Walking to Portugal like a train

In the pre-down darkness I got out of the carpark with both car and sanity intact, and set out West towards the Portuguese border.

La Fregenada is and hour-and-half’s drive from Salamanca. As I hoped, Saturday morning was incredibly quiet so there was hardly any traffic to deal with. In fact the major obstacle was eagles incessantly dive-bombing the road in front of the car. I couldn’t see what they were picking up, but then I guess that’s why they have the famous eyes.

By the time I arrived in La Fregenada’s old station at 7:30, the Sun was up and the day was looking good. I was to walk the Camino de Hierro or the Iron Way. I wasn’t there early by choice, you can only walk the Iron Way with a pre-booked ticket and you must set out between 7:30 and 8:30am. At 7:30 I was the first in and that meant I had an amazingly peaceful walk the whole way.

But before starting I had to pick up a torch and a hi-viz vest and have a briefing. The briefing, in Spanish, was all good except for the repeated references to vertigo and the lovely man smiling and saying “It’s fine, just don’t jump.” Those who know me well will know jumping off heights is exactly why I’m scared of them – so his joke didn’t help at all.

Almost immediately on setting out I had to navigate the first of 20 tunnels, and the first one is particularly long at 1.5km. The tunnels were great, the long ones in particular were deeply dark and quiet in their centres, and then dotted with darting swallows as you emerged into sunlight. The tricky part was choosing where to walk. The briefing said walk in the middle on the sleepers but the awkward spacing made that a royal pain. The edges of the tunnels had a drainage ditch covered with stone slabs. That generally made for better walking but meant keeping a really sharp eye out for where the slabs had collapsed.

With the tunnels came the bridges – and those I didn’t enjoy . The briefing had said walk on the edges of the bridges as the centre boards could be hazardous. But the edge had this weirdly low railing and an enormous drop. There really was no choice so on I went breathing deeply.

On the detour

The first part of the walk ran through old forests and the entirety is mountainous so the views were wonderful. Tunnel 3, however, was closed for maintenance and the detour deep into a gully, around the ridge, and back up gave me an object lesson in why railroad builders build tunnels. Apart from that detour the rest of the walk was relatively flat. After a while I realized the major difference between this walk and other rail trails I had done is that this one is for walkers only, there are no bikes. That means there was no formed path, there were just worn desire-lines on either side of the railway tracks and sometimes just between the tracks. The ballast made for persistently tricky footing and I went a fair bit more slowly than my normal pace.

Me just in Portugal

After the half-way mark, and an interaction with a snake, the scenery changed with the forests giving way to olive groves as the river widened. As Portugal got closer the river became a deep, slow-moving giant with enormous river boats on it. Finally, I reached the end of the path and walked on a bit to cross the bridge whose mid-point is the border with Portugal. I walked about 30cm into Portugal just for the sake of it and the returned to the Spanish side for a coffee and a Portuguese tart.

Part of the point of buying a ticket for the walk is that it covers a coach back to the starting point. From there it was a pleasant drive back to Salamanca where I abandoned the car to the car-hire place and happily walked back to my apartment.

4 thoughts on “Walking to Portugal like a train

    1. There was a point I had to stop halfway across one of the bridges and get my head together. The fear was making me stoff-legged and I was staggering. I thought of you on pigeon house Mountain and concluded you’d never deal with the bridges.

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