One of the best things about our new home is it’s so close to one of my favourite places in the Algarve … Salgados lagoon (or Pêra Marsh as local people call it).
No matter how many times we return to this beautiful coastal landscape, I never tire of its beauty and tranquility (away from the ever-popular boardwalks, that is).
So, when I started writing for Walkingworld I knew it wouldn’t be long before I turned in a walk around Salgados.
Sea mist was hanging heavily in the air when we left home, giving the landscape an eerie look. This concerned me a little because the tried-and-tested Walkingworld format includes a photograph for each step/instruction of the route, plus a general photograph to promote the walk. My images needed to show potential walkers at least a little of what lay ahead.
Thankfully, by the time we were parking in Galé, the mist was beginning to lift a little and the sun was breaking through. After a quick check of my equipment – camera, iPad and digital recorder – it was time to get going.
One of the many reasons I really enjoy being a Walkingworld contributor is that it’s encouraged me to get out and about exploring more often than I might otherwise have done (and often alone). I’ve become much more confident at using digital mapping (Viewranger), which is great because it means I can never get lost. Well, that’s the theory … knowing where you are on a map doesn’t necessarily prevent you from accidentally straying onto private land or clambering up a grassy bank to emerge in someone’s garden and come face-to-face with their rather fearsome dog.
Salgados is like the Brecon Beacons in that 99% of visitors stick to the boardwalks and those stretches of beach close to the car parks (it’s that familiar ten-minute rule). Just as Pen y Fan is not the only beacon, the best bits of Salgados are well away from the madding crowds.
So what’s so special about this place? For a start, the lagoon itself is an important freshwater wetlands for birds. I don’t pretend to be an expert, but depending on the time of year, you can see aquatic birds such as the black-winged stilt and the purple swamphen, purple heron and little tern. My own favourites are the pink flamingos which visit regularly but tend to stay in the shallow lagoon waters (bring your binoculars).
So yes, the lagoon is well worth seeing, but it’s when you escape the crowds that Salgados comes into its own, for us at least. Spring comes early in the Algarve and we strolled along paths surrounded by Bermuda buttercups and so many daisies it looked like a sprinkling of snow had fallen overnight. Around us, almond trees flowered and returning swallows swooped above our heads.
Evidence of recent agricultural activity is everywhere, e.g. abandoned stone mills dot the landscape and there is a vast stone circle which was once used to dry and grind wheat. There are no vast plains here; the wheat flourishes under the branches of carob, almond, olive and fig trees.
It’s not unusual to see shepherds tending large flocks of sheep and goats on unspoilt areas of pasture, with help from the odd sheepdog or two.
Walkingworld contributors are encouraged to share their local knowledge with others. We thought we knew Salgados pretty well until we reached the vineyards and had to admit we had no idea grapes were being produced so close to the ocean.
Determined to incorporate as much as the marsh’s varied landscape into my walk as possible, I made certain my route passed a pine-covered fossil cliff, bordering the saltmarsh. The cliff was created from sedimentary rocks around 12-13 million years ago when sea levels were higher. We had a good look at the exposed rock face, but didn’t find anything other than a few broken shells (certainly nothing like the giant ammonite we stumbled upon on one of our Glamorgan Heritage Trail walks). There was a little footpath up to the top but Harri dissuaded me from turning our walk into a fossil hunt.
We crossed the Alcantarilha stream and followed a raised dyke to reach a second, smaller lagoon where cormorants, sanderlings and herons waded in the shallow water.
It’s impossible to walk around Salgados and gaze at such natural beauty without being affected. I just hope Walkingworld subscribers will enjoy this oasis and my easy 4.9 mile walk as much as its creator did.
Postscript: At the end of 2013 and despite much local opposition, the Portuguese Government gave the go-ahead for 887 acres of Salgados (the majority of the area) to be ‘developed’. Six and a bit years later, there is thankfully no sign of anything happening. I don’t know what is causing the delay, but if the development ever goes ahead, this wonderful natural landscape will be lost forever. And in my humble opinion, that would be nothing short of criminal.