Jon ‘Danger’ Gale: The Madeira Adventure (or how to make a package holiday more adventurous)

So I ended up on a package holiday in a hotel full of ageing Brits with the odd foreigner thrown in. Having survived Quiz nights, karaoke cabaret and bus tours I managed to escape for a whole day.

Some quick research on the internet gave me bus times and routes. Although there is a road to the top of the second highest peak in Madeira there is no bus service so I had to make do with a lift into the Nuns Valley. This brought me to a height of less than 700 metres.

Two bus rides got me to Faja Escura which is far as the bus could go. Setting off at 10.30am I had a rather poor map and a walk guide and managed to blunder on to the right path to ascend Pico Grande height 1657m. A fabulous path with wire cables in places, 1000 metres of ascent and not a soul to be seen.

From here the walk guide was a little vague but I had to descend a gulley and traverse several kilometres to finally ascend to the main ridge. It was not possible to follow the ridge crest. There was talk of loose rock, no path but also cut steps in the rock.

I descended from the summit of Pico Grande being careful not to touch the cable which was rusty, frail and past it’s sell by date. The gulley was easy to locate by going up some steps cut into the rock to get over a rock spur. Descending the gulley was fairly serious, definitely not a place to slip and the mist which came from nowhere added to the gloomy and serious atmosphere.

Finally I was able to traverse under enormous crags passing the odd small pile of stones which marked the way. I think I found 4 or 5 piles of stones in the next 3 hours as I struggle though the undergrowth always with crags above and all in the thick mist.

At one point a crag loomed up in front and extended way down the hill side with no obvious way to pass it. Instinct pushed me up hill and I found a narrow ledge running out across the crag which then developed into a path but disappeared as soon as the crag was passed.

Finally a clearing in the mist showed the ridge crest was only 100 metres above me but I knew I had another mountain to traverse before going up. Soon after a large rock face loomed ahead and seemed it would bar all progress but a cable showed the way, zig-zaging up very steep terrain and finally topping out on a ridge still on a vague path. Ahead was the back of a sign nailed to a wooden post. I pass it, look back and read the words …… Dead End!

Just ahead is the main ridge path easily followed, in fact a motorway.  I pass an Italian couple who had walked from the road head not far away. There were great views and all too soon I came to a junction of paths where I needed to descend back to the valley where I started. So 1000 metres of descent with 5 kilometres distance and only an hour before the last bus.

I ran as fast as my wobbly knees would allow and made good progress. Half way down I swallowed my last water and continued the descent. The next bit is a little hazy. Somehow I ended up on cultivated terraces criss crossed with paths but all the downhill ones seemed to lead to dead ends.

With minutes passing by I lunged over a vertical drop falling from one tree to the next and ended up in sugar cane. Forcing a passage through this, across the river and scrambled up a bank. A final vertical 3 metres was all that separated me and some concrete steps leading up to the road. I bridged up a corner and grovelled over the grass finish realising too late that the squelchy nature of the grass was due to the silage running over it. Holding my breath I stepped up and rushed up to the concrete steps and on to the road.

All was quiet so I started walking down to a road junction knowing that the bus could come at any moment. I passed a local and he looked at me in an odd way. Not unusual I thought. Finally I sat on a wall at the bus stop and realised my legs were cut to shreds by brambles in the sugar cane thicket.

Blood was trickling down both legs. My shorts and shirt were covered in silage from the final exit some of which I had also wiped on my face.

Must get cleaned up, I thought and then the bus came ………!

Walking advice in Madeira

The main ridge from Pico do Areeiro 1818m in the East passing the highest mountain in Madeira, Pico do Areeiro 1862m is very spectacular with road access nearly to the summit of Areeiro at about 1600m.

The walk is linear so transport can be complicated unless the route is reversed.

Many of the Levadas (mini canals) are well worth walking but again it is difficult to find a circular walk. Look out for mass organised groups from package holidays and worse still Americans from cruise ships.

Madeira Kit List

Brimmed Hat

Technical LS Zip top

Navigator Zip Off Pants

Prognosis footwear

Limpet 20 Rucksack

M&S Boxers with lycra