Camino Day 4 – Barcelos to Ponte de Lima

15-minute train ride from Barcelos to Tamel train station
7.5 hours walking, 26.2 km walked
The walking hours are above from 7:30am, when we finished our coffee at the cafe near the Tamel train station, to 3pm, when we arrived in Ponte de Lima, and include stops for a rest and for lunch.

It was just before dawn when we woke up to start our day; we were the first ones up, and crept out of the room with our gear to get ready in the common rooms (which is the decent thing to do when you’re sleeping in a room of ten or more). We were rushing a bit, worried about making it to the train station in time for the 7:16am train to Tamel, and about getting the right train to the right destination. I’m still a bit confused; if you search on a map around Barcelos, there are a few places with the name Tamel, and when i looked on Google Maps there was no evidence of a Tamel train station (even though there absolutely is a train station there, and it’s marked on our map). So our worries about ending up in the wrong place were not unfounded.

We rushed along the 20-minute walk to Barcelos train station, and arrived before 7am to find it locked up tight. An attempt to use the customer assistance line was made futile by the language barrier, and we were slightly freaking out, tired and uncoffeed and hungry, worrying that we’d screwed up somehow, and that this was going to make our day even longer. And then, at 7am, the station opened, and we spoke to a lovely clerk who sold us our tickets – €1.45 each – to Tamel train station, which absolutely does exist. Photographic evidence below.

We sat on the train platform in Barcelos, feeling relieved and joyful, munching on whatever bits and pieces we had for breakfast, sipping boxed chocolate milk (another life-saver like the instant coffee, it kept us going when we were worn out). Then we hopped on the train, slightly giddy, and had a very pleasant ride to Tamel train station. When we left, the station, right across the square was a cafe, Maria Da Conceição Parente Rodrigues & Filhos, so we stopped to have a celebratory coffee while an old-timer sipped spirits at the bar. It was really good coffee, and it tasted like victory.

It was a glorious morning, and after four days of overcast skies and rain, it was so good to be walking in the sunshine, through valleys and mountain passes, along ancient pathways, through farms and forests. The path was clear and easy to read, with lots of well-maintained signs, arrows, and waymarkers, and very little need to stop and read a map.

Water fountains line some parts of the route, though sometimes you’ll see three fountains in an hour and then none for the rest of the day. Some are clearly springs that have been used by locals and peregrinos for hundreds of years, some are more formal fountains that have been sponsored by pilgrim groups or local municipalities, that have plenty of signage. Something we learned pretty quickly was that our 475 ml canteens weren’t going to cut it – even filling them up at every chance we got, we often found ourselves short of water when we needed it. So we bought 2 large bottles of water, which we refilled regularly, and each carried one in addition to our canteens, which really helped on most days.

There was a fair amount of climbing up and down, from one valley to another, and in a few places farmers had set up farm gate stalls and were selling olives, beans, and fresh baking, which was a treat. By mid-morning, it had become a gorgeous day, but without a cloud in the sky, and often walking along paths with no shade, it was hot.

Combined with the hills and valleys we were travelling through, it was a challenge, as most of our training and almost all of our Camino days so far had been on flat routes under overcast skies. We were in good spirits, even if we were sweaty and sometimes making a very slow climb.

We were lucky that, for most of the day, water was pretty available, at springs and toughs, where we could wet our heads and our hats and our handkerchiefs to keep ourselves cool and hydrated. It gave me a real sense of connection, both to the local community, by whose generosity and labour these springs are provided and maintained, but also to all of the other peregrinos who’ve taken these paths over the centuries on this same route, stopping to wet their head or fill their canteen and give thanks for fresh, cool water on a sunny day.

Though I sometimes hear the Caminho Portugues dismissed as ‘not the real Camino,’ the presence of Camino waymarkers, fountains, and pilgrim’s shrines, some hundreds of years old, tells a different story.

At one point not long before lunch, walking over a pass between valleys, we came upon what can only be described as a Fairy Bower; on the lefthand side, a glen in the forest filled with wild calla lilies, on the righthand side the orange-yellow trumpets flowers you see above, faces turned down towards us. It was magical, and refreshing, and unphotographable.

At a brief and otherwise-unmemorable stop for some kind of lunch, we met up with some of the other pilgrims whom we’d started to recognize along the way. One woman, who’d been walking solo to raise funds for a charity in her home country, had taken a bad fall just past the Fairy Bower on the water-eroded path. Seeing the cuts and bruises on her face was a reminder that the paths we were walking could be dangerous, but it was also heartening to see other pilgrims doing what they could to offer help.

At this point, we started walking out of the farms and through more villages, towards Rio Lima and our destination. At this point, the heat of the day was getting intense, and I was really starting to feel it; with no shops or fountains along this part of the way, we ran out of water, and I started to feel the early effects of heat stroke. With no option but to continue in the hopes of finding some water or reaching our destination, we kept going as quickly as we could. As we marched down stone streets, my face beet-red and my brain feeling a bit swimmy, some people relaxing in the shade of a garage spotted me. Calling out for my attention, they handed me an ice-cold bottle of water – absolute angels. I thanked them profusely, and walked on, feeling better as I downed the water.

For the weary, overheated pilgrims, the approach to Ponte de Lima is like a shimmering illusion. You pass through the cool portico of Igreja de Nossa Sra. da Guia, whose doors radiate a cool of thick stone and shade. And then on the other side, a shaded walk along the river banks, with enormous ancient trees, lovers holding hands, and very quietly at first, almost as though you’re hallucinating it, the sound of accordion music coming from above – speakers installed in the lampposts.

The bridge – ponte – after which Ponte de Lima is named dates back to the Roman period, and has been a part of this town for at least 2000 years. On the far side of the bridge lies the Albergue des Peregrinos de Ponte de Lima, a lovely, airy, and well-appointed albergue with terrific facilities in a really picturesque spot. It’s also the site of one of the most iconic images of the Caminho Portugues: the line of backpacks.

I think this one always raises questions, so here’s the explanation: when you arrive in Ponte de Lima at 3pm, you have to wait for the albergue to open at 4pm. You want to hold your place in line, because if you don’t, you might not get a bed for the night. But it’s also the hottest part of the day, and the side of the street that the albergue is on is in full sun. Not usually pictured is the other side of the street, where exhausted, sweaty pilgrims sit on the pavement in the shade, like this:

Finally the albergue opens, and you take up your pack and your place in line, get the sello on your credencial, and get assigned a bed – no bunk beds this evening! Sammi and I were both in a pretty good mood – it had overall been an excellent day, Ponte de Lima was pretty and welcoming, and this albergue is really clean, thoughtful, and spacious, and had great facilities.

This was also the first – and, I think only – place where we experienced the “communal meal” I’d heard so much about prior to walking the Caminho myself. A volunteer at the albergue had cooked up a big pot of vegetable soup, and someone else had brought wine, and as we passed through the kitchen we were invited to sit down and partake.

Since we’d had a bit of a rest while waiting for the albergue to open, we decided to take a walk out to a grocery store pretty far out from downtown, and stocked up on some essentials. And then we toured around Ponte de Lima, a pretty historic town that I’d love to return to one day.

After doing an additional 10km of walking, we needed dinner, so we stopped at a local pizza place as the sun was setting, and sat on their mid-street patio as the sun set, watching people stroll around and sipping our beer and feeling good about our day.

Back to the hostel, we took care of our nighttime chores – washing clothes, having a shower, getting ourselves ready for another good day. In the laundry room, a mouldering sign reads (in six languages) “This is not a washing machine; it is a mirage of the pilgrims.” Someone has included a hand-scrawled note “really actually does not work.” Going back up to our floor at the top of the albergue, the view from the patio where everyone’s clothes were hanging to dry had a beautiful view. We settled down to sleep around 9pm or so, looking forward to the next day.

For a day that has started with such stress, it was pretty wonderful – and, aside from my mild bout with heatstroke, it was one of my favourite days on the Caminho.

Follow our Caminho Portugues adventure!

Landing Day in Porto
Day 1 – Porto to Vila Cha
Day 2 – Vila Cha to Rates
Day 3 – Rates to Barcelos
Day 4 – Barcelos to Ponte de Lima (you are here)
Day 5 – Ponte de Lima to Rubiaes
Day 6 – Rubiaes to Tui
Day 7 – Tui to Porriño
Day 8 – Porrino to Redondela
Day 9 – Redondela to Pontevedra
Day 10 – Pontevedra to Caldas des Reies

When I’m done posting these, I’ll also post an article with my collected advice for anyone thinking of walking the Caminho/Camino, and I’ll link it here!

Photos by Candace Shaw and Samantha Shaw

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