The UK was paralysed with snow in the first half of January, while Portugal had lots of rain. Our quinta occupies fourteen hectares on the south-facing slope of a hillside, and the lower half of the quinta was waterlogged, so when our friend Ian arrived in late January for an extended working holiday we began pruning the olive trees in the upper olival, which is set in a shallow valley near the top of our land.  I have not pruned this olival until now because it is well out of sight therefore of low priority and there is an uphill walk along a winding path to get there. It has over eighty trees in it which have been neglected for at least seven years. It takes an hour to prune a tree, so it is a big undertaking when there are two hundred other olive trees to maintain and five hundred vines to clip.

Ian in tree, Clive on ground.

We made a flying start and the weather improved every day, with plenty of sunshine. The work is time-consuming but satisfying, and that little valley is a lovely environment, secluded and pretty, surrounded by scrubby broom, pine trees and short mountain oaks. Its upper sunlit boundary has large granite boulders, which lend a semblance of wilderness to the place. It is home to tens of songbirds, rabbits and a family of wild boar, who leave prints all over the ground but are timid; they can smell a human from 400yards. Hunting is legal on all farmland and hunters seem to love ours, judging from the tens of spent cartridges I find around. Every Sunday we are woken by the sound of shotguns, which are the modern blunderbuss. Sadly, a shotgun sprays out a cloud of hundreds of small lead balls and even a hunter’s bad aim may well include the unlucky target. Ian reckons it would be much fairer if the birds had guns too.

Ian under olive tree, January 2010

On Friday 22nd January our builders arrived with a revised lower estimate for making window holes and a conservatory roof on our granite farmhouse; we asked them to go ahead with the work. They started on the following Monday, which was very sunny and warm, and cooked a barbecue at lunchtime for us all. They were clearly glad to be back!

Ian, Jacinto, José, Jorge, Mário, Adelino, Janet.

For the next week Ian needed no alarm clock because the builders started at 8am, hammering into the stone walls, removing huge boulders and shoring up the holes with planks and Acro props.

Adelino making a window

The window opening half-done. The stone in the centre runs the full 60cm (2 feet) thickness of the wall. The boulders securing the roof are held up with Acro props. Some of these stones were too heavy for three men to support, and had to be broken in order to take them out of the house.

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Meanwhile, we were able to work for most of every day in warm sunshine, enjoying the spring birdsong.

Top olival after pruning, looking south.

After five days we had completely deep-pruned the entire upper olival. There were big piles of prunings between each group of three or four trees, containing our harvest of poles and stakes for transplanting trees and thick sticks for row markers in the vegetable garden. Pics:  The windowless barn (composite pic) with its earth floor and manger across the back; the black hoses are for irrigation, they fit onto a pump and were stored in the barn. The house  changed as the builders altered the sheep barn, casting a concrete beam to support a new ceiling, making a reinforced ring-beam for the new conservatory and covered dining area, and opening five new window holes. Eventually it will become a kitchen/sitting room, a bathroom and an entrance hall. Then the builders moved off to another job in the village, leaving us in peace whilst their concrete set.

Janet & Clive in front of the veranda

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