Back in the modern world. I left from Nic’s, where I have stayed before, four weeks ago tomorrow. I have had three very interesting weeks away followed, almost immediately by a social weekend, partying and supporting Nic’s rugby team in Toulouse (great fun) and a couple of days working here at the tower, catching up with emails and organising my next couple of months. That done, I can now concentrate on writing some more.
Nic lives a stones throw from Rodez International Airport, it is tiny and has maybe a dozen destinations, one of which is a summer Ryanair flight to Porto, that is why I am here, I got a cheap return flight to see my bro and the opportunity to spend time with a great friend too.
I arrived in Porto late in the evening and found a great little hostel to stay overnight. The following morning I discovered that, not only was it a national public holiday, but there was a train strike and nothing was running. Thankfully I managed to get an afternoon coach to our rendez vous in Coimbra and spent a bonus morning wondering the streets of Porto in the sunshine. I didn’t take a map or have any idea of where I was going, but the city is beautiful and I shall enjoy exploring more next time I visit.
Quinta Libelula is a hidden oasis nestling in a tranquil wooded valley, high in the hills of central Portugal, away from the bright lights and bustle of modern life, where even the sound of a distant car is an infrequent disturbance. The property, abandoned for many years was once a flourishing farm, producing maize and vegetables for the local villages and an important employer in the immediate area. Massive early investment in terracing, dams and a complex series of irrigation channels has left lasting marks on the landscape in the form of beautiful stone walls, cool ponds and a series of near flat, fertile gardens that rise up the valley floor, bordered on either side by steep wooded slopes that clothe its steep sides. A stunning schist farmhouse can be found at the lower end of the property, roofed partly in the traditional stone manner, complete with wood fired bread oven and impressive views both up and down the valley.
I could go on, and it’s all true, but reality, for the moment is in need of encouragement. The house is a shell, in need of re-roofing, insulation, doors and windows to keep out the draughts (yes, it’s freezing there in the winter) a new floor, a kitchen, bathroom and a few modern comforts. Windy and Michael are, for the moment camping out on a forestry track, high above the property and walking in every day down a steep woodland track. There is no vehicular access, this was started whilst I visited and should hopefully be completed by now. Only then can renovations easily start on the house. It would be possible to carry everything in, but hardly practical and a huge challenge, especially as a track was always on the cards. Camping, I can imagine was great fun during the summer and continued to be for the first few days of my visit, but when the weather changed to torrential rain storms and a nighttime high of 8 degrees, my little tent became a haven against the elements. The boys faired better in their caravan and awning with the four dogs but without decent heating once everything is damp and cold it stays damp and cold until the sun shines again. Thankfully the weather remained changeable throughout my visit and I got to see a good deal of sun between the inclement days.
Whilst waiting for the track to be installed the boys have made huge progress in rediscovering their hidden oasis. From impenetrable bramble, scrub and sapling thicket, often ten to twelve feet high or more, they have cleared extraordinary areas of land, finding no end of surprises along the way. Beautiful stone walls, some with inbuilt steps, water channels and ponds filled to the brim with silt. Vines, once well trained that now cover huge areas strangling trees and blocking out the light, olive orchards that, due to a late frost or some other spring phenomenon have not set fruit this season. I guess next spring will be the telling time to see if they are productive or not. They have gone so far with initial clearing and have enough space to keep them busy for the next couple of years. At my estimation they have cleared about half the terraced land and have done nothing to maintain any of their hillside forest, a project that will take many years, if ever to complete.
One of the water reservoirs had already been cleared and was an excellent place to bathe, if a tad cold at times, the second, much larger one was being debrambled when I arrived and we spend probably two solid weeks digging silt and debris from its depths. Measuring six metres by six, with a sloping depth from nothing down to a good two metres in the centre, this pond is high enough to provide the house with a huge volume of water once it is plumbed, providing that it fills through the winter. It may need some remedial filling as the mortar has decayed somewhat and several trees had grown up from within. It was a good project, especially on the cooler days but as time went on, decided that my skills were probably better put to use on more creative projects.
We visited a local nursery to pick up a few fruit trees. It turned out to be a colossal establishment producing a huge range of plants and was billed as the biggest commercial camellia nursery en europe. The black shade netting tents stretched up and down the valley for miles. We got some great trees and the guys will head back in late November to benefit from the new season bare root stock once a bit more land has been prepared. Thinking a trip back once I have found my land to stock an orchard as the prices were more than reasonable.
I spent a morning digging over a corner of one of the terraces and replanted some of the seedlings that Michael had put in earlier. They were doing well but as the season progressed it was obvious that they weren’t getting much sun and the newly cleared area was a way better option for winter progress. Advice at the local market had me planting cabbages and purple sprouting, leeks and chard for cropping this winter, overwintering onions and garlic for next summer. By the time I left, they were all growing well and the cabbages had doubled in size. One can only imagine how fast things will grow in the summer in the sunshine with all that water available. I only hope that the whole irrigation system can be explained by someone before it is too late.
the temporary encampment
getting the veg planted
my brother's new abode
perched above an olive grove
rediscovering the old irrigation system, the back wall is over 7 metres high
errant grapevines now festoon the trees
evening inspection of the works. the new track which will allow
vehicular access to the house
getting the fences in for the luxury chicken run 25m x 20m
solar hot water, my second construction this summer
My poor brother doesn’t do well in the cold, or being dirty for that matter and frequently moaned about the useless camping showers they were putting out in the sun in the hope of some warm water of an evening. I got a thinking of previous projects and places that do so much better than that and in the final days before I left, created a sturdier, larger and hopefully more efficient solar hot water system. Unfortunately it was mainly overcast on the day I got it running but I did manage to get a pre travel dip in a very cold pond followed by a less cold rinse from the newly installed system, I can’t have smelled too bad as I got an invite to stay from the passengers that I sat next to on the flight back to france. Still waiting for news of how well it fares after a day of sunshine, I have my fingers crossed.