What happened to the trail? For the first time on our hiking trips, we were unable to complete the intended route, as we couldn’t find the trail that the app claimed was there! Instead of completing a somewhat-circular loop, we had to back-track and ended up with a J-shaped route (see the image comparisons below). But the scenery was amazing, so the missing trail couldn’t dampen our spirits.
For the second successive week, we only had one partly dry day sandwiched between several rainy days. We took that opportunity and headed back to the Serra d’Arga, to experience another section of this beautiful area. One hour north of Porto, we arrived at the small village of Montaria and found a dirt parking area near the end of the Caminho dos Moinhos road. Just a short walk from the parking area is small bridge over the river to a riverside picnic park with information boards. There is also a public toilet in the park. There are various hiking routes that pass through the park, including the PR1, PR4 and PR22.
Our intended route was a 6.19km route that was uploaded to the Wikiloc site. The route followed the course of the Rio Âncora. We only saw perhaps three trail markers along the way, but were following the GPS trail via the Wikiloc app. We were impressed as soon as we left the picnic park and began walking the trail alongside the river. It is such a beautifully verdant and scenic area. We followed a worn track along the river until we reached a large boulder in the centre of the river. It was clear that the trail continued across the river, but the app was telling us that we had to remain on our side of the river.
As we moved away from the river to follow the app’s route, we had do a bit of bushwhacking to get through an overgrown trail. Back onto a more recognisable trail, we climbed above the level of the river, whilst always keeping it in view. The trail was mostly a wide leaf-littered path but, in some places, the route took us up over piles of rocks. Along the way, we came across a scattering of an intriguing mushroom species with the apt name of Phallus impudicus (aka Stinkhorn mushroom).
As we got close to the highest elevation of the route, we reached a point where the app told us that the trail did a sharp left turn. But there was no visible trail that coincided with the GPS route. We walked further along the trail, looking for a turn off, but there wasn’t one. And the trail we were on petered out as it reached a series of waterfalls running down the hill in front of us. We gradually re-traced our steps as I clambered up hills and over large rocks, trying to locate the missing trail. At one point, after scaling boulders, the app told me that I was back on the trail – except there was nothing resembling a trail in sight. After carefully getting back down the boulders, I rejoined the others and we conceded that we would not be able to complete the loop, as intended. So we decided to walk back to the picnic park and re-assess our options from there. The images below show my efforts to find the trail.
After re-tracing our steps back to the picnic park, we had only covered about 4km and were ready to walk further. We sat and ate lunch in the park and then set out to walk part of the proposed route in reverse, so that we could experience a bit more of the area. A trail marker indicated that we were following part of the PR4 route, as we walked alongside the Rio Âncora. Whereas we had previously been following the river upstream, we were now following it downstream. A levada runs along the initial stretch of the river. We have seen several of these man-made water channels before, mostly leading to watermills, but they have been mostly dry. Here, the levada was full and overflowing. After crossing the river via a concrete bridge, prior to a waterfall, we found ourselves walking alongside the levada.
As we were walking along the levada, the river was cascading down a series of waterfalls, off to our right. Then the trail dropped down towards the level of the river, requiring some caution as we navigated a steep pathway that was waterlogged in places and covered in wet leaves. But the slippery conditions were very much worth the effort, as we were heading down to Poço Negro (Black Well), at the base of one of the waterfalls. These three video clips show part of the waterfalls in this section of the hike.
It was delightful to be able to sit so close to the bottom of the waterfall at Poço Negro. That moment alone made the hike worthwhile. After savouring our time at the waterfall, we continued to follow the soggy track down-river, enjoying many areas of rapids and mini-waterfalls along the way. I’m hopeful that one day I’ll get to see some otters as we hike alongside rivers like this. But so far, no luck!
The trail brought us to a road bridge over the river, where we had the option of continuing along the trail. However, we were already feeling light raindrops, as the forecast rain was arriving earlier than anticipated. As we were on a paved road, we opted to follow that back towards our starting point. We could see the rain clouds moving in over the nearby hills. As we reached the opposite end of the Caminho dos Moinhos (near to the Café Caçana), we passed the watermill (moinho) that likely gave the street its name. We followed the narrow lane back towards our starting point to end the hike.
Our amended route covered a total of 7.56 km and took a total of 4 hours and 6 minutes (2 hours 14 minutes moving time). A fair amount of time was wasted searching for the original trail. The Wikiloc route we were following was uploaded in 2017, so it is entirely possible that parts of the route have been overgrown since that time, as it does not appear to have been a recognised and marked public hiking trail. Due to the difficulties encountered on our route, I have not uploaded our track for this hike to Wikiloc.