Last June a group of friends from Carrigaline, Co Cork took a walking holiday in Central Portugal with a new Irish company, Shamrock Walking Tours. A group of nine people flew from Cork to Lisbon where they were transferred to Tomar in the heart of the country, their base for the week. Tomar is an uncommercialised Knights Templar city with a population of about 40,000 people. It is located between Lisbon and Porto in an area of outstanding beauty with fascinating local history and traditions. Central Portugal is bordered by the beaches of the Atlantic coast with mountain ranges, national parks, castles and enchanting villages. It has kind friendly people, wonderful local wines and traditional food at very reasonable prices.
The walkers started their walking week in the Central National Park of Serra D’Aire e Candeeiros. This is a 14km circular route on an old railway line, now an Eco-trail, with stunning views, tunnels, oak forests and an abundance of flora and fauna. The group then returned to Tomar for the evening to their 4* Town house accommodation with swimming pool. There is no better place to relax for the evening, enjoying the river Nabao flowing through the city, the many cafes, bars and restaurants which line the streets or the wonderful Commercial Square overlooked by the Convento de Cristo castle on the hilltop.
Day two, this jolly group of walking enthustists headed off after breakfast to Golegá, the horse capital of Portugal. This days walking is a section of the central Portuguese Caminho which goes from Lisbon to Porto and then on to Spain and Santiago de Compostelo. The group enjoyed walking through farmland areas with crops such as sunflowers, bell peppers, butternut squash, melon, cabbage and potatoes. Continuing through small towns and villages, the group decided to stop at a small local café where they burst into a singsong. Much to the enjoyment of the locals who got a little taste of what it is to be the Irish on tour! A very enjoyable day.
Day three was back to the National Park for what the group described as the “Burren” walk. A climb at the start of the walk to one of the most stunning mountain top views in the whole region. A rest, a chat and a cup of tea was required after the climb. Most of the group said that this was their favourite walk of the week. It has everything a regular walker could wish for. Stunning views, animals, wildflowers, herbs, plants, trees and ever changing landscape. One of the group is an enthusiastic and knowledgeable plant observer and she enjoyed very much the variety in abundance on the mountaintop. After another pit stop the group were revived and had a little dance at the crossroads. “Shoe the donkey” dancing was the order of the day, whistled by myself. What a fun bunch of people. Songs were sung along the way also not only on the mountain but also on the bus journey back to base. Me being from Clare gave my input of Clare songs but the Banks of the Lee stole the show with nothing less than a choir rendition. Another great day out. Back to base for showers, rest, dinner, stroll around town, a few drinkies and even a card game or two.
Day four was a free day that the group had decided on. We took them on a historical walk of Tomar and The Convento. Fascinating relaxing day out but of course the group made it special with their humour, crack and banter. Day five, all refreshed after their day off, todays walk was to Fatima. This old pilgrimage route is more famous in Portugal than the Caminho. The walk starts from the main square in Tomar, past the Convento, the famous Aqueduct of Pegoes and off through the countryside. 30km is the full walk to Fatima but our group decided to do a section and then continue to Fatima and the basilica. After lunch and time to wander around this tranquil place, they all jumped back on the bus… and singsong again of course. It’s a great chance to see Fatima and participate on the pilgrimage route. Many times during the year locals partake on this pilgrimage trail, usually travelling in the night time as its cooler.
Final days walking and we took them off to the beach of Peniché for a coastal walk and a chance to dip in the sea. The feet were tired after the week and a splash in the iodine rich sea water was more than welcome. A great way to end the week. We all lunched together and sang all the way home, much to the amusement of the bus driver who proceeded to join in by blowing the hooter and swerving along the road to the tunes. There was a wedding anniversary on this day and needless to say we weren’t thirsty. Everything was thought of by this lovely bunch of people from Cork. All the guides really enjoyed their company and as one said “if we could have a group like this every week, it would never seem like work”.
Last day and our precious group headed off to Lisbon. We dropped them off in the center of the city, after a bag drop off at the airport. Their flight wasn’t until night so they got the chance to have a look around this wonderful city on their return journey. Below are some of the comments that they left with us. It was a privilege having the company of this lovey group of friends from Carrigaline. We enjoyed them as much I hope they enjoyed us. Cork Abu!
On a nice spring morning, although a little cloudy, I decided to walk a little of the Portuguese Caminho. This section of the Portuguese Caminho Central starts in Tomar and continues on to Coimbra. As I have the previous section done from Golegá to Tomar many times, I was interested to see where it went next.
Tomar is located in the District of Santarém, within the old Province of Ribatejo, approximately in the geographical centre of Portugal. I started my walk in Republic Square by the church of Sáo Joáo Baptista and continued down the main street. It is well marked. Strolling across the old bridge, up the hill and turning left, I was soon away from the hussle and bussle of Tomar. As it was Friday and market morning the city was a buzz with locals coming and going with their wares.
Along the little streets with small cafes I passed a large group of pigeons feasting on some spilled corn. Then onwards where some road repairs were happening, good to see as new footpaths are going in also. I found myself very quickly on a little track through the euclyptus trees and along the river bank. A nice time for reflection with the rippling stream and many birds twittering in the trees. Then I came across rushing water and to my amazement a large weir built by an old local textile factory, now closed. You can't help but stop here it's so impressive. Lots of birds. Heron's, cormorants, ducks, coots etc.
I strolled on after a time on the river bank. Spotted an otter in the water but unfortunately I wasn't quick enough with the camera. He slithered along underneath the water and bushes. Of course he had seen and heard me long before I discovered he was there. A few steps more and I spotted two cormorants streaching their wings to warm up in the peeping sunshine. I stood still but indeed they had me spotted and glided upstream. A large heron on the riverbank took off as soon as they did. Disturbing their fishing, how dare I.
Continuing by the river bank I noticed the silence and peacefulness of the place. Except for the odd farm animal in the background. Hens, geese and a donkey in the distance. The track was easy walking, covered in leaves at this time of year. Passed a few old wells and then a hut. This hut is for caminho walkers to rest. A shelter, a timber box to sit on and even some cardboard and a blanket for the very weary. And a sign on the wall Bom Caminho! I thought it was a lovely gesture from past walkers to welcome you along the way.
Along the track again I imagined what this would be like in the summertime. It almost reminded me of a rainforest from another place at times. I arrived in a wooded area with pine, euclyptus, oak and of course olive trees. Some house ruins, a reminder of times gone by dotted here and there. And then a clearing and the track approached several roadways and tracks. I was glad of the shell and arrows here. Up and down a hill and I arrived at the remains of a Roman bridge. It was a remarkable structure of its time. I stood again for a long time taking in my surroundings, the bridge, it's history, the sights and smells and gentle sounds.
I noticed a bottle of water underneath the bridge attached to a stick and just hanging there. I wondered if it was for walkers but felt unsure. Over the bridge the Caminho continues through the mountains but I decided for today I had seen enough and I was looking forward to getting back to the river to watch any activities I may discover there.
Doubling back to the weir I crossed over the river to the other side and went away form the marked track on a circular route back to Tomar. This took me through forest tracks with very little sign of anything other than trees on either side and the odd little bird who seemed to enjoy my presence. Then on the left a big wall similar to a large domain and I felt as if I was walking in ancient times. I didn't meet a single person until I was almost back in Tomar where I was greeted by a lady and two cats, 'Bom Dia'. She was going to feed her chickens and tend to her vegetable plot which were lined along the road, helped by her two happy cats.
Now I can see the old textile factory, laden with more birds watching for fish in the river, and the Convent of Christ Castle in the background. Back across the old bridge and up main street for a coffee and pastel de nata.
All in all a lovely morning out. It took about one and a half hours and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
This is a lovely stroll for anyone spending a day or night in Tomar.