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'Via Algarviana' route is 20-years-old this month

viaalgarvianafamilyTwenty years ago this month the 'Via Algarviana - Algarve Way' was walked for the first time: so what is it and how did it come about?

In AD 303, Vincent, a devout and active Christian from Zaragoza in Spain, was tortured and martyred in Valencia for his beliefs under the orders of the Roman Emperor Diocletian.

Sometime later he was canonised and became St. Vincent. Two or three centuries later the Christians of Valencia took his body and set sail westwards out of the Mediterranean. They sailed as far as Sagres where his body was buried, possibly temporarily, near to the Cape that bears his name. There it lay for several centuries, during which time a steady trickle of Mozarab pilgrims made their way across Iberia to pay him homage.

They crossed the Rio Guadiana at Mertola and set off from Alcoutim across what was then Al Garbe, the western part of El Andalus, heading for the Promontorium Sacrum as the Cape then was called, already a religious site and the end of the known medieval world.

St. Vincent´s body remained at the Cape until 1173, when, as a symbolic gesture to mark the reconquest of Lisbon from the Moors, it was taken to Lisbon by ship, (guided by ravens, as legend has it,) where King Afonso Henriques appointed him as Patron Saint of that city.

To this day St Vincent’s remains lie within a casket in the Treasury of Lisbon´s Sé. He is, sadly, a little recognised Saint; even many Portuguese are not aware that he is the Patron Saint of their capital, although the City Coat of Arms does depict the Ship and Ravens. St Vincent also is important to others as the Patron Saint of winemakers. Until recently, when a modern statue in his memory was erected at the Cape through the patient efforts of a Finnish historian, there was little there by which to remember him.

Little was done to record or perpetuate this pilgrims` trail, in the manner in which the way of St. James (Santiago) in northern Spain has been used, until a Portuguese group called the Associação Caminus did some research in the 1980s and in 1990 published a study and map of the route under the title 'Moçarabes em Peregrinação à S. Vicente.'

The Portuguese environmental association, Almargem, obviously was fully conversant with the route and its history and had some ideas as to how it better could be exploited.



So how did this become the 'Algarve Way - Via Algarviana'?

In 1996 the Algarve Wednesday Walkers (AWWs), a group of quite energetic countryside ramblers, was founded by Maurice Clyde. Apart from exploring the magnificent Algarve countryside, he had a dream of creating a cross-Algarve long-distance walking route to link with one of the Trans-European walking routes (the existing GR13/E4 through to SW Spain).

What better idea than to base this on the old St Vincent´s pilgrim trail, as described by Caminus.

From the outset, Maurice Clyde was in close consultation with Almargem and attended regular meetings with the AWW.

At the time Almargem was heavily involved in many other important environmental issues and had few physical resources to allocate to this project but they gave much moral support and behind the scenes were using their experience, knowledge and influence to further the project: the AWW, with more people and time on their side, acted as the physical side of things. Members of the AWW´s then spent many months walking across the Algarve, developing and reconnoitering a route.

Much of the original route inevitably had become tarmac roads and urban areas, so to avoid these stretches and to include some of the other lovely parts of the Algarve interior, a number of modifications were made. The route also had to have a name, of course, and to give equal weight to foreign and national users it was christened, jointly at the time, Algarve Way and Via Algarviana.

By 1997 the route was developed enough to have some test walks. In May of that year, the eastern half from Alcoutim to Messines was undertaken by a small group AWWs and in October the western half from Messines to Cape St.Vincent was completed.

In October 1998, to much fanfare, the first full 250 kilometre trans-Algarve crossing was accomplished in 11 consecutive days by a group of seven AWWs: Maurice Clyde, Ian Cooper, Mark Harman, Tony Webster, Myriam Lo Isaac, Roderick Frew and Ian Angus, plus four dogs and with much logistical help from other AWWs. This also was partly a charity project to raise funds for the APAA animal protection group.



 The first Via Algarviana walkers L to R Ian Angus, Maurice Clyde, Ian Cooper, Rod Frew, Mark Harman, Tony Webster and Myriam Lo.

In 1999, the walk was completed in reverse - from the Cape to Alcoutim. This was undertaken by Maurice Clyde, Myriam Lo, Paul Akehurst, Lindsey Henley-Welch, Neil McCabe, Simone Childs and two walkers from a Spanish Club, Paco Terrero and Mercedes Ramos. On completion of this crossing, a post marking the start of the trail was erected in Alcoutim.....this still stands there today.

In the course of the next few years the route was traversed in a number of different formats and with different objectives.

AWW walker, Ian Cooper, led two partial crossings for an Irish-based Cancer Charity, with most of the participants suffering most bravely with terminal cancer. In 2000, the trail, slightly modified for horses, was first covered by horse-riding groups led by AWW’s Roderick Frew and also was covered by Karen Yates and Tony Barry on mountain bikes.

In 2002 the first crossing was achieved by a visitor, an American called Kevin Nawn who followed the rather rudimentary route description then available.

In 2007, the route was covered as a major Charity project (raising €35,000 for Riding for Disabled and PSP - a form of Motor Neuron Disease) by a large group of horse-riders, half of whom came from the UK, again, led by AWW Roderick Frew.

During this time, Almargem had been pursuing the project from a political and organisational point of view so that it gradually could be elevated to a national level. This culminated in a formal presentation of the project at a National Walking Conference held in Silves in 2001

Up to that time, little had been done to actually map and record the route. In 2005, David Littlewood and Terry Ames, both experienced long-distance walkers in the UK, came to the Algarve, joined the AWWs and set about mapping, describing and way-marking the route. This was greatly facilitated by the advent of user-friendly GPS systems. This very considerable achievement, published then on www.algarveway.com was under the Algarve Way name, waymarked with a white cistus flower emblem.

Terry Ames walked the mapped route in 2006, much of it solo, in what must be a walking record of eight days. Since then he has guided many enthusiasts along this spectacular route.

By this time, Almargem was in a position to become more involved and pro-active in the project. Management was able to attract some much needed EC and local funding, which gave more visibility and publicity to the route, as well as investment in permanent waymarking and route facilities.

Almargem now has become the prime movers of the route, with modifications, under the Via Algarviana name and produced a fully mapped information website www.viaalgarviana.org which now is the gold standard map and description.

So, 20 years later, Maurice Clyde´s dream lives on. The Via Algarviana - Via Algarviana has become a well recognised route which can be followed readily by anyone downloading the guide.



What of those AWWs who put so much time and effort into the early research and crossings?

Of the original seven who made the first crossing, Myriam Lo and Roderick Frew still walk regularly, Tony Webster walks occasionally but spends more time playing bridge. Ian Angus, although never an AWW, resides in Spain and still walks regularly. Mark Harman resides in Lagos, but sadly is incapacitated. Maurice Clyde and Ian Cooper eventually both returned to the UK where sadly both succumbed to illness.

Of the other AWWs who participated in the first reverse walk, Paul Akehurst and Lindsey Henley-Welch still walk regularly, David Littlewood, now secretary of the AWW, and Terry Ames walk regularly and happily will assist and impart their knowledge of the route to any prospective walkers.

The route, now fully administered by Almargem, under Via Algarviana waymarks and website, is regularly covered in part or as a whole by latter day ‘pilgrims’.

It is a magnificent walk through the original Algarve, much of which has never changed. You will see Algarve countryside and villages which you would never dream exist. It is well worth the effort to walk parts, or even all of it, before golf courses, electricity pylons and wind turbines take a further toll. It will continue to require regular funding for maintenance and publicity, especially after this year´s fires which caused so much damage. Let us hope it will not be forgotten.

© Roderick Frew, 2018



See: Via Algarviana


Almargem receives promotional boost for Via Algarviana (September 27, 2018)


+2 #1 Simon Hartley 2018-10-14 08:59
As founder of the Friday Casual Walkers I have walk parts of the Via Algarviana during my time in the Algarve, great walking route well done by those who mapped it. Simon