In the week between the 7th and 11th of October I walked parts of the trail to see how it is in the fall and to try out a few different routes where I thought necessary or interesting. 5 months after the first full Caminho do Dão in May we are now walking in a landscape dried up due to the absence of rain and 4 months of heat from the Mediterranean summer sun. I choose this week though because I was hoping for some cooler and more humid weather. But no, not yet, it turned out to be the week of the final stretch of ‘Indian Summer’ heat.
Day 1. From the source of the Dão (Barranha) to Quinta da Ponte on the same trail as we walked in the spring. No need to make changes here as it is perfect as it is.
Walking the valley this time of year is obviously a VERY different experience than in the spring. The biggest difference being that the river goes underground for the first 10 km and then between km 10 and 35 it seems to be standing still. That is normal in the annual cycle of a rain-based river watershed and I learned an interesting thing: for a river like this the year starts in October; when the rains start. Well, that year has definitely started now as I am writing this message and hear the rain pounding heavily on our roof and pouring out the rain gutters. This sound means that the river it coming back to life.
I missed it though; the water running alongside while walking. It was such a refreshing blessing, a presence that we connected with and that was alongside us from the beginning till the end. It makes me wonder if it makes sense to walk this Caminho in the fall since this Caminho is about the river.
Day 2. I really wanted to replace a piece of paved road (below Penalva do Castelo) on the north flank of the valley with a path through an oak forest on the south flank. The forest looked so good from the other side and there were some paths on the map but they seemed to be dead-ending. The only way to know is to start walking. We discovered that the dirt roads did not dead-end and with a little help from a local farmer we found out that they led to exactly the place we wanted to go. We walked through 4 km of beautiful mixed forest (and the occasional grapefield off course as we are in the Dão valley) with predominantly oaks, 80% Quercus pyrenaica in this case. We successfully added a nice piece to the Caminho at large and found some great mushroom hunting grounds in the process!
Day 3. Sangemil – Ferreiros do Dão. 14km
Were we going to walk the same trail on the north side as I walked in the spring or risk it and walk on the south side, into a part of the valley that showed no trails on the map? There was a good reason to venture into the unknown and go ‘off trailing’. The known trail leads through a landscape that is very damaged by the fires of 2017 and consists of 70% eucalyptus plantations. Not to say that the trail here is uninteresting but it IS confronting and monotone. However, it does lead to the most spectacular spot on the river that I know.
As my company on this hot October day were two fellow adventurers and Dão aficionados, Piet and Juliette, we decided to venture into the unknown. It was a good decision because the trail on the south side is more interesting in terms of nature and more forgiving because of shade. At about km 8 our trail started bending off to the south and this was the point from where we had to start finding our way to meet a trail again. The south flank of the valley here is dominated by big areas of rounded granite with a steep drop down to the river. Our passage was only sometimes made a bit challenging by the brushes in the small crevices between the giant swats of stone and some steep parts where we had to use hands and feet. The challenge ads to the adventure I’d say! After 1.5 km we were rewarded by a beautiful spot on the river and from here we walked over the flat floodplains to where we met the next trail.
Over all the 2 km ‘off trailing’ was do-able for an able-bodied person with a sense of adventure. We did it in October and the question now is: what does this landscape look like in May when the vegetation is higher? Probably good to go and take a look in the spring before I embark upon this part of the trail again.
It was a good day and hike: we added a very interesting new trail option to the Caminho do Dão.