Pico Ruivo

In this difficult time of lock down and the fact that our walking exercise has been restricted to local areas only means it has not been possible to get out to the places that we have had on our list to walk. So the choice was to either write up about a walk round the block or to think back to a trek we did a while.

Two years ago, Susan and I holidayed on the beautiful island of Madeira, a walker’s paradise where many walks can be taken along any of the 200 Levadas (water channels created for irrigation) or across the mountain ranges. I had it on the holiday list to hike up to Pico Ruivo, the highest peak on Madeira. It can be reached only by foot, either by a strenuous hike from Pico do Arieiro (3rd highest peak) or the shorter easier trail that we took from Achada do Teixeira, besides we were on holiday!

Pico Ruivo stands at 1,861 metres (6,106 ft) high and gives some of the most incredible views of the island from coast to coast. We were not disappointed as the August day we chose to do the trek was 30°C+ and clear skies, albeit with a little low-level cloud to the north, it was a hot walk so plenty of water is a must, however being so high means that unpredictable weather conditions can at times make it quite dangerous.

We stayed in Funchal, hired a car and drove round the coast to Santana before taking the narrow winding road inland to Achada do Teixeira which sits at 1582m above sea level, leaving a climb of 304m (1116 ft) to the summit.

On leaving the car park the trail to the top and back is 5.5km (3.4 miles) and steadily ascends along a well-worn track on the ridge that separates the cliffs of Faial and those of Santana. Views from this ridge take in the other great peaks of the central mountain massif towards the south and the coastline of the North including Queimadas Forest park.

Along this first part of the ascent there are several small open shelters where refuge can be taken, as the change in climate can be sudden with the area often becoming covered in a sea of clouds. For ourselves they were ideal places to escape the sun and cool down.

Further along the track is the Pico Ruivo government house, which is now a rest house situated at the junction of three other much longer hiking trails that will take you to different parts of the island.

After a packed lunch and short rest at the government house we headed up the steeper last section to the summit, a bit tougher, but on reaching the viewing platform at the top the views were spectacular and well worth the climb. 

Looking south, the ‘Nuns Valley’ (Curral Das Freiras) can be seen, a huge valley that was either created by erosion or volcanic eruption, however it is so named as the nuns from the Santa Clara Convent in Funchal would flee here with the convent treasure to escape the pirates that attacked the town.

On very clear days the island of Porto Santo lying 27 miles to the northeast of Madeira can be seen and also the uninhabited nature reserves of the Desertas islands that sit 16 miles south east of Madeira.

Looking east the Ponta de Sao Lourenco can be seen and is a headland at the Eastern most part of the island which is also great for walking.

The route back descends along the same track to the car park at Achada do Teixeira where the “Standing Man” can be visited, a basalt formation which can be found down the cliff, just past the Achada do Teixeira government house.

Certainly a place we will return to in the future to explore the levadas and the many other walks the island has to offer.

Centurion Way

Following on from last months Hayling Billy Trail I thought it would be good to feature another walk along a disused railway line, that I did just before the UK went into lockdown. 

The Centurion Way in Chichester runs for 9km (5.5 miles) and follows the old Chichester to Midhurst railway line that opened in 1881 to improve access to London, it once had eight stations and three tunnels. The decline of the railway started when passengers services were withdrawn in 1935 and the line north of Lavant was closed completely in 1957. The line between Chichester and Lavant was used for the transportation of sugar beet and gravel until 1991.

The Centurion Way can be joined or left at various places along it’s route, however i parked up in West Dean and caught the number 60 bus (runs every 30 mins) to the Cathedral which is the nearest stop and walked from the city centre to the start of the trail as it leaves Westgate between the school and railway. 

The first part is very reminiscent of an old railway, straight paths and treelined, with a few remaining telegraph poles that can be seen dotted along the route as well as old brick constructed bridges.

The trail is very easy going under foot which is mainly tarmac leading on to compacted gravel towards the end at West Dean. A couple of kilometres in is Brandy Hole Copse a 6.5 hectare local nature reserve that has three dipping ponds and a diverse range of flora and fauna, it also has a fantastic display of bluebells in the spring. Within the Copse there are two Iron Age boundaries known as the Chichester Entrenchments that contain some examples of WWII defensive structures. The copse also has many smugglers tales as being so close to Chichester Harbour it was a handy place for smugglers to hide their stash. The local stories tell of the secret tunnels, smugglers’ caves and all manner of illicit activity.

Along the route are sculptures which commemorate various aspects of local Chichester history such as ‘The Chichester Road Gang’ situated where the ancient Roman road to Silchester crosses the old railway line, it depicts an army of spade wielding Centurion workers and is made from old gas cylinders and railway fittings. A replica 100m diameter amphitheatre has also been created here on the site of a former quarry.

Further along the line at the edge of Lavant can be seen animal cut-outs hanging from the underside of a bridge. All of the animal shapes were drawn by local school children before being enlarged and reproduced in steel sheet. The route at this point passes the site of the historic Lavant Station which unfortunately is now flats and continues through a residential estate.

On leaving Lavant the trail is very much more rural as it follows the course of the River Lavant, which was in full flow following the recent rains that we have had. Views up to the Trundle are plentiful as you walk towards West Dean. A short way back from West Dean the route splits, the original route of the line continues straight on, but a more accessible route diverts slightly off to avoid steps at the end.

I carried straight on to West Dean and right up to the entrance of the first tunnel which has been blocked off and is the end of the trail. A 100m back from the tunnel are the steps which take you off the line and into West Dean to complete the trek.

Oh and if you are wondering why an old railway line is called the Centurion Way, it was suggested by a local schoolboy who entered a competition to name the route and was inspired by the roman connections in the area.

Detailed route can be see at:

https://osmaps.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/route/5228901/Centurion-Way