June 2011


We want visitors to have a room in the granite house, so it was imperative that there were electric sockets and light in the guest room, which took some days to install. Also a bed – but the available space was fractionally narrower than the standard, so I had to make a double bed, starting with planks. Finally, somewhere to put clothes, but as the stone walls are definitely neither vertical nor right-angled, again I had to make fitted wardrobes. It was half-way through the second of these three when our first guests, Janet and Edward, arrived.

They were touring Portugal on their motorbike and wanted to visit us and camp on our land. On the second day of heavy April rainfall they trundled in, soaking wet. Here they are, just outside the car garage, having driven up our drive from the east. We put the bike (a big BMW tourer) in the garage and set up racks to dry out their sodden leathers. We enjoyed tea, talk and swapping ideas all day! Janet’s dad was my Janet’s dad’s cousin; she talks even more than my Janet, and is equally entertaining!

We had not met them previously, and got on very well with them. Janet would say they are “high vibration” which I’d translate as positive and cheerful. They even slept on the part-made slatted bed without a mattress!  Ed is a tree surgeon, appropriately – tall, strong, patient . . . He pruned an apple tree to show me how to do it. They stayed for three days then had to head back to the ferry. We were sorry to see them go; they really were lovely guests and great company.

Here they are pictured driving off between our sodden citrus-vineyard with its heavily-pruned vines (which I’d left un-mown for them to wild-camp) and the edge of the west olival.

A week later I deep-pruned the other four old trees in the orchard. The fruit trees, five old and seven new ones, are all in great shape now and are watered by drip irrigation three times a week.

Our next guest would be our former piano tuner, John, so I sawed and planed and sanded and Janet varnished, and the night before he arrived we put the new mattress down on the newly-completed bed.

The guest room is more or less done now, and is comfortable. We’re very pleased with the wardrobe and its sliding doors.

The study is nearly done too, so the house is now clean and tidy.

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Our son rang us and announced that hewould be working in Burgos, Spain, for a few days and would we like to go and watch him sing? John willingly agreed to mind the farm whilst we were away, so we had five days to show him how to run it! Whilst we were concert-going in Castile, he did a sterling job supplementing the automatic irrigation with extra watering and looking after Harry the Dog – a life poles apart from that in his suburban home in Surrey.

Consequently the vegetable garden remains in full production. We manage to eat a cucumber a day and can’t keep up with the plants. Our tomato plants are healthy and full of ripening fruit, and we have salad right from the garden. Janet harvested and cleaned about 80kg of white onions over the last three days, and they are now (22nd June) crated in storage in the adega. The red onions and shallots are still growing, which will bring the total to over 120kg!

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Night of the Witches in Montalegre.

“The Castle of Montalegre will be demolished this night” promised the website for “Sextafeira 13” (Friday 13th ). We were invited to dine at the table of the Roman Catholic priest who has popularised this event over the last two decades, and as this was the only one in 2011 it would be special.

Having driven 200km to Vila Real we met our host Alberto as he finished work. We drove to his house to collect his wife Ceu (Sky) and left Harry the dog with his hound, Luna. He took us a further 100km north to Montalegre, isolated in the mountains, then on to a little village with a manor-house converted to a hotel. This is owned by Padre Fontes , a good friend of Alberto. He is an expert in local traditions and lore, and is trying to keep them and local herbalism alive.

Dinner was excellent, starting with the presunto (thinly-sliced air-dried leg of ham) for which the town is famed, followed with very tender roast pork and delicious local vegetables, accompanied by specially bottled “Wine of the Dead”.

During dessert we were treated to the attentions of three zombies (?!) wandering to the accompaniment of a couple of Celtic bagpipes – Montalegre is a pocket of Celtic culture right on the southern border of Galicia. A digestif liqueur, an extract of herbs made by the priest, rounded off the meal before we returned to town.

It was nearly midnight and the way up through the narrow cobbled streets to the castle was lit by flaming torches. It towered over us, and clearly a Spectacle was about to happen, judging from the subtle light-show, the high-quality ambient music and the thousands of spectators gathering, many wearing pointy hats and witchy make-up.

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The music became heavier and a male “witch” arrived on the stage in front of the castle. He poured forty litres of aguardente into his cauldron and set fire to it.

For half an hour he stirred and ladled it, adding lemons, sugar and herbs to ensure his spell worked. Against the black sky the blue and yellow flames were enchanting.

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A troupe of dancers performed beside and around him, frenetic loud music from bagpipes and drums, a startlingly vivid and explosive firework display above the castle as the spell took hold, and then . . . the lightshow of the castle walls collapsing, complete with intense rumblings and crashing – WILD !!!

The night continued with drinking the “witches brew” and dancing for many. We four headed for home, boggled by the spectacle.

En route we stopped at the hot springs (constant 78°C) in Chaves, where we took turns drinking the hot volcanic water from a “witches drinking horn” given to Janet by one of our party of 13 guests; by now it was 3am on Saturday 14th !