Ever had one of those weeks when things start off lovely and then seem to go from bad to worse? and then just when you think that nothing else can go wrong, guess what? it does!
With all the news headlines recently about various storms, different weather fronts and snow and ice across the UK and throughout Europe, we can be excused for frequently visiting good old Google to check out the weather.
Mark struggles to get a forecast for our area, Vale de Prazares on his phone and swears that he has to stand in the middle of one of the terraces on one leg with his finger in his ear to pick it up. I choose the easier way of clicking on the little add button on the bottom of my screen and typing in the name of our village. Either way, we both found that storm Christoph was on it’s way and that we were in for a wet few days.
Wanting to get as much done out on the land before it hit us, we decided that we would make the most of the good weather and get on with more olive tree trimming. There was also the issue of the ever increasing cistus fields and the business of either relocating it to elsewhere on the plot or burning it.
So, without further ado, we set our alarm and at 6.30 and were soon up and about to kick start the day. This end of the day is the mirror image to the 5.30pm lights out – it’s pitch black at 6.30am and as we stand and look out of the annexe door towards the Gardunha mountains we can see the faint orange glow of the sun as it starts to appear. Within minutes it has made its debut and we have before us a brand new day. This has always been my favourite time, peaceful, unspoilt and full of promise.
Our trusty Google weatherman had told us that we could expect highs of around 13 degrees but as we waited for the sun to warm the ground, we wrapped up to take our customary morning walk with Wanda and could see the frost hiding in the shadows. Wanda loves this time of the day too. Maybe it is the lingering scents left behind by our nightime visitors or maybe she is still exploring her new home and finding her routine as well.
Yesterday we had managed to trim back the last of our vines and had felt rather proud of ourselves. Today we had booked in with the Camra to have a bonfire and there were two rather large bonfires on the bottom terrace waiting to be lit. We also had several piles of Cistus that Mark had been working on over the past few days dotted around the higher terraces which needed to be taken down to the bonfires as well.
This was the start of the downwards spiral. The ride-on tractor had thrown a shoe and one of its back wheels was completely flat. There was no way we were going to get it repaired in a hurry so decided that the only thing for it was to shift the cistus to the bonfire by hand (or rather by wheelbarrow and sack).
It was a bit tricky getting the fire going again, but eventually with a little bit of gentle coaxing we had ourselves a blaze. The problem then was to get the piles of cut cistus down quickly enough to make sure the fire didn’t go out. Manoeuvring a wheelbarrow wasn’t the quickest or easiest thing I’ve ever done and to be honest I think I am in need of a lesson or two in pushing these things around. Mark was whizzing up and down the terraces like a gazelle with his cargo, while I had to to stop and re-load my barrow more than once after it jack-knifed tipping everything out. Eventually, we agreed that I would do the loading and Mark would take it down to the fire. This was far more productive although we both sustained a fair few scratches to our arms and legs and just hoped that the healing properties of the cistus would live up to its name. Good job that we are both up to date with our tetanus jabs!
By the time it was dusk we had managed to shift seven piles of cistus as well as cutting back three of the olives trees on the bonfire plot. We were absolutely shattered, smelling of bonfires and hungry. Taking a hot shower went some way to reviving us but the soap made our cuts and scrapes sting. My Dad once told me, “you never know how good it feels to be clean until you have been really dirty”. He was absolutely right.
Another 6.30am start followed and we were all set for another day of olive trimming and land clearing. We opened up the gates and moved the car ready for the Ecositana team to arrive. With the ride-on still out of action, we had no option but to conscript our two petrol push along mowers into action that we brought from the UK. The Portuguese builders working on the the roof of the long house took a double take as they watched us trotting up and down the terraces outside the annexe pushing our little mowers. They must have thought we were nuts! We would have normally used the ride-on to mulch up the long hay-like grass that was laying on top so that it would break down and fertilise the land, but as the tractor was still out of action, we once again had to resort to manual labour. It was a struggle as the terraces are very uneven and I kept coming to an abrupt stop every time I hit a trough or bump.
We inherited a Japanese buffalo when we bought the quinta, which unfortunately is also out of action but the plan is to eventually get it repaired and use it to level out the terraces. A Japanese Buffalo is basically a two-wheeled tractor with large handles that resemble buffalo horns, hence the name. It can be used to til the land and some of them have a little wooden seat and a trailer attached. We’ve seen some of the locals passing by our Quinta with the farmer driving his tractor and his wife sat in the trailer. Perhaps that a step too far at the moment but never say never.
The team were doing well well with the roof getting as much done as possible before the storm came – fixing the layers of waterproofing, insulation and reflective sheeting to help protect everything from the rain. All seemed to be going well when Raphael came to find find us as they had discovered a problem. The original plan was to maintain the chimney stack at the opposite end to the kitchen so that we could create a little snug complete with a log burner to make it warm and cosy. The tiles had been taken off around the stack and found that the only thing that had been keeping it in place and upright were the old roof tiles. The chimney had been built on two pieces of wood which in themselves would have prevented us from putting a flue up the chimney. In addition, the height above the roof was far from the 1 metre minimum requirement. This meant that it was unlikely that we would have ever been able to have functional fire as there wasn’t enough height to create a draw. If by luck we had lit a fire, and it had taken, then the pieces of wood would have probably caught alight and taken the rest of the roof with it. It was agreed that the only real option was to let it go. The two temporary planks which were keeping it in place were removed and it literally took the push of a finger before the whole lot fell to the ground.
We were left thankful that we hadn’t attempted to make a fire in the room below and challenged with redesigning the layout of the room. I hadn’t been too keen on the red and white brick fireplace from the start. It hadn’t really bothered Mark either way so the result in my mind was a good one and we had the opportunity of making something lovely from the space it left behind.
We went back to more cutting of the trees. More making of wine glasses and more branches to burn. Not wanting to recreate the same scene as yesterday when we had to relay stuff to the bonfire, we decided to work on the terrace directly above where we have our fires and simply chuck it over the edge. This worked a treat and the pile soon reached upwards in a neat stack to where we were standing. If we had tried to create a stack so neat and tidy from ground level, we would have had no chance.
By 4.30, the Ecositana team were heading off. The space in the longhouse where our belongings were stored did not have a roof and the storm was heading our way. There was a very eerie feeling about the Quinta. The light was a strange yellow glow and although the sun was shining, there was a chill in the air. Everything seemed as though it was echoing around the mountains – the woodcutter still working his sawmill, the machinery working away in the distance and even the dog barking across on the next quinta. All seemed odd as though something strange was about to happen.
We set about moving everything from one end of the longhouse to the middle section. It’s a good job that we travelled light!! We were already aching from the pushing the mower and cutting the trees but knew we needed to get everything protected from the water. Eventually, after about an hour and a half, everything had been rearranged and we had even been able to find a couple of goodies that we were really happy to find. I found a couple of tubs of white options hot chocolate powder, Mark found a box of mini magnums in the freezer. Feeling exhausted, the last thing to move was the old fridge freezer that we have been using as a reserve during lockdown. It still had a couple of things left in it, one of which was a very large bottle of superbock lager.
We’d stashed it in the longhouse for the month as Mark is doing the dry January challenge. I for my part did the Stoptober challenge in 2019 and have been t-total ever since. Tonight though, tired, aching, dirty and hungry we both decided that a part share in this little beauty would really hit the spot.
Temptation was soon to be taken from us as the fridge door opened slightly just as we were moving the fridge onto the sack barrow and in a flash the ice cold bottle of lager complete with the condensation running down the side of the large brown bottle smashed to the floor and all that was left was the smell of hops filling the room.
Within a second we burst into action sweeping the broken glass away from our cardboard packing boxes and out of the door before it had chance to soak through them. Fortunately Wanda had been left in the annexe so there was no danger of her cutting her feet. A large chunk of broken glass cut through the sole of my trainer, fortunately stopping before reaching my foot.
Wearily, we locked up the longhouse and made our way to the annexe – mini magnums and hot chocolate under our arms.
Hot showers, fish pie (one I prepared earlier and courtesy of chef-mike) rounded off with our ice-cream lollys. We lit the log burner and sat in the warmth of its flames looking back over the past few days, reflecting on the challenges we had faced and day-dreaming about how it will feel when we have renovated and restored this little Quinta.
If you’ve got a dream, don’t bottle it up. Go with it and you never know, your may just end up in a wonderful little place like this.