The longest day of the entire trip – and the flattest. We left Abrantes by crossing the Tejo, greeted immediately by the N2’s arrow-straight road across the dusty flatlands of the Alentejo. Goodbye hills the colour of emerald and avocado, hello wheatfield plains the colour of… er, wheat.
And hello cows.
Also, hello cork. We’ve seen a fair bit of the stuff on our trip so far, but always post-extraction from bottles. But now I was seeing it all over the place, because this is where the world’s traditional wine stoppers come from: endless plantations of cork oaks.
Evidently the cork is harvested only from the bottom few feet of the trunk, giving the trees the a strangely bare-bottomed look, as if caught with their trousers off. I expect the Latin name for these trees will be something like Quercus suber brianrixi.*
Anyway, riding was fast and fabulous today, thanks to the breezy tailwind pushing us along past a series of reservoirs.
We stopped at one for a snack and I admired a pillar inscribed with some wise words of António Salazar, Portugal’s dictator from 1932–68: something about building a better future for the country by murdering your opponents in cold blood, no doubt.
The only negative today was the sudden increase in traffic between Abrantes and Mora: for two hours the road was busy like Britain, not dangerous but a bit tedious. But after our picnic lunch stop at Mora, at a small park frequented by gently amorous teenagers, the traffic suddenly found somewhere better to go, and it was back to virtually car-free business as usual for the rest of the wind-assisted day.
I stopped to admire the crisp blue-and-white simplicity of the village of Brotas, and its colourful azulejos (‘tiles’, a Portuguese decorative speciality).
I was less admiring of the bunch of motorbike riders who roared into the village square, stopped to congratulate themselves, and photobombed my snaps.
At Ciborro I stopped again for an ice cold Coke. I had several ice cubes left over, so put them to use by tipping them into my bike’s water bottle, thinking to cool the unpleasantly tepid contents. They melted immediately with no effect on the temperature. Today was another hot and sunny one.
After Montemor o Novo and an unwise detour from the N2 that only took us along a terribly patched and potholed minor road – crikey, it was like being back in England again – we enjoyed a final speedy descent into Santiago do Escoural, and our guesthouse for the night.
Dinner was in the small town centre at an excellent little place. To get to the eating room at the back, you went through a small bar full of locals watching Manchester City dismantle Real Madrid.
At the back was the simple tiled ‘restaurant’ area showing what I like about places like this. No fancy decor – all the money clearly goes on good quality food. My locally-sourced lamb was exquisite, as was the locally-sourced red. Locally-sourced cork, no doubt, too.
Oh, I do like cycle touring.
Miles today: 82
Miles since Chaves: 367
*Brian Rix was a Hull-born actor well-known for losing his trousers in West End farces. My dad met him once, but both had their trousers on.