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… :)
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!!
Hero the cat and Sheeba the dog, Pipette is camera shy
The furry family reunited
Sunset at Enchanted Acres
Grapes galore! We should be able to make a lot of wine here!
View from where our house hopefully will be
Our new car
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…
…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!!
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