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Portugal: The open road

Follow the historic Camino Portugués route from Lisbon to the Spanish holy city of Santiago de Compostela for some classic Iberian scenery. But expect an occasional battering by the elements

Portugal: The open road
Image: Jack Southan

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Looking up at the red metal roof panels, violently slapping against the rafters above me, I warily push in some earplugs. Lightning cracks the sky all across the surrounding valley, moving its way with growing ferocity towards the barn in which we’ve bedded down — the only metal structure for miles around.

Big droplets of rain begin to patter down on the dry earth in the courtyard, causing mini dust explosions. It occurs to me it would be quite beautiful if I wasn’t feeling so tense. My brother and I scatter some hay over the rough ground and set up the tent on top, hoping for some comfort in the coming night.

A thunderclap booms above and instinctively I cover my head with a flailing arm, half expecting the ceiling to come crashing down. “It’s just a bit of thunder,” my brother shouts with a laugh, but I see him take a serious look at the iron-grey sky as he turns away. Very comforting.

I climb into my sleeping bag, squashed inside the tent, and huddle down. The barn walls are lit as if by a strobe light, forever flashing on and off. But as the storm reaches its zenith, and the rain batters down in torrents, I find myself claimed by sleep. Just another night on the road to Santiago de Compostela, and the 435-mile walk from Lisbon.

At first light, I hear the stove fire up and the smell of coffee wafts in. Forty minutes later we’re packed up and back on the road. After 250 miles of walking, we’re deep in the heart of the Portuguese countryside and have been for several weeks, but today feels somewhat momentous, as today we see the sea.

After a few miles walking through open farmland and rolling vineyards we find a fruit orchard and eat a simple breakfast of watermelon and oranges under an olive tree. It’s still early but the temperature is already rising. Hours fade into one another as we walk — the only way to tell how far is by the burning sensation in your feet.

The path changes every day, from winding tracks through deep eucalyptus forest and open countryside, to roads negotiating ramshackle towns and whizzing highways. It’s varied and exciting, forever walking into the unknown.

As the sun begins to drop in the sky, and a familiar saltiness fills the air, we pass through a small village around 18 miles north of Porto. The buildings are painted in pastel blues and pinks, and dotted throughout the narrow alleyways are stacks of orange lobster pots and tangled green fishing nets. As we round the last corner, the tarmac turns to golden sand, which crunches underfoot, and shielding our eyes from the low sun, we look out over the wild Atlantic Ocean.

Finding a patch of semi-sheltered ground behind some rocks, we set up camp. Out on the horizon somewhere there’s a low rumble. I look out into the distance and watch as a patch of dark cloud begins to materialise over the sea. I open a little pot, take out an earplug, and push it firmly into place. Just another night on the road.