Archive for the ‘The countryside’ Category

He shot me down, bang, bang.

Thursday, February 25th, 2016


One word sums up this winter, our 7th here (that can’t be right, can it?!) and that’s mild. We’ve had the rain, and quite a lot of that, but not the torrential downpours and storms from previous years. We’ve had frosts, but nothing like last year. And we’ve had the sunshine of course, but not the endless days of sunshine (and the resulting drought) as in 2012. This year the low growing narcissus bulbicodium seem to have thrived and meadows are full of their colour, a host of golden daffodils indeed. We’ve also had hailstones:


Brrr, and to think we’ve had winter barbecues some years. No thanks. But spring is around the corner, temperatures are set to go well into double figures and the lush green countryside will soon be sparkling with the jewels of all the wild flowers, can’t wait.

And not only will winter end, but the hunting season too. I would say that, overall, hunting has been less evident this year than previous ones. Betty did get caught in a javali trap (she has learnt to wait patiently as the wire is loosened from around her waist) and one Sunday the sound of shots seemed to come from all directions but we haven’t met the packs of dogs, or too many hunters really this year. We were on a walk one day, however, strolling through the woodland, when we met one guy, camouflaged fromhunting top to bottom with his shotgun slung nonchalantly over his shoulder, also looking out for the birds. Hmmm.

And it’s sad to see the empty cartridges littering the footpaths. The one consolation I get is that there are hunters because there are things to be hunted. We have javali (wild boar), deer, mongoose, foxes, weasels, partridges and millions of rabbits. The hedgerows are alive with birds. This is all because the countryside here is perfect for wildlife, they thrive here. Back in the UK farmers are encouraged to leave land uncultivated so that some of the natural habitat can return and so too the wildlife; the loss of land to development or agriculture is directly linked to the loss of flora and fauna. I also suspect that the birds of prey, the buzzards, red kites, falcons, hawks and owls all eat many more birds than the hunters here shoot.


So hurrah for the Portuguese countryside and its creatures, great and small.


Aah, autumn!

Monday, November 30th, 2015


I think I’m right in saying that we have updated this blog every single month since starting and this month, for the first time, we almost didn’t make it. Which would have been a shame as it’s been a wonderful month, a perfect autumn misty morning cum glorious sunshine cum parky evening kind of month. Great for walking, gardening, lunching outside and then enjoying a roaring fire. It’s been alive with colour, not the pretty, pretty colours of spring but vibrant green pastures, rich red and gold vineyards, bronze foliage and clear blue skies.


Jack Frost has visited us a few times adding a sharpness and crunch, red noses and iced waters; a taste of winter. So goodbye November and the season of mellow fruitfulness, and hello to the wrapped-up season.

The colour of straw

Tuesday, June 30th, 2015


Crunchy underfoot, alive with insects and pollen, the land is slowly but surely turning a lovely shade of straw. Pale and interesting, hot and dry. It seems almost novel to us after last year’s green and pleasant land, but with no rain and scorching temperatures it’s a different story this summer. Most of the wild flowers have disappeared but hardy souls linger on including this yellow thistle, called a Spanish oyster it seems, and the fragrant, golden sweet yarrow that borders all the country lanes around us.


Many of the meadows have been cut, leaving unruly hay bales, reminiscent of autumns from yesteryear in the UK. Only the other day an old boy and his donkey cart tottered by. Meanwhile, the veg patch is also sporting the colour of straw. The first of the plums is always the yellow ones, not such a bumper harvest this year alas but we have put them to good use.


The courgettes as always put on a golden display, such a nice way to be greeted in the morning.  Peaches and plums have been bottled.


My sister gave me some seeds for climbing yellow courgettes, these are doing well, as are the round lemon flavoured cucumbers. We’ve also been eating one of Richard’s favourite crops, the oh so delicious sweetcorn. It’s always a success and this year I have planted a second crop which should be ready in late August or September.


The final word goes to our faithful labrador, who is blending in nicely with the colour scheme:




The fruits of our labours

Sunday, May 31st, 2015

Although the fields round here are still crammed with spring flowers, summer is just around the corner. We had a downpour in the first week of May but since then it has been unrelenting sun with most days peaking at over 30 degrees. But never mind summer we also have half an eye on Autumn and the coming harvest.

The cherries are the first to arrive and have in fact already done so. We bought a young cherry tree a few years ago and it has always been a bit odd and remained very small but it has produced its first cherry. And second cherry. But that was it! Meanwhile our old tree is full of little gems which should be ready very soon. Around the time we bought the cherry tree we also got an apricot tree. Unlike the cherry, this tree is magnificent. Last year it produced its first fruit but none stayed the distance. This year we have two. Lets hope they will hang on and grow to maturity. Our garden is full of plum trees and fingers crossed it will be another good year for these fruit of many hues. Also it looks like a good year for the walnuts and the apples but we will not have a single pear. We also have a number of peach trees. They start off with loads of fruit but they either fall off too soon or if they ripen they are full of worms and/or are inedible. It’s strange how these things work out. The first of the soft fruit, the raspberries, are also ready but I’ll leave Jackie to fill you in on veg patch news next time.

Cherry number 1 and first of the yellow plums

Cherry number 1 and first of the yellow plums

walnuts and apricot

walnuts and apricot



At the moment, whenever we walk through the garden or indeed wander the village, with the gentlest of breezes we are engulfed in snowdrifts of confetti. The olive trees are now in flower and after last year’s disaster we are hoping for a good crop this time around.

On to another type of harvest. I can’t believe two years after we killed the pigs they keep on giving. Last week I found a liver at the bottom of the chest freezer and that means pâté. According to supermarket practice the liver may have been well beyond its sell-by-date but I can assure you the pâté was delicious. I’ve also killed this year’s first crop of roasties and so made some more pâté out of the chicken livers. Much smoother than the pig liver pâté but just as delicious.

pig liver and chicken liver pate

pig liver and chicken liver pâté

Soon we will be getting to the end of the spring flowers but the orchids keep on coming. Here are a few more found within metres of our house.

Broad leaved Helleborine and the Bug Orchid

Broad leaved Helleborine and the Bug Orchid

woodcock orchids

woodcock orchids

The orchid on the left is a hypochromatic form of the woodcock orchid (normal one seen on the right). This is a genetic abnormality and there is much discussion in the orchid world about why it happens!
mirror orchids

mirror orchids

More controversy! The flower on the right is a Mirror Orchid. We thought the one on the left was also a Mirror Orchid but recently it has been identified as a species in its own right – the Iberian Ophrys. It is quite rare and only found in Portugal and some parts of Spain.
Ophrys Lutea

Ophrys Lutea

And our final orchid is Ophrys Lutea. Very pretty.

roseAnd finally a photo of Jussi – sporting her socks in an attempt to stop her licking her paws!

The merry month of May

Thursday, May 14th, 2015

It’s my favourite month of the year here. Not too hot, not too cold. Not too wet, not too dry. And the flowers, oh the flowers. Some of you will remember my lament a year ago when the old boy who has the olive grove at the end of our garden sprayed it with some horrid stuff. Well, it was a poor year for the olives and we haven’t seen him since and, remarkably, the flowers have made a wonderful recovery and thanks to equal measures of rain and sun have literally blossomed.


In fact since taking this photo I’ve had to go out and cut a swathe through it, the path had all but disappeared. I’m not sure the dogs, however, appreciate the pastoral beauty…


The colour purple

Sunday, March 22nd, 2015

From the veg patch we have the first of the purple sprouting broccoli joining the asparagus:


In the countryside the early purple orchids (orchis mascula) are out and, if you look in the dappled light along walkways, tiny dog-violets (viola riviniana) are hiding:



Sunday, March 8th, 2015

March is upon us and we are starting to feel the warmth on our faces and the shorts have made their first appearance of the year (the legs won’t be shown on the blog for a while yet mind, thankfully). However, one of the gang hates the warmer weather and is always looking for an opportunity to cool off…



However, in addition to Betty, she has a new companion on our daily walks. Teddy II, who lives in the village has decided to join us. He’s always waiting for us when we set off and then after the walk he goes back home! Here he is doing one of his favourite activities.

On the walk last week we spotted a Giant Orchid, a telltale sign that spring is finally here.
Meanwhile in the garden, although we have had daffodils for ages, more are popping up every day and they are now being joined by the irises. Most pleasing of all, however, is the appearance of the tree blossom – blackthorn, peach, apricot, almond and here is the ornamental plum.

ornamental plum

ornamental plum

The courtyard has a new member. Jackie planted an avocado stone in a pot a few years ago and we kept it in the bathroom. It grew and grew and grew. And despite constant pruning to limit its size, it has simply outgrown its surroundings and so now has to survive outside. It should be OK for the summer but I can’t see it lasting the winter. We shall see.

avocado tree

avocado tree

The orange trees in the courtyard are still going strong and despite me making litres and litres of juice, the oranges keep coming!

Finally a few more shots of the hairy ones.

Admittedly the locals call Jussi “el gordo”, the fat one, however, I don’t know why she looks quite so lardy in this shot – she’s not that bad! It’s just her thick coat she says.



Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

The hunting season has started again. From now until the end of February we are greeted in the morning with the sound of shots and the yelping of hysterical dogs, just Thursdays and Sundays mind. Betty doesn’t care what day of the week it is, she  frequently returns from the undergrowth panting and wide-eyed, her mouth blood-stained. She chased a young deer  yesterday. Apart from the wild boar traps (some of you will remember Betty’s awful experience) I am not bothered by the hunting. The very fact it exists proves that the woods and hills nearby home rabbits, deer, foxes, mongeese (mongooses?), deer and wild boar, and plenty of other things we haven’t seen. And the reason these animals exist is because their natural habitat remains: hedgerows, coppices, unfarmed meadows, deciduous and coniferous woodlands…


What’s this to do with booze? Well, it’s the hedgerows for a start. Teeming with blackberries and sloes. Which means along with the damson vodka and cherry brandy we now have sloe gin to add to our winter noggins.


We live in the land of wine so why I’m tempted to make our own is beyond me. The quince effort, some years ago now, wasn’t tooo bad. The elderflower last year was actually quite quaffable, except for the last bottle left to share with friends which had suffered from the heat of the barn.

elderberry_wine2But while it’s never as good as the bought stuff that’s only made from grapes,  there is something romantic about country wines. So this year it’s the turn of the elderberry, something I’ve always wanted to try. I just couldn’t resist those tempting black berries. We’ll let you know in a year or two!

I have to admit though that lurking in the pantry are two bottles of walnut liqueur, a kind of nocino. We had a try after a year and it was horrid. So I added some sugar, replaced the tops and shoved them back in the pantry. I’m convinced that, when we remember to try again and wipe off the cobwebs, it’ll be superb. Cheers!

Oh, by the way: the hedgerows are also home to Cheeky Charlie. Yes, still on the loose among the brambles and wild roses, popping in for food and water occasionally and then back to the shade. Don’t count your chickens, Charlie!


Friday, June 6th, 2014

Yes, the wild boar are back, this time with some youngsters. How do we know? Because we managed to capture some of them on our wildlife camera and you can clearly see their stripes. There’s no sound but we’re sure you can add your own David Attenborough commentary and audio effects over the top. These shots are from last night so ignore the date and times. We won’t be giving up the day jobs (whatever those are) but it’s fun capturing the wild nightlife.

And Richard was really excited when, a few nights ago, he was out looking at the stars and the barn owl came and stood right next to him and was staring at him for some moments before flying off. We can hear the young screeching and rasping in the night – now that would be something to film!

Black and white

Saturday, April 5th, 2014

ophrys_fusca2It’s orchid time again and on a recent walk three more were discovered near us, making a total of thirteen orchids round and about. Along with the Man orchid we have spotted this beauty, the Sombre bee orchid. There were quite a few of them in a small clearing just up above the path we take most days with the dogs, it makes me wonder how many other orchids are just out of sight. They have a lovely rich, dark velvety lip. The Bee orchid itself remains elusive.

white_orchidAnd this lovely white one caught my eye. I spent ages trying to find out what it was and now it seems to be an albino of the Early-purple. For those of you interested we have added an orchid section to our wild flowers page.