Another early morning alarm call, another hard frost and another beautiful day. The builders arrived early to continue taking off the roof tiles and removing the wooden slats. A couple of friendly blokes. They declined our offer of hot coffee – we heard that the Portuguese think the way the English make coffee isn’t quite right – too much and too weak. Mental note to get the Tassimo unpacked and give that a go.
Mark spend the day working on the land while I set up camp in the annexe with Wanda. I cranked up the laptop and got stuck into admin stuff that was outstanding. I managed to take photographs of the missing paperwork Oscar has asked us for and got that emailed across to him thanking him for all he has done. I do feel for the guy as it’s taken two years to complete something which we first thought would only take two weeks. I don’t think for one moment that he could have done anything else to move this along any quicker. I also believe that if the sellers hadn’t appointed their solicitor in Fundao and given him power of atourney, we would still be dancing around.
Mark was extremely productive and did a fantastic job strimming, clearing the Sistas and freeing a little fig tree from the vines, brambles and weeds that were choking it. Still so much to do, but looking so much better.
Raphael and Antonio had called by earlier in the afternoon to check on how things were going. It would seem that the orange trees in front of the long house are not doing too good and are going to be in the way of the equipment. After a bit of discussion, it was agreed that one of them would have to go, but we also received some advice that now is the time to be cutting back the dead wood from other trees as it is sapping the strength from the healthy bits. We added this on our to do list and shuffled it up a bit on the list of priorities.
By the time that the day was drawing to a close, the roof tiles and wooden slats had been removed from the first two sections of the house. The Ecositana crane had arrived and was sat ready and waiting to start moving the old tiles to an area where we can revisit them when refurbishing the annexe as we may be able to re-use some of them. The sand and gravel was piled on the driveway This will be used with the metal rods to create a metal and concrete beam to strengthen the top of the wall before the roof trusses are added.
Linda and Andy had invited us over for dinner so Mark packed up his tools, I shut down the laptop and we checked our mailbox before we headed off for Lourical. It was a lovely surprise to find Christmas cards from Mark’s mum and Dad and my friend Nadene along with a New Home card from Mark’s sister, Paula. There has been some sort of postal strike back in the UK and so a delay in things getting through to us. All seems to have cleared now so perhaps we will be getting a bit more delivered over the next couple of days.
Dinner was delicious with great company and the added bonus of eating at a table that wasn’t two feet away from our bed. We chatted about Brexit, Covid, our future grandson and plans for the next couple of months. It feels very real now and starting to feel like we really belong here. We’re going to register Wanda at the same vet that Andy and Linda use for their two dogs and we have made an appointment for us all to go together on Friday evening. we arranged to meet up at Lardosa so that we didn’t get lost finding the vets and said our goodbyes and left. It was extremely cold by the time we reached home and we were amazed at how clear the sky was. There was hardly any light pollution at all and the starts were so bright. Once inside the annexe, we were thankful that our morning routine includes setting the log burner. This was lit before sorting out a 6am alarm and turning in. We’re so very busy, and loving every minutes but the days fly by so very quickly. We’ve already been her a full month.
For the first time since arriving in Portugal almost a month ago, we set our alarm as we had to be up and out by 6.30am. Still struggling to get hot water we boiled up pans and kettles. I set the fire and sorted the washing, Mark went up to the long house to open up the gates and building before covering our belongings with dust sheets as Raphael and his dad were arriving at 8am to start prepping for work on the roof. Mark also had to cap off two waterpipes in the kitchen so that water was accessible to the builders without it leaking out from where he had previously removed pipework. Wanda and I had our morning trot around the plot, although she really didn’t seem comfortable with Mark not being there with us and keep looking for him.
8.30am and the team from Ecositana arrived and started to unload the scaffolding into the courtyard. Antonio, Raphael’s father had a chat with us about the wall of the building, it is bowing out and although there is nothing that can be done to straighten it, a metal banding will be placed around the top of the walls to make sure that everything is structurally sound before the new roof is fitted. Shortly after they arrived we needed to set off for Castelo Branco, so left them to it.
We arrived in good time for our 11:15 appointment with Lilliana and spent a few minutes in her office while she explained that there had been yet another chaotic morning regarding the sale with the potential of it falling through yet again. The solicitor appointed by the sellers had failed to present the appropriate certification of ownership. Also, there had been some confusion regarding how much money we had already paid, which in turn caused more confusion with the tax office and caused further delays. Lilliana had managed to persuade the Notary to accept the certification if it was submitted today so we headed off to the bank to pick up a bankers cheque. We walked the 100 yards or so from the bank to the Notary office only to discover that the certification still hadn’t arrived. We arranged to reschedule our meeting for 2.30pm.
We spent the next couple of hours doing some errands that we needed to do, We replenished the two gas bottles which were extremely empty and we stocked up on enough provisions to last us 2 or 3 weeks. Once we manage to get an extra freezer working we will be able to stock up a little more, but in the meantime will cope with the little one we have in the annexe. While we were in the shopping centre we took the opportunity to go and get some spare keys cut and was shocked that this came to 75 Euros.
2.30 and we were back at the Notary office. After a short while, we were seated and the clerk read out the deed in Portuguese. Lilliana then read it to us translating into English. Also in the office was Oscar from Remax, looking quite frazzled and a representative of the sellers solicitor. We signed the deed, handed over the cheque and thought that this was job done. Not so. We were asked to stump up an additional 382 Euros to cover the cost of the electricity and council tax for the period August 2019 to date. Pointing out our original agreement when we signed the promisory document was to pay for the electricity for the month of August 2019 only, we stood firm and Lilliana took up the cause. She can be a fiesty little thing when challenged and a lot of words were spoken on the phone between her and the sellers solicitor. We paid for the electricity for the month of August and left.
Outside Oscar invited us to have a drink with him in the nearby cafe and we chatted about how long this had taken and the journey it had taken to get us to completion. Almost 2 years in all. He seemed very appreciative of having Lilliana to help with things and promised to pop in to see how we are doing if he is ever in the Vale de Prazares area.
Around 6 hours after we had left home, we arrived back. The builders had gone home but we found that the scaffold had been been erected around the long house and that some of the granite blocks has been moved to create a pathway for when the crane arrived.
Weary from our busy day, we walked the plot as proud owners of this beautiful dream and shared our news with family and friends back home. On a footnote, with the news of the UK once again going into full lockdown, we have never felt so blessed to be living in semi-isolation in such beautiful and tranquil surroundings.
After a very disturbed night of sleep, I was really quite relieved when the light started to creep in through the window and it was time to get up. There had been a lot of strange noises throughout the night. We haven’t been here long enough to identify what they were, maybe a fox or perhaps even rodents. From time to time we have heard something walking about on the annexe roof. Sometimes it sounds quite small and other times it is something that is quite heavy footed. Mark usually hears it first and is spurred on to grab the poker and bash it on the roof. This usually does the trick and wakes me up! Last night Mark was sleeping peacefully oblivious to any creaks and sweaks and I saw practically every hour pass on the clock. Convinced that there had been creatures in the roof and unsure if anything had been in the cupboards, I took everything out to check and disinfect anyway. There was no sign of anything, so with our little room now spick and span, I turned my attention to working outside.
Mark had been out some time, and had already dismantled the tumble down chicken coop next to the bathroom. We are soon learning that hardly anything is thrown away in Portugal, with re-purposing being the order of the day. In the chicken coop we found an old arga cast iron oven with a little side door where solid fuel wood be burned. Not sure if this could be used to heat the workshop he is planning on building it was decided to put this to one side for the time being. We also found three rings that had once belonged to a wooden barrel, a french banner and a roof which had been cut off an old car. The banner had to go, we could not think of anything we could use it for, the rings were put to one side for now not sure how we my use them. The roof was also a keeper. Mark had invested in an arc welder whilst in the UK and found that if using a metal welding bench a much better contact was achieved and the intention is to cut down the roof and use it for a welding bench.
It took most of the day for it to be dismantled, cut up for firewood or put in the courtyard reading for getting rid of. We managed to replenish the stock of wood that we bought from Pedro and this should keep us toasty for the next month or so.
It was a lovely warm sunny day so I decided to change the bedding and get this pegged out on our little washing line to dry. The olive trees in front of the annexe were desperately in need of some attention and we set about cutting them back and attempting to open up the canopy. The suckers from the base of the tree were removed as were the two empty water bottles that has been filled with sugar and water last year to attract the flies. Although it sounds pretty horrible it certainly did the trick as both bottles were full of dead insects. To one side of the tree on the raised bed was a clump of orange flowers with the rest of the bed full of rubbish, weeds and dead leaves. I set about clearing this out. The soil is very good quite dark brown and sandy. I split the plants and unsure whether I was doing it properly replanted them in two rows around the edge of the bed. I was surprised that for such delicate little plants there were really big woody roots and I wondered if they would take kindly to being disturbed. To complete the look, I hung up the little gold bauble that Steve and Angela had bought for us and re-set the wire mushroom that Twiggy had made. Pleased with the result, the little plants were give a good drink of water before packing up the gardening equipment.
Wanda spent the whole day outside with us, running around, sniffing out new smells and when she had had enough decided to have a sleep on her sun bed!
Dinner this evening was stew and spicy potatoes which we had taken out of the freezer in the morning. We decided that we would have a lovely hot bubble bath as a treat for our hard days work. Hopeful that the gas bottle would rise to the challenge, we turned on the taps and added the bubbles. It soon became clear that the gas just wasn’t up to the task so two minutes later, not to be deterred from our reward we were boiling the kettle and eventually had the tub filled.
Raphael sent a message to let us know that his team would be arriving first thing tomorrow to start the preparatory work for the new roof. We were so excited to hear that. It will be a big day tomorrow as we have our appointment in Castelo Branco at the notary to sign the deed of sale. Not wanting to sleep late tomorrow, we turned in early setting an alarm and hoping for a good nights sleep.
There was a crisp frost on the ground when we woke this morning forming tiny little icicles which crunched as we walked on our morning trip around the plot. We saw the farmer arrive to let out his sheep – we were only thirty yards or so away from each other and passed the morning with a cheerful Bom Dia. He appeared to glance over our plot as he was going along his way – hopefully approving of the results of our efforts from yesterday. Today’s tasks were pretty much a continuation from the day before. We wanted to clear as much of the land to the right of the annexe as possible. This is where we plan to create our veggie plot so we brought the two compost bins from the courtyard and placed them at the far end.
We’ve noticed that quite a lot of shrubs and trees are growing closely together, fighting for light and being strangled by vines and brambles. It is difficult to identify a lot of the trees as they have no leaves or fruit. Some though, like the fig are quite distinct in their shape and branch formation and we have counted at least seventeen figs around the plot. A decision had to be made regarding which to keep and which to take out and we worked hard all of the morning cutting and clearing from the terraces. The leaves were gathered up and put in the compost bins and before long they were both full to the brim.
The sky was clear and the sun was lovely and warm. Mark was working in a t-shirt and shorts and the sun melted the frost leaving patches of white where it hadn’t yet reached. He climbed up into the olive trees, cutting off the branches that had olive knot and opening up the canopy so that the fruit would get more sunlight in the summer months. The branches were carried off to the top plot by tractor and before long there were three rather large bonfires built ready to be lit. We will contact the authorities on Monday to get our fires booked in and find out what else we need to do. Apparently, there are quite significant fines if we fall foul of regulations around lighting fires and we are keen not to upset anyone.
We were pleased with how quickly the terrace started to look tidy and we enjoyed working together outside in the fresh air and sunlight. Wanda was running up and down the terraces bring her ball to be thrown. She loves being outside with us sometimes roaming off after different scents but hardly every sitting still. No wonder she sleeps so soundly during the night.
Lunch today was toasted sandwiches and hot mugs of tea outside on the terrace. We sat back and admired our handiwork – under no illusion that this was only a fragment of the work we had to do on the quinta.
The working day came to a close with a walk down to the bottom terrace. we wanted to collect oranges and juice them so that we would have fresh orange juice to drink. We collected almost two buckets full, a mixture of tangerines satsumas and oranges. Although the juicer is a beast of a machine and extract practically every bit of juice from the fruit, we have found that we need to peel the oranges first to avoid getting a bitter taste in the juice from the zest. Our oranges made us three large jugs of juice which we will keep in the fridge. Once we have some suitable containers and the larger freezer up and running, we will also freeze some juice to have in the months when the trees have finished fruiting.
The water supply, although plentiful from the well was not getting very hot. We have a gas bottle which is linked to the boiler so that our well water can be heated for washing, showers and cooking. We switched the two bottles over to see if that helped things at all and soon came to the conclusion that both bottles were in need of being refilled with possible a third one being purchased as a spare. Another job for next week when we are in Castelo Branco. For now, we have decided to use the electric kettle to boil water for cooking and doing the dishes in the hope we can stretch out what gas we have left for another couple of days.
Our First Christmas
After moving in, we found, as we had expected that we were extremely busy. We had so many plans and ideas that at times is was difficult to stop ourselves from jumping from one thing to another. Some things we knew needed to be a priority and others were indulgences that had to wait their turn in making our dreams into a reality.
We wanted to make our new little home “homely” so put up a tiny little Christmas tree, some fir cone decorations and the Christmas candle we had brought from the UK. We set the log burner, lit the candle and sat back to reflect and enjoy the peace that surrounded us.
Our main focus, as it always had been, was to actually close the deal on buying the property so that we could let our imagination and creativity take hold and grow. It has been two years now since we first fell in love with Vinha Das Almas. Mark, with his trusty partner in crime, Andy Hipwell spent the summer of 2019 converting and renovating the derelict longhouse from being three separate buildings with no facilities into a single dwelling with adjoining rooms complete with a functioning kitchen and bathroom. The building was then approved and given habitation licence subject to the septic tank and water samples being legalised. Simple process on the face of it, but in reality, not so much.
I remember contacting Lilliana in December 2019 to chase the closure on the sale. She had told us that it was imminent and that all should be done by the following month. A year later we find ourselves asking the same question so that we are able to start making our dream a reality. We were certainly learning the art of being patient.
Once we had settled ourselves into the annexe, we set about getting the plot tidied up, wanting to make our mark on it as soon as possible. The ride-on tractor really came into its own and within days we had cleared 90% of the land from weeds and tall grasses. It was tricky getting over the little brook to clear the terrace at the bottom of the plot, but with the help of Mark’s trusted decorators planks and the couple of bits of wood we had found near the outbuilding, we managed to get the ride-on across the brook onto the plot on the other side. As this area of the plot was naturally watered from the water mine and one of the wells, it was also the most fertile and home to the a mini copse.
The problem with manoeuvring amongst the weeds and brambles is that it is practically impossible to see what lies beneath. A couple of times I came dangerously close to the edge of the terrace and at one point I did drive into a big hole where perhaps a tree has been removed or some animal had created a pot hole. IT took some effort to get it out again and grom then on I gave this little spot a wide berth. The ride on was challenged to do some serious work and managed admirably. It was drinking petrol though and the amber warning light came on which was a bit of a worry. We had bought it second hand back in the UK, with no instruction manual. We consulted Google which gave us a rough idea that perhaps it was in need of a service. I wasn’t too sure about this diagnosis as we had invested in servicing all of the land machinery before leaving, kowing full well that it would need to do some hard work. Mark, on the other hand was happy to accept this reasoning and so we decided we would wait and see if it progressed from amber to red before doing anything.
Frustrated with the lack of progress with the purchase we decided to email our Portuguese solicitor, Lilliana, Oscar from Remax the estate agents and also the sellers solicitor. We expressed our annoyance and reminded them that we are here in Portugal, that we have done everything that has been asked of us, that we have the funds ready to complete the sale and asked for some explanation regarding the delay.
Not sure if it was a co-incidence or a direct result of our communication, we received an email with an appointment at 11:30 on the 4th January to sign the deed of sale. Result!
Our work over the next couple of days consisted of more land clearing, moving our belongings into one end of the longhouse and repairing the annexe roof to stop the leaks.
We were invited to spend Christmas with the Hipwell’s in Lourical which we were very much looking forward to. They are great company and we always enjoy our visits there. Linda is a wonderful cook and Andy has a wonderful sense of humour so we knew we were in for a treat.
We gathered up some lavenders, brush, oranges and fir cones from the plot and spent a lovely evening before we went making Christmas wreaths – one to put on our gate and one to give to Linda and Andy.
We arrived at Lourical on Christmas Eve, just before dinner. It was lovely coming back – we got a very warm welcome from Mitzi and Beans and had a walk around the plot before darkness set in. It was a mild evening and as we walked along the well kept terraces there was a lovely earthy frangrance in the air, interspaced from time to time with lavender and other fragrances that I am yet to learn to identify. The orange trees were heavily laden, in fact one had so much fruit a branch had broken off and fallen into the next terrace. The pond that the Hipwell’s had created a couple of years ago was almost full with a variety of different flowers and plants around its edge. It felt so peaceful. Linda had told us that it was a regular visiting ground for a Black Heron and as we walked we kept one eye out in case we caught sight of it.
Dinner, as always was delicious and we were able to share the news we had received from Lilliana earlier in the day letting us know that we had an appointment with the notary in Castleo Branco on January 4th to sign the deed of sale. “Finally” Lilliana had written, “it seems as though we have the completion in sight”.
We sat by the log fire with the Christmas Tree and it’s covid aware angel standing guard until late into the evening chatting about the past few days on the plot and the plans for working on both our own Quintas. We have got so much to do it is difficult to know where to start really. Raphael’s words keep coming back to us – the foundation is in the roof. We need to get in weatherproof and watertight. Andy on the otherhand has completed most of the renovation work at Quinta de Oles, and is now planning more routine maintenance. He and Mark talked about increasing the size of the entrance gate to make it much easier to drive in without damaging the car. It was agreed that in the New Year, they would both crank up the welder and try their hand at gatemaking. Mark hasn’t really done any serious work with his new welder so it will be a good test for it.
I’ve never really been very patient when it comes to Christmas and after a bit of nagging and gentle persuasion, managed to talk everyone into opening one gift each just before midnight. Finally we called it a night retiring to the annexe with a bathroom that doesnt have to be accessed from outdoors. Luxury!
Christmas morning was a wonderful affair – with lots more presents and video calls with our family back in the UK. Opening the bag of curiosities from Mark’s dad, Ray, is always great fun with lots of unexpected gifts. Throughout the year he buys a collection of very individual items – some unusual, some practical and all very thoughtful. Mark has often commented on some of the more “unique” items that on first thought he could never conceive he would ever use such a thing only to find that there is always that one job that nothing else would suffice. It was lovely seeing Mark’s mum and dad on the call and being able to thank them for their gifts. Brenda had found a lovely little hessian sack full of different seeds (and thankfully operating instructions) that I will thoroughly enjoy growing. There are eight different varieties of tomatoes and I am planning to have an area of veggie patch dedicated to this fruit.
It was a joy to open each and every gift and so much thought had gone into choosing them. My sister Jodie had also researched and bought some Portuguese fruit, vegatable and herb seeds, complimented with some ferocious looking secateurs, some very smart leather gardening gloves and a box of little wooden plant identification markers. I’m starting to feel like I really am living the good life and would love to watch the tv programme again to see if it resonates with us.
My middle sister, Twiggy, always gives hand-made Christmas presents. quite often this consists of home made cakes, biscuits and sweets, but as we left the UK early in December, this years gifts were different. We had enjoyed a craft day making ducks out of chicken wire with Twiggy earlier in the year (really not as easy as it would first seem) and she had created a 18″ high wire mushroom, some terracotta planter pockets and three little stone men. We cant wait to start introducing them onto our plot.
Christmas dinner was a wonderful feast of roast goose, braised cabbage, Linda’s special stuffing recipe and all the trimmings followed with not one but two puddings and plenty of the red stuff. Portuguese wine is extremely cheap, very palatable and always with a cork not screw capped. Portugal only produced wine with cork stoppers – the cork trees are protected. and anyone found chopping one down faces prosecution, even if the trees are already dead or diseased. We have at least three cork trees on our Quinta so will be careful to avoid the temptation to give them a haircut.
After our Christmas dinner we all put on our coats and walking boots and went for a stroll up the mountain side collecting pine cones as we went along to use as kindling back at Vinha Das Almas. We didn’t have to walk far before the views changed. The higher we walked the further we could see and before long we had magnificient views of the Baragem and Castelo Branco in the distance. It was a lovely afternoon, the sun was casting long shadows across the mountainside and the cool breeze brought with it the smell of pine and lavender. We strayed onto some overgrown land which Wanda enjoyed sniffing out, obviously there had been wild animals roaming around and she was very interesting in checking out the area.
Boxing day was another food fest. Linda and Andy had invited their friends Steve, Angela and Danielle over to join us and we had a great time. We had already met them on previous visits to Portugal and always had a good time together. Andy had prepared an after dinner quiz which was great fun. Not being particularly gifted in the general knowledge area, Mark and I did not really anticipate getting many of the answers correct and were pleasantly surprised to find it was an “alternative” kind of quiz with a hotel chocolate goodie for the first person to get the correct answer. Danielle, who is an ex-school teacher and very petite was the overall winner and ate 7 seven chocolates, Angela ate 6, Steve, Linda and myself ate 4 and Mark ate three!
Boxing day was also a time for catching up with family and friends. We talked about the situation back in the UK, which sounds pretty dreadful and we felt so relieved that we managed to leave when we did. It does feel strange not seeing family but feel good working on the Quinta so that we will be able to invite them to come and stay with us.
All too soon our stay with the Hipwells came to a close and we packed up our car full of Christmas presents and headed back to our own Qunita.
We had been carefully to leave our one room clean and tidy with the fridge well stocked and the log burner set ready for lighting. We took a stroll around the plot. Everything was just as we left it. We picked an orange each when we got down to the bottom of the land and ate this as we went along. Clearing the land has made such a big difference and we can now see clearly defined terraces with overgrown vines and olives trees in need out cutting back. We started to formulate an action plan and over the next couple of days we cut down the trees that Raphael and his dad had told us would be in their way when coming to do the roof. This would give us some wood to store away until next year ready for burning.
New Years Eve and the news that everyone needed to be home by 11pm and that for the next 3 days we had a 1pm curfew. Short on supplies and wanting to make the most of the sunshine that was forecast for the next 3 days we decided to do a mad dash into Castelo Branco. We bought fruit, vegetables and beer from Auchan, quite proud that we were able to work out the system for pricing the loose produce – it was all much easier once we had pressed the button for the information to be shown in English but gave ourselves a bit of credit that we had managed without it.
Next up was a trip to Aki to buy wood and brackets to make some kitchen improvements, some rat poison and traps for our furry visitors and extension leads.
We are managing to get around fine without the need for our Sat Nav. Quite impressed that we have managed to get some sort of a sense of direction in less than a month. We caught up with Mark’s mum and dad on a video call. It’s always good to see them and have a chat especially in such surreal times. They are always really keen to hear what we have been doing, what we are planning and how things are generally here in Portugal. It would be great to get them over here to see for themselves – we just need to get the place a little more habitable.
Locking the main gates, packing away our shopping and standing outside the annexe looking down the plot. We will never grow tired of living our dream.
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We look forward to hearing from you
Have you ever felt stuck in a rut? Dreamt of escaping the rat race? Or just longed for a new start in a warmer climate? Then read on – this is how our dream was birthed.
In November 2017 we visited our friends, Linda and Andy Hipwell in Portugal’s Louriçal do Campo to help with their Olive harvest and during the week was introduced to the Portuguese way of life.
Linda and Andy’s fruit farm (Quinta) with its beautifully maintained olive groves, fruit trees and vines was bursting with colour, delicious fragrances and sumptuous fruits. We had our daily dose of C Vit straight from the tree and felt at peace with ourselves and the rest of the world. I think we fell in love at first sight and decided that we wanted to have a slice of this for ourselves.
Finding the perfect plot to set down our roots was a long way from being straightforward. Portuguese law is far from that of the UK as we were to quickly find out. Before legally being able to live in a Quinta, it must have a habitation licence. This is really important as without this it is not possible to renovate or live there permanently.
Now, here’s the thing. Not all Quinta’s have the all important habitation licence and some people mistakenly think they have as the Quinta has been in their family for generations. This was the case for us, and we quickly found out we had a lengthy process to follow before even starting the application process.
It has been a journey to get this far – it seemed that everything possible was pushed into our path …. selling our house, buying the quinta, brexit, getting us and our dog to Portugal and not forgetting for one minute a Pandemic. But, we were determined to succeed. More than one person told us that they had a feeling that it wouldn’t happen. We didn’t doubt for one minute that it would …. the only thing we were not sure about was when.