We’ve started work on the larger building again. Or, to be more precise, a local team of joiners has started work. We’d planned on doing this with help from local friends, but reassessed when their own building project took off and we got to scratching our heads over where we were going to source sufficient sweet chestnut poles for the job. I’ve been buying some from the Presidente of the local junta (and the previous owner of this quinta) who has a pile of old, well-seasoned chestnut vigas that have been lying about for the best part of the last decade, but he doesn’t have enough, or enough of the right size, for what I had in mind. In the end, it was going to be quicker and far more economical to call in the team, since the team come complete with the wood.
We have no shortage of Maritime pine we might have used for the job. It’s decent enough timber for construction and stronger than a lot of softwood used for building in places like the UK. And had we been prepared to souse it in cocktails of chemicals it would probably last a reasonable time outside in that environment. But wood-boring insects are much more of a problem in Portugal and for any construction of this nature, chestnut is the only wood. Being of the same family as oak, the timber is strong and exceptionally durable. Almost all the original timbers used to support the stone slab roof and the floors in the larger of our two buildings have been reused.
The timber is new, seasoned but untreated, and the deal is I get to preserve it how I want to. The plan is for a trellis extending from the building to the edge of the terrace, and an alpendre, or covered balcony, covering the first 1.5m of it at first floor level. This will be enough to shade both upper and lower windows from the summer sun at its height, and provide shelter from the rain when moving from one outside staircase to the other underneath.
No matter the considerable advantages in our slow and deliberate progress to date, there is something very satisfying in watching what 3-5 men can achieve in 2 days flat. Already there is a great sense of space – paradoxically perhaps, in view of the fact the area is being enclosed – but a very real sense of the large inside-outside kitchen and dining area that will eventually emerge here.