We aimed to make an early start as we knew that today would be the most challenging day so far. We found a bakery open so we provisioned with buns and custard tarts and were able to have a simple breakfast before we left the hostel. Knowing that we would pass by the same beachside restaurant we stopped at the previous day allowed me to leave town before any of the cafes were open in good grace, reckoning there would be coffee before too long.
Following the Fisherman’s Trail we now looked for its distinctive green and turquoise markers, rather than the traditional red and white of other long distance trails. The trail descended to the beach and being from a coast ourselves, we knew to walk as close to the water as we could without getting hit by waves so that we’d be walking where the sand was the most firm. Even so, it did make for slower walking. Even though we were only 3.5 kilometers in, we were glad for coffee and juice at the restaurant with its views across to the Ilha do Pessegueiro. The day was misty and that only added to the appeal of the island and its fort. Fortified, we heaved our packs and headed on.
I had imagined that walking on the beach was going to be the sandiest part, but I was soon disabused of this notion. As we were to discover, most of the Fisherman’s Trail is on, or behind, the dunes and the sand is a constant. Where the dunes are healthy they are covered in plant life and in April were in spectacular bloom. The ice plants sprawled everywhere and I was astounded by the huge clumps of pink snapdragons growing wildly and something that resembled a pink perennial bachelor's button.
We lunched in the shade of a little pine grove, and after that the path became quite a bit more exposed so we were glad we had rested when we did. We passed a stunning beach with crashing surf and wild rock formations and with an enormous parking lot—virtually empty now but I’m sure packed in the summer tourist season. Boardwalks to mitigate damage from the larger summer numbers took us over the cliffs here before leading us back to the regular trail.
Walking in the sand made for slow going and even with my mid-rise boots, the sand got in. Nedjo’s full height boots worked better, and another time on dunes I think gaiters would be useful. Emptying my boots became a lunchtime and end-of-day ritual. You could tell fellow walkers, on benches upon entering a town, dutifully emptying their boots before arriving at their hotel.
Preparing for the trip, I was cognizant that I’m not great with heights. But while taking the caution into account, I felt that I would be up for the challenge—and also recognized that if we needed to change plans and return to the Historical Way, we could. For me, the real issue was going to be how close the path was to the edge. For most of the way, the path was really good. You could see places where an older path was right at the edge, but the official waymarked trail was now far in enough to provide better safety. There were only a few places where I had to make sure that I didn’t look down but only followed Nedjo’s legs and looked to the left away from the cliffs and sea below.
Not everyone or everything, however, is afraid of heights and the trail gave us a good vantage point on that. In one area the cliffs were dotted with fishers for whom the trail is named. With their rods and legs dangling over the cliffs, they were fishing in water that was hundreds of metres below. I couldn’t really fathom it, but also wasn’t going to get any closer to find out. And then there were the storks. I guess it makes sense that birds are not scared of heights, but even for birds this was amazing. They are impressive birds even for those of us who have frequent sighting of bald eagles and great blue herons. Their nests are massive and here along the wild coast, they build them on the top of inaccessible rock pinnacles making them safe from predators.
By the mid-afternoon I was starting to get tired, but then the harbour of Canal came into view and we knew we were almost there. We stopped to empty the sand from my boots so that I wouldn’t be carrying all that extra weight for the last 3 kilometers into town. Milfontes is a larger town and while certainly geared to tourism, also has a real town feel. We easily found our beautiful hostel (Hike and Surf Lodge, 40 € double room with balcony, shared bathroom), excited that this was where we had decided on for a rest day, or what some walkers call a zero day (as in zero kilometers walked).
Milfontes boasted a recommended gelato shop and I thought I had done due diligence in ensuring its closing day didn’t coincide with our rest day. But either I miscalculated or their closing day changed, so we had to slip in a quick shared mango cone before dinner so we didn’t miss out. We opted for pizza for a change—fitting after our gelato appetizer—and enjoyed sitting outside watching the flow of people and glad that we only had two blocks to get back to our hostel since as soon as we finished our meal the challenging day could be felt in a growing weariness.