We arrived in Portugal two months ago with the misconception that there would be just the three of us occupying Quinta Vinha das Almas and that we would be spending the next few month by ourselves, socially distanced and renovating our farm.
Morning walks and working on the land have taught us differently. One of the things we most love about living here is the absolute peace, quiet and tranquillity. We can hear the sheep bleeting across the way on the farm opposite, and near the Gardunha’s a donkey brays from time to time, but other than this, for the most part there is very little noise. Maybe the odd car now and again and the farmer shouting his sheep in at nightfall but that is literally it.
However, we hadn’t been here very long when we learnt that we were sharing our new home with a quite a few co-habitants.
When strimming back the brambles and weeds on the terraces we noticed quite a few holes in the bank and wondered what had made them. We puzzled over why our terrace was peppered with random little holes, about an inch in diameter and tried to imagine how they had come to be. Suddenly, we saw something moving quickly into one of the holes and there we had it, a seemingly full housing estate of Fieldmice! living on the bank, near the brook and with a bountiful supply of fruit, seeds and nuts right on their doorstep.
We started to take much more notice of our land and the sounds, sights and smells around us. The birds with their beautiful morning song, little ant hills dotted around the terraces, rabbit holes heading deep down underground, the empty birds nests in sometimes the most unexpected places and long ridges in the soil where moles have furrowed under the ground, not quite breaking through but leaving a bumpy trail as they have travelled along. Sometimes we see the footprints and rooting of something quite large, probably wild boar foraging for acorns or olives or even trying to sniff out the moles.
We’re enjoying learning to appreciate the creatures around us and living peacefully with them, side by side. We all have our paths to follow and can do this quite harmoniously most of the time.
We could hear some dogs nearby this morning and guns going off. As we walked the plot, two hunting dogs went trotting along our boundary fence. It seems to be quite the norm for the hunters dogs to roam and track the wild boar. Wanda seemed to be un-phased by their presence although her instinct seemed to kick in and she was intensely focussed with her ears raised on the dogs and nearby sounds. We were mindful that we do have some holes in the boundary fence so kept Wanda close by us in case the dogs strayed onto our farm.
However, despite being happy in sharing our land with the animals, we’ve found the tell-tale signs that we have got a trespasser in one of our store buildings. We’re not sure if this is a new visitor or a previous one that Mark disturbed when clearing out the animal shelter, but we have definitely got a resident rat.
We would be quite happy for it to find a little spot for itself out on the land somewhere but moving into our building just isn’t at all acceptable and we knew we had to do something about it.
We had a choice of rat pasta or rat rice, so we bought some of each. We set a couple of traps, scattered the bait then left it overnight. The next day we checked the storehouse. The traps were empty, the rice and pasta had all gone and there was more than the usual amount of rat droppings. The next few days saw us repeat the process over and over again. Each time the rat was well-fed, poo’d a lot and avoided the trap.
The Ecositana team are ready to start working on the roof of the store so we needed to move anything that may get damaged out of the way. The rain had stopped, the ground was starting to dry out and reluctantly, I saw this as an opportunity to check if there was a rat nest tucked away in the store. We started moving things outside into the sunlight coming across a lot of little treasures and curiosities that we’ve carefully put safely to one side.
We found a huge pile of Portuguese crockery, several terracotta urns of various sizes, some metal milk churns, cooking pots, copper pans, a beautiful salmon poacher, an early 1900’s cast iron, several ornate port glasses as well as a couple of carved wooden chests, some wine making equipment and the trailer to fasten on to the Japanese Buffalo.
We did find a small amount of shredded paper in a box but other than that, there was no sign of Mr Rato. We will keep a close eye out for signs of his return but hopefully he has moved on his way and won’t be calling again.
The new roof and the building work has continued over the past few days although at a much slower pace due to the adverse weather conditions. Our farm is definitely a building site with the rain filling the deep furrows made by the crane in a few hours. At one point we had a torrent of water weaving its way down from the main gates, past the olive trees and down the bank outside the annexe. This answered another puzzle as to why part of the terrace wall had collapsed – it appears that when it rains intensely it flows down to that point and causes the soil to wash away. Mark is undecided what to do about this but perhaps installing some irrigation pipes to divert the water may be an option.
The roof of the longhouse is very nearly complete, just a couple of bits left to do and already we have noticed a difference. Inside we get the impression that the rooms feel less damp and don’t smell as fusty. As the roof tiles have a significantly increased overhang, this improves the deflection of rainwater away from the walls so they don’t get as wet. We are hopeful that this will all contribute towards making it habitable and a comfortable living space.
Once the roof is complete we are looking forward to the work continuing on the barn so that it also has a new roof and it is a step nearer to us living in it.