When I arranged to interview art restorer and artist Florbela Moreira in Silves recently, my original plan was to bus there and walk back. Then a brilliant idea struck me. Why didn’t I walk to Silves and back? I hadn’t created a new Walkingworld route for ages; this way I could create two in a clever show of multi-tasking.
Silves is a beautiful city not a million miles from the coast here in Armação de Pêra. Eventually, the tourists will return and there will be many enthusiastic hikers wishing to visit Silves. My idea was genius.
There was also my 2021 hiking challenge. Spurred on by my friend Denise, who signed up for a 1,000 km hiking challenge on Outdoor Active, I had decided to do the same … under the bedclothes at 5am one morning. My blurry, early morning eyesight found me inadvertently signing up to the 1,500 km challenge … and for good measure, a 500 km running challenge (this one really was a mistake!). And with another lockdown looming, the walk to Silves and back might well be my last opportunity for a decent-length walk for the foreseeable future.
I set off from home around 10.15am intending to interview Florbela, complete both Walkingworld routes, add a decent number of kilometres to my hiking challenge and write a blog afterwards. I thought I’d give the running a miss today.
I won’t spoil the suspense just yet, but, suffice to say, I did not complete all my tasks.
With so many miles ahead of me, I thought it wiser to begin the Walkingworld route close to home and walk the first mile or so from Armação de Pêra another day. I’ve never walked to Silves from Armação before, but I did walk from Silves to Alcantarilha in 2019, so I based my proposed route on the GPX for that recorded track. Though I’m a massive fan of Viewranger, it’s possible to zoom in much closer with Google Earth and Street View, helping to distinguish between proper walkable lanes and tracks, and private drives.
Wall to wall sunshine was promised, so in a mad rush of pre-hike enthusiasm, I plotted a hitherto unexplored section of walking from Porches to the other side of the motorway. After that I planned to link up with my previous route before leaving it again at Silves Gare to venture into a wooded valley (thus avoiding the busy roads which approach Silves from both directions). My homeward route was rather less clear in my head; however, I thought it would be rather nice to meander past Quinta da Figueira and return through Fontes da Matosa. It meant heading farther east than strictly necessary, but I figured that if I ran out of daylight, the latter half of the route would at least be familiar (for good measure I’d packed a torch, gloves and an extra layer).
My interview was arranged for 2pm and I estimated my walk to Silves would take around three hours. Not wishing to arrive soaked in perspiration (we ladies don’t sweat), I left home at 10.15am. I hoped to leave Silves around 3pm, meaning if all went well I’d only have the last mile or so to walk in the dark.
We’re fortunate in having beautiful countryside here in Silves municipality, so I was perfectly content to stroll along listening to the birdsong, bees … and, whenever I passed a villa, constantly barking dogs (one of my least favourite things about the Algarve).
There are few things as fulfilling as mapping a route online and seeing it come to fruition in the actual walking. From my sofa, I’d created miles of scenic walking with fabulous mountain views. When the track dipped under the motorway, I mentally awarded myself a big tick. This outdoor writer knows what she’s doing, I thought.
It’s fair to say my love of levadas (and all things Portuguese) was first ignited on the beautiful island of Madeira, which is an absolute paradise for hikers and somewhere we intend to return one day soon. (Here’s another old blog about the vertiginous nature of the island.) I’d been very excited when I spotted a levada crossing my proposed route and even towed with the idea of following it for a while until Harri reminded me how, unlike in Madeira, many mainland levadas have no footpaths running alongside them. Even when they do, the levada is very likely to cross private land, which in turn is likely to be guarded by less-than-friendly dogs. His insight proved right later in my walk when I again encountered the levada and attracted the attention of several barking dogs (safely on the other side of a fence).
Eventually, I emerged from a track to be greeted with a familiar landscape. Relaxing slightly, I almost missed my turning. I stopped briefly to have a socially-distanced chat with a friendly Portuguese couple and a friend – in fact, I am pretty sure it was the same couple I chatted to back in November 2019. Then, they expressed disbelief that I was walking from Silves to Alcantarilha; today, I had the same response, even though I was roughly halfway there. A friend stood with them and was searching for her two black dogs. She wondered if I might have spotted them? Sadly, I hadn’t but I promised to keep a look out for them (this conversation was not as fluent as my retelling of it might suggest and involved a considerable amount of mime).
I’d barely got going again when a Portuguese lady driver slowed down and offered me a lift (this our exchange was in English). I frequently feel ashamed of my poor language skills. I’ve been here two years now and I still struggle to hold even the most basic of conversations with the friendly local people.
By noon, I’d covered 4.5 miles and was enjoying myself so much I found myself staring at the distant hills and wondering if Harri and I might perhaps walk from our home to Monchique for our annual (and occasional) Longest Day of the Year Challenge. Future lockdowns permitting, of course. The only drawback I could see was the mostly uphill trajectory.
Later, I checked out Google maps, which chooses the fastest walking route, though not necessarily the best. Google’s route was around 40 km (24.85 miles), but would involve too much road walking. Harri isn’t yet sold on my plan; however, I would opt to follow today’s route from home to Silves (13 km) and then join the waymarked Via Algarviana from Silves (32.1 km). So 45.1 km in total (28 miles), which is definitely do-able, though maybe not on June 21.
It’s sad to see the high number of disposable face masks being dumped everywhere. The scarcity of walkers in these parts leads me to believe the majority of them have been tossed from car windows. The Algarve has a huge problem with fly tipping generally and it’s not unusual to see large amounts of household rubbish dumped at the roadside (bizarrely often very close to municipal bins). Disposable mask are now adding to the problem.
There was a steep climb approaching Silves Gare – and a major pipelaying operation which reduced the traffic to one-way for a while – and then a stretch of road walking through a rather nice housing estate (clearly the Beverley Hills of Silves),
And then I headed off piste. I was quite nervous about this bold step, as more and more often we’re finding tracks that look accessible online turn out to be private or recently fenced off. If this didn’t work out, I’d have no option but to retrace my steps and follow the busy road into Silves.
I left the road to join a track to my right and stopped. The very useful Viewranger arrow was telling me I was going the wrong way. I backtracked and tried again, unsure where exactly I was supposed to be heading. In fact, Viewranger seemed to be suggesting my pre-planned route was along a steep grassy footpath dropping into a wooded valley. Tentatively, I joined the path and breathed a sigh of relief when Viewranger confirmed I was now back on route.
I was so close to Silves, I could glimpse it in the distance, but in this wooded, shrubby valley it felt like I was walking the Via Algarviana again. I was still unsure if my route would take me as close to Silves I was hoping; however, I was starting to feel optimistic.
My ace card was a clay-surfaced track leading down to the main road. It’s the sort of track Harri likes to discover so I was extremely proud of myself when it materialised there, right in front of my eyes. When Silves castle came into view, I heaved a mighty sigh of relief. The surface underfoot was becoming more and more rutted. I just hoped I wouldn’t get to the bottom to find the way ahead blocked. You can hear the excitement in my voice on my dictaphone when I finally reached the main road without encountering any obstacles. I couldn’t believe I’d done it, i.e. devised a brand new route into Silves which didn’t involve a longish stretch of main road walking. Apart from the one little detour (an improvement) I did at the beginning the entire route had worked out even better than I’d hoped.
My interview with Florbela went brilliantly and afterwards she took me along to the Igreja da Misericordia to show me the vast altarpiece she restored some years ago. Though I’d had a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon (and met some beautiful cats), I hadn’t expected the interview to take quite as long and it was 4pm before I set off home.
Sometimes you can demand too much good fortune from a day and so it was with me.
I’d planned my route to Silves thoroughly, which cannot be said for my homeward route. It all started well enough as I retraced my steps up the rutted track and back to ‘Beverley Hills’. I was confident this time around I did need to turn left to join the wide gravel track. So far so good.
Unfortunately, within minutes my plans began to unravel. The track was leading me directly onto the busy road I’d successfully avoided earlier. Any sensible person would have turned back and followed the morning’s route in reverse but I was hellbent on creating a second Walkingworld route. I’d also spotted two GNR (police) on horseback some distance behind me and knew I’d feel idiotic if I suddenly did an about turn. What if they asked where I was heading this late in the afternoon? I could hardly admit I wasn’t really sure. Portuguese people rarely seem to understand my walking exploits..
Gritting my teeth, I joined the road. It was a mistake. At 4.30pm, the traffic was busy and noisy. I studied my online mapping and decided to join a left turning (it was heading east, right?). And a very enjoyable route it turned out to be until I realised the road was heading north-east rather than south-east. So I did the only thing I could do … I took the first turning to the right and found myself walking straight past the local cork pellet manufacturing premises. This was at least good news, because I realised the vast plumes of rising steam which had long concerned us were just that … steam. No nasty smells emanated from the plant at all, and it was quite fascinating to see the stripped cork bark piled high around the site.
The next hour or so involved a lot of looping around and being confronted with endless dead ends, e.g. the entrance to a large nursery, locked gates at the back of a golf course. On Viewranger, they looked like perfectly passable routes, but alas not.
I won’t bore you with the details of every twist and turn, but five miles into my homeward route – with daylight fast fading – I succumbed and raised an SOS.
Two hours after I left Silves, my wonderful man picked me up from Silves Gare railway station. My frustrating, convoluted return route had taken me just over a mile from my starting point. I’m not going to hear the last of this, believe me …