Thursday, 27 February 2014

The End Of The World

Sagres and Cabo de St Vincent
The Curtain Wall at Sagres Point

Beyond the Wall
From the Cliffs of Sagres Point

We’ve spent two days and three nights at Sagres, the most south westerly corner of Europe; but not the most south westerly point. Geographically the most south-westerly point is Cape St Vincent just across the bay about a bare mile as the crow flies. It’s a correct if slightly (form a certain perspective) `Unjust’ mapping anomaly. Sagres point is further south, Cape St Vincent is further west by literally a geological nose (maybe just the tip of a nose, because as we’ve learned geology is big ... very very big).  No matter, both are breathtaking places, and Cape St Vincent or Cabo de St Vincent is further west (at some point we intent to go to the most western part of Europe which Cabo de Roca, just up the coast closer to Lisbon).
Me Looking Smug ... no idea why
Lea Side of Sagres Point, look at that erosion
Sagres Fishing Port
Shite Hawks
Sagres Port Wall Lighthouse and Amanda
Sagres point itself sits behind a defensive curtain wall, rebuilt and redesigned over many centuries, by many military minds, based upon changes in offensive technologies, and eventually made mostly redundant by aircraft (as have all the walled cities and castles we’ve seen ... I may not have made mention of that before, that Includes Gibraltar).
A Mix of Limestone Pavement and Red Sand

It’s an odd experience walking beyond the gates, because your expectation is for a city or fort complex, not a huge open space with the odd building dotted here and. In the main the area beyond the wall is exposed Limestone pavement. As a defensive mechanism the limestone pavement would prevent invasion by foot, though I doubt very much, that that is why it’s not been covered (I think that’s a happy accident ... you would not choose to invade Portugal from Sagres Point, though Sir Francis Drake did just that, we will find a link to that escapade and include it here

A Wild Orchid (very small)
A Little Surfer Bay on the way to Cabo de St Vincent
Around the edges of the peninsula  are a few gun emplacements, close to the inland section of the curtain wall is a magazine (very similar design to the ones at Tilbury Fort), a chapel, a couple of very modern buildings and an enormous sundial there (some of those buildings are quite modern and include a very salubrious souvenir shop that sells some very expensive holiday `tut’ by anyones standards). There is a plaque in the grounds dedicated to Prince Henry the Navigator by the American Vaval Squadrons, because Sagres is where the first navigation school was. As an aside the Portuguese first adapted the Astrolabe for Nautical Navigation charts using Declination Charts, the rest of the world owes them much for that ... and for those that don't know Christopher Columbus was Portuguese

We could end there because those are the facts.

However this doesn’t describe the place and its position or unique characteristics from a purely aesthetic perspective. The curtain wall stretches from one side to the other (curtain wall); it’s a portal to a small and special hidden landscape. Within the area of limestone pavement are some plants and flowers that are unique to this area and nowhere else. At least a dozen small birds make it home either all year round or during migration, and some very large birds including, Kites and Buzzards use it as a way point.

Cliffs on the walk To Cabo de St Vincent
On the day we visited the sea was calm `or’ as calm as the sea around Sagres point gets. This means that the swell is two to three metres, and waves that eventually form and roll gently in at little more than a fast walking pace slam into the vertical cliffs around the peninsula area like juggernauts running into buildings. Then due to their momentum, they either scrabble up the cliffs and fall backwards on themselves with a noise like a huge bass snare drum, or if the waves come in a little faster or a little higher, then the results are even more spectacular, the drum  noise is followed by the hiss of air compressed before the wave and squeezed into the myriad small clefts, caves and holes in the cliffs, which when freed as the waves weight takes it back down well below its collision height, then sprays a white mist that is immediately turned to rainbows. In acts of what to mere mortals may seem like the height of stupidity ... crazy brave locals stand at the tops of these cliffs fishing by rod and line with casts that take their squid bait out fifty metres and down the same or more (sixty seventy metres).

The beauty of this is made all the more special because it seem to be happening in slow motion. However it only appears to be slow motion because of the volumes and scales involved. The cliffs are sheer and fifty to sixty metres tall average (seventy to eighty  at the extreme). The waves (referring to the earlier comment about juggernauts) could be measured in the scale of traffic jams, lorries nose to tail and as high and two abreast a quarter mile along; then being funnelled and squeezed into this less wide and shallower space. In at least three places the peninsula is penetrated from top to sea level. Down in these deep dark holes; the tops of which even the longest long jumper wouldn’t clear, the waters churn and hiss and drum, echoing up, drawing the listener to the insane idea that it would be fun to venture down and see the sea with ones own eyes ... we said it elsewhere but on a smaller scale in Alcossebre in Spain `there be dragons down there’, and they would eat you alive.
View From Moho of our Campsite
Cliff Rock Layers, Sagres Dark Line Beyond
Under Cliff is Being Eroded
As an aside later in the day I happened to think there was a mist coming in. There wasn’t it was salt on my sunglasses, I licked my skin and my tasted the sleeve of my fleece, all was salt.

Another Fort that Appears to have a Private Dwelling Built Inside

One Day the Sea Will Claim It
It’s around places like this that you get to appreciate the power and weight/mass of the oceans. Somewhere far out to sea the trade winds ruffle the surface and set the surface waters in motion, combined with the pull of the moon these vast interconnected bodies of fluid (if you want to take each ocean separately), gather up energy and circulate around the globe or their specific ocean cell, until they run into a landmass. My immediate thought having seen these waves easily scale to within the top third of the cliffs at Sagres was `what’s it like here when there’s a storm`? Fortunately I found a picture that I bought then photographed and you can see for yourself below.
When the Wind Blows

When the Wind Doesn't Blow
Sagres has been an adventure; it’s been the natural highlight of Portugal so far. Without being to down on Portugal, it’s been a bit disappointing, or maybe like Spain we haven’t quite got our eye in yet. The Algarve is a summer place 10 million visitors in the season, but the tourist season is much shorter than that around the corner in the Mediterranean so the place is closed around the edges.
The tiny Specs are People Fishing From the Cliffs
And Without Zoom
We are going inland next, to some lakes near Alvito. we know already that inland Portugal is pretty, very neat and because the population density is higher relative to Spain, the places that look utterly abandoned by the recession don’t really manifest. Housing and towns seem to be `up-kept’ to a very high standard and paint and finish on dwellings in the majority of villages we’ve been through is `chocolate box’ perfect (the roads leave a lot to be desired which mars the experience of driving, and must in some way affect their commercial aspirations in wider Europe). We are not alone in finding Portugal a bit disappointing in terms of `wow’, but I think we’ve been spoiled by Spain. This is not Spain this is not France, or England, though its power is seeded from the same stuff: Moores, Romans, Punics ( and Celts (Ancient Celts, and of course the sea. It’s maritime and imperial history are at least as great as anyone elses (200 million people worldwide speak Portuguese as their native tongue, from South America, through Africa and into the Far East (see the decorative tile mural).
The Lands of Portugal
We’re looking for the heart of Portugal, the beat that makes it tick; it’s not in the closed resorts. It may be in Lisbon where we are going in a week or so, but my gut says it’s in the land, where once it was in the sea. This will I think be in common with Spain. Get off the Costas, go inland fifty miles and find the agricultural heart of Spain and be blown away by the scale. Portugal isn’t as vast so it will have to take the breath away in different ways (my feeling is in whispers of wow).
Nautical Art

Sagres has wow, taking the blows from the Atlantic, being the frontline where sea meets land and protecting Portugal with its cliffs, slowly being eaten away by the bombardment of waves. You wouldn’t put your heart in such a place, it’s too dangerous. Today we walk to Cabo St Vincent. Tomorrow we go to find the heart and essence of Portugal.
From the Lighthouse to Sagres Point, You Can About See the Curtain Wall

Henry The Navigator
Lateen Rigged Caravel

As an addendum, Cabo de St Vincent is a sight to behold, it has its own museum which is a must for all visitors to this area. It explains Lateen Rigged Caravel’s, additional history of the area, and is an automated working lighthouse, and previously has been a fort in its own right. All the flower pictures were taken on the walk there (which took ten minutes under two hours).

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