The Medieval Trail from Cambra

On Monday, Bev and I were joined by Angela and Paul to walk the PR6 VZL Medieval Trail, from the village of Cambra. This well marked 8km loop is an established hiking trail, that encompasses a mixture of villages and countryside, for an easy and pleasant hike.

Cambra sits in the municipality of Vouzela and is about one hour south of Porto. The village has a long history, having been documented as far back as the year 1,002. The hike starts in the centre of the village, where an information board provides useful information about the trail, in both Portuguese and English. Directly opposite the information board is the 18th century Cambra Manor, with its attached chapel and coat of arms. A short distance further is the Parish Church of Cambra. Also from the 18th century, this Baroque building features two matching bell towers. The facade is decorated with blue azulejo tiles, that were added at some point after the initial construction.

The trail turns right at the church, following signposts to the Torre Medieval (Medieval Tower). Passing through a wooded area, the dirt track reaches the ruins of an old stone aqueduct. The route continues along a narrow footpath to a small village, where we saw a grouping of espigueiros (granaries).

Then the trail narrows, and squeezes between two stone walls, as it heads towards the Alfusqueiro River. Upon reaching the river, there is a set of poldras (stepping stones), that have been placed to allow people to cross. The stone in the centre of the river was not as wide, or as secure, as the others, so it required some extra care. But we all made it across safely.

Here’s a video clip of Bev crossing the river.

A short distance beyond the river, we reached the Medieval Tower of Cambra and the small Capelo do Espirito Santo (Chapel of the Holy Spirit), located close to the junction of the Alfusqueiro and Couto Rivers. It is reported that, in medieval times, the noble families that owned properties in this region built military-styled towers to demonstrate their power.

We crossed the road near the tower and enjoyed a pleasant walk along a country track, until we reached the Couto River, at the point where it flows beneath the elevated A25 Auto-Estrada (motorway). At that spot, a wooden water channel has been built to direct water from the river into a levada, that will supply water to fields in the surrounding area. Unfortunately, we missed an ‘attraction’ that is located in this location. A small cave there is known as Cova do Lobisomem (Werewolf’s pit, or grave).

According to local folklore, when a family had a seventh child, it would be named Custódia or Benta (if it was a girl), or Custódio or Bento (if it was a boy). However, if the parents failed to adhere to this superstition, the child would be cursed and, upon reaching adolescence, would undergo a terrible transformation, becoming a werewolf. Once transformed, the monster would jump out of the house and go looking for helpless victims. The monster would drag its victims to its hiding place – a cave on the banks of the Couto River, where the victims would be devoured by the light of a fire. Similar folklore existed throughout Iberia, concerning werewolves and the seventh child of families.

We ascended the wooden steps, to take us up above the river, and followed a tree-lined path (mostly Eucalyptus trees), until we reached the ruins of an old cheese factory, close to the village of Tourelhe. The factory, which made cheese and butter, was constructed early in the 20th century. It was built in this location specifically to take advantage of the abundance of clean, fresh river water. However, its remote location and the advent of refrigeration eventually contributed to its demise.

Next, the route led us through the village of Tourelhe, with its granite stone buildings and distant views of the Serra da Freita mountain range. Beyond the village, we headed downhill along a grassy trail, until we reached an old stone bridge (Ponte de Confulcos) across the Alfusqueiro River. This bridge was built in the 18th century to replace an earlier wooden bridge in the same location. There are ruins of a couple of watermills on the opposite bank of the river, one on either side of the bridge. It’s a lovely scenic location, despite its proximity to the A25 Auto-Estrada. It would have made a nice picnic spot, but we weren’t quite ready for lunch.

Moving on from the bridge, we walked through a tunnel under the A25 and then passed through the village of Confulcos, with its mixture of modern and old stone houses, and sheep in the fields. Again, the trail narrowed to pass between two stone walls, as it descended towards a small river and the ruins of another old watermill.

For a short distance, the route follows a paved road, but there is a sidewalk on the left-side, to avoid traffic. Then the trail turns left and follows some narrow footpaths towards the village of Caveiros de Cima and the Chapel of Saint Anthony (Capela de Santo Antão), which was once the parish church.

As the route took us from Caveiros de Cima to the village of Cambra de Baixo, we were nearing the end of the hike. But there was a surprise awaiting us. As we walked through the village, admiring the stone houses, a small stone cottage caught our eye. Somewhat triangular in shape, it sat at the junction of two narrow lanes. A sign above the door, made in azulejo tiles, indicated that it had been the home of the Rente family between 1700 – 2010, and that is was now a house museum. Having taken a couple of photos, we walked on by. As luck would have it, we walked along the wrong side of the house and the app on my phone alerted me that we were going off trail. As we turned to back-track, the lady of the house was in the garden and stared to speak to us (in Portuguese). We were able to discern that she was inviting us to enter and view the house, which we did.

The tiny house has been set up as a museum of the Rente family history, with just two small rooms in the rear that are maintained as living space, for the kind lady who invited us in. In the entrance hall, hanging on the walls and standing on the floor, are a variety of historical work tools and implements. Moving up the steps, the main room of the house is packed full of artefacts. A large table and seats dominate the centre of the room. Dressed mannequins are seated around the table, performing a variety of functions. One child is doing her lessons with an old abacus and period schoolbooks, whilst another (more modern) child is using an early laptop computer. A couple of ladies are working with yarn and a male figure is wearing a traditional ‘suit’ of straw that would have been used in the fields, to keep the rain off whilst working.

One corner of the room is dedicated to a display of newspaper obituaries for family members who are no longer with us. An adjacent board displays currency notes from around the world, that have been donated by previous visitors. Other artefacts that are on display include chinaware, cooking equipment, a variety of wristwatches, old irons, oil lamps, and more. The hostess proudly led us around the house, explaining what all of the items were for, and how they were used. She did all of this in Portuguese, which none of us understand very well. But we know enough words to have been able to get a general grasp of what we were being told. It was an unexpected treat to visit the house and a nice way to bring the walk towards a close.

A short time after leaving the museum, we were back in Cambra and the hike was over.

Our hike covered a total distance of 8.65km and we completed it in a time of 3 hours 34 minutes, which included a stop to eat lunch and the visit to the museum. Whilst there were some hills along the way, the elevation gain was only 227 metres, so I consider this to be an easy trail to complete. A downloadable GPS track of this hike can be accessed at Wikiloc, using this link.

Sadly, Portugal is now under stricter restrictions due to the Covid pandemic, so we may be unable to undertake another hike for several weeks.

4 Comments

  1. Thanks for this… I am vicariously “hiking” and am bookmarking for a future date. 🙂 We are relatively recent arrivals, and are just walking in Porto for now, but have made a few forays to look for a car, and when “this” is over, we’ll be heading out and about!

  2. There are so many amazing places to visit – once you get mobile. And we’re now all subject of these tougher Covid restrictions for several weeks, that prevent any further hiking for a while.

  3. Hello Craig. I thoroughly enjoy your hikes and trips throughout Central and Northern Portugal and your great write ups. Have you ever considered publishing an e-book that others can explore your ventures? The huge benefit would be that it is in English. We purchased a travel book for EN2 but it was in Portuguese …. the photos were great as well as the maps but I had to search Google to get the English version. Your maps are also great for those planning some of these trips by auto, motorcycle ir just trekking. Anyways stay safe and take care….. we can’t wait to return to the Algarve, our base, but this most likely not take place this year.

  4. Thanks Bill. Good to hear that you’re enjoying my posts. I haven’t given any thought to e-books at this stage. Seems like a lot of additional work when I’m enjoying retirement.

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