Ribeira Lima (Lima's-Riverside) Pedestrian and Equestrian Trail

This trail, with natural and cultural insights, crosses the approximate 18km long alluvial plain of the Lima river, located on the right bank between the urban outskirts of Viana do Castelo and the village of Lanheses.

The trail is flat and labelled as easy, suitable for walking or trail riding. Directional signs are included for both directions. You may start next to the Urban Ecological Park, near the buildings housing the Environmental Monitoring and Interpretive Centre for Viana do Castelo (CMIA) located alongside the estuaries of São Vicente and the Lima river mouth or in Largo da Seara (square) in the centre of Lanheses.

The trail is part of the municipal network of equestrian trails connecting the sites of community importance with the Natura 2000 network. The trail we invite you to explore provides visitors with unique opportunities to admire the river together with the estuarine and riparian ecosystems and their rich biodiversity. There are also opportunities to discover and admire the traces of human occupation from different eras of our history to comprehend the building and evolutionary process of the cultural landscape.

Just before reaching the sea, the Lima river presents a wide and open valley with an extensive alluvial plain. This is the natural setting where the millenary landscape of the Ribeira Lima (Lima riverside) was humanized. In this fertile meadow of alluvial soils, the intensive and ancestral use of farming practices was woven into the mosaic of densely concentrated villages, even though dispersed with low population density.

Farming fields, characterised by smallholdings and mixed crops, with the exception of a few land consolidations, dominate the scenery as we travel upriver. Following the introduction and widespread of corn in the 16th century, corn fields dominate the farming landscape of the Lima riverside. This is confirmed by many reports or memoirs written by the clergy of riverside villages. The priest João Barros de Lima makes references to the parish of Meadela in the Parish Memoirs of 1758. He describes the importance of corn for this village located next to the Lima river, along with other crops such as , “…rye, wine, not much wheat, quite a bit of barely, beans, flax, salt and very little olive oil” (Fernandes, Almeida, 1994). The following account for the village of Vila Mou is also interesting due to its descriptiveness: “The banks of this river are cultivated, it is a spacious and large meadow that runs from the east to the west along the area of the river, at times strengthened or defended by wild trees called alders and willows. This meadow with abundant corn, parts of it cultivated every other year while other parts every year, produce small and large corn” (Capela, José Viriato, 2005).

This equestrian trail is part of the Sítio de Importância Comunitária (SIC) of the Lima river (Places of community importance), established through resolution no. 142/97 of 28 August from the Council of Ministers and classified as a SIC by decision of the Committee on December 7, 2004. Running alongside the Lima river, the trail travels along an importance ecological corridor. Riparian areas alternate with cultivated plots, where fodder and cereal crops stand out, especially corn. The farming fields are usually bordered with pergola-trellised vines, but these can also be in cordon, according to new viticulture techniques. Alder, willow, birch and oak are among the most frequent tree species found in the riparian forests. The mosaic of habitats along the banks of the Lima also includes grasslands with Molinia (moor grass) and sphagnum spp.

In the Lima estuary, the rush in the salt marshes provide a transitional zone between land and aquatic environments. The reduced flow of the tidewaters in the marshes facilitates the deposit of detritus and sedimentary material, leading to the appearance of silt banks in low water due to accumulation and this substrate fosters the growth of halophytic vegetation. Halophytes in the marshes endure physiological drought due to the high concentration of salinity in the environment. These plants have adapted to tolerate the salinity through morphological and physiological changes similar to those of the xerophyte. This includes the reduction of leaf area and increase in the succulence of the stems and leaves, increase of root mass, areas densely covered with tiny hairs that secret salt and the protection of above-ground plant parts with a thick cuticle or film. Rush grow in the areas that are more frequently flooded by salt water and so it is possible to admire a large extension of sea rush (Juncus maritime). This biotope is the feeding grounds for herons, waders and birds of prey.

The Lima river plays a vital role in the conservation of migrating fish species such as allis shad, twait shad and sea lamprey as well as salmon, even though in reduced numbers. The priest João Barros de Lima mentioned the abundance of fish in the Lima river in the Parish Memoirs of 1758 when referring to Meadela. He lists “…mullets, lamprey, allis shad, sole, many small fish, some flounder and salmon…” (Fernandes, Almeida, 1994). We also cite the response to the inquiries of the Parish Memoirs of 1758 with regards to the parish of Lanheses, informing us that: “the fish that are found in abundance are squalius carolitertii, northern straight-mouth nase, trout, some allis shad and in certain parts, mullets, an abundance of lamprey and some salmon” (Capela, Jose Viriato, 2005). Other references to this diversity of species was made for all of the riverside villages located along the right margins of the Lima river, allowing us to infer their abundance and economic importance. Currently these fishing resources still assume a seasonal economic importance. A prime example is the lamprey season between February and March when various traditional fishing vessels are taken out to indulge in the art of traditional fishing practices.

Small vessels dot the margins of the Lima denoting the close relationship the people of this land have with the river, whether due to the aforementioned fishing practices or the role the river played in the past as a transport route for commodities. Fruit, fish, wine and other surplus products from a prolific agricultural production were transported on boats along the Lima and easily placed on national and international markets due to the proximity of the Viana do Castelo sea port.

From the margins of the Lima one is able to see the crests of the mountain range which define the limits of the river basin with increasing altitudes from Serra de Santa Luzia which stands at an altitude of 500 m to Serra de Agra with a plateau reaching heights of 700 to 800 meters. These peaks stand out against the characteristic landscape of plant cover, farming fields and densely concentrated villages. The limits defining this mosaic of elevated blocks are established by the crisscrossing of tectonic alignments which also influenced the route of the main watercourses, namely the main tributaries of the Lima river, Ribeiro (stream) de Portuzelo, Ribeiro de Nogueira and Ribeiro de Seixo.

Man has been present in this land between the sea, the valley and the mountains since the 5th millennium BC as attested by numerous historic-archaeological findings, many found along this trail while others in the surrounding areas.

In the first few kilometres of our trail we come across the boundary stone marker from the ancient Morgadio (Majorat) belonging to the Bezzeras family, an important reference in the history of the parish of Meadela, which today is part of the União de freguesias de Santa Marta e Meadela (merger of parishes). The manor property dates back to the 15th century but had previously belonged to the Benedictine Order, a monastic property with special privileges dating back to the high Middle Ages. This couto (land) originated from a farming settlement in the Reconquista period, at the time already known as Paredes, as stated in the carta de couto (document granting ownership and privileges to land granted by royalty) dating back to 1136.

The boundary stones which bordered the monastic property were substituted by those of the majorat, bearing the Bezerras’ coat of arms, as in this example, with the shield engraved on the side facing the dividing wall.

As you continue upriver, there are quite a few interesting locations in the villages of Serreleis and Cardielos which give an account of the presence of mankind along the river from the Neolithic period to the Iron Age. We invite you to admire Mont São Silvestre which stands out in the landscape. Not only are there historical points of interest to be admired in the area but there are also areas with spiritual significance. At the top, at an altitude of 282 metres we find the São Silvestre Castro (hillfort). This fortified settlement from the Iron Age which survived the Romanization period is strategically located to control the area where the Lima valley ends. The defensive system is made up of three series of walls. Various houses, with circular shapes and at least one with a square layout are spread out on the flat sector at the top. It is likely that the dwellers of São Silvestre built other settlements at lower altitudes in the vicinity at the beginning of the 1st century, namely Terronha habitat, taking advantage of the tableland on the São Silvestre mount, and Serreleis and Calvário, in Perre (Almeida, Brochado de, 1996, 2003, 2009).

The location of these settlements indicate that new settlements progressively moved closer to the areas of the valley in the early years of the Romanization period, in search of the arable and dry soils of the hillsides.

In the place (lugar) of Breia, on the east side of Mount São Silvestre there are three horizontal outcrops in a natural passage between the lands of the valley floor and the hillside. The location has excellent visibility to other strategical locations for human settlement in the Lima valley. Francisco Queiroga identified various engraved motifs on these granite slabs in 1999, among which cup and ring marks (concentric circles). The oldest, most likely date back to the Neolithic era. The marks on these carved panels are known as schematic rock art or Atlantic art, displaying circular motifs united by lines, anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figures, most likely horses, there is one with an armed rider, as well as cruciform carvings. This rock art encompasses a wide timespan from the Neolithic to the Iron Age, with the subsequent Christianization of the location and the inclusion of cruciform inscriptions from the Middle Ages (Bettencourt, Ana, 2005, 2013).

We continue our way east reaching the villages of Torre and Vila Mou where we can find a rich collection of religious heritage that bears witness to the importance of monastic institutions in the organization of land use and occupation along the river during the Middle Ages. The Benedictine monasteries, the order with the strongest presence in the Ribeira Lima, moulded the cultural and rural landscape that we see today, influencing land structure, such as the layout and arrangement of properties; the planning and building of irrigation systems harnessing water from wells and streams; the building of water channels to drain wetlands, as we can see in the meadows or lowlands from Cardielos to Lanheses; and the planning of settlements beyond the limits of the farming fields and gardens (Moreira, Manuel Antonio Fernandes, 1986).

Even though not situation along this trail, we cannot forget to mention the crucial role that the São Salvador da Torre monastery had in the socio-economic development of the lower Lima during the last centuries of the Middle Ages. Its distant origins date back to a monastic community commissioned to be built in Vila Mou by Paio Vermudes, in the second half of the 9th century. A well-known figure during the Reconquista, the Galician count took over numerous lands in the Lima area, taking control over various farming villages located on the right bank of the Lima river, between Serra de Agra and the sea. This primitive monastery ceased to exist in the first half of the 11th century being burnt to the ground, most likely the target of Normand raids. This hypothesis, suggested by Figueiredo da Guerra, is based on the fact that various vestiges from this primitive monastery, carved stones which were kept in the old church of Vila Mou, presented smoke residues. They have been moved to the Museum of Decorative Arts in Viana do Castelo for display. In 1068 Frei Ordonho, a descendent of Paio Vermudes, undertook its immediate reconstruction in a more secure location, founding the São Salvador da Torre monastery.

The Couto (land with special privileges) belonging to the monastery covered an area of 40 km2 and was granted in 1129 by way of a letter from D. Afonso Henriques. It was one of the largest monastic coutos in the country. It encompassed alluvial lands in the Ribeira Lima and tableland areas on the hillsides. It was crisscrossed by the Viana do Castelo – Ponte de Lima – Caminha medieval roads. In the Royal Inquiries of 1258 this couto not only encompassed its own village but also the villages of Vila Mou, Lanheses, S. João de Nogeira, São Claudio, Meixedo and still several properties in Afifte, Carreço and Perre (Viana do Castelo District Archive, 2009).

Very few vestiges of the medieval monastery of São Salvador da Torre may be found today. The building found on the south side of the parish church dates back to the 18th and 19th century. Despite the various restorations, it is still possible to admire certain elements from the primitive Roman temple in the current church. In the central nave, the apse, the crossing arch and window located on the north side are notably much older. It is possible to see vestiges of two side doors, in a typical Romanesque style, on the main body of the building. The façade and portico are from the same era even though they were moved from their original position. The building underwent expansion work at the end of the 17th century and Baroque style elements were introduced.

In the bordering village to the north, we find the Romanesque church of São Cláudio de Nogueira. The monastery of São Claudio dates back to the time when the area was dominated by the Suebi. Founded by S. Martinho de Dume (Martin of Braga) in 568, it was destroyed by the Moors circa 716 and rebuilt in 1145. The reconstruction of this Benedictine monastery in the “Condal” period in the 11th century allows us to infer its importance in recapturing or regaining control over the land which belonged to the Condado Portucalense (first Portuguese nation state). In the mid 13th century, the Inquiries of 1258 ordered by the king D. Afonso III, located the monastery within the São Salvador da Torre Couto. In the 15th century the religious order ceased to exist, and the building became a parish church in 1835. It was completely renovated in 1949. The São Claudio de Nogueira church is one of the temples which best reflects religious rural architecture from the 11th and 13th century. The church presents a horizontal alignment, common to the majority of examples of Portuguese Romanesque churches: square apse with a modestly sized single nave.

Following this brief presentation of the cultural landscape and the historic-architectural heritage that is part of this equestrian trail of the Ribeira Lima, we invite you to follow the trail to discover new places, see sceneries and monuments with special environmental, historical, architectural or scenic value. These are much more than a succession of random points of interest, we aim to guide you through a journey where human and natural dimensions interact in the construction of the territory.

Useful Documents

Descarregue aqui o Percurso Pedestre e Equestre da Ribeira Lima

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Pontos de Interesse PEQ 1/ PR 25 - Trilho Pedestre e Equestre da Ribeira Lima

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Painel de Início PEQ 1/ PR 25 – Trilho Pedestre e Equestre da Ribeira Lima

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Topoguia PEQ 1/ PR 25 – Trilho Pedestre e Equestre da Ribeira Lima

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