Levada of Vipers and the King’s Mills

Originally cut into granite rock, the Levada of Vipers (Levada de Víbora) was rebuilt in the early 1970’s using concrete. It has a total length of 5.3 kilometres, starting at the Viper Reservoir, utilising water from the Ribeira de Busteliberne. This historic water channel serves two purposes – irrigation and providing hydro-power to a series of watermills. The levada provides irrigation to an area of 40 hectares around Abadim, that incorporates about 130 fields. It previously served 28 watermills but there are currently only 27 of them in existence around the four villages of Abadim. (source)

Six of these watermills are located along the Levada of Vipers, in the vicinity of the King’s Mills leisure park (Parque de Lazer Moinhos de Rei) upstream from the Oural River Beach (Praia Fluvial do Oural). These six mills and the levada that powered them are the primary features of this, my latest hike.

D. Dinis, the sixth king of Portugal, was sometimes referred to as the ‘Farmer King’. He took a special interest in the land, encouraging forestry plantation and the fuller development of the country’s agricultural resources. (source). He was also instrumental in the development of the milling industry and these six watermills are believed to have been constructed during his reign (1279-1325) – hence they are known as the King’s mills.

The start/end point for this hike is the Oural River Beach (Praia Fluvial do Oural), located about 103km from Porto, with a driving time of 1 hour 20 minutes. It is accessed by a good quality paved road and there is ample parking space – on this December day, my motorcycle was the only vehicle present. This leisure area is equipped with restrooms and picnic tables. The Oural dam at this location has created a small reservoir for swimming and leisure purposes, so I expect it will be very busy in the warmer months.

From the river beach park, the hike follows the course of the levada, uphill and against the flow of water. It is not a marked hiking trail, but this first segment is easy to follow. In some places, overgrown bushes, or cut-down trees, partially obstruct passage but crossing from one side of the levada to the other is usually sufficient to get around the obstruction. At this time of the year, the bracken and the reddish-brown oak leaves on the ground contribute to the beauty of this area, whilst the rushing water in the levada adds a pleasant soundtrack to the walk.

With this video clip, you can appreciate the sound of the gurgling of the water as it rushes along the levada.

About 1.3km into the hike, the first of the watermills (moinhos) comes into view. Located at a bend in the levada, it is also at the bottom of a slight hill. This seems to be a common feature for the positioning of the mills. The drop in height provides an increase in water speed but it also allows for a partial diversion of water that can drop down into the mill to operate the machinery, and then flow out of the bottom to rejoin the levada. A young couple were passing the mill as I arrived – the only other people that I would see for the entirety of the hike.

The second and third mills are very close together, and only a short distance beyond the first. The second mill is particularly attractive due to a dense coating of moss that has grown all over its walls and roof. The third mill is situated above the second, where a ‘cross-roads’ exists in the levada, permitting water to be diverted to the second mill, as required. At the time of my visit, a small metal sluice gate was in place, preventing any water going to the mill.

The fourth mill is situated on a hill with the levada flowing past it. Again, there is a closed sluice gate at a junction in the levada, that would allow water to flow to the mill.

Between mills four and five, there is a distance of about 0.4km. In some places, the levada passes through open forest areas and, in others, passage is quite tight and partly overgrown. But it is scenic throughout. The fifth mill is in a state of ruin, with a collapsed roof ands walls. Beyond this mill, the levada moves downhill. There is only a narrow, rocky space alongside the levada for this uphill walk, so a little extra care is required.

On the way to the sixth, and final, mill along this stretch, the tops of the levada are covered in moss. The ground to the left of the levada drops steeply to the river valley below. The main structure of mill number six is intact and covered in moss, but it too has lost its roof.

Leaving the mills behind, the levada continues for another kilometre, offering glimpses of the rushing river in the valley below. At the 3.3km mark of the hike, it reaches its highest elevation at 898 metres. The lowest elevation was 768 metres, so the climb was gentle. This point also signals where the route departs from the levada and heads downhill, on a dirt road, alongside the river. Whilst the hiking route deviates from the levada at this point, the levada itself disappears briefly under the dirt road and then continues towards its source. The route follows the dirt road, and the river, for one kilometre until it meets a paved road over a small bridge, next to a picnic area alongside the river.

The route follows the paved road for a short distance, passing the picnic park, through a wooded area and a more open area, before turning left onto a dirt road.

The dirt road ends at a gate to a field. The route then follows a narrow rural footpath. However, after weeks of rainfall, this had become a gentle stream that filled the width of the footpath. The depth of the water varied, but in some places was at least ankle-deep, if not deeper. Under these conditions, waterproof boots are strongly recommended, as there were not many dry places to walk on. Whilst walking downhill in this temporary stream, there is a view across the fields to the village of Busteliberne.

The following video clip shows a short section of the flooded footpath.

When the footpath begins to go uphill, the stream diverts into an adjacent field, so the footpath becomes dry – at least until it reaches another flooded section further along. At the 6km mark in the hike, it reaches a stone bridge over the Ribeira de Busteliberne, where there are several small waterfalls.

The final stretch of the hike is less interesting, but still an attractive walk through woodland countryside, utilising a mixture of paved road, dirt roads and footpaths. The route then reaches a wire fence/gate across the path that requires some un-twisting of wires to open. Once through the fence, the route is back at the Oural River Beach and the end of the hike.

After following a problematic Wikiloc route recently, I was glad to be following another route by João Marques Fernandes. His hiking routes are always reliable and accurate and he adds a lot of useful supporting information.

This route covered a total of 9.65 kilometres and I completed it in two hours and 49 minutes. I was hiking solo and I do walk at a fast pace when alone, so this route may take others longer. The temperature was a chilly 7C when I set off in the morning and was only 10C when I completed the hike, but I had to take off my down jacket within the first half-hour as I was too warm once walking. I consider this to be an easy route, both in its ease of navigation and physical difficulty. But following the trail on the Wikiloc app is required, as it is not a marked trail. As noted previously, I encourage the use of waterproof footwear if there has been a lot of recent rainfall. A GPS track of my route can be located on the Wikiloc site using this link.

1 Comment

  1. Thanks Craig, very interesting. Fast flow rate in the levadas even with a fairly modest cross section I guess would have provided quite a bit of water energy to drive the mills. Great photos as usual.

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