‘Tis the Season to Pick Pears

pears, pear tree,

Pear season has begun.  Aah, it brings back happy memories of last year.  “Tomorrow the workers will stop work on your house to go and pick pears all this month,” said the builder.

“Oh. Right. Okay.”

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

We’re still renovating the house and the pear season is once again in full swing.  The pear festival begins this weekend in our village.  Lights and decorations are being put up across the street and there will be dancing and a stage with music.  We went last year and had candy floss.  We will go this year and have candy floss and sway from side to side listening to the local bands.  The children, as last year, will decide they are too old for the kid’s attractions and beg instead for sweets.

pear trees, montejunto, silver coast

In this area there are pear trees, olive groves and vineyards.  We will buy the seasonal fruit and make pear compote, pear crumble, pear clafoutis, pear pie.  Oh, and pears baked in red wine, white wine, brandy, ginga and drink pear juice on the rocks.

pear orchard, pears, pears portugal

Meanwhile I go for a drive and a tractor pulls out in front of me.  It is going to the agricultural co-operative which is along our road.  It turns off and another tractor full of pears pulls in front.  Another whips in behind.  I am trapped, driving at a snails pace.  I have never seen so many tractors and trailers.  All packed with pears.

crates, countryside portugal, pear crates, fruit farming

Crates lined up ready for filling with pears

It reminds me of the only fruit tree which I haven’t yet got around to planting.  A pear tree.  I’m not sure if we really need our own.

countryside portugal, Serra de Montejunto, pear orchards, apple orchard, pear tree



Dancing Wasp – The Wonder of Nature


Okay, a little diversion from Portugal but I had to share it with you.  I could watch this over and over again it’s so funny!  Who says insects don’t have personalities?

Click on the video link below to see nature up close.

A real wasp on a car window with no special effects.  Starts off dancing then sticks with the car for the journey and does a spot of car surfing!


The wasp is actually driving through Offord Darcy in Cambridgeshire.

We should give him a name – any ideas??!



Planning a Portuguese Country Garden

Help! - A blank canvas

Help! – A blank canvas

Oh dear!  When we bought Quinta Blackberry last summer the garden was full of rubbish.  Struggling up between the brambles and the tin cans were roses, a peach tree and a rather sad looking nespera. This year I have a divine plan to turn the garden into an oasis of flowers, fruit and vegetables and maybe even have a pond.  Watch this space!

I may have a problem with this.  My mother had green fingers, my childhood garden was full of flowers which encouraged butterflies and bees and summer meant a plethora of home grown food. Similarly our neighbour’s house where I often played had a neatly manicured lawn and borders packed with pretty flowers all year round. With such influences you’d think I’d have green fingers too, but oh no, not at all.  Mine seem to be red, the opposite of green on the colour wheel.  My attempts at organic gardening means the slugs and snails, mice and squirrels, just eat whatever I grow.  Hmmm.  Haven’t quite got the hang of it yet.

An English country garden with leylandii and a cherry tree eaten by ivy.  Spot the flower.

An English country garden with leylandii and a cherry tree eaten by ivy

Meanwhile in Portugal Diggory our builder, his brother and a team of men worked from dawn to dusk last August clearing our garden so we could at least see an outline of a flower border, spindly rose bushes and potential for creating a haven with pergolas, spots to put benches and somewhere for the pool when and if we eventually get it in the ground.


Diggory and his brother worked from dawn to dust clearing brambles and rubbish

I need to learn from my mistakes at our English house which suited it’s wild and overgrown look.  I started out with good intentions, buying a soil testing kit when we first moved into our Cambridgeshire house which I lost the first day and which strangely never reappeared during the following ten years.  Consequently I planted anything anywhere. With a garden of huge beech and walnut, plus masses of fruit trees and hedges of leylandii, there was no point planting anything requiring sunshine and good drainage.  Blue bells were the order of the day and fortunately a fabulous David Austin rose which thrived around the front door.

David Austin rose

David Austin rose

Now I have a garden full of sunshine throwing up new problems.  So far the roses which are tall and straggly, have got black spot, Jae has climbed up the peach tree and broken off it’s top branch and the olive trees bore no olives this year.

In November I planted more fruit trees.  Lemon, orange, tangerine, apple, pear, cherry and apricot. I planted most of them before Christmas.  I forgot to stake them but fortunately, courtesy of Zed, stakes have since appeared which is fortunate because the wind today is probably high enough to blow Dorothy from Kansas to the yellow brick road, let alone keep a few little saplings in the ground.


Orange tree planted!

I dug holes a foot wide and a foot deep to put the trees in, filled the holes back in with the soil and put some rubble as a sort of mulch over the top.  We’ll see if any of them survive.

Zed popped in some staking

Zed popped in some staking

Meanwhile I’ve been trimming and dead heading the roses and cleared a border of nettles and brambles ready for some gladioli and….well maybe I should do a plan, come up with a border design, before I go any further.


An attempt at clearing a border – and a long way to go

Meanwhile I’ll be picking up gardening tips from some of my favourite blogs, Karma Quinta and  pigletinportugal.


Alternative Kindling


Bountiful deciduous trees in France

Finally!  A use for brambles besides blackberries.  Zed spent the autumn chopping them down along the fence.  They’re lying next to the Lisbon house, Quinta Blackberry, in the lane that goes nowhere waiting to be burned or shredded and composted.  It’s been a cool, wet week.  A week to sit by the fire at night and watch the golden glow, toasting marshmallows.  Yum.


I loved wandering round the orchard in England collecting fallen apple and walnut twigs for kindling then back to a roaring fire, hot chocolate, throwing branches onto the flames.  In France I pottered around ancient forests with the dog, coming back after every walk with a bag of twigs.


French Woods

In Castelo Branco there were pine cones in abundance lying by the side of footpaths.  Pine cones.  To tell you the truth before coming to Portugal I’d never thought to use pine cones as kindling before.  We had a few dusty ones from summer holidays abroad that we stuck up in the attic with the Christmas stuff every year. But make fabulous kindling they do and sell for about 2.50 euros a sack here.

Pines and boulders in Castelo Branco

Bountiful pines and boulders in Castelo Branco

However in this region of Lisbon predominated by evergreens there are few deciduous trees with twigs to fall, no ancient beech or oak trees nearby. Just acres of pine trees keeping the winter green.  With pine cones a saleable commodity there aren’t any lying around on our regular walks.  Indeed the pine trees have already been cut down to be sold for winter fuel, changing the landscape considerably.  Our new garden has no old trees from which twigs fall in the wind.  We have palm trees, a few small fruit trees and many olive trees, none of which yield fallen branches.  Probably a good thing for the olives.  But we have seasoned brambles by the dozen lying unwanted in heaps.

Brambly hedge in the garden

Brambly hedge in the garden at Quinta Blackberry

I’ve been burning them in the fireplace for the last two days.  They burn easily and make quite a flame, lighting the bigger wood.  It’s satisfying, that sense of foraging, making use of what’s available. Like making jam. Back to nature and all that.  If a little prickly.

Foraging in France

Out foraging in France

Today the novelty’s worn off. Though I wear thick gloves to pick up the brambles my hands are still scratched and my clothes snagged.  I’m done with foraging for the fire.  I’m off to the supermarket to buy pine cones.

Blackberry and W…. Crumble

Mellow fruitfulness

Mellow fruitfulness

“I’ve a surprise for you mummy.  Close your eyes”.

“Oh I love surprises.”

“Now open them”.

My son, dishevelled and shoeless, handed me a bowl of juicy looking, dark red blackberries.  The first of the season.  “Aah, thank you, that’s a lovely surprise”, I said, pleased at his thoughtfulness.

“Can we have a goat?”  he said, having bribed me with the blackberries.  “Do goats eat brambles?”

Do goats eat brambles?

Do goats eat brambles?

The following day, having already eaten yesterday’s offerings, I suggested he pick some more so I could make a crumble.  “No.  It won’t be a surprise”, he said.  “You’re missing the point, mummy.  It’s the surprise that’s the thing, not the blackberries”.


It's all in the surprise

It’s all in the surprise

We all love blackberries.  They’re healthy. Packed choc full of goodness.  They make great pies, smoothies, a substitute for sweeties.  They grow around our house in abundance.


I love the way you pop a blackberry in your mouth, crunch the pips and get a shedload of vitamins.  When I washed them in the UK worms would float out of them. Blackberry worm and apple crumble. I wonder, sometimes, how many worms I have eaten in my life, eating the fruit straight from the bush.  In Portugal, surprisingly, I haven’t yet seen a worm wriggle out.

I expected to miss blackberries when we moved to Portugal. We used to have them the size of a small walnut snaking their way up the side of our garage and into the yard. I was struck with sheer delight when I spotted them in the hedgerows at Castelo Branco last year.  They are the epitome of food for free.  They are also spawned from one of the nastiest blighters known to man.  For this reason I will be the happiest gardener/home maker alive if I never see a blackberry in or around my garden EVER again.

Banish the blackberry?

Banish the blackberry?

When we bought the Lisbon house, which currently remains nameless and so for the purposes of the blog I shall now rename Quinta Blackberry, we couldn’t get to the bottom of the garden for the brambles.  We tried to hack a path through.  We didn’t get far.  Somewhere in there were olive trees.  I could see the tops poking through. Who knew what was also there?  A vineyard maybe.  An apple orchard.  Plums.  All we could see were brambles which tore at our clothes and summer sandels.

When we were house hunting every uninhabited house had its share of these thorn bushes.  I ruined a new pair of beautiful black French boots viewing the gardens.  I will never forgive them.

The brambles had to go.  It was the first job we gave to our Portuguese builder, Diggory.  The yard was still full of rubbish after our estate agent, Era, had promised to clear it for us after we’d made a deal with them.  After constant chasing it became apparent they were never going to organise this.  Diggory, our builder, got the job.  His brother and another three guys worked from nine till nine, collecting and loading rubbish, hacking away and chopping.  I was exhausted just watching.

Clearing the garden - exhausting just to watch

Clearing the garden – exhausting just to watch


But lo!  The following day a miracle had occurred!  The brambles ten feet tall at the side of the house had gone.  We could see the end of the garden.  We had…..I went and counted….37 olive trees.  Yay!  Even a plum tree.

37 olive trees, a plum tree ... and the washing

37 olive trees, a plum tree … and the washing

A few weeks later I’m hanging out the washing with a makeshift line strung between the olives.  The odd thorny plant still twists its way round the trees with fruit hanging temptingly. The brambles are flourishing once more, growing between the cracks in the paving as though going for gold at the Olympics.  I wear wellies down by the olives even though it’s dry, sometimes 25 degrees and rising, to keep thorns from scratching my skin.  Time to do battle with weed killer.  Then the plough.  Maybe a goat.  Do goats eat brambles?

Brambles being sneaky

Brambles being sneaky – do goats eat them?

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 www.englishmaninitaly.org 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.

The Deed and a Matter of Principle

Hamster cheeks?!

Hamster cheeks?!

Today’s tale is about the complicated attempt to sign the deed on our new house.  A quick jaunt to Lisbon, an hour in the notary and hey presto….or so we thought.

“Erk, I have hamster cheeks!”   I was looking at the photo of my son and I that had just been taken across the table of a café, before we stepped into the estate agents for our very important date.

“Well, that’s a surprise, since you did ten sit ups the other morning.  So if you take that over the year that averages about 1.9 sit-ups a day”, said Mr Indoors.

“Maybe you could do the ‘de-tox’ diet again mum”, said daughter helpfully.

“Ouch”.  Fortunately I’m generally a glass half full type of person so not too sensitive about these matters.  I mean hamster cheeks can be cute can’t they?

Yay, about to sign the deed - or not?

Yay, about to sign the deed – or not?

We were sitting in ‘Sparkles’ café in Lourinha, waiting to go into the estate agents before signing the deed to the new house.  Sparkles I think is so called because it has a glittery loo seat which I thought was rather cool and now want one.  Maybe we could name the new house Quinta de Glitter or Casa Sparkly.

It took only two weeks from the offer to be accepted to the appointment at the notary, which frankly is amazing.  I’m used to 2-3 months in England, although much of the delay is caused by the searches which is probably a good thing.  Although we have appointed a good and independent solicitor I’m not sure we have anything specifically to say that a mine is not about to be dug behind the house or a new motorway is not planned to come crashing through the courtyard.

It should have been a simple day but when I put on the offer form that it was subject to the courtyard being cleared of rubbish, I REALLY MEANT that I wanted the courtyard cleared of rubbish.  We had chased the estate agent up on this earlier in the week and had been duly ignored, so on the way to Lisbon we decided we would stand our ground and not sign until this had been done.  I texted the agent.  The answer to my question was evaded.  I texted again.  And again.  No, unsurprisingly the yard had not been cleared.

Clear the rubbish or we'll walk!

Clear the rubbish or we’ll walk!

We stood with arms folded refusing to go to the notary until we had an agreement about the yard.  The agents called the owners.  It was an investment company and frankly, according to the agents, they couldn’t give a damn.  We did though.

Our appointment with the notaire at 2.00pm came and went without us. We rang our solicitor who was in a notary meeting in Fundao and unavailable.  Where did we stand, legally?  It was hot, 26 degrees outside, we were getting tired after a three hour drive.  The children were starting to fidget and major whining would kick in at any moment. The agents offered to pay half the cost. Nope. Matter of principle at stake. We tried the solicitor again.  Should we come back another day?  Another three hour drive each way, another 50 euros in petrol.  Another set of toll fees.

Not yet fidgeting...

Not yet fidgeting…

We paced the hot pavement outside.  The agents were getting agitated.  It was nearly three o’ clock.  We still had to pay the property taxes at the finance office.  I did not want to come back another day.  The investment company knew that.  We were running out of time.  We agreed, in the end, we would pay no more than a hundred euros and the agents would pay the rest.

We bolted off in the car to pay the taxes.  We were number fourteen in the queue, a half hour wait.  Clearly then, we would never make it to the notary in time.  Unless……the agent called his bank which was now officially closed.  We raced back to the car, drove off to the bank with the agents, handed over the cash to the bank so that we could pay the taxes via the cash point, ran round the corner to the notary, and yay….half an hour later we emerged into the sunlight with a huge bunch of keys to the new house.

Proud owners of a garden with house attached

Proud owners of a garden with house attached