Off Piste

Day 5 | Viana do Castelo to Vila Praia de Ancora

Neither of us slept well. Our bed was lined with those little granite cobbles that we’ve been walking on today and the pillows felt like they’d been stuffed with the remnants of yesterdays bread. To add to our comfort there was a very handy light feature on the headboard, just immediately behind the pillow. Everytime Gerry turned over all the lights would come on and we’d wake with a start. In the end he said he was too afraid to move so lay on top the granite trying to shift his weight around when his hips felt too sore. In short… it wasn’t the best night we’ve had.

Earlier in the evening we’d planned on going to an Indian restaurant for dinner. It was 900m from the hotel but as we walked the rain came down and the wind was still howling so we jumped into a Chinese restaurant instead. It was an OK meal but not as nice as we’d hoped and the owner was way more interested in the Brighton vs Arsenal match on the TV than two cold pilgrims.

Returning to the hotel we watched the end of a James Bond movie before sleep (obviously using that term loosly). In fairness to the hotel, it was a great location, a lovely building, helpful staff and the room was spotless… and the shower was magnificent. There weren’t many gluten free choices at breakfast but I carry a small GF loaf and had this with some of their homemade quince jam and a few slices of melon… Ger said the croissants were very good too. Apart from the bed, Hotel Jardim was actually very nice. However I would feel a bit heavy headed all day.

We only had 17km today so we dawdled. We meandered down to the waterfront, so calm after yesterday’s storm. Gerry searched for fish and I took photos of the reflections. We walked by fishing nets and fishermen and explored the aptly named Forte Santiago do Barra before heading back to the coast.

The sandy beaches were replaced today with rocky pools. As we walked we watched dark clouds form on the horizon and a faint rainbow appear over the dark sea. It was raining out there… we hoped it would stay there. We picked up our pace and wondered if we could out walk it.

It’s a warm Sunday morning and the beach front promenade is clearly popular with the locals. Old couples walked along rubbing shoulders, young couples on bikes, joggers and dog walkers and even the occasional pilgrim all taking in the views. It was a good day to be walking.

Along the path are information boards. We learned that this land was shaped by glaciers and ice and that the sea was once 35km further out and an incredible 130m lower. There were traces of early humans and iron age salt collection, of Romans and Visigoths, pirates from North Africa and boulders littering the beaches following ancient prehistoric volcanic eruptions. Its amazing what you learn when walking the camino.

We reached our half way point. We weren’t sure which path to take. Go inland and join the Coastal or make our way along the coast using a GPS trail I’d downloaded. We stopped for a drink in Carreco and considered our options. The coast won. We set off heading back to the sea, following the trail in the Wise Pilgrim app. As we walked the skies darkened and we felt the first drops of rain. We reconsidered our options. We didn’t really want to be right on the beach if a storm rolled in but by now had walked quite a bit away from the Coastal route. We decided instead to plot our own route. We followed a track and then a small road into Afife. We bought a few supplies in a supermarket and headed for the church. There was always a seat by a church… Gerry’s bench requests are getting more complex everyday… quiet, nice view, not too low, in the shade and now cosy as well! I reminded him of the road we had to sit on when walking the Primitivo but he scoffed. To be fair the church did have a wall that made the perfect bench… in the shade, under an enormous tree, looking out to sea. The threatened rain never came or it blew in a different direction, so we sat and enjoyed our picnic and congratulated ourself on our choice.

But time as usual was marching. We had to walk on. Our plan was to keep following the road until we joined the busy main road. From there we crossed beside a campsite and followed a tiny road down to the sea. As we crossed we spotted a yellow arrow. We were nowhere near either route but it was good to see it. At the coast we switched into our tevas… we planned to maybe paddle our way along the coast. We stopped on the giant rocks beside an old Fort and looked ahead to Ancora and the hills of Spain beyond. We’d almost reached the end of our Littoral camino.

The waves were quite mighty with the wind and we had to choose our spot carefully. Gerry went first and shrieked when the cold water lapped around his feet. I went next and laughed… the water was far from cold. I would have swam if it had been calmer.

On we walked, sticking to the wet sand and then moving to a flatter part of the beach and dry sand. The last 4km were quite hard, sand walking isn’t as easy or as romantic as it sounded. We could see boardwalks on the dunes above us so we scrambled up to walk on those. Sadly due to works on the beach the boardwalk came to an abrupt end. There was nothing for it than to retrace our steps and head back to where we were. Getting down from the dunes was quite steep so the only way back to the beach with a pack was to run… it was actually good fun!

Back on the beach we bumbled along the last kilometre before reaching the little bridge into Praia do Ancora. Tomorrow we change direction… we’re not quite done with Portugal yet.

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