Three Wheels on my Wagon!

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!

Our trusted tractor shed a shoe!

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.

The Cistus Fields – Revisited

This morning’s routine of a 6.30 alarm call, shower and unlocking the longhouse for the builders was abruptly interrupted when there was a loud knock on the door. It was a bit alarming as we don’t get many callers in the middle of nowhere. It turned out to be one of the Ecositana team who was trying to explain in Portuguese the reason for him being there. All that was running through Mark’s mind was “I wish I could speak Portuguese”. After some gesturing and beckoning with his index finger, Mark followed him up to the longhouse.

He continued to explain in Portuguese what he wanted, pointing first to the kitchen ceiling, and then to that in the room next to it, saying “esta? esta?”. All that was running through Mark’s mind was “I wish I could speak Portuguese”. Eventually, it became apparent that he wanted to know which ceiling to remove and it was Mark’s turn for gesturing to let him know.

Everything seeming to be sorted, Mark turned to the builder and said “Tudo Bem” (which means all ok? in Portuguese). The expression on the builders face for all the world seemed to say “now you can understand Portuguese?”.

Today was a day in the office for me and as is was such a lovely day, I was able to work outside. Wanda seems to be my shadow these days – not sure if it’s because I give her more treats or if its because she gets to lie in the sun when I’m working. She’s taken really well to being a farm dog and seems to have little short cuts to get around the place. I’ve noticed sometimes when I’ve set off on the tractor to go to a different terrace that she’s arrived there way ahead of me. Usually there is a lot of ball throwing when were out on the land which means that by tea-time she is tired out and sleeps all night. We must have brought with us a dozen balls for her to chase and I think ten of them are dotted around the Quinta.

Mark decided to go back and work in the Cistus field as it is quite a way from the house where the builders are and quite a way from where I was working.  I thought I heard voices at one point and went down to see who he was talking to.  It turned out he was talking to himself, or rather practicing his Portuguese out loud.   When we were in the UK we bought an audio Portuguese language course,  We never really got past asking for directions to the tourist information office or asking for more marmalade, but he was really going for it today and already up to lesson 7, obviously trying to make up for his shortfalls this morning!

So, back to the Cistus.  Mark has been busy trying to dig it out and re-plant on the boundary and today managed to dig up approximately 209 square metres.  There were a couple of hidden surprises as he went along …. 1 fig tree, a cork oak and three vines.  Just goes to show how tall this stuff can grow and take hold if you can lose trees in the middle of it. 

We also discovered that one of the pine trees had been damaged by wild boar, probably when they have been foraging on the land.  Apparently, they are quite hungry at this time of the year.  A few weeks ago we were told that a wild boar had been shot nearby by hunters and it took three grown men to carry it away.  We did come across one at the side of a lake when we were here last year and fortunately it was on the other side as it wasn’t a very cheerful looking chappie.

The cistus loaded in to the trailer ready to be taken down to the bonfire

On the plus side, now there is some progress being made in removing the cistus, we are now able to access our little wooden copse.  This is a small area at the furthermost north-eastern part of the land containing approximately 20 pine trees and couple of cork oaks clustered together.  There are also clumps of lavender dotted around which smell so lovely and a few other plants that smell nice although as yet we’re not sure if they are weeds.

At this time of the year, as we have pine trees, we have to be very mindful that this is now the season for the pine procession caterpillars and they are extremely dangerous to dogs.  We have seen silky white nests in the trees near to Linda and Andy’s quinta where the processionary moth has laid its eggs during the summer on the pine needles. When the caterpillars hatch, they eat the pine needles during the night and go into their nests during the day.  The caterpillars grow during the winter months and around this time of the year they are ready to make their transformation – this is when they become dangerous.  They leave their nests and make their way down the tree to the ground in search of somewhere to bury themselves and turn into pupae for their transformation into moths. They have tiny barbed hairs covering their body and can be launched like harpoons if threatened.  When they come down the tree, they travel in a processional line, nose to tail, hence their name and the line can sometimes be a few metres long and resembling a fluffy snake.

We are keeping Wanda away from the trees for the next couple of months because we have read that if she was to sniff a caterpillar, she could suffer horrific injuries or even die – the vet has told us that some dogs have even lost their tongues.  We’ve considered cutting down the trees but really like the wooded copse and the world certainly needs more trees.  There doesn’t seem to be any of the nests in our trees, but to be safe, we will not let Wanda anywhere near them for a while.

 

The sound of sawing wood, hammering and loud voices could be heard coming from the direction of the long house.  By mid-afternoon we could see that the tiles on the final section of the existing roof had been removed.  Raphael came to give an update of what was happening.  They had decided not to insulate and waterproof the existing two thirds as no rain had been forecast and they wanted to crack on and get the last bit taken down so that they could start concreting the ring beam.  This had become more complicated than first thought, so had taken longer. But we now have a vaulted timber kitchen ceiling and the middle section of the longhouse is boarded ready for the next stage. 

The vaulted ceiling in place, the concrete beams still to be removed and a decision yet to be made about exposing the granite wall

Living the Good Life!

We’ve indulged ourselves lately by watching old episodes of The Good Life which was aired on BBC TV in the 1970’s.  For anyone who is not old enough to remember this, it stars Tom Briers and Felicity Kendal and is set in  Surbiton, south-western Greater London.  The storyline centres around a draughtsman who decides on his 40th birthday, to give up his job and try his hand at self-sufficiency, with the support of his wife.

Well, we’re not living in Surbiton and we are not in our 40’s, but we do want to live that simple lifestyle where we are working in harmony with the land, appreciating the beauty of nature and learning how to work with it to produce bountiful crops.  There is a very long way to go, it will be a very steep learning curve and we know that we are only at the first step of our journey, but we are up for the challenge and raring to go.

The past couple of days have given us glorious sunshine from dawn to dusk and the opportunity to continue with cutting and trimming back our vines and olive trees.  We have done a bit of research (where would we be without Google!) and learnt a little from what we’ve read.  We also remember what we learnt during our first trip to Portugal visiting Linda and Andy and helping out with their Quinta.  So, with loppers, secateurs, hand saws and couple of Marks stepladders packed into the trailer of our ride-on tractor, we made our way down to the middle plots. 

 

Fortunately, we have already cut the long grass so it was easy to see the task in hand. Although very overgrown, the vines were fairly straightforward to cut back. Some of the vines had climbed up into the trees and had to be pulled out with quite a force to get them out. It is really quite astonishing how far they will creep up and how steadfastly they attach themselves to the branches. We used the theory of “2 buds and cut” and quickly saw that things were taking on a new look. So many little bunches of dried up grapes from last years harvest. Not liking to waste anything, we’re already planning what we will do with our grapes and think that our champion juicer may be brought off the bench and in to play.

It’s so difficult to understand the current pandemic, never mind try and pre-empt what may happen in the next few months but I do know that if my niece, Melia, is able to visit she will munch her way through a fair share of our grape harvest.

The Olive trees were a little more tricky. Some of them are so overgrown they look more like a bush than a tree, with dozens of suckers shooting up. Keeping my feet firmly on the ground, it was my job to take out the suckers and the lower branches. Mark was working up the ladder removing the tree’s central branches to allow the sunlight to penetrate.

Mid-afternoon saw a visit from the Hipwell’s.  They had been in the area and wanted to have a peek at what we’ve been up to.  They came laden with goodies – some biscuits from the baker, a couple of bay trees, a Polonia and an Australian Jacaranda.  Although quite small at the moment, the Jacaranda will grow to around 40 feet tall and its span will be even wider so we will need to find a sunny spot where it can be free to shoot up.  Checking with Linda it should be fine to plant on the boundary so I’m thinking perhaps on the top plot so it can be seen as we are to-ing and fro-ing.  I’m not sure just how long it will take to give a presentation of its beautiful purple flowers but we will be watching and waiting in anticipation.

Andy went off with Mark to check out the progress of the new roof.  Antonio had been here this morning with a couple of his team adding some batons on to the kitchen roof and then this afternoon they were cutting and hammering in the area where the shuttering had been removed.  We heard from Raphael that a couple of his team have tested positive to Covid and although they wear their masks when on site, we didn’t see any sense at all in venturing up to see what they are up to whilst they were still about.

I took the opportunity of showing Linda the vines that we had been trimming and was quite pleased that it seemed we had been doing these ok.  Our vines are much different to those at Lourical as they are spread quite randomly around the different terraces propped up on blocks of tijola.  Linda and Andy’s vines stand uniformly in straight lines, trained to grow up the wires for ease of picking, trimming and grass cutting in between them.  For now we think our rambling terraces and random vines suite the character of our Quinta, living quite well up to its name – Vinha Das Almas, Soul of the Vines.

 

Linda got quite twitchy checking our vines and was keen to get her hands on the secateurs. We both agree it is extremely therapeutic.

It would appear that we hadn’t been quite as bold cutting back the olive trees as we had first thought and with a permanent marker in hand Linda made herself busy putting little crosses on the bits that need to be taken out.  Referring to Google yet again, we have learnt that the olive trees need to be cut into the shape of a wine glass, with the main trunk being the stem and the branches being the sides of the glass.  The glass needs to be empty, so the branches in the middle need to go.  I’ve looked around as we’ve been driving along and can see that the Portuguese don’t always adopt this approach, but it seems to be more common than not so will be the system that we take. 

It seems quite brutal removing so many branches, but they do look much happier once they’ve had their haircuts.  We’re also very mindful that we need to get this done as quickly as possible as fires are no longer permitted after June so disposing of the cuttings would be a big problem.    Despite having had a number of fires last weekend, our bonfires are already quite a height so we need to telephone and schedule a slot for the weekend.

With the pending lockdown, we decided to make a dash to Soalheria to fill up the petrol cans and then pop off at the post office to top up our Portuguese phone and check if we have had any parcels delivered. Mark was really pleased that some clips he had ordered for his walking boots while we were still in the UK had finally arrived, taking 8 weeks to complete their journey.

By 6.30 we were both in our Pj’s – feeling weary but also feeling that this really is the good life. Each day is a new page and we look forward to seeing our story unfold.

Preparing to Lockdown

It is difficult to comprehend the magnitude of the current global pandemic when we are on the farm as we don’t really see anyone from day to day. In fact, apart from the farmer on the opposite plot coming twice a day to see to his sheep, we hardly see any passing traffic. Raphael sent a message last night to say the Ecositana team wouldn’t be coming as they needed an extra day for the concrete to set although they would be busy doing other things such as scheduling the delivery of the materials.

Mark has taken to catching up on the news in Portugal first thing in the morning and read that there is quite likely going to be a full lockdown from midnight on Wednesday. Not sure what this means in practical terms we decided to make a list and do a “big shop” in Fundao to prepare for it.

As is now the norm, we finished breakfast and went off for our morning walk. The skies were a beautiful pale blue, the sun was shining through the trees and although there was a bit of a cold wind, everything felt fresh and lovely. There is a big old fig tree just outside of the longhouse which has obviously been there for many years. It is very close to the main house and the concrete path is breaking up because of the roots. Antonio and Raphael both shake their heads and suck in through their teeth when talking about it and are adamant that it needs to go. Many of the branches will be in the way when the extension is built, so unfortunately it has to be taken out. I have always loved the fruit from this particular tree and as we passed by it today I could see tiny little figs starting to form in anticipation of the coming summer. I felt quite sad and sorry that we would be cutting it down. Even though there are 17 other fig trees around the Quinta, it is not a nice feeling taking out something that has thrived for so many years.

We plodded on with our walk checking out the Sistas relocation programme.  This stuff seems to grow at an alarming rate and is often used to make therapeutic oil.  We don’t plan to process it in any way, but find that it has a beautiful little flower and makes a good barrier for animals wanting to get on to our land.  We took note of the parts of the fence that had been damaged to due foxes, wild boars or other animals and in some cases could clearly see a pathway where it had been used as a thoroughfare. Wanda seems to pay particular attention to sniffing at these points so we have a good idea that animals are still using them to get on to the farm.

 

 

We are trying hard to adapt to the Portuguese way of life,  a part of which is to throw away as little as possible and re-purposing anything that has bee discarded.  Mark has found an old piece of wire fencing, some rods and some wire and is planning on repairing the holes, and placing rods and wire to keep it firm.  He then plans t0 re-position the Sistas that he has removed from elsewhere on the farm to protect the fence from our four legged intruders.

Walk complete, we gathered up some shopping bags along with our ID documents which we need to carry with us at all times, and set off for Fundao.  It’s difficult to unlock the big gate these days as the larger of the two gates seems to have dropped.  It has to be lifted up about half an inch whilst turning the key and this is always a bit of a struggle for me so sorting this was added on to our list of things to do at some point.

We made the relatively short drive to Fundao with our list, our bags and wearing our face masks.  Concerned that the virus rate is increasing, we decided to wear our solid facemasks as an extra precaution.  We are always extremely careful anyway, but wanted to be super sure.  Once on, they did look a bit alarming compared to the general ones that everyone else was wearing, so we popped a plain white cloth one over the top which looked much better.

I guess that the Lidl in Fundao is just the same as the Lidl anywhere else in the world and simply love Lidl in the middle.   We trotted up and down the socially distanced aisles, selecting things for our trolley and for the most part got everything that we needed.  There are a couple of things that will be on the list for our visitors to bring us …… Bisto, shredded suet, furniture polish, Yorkshire Tea-bags, bacon and icing sugar.  I didn’t expect to get TREX and wasn’t disappointed but couldn’t even get lard for making my pastry.  Outside in the car park we were reminded how lovely Portugal is as our eyes strayed to the horizon and caught sight of the sun-capped mountains.  What a lovely view from a supermarket car park. Beautiful.

With the car loaded up and ready for home we headed off hoping to find a petrol station on the way.  The ride-on tractor is certainly a very thirsty girl and seems to continually need topping up.  In her defence though, we do seem to ask quite a bit from her, up and down the terraces, cutting through extremely tall grass, usually with a trailer in tow full of branches, cuttings, different bits of heavy rubbish, Marks tools or gardening equipment loaded in to it.

 

 

With the increasing chance of there being a national lockdown starting in the next couple of days, we stocked up on dried and tinned foods as well as cleaning consumables, toiletries and dog food in the hope that we won’t have to venture out again for the next 2 or 3 weeks.

Unfortunately, we didn’t find a petrol station so that is going to have to be a job for sooner rather than later.

 

Although our water supply from the mine has been tested and certified as safe to drink,  it does sometimes come out a bit discoloured when running the taps.  There is a lovely fresh water source near the turn off to Vale de Prazares, so we pulled in and filled up our water containers.   It is our intention to be connected to the mains water,  for our peace of mind when drinking it.  It also comes with the added bonus that included with this is a  predictable water pressure and a complimentary visit to empty the septic tank.  

 

The post office was closed as we passed by so we were unable to either check if we had received any parcels or top up our Portuguese telephone.  We’re down to our last 4 Euros so need to get this sorted fairly quickly.  Once back at the Quinta we had the mammoth task of unloading the shopping, getting it all washed with hot soapy water and packed away.  It always seems strange to find myself washing a bottle of bleach or detergent, but wanting to be super safe, did it anyway.

We are living in a one-roomed little annexe with tiny parts of it designated for sleeping, cooking, washing up, eating and storage.  We have had to maximise the space we have.  We call it our bed-sit, Amy refers to it as our studio apartment and others might think it is our squat.  Whatever it’s name, we realised we didn’t have enough space on the two tiny little shelves that we inherited, for storing all the shopping we had just bought.  

We went up to the long house and gave the old fridge freezer that we used when we stayed her in the summer of 2019 a good clean out before switching it on for a trial run – result!  it seemed to be working quite happily so we left it a while to get to temperature before stocking it up.  We searched in the long-house amongst the stash of our belongings and found a “shabby chic’d” shelving unit that we brought with us from the UK.  With the old shelves down, this fitted perfectly in the space left behind and was a much better area for us to keep our foodstuff.  Everything that we have is kept in sealed containers and the shelves were just the job for keeping everything in one place.  As Mark had assembled his circular saw, we decided to go full out and add some more shelves for good measure and to be honest, we were really pleased with our new kitchen.  

Not wanting to miss out on the last walk of the day, we downed tools and walked the land. There are signs of green growth breaking through the cut grass that still lies on the ground. The roses and vines are budding, the fig trees have tiny baby figs starting to show and everything is good in our world.

The evenings entertainment was to finish off juicing the windfall oranges that we didn’t get done yesterday. We have got quite a production line going and my original doubts about needing to peel before juicing no longer a concern. We bought a beast of a juicer in auction back home for about £20 a year ago and it is perfect for the job. A bit annoying having to pack it all away in its box each time but once we have a walk in cupboard this won’t be a problem.

24 little hours ..

What a difference a day makes!  24 hours ago we were wrapped up in warm coats and hats with the snow blowing down through the mountains and freezing our noses and ears.  Today, is the complete opposite.  The sky is blue, the sun is out and it’s a perfect day for pegging out the washing and working on the land.

We had a late start, with a leisurely breakfast followed by our morning walk with Wanda.  As we were not expecting any visitors, we left the gates locked and made our way around the terraces. It doesn’t seem to make any difference how many times we walk the land, we always chat about our plans for the house, the land and having friends and family come to stay. We are looking forward to the day when we can share this with everybody.

We decided to take a couple of buckets to gather up the windfalls and pick oranges for juicing. There are so many on the trees, the branches are laden with fruit and and bending with the weight of it all.  It smells lovely down where most of the orange trees are and we always have our daily Vit C fix when we arrive at that terrace.

 

Contented to have a day where we were just pottering about instead of full on pruning of the olive trees and vines, we set our stall out to tidy the area in front of the annexe.  I split some little flowers that looked a bit like marigolds and spread them around in the bed under the olive tree.  The ground was very uneven with lots of weeds, rubbish and dead leaves so the next job was to get this tidied up.  The leaves were raked and bagged, the weeds pulled up and the pathway in front of the annexe given a good brush.

The orange tree outside the bathroom was quite overgrown and we could see that the roots were affecting the path.  We knew that this would be in the way when we come to do the extension, so decided that it might as well have a couple of its branches taken off now.  The blade on the chainsaw is blunt and we need to get into Castelo Branco to buy a new one, so for the time being used a hand saw. There were a lot of oranges on this tree too, so they were picked and added to our bucket ready for juicing later.

 

Next in need of a little haircut were the Olive trees in front of the annexe.  Loppers in hand we set about giving them a bit of a trim.  We did notice that some of the trees have quite a lot of olive knot on them, and decided that we need to do a bit of googling to find out how we should go about tackling this.   It’s always a bit tricky to find reliable advice as so often there are contradicting opinions.  I’m very fortunate to know a very knowledgeable young man from my home town of Withernsea, who is also a curator of Wisley RHS.  We decided that we would take some photographs and send them over to Matthew to ask his opinion and what his thoughts were about treating it.

The olive branches were loaded on to the ride-on tractor and taken to one of yesterdays bonfire sites ready for the next fire.  I guess that will be the case for a fair few months until they are prohibited due to widespread fire risk. We made a mental note that we would need to get in touch with the authorities again to book fires in for the next weekend.  

By late afternoon we were pleased with our days works and did some final finishing touches by getting some of our garden ornaments out of storage and putting them out.  Some of our old favourites which had been given to us by Mark’s dad were first out the box and included the 2 stone heads that had guarded our front door in the UK and a brightly coloured painted frog which had been bought for us during one of the lovely weekends we had spent together in Withernsea.  Mixed in with these were some of the handmade Christmas given made by my sister Twiggy.  We have so many lovely things that eventually will be dotted around the plot and enjoyed on our daily walks.

 

By now it was getting late and the natural 5.30 black out curfew was fast approaching. We packed away the tractor and the gardening equipment, locked up the longhouse and had our evening stroll around the Quinta. The mild afternoon was being replaced with a very chilly evening and we were glad to get back indoors.

I’d prepared a roast chicken dinner which we could smell cooking as we got back indoors. WE just had time to have a facetime call with family before sitting down to eat and reflect on our day. After dinner, we juiced the oranges we had collected earlier in the day and were surprised to see that we had 2 and a half litres from only one of the buckets. The juice was bright orange and tasted sweet. As we had run out of contained, we decided to leave the remaining bucket to juice in the next couple of days.

… and we shall have snow!

Certainly not shorts and t-shirt weather today – even for a couple of hardy English Northerners.  The wind was rattling around the plot blowing around everything that wasn’t fastened down and we received a message from the Hipwell’s letting us know that they had snow in Lourical.   Definitely not what we were expecting, but we were assured that this is not un-heard of in this area.  Our morning walk was a chilly one feeling the icy north eastern blast from the Gardunha’s especially at the barn side of the longhouse.  Down on the bottom plot we recovered a garden waste bag that had been blown down the terraces.

As we walked, we chatted about how the day would pan out, grateful that although we were working outside, we would be lighting bonfires which should keep us nice and warm.

Wanting to make sure nothing unexpected happened, we were careful to do everything as safely as possible, we made sure that we had a hosepipe set up in case any sparks blew across the plot and ignited any of the dry grass.  The fire was piled up in an orderly fashion and we used a little bit of paraffin to set it alight.  It struggled to do anything worthy of being called a bonfire, so we tried a little more of the paraffin.  Over an hour later Mark was starting to feel very chilly as the bonfire still wasn’t catching hold.  He went back up to the compound to collect some of the old wood to try and encourage a flame.  Thankfully, this seemed to do the trick and there was soon a roaring fire.  It was quite windy so we had to be mindful of sparks blowing onto the dry grass and stamp them out before they caught fire.

In all,  there were 4 fires on three different terraces and it took most of the day to get everything burned. 

I decided to go back to the annexe and work outside there.  It is much more sheltered there and the wind didn’t venture that far so I set about cutting back some of the lower branches of the olive trees and the suckers so that we would be able to get the tractor through to the annexe much easier.  It also meant that today’s cuttings could be put on the bonfires instead of creating a pile of waste.  Getting stuck in with the loppers, I was amazed when I looked round to see just how many branches were laying on the ground.  I couldn’t reach the top most branches so left these for Mark to do another day.

I’d only managed to get one of the olives trees weeded and tided up last weekend, so the remaining one was next on my to do list.  As well as weeds, I found buried in the rubbish an old thermometer, a trowel and a ceramic plate.  

 

Mid-morning, and it was our turn to get more than the few flakes of snow that we had seen so far.  Mark was now well away with his bonfire and warm and toasty (although smelly) so I headed indoors to keep dry and got on with prepping for dinner, cleaning our little room and changing the bedding. 

Aware that it starts to get dark around 4pm and by 5.30 it is pitch black, we were keen to make sure we were done before then.  Wanting to get rid of a lot of rubbish from the courtyard, and also the furniture left in the longhouse that we don’t want, we carried it all outside to wait its turn for the fire.  

Last job of the day, was our customary walk around the plot with Wanda.  Although there were some red embers in the fires, happy there was no danger of re-igniting, we made out way back to the annexe looking forward to the lovely bubble bath that we had promised ourselves.  

I chose some dove bubble bath and a lovely soap rose that I had received as a gift and switched on the hot tap.  Disaster, it wouldn’t heat up and all I could get out was freezing cold water.  We do find that this boiler can be a bit temperamental, but try as we might we couldn’t coax it to perform as it should.  Stinking of bonfires and desperately wanting our bath there was nothing to it but to boil the kettle, heat up pans of water on the cooker and carry it through to the bathroom.  Eventually we had enough water in the tub.  The saying “if it’s worth having, its worth waiting for” came to mind as we enjoyed our soak and cleaned ourselves up ready for dinner. 

 

 

Hoping that a new day would give our tired old boiler a new lease of life, we turned in.

The north wind shall blow ….

We were woken at 5.30am this morning by a really loud bang.  Mark jumped out out bed, reached for the poker, and Wanda jumped on the bed frightened half to death and trembling. It was still pitch black outside but we could hear the wind howling against the door.  The bang, wasn’t one of our nightime visitors as Mark had first thought, it was the metal shutters banging against the wall.  

It seems that Storm Bella has found us.  We had an early start, as usual these days as the Ecositana team arrive bright and early.  We did our morning walk, but found the wind bitterly cold.  We walked around the terraces a lot quicker than usual huddled, up in our winter coats and wishing that we had put gloves and hats on as well.

Although the six members of the Ecositana team were hard at work, all with masks and wrapped up warm, we decided that today was not a day for working outside and instead settled down with some mugs of hot coffee.

We needed to sort out some Portuguese and English legal stuff that we have been meaning to do for ages.  First up was to register for the new residency card.  We logged in, entered our details and within a couple of minutes had a temporary residency certificate.  We will be sent an appointment to go and take our identification documents and get our new card – but in the meantime we emailed Linda and Andy and asked them if they could print them out for us.  Next we tried exchanging our European driving licences for Portuguese ones.  This was a little more tricky as we need to have a medical certificate to support the application.  We did know this, but initially we were trying to notify them about us living and driving in Portugal.  We had another form to fill in, which must be a paper copy, so this was emailed to the Hipwell’s again for a printed version.

I renewed my English driving licence last month, but didn’t manage to update my V5 form, so we looked for this online and managed to get that all sorted as well.  All in all, quite a successful morning.  Mark had a facetime call with Hollie, she was busy getting stuck into some diy and just wanted to run a few things by her dad before getting on with it.  Mark managed to give a virtual diy lesson and for Hollies’ part, she did a fab job of redecorating her bedroom and putting up a shelving unit.  Definitely her father’s daughter!

 

We had arranged to go off with Linda and Andy to Castelo Branco and register Wanda at the vets so after a late lunch of stew, we headed off to Lourical for a coffee and a chat before our appointment. 

Beans and Mitzi were really happy to see us, dashing around and racing up the stairs. Linda and Andy had found it really cold as well so they too had spent their days doing things indoors. 

I had a surprise facetime call from Amy which was lovely – she only has a few weeks left before the baby is due and we were given a guided tour of the new nursery which Adam is busy decorating.  We were really impressed with the results so far and really looking forward to seeing it completed and meeting our grandson.

We were a bit late setting off so made a bit of a dash to the vets.  Linda, Beans and Mitzy went in first while I stayed outside with Wanda.  We handed over Wanda’s Haven vets records and her pets passport which were used to enter her details on to their system.  I was really impressed how thorough they were and they way that everything was.  When it was Wanda’s turn to see the vet, we were introduced to Sandra, a lovely lady with very kindly eyes peeping at us over her mask.  We went through Wanda’s history and the way things are a little bit different here in Portugal.  We also talked about what we would need to do if we decided to take her back to the UK for a visit.  All seems straight forward, but not something we are considering doing.  We also changed the microchip address details from the UK to Portuguese ones.  Wanda was giving her worming tablets followed by a treat which she loved and then we were done.  I’m not great at remembering when things are due so we’ve arranged for reminders to call and book appointments.

 

Starting to take shape!

The Ecositana team were on site bright and early, Setting our alarm clock has become a thing of normality now and we find ourselves once again looking forward to the weekend when we don’t have to get up in the dark.

There seems to be something strange happening in our outside bathroom during the evening as every morning when we open the door there is a very very strong cabbage smell. Not sure what it is, probabably drains but we’ve decided to leave it for now and not do any exploratory work to investigate as it shouldn’t be too long before we are shifting our base camp to the long house and starting to renovate the annexe and its bathroom. We know that there is a septic tank a short way away and that the grey water comes out of a pipe near one of the larger vines as we’ve come across grains of cooked rice and bits of sweetcorn close to it. Needless to say, that particular vine is the biggest, strongest and meanest of them all!

Wanda has really settled now and seems to like being a farm dog. Her favourite time of the day seems to be first thing in the morning when she can sniff out all the new and exciting smells that are around but even she doesn’t stray anywhere near the cabbage smell !

Today I was working indoors all day so I lit the fire, made a cuppa and got settled down to do my days work.  It seems quite chilly indoors, especially when just sitting at the computer.  It seems odd to think that in a few month time I will be throwing open doors and windows and switching the fan on.  Bring on the summer.

Mark on the other hand was dressed in his shorts and t-shirt and was soon hard at work clearing the land near the open well.  He exposed and beautiful granite wall which had been overgrown for a long time by the look of things.  Once the grass was cut back, we could also see more clearly the waterways from the well and the mine.  We had originally thought that these two together had contributed to the flow of the little brook.  Once it had all been levelled it seemed that the mine didn’t do much other than make the ground around it a bit soggy – Wanda paddled around and came out looking as though she was wearing mucky socks.  The water is always lovely blue-green cobalt and it would be interested to find out if that is due to different minerals.

 

Meanwhile, back at the long house, the Ecositana boys were working hard. We had a team of six on site today including Antonio and Raphael. I was impressed to see that they were all wearing their face coverings and also just how incredibly hard they were working. It was quite windy today and being up a scaffold on top of a roof is certainly not something I would want to do in such conditions. Before long, the large beam was in place across the top of the roof. We didn’t realise how poor a state the existing one had been in until we saw our new gluelam beam in place. it was twice the size of the old one and perfectly straight.

Mark and Wanda spent the whole day down on the bottom plot and did a sterling job. The brook was visible from end to end and we could clearly make out its pathway. Experimenting with making little dams, we could see that it would be fairly easy to keep a flow of water and possible look into diverting it to water some of the fruit trees. Something on our list to revisit in the summer months when it is a bit drier. We could see that something similar has been attempted before and there is a furrow going off to the left as though the idea had been for irrigation.

The majority of the terraces are now clear and weed free although there are a number of bonfire dotted around. To minimise the number of blackened areas when fires had been, we were hoping to keep the number of firs down to two or three. There is so much rubbish to burn we probably have nearer five or six ready for Saturday.

Today was Mark’s mum’s birthday.  It is always lovely to see them both and have a chat and today especially as it was a special day.  They both looked really well and we chatted about Coronavirus, the vaccine and the weather back in the UK.  It is really good that we made the leap and moved when we did – I think it would be impossible if we were trying to move now.

We also had a chat with Hollie, the boys are growing so quickly and it was lovely watching William doing his reading.  He’s one bright little lad.

Fording the Brook

over the past month we have been slowly but surely clearing the terraces and although time consuming and often heavy going, we are pleased with our results to date.  Now that much of the overgrowth has been levelled, we can start to see the shape of our farm.  The terraces meander across the Quinta, in no particular order or shape. they look very relaxed, almost as though they have decided for themselves which route to take.   We have been able to get the ride-on tractor around each of the terraces moving between each of them in turn although some have had a steep incline to contend with.  However, there has always been a bit of an issue with the little brook and crossing to other other side to clear the furthest two terrace.  It wasn’t helped by the fact the banks were so overgrown, we couldn’t really make out the edges.

Today, we decided to try and get this sorted out and so Mark set about strimming, cutting, shovelling and clearing the little waterway.  Eventually, afetr several hours, we could finally see the extent of it’s passage across the plot and start to make plans of how to bridge it. The water seems to come from both the water mine and the overflow from the well, and we found that it was running at quite a pace even though a lot of the grass cuttings had fallen in to it.  We talked about perhaps making a tributary towards the orange grove as a form of irrigation.  There are numbers lengths of pipes around the plot which we presume were used or earmarked for just that.  When we came in the August of 2019, we remember that it was almost dry, so fully aware that this would not be an all round source of water.

 

For now, we placed the planks across the water again and managed to get the tractor over to the other side to clear the grass.  It has already had one cut since we’ve been here so I was able to lower the cutting blades and get it shorter still.  

The taller of the terrace banks were looking very untidy with lots of unwieldy vines reaching up into the olive trees so I set about trying to cut these back and tidy everything up.  I was quite unforgiving in my approach and not knowing if the vines were wild or trained I decided to give them all a good haircut.  The dead wood was piled up to make a bonfire along with the cuttings and branches that Mark had collected and we telephoned the office to book in a fire for Saturday.  There are a number of piles of rubbish and wood around the plot and we we were advised it would be ok to light all of them.  We just need to do it all on Saturday and if we don’t manage, will need to call her book and book another date.

Antonio and Raphael came by again and we had the opportunity to talk about the extension to the lounge, the glass, the quote and raising the roof on the barn.  They always seem amazed that Mark is out working in shorts and a t-shirt, we tell them we are from the north of England!

There were a lot of idea passed around and what may or may not be possible.  They asked if we could decide how we wanted things to look and then let them have a sketch.  I had noticed a facebook post a few days ago from one of my friends who is an architect, and decided to message him for a bit of advice about what may be possible and if it would be structurally sound.  I sent across the plans we had received in the notary when we signed the deed and some photographs of how things are now.  It wasn’t easy to explain what we had in mind but we gave it our best shot,  Mick was really helpful, came up with questions that we are aware of but don’t have the answer to – where the staircase will be, if we are having a log burner with a flue, where the drains are …. we arranged to take more photos and measurements tomorrow and send them across to him.

As the sun started to dip around 5pm, it felt really cold all of a sudden. Keen to see how our builders had got on we packed away the tractor and gardening equipment and locked everything away before taking an our evening stroll around the quinta. It is looking pretty smart, even though I do say so myself. There are a few untamed areas still dotted around – the cluster of sistas, the pine trees, the areas close to the water mine and well, Ther are also a huge list of other things such as trimming the vines and tress but we pick our battles and that is one for another day.

We bathed before dinner – pork chops and vegetable followed by semolina pudding with jam – we haven’t had since school dinner days. Mark had a facetime call with Helen and had a good chat with her and the kids. The kids are still able to go to school but this means Helen picking them up early and working late to make up her hours. We realised once again that we are very very fortunate to be living our dream.

Happy New Year!!

When we woke this morning, the first day of a brand new year, we were blessed with a beautiful sunrise and the promise of a glorious day ahead. Living in one room with our kitchen, lounge and bedroom in a space 20 feet by 12 feet certainly does have its disadvantages without doubt. But on the flip side, being able to open wide the door and look out on to the mountain, un-interrupted by anyone else, is certainly pure joy.

Wanting to make the most of the good weather, we were up, showered and dressed early. Our morning routine is usually the same – we empty the portaloo, put out the rubbish, re-set the log burner and make the bed. We have breakfast and then wash and pack away the dishes before turning out attention to the tasks of the day.

Mark went up to the longhouse to bring down the things we would be need to work on the plot : a strimmer, ride-on mower, secateurs, loppers, gardening gloves and a saw for chopping off some off the branches that had been earmarked for removal.

He also climbed onto the annexe roof to check if the trap the had set last night had caught caught a rat but there were no signs of any activity and the trap lay empty. Before getting on with the days work, we enjoyed our morning walk with Wanda around the plot. She seems particularly interested in sniffing around the large hole in the fence where we suspect a wild boar comes in to eat olives and drink from the brook. We could hear in the distance the faint sound of gunshots and realised that that the hunters were out a few miles away. There were no other sounds and everything was still and peaceful. It seemed unusual that the farmer on the land opposite to ours had not been to let out his sheep – their now familiar little bells were silent and we decided that perhaps he had been revelling last night to see in the new year and had afforded himself a well deserved late start to the morning.

We always enjoy our morning walk, Wanda chasing her ball and us picking and eating the oranges, daydreaming about what we would like to do on the quinta. We still can’t really identify the different varieties and our sum joint knowledge consists of whether they are sweet or sour, seedless or have pips and whether they are easy peelers.   We will certainly need to work on this if were to gain any credibility with the locals. 

Mark set about getting everything ready to continue clearing the vineyard directly in front of the annexe, while I went inside to prepare the evening meal.  Another routine we have created is to prepare dinner in the morning so that we can come in after working on the land and all we need to do is switch on the oven.  We know that we would be too tempted to skip dinner and opt for a snack instead if we were tired with nothing prepared.  Today we were to have home-made meat pie, boiled potatoes, carrots, cauliflower and cabbage that I picked from the terrace in front of the annexe. 

We both started cutting back the vines.  We decided to be quite lenient, removing only the really long stems which prevented us from driving the ride-on tractor between them to cut the grass.  Linda has offered to come and give us a lesson in cutting back the vines in the next week or two.  It was all very much overgrown with brambles and ivy tightly wrapped around the vines and fences.  It took quite some time but eventually we were able to get the tractor on to the plot and cut back the overgrowth while Mark followed behind with the strimmer.

The strimmer seems to becoming more temperamental by the day and took some coaxing to kick into life
The vines previously hidden by weeds and grass are now standing proud and already starting to bud

Moving on to the terrace above the vineyard, we started to repeat the process of cutting back the weeds and brambles. The Olive trees are also in need of some attention. Not really knowing what to do, we remembered helping the Hipwells with their trees – removing the lower branches to make it easier to cut the grass underneath and also thinning out the tree tops to open up the canopy and create “pom-poms”. It was impossible to reach without a ladder so we decided to leave this until another day.

The cuttings were loaded onto the trailer and taken up to the top plot by the gate to prepare for a bonfire. Several trips later and we had quite a sizeable heap. In Portugal, anyone who wants to light a fire needs to obtain prior permission and need to book a slot for a fire. We have a telephone number to call and will get this booked in for some time over the next week.

The day was starting to close in and we could feel a chill in the air. We locked up the longhouse and had another walk around the edge of the plot. Mark needs to build himself a workshop mainly for storing gardening equipment but also for carrying out repairs and making things to be used on the quinta. Walking around, we tried to decide where would be the best place to site this. It would need some electricity and be easily accessible – despite having 4 acres of land, we can’t find a suitable spot for it! We also talked about building a store to house the logs to fuel the log burners and both agreed the ideal spot would be backing on to the planned annexe extention.

We manged to catch up with family after dinner – it sound pretty awful back in the UK with the new variant of Covid spreading at an alarming rate. It’s such a worry especially with Jodie, Hollie and Annie working in healthcare. We feel safe on our quinta, although we do need to go to the supermarket to buy provisions from time to time. We’ve both decided to try and limit our trips into the big towns to maybe once a month.

A view from the top terrace of the courtyard wall and the barn