We first visited Peniche two years ago when we visited this area for the first time.Then, we were covering a lot of miles each day and we’d entered Peniche along the cycle path from Ferral. Thus, I’d been confused when I watched one of the excellent Eight Miles From Home vlogs from Jmayel and Sacha recently. In it, they talked about driving across a beach at Peniche. I didn’t recall seeing any road across a beach when we’d explored the town so naturally I was intrigued. It turned out that the road crosses the tombolo which links Baleal Island to the mainland … and we’d managed to bypass it completely on our last visit. It was time to put things right!
Rather than attempt to drive across the single track road to Baleal (the flow of traffic seems to rely on courtesy and patience rather than any formal system), we parked in the large, free car park on the mainland.
The moment we got out of the car, the wind started battering us and we reached for our fleeces. Wind is one of the downsides of the otherwise spectacular Silver Coast, I’m afraid. Looking down at the surfers, lines of wind breakers and rocky coastline it was easy to imagine we’d strayed onto a north Cornwall beach.
We strolled across the tombolo and did an anti-clockwise circuit of Baleal Island. These days this tiny islet is a magnet for tourists and surfers; however, Baleal has a bloody past. It was here that whale hunters cut up their catch. In fact, the island’s name derives from the Portuguese word for a whale, i.e. baleia. The whaling industry ceased in the 15th or 16th centuries when the gradual build up of sand in the channel between the island and the mainland prevented the whaling ships entering the bay.
Everything about Baleal screamed surfing, summer and outdoor living. As the sun bounced off the whitewashed houses, I was convinced I’d found my paradise … until Harri reminded me how bleak this exposed rocky island must be on cold, rainy days.
We rejoined the mainland and strolled along the crescent-shaped beach towards Peniche, marvelling at the skills of the many surfers braving the choppy ocean. Meters from the water’s edge, surfing instructors were explaining to enthusiastic beginners how to lie down, stand and generally take charge of their boards.
Unusually for the Silver Coast, the sand was compacted and the beach extremely easy to walk along. Having been horrified at the amount of plastic tossed ashore at the northern reaches of Salgado Beach (south of Nazaré) recently, it gradually dawned on us there was no plastic to be seen anywhere along this long stretch of sand. A little research revealed that this excellent state of affairs might have plenty to do with the regular beach clean-ups by volunteers. How wonderful to be able to find a beach in its natural state and completely unspoilt by our plastic crap (and may I direct you to a thought-provoking blog on that very topic).
At Peniche we followed a sandy track around a small headland but decided against walking to the end of the Papôa peninsula simply because our stomachs were rumbling and we wanted to eat.
From here, we could see the Berlengas islands, an archipelago of small islands 10 to 15 kilometres away. The largest island Berlenga Grande is the only one that is inhabitable (although no-one lives there at the moment) and boat trips operate in the summer.
On our last visit to Peniche, we’d walked around the larger peninsula, admiring the traditional houses with their tiny clifftop gardens and numerous cats, and explored the impressive Peniche Fortress. Now, we walked through narrow streets to reach the far side of Peniche where we stumbled upon Pastelaria Presidente (our meal for two plus two beers cost an unbelievable 13,80 euros). Thankfully, there was no sign of The Donald!
We were a little bit disappointed when we realised we would be missing the Triatlo de Peniche, which was due to start at 4pm. There were already lots of road blocks in place with cones marking out the point where (presumably) the runners turned around. From the large number of uniformed scouts everywhere, we assumed they must be involved with marshalling the race. I guess we could have hung around but, with no familiar faces to cheer, we decided against it.
We’re not used to eating a large meal at lunchtime so it was hard to get going again. Fortunately, Harri had worked out a quicker route which involved first walking out of town a little before rejoining the beach around the midway point.
Now the clouds were gathering overhead, the glorious morning sunshine but a dim memory. We laughed as little groups sanderlings charged along the beach at such a ferocious speed I’m certain they would beat Mo Farah hands down size for size.
We’d walked just nine miles overall and most of that on one of the cleanest beaches around.