We often spend a day on the west coast, this year in warm sunshine, but sometimes in biting wind. The information in this post is drawn from a number of trips, the first in 1982. The photographs, though, all come from the last eight years.
The cape is a high windswept promontory. There is little there except a car park, a food van boasting the ‘last burger before America’, a lighthouse and the remains of a Capuchin Monastery. Relics of the martyred St Vincent were brought here in the 8th century, but were removed to Lisbon in 1173.The monastery survived the loss of its relics, the vandalism of Sir Francis Drake in 1597 and the great earthquake of 1755, but was no match for the suppression of the monasteries that followed the Liberal Revolution of 1820.
Nine naval encounters between 1337 and 1833 carry the name Battle of Cape St Vincent. The biggest, in 1797, was a British victory over a Spanish fleet in the French Revolutionary War. The British fleet was commanded by Admiral Sir John Jervis who became the Earl of St Vincent for his troubles. Jervis (like this blog) was born near Stone in Staffordshire, where he is also buried.
|The shelf-like promontory of Sagres, October 2009|
If Cape St Vincent is Portugal’s Land’s End, Sagres is The Lizard. Beyond the large village, which was established after the 1755 earthquake, is the Fortaleza. Cut off behind forbidding stone walls on a shelf-like promontory high above the Atlantic is the place where Henry the Navigator reputedly established his school of navigation. Vasco da Gama who pioneered the sea route to India (we met him in Cochin), Pedro Alvares Cabral who followed him to India, incidentally ‘discovering’ Brazil on the way – an eccentric piece of navigation - and Ferdinand Magellan, who led the first expedition to circumnavigate the globe, all studied here. Despite his sobriquet, Henry never navigated anything anywhere, but he was, in his way, the originator of these great journeys. When he died in 1460 the centre of maritime studies moved to Lisbon and Sagres returned to obscurity.
|The Fortaleza, Sagres, October 2005|
In 1982 we simply parked on the coastal scrub and walked into the fort. Now there is an elaborate road system, a large car park and an entrance fee. What you get though, is much the same; an old church, a huge compass rose and a lot of atmosphere. You can even stand by a cannon and gaze across the bay to Cape St Vincent (or stand with your back to it, as I am in the picture.)
Further north the beaches of Amado and Bordeira are also surfer’s beaches. They can be reached from the N-268 on sealed roads, but the road that connects them along the cliffs, despite its frequent viewpoints and boardwalks, has no tarmac.
|Bordeira, October 2013|
|A distant view of the sea from Aljezur Castle, October 2005|
Venturing into the Alentejo you reach Zambujeira do Mar, the only out-and-out holiday resort on this stretch of coast. We visited on a warm, sunny September day, but unlike on the south coast, the season was clearly over, the beach was almost deserted.....
|Zambujeira Beach, September 2010|
and so was the town.