Destination unknown

The emergency services transport me to Tomar. The ambulance driver a sprightly eighty year old, who saw service in Angola, Mozambique, East Timor. Ahh bad, he says, Salazar terrible, an accompanying disdainful flick of the wrist crossing the language barrier. I am dizzy with the speed, but my eyes know to avoid the Mac hoardings that threaten more than just my aesthetic. I am accompanied by my tolerant wife.

Not really an ambulance then, but a gallant taxi, and I was a spent force, a poor understudy for the lead role. Minx and Mikey had airbnbeed their way to safety and a lovely little old town Tomar apartment, in which we now joined them. Apparently beautiful flowers framed the doorway, and the lit castle loomed at night behind. It was not until the next day that I could confirm this, as I drifted between the delirium of Interstellar on a massive telly, and, later from my bed, the auditory hallunications induced by a time travelling Bill Nighy. Things could only improve I thought, although the sound of real life weeping, and the words I don’t know why I’m crying it’s so silly – well, you just never know.

A new day dawns, coffee and a pastry are taken in the square, the old synagogue, a beautiful simple building with tiny windows high up so their prayers could not be heard by their Christian neighbours, was visited. A genial Templar, perhaps not fully in role, gave us the heads up on the route through the castle complex, perched on one of the seven hills above Tomar. As I looked at the massive stones and the thousands of cobbles, peered over ramparts at the town beneath, and heard myself dwelling on the improbable matrix of physical and creative energy needed to construct this fortress, but particularly the lifting, the carrying, up up up, I realised I was much improved.

There were herb gardens, salad gardens, vegetable gardens, orchards, water delivered by aqueduct, nuns cloistered in the convent next door, all sculpted out of the hill.

The next day we finally made an early start, destination a donativo albergue in Calvinos, a meagre three hour walk, but this is maneageable for a convalescent,, whereas a further three hours to the next stop is definitely not. My primitive research into the Portuguese climate had me confidently asserting that we’d be walking mostly in occasionally damp temperatures of 16-18. Since we left Lisbon, the skies had got bluer, the mercury expanding every day, so that by now twenty eight degrees at two o’clock awaited the foolhardy pilgrim. Arrive before midday!

The sun had not risen as we followed a road along the river, that broke down into a path, and houses fell away, increasingly literally, until we were submerged in the pre dawn mist of greenery shadowing the river.

We felt good. The path took us up, away from the river and into the first hills we had encountered so far, under the cathedral grandeur of a motorway – in two thousand years will they debate the alignment of the extant pillars – and up into the rising heat. My bag rankled. My posture moved in some sort of reverse evolutionary cycle. Not the bipedal descent to pre-hominid, but passing via distracted pheasant to lumbering giant tortoise, wrinkly neck and all.

There were no second breakfast options, but under the brilliant blue of the sky and amongst the rich greens besides the path signs of human life appear. A beautiful freshly painted albergue sits at the top of village, a key in the door and a handwritten sign pinned thereon. It was eleven.

We had not booked.