Pigsty To Polybender

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We have not posted in a while, as have been super busy since new year, strawbale building, flattening land, digging trenches, putting vegetables in, clearing brambles, fencing around the well, clearing the well, pruning olive trees, pruning grape vines, making tipis, planning for home ed holidays, workshops, and general holidays and much much more! More photos to follow in coming weeks of our progress with various projects we are undertaking, but in then mean time we can tell you all we are really starting to feel at home now, settling in and feeling like this is where we live, rather than holiday which is exactly how we should feel.  We have survived the winter in the barn with no insulation on the roof and with just a Woodburner, without doubt this is one of the warmest winters I’ve ever had, living in cold damp houses by the sea with no central heating has stood us all in good stead for being in a barn with no insulation, despite it being freezing here for the average temp in the area, five tonnes of wood burned later, we are through the other side and other than on damp days the Woodburner will be redundant for another winter.

We have been busy the last few days on a recent project which is to make a growing space, the vegetable garden has been cleared andy underway for some time now, in summer it’s too hot for most plants to be in a polytunnel however to get an early season started and maintain veg growing through the year we decided to make something at the lowest cost possible using the materials we have around us. We took twelve young eucalyptus, peeled their branches and leaves off and decided to make a bender tent/bow top polytunnel over the old overgrown pigsty in the veg patch by banging wood posts to the ground and attaching the eucalyptus with twine to the posts, slowly bending them to meet in the middle and tied off, a eucalypt for the central beam runs the length of the roof and at the back two other poles are bent from the ends inwards under the end arch, no nails have been used and and rough ends are wrapped in old horticultural fleece which was used for the new trees over winter, it is in a convenient spot at the bottom of the hill for Gravity fed water and cost us a grand total of £99 which was the cost of the uv resistant plastic, it measures 4m wide by 7m long and the pigsty walls will become the retainer for a raised bed and a low trough has been rebuilt with fallen pieces of stone to make a small pond heatsink. It’s been hard work, the brambles were decades old and way over our head in height, but we are happy with the job we have made and once a bit of tightening and earth on the plastic have taken place we will have a wonderful quirky, cheap growing space, which soon we hope till be the site for some avocados :) In total we made the whole thing in 4 hours, in reality it took much longer as baby jiggling, child playing, animal chasing/feeding etc slowed progress!

The site to the left was the pigsty, hidden under the brambles for a loooong time! 

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New Year And Wonderful Things To Come!

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Thank you all so much for your support this year, to the people who have donated money and offered enthusiasm, love, ideas, advice and encouragement. This has been a big year but we enter 2015 with high hopes for an even bigger and more exciting year if hat could be at all possible, the workshops and events which will come, a house build and much more… We look forward to meeting some of you next year, and can’t wait to see where another year of his adventure takes us. We really could not have done it without you, and for this we will be forever grateful. Wishing you a wonderful 2015 xxx

Table Fires, Stolen Generators & Drumming Away The Rain

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Could all of these things occur in just a 6 hour period of time… Of course they could when we are involved!

We decided to have a big THANKYOU celebration party at the farm for people who have helped us and welcomed us since we arrived here, so with Samhain only a few weeks away decided this would be the date. I have not been well for the last week, tiredness meant a cold crept in and hung on fast, leaving me feeling awful for a good few days, also meaning the party preparations were stalled somewhat, still the day before the party after a mammoth haul around the city to buy supplies I came home and made a huge pot of vegan chilli with squash, yam, kidney beans and a million other veggies, a huge vegan tomato soup, a bat cape for Toms fancy dress and some decorations to dot around the place the next day.

We decided rather than trying to cram 30 or 40 people into our 35sq metre barn we would instead have the party outside in the olive grove, its the most accessible and with a generator for power we could have music and lights and use the large emperor bell tent as a kid space/rain shelter incase the weather wasn’t on our side. In the morning we were up, toffee apples, banana ghosts, green pepper toads, and tangerine pumpkins were made, and the olive grove adorned with red spider webs, balloons, paraffin lamps, candles. , hay bales covered for seating, a table from fence posts, three pallets and 6 hay bales, and a giant 10ft web made from wool with a 4ft spider made from bin bags, hay and wire popping out from behind a tree…naturally!!

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As soon as the olive grove was sorted it was a quick dash back to the barn to get face paint on and pray the ranch owner didn’t come looking for a cow again while we were in our day of the dead get up!

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Friends bought so many lovely things to eat, foraged chestnuts, pumpkin pie, homemade red wine, cookies, pizza, peanuts, cake, quince pie, pandoro, chocolate fruit fondue, gallons of Mojito, and pumpkin lanterns to name just some. Spooky halloween mega mix playing away, light illuminating the olive trees all was well, suddenly, noise stopped, just as the generator stopped, after ten minutes of faffing and getting nowhere Jamie, a friend of ours suggested we go and borrow the one we had borrowed previously (and only just given back!) from friends V & L and so with that, he an Andy whisked off into the night in the truck on a hunter(?) gatherer search of power, luckily other friends had bought some their fantastic drums with them and we had a drum session accompanied by Louise a friend who plays the spoons (brilliantly) while waiting and upon the teeny sprinkle of rain from above drummed more and more and away it went, leaving us warm and dry all nights. Soon enough the rumble of a truck bounced around the mountains and back came the boys with power, music back on, lights back on and party in full swing soon enough V & L (who were invited to the party but hadn’t arrived as yet) turned up, a serious face crept over the previously smiling Jamie and Andy… ‘Err, let us explain this one, don’t say anything Clare’ it turns out unbeknown to me they’d arrived on V’s Quinta and because they couldn’t get a reply on phones or door had driven off with the generator anyway… Huge thanks to V for not locking it away yet last night….

The kids had an amazing time, they all play really well together, and had fun toasting marshmallows on the fire, burning sticks, and running free like mad things, it was so wonderful seeing them all have fun, totally unrestricted, free to play and fall and jump and make their own memories, this is what its all about…they even got a free ‘chemistry’ lesson when something set fire to a felt pumpkin on the pallet table, setting fire to the tablecloth, and then everything thing around it after someone tried to put it out by throwing some homemade (very strong) liqueur on it – followed swiftly by a bucket of ice and water :)

I have to say my heart was warmed completely by the whole night, there were several points where I just sat back and looked on not believing this really was our life now, the freedom we had dreamed of, the laughter and close nit community we wanted and never found in the UK, these people are more like family already, we take care of each other, and there is a trust and warmth there which I don’t think you find everyday, we knew we were lucky before, but sat watching people laughing and chatting around the fire at our farm just made it all the more real. People here are here for the same reasons, and often with similar stories, in search of the same thing, its a winning combination.

It certainly feels like we have found our Portuguese tribe <3

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Andy On A Hot Tin Roof

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Finally we have light in the barn… Downside is it shows up all of the piles of junk and the dirt on the floor!! But we need strain our eyes no longer. Even with all the lights on, the bottle and glass brick window and the door open it was a struggle to see much once it went lower than waist height, so we decided to install a clear panel in the roof in place of one of the tin panels, and its a roaring success.

For some reason we couldn’t find panels the size we needed to took the aluminium panel and cut it in half and then fixed the clear panel to the section we’d cut out, it only took 2 hours to do from start to finish…more than can be said for clearing up the mess we now see all around us! We put the panel on the side where the sun comes up which is over the bathroom and instantly its made a hell of a difference, meaning now we can conserve the battery power in the lights for the night time… I say ‘we’ what I mean is Andy, on the tin roof, in the blazing sun :) and me inside jiggling baby, child, lunch and up ladders to push the brace pins through from the steel support up into the panels above where Andy was sitting…

The space feels much better to be in too and maybe, just maybe now the baby is getting more light he will sleep better at night…I can but hope!

Here are some pics of the before, during and after

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A Brief Tipical Day

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While sat watching the fire burn, smoke started pouring out of the woodburner door…. Add more dry wood, get it hot….nope, open all the vents get the flames up…nope… throw firefighters in…a whole pack….nope…. smoke starts billowing out of the door, the window, and now the flue joints…even at the bottom of the flue…..evacuate The Hermitage, remove cot mattress, baby, child, random things affected by smoke damage, turn the soup off the boil, remove kettles to avoid them boiling dry…go back inside, wondering what on earth could have caused the woodburner (at only three days old), to react in such an aggressive manner….half an hour later stood half in, half out, unsure what to do next notice the baffle on the flue is closed, tight…firm shut…..allowing no smoke out…. Open baffle to watch the fire roar to life, the smoke pouring out of the windows and door starts to turn to wisps, and instead comes billowing out of the flue, in the manner it should… Just as the sun comes out… And the temperature soars outside for the first time all week, and so we have an enormous woodburner full of wood capable of melting the polar ice cap…luckily the sun being out means we have enough solar to power a fan, so we can suck up and blow out the smoke which fills the inside..(oh the irony). The rest of today has been spent moving horses, sadly waving the fat pony goodbye, seeing a friend in the Camara to arrange a stall for the Xmas craft markets, arrange for firewood to be dropped off using a badly drawn map (sorry andy) sign language, Portuguese to make a 3 year old feel ashamed and the agreement to place a stick in the ground painted (salmon pink) to mark the track for our Quinta, collect 40 litres of water from the font, use the car to chase the huge orange thunder horse away from the fenceline in the hope he will soon give up his questionable advances at Tonto and his doe eyes, feed horses and dogs for a friend, collect some hay, eat soup, eat baked banana and chocolate cooked in the woodburner, make a bed for Tom, cut up wire to make pan hooks for the ladder above the sink, question whether it should sound so normal when you hear Andy say to Tom (not for the first time this week) ‘Tom please stop howling, its making the dogs bark’, massage the baby, sing, dance, open the bottle of champagne we were given by lovely friends for oscars birth because now is the first time its seemed there is time to drink it before falling asleep into a heap in bed. And some other stuff in between… :)

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Cake Houses, Stone Barns, Prickly Tents

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Can plans change any faster? I suppose its to be expected that in a naturally developing (non) planned house build they will change frequently, and its good as it shows we are considering all angles to ensure we do the right thing at the right time, not so much a change of plan, more a change of route.

After visiting friends the other morning with their roundhouse still in working progress we have decided to build exactly that (it was stunning to see!) still as planned but not rush to do it before winter, or before anytime really, just to build it and let it develop as it should, taking our time, as and when we have the money and importantly after the first rains have come. When it rains here, it rains, so we can see how the land fairs when they first hit and ensure our chosen spot is good.

Once this is done we will flatten the spot and slowly, slowly start with the frame. When you are juggling feeding a new baby, stopping dogs from getting lost, horses from escaping, a 5 year old who deserves as much attention as possible after the last six months he’s had, (soon to be) rain/punishing heat, eating and sleeping it leaves us with about 10 minutes 45 seconds to build per day, so we might be some time….

In the meantime we are going to do a quick conversion on the stone barn, at 10m x 5m it is bigger than the 2 bed house-sit we are living happily in anyway and at least gives us the head start with new roof and solid walls… It has an earth floor, no water and no electricity of course, but once the solar is running, and the pump is pumping water from up the hill it’ll be ok, and with a mezzanine bedroom and a window knocked out will be a lovely space, it also is at the very easiest part of our land to access so no need to spend time building roads yet either. All in all, much better and much less pressure. We have found a slate supplier who can cover the entire floor for 140€ which is a bargain and will be perfectly in keeping with the space, we then will make a bathroom with partition wall, and will make two window frames to fill the holes which have been slated over, it will be a basic conversion as we don’t want to spend money on something that just needs to protect us from the elements, we don’t want to be too comfy or we will never get on with the ‘real’ build. Once we have moved out, we can add some finishing touches, render the walls etc and it will be a stunning holiday let for spring/summer and workshop space. It’s very exciting, I’ve always wanted to build and design our very own ‘tiny house’ and it looks like we have the added bonus of now doing so!

The plans for there ‘big house’ are looking great too, thanks to the huge patience, ideas and love given by a soul sister friend who works on planning projects for Eco builds we are getting more confident that the plans we had in our head will work as hoped, currently to save it from sounding so daunting and technical she and I are using cakes as ways to describe the effects on a house or ways to see structures… Like a battenburg we will only have windows and doors on either pink or yellow squares, but not both… Like a cheesecake we will ensure the ground is level and tampered down solid… Cakes and house design should be applied together much more often, as should cakes mechanics, I would learn so much faster!

So with pressure off it means we can really enjoy the build and not stress, we will be building a stable area still for the horses and to store the things which are currently in the barn in for winter, tools etc etc and while the digger is there we will be building an experimental dew pond for water collection and for the horses to drink/wade in on hot days, I’ve always wanted to try one, so now is as good a time as any and it means we can use it as an example of what/what not to do for one of the workshops next spring, with current world unrest it feels more important than ever to be examining methods of water collection without using more typical rainwater harvesting methods which are already becoming illegal in some US states.

I digress…We have found a place which sells old telegraph poles very cheaply, these will form the henge part of the roundhouse, we have to go and chainsaw them and then move them ourselves…in Portugal you can’t carry anything which is longer than your vehicle legally, meaning we need a trailer or a long vehicle to carry the 4 metre lengths which we need for the build but I’m sure we will overcome this soon enough… You can have an electrical power cable 2ft off the ground in a children’s park, inviting them to (as Tom did) to swing off it (thankfully it was insulated with thin plastic along all but a foot either end of it so he’s still alive today… but safety first, you can not carry things longer than the car, because that, would be dangerous. We also need some long length poles cut and delivered for the roof poles, we can get Douglas Fir here and eucalyptus in abundance of course, but it all takes time… Unlike in the UK, where you pop along to a huge depot which sells everything you need under one roof, or you call and order a delivery in for the next day, in Portugal its like going back in time, you order sand and cement from the builders yard, maybe tiles and bricks if you are lucky, or they will be somewhere up the road with someone else, then you go to the woodman, tell him what you need, a tree is chosen and (if they remember) that week it’ll be cut and processed and then delivered the following week, then you go along the road again to the fence post place and order these, they all come with delivery generally but it means you’re at the mercy of people remembering, and when you have accounted for the fact that everywhere shuts for their 3 hour daily lunch break and you have no address for delivery anyway its a fairly lengthy process to undertake. Here like in ‘the good old days’ people don’t call on the phone (most don’t answer or have such a crap phone line it’s not worth it) you drive to and visit the person who’s services you need, it’s wonderful, much more meaningful than placing faceless phone orders, but takes much, much more time… Luckily the relaxed attitude in west Cornwall and the even more relaxed approach from most of the tipi material suppliers means we are well versed in this coming Tuesday meaning next Friday without any warning at all.

So for now, we continue our cake/house design and we will be making the barn habitable ASAP. The long term plan is to have a round house with living space, kitchen, sitting area and dining room, connecting via a glass walkway to the courtyard and a second straw bale, cob wall hallway to a second roundhouse which will be the bedrooms. The cob wall walkway will be north facing and will be pantry and boot room and the glass walkway will be south facing and will heat the house in winter and will be another growing space. It’ll be wonderful to see it take shape over the course of winter and spring!

In the meantime today we have had more of our stuff arrive today and have been getting ready for the official move tomorrow. The horses will be loaded at 8am all being well thanks to a lovely new friend carol who has a trailer and is happy to help us with the two hour round trip, they can then get to work shortening the horrible spiky dry grass which cuts your feet as you walk through the field. As our short-short term accommodation we have set up a bug 5m bell tent and will create an outdoor kitchen and shower and loo sometime tomorrow, along with setting the well pump up (once we have the 200metres of pipe needed and something to pump the water too) and getting the solar power sorted.

In other events this week, life is settling down, we are getting used to the heat, its still mid 30’s most days, but we hide from the heat in the afternoon. We have been to see friends for the last few evenings, and had a lovely time, we are socialising more now than since I was about 25, and love every second. There is talk of Pygmy goats, Estrela dogs and fluffy kittens on the horizon, we have pretty much already agreed to take in a lovely little cat who is currently a few hours up the road after being rescued from the streets by a friend…the zoo is taking shape :) – It feels weird to have been here nearly three weeks and only just be going ‘home’ needless to say, we can not wait though, we are desperate to watch the sunrise and set and be nearer to the people we have grown to know and already love!

Here below are pics of the short temporary home, before the medium temporary home is finished. I shall take regular pics of the progress, hoping we can have this building ready in the next two weeks, which is incredibly ambitious but it wouldn’t be us if we didn’t set stupid deadlines for things!!!

The campsite temporary home before the temporary barn home.

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Our shade thanks to a big old olive tree

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Preparing the ground for the tent

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Setting up camp

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Spiky grass

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Home for a while

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Exploring

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A brief update on things we’ve been doing during what is now known fondly as ‘pup gate’ while the boy wonder was yet to return we did manage to try and keep some normality to life and though trips were short as we weren’t sure when / if he would come home we made it out to look at the castle next to where we are house sitting Castelo Novo (New Castle) which is a stunning ruin with a visitor centre that doesn’t seem out of keeping and yet is modern, it’s rusty coloured exterior and granite coloured walkways mean it blends in beautifully with the hillside surrounding it. We decided to head on up after dinner one evening just before sunset, the views were stunning and Tom loved running and jumping on the rocks and parts of the ruin, typical Portuguese health and safety meant long drops were unsecured and low open window spaces with nothing to stop 5 years olds having a go and jumping through them despite being heigh enough to make you dizzy, of course, he loved it! Photos of the views from the top are below.

We also today visited the Serra Da Estrela Mountains and Glacial Valley, only 35 minute drive from where we are staying to the top, absolutely stunning views and scenery, and a much welcomed coolness on a hot day, today was around 36 probably higher in the hotter part of the day, up in the mountains it was only 21 which was lovely, we stopped for a picnic in the shade of the huge pine trees, and (as seems to always be the way in Portugal) hardly any other people to be found anywhere despite it being the weekend and much cooler up there, a few cars only every now and then, and barely any people during the whole beautiful drive, we forgot to take the camera, below are some not so good pics from my phone, still you get the idea. When the snow comes we will be able to go tobogganing and skiing there, and next week we will hopefully be joining some friends who know a great swimming spot in the river too. The water is incredibly clear and clean, as the mountains boast the source for a few major rivers in Portugal it’s one of the few places where you can be near enough the source to safely drink the river water. All the way along the winding road up, up, up you pass fonts with beautiful, pure water flowing out of them, and about halfway around the circuit there is a thermal spring too, when the weather cools we will definitely be visiting this! Surprisingly for a mountain range which only has a short spell of true snowy weather the houses and villages you pass look every bit the way you’d hope them too, sweet little cosy looking houses nestled into the sides of the mountains, peeping out through the trees with cute wooden shutters on every window and wood piles almost as hight as the roof ready for the cold weather. We are hoping next year or the year after we will buy a small patch maybe 1/2 an acre or so in the mountains, just enough room to camp for a short while in summer when it gets too hot and with room to graze the horses so we can take them with us and ride and mountain bike and explore, maybe in time there will be space to add a log cabin so we and friends can go and stay in the winter, would love to be able to have Yuletimes there with the snow falling, how romantic, and to be able to guarantee a white Xmas! It all sounds too good to not try and do!

This week we’ve also managed to make a tipi and get it posted to the UK, am in the middle of making one more which leaves next Tuesday and then we can focus fully on the plans for the build on the farm! Some very exciting ideas coming to the fore, to be updates soon!

This coming week we will be starting to get camp set up at the farm, ready for our move there in another week or so, we need to get fencing up for the horses, clear the track so we can drive onto the fields and we will also be starting to build a chicken tractor for some hens which we plan to purchase once we are living there, all possible thanks to the kind monthly donations from a lovely lady who supports Enchanted Acres. The point of the chicken tractor and hens is to start building soil up, thanks to incessant ploughing so much soil has been lost, the soil erosion is glaring and horrifying, much as it is across so many countries now, we hope to start replacing and rebuilding it ASAP, and the chickens will be the first part of this plan.

Tomorrow we are off to Fundao which is about 20 mins from here to meet up with friends and a group of people we don’t yet know to discuss home school ideas, there are some really exciting developments spanning an area of 35k around where our farm is, including some portuguese families who wish to home educate too, its exciting to be at the beginning of such a movement, especially in a country like Portugal, this is all really a big deal, and for us it really means we can have a great input to the shaping of it. Currently we are considering having home ed ‘centres’ each one being a centre which is specific to the skills of the people who run it, yoga, dance, music, art, language, book groups, growing food, so many things. In time Andy and I hope we can offer space at the Enchanted Acres for a regular home ed group, though there is much more to come of all of this yet, its only early days, but updates will follow as soon as we know more. All in all very exciting times, so, so much to be grateful for, such a lot to look ahead too and strong feeling lingering in the air that things are just going to get better! Bring it on!

Castelo Novo
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Serra Da Estrela

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