Hiking the hills of Sintra and ….walking the Path.
Xintara incorporates in its retreats a number of walking and hiking options across the coastal hills of Sintra. The physical act of walking especially in a beautiful landscape has well-recognised health and mental benefits.
The dramatic coastline in this area north of Lisbon reflects the meeting point between a wild and turbulent Atlantic sea with rising hills full of rich vegetation, granite bolders and the occasional swirling sea mist.
One of the coastal hikes we take passes by dinosaur footprints clearly visible in a rising wall of sandstone. Further along we pass by a deep well structure through which geysers of sea water can erupt. A morbid tradition has it that the Romans used some of these steep coastal sandstone edges to chain-up prisoners and leave them exposed to the elements facing a highly probable death. We break up this walk with an extended break at a café situated on a quiet dramatic beach which can allow a quick and refreshing dip before continuing up the coast to Cabo de Roca, one of the most western points of Europe.
Another walk commences at the abandoned village of Peninha on the summit of a hill with spectacular views both to the South towards Lisbon and to the North towards a long line of beaches and bays. This walk snakes its way down into and through cool shady ancient pine forests before eventually emerging near a mini- Stonehenge type Neolithic collection of rocks.
The benefits of a good walk have been recognized in a broad range of cultures and described beautifully by writers such as Bruce Chatwin in Songlines and more recently by the amazing Robert Macfarlane in The Old Ways.
What is of interest today is the extent to which walking is increasingly recognized as a ‘mindful activity’. In The Art of Mindful Walking by Adam Ford, a range of walks are described from the banal commuter walk to crossing the outback. The walks all combine however a blended experience of both the physical and the mental/spiritual.
Ford describes how there can be something spiritual about the simple physical activity of walking, and that this lies deep in the psyche of many religions. For example, ‘the psalmist in the Bible praises the person who walks in the way of God, and the earliest Christian community, taking up the idea, called themselves not Christians, but ‘Followers of the Way’. The oldest religion in China, Taoism, is named after the Tao, the Way, the mysterious ‘Something’ that was there in the beginning of the world; it guides us back to our roots and celebrates walking in old paths. For Buddhists, the Right way of living is to follow the Eightfold Path.
Ford goes on to describe how walking can be the simplest and most human of things, but it can also be an opportunity to delve deeper into our inner lives. For ‘thoughtful walking’, there is no need to worry about thinking- thoughts arise quite naturally. The problem comes with coping with them, and coping too with all the feelings that erupt unbidden.
A famous philosopher who highlighted the benefits of walking was Kierkegaard, who noted in his journals (1834-1854), ‘Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness; I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it….’.