River Guadiana

Jo’s Monday walk : Alcoutim, with the choir

I love the approach to Alcoutim!  You can follow the road from the coast out alongside the River Guadiana for much of the way, with tantalising glimpses ahead and back as you round the many bends.  Just as you come to the village, the road curves and you have a fine view, down onto Alcoutim, and across to whitewashed Sanlucar de Guadiana on the opposite shore, in Spain.  With morning mists swirling above the water, it’s a wonderful sight, and the promise of another beautiful day.

We park the car on the edge of the village and walk across a rivulet and down towards the water.  The mist is already beginning to clear and the sun feels warm.  There, waiting for us, several members of the choir, Ossónoba, and a guide.  It’s the third time we’ve walked with them, and we’re greeted enthusiastically and made to feel welcome.  A representative of the Via Algarviana joins us, to promote the walks and ensure there are no problems.  Once assembled, brief explanations are given, and we set off.

It’s normally a peaceful spot, with the ferry crossing, when summoned, in a desultory fashion.  Today a regatta is taking place and there’s an air of bustle.  We chat to a Dutch man who has moored his boat midstream and joined the walk, hoping the event will be over when we return.

We leave the village and start a gentle ascent, looking down on the river.  Yachts dot the water, lazing the day away.  But not for us, the idle life.  As Alcoutim recedes, we reach a junction and begin the climb in earnest.  The walk is not long, but challenging in places.

But there is the distraction of the view and the distant sparkle of the water.  A small patch of arable land surprises.  Despite the nearness of water the soil is bone dry underfoot.  Rock Cistus cling to the slopes, and I am delighted to find one or two already open and flaunting their beauty.

At the crest of the hill the roof of a tumbledown watchman’s cottage appears, through a froth of weeds.  I peer through the sorry window, and out at the landscape beyond.  So frail, the skeletal timbers.  No place to hide.

I don’t envy the chill nights up here, a lonely vigil, watching for the enemy.  But in the brightness of day I could be seduced into a watchman’s life.

And then it’s time to begin the descent.  Slowly, at times, keeping my knees together and pigeon-toed, or sideways like a crab, on the steep parts.  A helping hand is extended if I wobble, but I’m glad to return to level ground.  I have little in common with mountain goats.  Some of the choir begin to sing, purely for the joy of it, and I smile as I recognise the tune.

Back in the village, we follow the signs for the river beach.  A chorus of delight greets a large family of black pigs, rootling about as pigs will.  Pork is plentiful in the Algarve, porco preto appearing on many menus.  Lamb is more expensive, and I can never bring myself to enjoy it, especially when, as now, they frolic in the fields, pestering mum for another feed.

Sand has been imported for the river beach, and there’s a pleasant little café and seating area.  Plans are afoot to extend the beach, for this is a hot spot in summer.  We carry on into the village, heading for lunch, where we are joined by the rest of the choir.

A poster on a weathered door announces their presence.  They file into the restaurant, laughing and talking, and we meekly join them.  We share a table with 2 Belgian ladies, trading experiences throughout the meal, a Portuguese stew and carob and almond desserts.  As coffees are hastily produced, the choir master counts them in, and a rich, full sound fills the restaurant.  Minutes later we are climbing the hill to their venue.

Performance over, it’s back into the hot sun and a gentle saunter, past the river and towards the car.  Yes, I know there’s something missing, but we were busy talking during the meal and I didn’t like to interrupt with photos.  But I can share with you a rather wonderful pastry that’s special to Loulé.  Folhares are flaky and sugary, and oozing with warm custard.

We will be joining the choir again next week, for a final walk on the Via Algarviana.  I expect I’ll share it with you at some point, but for now I intend to step back from the blog for a while.  I hope you’ve enjoyed walking with me, and I’m sure that we’ll do it again.  Many thanks to Ossónoba!

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Guess what?  Janet’s found a little warmth this week :

Monday’s walk to the rookery

I think it’s always warm in Charleston, isn’t it Alice?

St. Michael’s Alley

If you like the peaceful life, and don’t mind a little wind…

Scotland Tour: Hiking in the wild North West

Have you ever been to Charles de Gaulle airport?  If so, you’ll know exactly what Drake means :

Track to the sky

Or you can stay closer to home, and a place that I love :

New look, old charm

Winter seems endless in some places.  I don’t suppose birds mind grey, Irene?

Along the Icy Marsh

And Ice Sculptures last much longer in cooler climes, Natalie?

Do You Love the 80s?

A gentle sunset stroll with Carol.  Is there water in the river?

All or Nothing

It’s pretty dry where Cathy was :

Morocco: a short walk through Todra Gorge

Candy offers up some great photo opportunities :

Paseo do Monte Boi in Baiona

And Georgina shows us a different side to Spain :

February Fun, Fotos and Short Walks

Let’s end with a bit of squidge from Margaret!  But at least there’s blue sky :

Winter Walking in Nidderdale-with Added Mud

Keep walking!  I certainly will, and you know that I can’t resist sharing for long.  We have a short trip to England in April, but we’re back here for Easter.  More parades, I hear you sigh!  And hopefully some pastures new.  Take care till then!

Jo’s Monday walk : Along the Guadiana

I’ve been acting tour guide for the past couple of weeks, so not a lot of time for serious walking, and it’s been too hot.  Still, I’d hate you to think I’m taking it easy.  The first of our Striders walks kicked off the season with a good stiff uphill, above the River Guadiana, to get the lungs working.  There was much puffing, panting and grumbling, but it was great to be back in this glorious scenery.  Catching up on the lives of our walking friends took some of the pain away, and soon we were looking back down again.

You’ll notice how dry it all looks.  It’s been a long summer and the reservoirs are low.  Almost every year the Algarve faces this problem and somehow the plants survive to burst forth in another glorious Spring.

There’s often a reward at the top of a hill, and so it was with this one.  I’m told it’s the oldest intact windmill in the Algarve.  I peered at it from every angle, even venturing cautiously inside this photographer’s dream.

I speculated on how it must have been on this hilltop the day the wind took the roof off, half expecting to see the witch’s red shoes peeping out from under the vivid rust.

There’s a pathos to the abandoned houses in these hills, wells and bread ovens on standby for better days.  Here and there a hint at occupancy, washing on the line and pomegranates ripe for picking.  Urns with a sense of humour.

A blaze of parched colour fills my vision, and then a gentle descent to the river.  No time to stop for food today.  Tour guide duties beckon.

But we do snatch a swift drink, with a lovely couple who are seldom far from an icecream.

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I hope you enjoyed our company this week.  I’m going to take a week off walking duties as my lovely daughter arrives soon and I need to give her full attention.  I’ll be back with a Jo’s Monday walk on 28th October.  Meanwhile I have some great shares for you.

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I love a lass who doesn’t let the weather put her off.  Thanks, Anabel!

Cowden Japanese Garden and Castle Campbell

You can count on having fun with Debbie :

A whirl around Oktoberfest

And funnily enough, Lady Lee was there this week too!

Oktoberfest 2019

While Eunice is in Limerick, and what a lovely place it looks!

A day in Limerick

But I’m afraid Drake has me wanting to escape!

Inside, so much inside

Some great street art, doors, windows, and food- of course!  It’s Jackie!

Cafe del Teatre

How closely do you look at your surrounds?  Meg doesn’t miss a detail :

Eurobodalla Beaches: Rosedale

And Suzanne is always aware of the beauty that surrounds her :

Hiking in Porcupine Gorge National Park

Let’s end with Cathy, smiling in the rain :

(Camino day 38) Cacabelos to Trabadelo

Bye for now!  Take care till the next time.

Walking on water

I’ve done and seen some wonderful things down the years, but I never had any thought that I could walk on water!  For one thing, I’ve never worn a halo.  Water wings would be more useful.  Nevertheless, last Saturday I found myself joining a queue to walk across the River Guadiana- a distance of approximately 720 metres- from Alcoutim, on the Portuguese side, to Sanlucar de Guadiana, in Spain.

Alcoutim is normally a sleepy little place and, over on the far shore, the enticing white village of Sanlucar is even quieter. If you have any desire to cross the river, you first have to summon a ferryman, who may or may not be located somewhere near his craft, but will always greet you with a friendly smile.  Not so on this occasion.  The ‘Festival do Contrabando’ was in full swing and, even as I walked down towards the river, I could hear the hubbub of the crowd.

Entertainment was in full swing, with a feisty matador swinging his cape at a ‘burro’ as the band played on, and the crowd cheered as clay pots were hurled through the air and skilfully caught.

This was not the Alcoutim I knew!  I eased through the crowd to the ‘ticket office’, where I purchased the mandatory bandana, for my admission fee of 1 euro.  I joined the queue to cross the river, wondering at what rakish angle I should wear it, and why some were wearing red ones when the vast majority were blue, like mine.  Just then the washer ladies arrived, and I was scolded gently and treated to a rub with scented soap.  I obviously wasn’t clean enough to join the party.

Slowly the queue shuffled forward, controlled by customs officers, of course.  The red bandana folk caught the ferry.  Maybe they had a pressing engagement in Spain.  I followed the washerwomen, laughing and calling out to each other as they flounced ahead.  The moment finally arrived and I stepped out onto the pontoon, trying not to look concerned as it wobbled.  What a bizarre sensation!  The river lapped gently all around me and I rolled slowly with its motion.  Gasps and giggles came from my partners in crime, as we staggered towards the middle of the river, not quite believing in what was happening.

Fortunately it was a calm day.  I think I might have felt a little seasick otherwise.  As it was I had assumed the rolling gait of the mariner by the time I reached dry land.  And a huge smile split my face.  I had walked on water!

Over in Sanlucar de Guadiana the antics continued.  Flamenco, involving the crowd and a very attractive ram.  A good time for all was guaranteed.  I wended my way past wondrous craft stalls to a quiet corner where I could survey the scene.

A mooch among the stalls and it was time to join the ever growing queue to return to the other side.  A few clouds had rolled in and there was talk of storms brewing, but fortunately the weather stayed clear and dry all weekend.  One last look back, and I’m home.

For a fuller account, including the story of the ‘last smuggler’, all of 97 years old, read Becky’s An unusual walk into Spain.  That’s it from me, as my son arrives tonight.  I’ll be back with a walk on Monday, 15th April.  Take good care till then!

Jo’s Monday walk : Alternative Ayamonte

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It seems strange to be blogging again.  The even keel with which I was sailing seems slightly out of kilter.  When I visited Ayamonte I had no idea that Dad was ill.  With my usual exuberance I was seeking out a less well known aspect of this intensely Spanish town, visible from the Algarve across the River Guadiana.  The ferry journey is part of the attraction for me, and I love to watch as the white houses draw nearer and we nose into the quay.  An hour has slipped away on the 10 minute crossing, and a different culture awaits.

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Maybe you remember A little side trip to Spain ?  This time I had my eye fixed on the church at the upper level of the town, San Salvador.  Looking back, the road bridge follows me into Spain.  The shoreline leads past an enigmatic statue and a severely embattled boat hull.

Beyond the boatyard a network of noisily inhabited streets open out.  The Spanish greet and call out to each other in a tongue more harsh than I’m used.  I exchange shy smiles and try to remember that ‘thank you’ is not ‘obrigada’ in Spain.

Ayamonte has changed hands between Portugal and Spain a number of times in its history.  The name is thought to come from the mound on which the settlement was built.  The Romans knew it as Aya Montis (or Mount Aya).  Beyond the modern apartments The Templo de San Francisco beams indulgently.  Once it belonged to a Franciscan convent, founded in 1417.

The street is nothing if not colourful, and my eyes wander from rooftops to doorways and back again.  I am particularly taken with a fully tiled jade green building, balconies gleaming with cool elegance.  I anticipate plenty of customers for the fish restaurant.

Turning the corner the street narrows and starts to ascend.  Still looking up and down, the random delight of spouting gargoyles, serpentine door knockers, a subtle school and the indisputably Spanish window grills.  A senhora pours water down the gutter and languid chat ensues.

Halfway up the street I encounter the mystery of El Boqueron.  A chapel and a huge well denote the place where an underground tunnel links the former castle at Ayamonte with the Portuguese town, Castro Marim, on the other side of the Guadiana river.  The passage is about 300 metres long and runs from the area of the well on Calle Galdames.  It is part of a sewerage network, channeling rainwater and domestic water from homes.  A large trough ripples gently in the bright sunlight.

I knew nothing of El Boqueron in advance and, not being fluent in Spanish, it wasn’t until I returned home that I could unravel this mystery. Incredible to think of this structure, used as a hiding place in war time, beneath these tranquil streets.

Continuing upwards, finally I reach Plaza del Salvador.  The magnificent pink-belfried church of San Salvador dominates the square. All is silent and the church closed, so I cannot verify the lovely Mudejar ceiling from 1400, nor climb to the belfry for the fine views.

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Beyond the plaza the modern world intrudes, overlooked by the remnants of a fortress.  I make my way back down towards the waterfront and make one final discovery, on Calle Marte.  The bull ring, resolute in its presence, though I could never have persuaded myself to witness its spectacle.

In Ayamonte eventually everyone gravitates towards Plaza de la Laguna, and so do I.  The restaurants surrounding the striking square hum with Spanish lunchtime chatter.  In a quiet corner, children choose an after dinner treat from the sweet shop.  The assistant solemnly awaits the outcome of this most important decision.

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For me it’s time to return to Calle Muelle de Portugal for the ferry crossing back to Vila Real de S. Antonio.  I hope you enjoyed my visit to Ayamonte.  Further details can be found in this Ayamonte guide, and in the link to El Boqueron.

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Thank you so much for your kindness and for the many messages of support I have received.  Dad had a fine ‘send off’ and I’m doing my best to adjust to life without him.  It’s what he would have wanted.

I’m back in business for walks this week so if you have any you’d like to share I’d be grateful.  As usual details are to be found on my Jo’s Monday walk page.  Just click on the logo above.  Meantime please enjoy these select few :

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Becky does find interesting subjects for her walks.  Don’t miss this one!

Unexpected and fascinating art on Howland Street

And equally unexpected and interesting from Yvette.  I almost missed this one!

Walk with Jo : Food and cast iron (SC Flea Market Part 2)

I passed by this place on a long ago trip to America.  Let Elaine show you around :

Hearst Castle

‘Your money or your life?’  Nope- that was Dick Turpin, wasn’t it, Becky?

Waylaid by Captain Kidd on the Thames Path

Take care of yourselves.  I hope to be out and about visiting you all soon.

 

Jo’s Monday walk: Mertola

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In a week or so of very mixed weather, we drove north from the Algarve in radiant sunshine. I was certain that luck would desert us as we crossed the border into the Alentejo. For a little while hazy clouds veiled the sun, but then Mertola was displayed in all her glory.

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If ever you want to step back into Portugal’s Moorish past, this is a fine place to do it.  I don’t intend to do a lot of talking, partly because I don’t have the time, but also because these cobbled streets cast their own magic.  All you really need to do is follow.

Your first sight of the town, as you cross the bridge over Ribeira de Oeiras, is the castelo perched high above you.  It’s enough to whet your appetite.  There is parking on Estrada de Circunvalacao and from there Alves Redol leads quietly upwards, until you reach the viewing point in the photo above.  Below, tables are laid at a riverside restaurant and the Guadiana squirms away into the distance.

On Largo Vasco da Gama, the blue and white of ‘Casa Guadiana’ is tucked into a corner where you melt in summer.  Needing to stretch our legs first, we pass by the tiny Mercado and the Tourist Information centre. (where you can acquire a town map)  A remarkable walled street invites you to follow it’s contours.  Could you decline?

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The doors, balconies and mysterious chimneys captivate.  Each one a story in itself.  I stop to watch a lady shaking and pegging out a tablecloth. And then there’s the beautiful clock tower, Torre do Relogio.  Alluring, isn’t it?

Rua Combatentes da Grande Guerra follows the river.  Just another clue to the turbulent history reenacted here, in this serene and peaceful setting.

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I’ve passed by the Camara Municipal, with its stylish red balconies.  Red and ochre compliment the white so well, the shabby blending well with the chique.  Turning up Rua Dr. Antonio Jose de Almeida, I am but following my nose, not sure where to look next.

The decision is made for me when I spot this playful graffiti on a peeling wall.  Isn’t it beautiful?  And on the other side of the narrow street, an elegant vermilion door, with a single flower tucked into the window.  Never forget to look up too!  Overhead, ornate drain pipes open mouths wide.

Intent on the lovely distractions, almost without realising it you’ve climbed up to the castle walls and are looking down on the Oeiras tributary of the River Guadiana.  Time to inject a little history as we approach the castelo and the lovely Igreja Matriz.  The Mother Church began life back in the 8th century as a mosque.  In 1238, Christian knights conquered the town, led by Santiago ‘Mata Mouros’.(the Moor killer)  The Koran was replaced by the Bible, and the mosque converted to Nossa Senhora da Assuncao.  A keep was added to the castle, but the church retains its ‘mihrab’ (prayer niche) to this day.

New pathways and landscaped gardens have been added since I was here last, and a huge project is ongoing to excavate the ruins of the town and elaborate mosaics.  In May every odd year a Moorish festival takes place in Mertola.  I must ensure to attend in 2017 to inspect progress.

I peered with interest at the ruins and promised myself to find the site online when I got home.  Here it is.  For us it was time to head back down, past Igreja Matriz, and search out somewhere to relax.  Ever alert, my other half had noted a cafe at the back of the small Mercado.  ‘Cafetaria Manu’ has a tiny terrace overlooking the Guadiana, and you can buy cake or a simple sandwich to accompany an excellent glass of wine.

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From the eastern end of the Algarve, Mertola is easily reached on the virtually traffic free IC27, which leads north from Castro Marim. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit, and hope that you did too.

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This is a scheduled post and I won’t actually be home until Thursday, so I apologise if my responses are a little scanty at first.  I didn’t want to leave the gap between walks for too long, and needed to write this while it was fresh in my memory.  Thank you all for your lovely company and support. I only have a few shares this week but I’m hoping you’ve been saving them for my return.

As usual, details are on my Jo’s Monday walk page.  Just click on the logo above.

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I’m starting with a lovely man in Hamburg and an unusual look at life – thanks, Tobias!

U3: Landungsbrucken- St. Pauli

A head for heights will help but is not essential to accompany Anabel, but money could be!

Toronto: an island walk

And Jackie tells me that Chinatown is great for food :

Spadina St

Geoff’s rambling again!  I think we should humour him, don’t you?

K is for Kensington and Khelsea #atozchallenge

This next is a bike ride so I’m afraid you’ll have to jog to keep up with Kathrin!

My weekly ramble

Hope this finds you happy and well.  I’ll be back in person soon.  Roving temporarily suspended….

Jo’s Monday walk : Following mountain goats!

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Now don’t be too alarmed!  It’s not as bad as it seems, and if you really don’t have a head for heights- well, you can tak’ the low road, and I’ll tak’ the high road.  To be completely truthful, I was out of my comfort zone for a short while, but we can blame the partner for that (and he’s not here to defend himself).

The area along the River Guadiana is wonderfully peaceful at most times of the year.  In places the road stays quite close to the river, making for a lovely scenic drive.  But, of course, you have to get out of the car to admire the scenery properly.  You never know quite what you’ll find.  Parking alongside the tiny village of Laranjeiras, our first discovery was the ruins of a Roman villa.  Not a lot to see, but the remains appear to date back to the 7th century.

Strolling into the village, life seemed to centre around a little riverside cafe, from which you could watch the occasional boat mooring at the jetty.  A couple of youngsters indulged in that age old pastime of skimming stones.  Entertainment for me presented itself in the form of a boatman, with a delivery of tarpaulin for the little boatyard.  His antics, trying to find a convenient space to offload his cargo in the minute space, kept me happy.

The moorings at Laranjeiras

The moorings at Laranjeiras

Never content to sit for too long, I had a mooch about while Michael consulted the map.  A path seemed to lead up the hillside and run parallel to the river before dipping back down at the next village, Guerreiros do Rio.  Gamely, we set off.

But not before I had admired this 'Maypole' in the village

But not before I had admired this sign of celebration in the village

And soon we're out of the village looking down

And then we climbed out of the village, and looked down

There wasn’t much sign of the path and it was a bit of a scramble.  Stopping to catch breath, we heard a tinkling sound, and suddenly two dogs burst out of the scrub.  They darted to and fro, rustling between them a magnificent herd of goats.  Sighting us, the creatures pressed on, with nervous sidewards glances.  The goatherd gave us a nod, a third dog rounded up the stragglers, and the pack headed for home.  Happy to have found a proper path, we followed them.

Keep moving boys- they're watching us!

Keep moving boys- they’re watching us!

The trail rolled off across the hills, but we were quite happy to take a branch that led back down to the riverside.  Enough of adventure!

All was calm down on the riverbank

All was calm, down by the river

It looks dry, doesn’t it?  It had been a long, hot Summer and was still very warm in early September.  Just around the bend we reached the next village, Guerreiro do Rios.  Time for a drink!  As usual, I left Michael sitting in the shade, while I went off to explore the back streets.

When I returned, one of those village cats had attached itself to Michael and was greedily begging the ham from his toastie.  Good job he didn’t have the tuna kebabs he’d been fancying!  Strangely, the cat was not at all interested in my glass of delicious white.  I didn’t have time to hang about because I had discovered that the Museu do Rio was open! (the link is in Portuguese but you can translate it if you like)

We had passed the sign before, but never gone into this small museum, tucked away from the road.  Here was my opportunity!

And interactive displays too

There were interactive displays

Telling the history of life on the river

Telling the history of life on the river

A lot has been achieved in the space available.  I chatted to the nice young lady at the till, who sold me a ticket for 1.50 euro.  This was also valid for admission to the castle at Alcoutim, a few miles up the road.  A bargain, I thought!  The museum is open daily except Mondays.

For us it was time to amble back along the riverbank, occasionally stopping to admire passing craft.

Back to our start point

Back at our start point

The tiny harbour at Laranjeiras

The tiny harbour at Laranjeiras

I hope you enjoyed our little Algarve adventure.  It’s quite easy to just walk along the road and back between the two villages, if you don’t want to go following goats.  It’s not a busy road.  The riverside junction leading south from Alcoutim is the easiest way to find the villages.

Don’t let anybody tell you that the Algarve is just a strip of boring beaches, will you?  Not in my experience, anyway.

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And now it’s time to turn our attention to other people’s walks.  Thank you so much to all my contributors.  You take me to places I might never reach on my own.  Anyone is welcome to join in, and it’s very straightforward.   My Jo’s Monday walk page has all the details.  Just click on the logo above.   Let’s put the kettle on and settle in for a good read, shall we?

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Benches actually have several uses in Anabel’s world.  Highly useful on a walk!

Balloch benches

Fancy taking the train?  Let’s go to Montreux with Drake!  No regrets, I promise :

Heaven for everyone

I gather there has been lots of rain in Texas, but Amy’s found some sunshine :

Monday Walk : Texas Countryside (Part 2)

A lady I’d never heard of next, but an interesting post from Jackie, in Canada :

Laura Secord

Demonstrating her versatility, Violet Sky finds us some very scenic caves!

Seeing the caves

So many lovely things to discover in Tasmania, thanks to Ruth :

Taroona Coastal Path

I need to pull my socks up!  I haven’t even made it to Amsterdam yet, and here’s Rotterdam looking so beautiful!

Rotterdam in a Day (part 1)

We’re joined this week by Fifi and Hop- isn’t that a great name?  Please go and say ‘hi’ to Corey!

Walkway over the Hudson : World’s longest elevated pedestrian bridge

Indra at Trav Trails certainly covers some ground.  Can you keep up?

Four Cities and an Island

Geoff’s Dog has had a poorly paw, so we might have to slow down a bit on this one :

The Capital Ring- Highgate to Stoke Newington

‘Do you want this walk’, asked Meg?  You HAVE to be joking!  Wait till you see it!

Eurobodalla beaches : Bingie Beach North

Come and sing some Bruce Springfield with me?  I love this song!  Thanks, Kaz :

Travel Album : Philadelphia 

Nearer home, I don’t think I’ve been to Anglesey!  Have you?  Looking good!

Flashback Walks : Holyhead Mountain

And it’s simply impossible not to enjoy one of Tish’s posts!  Look and learn!

It’s a wonderful world

As Jaspa demonstrates, on his trip to South America :

Cartagena, Columbia : UNESCO World Heritage Site

But you don’t have to go past Worcestershire for beauty- or pretty much anywhere on Jude’s blog!

Garden Portrait : Arley Arboretum

Aren’t they a fantastic selection?  Thank you very much everybody!  I’m off to the Lake District on Thursday, celebrating another birthday, so hopefully I’ll have an English walk for you next week.  Have a great time till then!  Monday Escapes is on again this week if you’d like to join in.

Castro Marim and the estuary

It’s an odd thing!  Castro Marim is one of the most peaceful spots I’ve ever come across.  Yet standing there, glowering, at the top of the hill, is a monumental castle.  Part of the ramparts that once surrounded the town provide wonderful contrast in the domestic scene above.

Looking out from the battlements across the broad sweep of estuary, the town of Ayamonte, on the Spanish side of the River Guadiana, looks like many another.  But as your eyes travel along the shore, you might spot the fortifications at the top of the town.  This is the pattern all along this river, a natural boundary between Portugal and Spain. Like pugilists, ready to punch and counter punch, these two nations have squared up to each other down the years.  But today, thankfully, all is peace.

The castle walls and main church of Castro Marim

The castle walls and main church of Castro Marim

Castro Marim is a sleepy place, with one ancient street that straggles up towards the castle.  The nature of the shoreline and the shifting sands of the Algarve has much to do with this.  The first settlement here was back in the Neolithic period when Castro Marim was much closer to the sea than it is now, and surrounded by shallow waters.  For thousands of years Castro Marim was a port that offered shelter to the ships that sailed up the Guadiana to collect copper from inland mines. Romans and Phoenicians settled here and such was its prosperity that Castro Marim was connected to Lisbon by a Roman road.

The castle and fortified wall that surrounded the medieval town date from the 12th century, when border disputes had become commonplace. Castro Marim subsequently became the headquarters of the Order of Christ, but went into decline when these were transferred  to Tomar in Central Portugal.  The castle fell into disrepair and was replaced by the fort of São Sebastião on a hilltop on the opposite side of town.   The shifting sands did little to help the economy.

Today tourism has found Castro Marim in a small way.  New housing surrounds the old town.  The Architectural Museum in the partly restored castle tells of a fascinating past.  But essentially the town is as self contained as ever, only rousing from its slumber each August for the Medieval Fair.

A typical townhouse

A typical townhouse

Looking across the rooftops to the town wall

Looking across the rooftops to the town wall

And down from the church steps

And down from the church steps

Gardens in the newer part of town

Gardens in the newer part of town, and the Chapel of S. Antonio

With fountains and a windmill

You may remember that I mentioned Castro Marim in A gift from the sea.  You can gaze down on the salt pans of the nature reserve from the castle walls. And if you’re really lucky, you might catch a sight of the flamingos, stretching their wings in flight.  For a better chance of seeing them, try my walk through the salt marshes.

Flamingos on the salt pans (courtesy of Mike Bradley)

Flamingos on the salt pans (courtesy of Mike Bradley)

Where to next?  Maybe a tidal mill, or we could hop across the border.  Or even join the smart set at Vale de Lobo.  But not for golf.  Come along and see.