The JCB trundled up the dirt road on Tuesday morning, JJ driving, cheerfully bringing potential easy demolition.

His first job was shifting five loads of boulders and lovely old dressed stones to the entrance where my tractor broke down a few weeks ago (doing the same job).

The builders started early too, as the shade temperatures quickly rose from 28°C at 8am. Builders like the cheery sound of a cement mixer grinding round and sloshing its wet sand and cement sloppily between the two curved paddles inside the tub. Does it remind them of home?? João and Manel worked hard all day in full sun, easily five degrees hotter than the 39°C afternoon shade temperature. I struggled to work with them and had to go indoors to cool down every half hour.

Meanwhile JJ in his maquina trundled over to the well and set about pulling out a substantial willow tree which has regrown since being torn up five years ago – see “Clearing the Well” posted November 2007. This well is in a field and the top is level with the land; there was only a flimsy wire fence for safety around it. Two weeks ago I cleared the bracken and long straw surrounding it so we could see its edge.

 

Having removed the tree he brought five more loads of boulders to add to the pile I had accumulated in the previous year. He used the retro-digger (that’s the one on the back of the JCB) to carefully arrange the stones around the well, and suggested they would make a good start to raising its wall but plenty more would be required. The well is more than four metres across and its circumference over thirteen metres, so many tons of flat-faced boulders were needed.

He finished off by digging a thirty-metre trench for us, which will appear in another blog.

Wednesday 8am and the builders returned and headed straight out to the well. I followed with my front-loader on the tractor. All day we heaved boulders, brought more boulders, searched around for the lascas (flat stones) so useful in stone walling, the bigger the better. They built most of the new wall in one day, with no mortar.

On Thursday they arrived and set the cement mixer running to give a cheery working background. They mortared in the upper part of the wall and levelled it with the lascas.

On Friday we moved to the bottom of the quinta where we brought in its mains electricity supply, connecting via a meter inside a couple of boxes in a purpose-built regulation-height wall. João and Manel levelled the top of this wall with slim stones, faced it smoothly with mortar, and we put boulders on either side of it. They stuck onto this wall a panel of six tiles given to us by Jacinto the builder shortly after we bought the farm.

Now the Quinta da Serrinha is labelled. Five years after we took it on the quinta has a  safe useable well, aproper entrance and a nameplate. Wow !

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We returned last Tuesday to the quinta.  It was a hot day, the dry land and heat haze reminiscent of Arizona, or the centre of Spain in summer, which is almost where the land is located so I suppose the strong sun should not be surprising, but in November, it is. We had João an electrician come over and discuss how we could make provision to connect the quinta to the electric mains. Two days later I hired a neighbour, Joachim, and together we built a wall section on our south boundary. A few days later, Robert came over. We walked the land discussing solar photovoltaic panels. On the next day (Thursday) we met with the electrician who possibly would install the boxes needed for connection to the national grid. We considered laying a water pipe and electricity cables up the same deep trench to the house.

We have discovered a man who has a JCB digger, João José. JJ the JCB digger man came on Friday, we discussed the project with him, along with other ideas. He told us that since it has been dry since July, the water level in the well is at its lowest and now would be a good time to clear it. It was now late afternoon when the sun is less fierce, so I set up our pump, and managed to start the motor, which is as cooperative as the mule it replaced. Our tenant shepherdess, Manuela, was passing through that field with her flock. Intrigued and eager for something different she helped, but before long she pulled the 2” diameter suction pipe out of the well. Inspecting the valve on the end, she told me that it would never suck up the water, as a part was missing, certainly taken by the old boy who sold it to us. At 6pm we drove to a local garage and bought a new valve assembly. Next day I fitted it and happily (eventually) started the pump. Four hours later along comes JJ, it should be pumping twice as much water as now. The pump needs repair. His brother runs a garage and can do it, but not until Monday morning, as he doesn’t work on Saturday afternoon or Sunday.

08.50 Monday we search out and arrive at his brother’s garage – there is JJ waving us in. Half an hour later we’re off again and at 10am a few kicks and yanks and off goes the pump –WOW water gushing out! By 11am it’s far too hot to stay out, but as the electric man is back again, we don’t have to. An hour later the distant note of the pumps rises a tone, so I leave Janet to finish our business with the electrician whilst I go to sort it out. The water has stopped, the well is nearly dry. So am I, so shut down the pump, it’s time for lunch. Sit at table and am grilled in the sun, no shade from the vines over the patio because they have lost their leaves. I’m ravenous and scoff my cool salad in ten minutes; just as well because here comes JJ in his big JCB, straight up to the well and digging the sides away! End of lunch, take lots of pictures whilst he and his uncle(!) deal with the well.  There are two huge trees growing in it, probably ten years old or more. Whilst drawing water at the pump Janet met our friend Maria Luisa, whose parents were tenants on this quinta for many years, and she grew up here. Janet suggested she might like to see inside the well. In the mid-afternoon M-L arrived and thoughtfully inspected what was going on.  She said in a matter-of-fact manner that her dad dug this well.

By 5pm he’s dug out all the mud and the cleaning is finished. I ask him to lower me into the well so I can walk on the bottom. The walls are lovely big granite stones, and the source has granite slabs arching over the spring, just a trickle until the weather breaks. What a pity the stonework won’t be seen again for many years.

Pictured below:  Clive and Maria Luisa sitting at the edge of the well on the stonework for the picota, long gone here but which will eventually be replaced. It is an eight-foot post with a forked top, across which is loosely tied a ten-foot pole. One end of this pole has a counterbalancing boulder tied to it and the other has a rope with a bucket dangling into the water. The top pole swivels a little in the fork. In the 1940’s M-L as a girl had the job of ladling hundreds of buckets of water into the irrigation channel which linked to furrows across the adjoining field. The end of each furrow in turn was opened to allow water to run along it to the plants. In full sun and no shade it is a hot and tiring job, but it’s the cheapest way to irrigate a crop. She would have spent countless hours during each summer working at this spot.