We were travelling south from A Coruña to seek warmer weather and were keen to make it to lovely sunny Portugal after having all sorts of wintery weather while in Northern Spain (including snow!).
Before heading over the border however, we decided to make a quick diversion to the fascinating city of Santiago de Compostela.
Every year more than 200,000 people travel from points all over the world to walk the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage routes and visit the shrine of St. James whose remains allegedly lie within the city’s 13th Century Cathedral.
The majority of the people walk along the network of routes to Santiago de Compostela as a form of retreat or spiritual renewal but in recent years it has also become popular with hiking and cycling enthusiasts and organised tour groups.
In order to receive a compestela (certificate of completion) pilgrims have to show that they have walked or ridden on horseback the last 100 km or the last 200 km by bicycle and have collected a certain number of stamps from the pilgrims’ accommodation along their route. They are also required to have made the Pilgrimage for religious/spiritual reasons or at least have an “attitude of search”.
We saw several signposts for the Camino de Santiago but not one walker along the way – not surprisingly as it was absolutely bucketing down with rain.
We arrived before lunch and found the large car park allocated to campervans where only one other van was parked. It was cold and the rain was coming down in sheets with no sign of it letting up so after a quick lunch we decided to cut our losses and make for Portugal.
Two and a quarter hours later we were approaching the border and it was still raining!
It was getting dark by the time we arrived on the outskirts of Porto (and yes, it was still raining!). After a night of listening to the big fat drops of rain hammering on the roof we woke to find big muddy puddles around the van and the wind whistling round, shaking us while we ate breakfast. Welcome to sunny Portugal!
We were hoping to have a look round Porto but the weather really wasn’t conducive to a stroll round the city so once again we pressed on ever South through the driving rain.
By 2 pm the rain had eased off and when we saw a sign for a castle in Pombal we decided to peel off the highway and go and take a look.
What a delightful diversion it was! Built in the 12th Century by the Master of the Knights Templar on the remains of a Roman outpost, this impressive castle was the farthest outpost of a series of defensive forts.
It was devastated in the third French invasion in 1810 but was rebuilt in the 1940s and subsequently upgraded in 2016 with a very funky visitors’ centre made of local limestone which allows visitors to reach the windows high on the castle’s wall via a wide flight of steps on its side.
In the excellent visitors centre two movies We were shown to us (in English!) one giving the history of the the castle and the other a cartoon of a legend of how the castle came into being.
We were able to enter into the castle’s main tower which functions as a museum and exhibition space, via a steel balcony and staircase. The views were astonishing and seeing them we understood why the castle was built in that spot.
It was such an interesting visit and entry was absolutely free!
We had just returned to the van and it started raining again so feeling very fortunate to have missed a soaking we travelled onwards our next stop – Sesimbra.
It was very dark when we arrived but we weren’t too concerned as we had found an official campsite which looked easy to find on the map.
The directions took us through the small town which in the dark looked to be intriguing but with very narrow streets – always nerve wracking to drive through but somehow at night it always seems worse.
We got through fine thankfully but our feelings of relief were short lived as after climbing a steep hill found that the campsite was very much closed with big locked iron gates barring entry.
With difficulty we turned round in the narrow street, knowing that we were on the edge of a cliff and one false move could mean disaster.
We found another possible camping spot on the Internet but to get there we needed to take a cliff top road. We followed the coast around towards the road we wanted. Before long the tarmac ended and we were on an area about the size of a football pitch on the cliff top at the end of which was the road we needed to take (more of a track really).
Unfortunately there was only one small problem – we couldn’t drive down there as there were two very forbidding no entry signs standing sentry.
We were very close to the edge of the cliff and we could hear the surf crashing on the rocks below. What to do? Tired and hungry we decided to park up and spend the night in this spot and hope that we weren’t moved on or arrested for vagrancy!
We went to sleep to the sound of the waves that night wondering what view we were going to wake up to and full of anticipation about exploring what looked to be another interesting place to explore.