Walking on the Island of Madeira.
15th Aug 07
From easy to hard, with or without vertiginous section, needing a machete or not. Madeira has all combinations
H aving read about the island during the winter we were keen to see it for ourselves so we tried an easy 3 hour walk (Sunflower Walks No. 15). Actually it was a walk entirely made up of one decent of more than 2000 ft from the ridge near Portela to the coastal town of Santa Cruz, and wherever there was an incline it was cobbled with small pieces of volcanic rock. Luxury, except in wet weather when the descent would be very swift and padded-bum-trousers an asset. The route was originally used by the borracheiros to transport wine in goat skins carried on their backs. Throughout the walk these 2 shots show the views. The huge rock, seen from above and below, is called Eagle Rock and would be a real challenge to ascend; huge rocky faces give way to bands of dense vegetation, machete stuff I'd guess, and all many hundreds of feet above sheer drops. Local rumour has it that from the air the rock looks like an eagle. Google Earth says otherwise.
Marina Quinta do Lorde is only 2 Km from
the conservation area at the Eastern end of the island in which resides the mountain
of São Lourenšo and the super walking around it (Sunflower Walks No. 13).
A footpath skirts the peninsular giving wonderful high level sea and cliff views.
On the day it was very windy and so tricky on some of the exposed parts but we completed
the circuit and, although the guide book said it was out of bounds, we took in the
twin peaks of São Lourenšo. We later repeated this walk with son David who
came out to visit for a few weeks.
With David's arrival we decided to be a little bit more adventurous and decided to try another coastal walk (Sunflower Walks No. 14). It started with an easy walking for about 10 minutes along the Canišal levada and we then climbed 250 metres to the North coast at Boca do Risco, the dangerous gap. Janet's boots were rubbing as we started the ascent but having read the route description boots were the last thing on her mind. We had all read that the route had a number of challenges along it and so the book warned; walkers need to be sure footed, have a head for heights as the route gave rise to vertigo, the path was landslide prone, and although bad sections were protected the fences fell down in the storms. Yes it promised to be a good one.
At the Boca do Risco the sea could be clearly seen 350m below but as the path was 5m wide it didn't seem like a problem, so off we gamely went, along the first part of the cliff path. The path quickly narrowed to between 30 - 60cm in dense woodland. Trouble was gaps in the trees showed the cliff to be about 60 - 70 degrees for the whole drop to the sea, and worst, although the path initially seemed wide enough the bramble like plants on the land side forced us to the path edge which regularly broke away giving a clear view of surf breaking on the shore below.
I had agreed with David and Janet that we would turn back when either of them asked to do so, it would not be a discussion point, we would simply turn back. Everyone seemed OK with this so on we went, until that is, we glimpsed the middle section of the cliff path some way ahead (shown with a faint arrow on the bigger picture). It was devoid of foliage and its steepness neared vertical, it also looked impossibly narrow. We almost turned back but decided to at least see the steep section and assess it. Seconds after the decision a French family came towards us with the husband proclaiming loudly that his wife couldn't do it so they had to turn back, maybe I could just see a look of relief on his face, naturally no one would ever doubt he would have done it himself. Pratt.
On we went, legs being lacerated by brambles, tee-shirts being clicked by same and glimpses of the vertiginous section coming more frequently. Then all of a sudden the trees stopped at a gully but luckily a 10mm steel wire offered a hand rail/ banister across a rising series of bad steps. Once across, exposure to the cliff seemed to hit us, but worst, turning back and reversing the bad steps seemed an impossibility, the steps were downwards and so in crossing one needed to look down the cliff. Words were not exchanged but Janet's resolve hardened; forwards could be no harder than going back. Wrong.
Moving out of the gully took us onto the start of the cliff face and along a path almost a metre wide, but soon it narrowed and in front was a gravely section, stones like ball bearings, luckily again uphill but therefore harder to reverse. Once past this we could see the broken fencing below, it had been recognised as tricky so was protected but the fence had rotted and fallen away. For the next 45 mins the path twisting and turning, David was a little apprehensive but kept it to himself, Janet faced the wall, refusing to take in the gob smacking scenery around us but mainly below us. I tried to get my camera out but no one wanted to even stop, I was told in no uncertain terms, stopping was not an option.
Perhaps the worst thing, during conversation, we were reminded the book had intimated the route had a sting in its tail, possibly when rounding a small headland. Sure enough as we looked ahead the path disappeared to be replaced by sky and amazing views down to the sea. As we looked ahead, standing on perhaps the widest section of the cliff path, a full 2 feet wide, a person suddenly stepped into view, then another; we now think they were guiding a party along the cliff path. "What's the next bit like", they asked. "OK," we said, smiling. "There's 10 of us", they said.
We allowed them to creep past us, and unknown to us, they were looking for the first time at the splendour of the cliff path before them, poor sods. We slowly rounded the headland, it was awesome, we didn't know how long it would be before the path straightened and the view become other than sky and sea. I had doubts so went on ahead, it was the worst bit as 50m in front the forest suddenly started again. Easy stuff, and I shouted back to say so. Phew!
David and Janet didn't realise how hardened to heights they had become, but nevertheless, passed the final 50m at speed and entered the sanctuary of the forest. The path became quite wide, the sea still 350m below but with the exposure no longer omnipresent Janet relaxed and then commented, "My feet are killing me!"
Janet tells me I'm waffling so here ends the tale of this walk.