Vila do Conde - São Pedro de Rates (CENTRAL)
Vila do Conde - São Pedro de Rates (CENTRAL)
There exists an unofficial route that allows you to leave the Coastal route in Vila do Conde to join instead the Central route in Saõ Pedro de Rates. It is marked with two sets of arrows; one set is newer and brighter, and the other is faded and can be difficult to see at times. They do not always agree, but both will get you to where you want to go. There are two occasions where they need a bit of extra explanation, and the latter is drawn on the map as a red trail and is further explained below. This route is predominantly road walking, with less than 1km along woodland trails.
To begin, you should know that there are no arrows in Vila do Conde that will get you onto this route. While this may be a bit frustrating, it does ensure that nobody will accidentally follow arrows in the wrong direction. Finding the way is fairly straightforward, and once you do, the arrows will slowly emerge.
The best way to get your bearings is from the bridge over the river as you enter Vila do Conde. Visible from the bridge up high and on your right is the Monastery of Santa Clara. 300 years ago, the monastic community that lived here got started on a 999-arch, 4km long aqueduct to bring fresh water from a spring in a nearby town. It is exactly this aqueduct, and the arches that remain, which will guide you out of Vila do Conde. There are no arrows at this point, but they will gradually emerge.
Follow the aqueduct to the first immovable barrier, namely a fenced-in pasture. Here you must turn left, and then at the first opportunity turn right again. Keep your eye on the aqueduct and aim for it when you see the opportunity. It is around here that you will begin to see the yellow arrows.
The "official" arrows keep you adjacent to the aqueduct all the way to a point where you must cross the road at a point where there is no crossing. I have marked on the map a different route, which is safer but a bit longer. It requires you to turn left at the first big roundabout, and to cross over the main road, heading more or less towards the Renault dealership. This route turns right not long after passing the said Renault dealership and arcs widely to the right to head back towards the aqueduct. When it finally reaches it, turn left to follow in its shadow once again.
Keep on along the aqueduct until once again you bump into a wall. You will know you are there by the pretty plaque in front of the arches which gives you a history of the marvel you have been using as a guide. Here you need to turn left, and pay close attention to the arrows. They will bring you all the way to the main road (Grocery store!) at which point you turn right to follow the road. By now you will have learned that the aqueduct is never far away, and sure enough, this road will bring you right back to it.
By now you may have noticed that the arches are getting progressively lower. Your path to Rates takes you uphill, and the source of the water is an underground spring. If you are excited to finally get to the point where you are taller than the aqueduct, I must be the bearer of bad news: the camino abandons it before you get the chance.
Keep on with the arrows to pass underneath the highway. The aqueduct here is long gone but may appear depending on which route you take next.
This is the first of the red routes mentioned at the beginning. The official arrows turn left along a super straight, slightly industrialized road with a bar at the other end and the aqueduct newly in sight. There is nothing wrong with this route, apart from more traffic. An alternative route is mapped in red. It follows a windy path through a few small villages. To describe this route would be an exercise in futility, as there are simply too many turns. It is not hard if you have the map, but otherwise, keep to the arrows.
From here on out, the arrows are much more visible, and you are 1/3 of the way to Rates. There are no further points of confusion, keep on with the arrows. They will bring you to the entrance to Rates, but here you must take care not to go back to the Coastal route. Aim for the church, and avoid any arrow near the bike/hike/no-longer-a-train-track path... that way will bring you to Esposende on the Coastal route. From the Church, the arrows will take you deeper and higher into town towards the albergue and the safe-to-follow Central route arrows.