Archive for April, 2009

Parting shots

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

I have to return to the UK now after this all-too-brief visit. Here are some images I’ll be keeping in my head as well as on this blog.

Morning oaks

Young oaks silhouetted by the rising sun. (There are almost as many oaks as fruit trees here.)


More quinta wildlife

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

Having cleared away a lot of the bracken and brambles that have been regrowing, I made another great discovery. These Early Purple Orchids (Orchis mascula) growing all over the lower terraces.

Early Purple Orchid (Orchis mascula)



Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

This quinta has an amazing abundance of fruit. When we first saw the property back in November, the trees were mostly bare and it was hard to identify precisely what was here apart from olives, vines (both grape and kiwi), and the evergreen loquats with their distinctive foliage. January wasn’t much better, though by then it was possible to see what citrus fruits we had growing, and the persimmons (Sharon fruit) were ripe. Now with everything bursting into life, it’s becoming a lot easier to figure out everything else.

I intended to spend a good half day mapping out the terraces and noting what was growing where, taking photos of the trees so I could identify what they were later if I couldn’t at the time. But as is the way of these things, the camera batteries died on me after only a few trees’ worth and I hadn’t brought spares this time.

Here are some that I did capture though.


More legless wildlife

Saturday, April 25th, 2009

The day after I met the snake, I met another legless inhabitant of the quinta — this slowworm (Anguis fragilis) slowly worming its way across one of the terraces.

Slow worm

There are also a large number of very large black slugs (Arion ater) as thick as a thumb and nearly twice as long. They appear to be the same variety as we have back in Scotland, though in a higher population density than I’ve seen generally there, which is interesting as this is supposed to be a northern European species. The environment around the stream with lots of damp lush vegetation is perfect for them. I haven’t seen any other varieties, but it’s very clear we have a duck deficiency here which will need to be remedied as soon as we’re able to take up residence. Though apparently snakes eat them too.

As for the human inhabitant of the quinta, she is experiencing a complete absence of any desire to get remotely legless. The wine remains undrunk and will be going to a new home today where it will be more appreciated.

A snake in the grass

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

Yesterday I met my first Portuguese snake. Nearly tripped over it as I walked past the tent. It was just sitting there (if snakes can be said to sit), I guess investigating this strange new thing in its territory. When I appeared it lifted its head and tasted the air and I circled around it to get a good look. Plainly it seemed to feel that moving away wasn’t its best strategy for that moment because it wasn’t showing any signs of heading off anywhere. So we had a stalemate because I wasn’t going to move either until I made sure it had cleared off without going into the tent.

By the time this had lasted a good five minutes, I was beginning to think of going back to the car for the camera, but didn’t quite trust it not to move into the tent in the meantime. Rattling the car keys got its attention but it didn’t like them too much — hissed and raised its head ready to strike — but I found after a while that walking off while rattling the car keys would induce it to follow so off we went, me rattling car keys, snake following, until it got suddenly bored with the whole game and took a detour into a ditch.

It was only afterwards as I continued walking back up to the house that I realised I’d had my mobile phone + camera in my pocket the whole time. D’oh …

Here’s what it was — a Ladder snake, Elaphe (Rhinechis) scalaris. According to this site, they average about 4 feet long. This one was only half of that.

Ladder snake, Elaphe scalaris

Getting uncivilised – another unnecessary road?

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

The Portuguese government are evidently planning to build a new road through Central Portugal: a new IC 6 highway, between the towns of Tábua, Oliveira do Hospital, Lagos da Beira, and Seia.

Petition against the project and details here.

O projecto de construção da nova IC 6, entre Tábua, Oliveira do Hospital, Lagos da Beira, e Seia.

Petição contra o projecto aqui.

Getting civilised

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

If there’s one thing I’m quickly learning about life here, it’s that you just have to go with the flow. Looking around the quinta at everything that needs doing I scarcely even know where to start — some brambles here, some bracken there … but aching muscles too accustomed to shoving no more than a mouse around all day are forcing me to slow down, just be with the land, settle in, inch a few root hairs into the soil. The soil smells delicious. The taste of the water is wonderful and has an energy and vitality to it that only water that hasn’t been killed by chemicals has.

After 3 days of trying to cram an ever increasing number of bits and pieces into the tent, I woke up this morning and moved up to the house, cleaned the dust, maize stalks, olive pits and eucalyptus leaves off the old table and set up a kitchen. With coffee on the brew, fresh orange juice to hand, and this for my morning view, I’m seriously wondering what else I need.

Morning view


Back again!

Sunday, April 19th, 2009

This is the second post coming from Quinta do Vale! To be precise, the middle terrace next to the waterfall from inside a £28.99 (Halfords sale) 2-person tent with one person (and a laptop) in it. (The children have gone to their paternal grandparents for a week, so I took this opportunity to come out and take delivery of our yurt plus all manner of tools and gardening equipment shipped out from the UK by the intrepid and very excellent Fred and Nancy Morris.)

Yesterday it rained quite a lot, which is when I discovered that you get what you pay for in terms of tents. Still, the leak wasn’t too bad. My sleeping bag only got a bit wet. The fact that I’d bought myself a bottle of vinho tinto to toast my first night on the quinta and failed to also buy a corkscrew didn’t really seem to matter. I had enough thermals, etc, to keep me warm enough through the night, so all is well and this morning I woke up to this.

Kind of says it all really.