Gilda was a Nordic princess and the beloved wife of Ibn-Almundim, who the legends say was the ruler of the Algarve. They lived in Silves, and consequently Gilda never saw the snow again after leaving the place of her birth. However Ibn-Almundium was canny fellow and realised that he could create the appearance of snow for his wife if Almond trees were planted in their thousands on the Algarvian hills. And according to the legend he did, and so it is thanks to Ibn-Almundim the Algarve is covered in honey scented snow every year.
If you are here in January or February then you cannot miss the blossom, it is everywhere in the towns, villages and in the hills. There are even Almond Blossom walks, and we enjoyed one of these this week. You’ll find the one we did in the Walking Trails Guide. Don’t though do it the way round they suggest, otherwise you’ll discover as Jo did last February an almost impossible climb at the end as well as other stretching ones in the middle. If you walk the ‘wrong’ way then the steep climbs become downhill rambles and the climbs that do exist either short sprints or zig-zagging upward trails.
Now before I take you on the walk let me answer that question you have lurking at the back of your question. How true is the legend? Well the Iberian Peninsula was once part of the Umayyad Emirate of Córdoba, and was known as Al Andalus. The Moors sub-divided Al Andalus into smaller provinces, these changed over time but for 200 years the area we now know as the Algarve was one complete province. The capital was Silves, and so it is definitely true that this is where the ruler would have lived. However then it all becomes a little murky as I’ve yet to find any reference to Ibn-Almundim as one of the rulers apart from in tales of the legend. What is true though is that Almond trees were brought to the Iberia peninsular and other parts of southern Europe from the Middle East, which of course is also where many of the Moors came from. So as it seems with all legends there is some evidence that parts of the tale may be true.
But the walk I hear you cry, after all this is an entry for Restless Jo’s Monday walks. The walk is one of two that begin in Alta Mora, a tiny village about a 25minute drive north-west of Castro Marim. You could get the bus but they are so very infrequent that a car is probably the only way to get here. There is limited parking at the cross-roads by the recycling bins and also a couple of spaces outside the primary school a few yards on. Where you park might decide which way round you go, but as I have previously mentioned we strongly recommend going clockwise to avoid the worse of the uphill climbs. So let us begin. With the primary school behind us we headed uphill past a small farm before the long descent to the first crossing of Ribeira do Beliche.
When we did the walk it had been a few weeks since we had had rain and so we were somewhat surprised by the depth of the water at the ford. MrB soon found a place to cross but I was unnerved by a wobbly rock and so decided I’d paddle through in bare feet. More refreshing than cold, and whilst I flaffed around drying my feet MrB was able to take advantage of the early stop to bird.
The next crossing of Ribeira do Beliche was much easier but we suspect, looking at the size of the riverbed, if we had tried this after the heavy rains before Christmas or even yesterday it may have been impossible. I know Jo only a couple of weeks ago found the water levels quite high when she enjoyed the other trail from Alta Mora, so ford crossings are definitely something to take into consideration when planning walks in the hills in the winter months. Downstream of all the crossing places is the Barragem de Beliche, one of the two reservoirs many of us spot from the plane shortly before they begin the descent into Faro Airport.
Barragem de Beliche was built in 1986 and is connected by a tunnel to the larger and newer reservoir at Odeliete. These two reservoirs provide all of the water for the eastern Algarve, and on occasion also supply water to the west. You don’t get to see the reservoirs on this walk but you do follow the Beliche river valley and some of its tributaries.
As we approached the half way point of the walk we suddenly came close up to a Marsh Harrier. We’d spotted it at the beginning of the walk in the distance, and now found ourselves above it as we looked down into a valley. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get a great shot as I had been too busy enjoying the smell, sight and sound of Almond Blossom, and by the time I had realised I should be looking elsewhere and had refocused the camera on the sky it was too late. This is probably the best of the shots that I took! However who can blame me for being distracted by all of the Almond Blossom, just look at it all.
We had noticed the vast majority of the Almond trees were on the northern slopes of the hills we were walking walk up, down, across and around. We thought that rather odd as Almond trees like hot, dry summers in full sun and are susceptible in the Spring to frosts. There are odd frosts here in the Algarve, so it seemed to us that if a frost does occur the last place you’d want to plant delicate plants is on northern slopes out of the sun. However then we noticed the prevailing winds and it all made sense. The trees have been planted where there is less wind; when it is cold here it is nearly always due to the winds. It would seem winds are a bigger threat than frost. And I guess they know what they are doing given the number of trees blossoming here. I think Gilda would have been very happy this year.
The halfway point is also where you stroll through the hamlets of Funchosa de Cima and Funchosa de Baixo. I felt a bit uncomfortable with the route the signs tell you take as they walk you through the back streets. It is pretty but this is a much lived in hamlet, and so I felt it would have been far nicer for the residents if we had been taken via the main path. However as you know from my previous posts on walks from this guide it does do some odd things at times! By now we were getting hungry, perhaps it was the smell of the BBQ we passed or simply that it was nearly two. We decided to take advantage of some flat stones in the sunshine beside an isolated abandoned house between the two hamlets. Perfect for our picnic of Algarvian cheese, tomatoes, olives and sourdough bread.
After a surprisingly long break for lunch, and a short pause to say hello to the cute puppies, we entered Funchosa de Baixo. It felt quite abandoned compared to its sister on the hill, and like Jo I couldn’t resist taking a photograph of one of the derelict homes. Looked as though everything had been left in situ when the last occupant moved out, including the bed!
We were now on the homeward trek so didn’t stop at the cafe where Jo had coffee, we did though get sidetracked for a while by the views. Oh and also the Almond Blossom, and then there was the tractor with the circular discs. We are still not exactly sure what they are doing. Last year when we saw them working in the hills it was evident they were clearing away the gorse and cistus, here though there was nothing to clear. We wondered whether perhaps they were tilling the top layer to encourage rain to soak in rather than run down the hill, but really we had no idea. Any suggestions?
Fortunately Robert was paying sufficient attention to where we were going at this point as otherwise I’d taken us straight past the official trail. Usually the walks in the guide stick to the wide tracks but this walk takes you on a couple of very narrow paths. This one would have been very easy to miss!
On most of this walk we had felt like we were in the middle of nowhere with just the occasional sign of life or civilisation. Now though as we approached the end we suddenly found that every view included a hamlet, a windmill or wind turbines. The latter reminding us how close we were to the Spanish border.
The cluster of hamlets indicated that we almost at the end of the walk but there was still plenty of Almond Blossom to make my inner ‘Gilda’ smile and a sudden absence of signs requiring us once again to pay attention and get out the map.
There was also something very special almost at the end of this walk, not that I realised at the time. We could see and hear the goats on the hills, and noticed one or two, including a kid asleep on the rocks, had stayed behind in their pen. However it was only when I uploaded my photographs to the computer that I realised the goat beside the gate had two kids not one. And what made it all so very special as I looked at my photographs was that they had clearly been born less than half hour before we walked past. I think I will name the mother Gilda but will leave it to my Six Word Saturday friends to name the twins.