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.