The Puppies All Grown Up

Random 2 (3).png3From the cute puppies Zed found abandoned under a bush in the Portuguese countryside we now have two boisterous teenage dogs!  Meet Random and Bramble.


Our English dog, Millie seems to be getting along fine with them.  I think she keeps out the way most of the time.

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At least they have plenty of space to run around in…

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…and Jay adores them too.

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Zed’s looking after them at the moment while I’m in Cambridge doing a spot of candle making…more about that here!




Abandoned puppies – not just for Christmas

puppy, abandoned dogs, abandoned puppies, strays


Zed poked his head underneath the hedge. He could hear a whimpering. A tiny brown and white puppy smaller than a guinea pig was tucked among the leaves.

Serra de Montejunto, pear orchard, apple orchard, orchad, pear tree, travel, tourism, rural portugal

Montejunto hills in the background

He’d been walking Milly, our black Labrador cross, along the  track lined with pear orchards and apple trees with the Montejunto hills lurking serenely in the distance.

Black labrador cross-bred with German Shepherd, black dog, dog in Portugal


Cradling the tiny short haired, brown and white dog he took it home, kept it warm and later took it to the pet for advice and a check over. The advice was in Portuguese but the important sentence for me was “It’s going to be a big dog.”

The children named him Random and enjoyed cuddling him that evening before he was snuggled into a blanket and kept warm by the light of an angle poise lamp.

Puppies, puppies in Portugal, stray dogs in Portugal

Neighbour’s puppies

We’ve come close a couple of times before to adopting puppies, when neighbours’ dogs have had them, but oh my goodness, never this close.

Black labrador cross bred with German Shepherd, dog in Portugal



The following day Zed took Milly for another walk. Again, there was a whimpering in the hedge. Again, Zed struggled under bramble bushes, ripping his jacket and scratching his face in a bid to find out where the sound was coming from. Another puppy. Random’s sister. Black and white like a Jack Russell.

Puppy in Portugal, brown and white puppy, abandoned puppies


She too was snuggled in a blanket and put under a lamp. They are cute as puppies tend to be and I adore them. But….we already have a dog. While the rest of the family will argue the case because they are so adorable, I do think on this occasion that three is probably a crowd.

Where’s our Puppy Gone?


We were tempted by these puppies last year but common sense ruled.

“Dakota’s had puppies!” yelled Zed, coming in from taking Milly on her evening walk and looking slightly windblown with a light drizzle of rain still glistening on his shoulders.  “Who wants to come and see them?  I think we should see if we can have one.”

We raced over to the neighbouring barn.  Dakota isn’t our dog.  She lives under a table next door and belongs to someone in the village.   Whenever she breaks free she bounds over to our house and scampers around with Milly, our Labrador cross.  We don’t actually know her real name but Dakota is as good as any don’t you think? A little black and tan mongrel featured in a previous blog ‘Scruffy and Woofy’.



We peered under the table at the two tiny, black, newly born creatures wriggling around near their mother in the dark.  I could see two but maybe there were more hidden the other side of her.

“Should we ask if we can have one?” asked Zed. In that moment all common sense went out the window along with the unspoken and disturbing thought that maybe they weren’t wanted and would be drowned.  Home was, after all, a table.

The following morning Zed dashed out with a translated note which said something like ‘If you don’t want all the puppies can we have one?” and left it on top of the table for the owner to find.

Later that day the owner came by.  Zed tried out his Portuguese and after a conversation of sorts managed to establish that there were three puppies, that the owner was having one, another neighbour the other and there would be one for us.  Well, we think that’s what he said.  At one point the owner mentioned ten puppies and reeled off names across the neighbourhood.  Ten puppies?  Eh?  Where were they? What?

Dakota and her puppies were rehoused in a wooden shack the following day. At intervals I would peek my head around the door and watch them suckling or barging around the room. They were as cute as teddy bears and I couldn’t resist them, couldn’t wait for the day when we could take one home. They were black and tan like their mother.  There was just one little thought bothering me, we could still only see two puppies…not three…not ten…

Ola, ola!”  shouted a neighbour at our gate late one evening. My daughter translated their problem.  It seemed that the puppies had gone missing. Oh no!  Had we seen them? Knowing that Dakota plays in the garden we wondered if she’d brought them in and hidden them somewhere. Clearly wanting us to be the proud owners.  Were these the neighbours who were having the other puppy?

The following morning a makeshift fence had been put up in the yard.  Outside on the road stood Dakota, shaking slightly. I could hear the puppies whimpering in the shed.  They’d returned safely from their wander but she couldn’t get to them.  Emergency!!  I raced into the house to fetch Zed to help me lift Dakota over the fence. When we got back the dog was already the other side having found another way in.  As they fed and then scampered out to play I wondered whether we would be given the boy or the girl. I didn’t mind which. We hadn’t come up with a name yet. Maybe ‘The Wanderer’?  I bought a tin of puppy food.  Just in case.


We waited for them to be weaned, visiting them often, holding them, playing with them. They started eating solid food.  One evening my son came rushing in.  One of the puppies had gone!

The following day we watched the carnival parade in town then came home and cuddled the last remaining, gorgeous, fluffy puppy.  Was it ours?  When could we take it?  Where was the owner to ask? More importantly – do we really need two dogs?


carnival parade

The next morning Dakota was there, bounding happily in front of us as usual.  At the shack there were no puppies left.  Not ten, not three, not two, not one.  They say dogs start to look like their owners and with his light, tan, floppy hair and cute face Jae was starting to look uncannily like one of the puppies.  It clearly wasn’t the sign I thought it was though.

Done hens and ducks.  Tilly the hen.

Maybe a chicken instead.

Ah well.  They have chickens for sale in the Agriloja store.  Maybe a more practical option.  They are for sale next to the cutest floppy eared rabbits though…..


book cover rivoli

‘The Rivoli Wigwam’ by Alicia Sunday
A fantasy adventure
for 7-9 year olds.

Scruffy and Woofy – stray dogs or not?


A nearby motorway restaurant in Portugal told me they were a magnet for abandoned dogs. People could easily pull in and drop their dogs off and be sure they would be fed, getting leftover scraps from the kitchen.

At one point we were attracting our own share of dogs that don’t belong to us.  At first we thought they were abandoned but then, as they came cheerily bounding into the garden we realised they were clearly being fed elsewhere.  Further investigation revealed they were usually tied up in a garden up the road. Word got around the dog world our garden party rocked because suddenly there were others, whose nature I have no idea about and thus did not want to encourage, who hovered around the boundary of the house waiting for a personal invite.


One sported a collar with a broken chain, the other a broken piece of string round its neck. Having made friends with our dog Milly, these two small cross-breeds, cheery looking dogs which we stroked and petted, seemed to appear at any opportunity they were loose.  One was a small black and tan dog with some Jack Russell in her and the other a cross between a West Highland White Terrier and……something else.  They would wait outside the front door, eager to play.


These two were friendly and cute and happy and we didn’t mind that our own dog made good friends with them and indeed the children, who begged me unsuccessfully to take them in.  At one point one was sleeping in our garden, waiting to play in the morning.    When they were tied up we could hear them barking through the night so frankly, I preferred them to sleep loose even if it was at our house.  We had no idea what their names were and they had no tag.  So I nick-named them Scruffy and Woofy.  Woofy has since been renamed again by the children.  She is now an upwardly mobile ‘Dakota’.


I have had to revise this blog before posting and change it mainly to the past tense because sadly little Woofy passed away in our garden a couple of weeks ago.  Dakota is back on his chain and the other dogs have gone off to find another gang to hang out with.


How long can a dog go without eating?

Delighted to look after her

Delighted to look after her

I was wide awake.  It was pitch black outside.  I tossed.  I turned.  Finally I went downstairs to see if the dog was still alive.  The one I was looking after for the owner.  The one that hadn’t eaten for several days.  A gorgeous, friendly, Golden Retriever.  All I had to do was pop in and feed her twice a day along with the cat, and take it for a walk.  What was so difficult about that?  I was delighted to be of help. Another family had been looking after her but they’d had to return to England before the owners could get back.

The first evening meal and walk had been fine.  I’d fed her the mix of tinned and dry dog food.  Although on the walk I noticed she had the runs.  Drat.  Surely it would clear up by morning.

Unfortunately sad dog had a different type of the runs

Unfortunately sad dog had a different type of the runs

The following day the food was uneaten.  She was in her basket looking at me with sad, huge brown eyes.  Only a Golden Retriever has eyes like that.  Surely she was silently reprimanding me for leaving her in an empty house.  I arrived back in the evening after a day spent chasing around schools, to a pool of ….. stuff from both ends of the dog.  I cleared it up.  A virus?  Loneliness? I texted the owner who was suffering a family tragedy, played the whole thing down and took her back to our own house for company where she ignored our dog, Milly, followed me pitifully around, continued to mess from both ends and refused to eat.

Sad dog wasn't interested in Millie

Sad dog wasn’t interested in Millie

Guests arrived.  More mess in the living room from sad dog.  Sad dog still hadn’t eaten.  I gave it three days for the virus to clear, or for sad dog to get over whatever she had.  Three days came and went. She was drinking at least but….time for the vets.  Zed, my husband was in London.  Just me and the kids and the guests.  Who probably weren’t getting the attention I’d planned.

I called Diggory, my builder. He rang back that evening to give me the number of the local vet who I rang straight away.  No answer.  I looked up a vet on the internet and headed off in the dark, sad dog in the back seat, bewildered. Sat nav didn’t recognise the street so I’d made a rough map off the internet. I drove round and round the town in the dark. The road didn’t seem to exist.  Sad dog lurched around corners in the back.

Sad dog - time for the vets

Sad dog – time for the vets

In desperation I set off for the second vets located in a small village, driving with mad determination.  I couldn’t let sad dog die. She was thinner than a stray not the healthy Golden Retriever I’d been entrusted with.  I drove round and round the village, finally found the street.  No sign of a vet surgery.  I had to give up for the evening.  In a brightly lit house ten miles away guests and children were waiting for supper and bedtime and it was now nine o’clock.

The following day I dropped our guests off at the airport, collected my husband from the same airport, and found a 24 hour vet surgery in Cartaxo, forty minutes from the house.  We had to leave sad dog for tests and drove around in the dark trying to find the route out of Cartaxo, getting lost and trying to read the tiny, grey road signs.  The sat nav took us down unmade roads to nowhere. It always does that around Cartaxo.

A veterinary surgery - finally!

A veterinary surgery – finally!

Two hours later we returned so the vet could explain the results.

“I don’t know the problem,” the Portuguese vet said.  “You should leave her and we’ll give her fluids and do more tests overnight”.  We called the owners for permission, left the surgery and drove around in the dark, getting lost, trying to find the route out of Cartaxo again.

I rang the vet for an update the following day.  “Still not eating.  We should keep her for another night,” he said.  Oh dear.  The owners were due back tomorrow.  I had to return a healthy doggy albeit a much thinner one.

The owners drove straight to the vets from the airport.  Hurrah!  Sad dog had just started eating so they could take her home . The vet thought she’d probably had gastroenteritis.  Of course they got lost in the dark trying to find the route out of Cartaxo, while happy dog, reunited with her owners, peered out the back window of the car into the darkness with her big, happy brown eyes.

Sad dog now happy dog once more

After a week of not eating – sad dog now happy dog once more

All pictures except ‘Millie’ courtesy of

Made in Stone: Exposing stonework

Hammer Horror

Hammer Horror

There was a gentle tap at the door.  Seven thirty in the morning.  Who was knocking at seven thirty on a Saturday?  The postman comes in the afternoon.  Nope, can’t think.  A tiny trail of sunshine had squeezed underneath the shutter.  We’d returned late from Lisbon last night, back to the village house in Castelo Branco and I’d crawled tiredly into bed after a long journey. Sunshine lit up my brain and pulled it out of sleep mode.

“Manuel!”.  I flopped out of bed, pulled on a skirt and fleece and ruffled my hair into some sort of order to give the appearance of having been up for hours, waiting.  He was half an hour early.  Not unusual. He came in with a nod, a serious face, and got straight to work with a hammer and chisel, while I put the kettle on.

A light bit of dusting

A light bit of dusting

What I should have done was raced upstairs and moved everything into another room, covered every object with a cloth, strung sheets across all the doorways.  Doors?  Oh come on!  Naively I thought that chipping away at the render over the stairway would raise a bit of brick dust that would drop neatly onto the floor below.  Maybe a fluff round with a feather duster afterwards.

It doesn’t happen like that.  What happens is, the brick dust flies everywhere.  It leaves a thick film across the entire house, it bleeds into bedrooms, onto every surface, into every crevice.  Weeks later it is still hovering, waiting to drop onto a newly dusted surface.  It was already too late when I went upstairs a few minutes later with a big mug of coffee and a pain au raisin.  Sitting lamely on the floor sat a basket of  clean washing which now had a thick, sandy covering.  The floor looked like a beach as Manuel’s chisel flew into life, removing year’s old render to expose the beautiful, rugged, original stone beneath.

Where's the floor gone?

Where’s the floor gone?

I dragged everything into the bedroom and hung a sheet across the door, other items into the very back room.  The hammering had stirred the rest of the household awake, and one by one they ventured out into the blitz styled hallway in shock.  We wondered whether it was worth it, whether we should have just kept the old render and let it fall off at it’s own pace through the years to come and every time we painted.

Spot of sweeping

Spot of sweeping

“Look”, Manuel pointed to a stone with an inlaid pattern he had uncovered in the wall.  “My grandfather laid this stone”.  We peered down and saw the round pattern on a stone in the thick wall made almost a century before.  The house was opening up it’s history to us.  The rubble and dust seemed such a tiny price to pay and we knew then that it was worth it.

All in a day's work...just like granddad..

All in a day’s work…just like granddad..

The Secret Swimming Pools

Barragem Marateca

Barragem Marateca

“Mum!, the Bart Simpson picture on my pyjamas has turned into a zombie”. Hmmm. “Mum!, I’ve broken my leg”. Sigh. Not to panic. The scrape, scrape sound of nail file upon nail calmly came through the teenager’s bedroom wall. I was reading An Englishman in Italy’s blog and couldn’t tear myself away.

We were supposed to be getting our swimming stuff together to venture out in the 34 degree heat for a dip. My daughter emerged with leg intact wearing pyjamas so old they came to just below the knee. They’d been passed on to little brother but taken back in a fit of nostalgia. We have lots of fits of nostalgia now we’ve left England. Anything from home is sacrosanct. One thing we didn’t do at home though, which is one reason we have dragged ourselves halfway across Europe to live, is swim outdoors. Our little round pool would go up hopefully one rare hot day at the beginning of the summer holidays. We would look wistfully into it, and up at the cloudy, grey, sky every morning until it was taken down in September. We did become experts at insect rescue though because although I squash flies indoors with gay abandon, I cannot bear to see them drown, wiggling legs and gasping for breath.

Baragem Marateca

Baragem Marateca

Castelo Branco, on the other hand, is a great place to swim. It is inland. There is no sea. In that respect it’s a little like Switzerland, both making up for the lack of sea with stunning mountains, hills and ski potential. In summer the rivers of Castelo are dammed to make them deep enough for swimming in parts. Some have a café and a little beach for summer sunning. There are reservoirs for swimming and sailing, and a fabulous swimming pool near the centre of the city.

Baragem da Soalheira, Fundao

Baragem da Soalheira, Fundao

If you were to idle your way to Castelo Branco you would be generally unaware of all this. There are no advertisements, no signs to the river beaches. Maybe a little wooden, hand painted sign hidden behind a tree that could mean anything. I have no idea how we would have found any of these places without the help of friends and I know that after several years of livng here they have only recently found another swimming beach close by. But it was worth the wait. With a view of the hills above and eagles swooping by, often a stillness that comes on a hot day when you have the place to yourself, it is one of the best places to be.

Barragem Marateca - a place for all seasons

Barragem Marateca – a place for all seasons

The reservoir is ten minutes drive away from our village and fifteen minutes from the city, just off the A23 at the Lardosa turn off, then follow the sign to Barragem da Marateca. We come here all seasons, the children running around its shores playing pirates and Jedhi in winter, splashing in and out of the water with the dog, and swimming in the spring and summer. It’s a huge reservoir surrounded by heron’s nests with lagoon style areas which are fairly shallow though deep enough to swim. We won’t venture further into the lake than our little, rocky lagoon, staying safe from strong, hidden currents and sea monsters. Just in case.

Heron nests at Baragem Marateca

Heron nests at Baragem Marateca

After the river beaches and the reservoir there is one more, perfect place to swim. Hard to find, it is hidden away in the industrial/commercial area, between the Forum and Jumbo shopping malls. The municipal swimming pool in Castelo Branco is a perfect, clean and clear, blue gem. Last year we stayed at an apartment with a lovely pool, a generous host, and children for my own to play with, so we had no need to venture further afield for entertainment.

The perfect pool at our apartment in Lourical do Campo last year

The perfect pool at our apartment in Lourical do Campo last year

This year having only a balcony, we’ve been forced out of the village to drive around in search of the city’s pool, which we knew was out there. Somewhere. All winter I’d passed notices for the lagoa, where you can hire boats, and I knew the pool (piscina) was close by. So we drove around and around the area. Two or three times we went past the ‘Zone de Lazer’ which I thought was some sort of fun lazer place for kid’s parties and mentally started planning my son’s ninth birthday. We went in another circle and past the sign again. Oh I get it, leisure zone. Duh.

The municipal swimming pool, Piscina Praia, Castelo Branco.

The municipal swimming pool, Piscina Praia, Castelo Branco.

This was the best surprise. It is shaped like a lagoon so you can wade in to the warm water slowly. There’s a waterfall, and a small slide for children, it’s not too deep so if you want serious lap swimming or diving, this is not the place – although there is an indoor winter pool for that sort of thing which I haven’t yet explored. This is a pool to play in, no sand to get in your hair and mouth, you can sunbathe on the grassy decks, eat at the café, or just wade, splash, do water handstands, or gently swim around. We tend to play hide and seek around the columns which support the little wooden bridge.

You won’t miss the seaside if you come to Castelo Branco. Everything is here, you just have to look a little. Then again, the tourist board* may help and you can pick up a free map of the city.

*Tourist Board Castelo Branco, Praca do Municipio, 600-458 – just off the main square on the road that runs down to the station.