Cake Houses, Stone Barns, Prickly Tents

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

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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Dog Lost

What a week we have had, its been so eventful I will update one part here and then the rest of our week on a separate page.

After settling in well things suddenly took a strange twist. Frugal, decided to take himself on an adventure and not return. Back in the UK he had free roam of the surrounding fields, and would go off for hours, returning always before dark or when it rained, looking muddy and usually smelling of something horrid.

We knew here because he didn’t know his way around yet we couldn’t just let him roam, and so he and Benji have spent much of the time on leads or tied up, something they do not relish (and neither do we) Our dogs off the lead act (almost) civilised, on a lead however they become wild howling banshees, foam at the mouth, leap around like a fish on a hook and generally are totally uncontrollable…far too free spirited to understand the point of a lead.

So when Frugal vanished, all we could do was shout for him, and bang his dinner bowl, usually the sound of food brings the little gutso running home, but we found nothing, no rustle in the bushes, no bark, no manic puppy coming flying towards us like a bowling ball from the undergrowth… The area around here is such that looking for a dark brown dog is nearly impossible, not a needle in a haystack, more a dog on a mountain, especially one that burrows and scuttles around in the scrub, no amount of searching resulted in him being found…Four hours passed, darkness came, still nothing, the next morning, nothing, Benji was beside himself, though usually he only just tolerates the annoying over excitable pup he does like his company, and spent the next day howling almost solidly, he was our main hope for finding Frugal. Andy walked Benji around the tracks in the hope that if Frugal passed by he would pick up his scent, given that he has had two years of being able to come and go as he pleased we knew he most definitely would be trying to get his way back, just he didn’t know the area well enough, we never have needed fences and leads and locks to contain our furry family, they choose to stay and come back…however with dogs barking all over the hills behind us, and a week long Festa at the local town the distractions could prove too much for a terriers nose, taking him ever further away from us.

By the time the next nightfall came we were giving up hope, still nothing, checking wells, aquifers, the river… Portugal is not a place for a lost dog, unlike the UK where generally dogs aren’t loose and people will pick them up and take them to the nearest vet to be scanned for microchips, here dogs wander around everywhere, some are stray, some have humans, you never know, and unless they get hit by a car or end up on the motorway it’s unlikely anyone would take them to the local GNR (police). Farmers leave traps and snares and poison out for all kinds of ‘pests’ we were losing hope, and every hour he was gone heightened the chance that something bad might happen to him. People on the Internet have been so helpful, putting in calls to local vets they knew, sharing ideas on where he could be and even putting out announcements on the radio twice each day in the search for him. Our neighbours all helped keep an eye out, the son of the family next door was really keen to hear good news, still nothing.

By day three we needed to go to Penamacor an hour away to courier a tipi to the UK, so at 8am we left, looking along the lanes as always for a little pair of eyes staring from a hedge, we spent a few hours in Penamacor sorting things out before leaving the parcel with friends who were kind enough to wait in for the courier for us, we got home by 3pm feeling really a bit glum, Frugals disappearance had taken the shine off things, we couldn’t enjoy this new adventure when we were one family member down…

…what was this?! Sat there, in the shade, waiting patiently, still with the harness on that he had gone missing in looking much thinner than when he left…was Frugal! After a thorough good cuddle and a prodding all over to check nothing was injured he seemed ok, sore in the mouth from something and looking utterly traumatised, after a drink of water he just flopped onto his bed, silent, no bounce, no spark just hollow looking. Goodness knows where he’d been, how far he has traveled and what had happened to him, he could have been stuck down a hole only escaping when he lost the weight he’d lost, or caught in a fence, or tied up and broken free, or just roaming, sniffing and trying to get home. What a clever pup though to get home from goodness knows where after less than a week of being here! We kept a good close eye on him for signs of poisoning, there is a vets near where our farm is in Penamacor who runs a drop in clinic after 8pm but we were confident he would be ok. We left him in peace with Benji, (who was curled up almost on top of him by this time!) and went out to buy them both a new bed and some special dog food, Frugal was born in August, but we don’t know when, at Toms suggestion we decided that the day he returned would be his birthday, it seems totally fitting.

This morning he’s eaten breakfast and is generally back to his usual self, slightly more annoying, though not quite up to full Frugal force yet. Soon the ultra annoying Frugal pup will be back under our feet, but safe to say, we wouldn’t want him anywhere else!

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Our First Week

I can’t believe we have been here a week already! It’s flown by, and considering all we have contended with I think it’s a great sign that we are still smiling and enjoying Portugal more than we knew possible! Lots has happened in just a week, one of the tortoises has gone off for a walk somewhere and can not be found, we will be continuing to search for him, but sadly in this heat he will be turbo powered and I don’t know if we will ever find him :( we are gutted but I am not worried about his survival here as this is his homeland and he will be perfectly suited to the heat and food available, in the UK it would almost certainly have resulted in death within a short time. I I think Puck (who has been left behind) is quite happy, he is eating fine, and though Torsie was company for him they really did have quite a few arguments, and we had found one or other of them upside down a couple of times after they challenge each other to flip the other over, we always check them so it meant they couldn’t come to harm but I was worried it was a matter of time before one got hurt, so we may have to accept that we are now a one tortoise family. Really looking forward to getting our place built as we are planning to build a courtyard which means Puck can have full run of a large area in complete safety (from dogs and children)

In other animal news, the dogs are settled well and seem to be loving the heat, we have to tie Benji up in the shade as he loves the sun so much he’d sit all day long frying himself, Frugal cools off by running and jumping into the damp ground where the spring comes up and then drags himself through the muddy water on his belly, they both have met the neighbouring farm dogs, two huge Estrellas and get along well with them, Estrallas are like a cross between an Alsatian and a Newfoundland – they are huge, and native dogs to the Estrella mountains which border the area, around here they are put to live with flocks of sheep and herds of goats to protect them, they are fiercely loyal to anyone they consider to be their flock, so are brilliant with children and as watch dogs, we will be getting a puppy Estralla once on the land, they have an enormous bark, and not many people would want to walk on land where one was running free, but with the advantage that we wouldn’t have a viscous guard dog, if someone visits that they don’t know but the family is happy with, they are known to just keep their distance and ignore the person, but watch to ensure the person is no threat to their family. The Estrella will be the ‘free range’ dog with Frugal and will not be a house dog, Benji will be allowed in the house as his nature is one which means he needs to be indoors, Frugal needs to be outside, he’s no good for being in at all.

The horses are settling well, other than yesterday’s incident with a broken fence and a fat pony. One of them bit the other one, then Tonto got frightened, ran into the electric fence, got a shock, ran off with it trailing behind him pulling the posts out in the process and Misty (aka fat pony) took his chance to bolt to the neighbours hazel nut trees… Greedily grabbing mouthfuls at a time before running off to the next snack stop while Andy desperately tried to catch him, eventually, once cornered he gave up and allowed himself to be led back in disgrace, thankfully the neighbours weren’t there so we haven’t shamed ourselves too much! Being typically us this all happened just two minutes before we were getting into the car to go out for the day. The key turned the ignition and chaos ensued, so coming up to the hottest part of the day we ended up having to juggle a baby, a very excited 5 year old, two dogs who were howling with excitement of watching the chase, an offended horse and a gluttonous pony while trying to put up a fence with a divide so we knew they would be safe while we were out!! And nothing being even half straightforward, dividing the fence meant needing two lots of water, so another 30 trips up and down the hill with sun beating down carrying with bottles and small containers in order to fill the new drinking station, an hour later and we were on our way!

The afternoon got a lot better, we were invited to a friends house for 3pm so to avoid driving in the heat of the day with no air conditioning we decided to head over early and find a river beach to laze by before hand. We ended up at Meimoa a quaint little place only five minute drive from our farm, you park up, cross the bridge and find a beautiful grass lined river with trees shading the whole way along, a weir at one end and a nice cafe and a park along the edge. We flopped down in the shade, as the thermometer tipped 40 and a cool breeze greeted us, unlike the UK and very like Portugal it was not at all crowded, a few families shade bathed, as kids jumped in and our of the perfect clear river water, and the cafe had just a few people sat reading papers and drinking coffee. Tom made a friend at the park and then he and Andy hired a boat (for just €3!) and went up the river, groups of old ladies stopped and cooed over Oscar and I managed basic conversation about his age etc etc, the people here really are so lovely, they are so happy and so enthusiastic even if you are rubbish at Portuguese, they love you trying and are so full of encouragement and more than that, they love children, people think of Italy being the country which adores its children, but having been there I’d say Portugal is equal to the obsession, people stop in the street and stroke the baby, or wants to smile and chat to Tom, in the UK children are not really welcome anywhere, here where adults go, children go, on Friday it was a religious public holiday, we drove back from a friends place quite late, around 10pm and there were still children playing outside and chatting with groups of adults, they don’t tag along, they are part of each event, it’s so nice to see.

From the river beach we went on to our friends and had another fantastic time, we met up with a couple we met last year, who’s little girl is just a few months younger than Tom and will be home schooling (I will write on that another time but there are some fab developments in that area and some Portuguese families doing it too which is brilliant!) We all sat, laughed, chatted, watched the sun move over the sky, ate gorgeous food, and looked out over the mountains in the distance while the kids all swam and splashed in the little swimming pool. The group of people here could not be nicer, or more welcoming, everybody totally on the same vibration and with the same hopes and dreams about the future, we couldn’t be more happy to be surrounded by people who believe in the same freedoms as us, and who’s children are being raised in the same way. We left having agreed to go to another river beach tucked into the Estralla mountains next week, and smiled the whole way home, feeling so pleased that we made this move.

Today has been a day of lazing, we need to make some Tipis next week, we don’t really want too, but we need too, and we need the money now as we have decided to crack on with the building ASAP, so today is the last guilt free day of doing nothing for a little while, off now for a swim and then later when it’s cooled Tom is taking Misty for a ride. Life is good. Portugal is stunning. And we feel incredibly blessed to be here, with such lovely people. X

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Reunited

Yesterday was manic, we went from having only two bags to having 90% of our stuff, the two dogs, two horses, two tortoises and a car in a matter of hours! The dogs arrived at 3am and then at first light Andy and the van man unloaded our stuff, we knew it hadn’t all fitted, but were a bit dismayed to find in the back of the van (which we had paid to have filled up from empty) was a cooker and a large sideboard which weren’t ours, equating probably to the same weight and size as the stuff which was left behind, van man said he forgot it was in there… Gradually as we are unpacking things we are realising what hasn’t made it out yet, and what has… It seems we have curtains, ornaments, plates and cutlery, lampshades, didgeridoo, baking trays and cake tins, and no dog bowls, cool box, garden and diy tools… We are hoping our old neighbour can load it onto a pallet for us and ship it to the van mans UK address so he can bring it over (for the special price of an extra £150 – soon to be up for discussion) in a months time, not much use really, but we have little choice but to wait. One thing is for sure we will be loading up the big wooden mushrooms I sadly had to leave behind and getting him to bring those too, without asking first.

All belongings unloaded by 9am, and I got a text to tell me the horses had loaded at 7.30am and were on their way, Jan and her husband were picking them up from Sophie who has been caring for Tonto since he arrived in Portugal and was bringing him and Misty over on the long drive around the mountain, Jans husband kindly agreed to drive the car we bought from Sophie over too, saving us a long return drive to and from and meaning we finally had a car again!!! At about 9.30am I had a call from Jan saying they were here and at the top of our drive!!!! So with the electric fence still in a heap in the middle of the road where it was unloaded I headed up the lane along with the dogs (who are thrilled to have acres to run on!) leaping at my feet, to see my beloved boy and latest addition! The trailer couldn’t make the turning into the farm so we unloaded at the top and walked them down the long drive, Tonto unloaded like a star and thankfully was calm as usual with me as in my haste I had thrown on only flip flops! Not much protection from stomping hooves! Jan held the horses and we all hurriedly started stabbing plastic fence posts into the hard ground and untwisting fence tape, in about an hour we had a rough paddock set up and hooked it up to a battery and the boys could be let loose together for the first time, Tonto getting predictably dramatic and screeching at the top of his voice, Misty grumpily putting him in his place with a swift kick in return! I think they will be firm friends, Misty is adorable, the perfect story book example of a child’s pony, titchy, cute, plump (to put it kindly), very sweet natured but with a naughty look in his eye :)

Once the boys were settled we headed on out to take get a lock for the barn door on our farm, the keys have been lost, not aided by Francisco the 92 year old farmer we bought from having had a fall and being in hospital so we needed to break into the barn and then replace the lock with one of our own. Josh and Jamie our friends who found the farm for us had the paperwork deeds and some keys for a new lock on the farm gate which they’d put on the day before so we arranged to pick up the deeds and keys while we were nearby, (I should add that the house we are house sitting at is about 60k from the people we know and Penamacor and where our land is, and by the time you have wound your way through the hairpin turns its a good hour long drive each way) we set off and got a message from Josh to say to meet at Pam and Marks place (our friends with the Tipis) and when we arrived there was a house full! Typically Portugal :) more lovely people to meet and some familiar faces to catch up with too! What was supposed to be a quick drop in ended up being a four hour visit, Tom loved playing with two of the visiting boys and we managed to get a tel number for someone who has a van and might help us move the stuff which came on pallets from Josh and Jamie’s farm to ours, saving us about 40 trips in an overloaded car, the van people also being folk who have built a reciprocal roof house just like the one we wish to build next month, so we can pick their brains!

We finally pulled ourselves away from our new friends and headed off to our farm, the sun was starting to set by the time we arrived, another sight we had yet to witness in our new home, now it was cooling down we could all go for a stroll around, exploring and finding yet more fruit trees, and oaks, the whole of one side of the farm is lined with oak trees, we paced out an area to build our winter home and are confident we can create a nice space which we can build on a budget, fingers crossed it shouldn’t take too long to build with some help. The views took a whole new look as the sun turned the sky deep orange and then red and sunk behind the mountains, you can’t see it here in the pics below but from the site we hope to build our house we have a view over Penamacor old town and the castle on top of the hill, it’s beautiful!

By the time we left the land and got home it was 10pm and dark, our crossed fingers worked and the horses hadn’t escaped their fencing, so with a last run around in the garden for the dogs and both children fast asleep being ferried from car to house we all crashed out for the night. Tom has fallen asleep in the back of the car three times since we moved here, something he hasn’t done in years, while still half asleep getting out of the car yesterday he opened one eye and said ‘Portugal YAYYY! – you are like a birds nest, you keep me safe and warm’ which pretty much sums up how I hoped he would fee about the move :) I’m sure the sunshine, swimming pool and pony have helped his opinion though!

Swimming pool fun!!

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Hero the cat and Sheeba the dog, Pipette is camera shy

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The furry family reunited

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Sunset at Enchanted Acres

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Grapes galore! We should be able to make a lot of wine here!

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View from where our house hopefully will be

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Our new car

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Plan B’s And Undercover Tortoises

Where to begin?… We have had all manner of excitement and mishap both in the final days of the UK and since arriving in Portugal! Fear not though, all is well, we are all happy, we are all safe, we are not all together yet but soon the furry and human Monsons will be reunited and the all new Mediterranean version of the Monson circus will resume.

I will start in the UK…We spent the final few days UK side manically running around and getting the house as packed as possible. Having not been feeling right after having Oscar a couple of weeks previously, and the last few days spent feeling delirious, seeing double and with a temp of over 40 the doctor prescribed me with antibiotics, 10 days later I finally found myself feeling well enough to look forward to leaving again, it also meant I could help more, even so, with a 3 week old baby and a 5 year old, two idiot dogs blah, blah, blah it’s lucky if one of the four adult hands between Andy and I actually gets to do any packing… The predictable end result of the lack of time spent on packing meant bin bags and baskets having random things thrown into them, as it has for every single one of the many, many, many house moves I’ve been part of… (7 in the last 5 years, and double figures when you look over the last 10 years) so, into a wicker cat cage went cast iron griddle pans, heavy school dinner bell, a roll of sandpaper, a t shirt, a hairbrush and a stray shoe.

Finally we felt we were getting there, by the time Saturday arrived we found ourselves feeling remarkably in control, thanks so the help of a surprise visit from a lovely friend who helped no end with juggling baby, child and rolls of pallet wrap. This was so unlike us!! The van man was due to arrive in a couple of hours, we could load the van shaped mass of stuff up, clean the house, order a takeaway, sit around chatting about the funny things that have happened in the house since we moved there, opening cold beers while sat on boxes recalling merrily the times we had to go out in the pitch black and pissing November rain to retrieve the turkeys from the top of the wall or the inside of a hawthorn hedge with one of us pushing them with a broom from one side and the other holding arms out to catch them, praying their prehistoric like feet didn’t get you in the face on their way down, the birthdays, the yules and anniversaries, then we would have our last hot bath for a while, early to bed, and leave tomorrow feeling quite relaxed really after a last wistful look around at the empty rooms we would close the door, and head off into the sunset and a steady pace…

POP! ….

…we were awakened from our daydream by the enormous sound of the bubble bursting, as we waved off a set of friends who had come to say goodbye the van man called, I turned from the front door, smiling, to see Andy with a serious face saying ‘oh shit…hmmm, he’s, ok, ah no’ you always know this is not a good conversation, and soon it became apparent that this was not a happy conversation. The van part of the van man was kaput, it had has a sensor issue and wasn’t going to be repaired this side of Tuesday… A van man, with no van, is just a man… and this is no use at all when moving such a huge amount of belongings. Meaning we had two dogs, two tortoises, a shit load of stuff and as of 24 hours time no house, thank god there weren’t new tenants trying to get in! Fast arrangements were made, we would take the dogs to the kennels (the last one in a 60 mile radius with a kennel spare) leave the torts with food after bathing them also leaving the issue of how to cross border control with not only two tortoises being transported in a WW2 ammunition box but also with two tortoises who have paperwork which was valid (only) for three days previous to the day he crosses into Portugal… Accepting there is nothing we can do about such an issue, we then start the hellish task of re stacking and labelling all the items we had already stacked into an order that the van driver could load on his own in a few days time, knowing we wouldn’t fit it all in, but not by how much meant we had to move the pile (all 17 cubic metres and over 1.5tonnes of it) around like chess pieces into ‘definitely keep and load’, ‘could be left behind’, ‘can go on pallet’, ‘leave for the neighbours’, ‘can be stacked on top of anything’, ‘light’, ‘heavy’, ‘haven’t got a clue’, ‘fragile’ etc etc… By a miracle the baby slept solid for 3 hours and the sling rescued the rest so we spent 6 hours re doing everything so it could be left for someone we had never met before and paid a lot of money to in advance to come and load up and drive to us in Portugal. We made the decision that the van driver would pick up our two (absolutely stinking and hyperactive) dogs on his way to the ferry on Tuesday morning and would arrive with us at midnight on Wednesday.

The takeaway happened, but we were absolutely exhausted, and after yet more cleaning and clearing of the house it was midnight when we finally crashed onto the mattress on the floor, me getting only a few hours sleep, and sitting up with the baby facing the reality that the next day, our last in England would not be a relaxing, but would be a stress fuelled, manic race before heading up country! Right we were, by the time we’d caught up on what should have been done the day before we were over 2 hours late leaving, in belting rain with the knowledge that in such weather most often the garage, (where everything we owned in the world was now contained) would flood.

The rest of the day was much better than the beginning, we dropped in to see family, hugged, kissed, laughed and were packed off with the lunch we should have been having with them hours earlier instead in little Tupperware boxes so we could eat on the drive to Bristol. An hour late for the car return, a lovely Enterprise man told us not to worry and wished us well, and so off we flapped across the carpark to the terminal building, a blur of baby fabric wraps, child, straw summer hats, suitcases, bags, teddies, car seats and everything in between, once in the terminal the initial rush subsided, we had ages until the flight, at least an hour!! So after a much needed sip of coffee we sauntered down to the check in desk, to a wide eyed, jumpy lady who’s pillar box red lips told us to hurry the heck up as we only had 1 minute before check in closed! The blur resurfaced, and sped the entire length of the airport, only with one less bag in tow and after a 20 mile walk through corridor after corridor listening (rather ironically) to the Flamenco version of ‘Road To Hell’ following us through tinny speakers we entered the gate for our flight. Naturally being the last to check in, we were the last to board, one last blur from terminal to plane and we were on and flopped into our seats. Engines whirred, the plane moved to position, moving, moving, whirring……stop… Bing bong ‘this is your captain, a warning light has shown up and we have to stop and get it looked at’ 100 years of waiting, with Ryanair service ensuring we were allowed no food or water, until joy…bing bong ‘this is your captain, it’s fixed, the part is replaced, just need to do the paperwork and in a couple of minutes we will be off!’ A mere lightyear later we were in the air…FINALlLY!!

Two hours have never felt so long, but the boys were amazing, the guy in front even commenting he didn’t know he had a child and baby behind him when he stood up to get off the plane upon landing. We were here, out into the heat of the night, the smell of Portugal in the air… None of the rest mattered anymore, this was the start of a new life! Not too new though, we were still ‘us’ meaning in the line for passport control it was noted by me that Andy had left the entire bag of electrical stuff on the plane, iPad, camera, video camera, sat nav, the lot… Thankfully this wasn’t the UK, this was Portugal, meaning friendly people helping us to get the bag back, within ten minutes it had been radioed through, offloaded and returned to waiting hands in lost and found. This must be the third thing, the van, the plane and the bag…wasn’t it?…..

Car collected, lovely 5* hotel (thanks booking.com) we arrived and fell into bed by 1am, feeling totally ecstatic, the long journey and the trials from the days before had already melted to be nothing. We woke up early the next morning and after breakfast on the hotel roof overlooking the marina we started a long journey up country to the farm.

We couldn’t resist stopping off quickly to see the land, and we managed to only go wrong once when trying to find it again, I felt really quite sick at the thought of arriving, would it be what we hoped? Had we built it up in our minds to feel nicer, bigger, more welcoming? There was a very real chance that we might arrive and it not be anything like we remembered! We knew it would be massively overgrown and as we rounded the corner I had to remind myself this was the worst it would look, the wild flowers would be dried up, the grass spiky and long and access difficult, so if we still loved it now, in the hottest part of the day, when it had had no attention for 10 months we would be ok… Overgrown it was, the previously unkempt rustic track was now almost a solid mass of overgrown spiky things. But, it was home, and to make up for the tough access the land held out arms of dappled shade all the way around with the huge trees which bordered it, finally we were back, the smell was the same, the views of the mountains were more stunning than I remember, the trees bigger and more established than last year when we came, one field was just as we remembered it, and the other much larger than we thought, it was far too hot to brave crossing the land to go up into the woods so we just stood halfway, looking and taking it all in, it still doesn’t feel like we can be there long term, like we really have this opportunity to take care of such a beautiful special space it’s literally a dream come true. The smell of rosemary filled the air and that same feeling of welcome and calm was there, everything is new and yet totally familiar. The space we hope to build the house is a much better size than we thought, the blackberries are growing, and we found a huge old pear tree, an apple tree and a fig tree too, there is fruit everywhere! It will take a hell of a lot of work to get the land feeling more homely, I’m sure the horses will help shorten the grass when they arrive, in the meantime the first job is to cut back the brambles so we can pass through without getting stabbed, and then start seeing which areas need clearing so we can mend fences and start making the farm secure enough for animal and child! We left feeling relieved, and happy and only a little daunted :)

Night number two in Portugal and night number one in the area we would call home was spent back where it all started with our friends Pam and Mark who run Tippings Tipis, not only did Pam give me a heads up about the house sitting, she also kindly offered to put us up in one of their gorgeous Tipis for the night before we went onto the house sitting house the next day. We got out of the car to the loveliest welcome, hugs and kisses all round, and it was wonderful to see familiar faces again, including Josh and Jamie who found us the land, we all had a lovely dinner together, plenty of wine and lots of catching up! It felt like we had never been away!! The next door town has just had the hosted the BOOM festival for the week, meaning the local villages were full of colourful characters, beaten up old trucks, motor homes and converted lorries everywhere, people sat, with no reason to stay, no reason to hurry away, the area is buzzing with people smiling, there is a Festa on practically every night of the week somewhere locally too, it’s definitely a great time to have arrived!

By Tuesday we drove to meet Martine and Paul who’s house we are staying at in Castelo Novo for the next few weeks. When we arrived at the house we were met by two lovely warm characters who felt instantly familiar to me, Martine loves babies, she used to be the equivalent of a Health Visitor in Holland she is trained in baby massage and has said she will teach me everything when she gets back from their time away, I have always wanted to train in baby massage so this is music to my ears!! They are also musicians and have the most incredible collection of bongo and djembe drums I have ever seen! We are really hoping we can offer their drumming workshops as an added extra option when groups book to stay with us, and the same for baby massage too! I have a feeling we will be firm friends with them, they are lovely, as are their animal family, Sheeba an old lady though elegant as anything, and the two cats Hero and Pipette. We also got to meet a few of their friends who had come to see them off, one man who used to live a stones throw from where we will be and another lady who is just about to undertake the first ever retrofit earthship, it’ll be really interesting to see how it all unfolds! Sounds like it’ll be an amazing project!

Once we’d spent a good few hours together and were clear on where the horses would graze and how to take care of everything, we said goodbye and headed to Fundao to get food for the next few days, aware that we would not have a vehicle to get anywhere until late Thursday as the hire car needing to be back in just a few hours. Halfway around the hypermarket we had another phone call from the van driver who sounded like he was about to have a meltdown, the motorway had been shut and he was not going to make the ferry meaning he would now not be here until the next crossing which was midnight Friday… Again, faced with awry plans, horses due the next day, and all the horse fencing currently on a van somewhere on the M23 we calmly continued our shop and put it in the ‘what will be will be pile’ With luck finally on his side he decided to make a dash for it when the traffic started moving and Brittany ferries to their credit helped save the day by letting him on an hour after boarding closed! All being well he should arrive with the dogs here at midnight tonight, and then will grow to hate us on a whole new level when he sees that the road to the barn where all our stuff is being stored is impassable and everything needs carrying up a 100metre bumpy thorn lined track!… Lets hope he is in a good mood!

Once our things, the dogs, torts and horses are here, we will be well and truly living in Portugal, can’t wait for us all to be reunited! So far things are better than we dared to dream, Tom has spent yesterday and today in the pool, we have been lazing in the shade of the orange trees and daydreaming away!!

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48 Hours

Here we are 48 hours before take off… After weeks, months even of manic packing, cleaning, sorting, chucking, selling, listing, shifting, stacking we are nearing the end, there is really not a lot to do now, other than move things we still need out from one place to another so it feels like we are doing something, and wait… Arrangements for the pony transport and the car to be dropped to us are now all finally sorted! Jan who is picking up Misty and Tonto from Sophie has a husband who comes with her on journeys, and he has kindly agreed to drive the car we have bought from Sophie to us at the Quinta we are house sitting at. All we need to do is get from the car hire place in Castelo Branco to the Quinta in Castelo Novo and then we are all sorted! In the uk we have a house and no car, in Portugal we have a car and no house :)

Today we said our final goodbye to lovely Bob, who has been adopted family for us since we moved down here, I found Bob through a forum online about making biodiesel reactors, it turned out he lived just a few fields away from us in an old coach, we met up, he put the reactor he was building in our garage and used the garage as a workshop for the winter while he carried on building it, he must have soon realised neither Andy or I had a bloody clue what we were doing with biodiesel reactors, yet he humoured us anyway, and our friendship continued. Regular visits where we would all sit in the kitchen drinking tea and eating packet after packet of biscuits became a thing of the norm, Tom adores him, we all adore him, he has helped us many many times in the years we’ve been here, life isn’t right when Bob isn’t around rambling on about complicated formulas and electrical set ups which neither Andy or myself ever understand, everybody needs a Bob, he found us the batteries which we will be using in Portugal, 6 large deep cycle batteries, worth hundreds each, for just scrap value, as they were pulled out of an old phone exchange by a friend of his when they needed replacing due to one of the collective cell set failing, he is entirely responsible for us having all the items we need for the set up, and a sketch on a scrap of paper showing us how to wire it all up, the fan and the lights being on will be entirely owed to Bob… Since living down here he is one of only a handful of people who we have truly befriended, people are hard work down here, most will never accept you, but those that do will open their hearts up and offer the nicest friendship you could ever wish for, little does he know it, but on many occasions Bob was the only person we would speak too for weeks at a time, he kept us the little sanity we have left. We owe him a lot, and can’t wait for him to come out and stay with us!

The tortoises are at vets as I write, hopefully passing their vet check, we failed miserably to get or make an IATA approved box as perfectly detailed on the CITES website, so should border control check them we can only hope pity will be taken on us by the officials when they find them strolling around inside the old wooden WW2 ammo box which we are putting them in… Or perhaps our attempt will be that pathetic they might roll around laughing so hard they won’t notice when van man Bill steps on the accelerator and heads speedily away from the check point…

The fridge has been taken, euros have been changed up, (hopefully) the last pallet has just been collected. Things feel weird, really weird, not just weird as in we have no furniture, definitely not weird as in we are just moving house, god knows I’ve done that enough times to be used to that feeling , but new chapter, maybe even new book weird… Familiar and totally alien at the same time, I feel like I’m watching all this happen through a window, I just walked into the lounge, a small pile of things sitting in the corner, and even though its the room I hate most in this house, and have spent the least time in I felt a sudden surge of emotion. It doesn’t matter if you hate a house, it doesn’t matter if its not a home, not when it holds memories which you love, so much has happened here, this is the longest I have lived anywhere since I was 18, we have laughed hysterically, pondered, panicked, argued, made up, got engaged, laboured, celebrated birthdays, got dressed for our wedding, celebrated yules, danced, cried, welcomed and lost animal family, got drunk, been sick, hugged, experimented, failed and succeeded here, it doesn’t matter anymore that the house is mouldy, and cold, and damp and oppressive, it is/was here that life happened, our voices have echoed in every corner of it, of course I don’t want to stay, but now we don’t have to worry about the bad things this house held, the good things are clear as day. We have worked so hard for this dream, all the dreams were made in this place, I will always look back on our time here fondly, we’ve faced some of the hugest battles with health and personal life here and when I think back to how far we’ve come, I can see how much we have grown as a team, for all the times we lock horns, we are an truly incredible force, somehow we have kept our focus, and managed to arrive at the point where we and our babies will be travelling off to our new life… What is held in store for us we have no idea, but if its anything like the memories which flash before me when I look in the empty spaces in this house it’s sure to be amazing… As always, the good will, the warmth of the wishes, the love and the people cheering us on is amazing, we are so blessed to have the tribe we have. Thank you all just for being you <3

Andy and Bob

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