I have spent 2 days in the region of Dornes, at the border between Castelo Branco and Santarém, Portugal. September 2019.

Stop sign, Rua Domingos Viera Serrao
Turn off the N238 onto a forest track at this junction

The Grande Rota do Zâzere (#33, 370 kms) starts at the Serra da Estrella and follows the River Zâzere to its confluence with the River Tagus at Constância.

Eerie light caused by the Portuguese forest fires

The first day was windy. The smell of burning was alarming, not for myself on the opposite side of the river, but for the trees and people over the hillside.

Smoke rising in Castelo Branco

An ominous plume of smoke, orange grey and thick, was rising from behind it and slowly it filled the sky, obliterating the sun. The talk was of despair at how nature was responding to our greedy behaviour.

A mixed wood of ferns, eucalyptus and pine

The water was murky, the wind was rallying in the eucalyptus woods, and black ash fell on me as I swam.

Ash at the edge of the river

After the endless toing and froing of the emergency services the day before – noisy, yellow bi-planes circling, landing on the lake and, air bound again, leaving to release their wet loads onto the undergrowth (or so I imagined) – there had been rain, most gratefully received.

Emergency services collect water
Checking for damage

And the next morning the sky was clear.

The day after – a magnificent azure sky

High above, I spotted a pair of birds, glimpsing their white under-carriages, and was impressed by their jet, square-ended wings. Not long after, they were joined by others. They made a few flaps to raise themselves, but then lazed on the thermals, way above, around and around so that I could feel their pleasure. When they landed on the water, they splashed like happy dogs!

Great birds enjoying the wind
Playing and soaring

The mixed plantation behind the rocky beach also drew my attention at intervals: the crackle of brittle leaves, which every now and then fell onto the surface without my noticing how they had got so far from their origin unnoticed; the dry seed pods which fell, singly; and the wiggling of the triangular and smooth, green aspen leaves on their stalks. The silver-green soft fronds of a pine new to me has seeded in the yellow clay of the foreshore and it tickles my elbows.

Self-seeded mini trees
Long, sharp sections of eucalyptus trunks sloughing off
Ochre clay and turquoise waters
The unidentified pine
And its seed pods
Sparkling Aspen

As I stepped into the water a grass coloured fish darted away silently. I lay as quietly as I could, just sculling under the surface to keep myself afloat, when something leapt twice: up, arcing in a blur, down and then again, up and over, making a plash each time.

The wind creating endless patterns on the surface

The distant voices of fishermen on the opposite bank roused me from my meditation and, eyes open, I admired the ripples stippling the reflections of the slopes across the channel.

The broken rocks had sharp edges – not the most comfortable of resting places I admit

A few others bathed along the shore, two camped overnight. There was a water skier, five boisterous water scooters, an altogether calmer paddle boarder, and quite a lot of small yachts, but the predominant sound was of nature.

I sat and gazed – you can see why

At night when I swum under the hidden full moon, the water was like a thick liquid slate and the plaintive sound of an owl came from the trees, so different from in the morning when a single sweet call serenaded me. At lunch time, a tapping and knocking could be heard (but not seen) in the forest, and in a garden, a Jay zipped from branch to branch and screeched its existence. The enormous and garish ‘wasps’ buzzed so ferociously I was momentarily woken from my reverie.

A massive wasp or bee sort of insect which made the loudest buzz I have ever heard!

Don’t all rush down there at once and spoil the peace!

One thought on “River Zâzere, Portugal

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