November stresses

After all that snow, Vidi saw one more day of sunshine before it was time for her to go home. To make the most of it, we headed to the climbing wall with Tarje and had a great time enjoying the rock, the views and the sunshine. It was beautiful. The next morning we waved goodbye and good luck to our last volunteer of 2018. Thank you Vidi for all your help and your eternally cheery demeanour!

A few days of wind and rain followed and we enjoyed vegging out for a bit. The post-snow chaos was still not over. There were broken trees everywhere! The local council was working through its backlog of jobs for weeks. The worst of it got tidied by villagers for firewood but there are still plenty of impassable paths.

We’ve been doing our bit too, clearing paths and chopping up fallen branches and trees, accumulating a decent pile of firewood in the process.

Following the destruction of the tent, we had a very cluttered house and no space to work in. Tarje and Signe kindly offered up a space in the bottom of their house which we have filled with stuff we don’t need at the moment. That gave us space to get to work removing one of the feed troughs from the ground floor. We broke up the breeze blocks, took them out to the rubble pile, cut out the rebar that was sticking out the ground then removed the wooden beam. That gave us space to do the pointing on the side wall. And with that wall done, we put up some shelving and got the tools organised. It’s so good to be able to find things again!

After that we turned our attention to removing the second feed trough. That went fairly swiftly since we already had our technique down. After removing the upper beam, we were left with a rather large hole in the back wall, which Dave spent a few days filling in bit by bit to let the mortar dry in between.

Having removed the second feed trough, the bulging wall was a lot more noticeable than it had been when it was in the background. We looked at it worriedly and scratched out heads. Dave talked about trying to rebuild it. I had a bit of an internal meltdown. I’d already been feeling stressed and weighed down by the scale of the tasks ahead of us and this extra unknown, potentially disastrous task was too much to handle. I called a professional to come and look at it and waited out the stress until he could come out and offer his opinion.

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The bulging wall is looming

My Mum and Dad came to visit us for a few days. It was the first time they’d seen the new roof, let alone everything else that has happened since then! It was great to realise how much progress we’ve made in the year since they were here last. We had a great time chatting and planning. And they got stuck in for a day oiling wood, shifting piles of tiles and pollarding trees. It was so lovely to see them and show them what we’re up to, and of course they had lots of useful advice for us too.

We helped Tarje and Signe install their new roof window. Tarje had already prepared the space for it to go in so we just spent a few hours getting it in its place. It looks great! They’ve made a surprising amount of progress for parents of two and it’s always exciting to see the latest developments in their house and garden.

Our own garden has been receiving a little bit of attention here and there when I don’t feel like working on the house. Parsnips and beetroots have been harvested and put into storage buckets. Peppers and tomatoes have still been producing in the greenhouse. Garlic, onions and leeks have been planted and empty beds mulched and covered until spring.

I’ve also sowed some forest garden seeds that need to experience cold winter temperatures before germinating in spring. Some tree species like Italian alder and Mulberry and lots of berry bushes like Juneberry and Oregon Grape. We’ll see if anything pops up next year!

Good news came on Tuesday when the professional wall guy came to look at the house. He said lots of things that made lots of sense and overall made me very happy indeed. We won’t be rebuilding any walls and we have a plan to damp-proof the whole house. That won’t happen until next summer since the machines can’t get in across the wet field. But in the meantime we have a whole upstairs to build, so that’s fine. We have our plan and we can carry on at usual levels of stress – phew!

Meanwhile, Dave made a great discovery. He noticed one of the corner roof tiles was cracked, which is hopefully the reason for the leak we spotted a while back. He used the grinder to cut out the old one and put a new one in on some cement. Another stress ticked off the list.

We spent a few days moving all the bricks and wood off the balcony and onto the old tent platform. Then Dave put a tarp roof over everything to keep it dry. Now we’re busy with the last of the downstairs pointing. After that we plan to make the front doorway higher so we don’t have to duck to get inside any more. Let’s hope the weather in December is nice to us so that we can get on with it.

-Anna

Good Autumn progress

After getting so little done in September, it’s been all go in October! Autumn is in full swing. Fallen leaves are starting to carpet the paths, the days start late and finish early and we’ve had a mixture of gorgeous warm sunshine, and very wet and windy days. I love this time of year. It’s beautiful working weather, big green dragonflies are humming around the garden, the forests are full of nuts and blackberries and it’s harvest time in the vegetable garden. We’ve even eaten ripe melons out of the greenhouse for the first time, which is a delight.

After I finished the cladding in the house at the beginning of the month, Omar and I repointed the other side of the front of the house, which took about a week all together. Then we tidied up the house ready for the floor removal. I also found time to do some tidying and harvesting in the garden in between all the chipping and pugging. After that, Dave finished work – hurray! And back with all hands on deck, we’ve been making good progress.

Two friends from London came to visit for five days on a working holiday. We know Tim and Carol from volunteer workdays in London, so we knew their working holiday would mean business. No sooner had they turned up than they were pulling up floorboards and tidying out the downstairs of the house to get the scaffolding in. In three days work, we had all the floorboards and joists out and the downstairs almost empty. All our tools and things got moved into the tent until there’s a new floor down.

We also pollarded a tree that’s too close to the house ready for removal and got quite a lot of the nails out of the old floorboards. And after all that, there was even time to go out for a walk in the woods, eat a traditional Asturian lunch and head up to the viewpoint on the mountain above us to enjoy sitting in the autumn sunshine. We had a wonderful time and they’ve definitely left their mark on the progress of the project.

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A friend from Cantabria came to visit for an afternoon to check out the area as he’s looking for a place of his own. He helped out with some brambling and we enjoyed a bit of sunshine before the forecast rain set in and he headed home. We also found out that he found Dave’s wedding ring in the vegetable garden in Cantabria that we used to keep, which he now tends! Barely believable.

In early October we had our second community workday. This time Gerald and Noemi were having the ground floor of their house dug out in preparation for putting in gravel before putting the new floor on top to reduce damp. This was an interesting one for us because we’re planning to do the same thing in our house eventually. They had already been working on it for months with just one or two of them chipping out the floor, which is a bit of a thankless task. But on the workday, there was a good gang of us and we were able to finish lowering the level to the desired 50cm below floor level by the end of the day. We were picking and hammering the clay, shovelling it into wheelbarrows and taking it to be dumped onto a track and raked flat. It was crazy hard work but went well and afterwards we all headed down to a festival by the lake for cider and chilling.

We also had Dave’s parents to visit. They arrived to rain just like their last visit. But happily unlike last time, it didn’t rain for the entire duration of their trip! On the second day the sun came out and stuck around for the rest of their stay. Roger got to work pulling nails out of the wood that came out of the old floor. And him and Dave started taking out the feed troughs out of the downstairs of the house. I spent a few days weeding and tidying the garden, which was very therapeutic in the autumn sunshine after weeks of working on the house. We also enjoyed going up the mountain with them in the car and having a look around the city together before they flew home again.

We’ve been doing so much bramble removal and tidying. Omar has been around the paths with the strimmer and we’ve taken piles and piles of brambles out from around the vegetable garden and field boundaries. Things are looking a lot better and it was great to get them out before the end of autumn. The runners had already started rooting into the ground at the tips, but they were young enough to be able to pull out easily at the moment, so we were able to stop them spreading. The cut brambles have all been piled up along a boundary wall. The ones I put there last year have made beautiful compost which will be going on the garden to continue breaking down before the spring planting.

In late October, we had another volunteer turn up full of enthusiasm. Vidi arrived to clear blue skies and we spent some time looking around together and chatting in the sun. I knew the forecast was bad, so we also did some bad weather prep. We brought all the pumpkins in from the garden, put all my baby trees in the back of the greenhouse and put away anything that was hanging around outside. As the sun set, we headed in for dinner and awaited the bad weather.

The next day was cloudy but fine and we took the opportunity to do some outside jobs. We spent the morning clearing more brambles from the ruin and in the afternoon we did some work in the herb garden, making a nice little boundary wall around one of the beds. At the end of the day, it started to drizzle and by the time Dave and I went out for our evening walk with Charlie, it was windy and rainy.

The next morning, we woke to a dusting of snow and more starting to settle. It carried on all day and all night and all the next day until we had 60cm of snow on the ground, a power cut in the village, trees were cracked and broken, our shade sail was ripped to shreds and our tent lay in smithereens.

Thankfully Dave had been thoughtful enough to remove the wood chocks at the front of the greenhouse so that the snow could fall off, so at least that didn’t collapse. We cleared stuff out of the tent and back into the crowded downstairs of the house whilst it was still snowing. We dug out the car on the third day to go to town. And we enjoyed some time playing in the snow too. Then when it all started to melt, we dismantled the twisted tent and cleaned and dried the tattered awning. Vidi also started clearing the paths of branches and fallen trees.

It has been properly chaotic. Because it’s so early in the season for snow, the trees still had their leaves and were more susceptible to being weighed down and broken. Even the main road in the valley is covered in broken trees. The power cut initially affected the whole valley too but they started to being the main towns back online. When we’d been without power for four days, they installed a generator in the car park to supply us until they can fix the lines.

So for Halloween we decided to brave the snowy stomp to Tarje and Signe’s house with some friends to carve pumpkins, eat, drink and be scary. It was a great evening and a lovely way to welcome the start of November.

Anna

September

I can’t believe it’s been a month. At the beginning of September, I was doing the finishing touches to the sink unit and getting it plumbed in. I was also getting my stuff together to prepare to walk the Camino Primitivo. Then I got a message from Richard and Suzanne (who we lived with for a year when we first came to Spain in search of land). They were looking for a carer to help them out but needed some help in the meantime. So I packed my stuff and headed over to lend a hand. Dave followed on a week later and I stayed a total of 2.5 weeks until a new carer started working for them and their son came to visit from China. When we got back home, I had a tummy bug followed by flu, which put me out of action for a bit.

I spent a day in the garden clearing out old beds and harvesting a few things too. I put a bucket load of beetroots into storage, collected a kilo of amaranth grain and strung up some super hot chillies to dry.

Dave has been working full time on the computer the whole of September but on his weekends, he started work on some cladding above the old beam on one side of the house. Then, when I started getting better I helped out one afternoon and we developed some good techniques for cutting the awkward shaped wood. That meant I could just carry on with it when he went back to work. It was great – I spent five days measuring, sawing, sanding, cutting and trying to make it all fit as nicely as possible. We thought it would take a week or two to do, so finally we found a job that took less time than we anticipated! Now the cladding is finished and the upstairs is tidied up ready for the next job of lowering the floor.

I’m still getting over being ill but almost back to normal now. It’s been frustrating to get so little done in September. October has arrived now and although the weather is still lovely, the nights and mornings are starting to get chilly. The trees are turning, the pumpkins are ready and the nights are drawing in.

Today we just had our first community workday at a friend’s place. Everyone who is doing projects turned up to lend a hand and we’ll take turns going to each other’s places. It was brilliant how much we got done in just a few hours. And it’s really lovely to be able to just turn up and do some work without having to think and plan! Hosting will be a whole different story…

-Anna

July 30/35

The weather still wasn’t great even in July, but a few spells of summer weather started to appear. Dave took two trips to the UK and I spent time on the house, in the garden and doing some local hiking.

One day’s walk was particularly gorgeous. I headed up to the viewpoint 30 minutes hike above us to have my breakfast and saw that the cloud was started to build in the valley, collecting above the river and spilling in through the gorge towards the coast. The cloud inversion is my favourite spectacle here. It seemed a shame to go back down into the cloud when it was such a glorious morning up there, so instead of heading down, I just kept going up until I got all the way to the pass then came back down very hungry for late lunch. The hike and the views were perfection. It really is amazing to have all this on our doorstep – we just have to manage to make time away from everything else to get out occasionally!

Whilst Dave was away on one of his trips, I finished pointing one side of the front of the house with Omar. And I pulled up all my tomato plants, which had been badly affected by blight after all the mist coming in the open-sided greenhouse. I replaced them with lots of extra peppers which I bought as small plants.

But really I didn’t do that much in July. The weather was really getting me down when we were half way through what should have been the summer and it was still misty and awful. So my mood definitely hampered success until the sun finally started coming out.

Towards the end of July, I had my 30th birthday and Dave had his 35th. It was a glorious sunny day on my birthday! We went to the beach and had a wonderful relaxing day swimming in the sea, wandering along the beautiful coast and eating delicious food. The paragliding we had booked got postponed because of the wind, but we ended up doing it a month later and it was great fun.

For Dave’s birthday, we happened to be travelling to the UK so we met up with his family the evening we arrived. Then we headed to Scotland to see my family too. Then a wedding, meeting friends and so on. Dave was away 10 days but I spent 3 weeks in the UK, which meant that I was very glad to get back home at the end of the long trip.

I returned mid August with renewed enthusiasm for working on the house. Meanwhile Dave had been offered six weeks of full time office work from home, so he’s slogging his way through that whilst I’m plodding on with projects at the house.

First of all I had to tend to the garden. The three weeks we’d been away had been a mixture of sunshine and rain and the garden was a jungle! The brambles were raining down on everything and as well as weeding, I was behind on harvesting and seed saving.

On the weekends, Dave and I have been carrying on with the window between his working weeks – the top and sides are finally finished now! There’s nothing left to do now until the floor has been lowered and we know what height to make the counter tops and windowsill.

The window project from beginning to now…

Finally completed…

My current project is building a table for the outdoor sink so that I can knock down the concrete monstrosity currently housing the sink and I can repoint the other side of the wall at the front of the house. I’d used bits of old wood to cut neat timbers to make the frame. Then I bought cheap chestnut planks to sand down for the shelf and countertop.

We had two volunteers for 5 days. Sarah and Ewan took very naturally to sawing, sanding, planing and drilling and were a great help. We got the table mostly assembled and the concrete corner demolished before they headed off. Then yesterday I finished off the table. I’m pretty pleased with it actually – it’s sturdy, functional and it looks pretty nice.

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Finished sink unit

The farmers finally started bringing in the hay in July. I went to help Omar and his family one day, raking behind the baler, hauling the little square bales into piles to get them all stacked and covered up before the threat of nighttime rain. It was a crazy hard day out in the sun – and they do it almost every day for three months!

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Helping the neighbours get in the hay

I’m so happy summer has finally arrived, albeit at least two months late. The garden is an explosion of life after all that water and now sunshine. The herb garden has filled out nicely and my nursery is looking healthy. The baby trees have been potted on into bigger pots after I realised what was going wrong – I’d used too much fertiliser in the potting mix and having never used synthetic fertiliser before, I didn’t realise that was a possibility! Synthetic fertiliser is salt based, which means if you use too much, the plants get poisoned. So I made a new fertiliser-free mix and it seems to be working wonderfully.

It was already September when I realised how short the days are getting. But at the moment the weather is nice, the house is getting worked on and Dave is earning money. All is well for the time being.

-Anna

June projects

Things are going relatively well. The landscaping got finished in early June and I even managed to sow some of it with grass and clover, which are coming up nicely.  For the tree nursery, I made a table for the seed trays and put up a shade so they wouldn’t have to be watered as much. Lots of seedlings popped up and I have loads of teeny tiny trees – so exciting! The only problem is that when I try to move one little tree from its seed tray to a slightly bigger pot, it dies. I’ve only got so many more goes before I run out of trees to try this on. But at least now I know those nitrogen fixing trees are easy to grow, so I can always try them again.

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Cute little trees – but how to pot them on without them dying?

The herbs I planted from seed are coming up nicely – some in trays and pots and others were sown straight into the bed. We should have a pretty good herb garden going soon.

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Basil seedlings in the foreground

One fine day we went up the mountain with Omar to check on his cows with him. It was beautiful up top and we enjoyed the views and the company.

 

The kitchen window is a project still in progress. It was scary at first taking rocks out but we got the hang of it and propped up everything above the hole. Then Dave read up on how to do it properly and decided to put in some supports above where the lintels would go. That was a great thing to do and made the job way easier. But as usual, what I thought would take a few days has gone on for weeks in amongst other jobs (and still isn’t finished!).

Dave prepped the four large wooden lintels until he was happy with their smooth, shiny, oiled finish. We took rocks out of the wall by chipping at the mortar and levering them out, trying to prop up the ones above that we wanted to keep in. Before the lintels could go in, the sides of the window they would rest on had to be built up. On one side that didn’t take too long, but the other side went on for days. Dave did most of it in the end, cutting rocks with a big angle grinder, finding other rocks to fit into the gaps on top.

Then when we had enough space to put in the two inside lintels, Dave and I measured them up and mortared them in place. After that, more rocks got taken out until there was enough space for the two outside lintels. Dave, Naomi and I measured them up then Dave went back to his desk job and left Naomi and I to put them in. This proved more difficult without the wooden chock we’d used to rest them on in the rest run. The outside one (which is slightly proud of the wall) kept falling out of its place and we had to cut little wedge rocks and balance the whole thing in there, mortar it in place and hope it didn’t move until the mortar set. It did slightly come away from the next lintel, leaving a small gap, but the lintels are all beautifully lined up, so I’m still happy with the outcome.

 

 

Once the weather warmed up in mid June, the garden started to take off. We had one week of summer weather and although it’s back to its misty, stormy ways, it’s not as cold any more. The tomatoes and pumpkins are growing by the day and there are more peas than I can eat. I’ve got parsnips, carrots, ocas, potatoes, beetroot and nasturtiums all going well. The broad beans have been unhappy again this year. Last year it was too dry and they got covered in ants farming aphids. This year has been too wet and they’ve got some kind of fungus and have made almost no pods. On the plus side, we harvested 50 bulbs of garlic, which are drying in the attic and planted that bed up with amaranths that I had been growing in trays ready to go straight in.

 

As well as my plants growing like mad, all the plants we’d rather not have around are growing like mad too. Omar and I have been clearing around the garden, shower platform, tent platform, greenhouse, paths, everywhere that was over-run. We are keeping on top of it but the buggers keep growing back. I left a few nice patches of bramble flowers though, because we might as well get some tasty blackberries out of the bastards.

For the summer solstice weekend, I went to the beach with friends Nik and Ellie. On the Saturday, Ellie and I went to a course about using wild plants for food and medicine, which was very interesting. We came away with new knowledge and enthusiasm as well as some jars of moisturizer and lip balm that we all made during the class. It was utterly exhausting learning new stuff in a new language though and by the end of the day when we drove to the beach, I was desperate to just sit and look at the sea. It didn’t disappoint. The long, sandy cove was almost empty of the day’s beach-goers by the time we got there and we sat and ate packed dinner and drank wine as the sun set. Then we set up our tents and crawled in under the moonlight. The next morning I got up before the sun and had the whole beach to myself for a sunrise swim, which was exactly what I needed. During the day it got busy but we enjoyed the sunshine and the waves before heading off to another beach in the evening to have dinner and pitch up with a view of the fading sky reflecting off the waves. It was a restorative weekend.

 

After that weekend I went to collect our new volunteer Naomi. She stayed for a week and was just brilliant. She helped me with the window, lots of pointing, weeding and we also built a bench. The bench is in the same rustic style as the one that was already at the house when we arrived, but it’s a more comfortable, stable, improved version made from salvaged wood. Lots of trees fell into the paths over winter, so there are stumps galore that were just perfect for our bench legs. And we found a big plank of wood rotting by a path in the village, so Naomi sanded that down and we chopped it in half to double it up for a comfy seat. The result is a good-looking bench of perfect height that’s very comfy to sit on and will never fall over (those tree stump legs make it very heavy indeed).

 

July arrived in style. I woke up to see clouds spilling in over the mountains from all sides but with blue skies above. The sun came up and shone on the tumbling mist, lit up the deep green canopy of the forest with its morning glow and brightened up the red roofs in the village. It was like a time-lapse video in a nature documentary. The weather has been warm lately but we’ve had a lot of cloud and thunderstorms. So even though it doesn’t particularly feel like summer and the farmers are grumbling because it’s not dry enough to cut the hay, I’m still delighting in being in such a wonderful part of the world.

-Anna

 

 

 

Mud mud mud

The hard work did continue! We got loads done with Conor and Elif who were volunteering with us for a week. We could hardly get them to stop working. Even when I had a horrible cold and took a day off one particularly miserable day, the rest of them carried on spritely as ever. One of the jobs me and Elif did was to put up a balcony railing around the neighbour’s balcony as a welcome home present for when they came back with their second baby. I think it turned out well and they seem happy with it too.

Tarje and Signe got back and we got to meet baby Liv who is very cute and has kept fairly quiet so far. Roar is going to be three years old in a few months and seems to be growing up by the day. It was lovely to welcome them back on a sunny day and all be together again.

The house has been slowly progressing. More pointing has been done, we insulated the tops of the stone walls and Dave finished the outside cladding and oiling of the pine. Dave and Omar have been continuing to sand all the old beams, which are looking lovely. We did have a slight set-back that involved oiling one of the beams, then Dave not liking how it looked and spending days sanding the oily bit back off. Those kind of things really frustrate me but I know that it’s his meticulousness that’s going to make our house extra special (if it can ever get finished).

The last two weeks have been pretty much endless rain and mist, I think everyone around here is sick of it. It’s June now, we expect a bit of sunshine! Yesterday we did have one glorious sunny day and set about continuing to do some landscaping below the house. The plan is to have a hang-out area for cooking and eating as well as a small tree nursery. I’ve ordered seeds so that I can start growing some permaculture plants and when our house is liveable and our land is ready to plant, the trees and bushes will be ready to go in! That’s the idea anyway, we’ll see how it works out. I can’t decide whether it’s more likely that they won’t germinate and I won’t have any plants, or that I’ll have loads of plants but the land won’t be ready for us to put them in. Bets anyone?

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Muddy landscaping

Dave and I managed to have a few days off here and there in between our hard work. One Sunday we went hiking up a gorge a little up the valley from us, which was a delightful way to spend a rare sunny day. And another Sunday we went to the spa with Jules and spent a few hours soaking our sore muscles and warming up in the sauna.

The garden has been growing like mad in this wet weather. The tomato seedlings aren’t very happy in the open-sided greenhouse because they’re damp in there, but generally most things are looking good. The wildlife watching has been great too – there are slow worms under every rock you pick up, bumblebees nesting in the ground below the long grass, butterflies flitting around, blue tits nesting in our front wall and blackbirds at home above a beam in the side of the house. We even saw the resident Iberian emerald lizard basking on an old rock wall one sunny day.

Some before and after pictures in the garden (only 2 or 3 weeks apart):

Some pictures from the garden:

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When the clouds clear and the sun comes out, it’s paradise

Unfortunately we discovered a leak in the new roof last weekend. We were up at the house looking at the roof, discussing how we were going to clad the tops of the inside walls and we saw some water seeping through into the pine cladding. Very demoralising. Now we have to wait for the rain to stop and the tiles to be dry before walking up there, taking some roof off and seeing what the problem is. Hopefully we will be doing that with the builder if he ever has time.

Today we’re back in the mist and mud but Sunday has come around again and we’re having a day off. I’ve had a tummy bug for the last few days and I think Dave is pretty knackered from hauling giant wet roof beams around to make raised beds in the garden.

Next week the landscaping will be done and we can get back to the house. The next phase should be good – we’re going to make one little window bigger, put cladding over the insulation and start preparing to lower the floor.

-Anna

Springtime

By mid April the slow retreat of winter was truly underway. We had ethereal misty mornings filled with bird song before the sun burned through the mist and bright emerging leaves dappled the light. The woods smell warm and damp. Wildflowers have been popping up everywhere – wild orchids in purple, little violets nestled in the grass, yellow petunias at the edges of the paths. Our little village was full of people. As well as the usual five of us, we had our two volunteers and also a family visit from Dave’s sister and nephew. We had a great time with them that included a trip to the beach, a walk, an outing to a market and taking them skiing for the first time!

Then I had a week in London and came back enthusiastic about doing some work in the Spring sunshine. Dave and our building helper Omar had spent the whole week I was away chipping out the final wall for repointing. It was almost ready when I got back. With Dave back at his computer working, Omar and I carried on with chipping then started mixing more mortar and filling the wall back up again.

The following week I worked pretty hard actually because our friend Jules was visiting. That meant three pairs of hands getting to work. We spent the week rebuilding a retaining wall below our field, repointing the house, clearing away and burning the small branches and brambles we’d cleared out between the trees in the field boundary. Then after a busy week of work we headed out for a weekend of socialising and I even went out clubbing in the city with some friends (that was a first here but won’t be the last!).

Our Danish neighbours have been away for a few weeks awaiting their second baby. She was more than a week overdue when we finally got news on the 9th May that she gave birth to a baby girl. We’re looking forward to having them back here again in a week or so.

At the moment we’ve got some more volunteers here, who are hard working and lovely. Dave has just finished his computer work too, so it’s all hands on deck with five of us. Chipping, repointing, sanding beams, insulating the tops of the walls, cutting back brambles and tending the garden. Long may the hard work last!

The puppies turned 1 year old on 10th May

-Anna

Long Winter Almost Over

That week of sunshine in February was glorious relief and although I’d planned to get lots done, I was so happy just basking that I did about as much as I would have if it had been raining. But we did finish a bit of wood cladding around one side of the roof, chopped a fair bit of firewood, did some pointing and went to the town hall to ask about getting an improved water supply to the village.

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Hazel catkins dancing in the sun

Then a flurry of snow came and the cloud, drizzle and wind came back. We had a nice day on the Sunday before our second anniversary when we walked along a lovely little river up on the mountain that meanders its way to a dead end and disappears into the ground.

At the house, I set about oiling the pine cladding on the outside of the new roof. I found linseed oil in the DIY shop and set about spraying and scrubbing my way around the house. It smells terrible to work with but once it’s on, the effect is rather lovely, giving the pine a richer, slightly golden look.

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Cladding over a hole in the side of the roof

The neighbours had a date to move into their house in early March so we were helping them with the final essentials then moving their stuff in with them. Tarje had hurt his knee and was hobbling across the field and back on crutches trying to do his fair share of the hauling. We got the stove connected to the chimney and moved the furniture into position and they were ready to go. Their first night in there was the windiest we’ve had up here and even down in the rental house we were kept awake by the howling, so I’m sure they didn’t sleep to the sound of the tarp on their roof flailing in the gale! But they survived that, so they’re off to a good start.

Our wood burning stove arrived and we enlisted the help of a few friends to try and bring it in. It has an integrated back-boiler and oven so it weighs 230kg all in. We took off doors and removed thermal bricks to lighten the load a little, screwed it back onto its pallet and set about inching our way over the field. It actually wasn’t too bad with four of us and we got it into the house in under an hour. Of course we don’t actually want it upstairs yet since we still have to lower the floor, so it’s sat in waiting in the basement.

Since the second week of March we’ve been busy actually. Some friends of friends are looking around the region for their own place and staying in their vans but we’ve been working together or chatting or out walking.

Last week our first workaway volunteers arrived, which I was very excited about. They’re absolutely lovely – a great introduction to hosting. We’ve been outside whilst the weather has been alright. We have fixed fences, moved scaffolding to put linseed oil on the pine, put broken tiles on muddy paths and repaired raised beds. Now it’s snowing again and it’s so cold! We have been doing a bit of pointing but it’s too chilly to spend more than an hour or two working, even inside the house. We’re back to digging out the tent and the greenhouse but have done a bit of sledging too!

Having people here has been great, especially whilst Dave has been working on the computer. They have motivated me to get out and do stuff, and of course more hands on deck is great for progress.

I noticed that after the three days of snow, one single day of sunshine was forecast. We’d been talking about going skiing locally all winter but hadn’t actually made it, so this was the perfect opportunity. Quentin and I headed out to the closest ski station, hired our kit, got a day pass and spent the day zooming around the little resort and sitting in the sun drinking beer and eating chips. Bliss!

At the house we have been pointing and starting to clear one of our overgrown field boundaries. We have now finished pointing one of the inside walls – hurrah! And the back wall isn’t too far off. In the field, we’ve been removing bramble, wild rose and bushy hawthorn to leave a neater hedge interspersed with pollarded ash, which we’re cutting for firewood. It looks a lot more manageable now and we’ve got a nice stash of wood drying for next winter.

We’re nearing the end of March now and it finally feels like spring is making a move. The fields are dotted with purple, yellow and white flowers and a few trees are starting to come out of hibernation. We’re getting a mixture of sun and rain with less and less snow and frost. It’s so nice to be able to sit and eat lunch outside again! The other evening we drove up to a viewpoint on the mountain with some wine and cheese and enjoyed the views at the end of a hard day’s work.

-Anna

The big melt

After all that snow, the weather turned and we had one day of beautiful sunshine to admire the glistening views before the clouds hunkered down and a warm front set about melting it all with rain. We escaped the worst of the initial melt by heading over to visit Richard and Suzanne in Cantabria for a few days and by the time we returned there were only remnants of snow around. Everything is now very very wet as the snowmelt and rain cascade down the fields and paths.

Dave enjoyed spending a day digging out little drainage channels all around the house and across the muddy paths in an attempt to make walking around slightly easier. It worked really well on the house, which had flooded again in the basement but now it seems to have dried out. The paths are harder to sort out and I think we’ll eventually have to dig proper drainage along all of them, but that’s a job for people who have a house to live in.

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Mud, mud, mud

I’ve spent five days pointing the house with Dave helping out when he’s not been working. I’m surprised how much I’ve got done actually and it has inspired me to crack on and finish the lot.

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The back wall has a large section finished

Occasionally to get away from the wall I’ve been collecting and chopping firewood from snow-toppled trees and branches. I’ve also been pottering in the garden a few times, seeing the peas, garlic and onions doing well in spite of the weather. I’ve also got a good pile of manure ready for spring thanks to some horses that escaped from somewhere and came to hang out in the garden for a few days.

We have spent some time doing a bit of project management because I’ve been watching Grand Designs and that seems to be a think worth spending time on. We’ve been thinking about our off-grid plumbing and electrics systems. In terms of where we are on the house, that means thinking about where plug sockets, light switches and light fittings are going to go. Dave had romantic ideas about hiding the wiring behind the pointing, wiggling wires between rocks and putting mortar on top, but it’s quite hard to find places where wires can fit. In the end we decided that most of the electrics will go on new bits of wall and in the mezzanine floor, which should be easier. And I’m determined to investigate getting a micro-hydro system to supplement the solar panels in winter when they generate the least.

Away from the house, last week I did my first English class at the local primary school. The kids already have proper classes with a proper teacher so this was more like extra curricular activities in English. There were about 25 kids aged 4 to 11. Getting them to do stuff was like trying to herd cats. Some of them were keen to learn, others not so much and of course it’s hard to do stuff to suit every age group. It was an interesting experience and it’s given me food for thought before the next one in two weeks.

So things are going pretty well at the moment, although the miserable weather has been getting me down. The last few days I have been taking a break from the dark house to go for walks in the woods and cook some good food. But this morning we woke to frosty ground from clear skies overnight and the sun has come up to reveal blue skies and snow-topped peaks, which is absolutely glorious.

-Anna

February Starts with Some Snow

On the first day of February, it snowed. We’ve had a few days of snow here and there so it was nothing unusual. We played outside with Charlie, frolicking and snowballing our way around. And whilst we were up at the house, Dave and I brushed off both the tents since Tarje and Signe are staying in another valley at the moment and can’t get up here in their van in the snow. That evening, I went up and did a second brushing because it was still snowing and we went to bed stress free as usual.
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Just a dusting at first

On the second day we woke up late and by the time we were going up to the house it was almost 10am. It had snowed a lot again in the night and we trekked up the hill to brush off the tents. We arrived at our tent to find it sagging under the weight but doing alright. I headed down to Tarje and Signe’s to find it in a sorry state. The flat top of the tent was so heavy with snow that half of the poles had buckled. I called Dave down and we were deciding what to do. It was still snowing, so getting some of the weight off would be important, but it’s so high and we couldn’t think of how to get snow off without adding more weight with a broom to brush it down. Dave started gently brushing a bit of snow off one of the sides with his hands, but as he touched it, the cascade of destruction rippled across the remaining half of the tent. The middle pole buckled, then the next, then the last. The force of the collapse made all the furniture piece through the fabric and there lay a huge pile of broken poles, shredded canvas and lots and lots of snow on top of all of their belongings. Shit. We felt really guilty. Looking back, I’m not sure what else we could have

realistically done. I kept thinking I should have gone inside to hold it up, but apart from the fact that I am not sure we could have unzipped the door without it collapsing, I don’t think it would have been a very safe idea.

So I headed down the hill and drove over to deliver the bad news and bring them back so that we could move all their stuff into their house, which was at least waterproof. When I told them what had happened, there was no gasping or questioning. Tarje said factually “Well I guess we’d better live in the house”. It’s quite spectacular how chilled out they are. We could all do with being a bit more like Tarje. They got themselves ready and off we went. We hiked up and we dug out the tent to retrieve their things and move them inside where we had to shake off the snow and leave it all to be sorted out another time. The tent wreckage got left on the platform for now and we all went down to our rental house for warm tea and lunch before I took them home.

On day three we woke up to find it had snowed less in the night and it melted a bit over the course of the day, which was a relief. We spent the day reading and eating and went over to Tarje and Signe’s for dinner, but by the time we were driving home at 11pm, it was snowing again and we skidded up the road to the car park and sloshed home to bed.

On day four I woke up to find Dave and Charlie gone and a huge dump of fresh snow outside. When I headed up towards the house, I found their footprints and met them on their way down from clearing the tent, which had taken poor Dave ages when he was supposed to be working. That day it stopped snowing a little but the whole area suffered a power cut, so we went up in the afternoon to try and clear the solar panels to at least have power up there. It was a tricky job getting on the roof and trying to clear them, and Dave only managed to uncover parts of some of the panels, so we didn’t get any power from them, but he did at least manage to charge the laptop off the batteries. By the time we went back home, it was almost the end of the day and the power came back on, which saved us a job eating several kilos of Brussels sprouts out of the freezer.

On day five we woke up to a load more snow and Dave headed off to the wifi place for work whilst I trekked up to the house with the puppy. It was quite something just getting up there! The snow in the track was up to my knees and I followed in Charlie’s tracks for an easier walk. The trees by the path were bowing or broken under the weight of the snow; hanging branches dangled and snapped bits of tree were strewn across the path. When we got up towards the house, the snow was up to my waist in places and Charlie had to bounce like a deer to get anywhere. She’s spring up to go forwards, then land and sink up to her tummy before springing up again. We made it up to the tent platform and I set about shovelling. The snow was thick and heavy, sticking to the shovel, making the tool twice as heavy as normal and half as effective. Every time I cleared a space on the platform, I’d have to brush snow down off the tent, which would fill the space and I’d clear it again. It took about an hour to clear the tent and I left the platform to do later because I needed some breakfast.

In the afternoon I decided we needed supplies. I’d been putting off shopping because of the snow but we hadn’t been to the supermarket since getting back from holiday and I was feeling the need to get out of the village. We borrowed some shovels from a neighbour and headed over to the car. We couldn’t actually see any of it, just a big white dome with a mound of snow blocking it in after the snow plough had been past. We spent about an hour digging it out and manoeuvring it out of the space. The road down had been ploughed but it had been snowing all day so it was a bit slippery and there was only a single track with huge snow banks on each side. It was a bit surreal getting to the bottom and driving along a snow-free road towards the snow-free city and being dressed in gaiters with a shovel in the boot. On my way back, I made my way slowly up the slushy tracks in the snow, skidding all the way. Finally at the top, someone was parked in the space I’d left behind, so I had to dig out a new one. Meanwhile Dave was digging out the tent platform that I hadn’t finished that morning. It was almost dark by the time the car was parked, the tent was cleared and we were walking to the rental house with the shopping, ready to go to bed.

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Spot the car!!

On day six, we woke up to no extra snow. Thank goodness for that! I went up to the house with Charlie to take some pictures. The path up there was alright because we’d been up and down every day and there is a hard packed snow trail now. But going into our field was another matter! The greenhouse had almost completely buried itself from shedding snow off the front and making a huge mound below. I could hardly move around – one leg would sink in all the way to my bum without my foot finding the ground, then I’d have to try and get the other leg ahead of it. When I finally got to the greenhouse, my pea seeds needed watering but all the taps were frozen.

It was quite nice walking around in the snow when it wasn’t snowing any more and I was feeling optimistic. But it’s snowing again now and the forecast is for it to carry on until Sunday! Watch this snowy space…