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Photographic trip report: narrow gauge railways in northern Portugal.

Photographic trip report: narrow gauge railways in northern Portugal.

Old Aug 1st, 2006, 02:52 PM
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Photographic trip report: narrow gauge railways in northern Portugal.

A TRIP ON THE CORGO LINE, NORTHERN PORTUGAL. PART I.

This is a two part photographic trip report from a train journey I made recently in the Douro Valley of Portugal. Part II to follow later.

What makes a railway enthusiastís ultimate rail journey? I asked myself, reading back over the hastily composed paragraphs in my notebook, scanning through the numerous images I had taken with the digital camera. Outside of the window small town stations blurred as we hurried through them without stopping. Lisbon in the evening was ahead of us, Portoís Campanha station behind and this weekend spent in the Douro Valley was coming to an end.

So surely it has to be a combination of various factors, getting back to my original question, and hereís what I concluded.

1: The scenery.
2: Traction.
3: Infrastructure.

This is what had been important to me, you see I am not a railway enthusiast - a train buff: perhaps to them the actual train would have been the most important aspect of the trip - to me it wasnít: I wanted to see what the north of the country held in terms of rugged beauty - I wanted to see Vila Real. The railway was the means by which I achieved my goal. Trains - I donít buy books on them or subscribe to any magazines, nor have I created a miniature layout in a spare room. There are no train spotting annuals filled with numbers or old faded photographs in any of my cupboards at home: and yet returning home, having travelled upon this little narrow gauge line in Portugalís Douro Valley I might just be becoming one.

One first catches a glimpse of what will be upon arriving at Régua station on the Linha do Douro, (Douro Line) in itself a spectacular journey from Portoís Campanha station. The station comes into view as your scheduled train exits a cutting and slows down towards the platform and at this point one should be seated on the left of the carraige. Immediatley following the pedestrian bridge which crosses the line overhead one will see a turntable around which are a number of old narrow gauge steam engines, silently rusting, slowly being consumed by the undergrowth. Old abandoned carraiges and wagons intersperse them:

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...and/corgo9.jpg

and yet this is not some museum with static exhibits - one suddenly realises that this is some form of scrap yard in which it is obviously more cost effective to keep these old hulks than send them away to the meet the cutterís torch. And therefore is one suddenly excited, as the train comes to a stop because you can get out and have a look round, place hands on these old historic remnants.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...and/corgo4.jpg

In this consumerist society it is rare to see anything more than a few years old and yet here now can you close your eyes momentarily and imagine what it must have been like three decades ago when these engines powered through the narrow valleys.

In the U.K private individuals or societies purchased all number of old locomotives under threat of the oxyacetalene torch and have since restored them to full running order. What would it take to restore these locomotives to working order so I wonder. Perhaps a lot, time and money noticing the ravages of time and the holed metalwork where rust has eaten through. But where there is a will so there is a way and perhaps there is hope for these old ladies yet. I take a long gulp from my water bottle - it is hot, in the mid thirties and the height of the Portuguese summer. Iíll take some photographs before leaving them for even though Iím not that interested in trains I am in photography and what wonderful studies these make, pockmarked browns and reds traces of dulled brasswork and copper struggling to shine through from underneath. Shrubs which are entwined within the wheels and weeds climbing up taller than I am:

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...and/corgo7.jpg

and it is a story of neglect, almost as if they have been forgotten and the longer they stay here so the more overgrown they will become and one day you wonít be able to see them at all. Out of sight out of mind or so the proverb goes.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...and/corgo8.jpg

An old water tower drips close by and the turntable looks to have been used recently:

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...and/corgo5.jpg

of course - Régua is where the historic steam train is based: it makes a return journey to Tua each Saturday filled with tourists. So from this abandoned motive power depot we walk over to the sheds under which it is kept, the carraiges. More photographs. With digital there is no need to be frugal anymore.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo19.jpg

There is a coffee shop in the station; I order a milky coffee, a ďMeia de leiteĒ and the lady behind the counter smiles. When she tries to tease further conversation from me I explain in my broken Portuguese what I am doing, where I am going and she recommends a hotel in which to stay, a restaurant in which to eat. I have always found people from Régua so friendly. Always smiling. My guest, Keith, a train enthusiast from Sussex, England holds up his hands and apologises to her when she asks him a question, I have to translate mostly everything for him. I have lived in Portugal almost a decade, my wife is Portuguese and yet I barely know the north of the country, hence this year my trips to Régua on the train. I could have driven but then would the journey have been so enjoyable? I doubt it for one has to concentrate on the road and not the scenery through which I travel. So we sit at a table drinking coffees in the heat - itís been a long day so far. I make a few notes in my spiral bound pad, my old Parker pen scratches at the paper and Iíll need to change the ink cartridge on my return to Lisbon. But for now it writes - there is a back up biro in the bottom of my bag just in case it fails. A Tannoy announcement calls out and soon the train on which we had arrived rumbles into life, its two tone horn blasts and soon comes the loud diesel lament of its motors powering up and so to Porto does it return and once more this small country station is quiet again.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo20.jpg

It seems for the moment except for the girls behind the counter we are the only ones here.

After booking into our hotel, the three star Residencial Império just across from the station forecourt,

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...and/corgo1.jpg

we eat an excellent dinner in a small churrasqueira close by - ďChurrasqueia e Pastelaria XanocaĒ which is located down a small covered alleyway, youíd almost miss it if not for the large menu outside. We order the largest steaks and eggs and fries and rice and salad, Cokes, bread, a bottle of Vinho verde and coffees and it comes to just over twenty euros: itís full of local men eating large platefuls of food: unpretentious and honest, two televisions blare out over the conversation and it is smoky. We are full and grateful for choosing to eat here - it is a place to which I will return in future. And as we make to leave I bump into a friend I made on my last trip, he recognises me, we shake hands and make plans to meet up for dinner the next time Iím up north. And it is only a short walk back to the hotel and there I fall asleep on the bed fully clothed with the television on and the air conditioning humming: it is early but I am so tired after the long trip and wine with the meal.

We had taken a triple room, there were no doubles available and what choice did we have late in the evening: it cost 60 euros including breakfast and was a large room with 3 single beds and a fold out sofá bed, with views down to the Douro River

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...and/corgo2.jpg

though not that I had much time to appreciate them. Unfortunately it turned out that Keith snored and I spent a restless night waking whilst he slept on through.

After breakfast we packed rucksacks and made for the station ticket office. In advance we booked two return tickets to Vila Real (costing 3.50 euros each) and the two singles to Lisbon on the Alfa Pendular: there would be a fifteen minute window when the train from Vila Real arrived in Régua to catch the Porto bound train, I didnít want to be fretting later whether we would make it, have time to buy the tickets. So with the railcar set to leave at 11.15 am we strolled from the station down to the river bank via a narrow cobbled road: three bridges stand over us, the original steel girder one now abandoned and rather derelict looking, the one which later replaced it and high above them both the viaduct which spans the valley.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo10.jpg

It is cool by the river, there is a park and pleasant gardens,

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo12.jpg

people stand fishing from the banks and on the opposite side the huge figure of a cloaked Sandeman stands above us all looking over his vineyards: itís one of the things which sticks out for me about Régua, that Sandeman statue.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo11.jpg

Sitting on a concrete bench upon the platform in front of us is the red and grey railcar which wll take us to Vila Real.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo13.jpg

Behind us the silver carraiges of the Porto train, diesel engines rumbling: swallows flit from under roofs across my vision the terraced mountainsides in the distance - the sky is a hazy blue in the morning heat. Electricity pylons trace the jagged mountain peaks into the sky. Old men in flat caps, coughing spitting and arguing or so it sounds when I catch odd words of their conversation. They look to us, and I look away suddenly embarrased to have been caught observing them. It smells of oil and diesel fumes - people walk across the tracks: I have seen no warning signs but all it takes is a cursory look - at this time of day it is not busy. The high concrete road viaduct spans the valley: it becomes the horizon to my left: road traffic slowly killing the railways. And what would Régua be like without the rail link to Porto? More than a century ago the River Douro would have been the fastest form of transport, sailboats and the barges, (Barcos Rabelos) which took the Port wine barrels downstream from the quintas. Rough tracks cut into the moutain sides, horses and carts - and then came the railway and so did Régua grow. A heat haze shimers above the old rails - old machinery rusts in the yard. My feet ache, legs ache and I use the toilet which is even tiled in a traditional manner. All around me seems to be echoed history.

I climb aboard the little train, it is narrow, 2 seats on one side of the aisle, one on the other - a sign says there are 48 seated places, 30 standing and it is no more than a bus on rails. Passengers are afforded an excellent view ahead, the driver sits on the left hand side and in front of him the large windscreen. There is a staff of two: the driver and ticket inspector and when the driver starts the railcar up it only confirms how much like a bus this is and the diesel motor vibrates and we wait for two more people before departing - those old men with the flat caps whom I thought were arguing earlier. There are ten passengers including me and yet none of them appear to be tourists.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo16.jpg

But it is obvious that most sit on the left side of the train and the reason becomes obvious as the journey progresses. Originally this line went as far as Chaves but as recently as January 1st 1990 was it truncated, even so we have fifteen and a half miles to go, climbing almost three thousand feet up through the mountains.

I stand next to the driver, he sit comfortably at the controls, space age in comparison to those of the old Douro steam engine uopn which I have ridden in the past.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo15.jpg

I hold onto the handrail and there is nothing bar the glass in front of me: I look directly down onto the rails. The little carriage lurches about as we cross the pointwork, the different gauge lines intermingle and we leave Régua station behind us, pass by houses which nudge up to the line, under that viaduct which dominates the valley.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo14.jpg

And then over a bridge, below us the Corgo river merges into the Douro. Immediately after the bridge we angle sharply left almost at ninety degrees to the Douro Valley mainline.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo17.jpg

A signal permits our passage past some maintainence shed and old diesel railcars sprayed wth grafitti dead on a siding: they were in service before these newer ones upon which I ride.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo18.jpg

And past them round a curve and so does the valley open up in front of us, vineyards and olive trees sloping down to the Corgo River

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo21.jpg

and through the middle of it runs our little train on toy tracks on a narrow ledge, to my left suddenly does the hillside fall away to the river below. A high concrete road bridge crosses the valley overhead

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo22.jpg

and below there is a small station but we donít stop at it - you can, says the driver, but you have to ring the bell - there was no one waiting for us. And over another bridge painted baby blue and all I can see are those vinevards punctuated by olive trees and old stone walls - one wonders how old they are and who built them? Telephone pylons run alongside the line and there are constantly wires suspended between them. A break in the lineside bushes and look down to the river below.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo23.jpg

And then look at this amazing site - a line of white and yellow houses, terracotta roofs, all perched precariously at the top perhaps following the course of a winding road: in front a steep descent to the valley floor - constant lines of steeply planted vines below.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo24.jpg

And the railway ever climbing curving round left right winding up higher higher and wheels screech on the sharp curves: just by looking back through the carraige can you ascertain how steep the incline is.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo25.jpg

And I have never seen such fantastic scenery as I do now, not at least on a railway journey. I naively thought I knew Portugal, having lived here almost a decade but I cannot claim this anymore - this is one of the most beautiful locations I have ever been to.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo26.jpg

Even our driver looks out - perhaps one never becomes used to this, no matter how many times you make the journey.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo32.jpg

Ahead another station which is deserted, a passing place for trains, the village it serves,

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo27.jpg

and a blast on the horn as we cross over a road. A man waits and waves like the train is so much a part of this rural life here. The route ahead a serpentine passage and far ahead those mountain peaks jut into the sky, gentle pastel colours on the horizon like a water colour image and it seems the sky is our destination for always we climb,

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo28.jpg

ahead is another sharp bend round which the tracks disappear - it is some subtle seduction for one is always wondering what comes next. A spray of ballast a grass verge and then a steep drop down to the river far below.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo29.jpg

Old sandy tracks wind between the vineyards and what an ardous task vindima must be, the grape harvest - the heat the altitude and listen carefully you may just hear that water splashing over the rocks - the old river. And through the side window I watch an eagle soar.

The station of Povoação:

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo30.jpg

We stop for a few minutes and I step down, another passing loop which hints at more trains than the timetable offers. Once many years ago perhaps and now are there only two trains in the morning, two in the afternoon. One person gets on, I take some photographs and the bright red of our carraige is in vivid contrast to the mottled greens across on the valley side opposite.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo31.jpg

There is a small house for sale, its rear wall is almost upon the line and what a wonderful view it possesses. I wonder how much is the asking price. Another level crossing, grass grows between the sleepers, a cheerful blast of the horn and once would there have come the steam engineís whistle - how much of a part in local life did the old train play? Once there would have been freight carried on the line, the bustle of trucks and packages unloaded, produce loaded, barrels of wine perhaps and now it is only us. Passengers and tourists. Train enthusiasts like my friend Keith.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo38.jpg

If one were to give a pencil to a five year old and tell them to draw a line across the paper so might it look like this railway winding through the rock gorges

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo33.jpg

following the very knife edge of the precipice to our left and it seems you are always looking across the valley to the other side. Look carefully and you may just make out the route high above us far away. Through rock cuttings where the diesel hum echoes and imagine the beating heart of an old steam engine at the front of a rake of carraiges once before. One that we have seen sitting folornly around Réguaís turntable.

And look, quickly before the approaching trees obscure it, down below us a small church bright white with orange terracotta tiled roof, a few small buildings surround it and together they are engulfed by the vineyards.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo34.jpg

How Iíd love to take a walk down to it - I can almost imagine how cool it is inside, quiet, perhaps there Iíd find the peace Iím always searching for, amongst the vines. Who is the God to whom Iíd pray there? Bacchus, Dionysus, that of wine, perhaps this is a church which celebrates the power and fertility of nature? One only has to look around: I believe. I BELIEVE.

Shortly we come to a small village the houses of which butt up against the lineside so we can barely pass: Iíve been talking with the driver, a local man who loves his job, this area - once more a passing loop. Carrazedo so states the water tower and perhaps there is the hope that one day steam trains will return for it stands there sentinel over an empty station complex.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo35.jpg

And leaving the platforms behind here does one gasp aloud at the realisation of what is to come: we are to come around a curve so sharp that it will bring us back upon ourselves, just a short distance across a shallow valley but so many more feet up - I can see the line and beginning that sharp corner there is an old stone bridge which we cross and already we are climbing again and there below us is Carrazedo station again surrounded by greenery: in a matter of minutes we have climbed maybe one hundred feet.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo36.jpg

And once again surrounded by vivid green vines, the landscape a patchwork of small square vineyards like a traditional home stitched quilt in varying hues of green. Olive groves and burnt grass, fruit trees and dusty tracks winding between them all - I see no one bar those who are on the train. And still we follow that river far below us, far, far below us.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo37.jpg

The ticket inspector stands alongisde the driver and they talk, both looking through the windscreen ahead.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo39.jpg

And finally deep into the mountains small white squares far away, evidence of human existance in this wine wilderness - Vila Real so the driver says to me, our destination reached,

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo40.jpg

and ahead of us stretches the first piece of straight track since setting out from Régua. There are no deep drop offs now, no towering cliffsides hemming us in but it appears that we run through back gardens, a wall and a fence on our right, a wooded area on the left and sunlight is dappled through the foliage.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo41.jpg

Tower blocks suddenly visible and how the vista has changed and how man can manipulate the countryside in a good way with the terraced mountainside and vineyards so can he also ruin it with urban sprawls and I am so surprised and disappointed: Iíd hoped Vila Real to be different from this. Iíd not expected so much construction so high in the mountains. But then it is the largest town in the region and for one coming from England it seems Portuguese planning is so piecemeal: none of what I see blends in.

Over another blue painted bridge and it is now such a familiar colour to me, curving round and slowly is Vila Real station exposed, a very nice chalet type building with a canopy over the main platform, another railcar waits at the far end.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo42.jpg

Palm trees and neatly trimmed hedges, it is still well maintained and cared for - there is no spray can graffitti here. We get out and walk around: it is so damn hot - and as with Régua there are no rules, one can stroll around the station at will if interested like we were, walking across the rails. There is an old turntable, what I think to be an engine shed - a goods shed and the end of the current line rests at the level crossing, C.P gates forever down, and the tracks disappear into the distance slowly being absorbed by nature - two men walk off down them into the trees at the far end. What steam train ghosts still keep to a phantom timetable?

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo43.jpg

On the station wall once outside is a bronze plaque which commemorates a century of the Corgo Valley Line, 1906 - 2006 and so it appears that still is the railway here important, is realised to be so. And a short walk down from the forecourt upon a stone plinth within a small park is a cosmetically restored steam locomotive which would have once worked this line, its black paintwork gleams in the sun and it is in such good condition in comparison to those which rust in Régua.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo44.jpg

Across from the station is a restaraunt. ďRestaurante Balsa Snack BarĒ so its canopies proclaim.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo45.jpg

It must be good for when we enter I see our train driver and ticket inspector eating lunch. I order for us both, Fejioada transmontana, a dish of beans and pork, pigs ear and tripe in a spicy tomato sauce served with rice. Keith tries it but doesnít finish when I tell him of what it comprises.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo46.jpg

He only eats the beans and rice, I eat the rest: Iím not bothered by what it has. In fact it is excellent and with the drinks is very cheap and I wish heíd have eaten more. So what it was tripe and pigs ears: if Iíd have not told him heíd have never known. My mistake and his loss for I mopped up the remaining sauce with my bread. Finished my beer, belched and apologised, nobody looked over. I didnít ask his opinion, I saw in his face what he thought but what a great little place it was, quickly filling up and there were no tables spare by the time we left. Itís where Iíll eat again the next time in Vila Real.

We walk down from the station forecourt towards the town - there is a modern bridge spanning the valley with pedestrian passages on each side, the main road in the middle.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo47.jpg

We walk across taking photos, on the left side is a rugged valley and there comes the sound of splashing water far below - the river upon the rocks. Ahead all those appartment blocks and high rises, they donít entice me to progress much further but as we walk back across on the opposite side and look down is the old town so I surmise, what looks to be an arched medieval bridge across the river, a cobble stone street and small old buildings and houses, Roman style terracotta tiles all far below us and that is the vision of Vila Real that I had come to see:

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo48.jpg

Iíd have liked to have walked down to it but we were limited by time, the train would be departing soon. Birds constantly sing and far away in the distance upon those mountain tops which rise above Vila Real the wind turbines spin.
Matt_from_England is offline  
Old Aug 1st, 2006, 03:38 PM
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Thanks Matt, it looks like I missed quite a bit of Portugal by staying in Lisbon. Thanks for taking us along on your trip.
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Old Aug 1st, 2006, 03:43 PM
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The most amazing report ever seen on Fodor's! Thank you, Matt!
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Old Aug 2nd, 2006, 02:40 PM
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Topping. You all guys are missing a great report!
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Old Aug 3rd, 2006, 11:25 AM
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how scenic was the rail trip from porto to regua?
artnuvo is offline  
Old Aug 3rd, 2006, 11:31 AM
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Coincidentally i've just read in Today's Railways Europe, a UK train mag:
CP to Close Narrow Gauge Lines?
In an internal document, CP (Port railways) proposes to close the remaining narrow gauge Tamega, Corgo and Tua lines in northern Portugal in order to save 163.3 million euros. When the document was made public and after the opposition from several local authorities, CP announced that this will not happen in the near future - the company first wishes to negotiaate joint train operation with the local authorities.
Looks like a great report of interest to rail buffs like me and i'll take time to read it thoroughly soon!~ hope those quaint lines don't close!
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Old Aug 3rd, 2006, 11:50 AM
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Artnuvo:

Here are the links to my previous photographic trip reports from the Douro Valley:

Steam trains in The Douro Valley, (which includes drivers eye view from the steam locomotive between Regua and Tua)

http://fodors.com/forums/threadselec...2&tid=34836683

and

Portugal by train, (which is a driver's eye perspective of the Lisbon to Porto Alfa Pendular route and driver's eye perspective of Porto Campanha to Reuga)

http://fodors.com/forums/threadselec...2&tid=34819673

PALQ,

I have various reports regarding the Tamega line, Corgo Line and Tua line - I can post views here or you can contact me on [email protected] to talk further.

Best regards and part II will follow in next day or two.

Happy trails, Matt.
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Old Aug 3rd, 2006, 11:58 AM
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I love your trip report format!! How fun to see what you are desribing as you describe it
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Old Aug 3rd, 2006, 05:48 PM
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A TRIP ON THE CORGO LINE, NORTHERN PORTUGAL. PART II

On the station platform we sit on a bench in the shade: to my right an old man sleeps:

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo49.jpg

the glass windows are still etched: Chefe, Inspector 5 Secção. The old clock is 7 hours fast but it still ticks.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo50.jpg

The railcar is open waiting to return down the line to Régua. It is such a sleepy rural scene and it is hard to imagine that just a few hundred metres down the road is this urban sprawl which is Vila Real: here has time almost stood still bar for the modern train.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo51.jpg

Birds sing from somewhere and a dog barks. There comes laughter and loud conversation from two old women sat on the steps of the abandoned goods shed - they were there when we arrived. I wonder how they cope with the harsh sun but then perhaps they have had decades of practise. The rails curve away to the left infront of them. Quite a number board for the return journey, local people, old young and some backpackers who look foreign. Most buy their tickets on the train - there was no office open.

Whereas the journey up was a revelation of wonderful scenery and breath taking chasms down to the river so one now knows what is to come: the best views are to be had this time from the right hand side - although wherever you sit so will you be amazed. But if you can, take the first two seats to the right of the driver for then will you be afforded the best views ahead.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo52.jpg

And having paid attention on the way up you will know what is coming - be prepared with the camera. And whereas before so the driver had to push the railcar up, the engines straining, so can he now let it coast down the hill, manipulating the brake lever for we never go that fast but it seems so watching the rails approach.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo53.jpg

Unless you ever travel alongside the driver in a normal train, (as Iíve been lucky enough to do) you donít appreciate this foward vision, from your seat you just watch the world flash past: here the view is completely different - you watch the scenery from a distance, wonderful views down through the valleys and all the time is it increasing in size the closer you get: wheels screech on the tight curves and at this time is the sun so bright at altitude everything seems burnt out - the grass is yellow dry: you are aware of the rock underneath but all the time are the vineyards vivid green.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo54.jpg

So we cross over roads, small houses which are close to the line, embankment sides almost brush the left of the carraige and tree branches overhang us. I look more to my left, to the hillside instead of the valley and small hamlets of old stone houses cling to the mountains,

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo55.jpg

the old schisht walls and those constant vines - imagine now with them so green how it will look in late September around the harvest time, the leaves changing colour, the vines heavy with grape bunches waiting to be cut. Future wines: I might one day drink what I have seen here - a glass of port with a plate of cheese. This close to Vila Real everything seems to be on a smaller scale and it is only when you have left it behind and the Corgo Valley opens up do you realise on what a huge scale the Port wine vineyards are: most are mature but it is interesting to see the newly planted ones, perhaps with only a couple of years of growth - they really seem to scar the mountainside.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo56.jpg

Heathers grow on the rocky outcrops, pine trees, olive groves - it hints of what this area may have looked like before vineyards replaced the forests. And we snake through it all, our S shaped railway left and right.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo57.jpg

Small white washed stations well kept though seemingly abandoned. I wonder where the villages are they once would have served.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo58.jpg

And as the valley opens up you can see a long way down it, through it: we are dropping down steeply - it is some amazing rollercoaster ride in the sky.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo59.jpg

My Bacchus church again down there, its white walls and terracotta roof so stark amongst the greenery:

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo60.jpg

it is the church to which the station of Carrazedo belongs, look, through the trees:

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo61.jpg

you know what that means, the crazy horseshoe curve that brings us about face, the stone bridge on the bend.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo62.jpg

Slowly do we ease into the well kept station and even then are the lines not straight.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo63.jpg

I get off to take a photograph, a couple more people climb aboard and the train is filling up - there behind it on the hilltop - that must be the village itself.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo64.jpg

And off we set again, the ticket inspector working his way down the passengers selling tickets.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo65.jpg

Across another road past some houses and it feels like we are running through their back gardens.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo66.jpg

A wave from the old woman who controls the barriers, a toot on the horn and we are gone.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo67.jpg

At another station there are more people waiting and this am I pleased to see - there are still a number of passengers who continue to use the service for without them there would be little hope of this railway continuing. The line was truncated in 1990, let us hope that what is left carries on running: but it needs more people to secure its future and the more roads that are built so there will be less demand for the hundred year old line. Donít let it die so I think to myself.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo68.jpg

Many of the sights I recall from earlier, seeing them now from a different perspective and high above us, up there, look is that mad village, aldeia, perched high up within the vineyards: from here it looks almost impossible. Take a step from your back door and so youíd plummet down the valley.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo69.jpg

And the high concrete road bridge: I bet youíd get magnificent views from atop it.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo70.jpg

Another baby blue viaduct

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo71.jpg

onto which we rumble - and from this view it really seems quite precarious our passage across it.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo72.jpg

Another level crossing, cars stopped for us: the more major roads have automatic barriers, the lesser, not.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo73.jpg

And far ahead the rail viaduct across the Corgo River, and the high road viaduct across the Douro - it means we are getting close to journeyís end at Régua,

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo74.jpg

I check my watch, we have plenty of time to catch the train back to Porto. So for the last part of the journey I stay sat with my friend Keith and we talk about this amazing journey we have made - he tells me how much he disliked the food and I laugh: if that is his only complaint of the weekend then I am happy. Past the derelict carraiges and easing round the tight bend so we join up with the main Douro line and once more the two different gauge tracks blend together - a view to the Douro River in front.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo75.jpg

Across the steel girder viaduct and Régua is ahead. Our driver looks out at the river and it seems he has enjoyed the trip as much as we - it must be the ultimate train driverís job, running to and from Vila Real each day, and especially if like him you are from this region, love it as much as he does.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo76.jpg

And so do we slowly ease into Régua station, the terminus for the Corgo line and already is our train waiting to take us to Porto Campanha station where we will catch the Alfa Pendular south to Lisbon.

http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f3...nd/corgo77.jpg

And before leaving the train I shake hands with the driver, Rui Santos, and ticket inspector, José Sousa Pereira for they have been most gracious hosts, answering my questions and pointing out interesting things along the route Ė I donít leave without arranging to meet up again, the next time Iím up this way, dinner perhaps in a little place they know, some wine and a steak, laughter Ė a chance encounter on a train: friendships begin.

What an incredible trip it has been, with good food and conversation, amazing scenery and a memory card full of photographs, a note pad full of a hundred scribbled paragraphs in a code only decipherable to myself - itíll all be written up in time, the images downloaded onto the computer. But most of all it will stay in my memory, Régua to Vila Real. I canít stress it enough how much I love this part of Portugal - now if only I could persuade my wife that we need to relocate. And what would I do with myself up here? Walk beside the old Douro river in the mornings, watch the men fishing or maybe even join them for an hour or two, try my luck. And then take another trip up the line. Perhaps get off at one of the old abandoned stations, explore the vineyards, or at Carrazedo and take a walk down the dusty track to that church which I saw from the train, sit in solitude, alone and even though Iím not religious, perhaps Iíd find some kind of meaning to life there, answers to those questions I have. Perhaps it would be my railway nirvana? But whatever, Iíd find peace in the Douro Valley - and that is something we are each searching for.

Happy trails,

Matt
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Old Aug 4th, 2006, 07:15 AM
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