Autumn renovations

I’m feeling less optimistic about having a weather-proof stove-heated building to live in by the time winter comes. But at the moment we’re making progress every day and we’re enjoying beautiful autumn weather whilst we’re doing it.

The current project is to rebuild the upstairs front wall. The old wall was made from wattle and daub and built on top of the balcony floorboards. We had a great time tearing the old wall down with help from Tarje and Ralph. Then we’d planned to build a new brick wall, leaving spaces for two windows and a door. But with the wall down, the plans had to change. Firstly, we realised that all that light and view could not be shut out behind bricks. Secondly, we realised that the top of the downstairs stone wall, which supports the balcony floor and main floor, had been partly raised. This means that the inside floor (which is about 15cm higher than the balcony floor) could be lowered to put it all on the same level. That meant taking down the top of the wall around the floor joists, then replacing the balcony joists with new wood in the same place as the old wood. And replacing the inside joists with new wood at a lower level than the old joists.

And so building a small brick wall has turned into weeks of work – mostly for Dave! But he’s having a great time measuring, chiselling and sawing each of the 14 new balcony joists to make them all perfectly level.

Meanwhile the roofer Duran is nowhere to be seen. I told him that our materials had arrived almost two weeks ago, but (as expected) nobody is in a hurry to get on with anything! At least we’re busy whilst we wait.

I’ve been making some more progress on the barn – the roof that looked like a forest floor is gradually being cleaned to reveal actual roof tiles. And I’ve been getting quotes and drawings for an off-grid heating and hot water system. We have a plan now but it’s a big job and there’s so much else to do! So on demand hot water may remain a pipe dream this winter.

The garden has been very much neglected for the last month or two. But I do still harvest things from it when I remember! We’ve been eating cauliflower, kohl rabi, broccoli, tomatoes, basil, aubergines, onions and beetroot from the garden. And we’ve collected hazelnuts and mushrooms from nearby too.

We spend time with friends, sometimes go climbing or hiking. And the puppies take up a fair bit of time. They’re four months old now and almost as tall as their mum!

Did I mention we have wifi now? Well we do, it’s very exciting. Now can’t imagine life here without it!

There is one thing I really miss. A sofa. I so miss having a sofa. Somewhere comfy to sit when it’s not nighttime. Not a day goes by without me wishing I had a sofa. Of course there are other things that would be nice to have like hot water, heating, a house to heat, an actual kitchen, but those things don’t bother me as much as the absence of a sofa. A comfy, comfy sofa….

Anna

Wall removal

Balcony floor removal

Puppies

The garden

 

House Progress

So it’s the end of August and we’ve been living here for 5 months. I can reveal with a sigh of relief that we have in fact started working on the house! Hurray! Cheers and applause all around! Here’s what we’ve been up to…

We found a supplier of natural hydraulic lime with which to make lime mortar. This is a great alternative to Portland cement because it has a smaller carbon footprint, it is breathable and although it’s got strength like cement, it’s softer than the rock around it. This means that if there’s damage to the stone wall, it’s the mortar that suffers, not the stone, and the mortar can be replaced a lot more easily. With our newly appropriated lime, we have started pointing parts of the house. This involves removing the old mortar between the facing stones, replacing it with new lime mortar then brushing it before it dries to make it look nice. The first batch we did at the back of the house came out with the stones all coated in white lime powder that can’t be removed unless you use an acid wash. So the next batch inside we have been doing with a slower but much less wasteful method that leaves the stones beautifully clean. The finished effect is lovely and some of the work is quite relaxing, but it is very time consuming and there’s still loads to do.

We have ordered our windows and front door, which will hopefully fit beautifully into the gaps in the walls when they arrive in a month or so.

We have decided how to rebuild our front wall on the first floor, which is currently a holey mix of latticed wood filled with stone and cob. We’re going to take it down and replace it with a wall made of thick insulating bricks which will then be rendered with lime mortar. The new doorway will be a normal height (we are both eagerly awaiting a future that will be head-smash free – at least upstairs) and the windows will be bigger and higher too.

About a week ago, we had the materials for this new front wall delivered. Ivan from the local building supply store brought them to the field above ours, then the neighbouring farmer / builder / handyman Duran brought them to the back of the house on a tractor and trailer. He brought the tonne bag of sand first. They laid out a tarp behind the trailer, then simply raised the trailer to allow it to cascade off the back and spill its contents all over the tarp. Then he brought two pallets of bricks down (total weight about 1.2 tonnes). As he was reversing down the hill, he shouted to Ivan “It’s not going to fall out is it?”, to which the reply came calmly “I’m not sure”, followed by sliding and crashing and rolling of bricks down the hill. Well that’s one way to get them off the trailer! Luckily the bricks seem pretty tough and surprisingly few got damaged. I couldn’t stop chuckling to myself about the ridiculousness of it – the big pile of bricks strewn down the hillside with bits of plastic packaging and broken pallet sticking out.

Dave has been rescuing our little barn from its green tomb. He’s been clearing ivy from the walls and roof and is now in the process of removing tiles, putting down corrugated waterproof sheets, then replacing the tiles on top. This is a temporary measure to try and stop the whole thing falling down from water damage before we get around to dealing with it.

The roof works on our house are scheduled with Duran hopefully for September, although these things tend to start later than you expected and go on for longer. We’ll see what happens, but I feel (at the moment) that it can be done before winter.

So after months of trying to get things off the ground, it’s all sort of happening at once. There’s a lot to think about. Even when we’re just meditatively pointing the inside walls, we need to remember things like where to leave space for wiring, plug sockets and light switches. We’re also trying to get our residency application off the ground, which is proving to be as difficult, time-consuming and bureaucratically ridiculous as expected. We still have to apply for a permit to do the roof. And every day we have to do all our normal life stuff too – Dave goes to work 3-4 days a week, we have visitors, we have a garden to tend, we have a puppy to look after, sometimes we allow ourselves time to go climbing or I do yoga or we go and meet people. We have all that normal stuff to do that takes up so much of our time. I’m not complaining – I like that stuff. But the expectations are constantly getting re-evaluated and deadlines move further into the future as it becomes obvious that they were always unattainable. So who knows… maybe we’ll be in the house this winter… maybe our tent will have to see us through a few more frosts!

-Anna

Repointing the back wall outside

Starting with the new method inside

Asturian farmer delivers building materials

Dave working on the barn

Trips and visits

Charlie is growing up

Summer has begun

It’s a hot afternoon and I’m sitting in the hammock under the dappled shade of an ash tree contemplating my new life here. The breeze is keeping me cool and from the hammock I am overlooking the roof of our house, part of our field and the view of the tree-covered hills beyond. There are birds singing, bees buzzing, crickets chirping, a far away cockerel crowing, and in the distance I can hear cowbells and the occasional dog barking in the village below. Our field has turned into a beautiful meadow since the cows departed for higher pastures. The grasses are waving in the breeze and the wildflowers are blooming in the sun. The grass won’t get cut for hay until the end of July, and after that the cows will be back.

Dave is away at the moment on a natural building course in Portugal. My sister Faye and her boyfriend Iain were here visiting for five days, and yesterday evening I dropped them off at the airport. Whilst they were here, we had some nice holiday time walking along the river, having lunches in the sun and chatting over beers, but they also got to work building a fence to keep the cows out of what will be the pumpkin patch. It’s looking wonderful and went up a lot faster with extra pairs of hands! I spent this morning finishing off the fence and starting to scythe the part of the field I want to plant.

Before that, Dave’s parents were here to visit. They had less luck with the weather but we enjoyed several little jaunts including a trip around a big cave in the next valley. It contains one of the largest bat populations in Spain! You can’t go in the bit where the bats live, but we had a great tour of the other parts of the cave.

The veg garden is growing up nicely. It looks like we’re about to have quite a lot of peas to eat, which will be just great! And all my summer crops are starting to get going now. I’ve planted out my runner beans by their poles. I’ve got lots of seedlings coming up of parsnip, broccoli, cauliflower, pumpkin, French bean, kohl rabi, white beetroot, sweetcorn and sunflower. The tomato and pepper plants that I’ve been growing in small pots are all going to need somewhere to go, but I’m still deciding where that will be! There always seems to be a lot to do. I counted the other day that I have to make space for about 50 pumpkin plants, despite already having 25 out in the garden. If they all grew up to give us an average of 2.5 pumpkins each, that would be 188 pumpkins. That may be a few too many… we shall see.

As for the house… well there has been a tiny amount of progress because the stone builder came up to have a look at it. He recons that we don’t have to do anything will the bulging walls except to re-point them (i.e. replace the mortar between the stones). That was a big relief and that’s a lot of work that we don’t have to do, so phew!

We chatted to him about the work we wanted to do whilst he was here. When I said that I was keen to have the re-pointing done in the old style, using a clay-soil mix for mortar, he said “But that’s how they did things before. Now we have cement and it’s better.” I’m sure cement is stronger, but the point of the mortar is to allow the wall to breathe as well as support the stones and make it weather proof. We still haven’t decided what to do, but I think we’re both pretty strongly against using cement in our build. Cement is energy-intensive to produce, releasing a lot of CO2 in the process. I know we’re only doing a small project so you might think our contribution won’t make a difference, but imagine everyone realised that they could make a difference by doing their little projects in a more sustainable way.

Now we just have to choose roof insulation, order the materials and get on with it! Don’t hold your breath.

Even though progress might seem glacial, I don’t feel any stress or pressure about this project. It would be nice to have a roof, walls, windows, door and a wood stove before winter, but other than that we can do the internal parts later on even if the weather isn’t great.

At the moment, I’m enjoying our first summer here and regularly reflecting on how happy and lucky I feel to be here. This place is fantastic, our neighbours are wonderful and I spend my time outdoors doing what I love.

And just in case things weren’t perfect enough, Tarje and Signe’s dog Fi had two puppies a few weeks ago. They are going to keep the boy puppy who’s called Raid, and Dave and I are going to have the girl puppy who’s called Charlie. The pair of them have just started stumbling around and wagging their tails and trying to play fight with each other between falling over. It’s pretty much the most adorable thing you’ve ever seen.

So there we go – we’re about to have a dog to train and feed as well as a house to do up and a garden to tend. We still have occasional shitty days where it rains all the time or we are tired or argumentative, but on the whole, life is pretty fucking epic at the moment.

Maybe I will go and have something to eat whilst waiting for the garden to be in the evening shade so that I can carry on scything.

-Anna

The Renners braved a trip into the bat cave!

Faye and Iain enjoyed a lovely sunny visit

The garden is coming to life

We made some new friends in another valley

Pictures from home

The puppies Charlie and Raid with Mum Fi

Tent life

It’s been a month and a half since we moved, which is barely believable. We still haven’t started on the house yet, so don’t get too excited, but we have done a few things to make life outdoors a little more civilised…

Following a trip to Ikea and at least 40 minutes in the car park trying to cram everything into the boot, we are excited to have a comfy mattress, new duvet and real towels! We also have light in the tent and the wood burning stove set up, which is a lovely development and we can now enjoy sitting by the fire reading a book on a chilly night.

I moved the mountain of bramble cuttings that had been accumulating in the garden, then we dug out a little pond (where apparently there used to be one) and it’s now home to pond skaters, a toad and lots and lots of mosquito larvae. And the passing dogs like to play in it, destroying our lovely reed bed in the process.

We knocked down half of the ugly concrete water storage tank outside the house and Dave turned the rest of it into a sink – brilliant! No more on-the-grass washing up with the hosepipe.

Dave worked through snow, wind, hail and sun to put up an outdoor shower in advance of his siblings visiting, then we screened it with bamboo. So no more hope-nobody-is-coming washes with the hosepipe either. There’s a wonderful view from the new shower to distract you from the cold water! It does actually get quite hot when the sun is shining on the black hose, but we’ve had our share of cloudy and chilly days of late!

The garden continues to expand and fill with food. We’ve been eating lettuce, rocket, rapini, radishes, carrots, coriander, chives and mint from the garden. My nursery is doing alright, although I had several set-backs including mouse-eaten seeds! Already dreaming of a nice greenhouse, but I think it will have to wait.

We all spent a day building a hot compost heap! If you don’t have a garden, maybe you don’t get as excited by compost as gardeners do, so you’ll just have to take it from me that compost is exciting. The idea with hot compost is that you pile up alternating layers of ‘green’ like freshly cut grass and weeds and ‘brown’ like straw or dry leaves. Then it gets up to 55 degrees, then you turn it, then it heats up, then you turn it, etc. And after 18 days, you have a huge pile of perfect soil for the garden and all the weed seeds have been killed by the heat. Except ours got too hot and killed all the good bacteria! We’ve managed to get it going now but it is not as quick as it should be.

We have been to check out the local climbing wall with Tarje and Signe – there are loads of great routes, the views are wonderful and when you’re not climbing you can hang out in the shade of the trees, so it seems ideal! Just need to wrench myself away from the garden some time to go back.

We enjoyed a four-day visit from Dave’s siblings and nephew, which was lovely. We went to the beach, walked up to the hermitage, visited the 1000-yr old yew tree, had a typical ‘menu del dia’ lunch that filled us up until bedtime and sat outside the house drinking beer. And they seemed to be happy enough with the guest sleeping arrangements – at least we have mattresses, duvets, pillows and towels now.

Our new washing machine arrived! It’s sooooo good. When the sun is shining, it doesn’t even use power from the batteries. Dave has also taken to doing his fair share of laundry now that it doesn’t have to be done by hand.

 

Dave has been keeping busy with more carpentry projects – improving the shower with a lovely door, making more steps up to the house and digging a flat area for a new poo pit! We were told that a 1m x 1m x 1m humanure compost area would take a year to fill up, and although ours was only about half that, we seem to have filled it in less than two months! The next one will be bigger.

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We have started thinking about the house. We’ve got our first quote for materials for the roof and we’ve started the process of making contact with someone who can advise us as to what to do about our bulging back wall. So hopefully next month we’ll at least know what we plan to do, even if we haven’t started yet!

In the meantime, here’s a few pictures of the place…

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The Iberian emerald lizard – endemic to the Iberian peninsula

We had some snow and quite a good frost. Luckily the only things out in the garden were hardy enough to cope and we already had the fire set up and our new duvet.

We’ve seen all kinds of weather here now! I definitely felt a need to crack on with the house after that frost, but otherwise we’ve still really been enjoying life outdoors.

Anna

We’ve moved!

On the last day in March we packed up the car, finished cleaning out our apartment and drove over to the new house. We left Richard and Suzanne with new workaway volunteer Pablo, having spent a few days with to show him around. He works hard in the mornings and then goes for long walks in the mountains in the afternoons, so we were confident that we’d left them with a pair of good helping hands. And it’s only a week or two until we go back and visit them.

Moving day was long but once we were on the motorway, we relaxed and everything seemed to go smoothly. We arrived and put the tent up with Tarje helping us to do it without arguing. It took a lot longer to put it up on a platform than grass because you have to peg out the guy lines with screws and wooden poles and things. But it was ready to sleep in on the first night, which was an exciting development, albeit bloody freezing.

We had a chilly, rainy few days but made the most of it with a whole day’s expedition to the city’s shops with a list a mile long. We got some things to make life easier and more comfortable, and it’s already starting to feel like home.

3 Our place

Our tent and house

On one walk to the car, we met Alberto (who had previously given us three cherry trees to plant) and he offered us a mattress. It’s the smallest double I’ve ever seen at 180cm long by 120cm wide, but it fits perfectly in our tent! Of course Dave doesn’t fit perfectly in it, so we’ll have to fashion some sort of one-sided extension at some point, but it beats the camping mattress.

We found a bed frame in the house and Tarje and Signe gave us some legs for it, and we moved the big arm chairs from the house to the tent, so it’s pretty nice in there now. Just need some shelving to keep out piles of clothes off the floor and we’ll be set.

Dave built some steps up to our platform and I spent a day organising the downstairs of the house. Amongst the piles of dusty rubbish, I found a two-hob burner, a full gas bottle, a mirror, a full box of cutlery and some plates, which are all coming in handy. I put up some shelving and boxed up all our food in there and even though it’s 12 degrees and not as cold as a fridge, it keeps things pretty well.

Dave and Tarje spent several days hooking up three of the solar panels and four of the batteries that we got together (that’s only part of the system that we’ll have eventually, but the roof isn’t ready to have panels on it yet). So now, as if by magic, we have off-grid power! It’s brilliant – there’s a plug in our tent and you can power stuff from it! Signe and I are already dreaming about a washing machine. I find our small amount of hand laundry a pain, but they’ve got little Roar going through clothes and nappies every day.

Although I’m sure we will get our own wifi connection here, there is actually a public building in the next village that has great internet. Dave has been given a key to the place for 3€ a month, so he’s been working in there a few days whilst I’ve been organising the place, planting seeds and building a little plant nursery. The first three or four days we were here, I pretty much was busy from dawn till dusk, too excited about getting on with things to sit down. But that’s pretty tiring and my body is aching, so I’m resigned to taking it a bit easier, especially when it’s as hot as it has been! We’ve had three days in the high 20s and whilst it’s lovely to sit in the shade, it can get a bit hot working out in the sun. But at least in this weather, my tomatoes and chillies should be germinating!

21 Nursery build

Dave filling my newly built nursery bed with cow poo

The wildlife here is gloriously abundant. There are little lizards basking on the rocks, butterflies, bees and other insects buzzing all around and little birds chirping in the trees. You can’t put anything down without something going to live in it! I had left a bit of old carpet outside on a rock and when I picked it up, there were loads of earthworms underneath. The planting modules attract butterflies, and then the lizards that live in the wall hunt them. We put a tarp over a fence so that we could ‘shower’ in relative privacy and when I went to take it down there was a lizard basking in its folds. The songbirds dance around our tent in the mornings and sometimes you see a bird of prey or a vulture flying high overhead. There are patches of white and pink blossoms around and the broadleaf trees are starting to emerge from their dormant winter. The hillside we overlook that has been brown all winter is getting greener by the day as the ash and oak trees are first to emerge between the beeches. We have been taking walks over to those woods get down to the stream where we can cool down in the heat of the afternoon.

We’ve taken a few little exploratory strolls around the other buildings and ruins of our little hamlet. As well as our house and Tarje and Signe’s house, there’s quite a good barn between them then a small assortment of old houses, barns and ruins close by. The house that was most recently inhabited full-time did have on-grid electricity but has been stood disconnected and abandoned for about 40 years.

Everything that needs doing here is hard work to get started but it’s rewarding to see how quickly things change when you work at it. We are still showering with a hosepipe behind a gate, we do the washing up with the hosepipe on the grass and we still don’t have any light bulbs. But progress is being made! We have our tent and a place to cook and eat. We’re harvesting lettuce from the garden and my radishes are almost a good size. I can’t wait until we don’t have to buy veggies any more. Dave keeps saying ‘I thought we were going to work on the house first’, but we do need to make sure we can live comfortably whilst we’re working on it. So, as they keep telling us here poco a poco (little by little) is how things are supposed to be done – and that’s a low stress lifestyle I’m happy to adopt.

-Anna

Tent platform in progress

We’ve been over to the house every weekend for the last month. And Dave has been working remotely as an environmental consultant 3 days a week whist we’re at Richard and Suzanne’s. So it’s been a whirl-wind of driving, carrying, packing and unpacking, working at the house and trying to make progress here without Dave. I have to say, I’m bloody knackered, and I’m sure Dave is too. It will be nice to be in one place for a while once we get back from a week in Blighty at the end of March.

Our wood delivery was due on a Friday three weeks ago and we started the day by carrying some stuff up to the house in the morning mist.

1 Misty track

The start of the track to our village

Then the wood arrived and we spent half a day carrying it into the village with Tarje. Chestnut is so heavy! Tarje had already done this chore several times on his own, so could carry a good bundle. I was struggling along with three boards on my bruised shoulders and my muscles were definitely feeling it by the afternoon. One of our lovely neighbours Tivo was passing when the wood arrived and lent us a rope to drag the largest of the beams that couldn’t be carried easily. The couple that has the field above us were passing on their quad and stopped to chat. After exchanging pleasantries, they enquired “Are you accustomed to working?” Having seen the two of them, easily in their 60’s, shovelling cow shit and tending to the sheep every day, I couldn’t very well tell them that I was accustomed to working. “Well I used to have an office job” I told them, and they puffed out their cheeks, knowing I had my work cut out.

The rest of the weekend was mostly spent digging post holes. We also got over half of the wood treated and I started preparing a garden (so much for being patient until April!).

11 Working together

Me making garden beds whilst Dave is laying wood out for treatment

Luckily the weather cleared up and it was so hot that I enjoyed a garden hose shower in the afternoon sun without getting goosebumps. Bliss.

The weekend after that one, more post holes followed and we started to test out two of the beams on the posts and rocks. Oh dear. Not only were they not level with each other, they weren’t even level with themselves! Posts had to have their tops sawn off, rocks had to be lifted again to dig them into the ground further and the top slope had to be dug out where the ground was too high to allow the beam to lay flat. So Dave mostly got on with that stuff whilst I started planting a herb garden after our trip to the garden centre.

By the end of the day, his determination rewarded him with being able to screw down two of the three big beams and attach the joists on one side! It felt like real progress to get the drill out and start fixing it together.

1 Drilling

Fixing down the middle beam

Sunday was our first anniversary! We went for a nice dinner on Saturday night then spent Sunday being tourists in our local area, which was wonderful.  We went to see the hermitage, whose crosses on the rocky outcrop can be seen from our field. We went to visit one of the oldest yew trees in Spain, estimated to be at least 1000 years old. And we had lunch at a famous middle-of-nowhere restaurant, which was delicious albeit decidedly un-vegan.

1 Hermitage

Walking up to the hermitage

We’re spending this weekend at the house again with view to getting the platform finished (maybe) before heading to the UK for a week, spending a week at Richard and Suzanne’s, then moving to be at the new place all the time!

-Anna

 

 

Working weekends update

We’ve been back to the house about every second weekend. There have been some wet ones – including when my parents were visiting for the first time – and some beautiful sunny ones.  All the hazel catkins are out along the rivers, as well as some of the early fruit tree blossoms.  I think it’s too soon to be calling it Spring just yet, but as the days are getting longer, the sun feels lovely and warm when it decides to come out.

Bramble bashing has continued. Still plenty more of that to do!

We already have a small strawberry patch springing into life because the bundle of little plants Signe bought included too many for their patch. I’d love to be preparing more of the gardens now, but we can only get so much done with our short visits at the moment, so I’m trying to be patient until we live there in April.

Mum and Dad came to visit last week and we all sloshed our way up the hill in the cloud and rain to look at our little house. It was a shame to have our first visitors when there was no view but they loved it anyway and it was great to talk through various reparation ideas together. We also spent some time in Oviedo, our nearest city, which turns out to be lovely, enjoyed some restaurant meals and were treated to some cool new tools in the huge DIY store.

 

After my parents left, we had a bit of a panic that it was only a month before we wanted to have the place set up for temporary living and we hadn’t even decided how we were going to do it yet. So this weekend we got started on the foundations for our tent platform. We measured out the space, ordered the wood from the local wood yard for delivery next week and started moving the corner stones into position. We’re now three stones down with one to go…

Moving the first rock

Moving the second rock

And the third rock – hurray all level so far!

Hopefully we’ll be able to do the last rock and get started on the platform itself next week when the wood arrives.

As we count down to our arrival at the new house, time is ticking for us to get things done at Richard and Suzanne’s place before we leave. We’re still doing the pointing on the big house once a week when Jose Pedro is here with the scaffolding. And when the weather is nice, we’ve been out weeding and sowing some flower seeds in the gardens. The vegetable patch currently only contains a few rows of garlic, but I’ve started some seeds indoors. I was excited to find a patch of lettuces today that are growing by the compost pile – I’d laid down the lettuce seed heads there last summer after collecting them. I’m pretty chuffed with that – my seed saving efforts are paying off already with mid February lettuces that I never even planted! All I had to do today was transplant as many as I could be bothered to dig up, and they will soon be ready for harvesting.

3-lettuce

My zero effort lettuce patch 🙂

Even when we’re over here away from the new house, there are new house jobs to get on with. At the moment we’re planning to order an off-grid solar electricity system with Tarje and Signe so that we’ll be able to power some lights and a washing machine, as well as charge our phones, laptops and batteries for power tools. We’re also looking at getting a solar water heater so that we can have a hot shower! Once all that’s in place, maybe we’ll never bother moving into the actual house.

-Anna

Starting on the house

So, we completed the purchase of the house on the last working day of December 2016 – hurray! I’m pretty chuffed with that outcome because I secretly had ‘before Christmas’ in my head as a milestone for owning a place, and after the way things were looking in October, three days late seems like a pretty big win.

Since then we’ve had two short trips to the house to get started on some jobs. We also had to go to the Catastro to get the borders of our land redrawn. We sat in the office there for 20 minutes, the guy filled in a form and said it would take three months to process but that it might get refused because although our deed says that we bought 500m2 of urban land, there were only 200m2 there originally. He chuckled and said “It’s like you came to the market when I had two apples on my stall. Then I sold you five!” Yes, how amusing.

We’ve started tidying up indoors and out. There is a lot of random crap in our house. Some of it is useful (pitch fork, shower tray, crow bar, arm chairs), some of it less so (brand new electric blanket [yup – electric blanket], old mattresses, cow medicine, mouldy overalls, etc.). There’s also a lot of stuff growing all over our land, house and stone walls. Whilst we do want to grow lots of stuff, I’m not sure a monoculture of brambles is the way forward.

We cleared some very clingy ivy off the house walls. We did lots of bramble bashing. And argued about where to compost the resulting debris. (Still undecided.)

We disturbed a fire salamander whilst digging up brambles! Don’t worry, he was safely relocated to a spade-free hibernation zone.

06-fire-salamander

Mind the fire salamander!

We found our water supply in the neighbouring field. It definitely needs a new cover. And we might want to get it tested…

Dave and Tarje set about moving some roof tiles around to try and stop the leaks. At least our roof isn’t hard to get up on – you can walk straight onto it from the back of the house!

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A pleasant evening for it too

We built a composting toilet (I say ‘we’ because although this was mostly Dave’s doing, he clearly would have been lost without my very useful comments that were definitely not criticisms of his masterpiece).

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Composting toilet in temporary position, complete with bag of saw dust and bog roll

The main steps to the house were a bit of a death trap of debris and grass. We thought we were in for a long job of attempted dry stone walling, until we dug down and found these already there! Handy.

And every time we’re at the house doing work, we get to pause every now and then to enjoy the views and the company.

-Anna

We’re buying a Spanish property!

About a month ago we decided we wanted to buy this place. Today we signed the contract and paid the deposit! So here’s the story of how we fell in love with an abandoned village in the interior of Asturias…

Mary the estate agent had told us to visit the village and the Danish couple who were living there. We had a few days set aside to travel around Asturias, so we were off to see them. Having passed the last big city about half an hour ago, we were on a winding road following a river in a beautiful valley where the hillsides are adored with the colours of autumn woodland. Little green pastures and red-roofed villages bask in the sun, nestled into nooks in the landscape. The gentle hillsides rise up to exposed rock peaks and occasionally a bigger mountain comes into view in the distance.

We took a small road off to the side and straight away were going steeply uphill, winding our way up and up to almost 800m, passing a few villages on the way. We parked at the edge of a village and stepped out to the sound of cowbells and birds. Here we donned our rucksacks – it’s a bit of a walk from the car park! We headed uphill on a concrete road past a few houses and a yard with free ranging chickens and honking geese, then onto a very steep, rocky track through an avenue of trees between the fields – this track may once have passed for a road if you had a laden donkey instead of a car. Ten minutes from the car park and we arrived at the turn-off to the abandoned hamlet. We walked along the grassy track past a few ruins and an uninhabited house to arrive in the middle of the hamlet, where the view opens up.

The little house that’s dug into the hillside at the top of the hamlet is for sale, standing strong but looking a little neglected. It has its own small field behind, currently being grazed by cows, a bit of land for growing vegetables out the front and a small ivy-engulfed stone barn below. On the downhill side of the village, a young Danish couple are in the process of buying one of the other dilapidated houses, which they are busy trying to make winter-proof. The whole hamlet is a little overgrown with grasses and brambles, and pollarded trees with light green leaves that scatter dappled light and flutters of colour in the breeze.

The views in every direction are wonderful – we are in the mountains after all. The hillside opposite is a complete blanket of treetops undulating with the shape of the land and its river valleys. Beyond that, the summit of a mountain emerges, adding some drama to the otherwise serene and peaceful scene. There are no cables to be seen, no roads to be heard.

The Danish couple Tarje and Signe and their baby Roar welcomed us in the autumn sunshine and we ate together outside. They had been camping by their house and we set up our tent in front of the other house. We looked around the buildings and the land together and chatted about our plans for the future. At one point we were standing in the field taking in the scenery when a bright shooting star scattered sparks across the sky so bright that you could see them even though it was sunny! We joked that it could either be a good sign or a bad omen depending on what you wanted the universe to be telling you.

That night, in the dark and quiet, Dave and I were too excited to sleep much (and were camping on a bit of an incline), so we got out the tent to look around. It was a clear night and the Milky Way was shining bright. A crescent moon rose over the mountains and owls hooted in the forest. We were pretty much sold. We whispered into the cool air “I could totally live here.” “Yeah, me too!” And we stood there for a while admiring the place and imagining how our lives would continue to unfold.

I have to admit that neither the house nor the land are exactly everything we were looking for – the house is very small (5m x 5m) and the plot of land is smaller and steeper than we’d had in mind. Not to mention the fact that you have to park half a kilometre from the village! But it’s such a perfect place that the list of requirements has been happily forgotten. The location is spectacularly beautiful and remote but still the nearest village with amenities is only 15 minutes away by car, the nearest city less than an hour. We are an hour and a quarter from the airport, from surf beaches and from a little ski area. Hiking is right on the doorstep since we’re 810m up a 1,600m mountain. Climbing and canoeing places are also plentiful. Not that we’ll have time for outdoor activities whilst we’re making our off-grid house liveable and planting a food forest!

One of the deciding factors is that Tarje and Signe bought the other house in the village. They have changed the whole feel of the place – it’s not an isolated abandoned village any more, but the makings of a community.

We can’t wait to get started on everything! The house is basically some stone walls with a timber frame and tiles on top. So it needs re-roofing, insulating, and everything that we want to have inside it needs to be added – stairs, internal walls, windows, kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, heating, off-grid plumbing and electrics. I think we’ve got our work cut out next summer!

This winter we’re continuing to live in an apartment at Richard and Suzanne’s place. We’re helping them with some winter jobs and in our spare time are planning what we want to do at the house. We will be spending odd weekends over at the new house to do a few jobs but there is only so much we can do before the weather gets more predictably nice. We were there last week and spent two nights camping inside the house inside a tent because the roof leaks! It was raining the entire time except when it stopped raining to snow a little. And it was freeeeezing! Maybe a wood burner is one of the first things to install, after a composting toilet.

So there we are. We started our married life this year camping in the wintery chill of early March, cooking porridge on a camping stove in the frosty Highlands. And we’re ending the year in much the same way except this time outside our own little house in the highlands of Asturias. I feel like it’s where we were destined to end up. And with that sentence, our lives as off-grid hippies may have already begun.

-Anna

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Our future house

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View from our field above the house (closest roof is ours, furthest the Danes’ house)

Autumn update

It certainly isn’t summer any more! The sun comes up at 9:15 and it’s dark by 6:30pm. The forest is a mixture of autumnal deciduous trees and evergreen oaks scattered in their yellow confetti.

In spite of the chill in the air, only this week have we eaten the last of our ripe tomatoes, chillies, melons and baby courgettes from the garden – not bad going for mid November.

Most of the vegetable patch is bare and sad-looking now. I have planted some winter stuff but we’ve had a few unseasonable frosts that are hampering success.

Even though the garden is almost empty there’s lots of work to be done. Dave has been glued to his computer the last few weeks doing consultancy work so I’ve been enjoying free rein in the garden, experimenting with techniques I’ve read about. I’ve been pulling up old plants, mulching the vegetable beds, feeding the compost heap and dealing with the produce – drying chillies, onions and nuts, curing pumpkins, making apple sauce and preserves. I’ve spent all day today making 3kg of chutney (although that did also involve a trip to the shops and a broken down car).

We were away in the UK for a month and we’ve been back for a month and our car is still at the garage where we left it. The plan was for it to get registered in Spain, but so far that’s not working out very speedily. In the meantime we are borrowing an old Seat from the garage with incredible fuel economy, so we can’t really complain. Except that it is also back in the garage having been towed away this afternoon because it wouldn’t start.

If we have a car again by Tuesday we will be heading back to Asturias for our third viewing of a property that… we totally want to buy! If all goes well and we pay the deposit, I will excitedly tell you all about it! Watch this space…

– Anna