There is a curious meteorological phenomenon in central Portugal during the summer. Whilst the inland regions can regularly swelter in temperatures over 40°C(!) the Atlantic coast remains miraculously cool. For instance, the temperatures in our base town of Pernes were consistently 10°-15°C higher than in Peniche, a coastal resort less than one hour away. The novelty of air warmer than my blood had worn off – it was time for a trip to the beach.
But first, a small confession: I struggle enormously with the traditional southern European idea of beach life. Being brought up in Ireland, a beach – to me – means the wind in my face as I contemplate an empty expanse of silver sand; it means rock pools brimming with crabs, shrimps and small fish; it means a roaring sea accessible only to the most foolhardy. In short, my beach is a place of solitude, freedom and introspection, a place where I can feel humble and awed by nature’s grandest show. Crowds, beach bars, restricted bathing areas and instantaneous sunburn are notable absentees from my personal Top 10 Attractive Features of Beaches.
For these reasons, my arrival at a packed Baleal beach, Peniche on a July afternoon filled me with a particular sort of despair, a feeling strangely akin to being asked to dance at a particularly boisterous wedding (fellow introverts will understand me here). As the others changed into their swimwear and gathered buckets and spades, I wanted to scream, to run away, to hide in a deserted olive grove somewhere. But, deep down, I knew the kids would love it and so I took a deep breath and offered to carry the towels.
I was right; the kids did love it. What I didn’t expect was… I ended up loving it too.
There is no denying that Baleal is a lovely spot. Two gently sloping beaches with white-crested waves crashing down on fine golden sand, rather improbably intersected by a causeway leading to a pretty whitewashed village (Baleal itself). We chose the southern beach and soon, despite the crowds, found an isolated spot from where we could sit and watch the kids play. And play, and play. Child #4, who can probably never remember being on a beach without a thermal fleece and a raincoat, was particularly exhilarated and ran for hours in a celebration of his new-found freedom. Meanwhile the girls wallowed in shallow pools of sun-warmed water and Child #1 braved the crashing waves… and even found some beloved rock pools for me (alas, no crabs).
As the kids played happily, I couldn’t help but observe the beach life around me. Elderly couples strolled hand-in-hand with the surf lapping at their feet; parents relaxed and sunbathed as their kids played around them; attractive young things in neoprene were mastering the waves with their surfboards; I heard Portuguese, English, French, German and Dutch, and I saw every skin colour and type imaginable. All walks of life were represented on Baleal beach, and it was a beautiful thing to behold.
The next thing we knew it was past seven o’clock and we realised that we had been there for over four hours. With salt on our skin and sand between our toes (and, in my case, badly sunburnt feet) we returned to Daisy the bus, content. Even me.
Daisy the bus visited Peniche in late July 2016. She was very lucky to find a parking spot.
(c) 2016 Jonathan Orr