It is so lovely and peaceful here on the farm and although two days are never the same, we seem to have naturally eased ourselves into a daily routine that suits the way we want to live. Sunrise is now around six thirty and sets again at half past eight, so we have a lot more daylight hours to be getting on with things.
Just as well really, as everything on the farm has suddenly burst into life and there is new growth everywhere we look. The vines which a few weeks ago were only just starting to develop their tiny little green shoots – have now grown so much that they are reaching out for the nearby trees and within the next week undoubtedly they will be making contact.
We can remember just how overgrown the land was when we first arrived, with tall grasses, an abundance of weeds wherever we looked and vines stretching themselves out along the terraces entwined in the trees and firmly attached to the wire fences. It took some clearing to detangle everything but we managed to cut back every last one of the vines and for three months they lay quiet and dormant.
At one point we wondered if we’d been too severe with our pruning and if they would ever bear fruit again! We needn’t have worried as we can already see minute little bunches of grapes forming. With that comes the future challenge of making sure we put our grape harvest to good use – we have come across a whole load of wine making equipment in an out-building, so who knows, we may even try our hand at home made wine although with a bottle of wine costing about the same as a bar of chocolate we may have to do a time and motion study first!
The vines were not the only things growing as the grass was also in need of a good cut. The ride-on tractor that we brought with us from the UK has definitely proved to be a sound investment as I can get all the grass cut in a day. There’s approximately 4 acres and although some of the terraces are a bit tricky to manoeuvre around due to the steep banks and restricted access between the vines and trees. There is also the issue of the low branches which I am still continually bumping my head on even though Mark has set me up with a hard hat complete with a visor and ear defenders. I now need to make sure I actually wear them!
Unfortunately, part way into cutting the grass, our ride-on tractor developed a flat tyre. As it was over the weekend with no chance of getting it repaired until the following week, there was nothing else to do but get out the petrol lawn mower. With the reassurance that the fresh air and all the exercise pushing it up and down must be doing me good, I pressed on.
The flap at the back of the mower had a sizeable hole which allowed the little stones to be projected through and before long I had cuts and little bruises all up my legs. On a mission to find a use for as many of the things left on the farm, Mark found an old bit of plastic in one of the sheds and made a makeshift repair by screwing it into place over the broken flap on the mower. This seemed to do the trick and two full days later I finally succeeded in getting it all cut. Needless to say we headed off to Fundao the following week to buy a replacement shoe for our trusty steed.
Mark’s dad is famous for the huge bag of various items that he buys for everyone at Christmas and we made sure we had packed the one’s we’d been given over the years. Some of the items are quite unique and anyone could be forgiven for wondering if they would ever be needed. But, we have found time and again that there is always that one time when nothing else will do the job and we find ourselves hunting to retrieve something.
This week, with the onset of the warmer days we were bothered by an increase in the number of flies around. As we don’t have fly screens in the annexe, the door had to remain closed and it soon became very hot inside. Mark remembered packing a magnetic fly screen that his dad had given us and as the annexe door frame is metal, it did the job perfectly.
It’s a simple but effective piece of kit with nine pairs of very strong magnets that keep the screen closed and flies out whilst still allowing us to walk through before clicking back together again behind us like a string of castanets. We almost want to burst into a little flamenco dance as we traverse back and forth. Wanda on the other hand was not quite so sure and it took her a while to work out that she could push her way through too.
While I was busy out on the land, Mark was extremely busy inside the long house. Parts of the house could possibly be over 100 years old so as you can image the walls and ceilings are desperately in need of some TLC and renovation. But before he could start anything we had to take delivery of the materials needed to do the job. We placed our order with Stedi in Castelo Branco and a couple of days later a lorry arrived loaded up with almost 70 sheets of plasterboard, rock wool insulation, 10 bags of dot and dab (plasterboard adhesive) and 5 bags of joint filler as well as a large amount of galvanised stud walling.
Bit by bit this all had to be carried into the store and once again I found that I was telling myself that all this exercise and fresh air must be doing me good. I didn’t realise just how heavy and unwieldy plasterboard is and it took over 3 hours to store in all away.
Our electrician has been back to finish off the first fix of the electrical installation so that we can get on with making good the walls. To save time, and money, Mark chased out in the walls and floor where the sockets and cables need to be laid so once Jose had finished laying the now familiar blue conduit, the plasterboard was soon being fixed into place.
Due to the age of the house and the lack of any insulation or damp course, we have decided to use a number of different techniques. The ceiling will be coated with pva and then skimmed and painted, the inside walls will be dry lined using dot and dab, the external walls will be rendered and painted on the outside and on the inside metal batons will be fixed to the walls and rockwool placed before fixing on the vapour barrier and plasterboard.
The metal baton system is totally new to us, so Mark decided to stick with what he knows and dot and dab first. The first day was a great success and he steamed ahead. It was such a milestone for us as finally it feels as though we are inching forwards. I’m not quite at the point where I’m deciding where the Christmas tree will go, but we’re getting there.
As part of the ongoing renovation work we needed to prepare the window openings ready to received the new windows. The barn renovation already has granite sills but the long house still has all the old windows. Once again with a little help from Raphael, we managed to source the remaining sills and arranged for these to be bespoke-made. However, collecting the sills proved to be eventful. Despite being given directions on how to get there, we once again had to rely on our Sat Nav and true to form, armed with two mobile phones, one with a low battery and the other with no battery charge, we arrived on a wing and a prayer.
This quintessential stone masons yard, which appears to have stood still in time, was just the beginning of an eventful exercise due to our total lack of speaking Portuguese and the stonemasons total lack of English. Entering the reception area Mark asked the lady sat behind the counter “fales Ingles?” to which she replied “Si, fales Ingles”. Encouraged Mark explained, in English that we have come to collect our window sills to which she replied “Nao intendo” (I do not understand) gesturing for him to go and speak to the two men working outside. Some verbal mis-communication later and we reached a stale mate, so once again we reverted back to our trusty translator Raphael and called him on the phone. Within 20 minutes the truck we had loaned from Linda and Andy was all loaded up with our sills and we were once again on our merry way.
The old windows need to be removed and the new sills fitted as soon as possible so that Orlando can come back and measure up for the new ones. Given that the whole process from measuring to fitting can take two to three months, we are naturally keen to get cracking with this as soon as we can.
We try to have a turn around the terraces at the start and at the end of each day. We’ve come to love these little walks where we reflect on how fortunate we are to be living in such a beautiful place. When we first started our walks the area around the open well and all along the little brook was well overgrown and difficult to make out. We found that as we neared the well, out from somewhere within the overgrowth there would be a series of plops as the resident frogs would hop into the water.
The soil around the well was often boggy after there had been rain and although this meant that the grass grew really well, we couldn’t get anywhere near to cut it. It took some time for both the brook and the well to be cleared and Mark has also introduced a pipe to direct the water away from the terrace and downstream. This has made it much drier now and easily accessible by foot. Wanda loves to stand at the edge of the well and peep in to see what is going on, although fortunately, despite being a Spanish Water Dog, she hasn’t ventured in for a swim …. Yet!
At one point, when I was working in the veggie patch I was sure that I could here a dog barking and it seemed to be coming from the well. As the veggie patch is on the terrace directly above, hesitantly I went over to the edge and peered over into the water. The barking was even louder but instead of seeing a dog in the water, there was an extremely large dark green frog which for all the world was indeed “barking”, so henceforth it is now referred to as the dog frog.
On our daily walks the smaller frogs are still jumping into the well as we draw close to them. Nowadays though, instead of random plop, plop, plop, plops, they seem to all jump in together with one larger unanimous movement, as if part of a synchronised swimming team trying to impress.