By PAUL MCKAY [email protected]
In his new bimonthly column, Paul McKay will be taking readers along some of the routes less travelled in the Algarve as well as well-trodden but still enjoyable paths.
The route: circular
Start/finish: Mira Rio café
Level: easy (no hard climbs)
Time: approximately 2 hours
The route can be found in almost all the walking guides to the Algarve, including Algarve Car Tours and Walks (Sunflower Books) and Walking in the Algarve by Judy Statham (Cicerone), which was the book I used.
This is a peaceful, meandering walk which follows one of the many irrigation levadas which criss-cross the countryside around Silves. The walk is very gentle, mostly alongside the levada offering a sidelong glance into country life that still exists in the Algarve.
There are countless places to stop and picnic with wonderful country views across three rivers. This walk has changed very little from the time I first did it about six years ago.
The only confusing part of the walk is at the start, as it follows a concealed path down to the first levada, after that the walk becomes fairly straight forward as it climbs gently uphill through a couple of hamlets away from the main Silves road.
Driving through the Algarve, such hamlets exist in their thousands and are passed by in the blink of an eye. On foot, one appreciates the timeless beauty of such places, where a patch of land out the front is lovingly cultivated, fruit trees pruned and houses whitewashed in a manner that has remained unchanged for generations.
Each house has its own typical Algarve garden where flowers and shrubs are planted on banks, old paint pots and anything else available; a cheerful sight looking both natural and homely. These two hamlets include many such gardens, where each plant has been grown from a cutting shoved in here or there or self-sewn, resulting in a tapestry of colour and texture that manages to improve on nature but still look natural.
As we approached each hamlet, the familiar chorus of barking and howling would ensue, followed by manic tail wagging and running back and forth ensuring our presence did not go unnoticed.
The odd human inhabitant we did happen upon, tending his horta or pegging out the washing, seemed too preoccupied in the task at hand to even notice us, barely looking in our direction. Somehow though, I know that every detail about these walking foreigners was ‘clocked’ and we may even make it into a conversation across the garden wall.
After these two hamlets the walk passes through some flat, quieter land where we were greeted by the dog. For the uninitiated, you need to know that every Algarve walk involves an encounter with a dog who decides to adopt you, following you through hill and dale, snow and hail, breeze and gale.
The dog on this walk was short, grey and terrier looking. Until our arrival, his tedious life had involved laying in a front garden, doing nothing, getting bored.
Our arrival was not unlike the Roman army arriving at a deserted mountain hamlet. Initial shock, then suspicion, quickly accepted and inseparable within minutes.
Where we went, he went: across levadas, under bridges, past a gaggle of squawking geese, down to the river – on and on and on.
After acquiring the dog, the walk passes under a levada and then turns right at some sort of rehabilitation centre (not mentioned in any of the guides). It passes through some orchards of pomegranate and citrus trees then rejoins the levada back at ground level. At one point along this stretch, we realised we were on the wrong bank, so daringly leapt across the torrent beneath.
The added advantage of this, we hoped, was to abandon the dog, now a kilometre or two from his home. None of it. He followed on, whimpering, until we met an elderly man doing something technical to one of the taps on the levada.
Despite my explanation that it was not our dog, and that the dog was following us, he took pity on the hound, lifted him across and we were joyously re-united to make our way to perhaps the most bizarre landmark on the walk – The Nautical Club of Silves.
This club, somewhat unexpected, has a barbecue area, a small swimming pool, a bar-come-café and a place to launch boats into the river. It is not usually open during the week, but we happened to catch the owner there, so had a couple of drinks, a bag of crisps and sat looking across the river to Silves, with its castle and church tower reflecting the afternoon sun.
As we stealthily left the nautical club, the dog was sleeping peacefully in a shed so we were careful not to disturb him.
The walk continues along the levada, keeping the river to the left at all times, becoming shadier now but affording pretty views across the river. Within five minutes, our dog had rejoined us, merrily trotting ahead.
At this point we passed a couple walking in the other direction, carrying the Sunflower book and looking a good deal more professional than us – all Berber coats and pointed sticks.
We exchanged pleasantries, tried to foster the dog onto them (no such luck) and continued on to what is probably the most beautiful point of the walk.
After some houses a path slopes off to the left onto a grassy headland at the confluence of the Arade and Odelouca rivers.
As you stand alone on the headland with just the trees, the water and the birds, you realise how natural and unspoilt the Algarve still is.
Our walk ended ingloriously with us in the car, retracing our steps along country tracks, passing our bemused ‘Berber’ walkers in order to return the dog to his rightful place.
The dog, of course, refused to leave the car, so had to be catapulted out and abandoned as we sped off into the sunset, looking to all the world like a couple of monstrous ‘ dog for Christmas’ merchants.