Dancing Wasp – The Wonder of Nature

wasp

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!

hornet_insect_wasp_bee_

The wasp is actually driving through Offord Darcy in Cambridgeshire.

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

wasp

 

Pet Dispersal

Black labrador and German Shepherd cross breed

“What are we going to do with the dog?”  said Zed.  “And the guinea pig?  Thank goodness we didn’t treat ourselves to a goat!”

guinea pig

We were off on a break and decided it was a bad idea to take the animals.  They should have their own holiday.  So the organisation began.  At this point I was pleased we didn’t have ten ducks any more ….

Dog and ducks in snow

and that we hadn’t yet bought a llama or two.

llamas, uk, national forest llama treks

We had however recently acquired a guinea pig.  Hmmm.  Not such good timing.  Fortunately our friends at ‘Hey Portugal’ magazine were more than happy (well didn’t mind) to have a temporary pet.  So Zuko – or Womble as he’s been nicknamed much to the children’s dislike – went off to eat carrots at chez ‘Hey Portugal’.

Then it was Millie’s turn. Millie loves going to our friends who live near Castelo Branco.  So much so that she almost jumped out of the car window one day when we approached them and if she could would have squealed with delight.

Castelo Branco, countryside, olive trees

Castelo countryside

I miss Castelo Branco.  Here we have our other renovation.

Village house, Castelo Branco, Portugal, rustic house

The other renovation

I miss watching the donkey and carts ambling through village streets, the rock roses and lavender and miles of pine forest.

fauna, Castelo Branco, Portugal

We drove down the drive to Millie’s new holiday home.  They have the prettiest house here with a traditional rustic annex and a gorgeous view. It’s up for sale and I’ll be sad when they move.  I have garden envy when I sit among the fruit trees and roses, jasmine and ….. hundreds of other flowers I can’t name.  (I have no professional interest in this particular house by the way!)  We left Millie happily scampering around the garden among the lemon and fig trees.

Castelo Branco, Remax house for sale Castelo Branco, countryside Portugal

Millie’s holiday home in stunning countryside

Village house for sale, Remax Castelo Branco, Portugal

120,000 E, 3 bed + 4 bed annex + 1000sq.mtr garden

Back home  Zed has been watering our new fruit trees rigorously.  Our neighbours at Casal Garcia suggested they nip across and water from time to time, take a dip in the pool and keep an eye out for strange things afoot.

orange tree, sapling

The new orange tree

There was just one little problem.  Dakota, the neighbour’s dog, has come to believe she lives with us.  I’m not sure why because we don’t feed her or encourage her in the house.  I expect she was slightly bewildered to find everyone had disappeared one day.  I knew she’d be fine though and it was nice to know there’d be a cheerful little dog running out of our garden to greet us on our return.

cross breed, stray dog Portugal

Dakota

 

Adventure story age 8

Available in print or kindle on Amazon.

 

 

 

Trekking with Llamas

Llama

Hurray – we’ve finally found an animal that likes eating brambles!  Llamas.  I’ve been told they eat anything spikey and just to prove it they munched and nibbled hawthorn in abundance when we went for a short llama trek.

That’s just one of the interesting facts we found out on our recent visit to National Forest Llamas treks.  I know, the National Forest isn’t in Portugal, (actually in Leicestershire, UK) but as we’ve found there don’t seem to be any llamas to trek with in Portugal.  I hope someone reading this blog will prove me wrong but apart from Quinta Pedagogica, and Aljezur Alpacas on the Algarve which of course only have alpacas, we can’t find a single llama farm. Which is a shame because we would really like to have some Portuguese llamas.

children with llamas

Not just to eat up the prickly plants at Quinta Blackberry, with its over abundance of brambles for which I am finding all sorts of uses, but to run our hands through their thick woolly coats, hug them, walk with them, talk with them and watch them.  Use them to keep foxes and wild dogs at bay for our planned ducks which they are particularly good at and maybe, you never know, get some wool from their gorgeous, woolly coats. Indeed, I see myself in a natty llama capelet as styled by the casting on couch.

Domestic llamas, llama farm

My current dream, apart from finishing the two houses we are renovating, writing children’s books and expounding the many virtues of Portugal, revolves around trekking through the countryside with a wonderful view of the Montejunto hills, llama in one hand, picnic in the other and the dog at our heels.  Trekking with llamas would be fabulous.  If only we could find some.

Available on Amazon £4.99 or less.

Available on Amazon £4.86/£1.86 Kindle edition

Coming soon from Alicia Sunday, ‘Alfie!’ and ‘Angel Super Sleuth’.

 

 

 

 

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.

P1050285

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.

IMG_20140112_114601

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.

IMG_20140112_112833

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

P1040415

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.

P1040435

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.

France

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”.

“Right”.

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.

P1050352

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

P1050285

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.