those fabulous villas are currently shuttered up, strongly suggesting they are holiday and second homes. Indeed, there seems to be a direct correlation between the size of the property and the likelihood of anyone actually living there year-round. If you’re going to get a holiday home, best to opt for something palatial, eh?
Having focused on colour (pink/purple, yellow and orange) on recent walks, I thought I’d concentrate on shadows today. This wasn’t one of my better ideas for two reasons: first, the sun was already high in the sky when we set off, and secondly, there is a paucity of objects casting shadows in the countryside. After half an hour or so – and with just one shadow photograph in the bag – I decided today’s walk would remain theme-free after all. I would just take photographs of the lovely landscape.
Though it made sense, it was slightly frustrating. The online photography group I’ve just joined – Algarve Amateur Photography Group – is currently running a little competition and I was rather hoping to enter it. Having spent yesterday afternoon swotting up on topics like figure to ground, contrast, rule of thirds and leading lines, I was ready for the challenge. Now it seemed I was being denied my shadows!
We’d set off in glorious sunshine in shorts and tee-shirts, me having learnt my lesson at the weekend when I ended up very overdressed in sticky, water-resistant hiking trousers and long sleeves. We’ve had so much rain recently there are puddles along many of the tracks. I’m sure they’ll soon be a distant memory as things heat up here. In a month or two, we’ll be longing for the odd shower, if only to keep our newly-planted garden alive.
There wasn’t a soul around as we walked through Montes Mourinhos and headed across the unfenced countryside towards the Armação valley. Though this is a truly beautiful and peaceful place, I sometimes get a little frustrated about its inconvenient positioning between us and the enticing landscape beyond. The perfect location for a rope bridge, in my opinion. Today Harri won the battle over which footpath to follow to the valley floor, which of course meant the steeper one. (On our return route, we opted for the gentler option, always my preference.) We could see hundreds of sheep on opposite hillside, in the exact same spot where we were walking last week.
I was carrying my own water bottle today, having learnt from recent experience that I couldn’t rely on Harri not to guzzle our shared resource early in the expedition. And that was it apart from my camera, our old dictaphone and some tissues. No food, no fleece … I even managed to forget my phone so I missed an opportunity to earn some Sweatcoins. I still have mixed feelings about that app as too many of my recorded steps seem to disappear during the transfer process, but I am not yet ready to abandon it completely. I get a warm glow when I receive my weekly ‘payslip’ and learn I’m in the top 10% of all users. Unfortunately, the app doesn’t seem to work if I’m also using Viewranger so it means I can only earn Sweatcoins when I’m out with Harri and he’s using his iPad to navigate.
We climbed out of the valley and crossed the main Armação to Porches road, which seemed to be just as busy as it’s been throughout the winter months before lockdown. I couldn’t help wondering where everyone was heading … everything is closed except the supermarkets and food stores. We’re not even allowed on the beach. As we headed along a quiet track, we could hear the public address system on a passing vehicle but were none the wiser. While we are forging ahead with our online Portuguese lessons, we still struggle to understand the language as spoken by local people, let alone when it’s distorted over a loudspeaker.
I had no recollection of having followed our onward route before. I was waxing lyrically about the wonderful undulating sandy tracks, the unspoilt landscape dotted with white daisies and the open views to the ocean when Harri quietly reminded me we’d walked along the very same track in February with our friends Denise and Mike. The cheeky devil even suggested I’d been talking so much I hadn’t noticed my surroundings. I’d like to argue but …
This time around I was very much taking note of the landscape. In fact, I couldn’t believe such a stunning landscape with its numerous natural bunkers and sweeping lawns had been overlooked by golf course developers. We even passed a perfectly located ruin which looked ripe for renovation, but was just standing there abandoned. I’ll definitely be heading this way again to devise some routes for Walkingworld.
After a while, we started to head downhill into the valley we walked the other day. This time we didn’t continue all the way to the valley floor but stayed on a path which hugged the contours of the slopes and offered great views. It’s lamentable that so few visitors to the Algarve get to see these lovely places for themselves. The reason I wanted to create walks here for Walkingworld was to encourage holidaymakers and immigrants like us to leave the busy resorts and experience these unspoilt landscapes which are just a stone’s throw away.
We emerged in Porches Velhos, next to two more ruins. One boasted a detached stone bread oven, a well and a level walled garden, leaving us wondering why nobody had snapped it up. The second looked even older, its exterior walls propped up by several buttresses. A large villa called Villa No Name made us smile, though its perfect lawns looked high maintenance. Then we spotted a run-down house with ‘Vendo’ painted on its facade. I couldn’t resist a closer look; however, experience tells me this single-storey traditional property with gardens would probably cost far more than our ready-to-move-into 15-year-old townhouse. Still, I can but dream.
Harri had planned for our return route to pass through Porches; however, I was keen to show him the peaceful, cork oak-lined lane I’d discovered just before the pandemic struck. We’d just emerged from the lane when our German friend Jörg rang to check how we were getting on. Jörg lives alone in the middle of an avocado plantation near Silves where he should be safe from Covid-19. His terrace is the perfect place to sit and look at the stars as there is no light pollution.
After the strangeness of last spring/summer when we were wandering from place to place, we were hoping we’d have been able to focus on developing a new life here in the Algarve this year.
That said, we realise how fortunate we are to be experiencing lockdown in such beautiful surroundings. As today again proved, we have plenty of new landscapes within a few kilometres of our home yet to explore.
Stay safe everyone.