It's in Arco de Baúlhe, where the old Tâmega railway line terminated after winding its way 50 kms up from Livração, on the Douro line. There haven't been any trains at the station for over thirty years and since 2013 the old line from Amarante to Arco has been operating as an ecopista, or maintained cycling-cum-walking path, while the old station at Arco has been turned into a museum. We know the ecopista well, having walked or cycled most of it at one time or another and it is really a very fine thing to traverse. This is especially true of the section between Gatão and Mondim de Basto, where it closely follows the course of the river, 60m above the west bank as it meanders its way along the edge of the Marão and Alvão mountains. Some of the views are quite exceptional, with Monte Farinha faithfully framing each panorama and the pista is generally kept in good condition. However, until this particular trip, we'd never made it to the end of the line at Bagpipes. I have to confess that we drove there. I hang my head in shame.

Author: Fitch O'Connell ;

Taking a nap

The museum closes for lunch. Old trains need their nap time too, it seems. The last visits in the morning have to start before 11.30 and once we got there we found out why. We wandered into what once would have been the ticket office and a woman appeared behind the screen and she peered myopically at us through the gloom. There was a kind of muted silence as if someone had pressed the pause button, then a smile broke across her face. 'Oh, you want to visit?' she said delightedly. We smiled back, nodding enthusiastically. She collected a bunch of keys and turned the sign on the door around and pulled the door behind her as we left the ticket office. I glanced back at the sign on the door. It basically said 'Gone museuming. Back soon.' She marched us along the old platform and along the track to an engine shed. She moved at a cracking pace and we had to scramble to keep up as she kept up a patter about the history of the line. Nothing I hadn't heard before so I could concentrate on catching my breath. She selected a key and opened the door of the shed, walked in, and flicked a switch. Inside were engines and carriages. The pride of the engines was a wonderful steam engine made by Henschel & Sohn of Germany in 1908.

Steam engines

I'm a sucker for steam engines. If only it had been working, but there was not even a hiss of steam. She explained the history of each of the engines and carriages. The earliest carriage, she said, was so tiny and with seats so narrow that passengers had to squeeze up to get in. They were much thinner in those days, she said. I tried it out and sat down. Not dissimilar to flying Ryanair, I thought. She then left us to scramble around the various stationary vehicles while she went to have a natter with the maintenance man we'd said hello to on the way in. I kept coming back to the steam engine.

When we'd done, she marched us along another track and over to another shed, via the engine turntable (still in working order, if you could find two or three burly men to shift it – or a dozen children, I suggested, mindful of the nearby school). The next shed had some posh train carriages in them. Carriages for royalty, no less. Sumptuously fitted with etched glass and exquisite wood panelling, we could only stare through the window. No one except royalty is allowed in there. An interesting stance for a republic to take.

Author: Fitch O'Connell ;


We took a detour through a herb garden, thanks to the keen sense of smell of the missus who had sniffed it out before we saw it. She encouraged us to take some cuttings back with us. I'm pretty sure that wasn't part of the museum tour. The final shed held little of interest for us – details of local festivals and customs and nothing to do with trains or railways at all and then she led us back to the ticket office, where she turned the sign around again. It had taken the best part of an hour, and it was all free. The 'gift shop' contained two fridge magnets and some postcards. Now it only has one fridge magnet. We left her to lock up and wandered along the tracks to the beginning of the ecopista and back again, past the old water tower and a small siding for goods trains. It was made more delightful by the careful planting of Black Locust trees which were abundantly in flower.

Back at our car, we opened the doors and windows to let some of the heat out and watched a Belgian couple unloading their bikes from their camper van and start to pedal down the ecopista. Just watching them made us feel tired. What we needed to do was to find some lunch and then have a little nap.


Fitch is a retired teacher trainer and academic writer who has lived in northern Portugal for over 30 years. Author of 'Rice & Chips', irreverent glimpses into Portugal, and other books.

Fitch O'Connell