Railway Ramble – Tamega
We are once again offering you the chance to relive the experience of travelling on the Tâmega metre gauge line in northern Portugal, albeit at a much slower pace than was possible by train! But the scenery is the same, and now we have much more time in which to enjoy it.
The Tâmega metre gauge line opened in March 1909 between Livração, the junction on the broad gauge Douro Line, and the town of Amarante, a distance of just under 13 km. It was extended in stages to Chapa in 1929 (8 km), Celorico de Basto (13 km) and finally to Arco de Baúlhe (17 km) in 1949, the last extension to any metre gauge line in Portugal.
The section from Arco de Baúlhe to Amarante closed in 1990 and has now been turned into a cycle path, with the four bridges and one tunnel along this part of the route repaired and brought back into use. The remaining section was closed in 2009 along with the Corgo Line, ostensibly for upgrading after accidents on the Tua Line but the financial crisis hit Portugal hard and the line was formally closed in 2012, with the replacement bus service also being withdrawn. This southern section has not been converted to a cycle path and indeed the local council in Amarante have proposed the line be reopened as electrified broad gauge between Livração and Amarante as part of the ongoing scheme to extend electrification on the Douro Line from Caíde to Marco de Canaveses. During the walk you might want to consider how broad gauge trains would negotiate some of the tighter corners!
The walking tour will be done in manageable stages over four days (maximum distance walked in one day on a good cycle path will be 18 km – 20 km, but other days, especially those when we walk along the section south of Amarante, which has not been converted to a cycle path, will be less). Accommodation, including breakfast each morning, will be in one single hotel in the Tâmega Valley (last night in Porto) with transport arranged to take us out to the start point of the walk each morning and collect us at the end of the afternoon, thus avoiding the need to walk with all our bags. Lunch/drinks stops will be available at the villages we pass through. Of particular railway interest are the museum at Arco de Baúlhe station and an interpretation centre about the Tâmega Line at Celorico de Basto. We also have many opportunities to admire the wonderful views that the rail passengers enjoyed for so many years, and to walk over bridges and through deep cuttings and the one tunnel on the line.
The itinerary below is a description of what we will see in each section of the walk, though the order in which we do the walk may alter. However, we will still cover the whole length of the line.
The main objective of this trip is to enjoy the scenery we pass through and the company of the group, so the pace will be leisurely, and a balance will be struck depending on the abilities and desires of the participants in the group. However, clearly all participants must be able to walk a distance of up to 20 km in one day, and the total distance of 51 km over the four days.
Tour Manager: David
Thursday 8th June: Our flight leaves Gatwick at 11.40. Direct flights also available from Stansted and Liverpool and overland travel from St Pancras via the Eurostar. Alternatively, you may wish to enjoy our Classic Minho and Douro trip which runs from 1st – 8th June, and join this tour to take full advantage of your trip to northern Portugal. We will be met at Porto airport by David, our tour manager, and will transfer to our base in the Tâmega Valley, where we will stay for the next four nights.
Friday 9th June: Arco de Baúlhe – Celorico de Basto (17 km). Arco de Baúlhe was the northern terminus of the Tâmega line from 1949 to 1990. The station buildings and yard have been preserved by the local council and the station is now a small railway museum with a petrol railcar (which is operational) and a steam loco (MD 407 / N.º 8916 (1908)) as well as a carriage built in Bristol in 1876. The station still has the track and platforms intact. From here we begin our walk as we climb slowly out of Arco de Baúlhe and turn south towards our objective for today, Celorico de Basto. Canêdo station has been turned into a local café/bar and will offer us the chance of a welcome refreshment after the long climb out of Arco de Baúlhe! Passing Mondim de Basto station, high above the village it served, we catch our first sight of the River Tâmega. The countryside here is hilly and unspoilt, and the line weaves through the hills towards Celorico de Basto. As we enter the north of this town, we come to the one place where the original alignment was buried under a new road junction, but we quickly find ourselves on the right track again, and arrive at Celorico de Basto station. From here we will travel by road to our hotel for a very well-earned rest.
Saturday 10th June: Celorico de Basto – Gatão (17 km). Returning to Celorico de Basto station, we will have an opportunity to visit their small interpretation centre in the station building. There is also an old carriage on some of the track that was left behind when the line closed. From here we continue south through some of the most beautiful scenery on the line, a mixture of forests and vineyards, bridges and cuttings. While many of the smaller stations on the line were nothing more than a single platform and maybe a shelter, some stations had very ornate buildings. Among them is Chapa, now a private residence complete with water tower in the garden. We are now ever closer to the principle town on the line, Amarante, but for today we will end our walk at Gatão station, 5 km short of Amarante.
Sunday 11th June: Gatão – Passinhos (11 km) The Tâmega Line had a total of eight major bridges, but only one tunnel, Gatão tunnel. And shortly after leaving Gatão station, we enter the 150 m long tunnel, now safely lit up, imagining the sound and smoke from the trains that plied up and down this part of the line for over 60 years. We soon find ourselves descending into Amarante itself along a section that is extremely popular with locals out for a morning or afternoon stroll. Amarante station marks the end of the cycle path, as the local council is demanding the return of trains to Amarante, but broad gauge electric trains as part of the extension to the electrification of the Douro Line as far as Marco de Canaveses. The station buildings still survive and are in a good state of repair, but sadly the track has gone, lifted after the line closed “temporarily” in 2009. South of here we need to walk along the original track bed, so conditions can sometimes be slightly more challenging than we have experienced so far. The first barrier are the bridges immediately south of the station which are closed and are not passable. This means we take a short detour along the streets to by-pass the bridges before re-joining the line. 2 km south of Amarante, at Fregim, we pass a very popular water park, full of families enjoying the summer sun. A few kilometres further on and we come to one of the highest and longest bridges on the line, the bridge at Passinhos. Sadly, this bridge too is impassable, not maintained and with no decking. An appropriate place to end the walk for today.
Monday 12th June: Passinhos – Livração (7 km) We return to Passinhos bridge and re-join the line at the station. Though the shortest daily walk of the trip in terms of distance, it is the most challenging, but it is passable. The most important station is Vila Caiz, where the ample station buildings still stand and are seemingly still in use (but not by the railway!). Finally, we arrive at the southern terminus of the line, Livração. Here the rails are still in place and there are a couple of railcars stored in the sheds. One was outside till a couple of years ago, but was moved inside when the more modern railcars in use on the line latterly were removed and sold. With our walk along the Tâmega Line complete, we return to our hotel and prepare for our journey home.
Tuesday 13th June: We return to the airport today for our flights back to the UK.