Everything we’ve done in our first nine months

One of our biggest videos ever!

This video is one of our biggest projects ever, documenting and looking back over our first nine months in Portugal, and sharing the journey through a timelapse. It was a monster to put together but we loved it, it gave us some incredible perspective on how much progress we have made and how much fun we have had uncovering the magic of this special place we get to call the home. So, this is the story so far – with still so much to come! 

We arrived for our first proper stint on our farm in May of 2022, with a 15 month old toddler and absolutely no real idea of what we’d bought. We knew we had four main buildings on the farm, one of which was in very poor condition, one was not derelict, but definitely not liveable, and one just needed a jolly good clean! Lastly, of course, was what we thought was a garage, the now Not-Garage, locally known as an ‘adega’ and traditionally used to make wine.

So just how did we get going on this exciting project?

It all began with a clean!

Everything starts with a good clean. The previous owners had left everything behind, and there were all sorts of treasures (and trash) for us to sort through in the cupboards. We had to get really down and dirty to peel back the years, but it was an exciting process seeing everything emerge from years of dirt and neglect. 

Our son Crusoe’s obsession and love of helping his dad started here, and with breaks from the work sweetened by oranges from our very own trees, we started to feel like we’d stumbled upon something very special indeed.

Once the houses had been cleared, it was time to start on the land…

Looking back now, it’s almost unbelievable to think how much of our property we didn’t even know we had. Bamboo had completely taken over huge sections of the property, hiding boulders, views and old staircases that were such a surprise to uncover. 

It was around this time when we started to get to know a few of our neighbours, and we quickly realised how we desperately needed help. The Portuguese people have got to be some of the most generous, kind and willing we’ve ever come across and it wasn’t long before we had some seriously hard-working folk lending us a hand. 

Planning our projects

Once we could see what we had to work with, it was time for us to start dreaming up projects to sink our teeth into. 

We decided to start with small projects and ease ourselves into our new lifestyle as gently as possible. We also didn’t want to make drastic changes to the farm and space until we knew it better and had a better understanding of what we had to work with and how the rhythm of the seasons moved around us. We also knew we had something of a limited timeframe, with our second son on the horizon, and the Schengen 90-day limit still an issue, we didn’t want to get started on anything too major in those first three months, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t still plenty to be getting on with! 

The not garage had revealed itself to be a real treasure trove of all sorts, and one of the first projects we decided to do was to try our hand at some creative up-cycling. 

John took to crafting a table from the old wine press, which was stained from years of pressing grapes, it’s now a place where we gather as a family, carrying memories of families before us, and making our own. 

Next on the agenda, we started working on the idea of having our dream of an outdoor bathroom, and the first part of that was to install a shower with a bamboo screen made from the bamboo collected during the clearing of the farm. The shower was worth every moment of the build when we were able to use it in the hot summer months! Bliss.

Summer fruits

As the summer wore on, we watched with absolute delight as our fruit trees started to come to life and realised just how much Crusoe really loved fruit. 

Before long, it was time for our first ever harvest! Our plum trees were laden with fruit, and I tried my hand at turning some of them into chutney – a skill that’ll definitely need some work, and will no doubt get lots of practice this coming year. 

The green grass of home

One of John’s most ambitious projects to date was to turn one of our terraces into a lawn that the children could use to play and where we could make a base for family life. 

This, of course, was no ordinary lawn project, we started with a tractor who tilled the land for us and revealed just how extensive our bamboo problem was. John then painstakingly trudged every single inch of the entire field, stomping it as flat as he could with nothing more than his own two feet. Once the field was flattened, and void of as much bamboo as we could find, we raked It down, and began to seed it.

Looking back at how much hard work went into our beautiful lawn – it makes enjoying it so much sweeter. 

A swimming pool...with a couch in it!

The summer brought a massive heat wave to Portugal and most of Europe and we also had our first visitors in the form of my cousins from South Africa.

Having extra hands around the farm was incredible, and John was able to indulge in yet another one of his more ambitious (and did someone say crazy?!) projects.

In the top terrace of our farm was a huge old reservoir, and we had our eye on it to create a pool. But, in typical Newby fashion this wouldn’t be any old pool. John decided it needed a couch in it – yes, you heard that right, a couch. 

With the help of our wonderful visitors, before we knew it, we had our very own pool to cool off in during the hot days.

Bringing home the baby

With baby number 2 due, it was time to head back to the UK for three months to sort out John’s D7 visa which was granted in early October, and to have our second son Sawyer, he joined us on the 23rd of September, and he’s made our family feel complete. 

We arrived back at the farm in early November, and it was far from sunshine and roses. In fact, there was hardly any sunshine at all. Relentless record-breaking rainfall battered Portugal for weeks, but despite an awful lot of water falling from the sky, we had returned to a depleted spring and no water on the farm. 

The boys and I moved off the farm into our friend’s house up the road, and we faced our most challenging weeks with a new baby and a huge building project as John worked on making the house, well – liveable.

Our kitchen of dreams

In our home itself the walls came down and John was keen to let his carpentry creativity flow and started on building us a kitchen, with nothing more than a handsaw! 

The results are absolutely beautiful, and we couldn’t be happier with the little space we call home.

Back to nature

Now that we’re finally settled into our little house, our attention has turned back to the land. 

We cleared away the last of the brambles that had strangled our old vines, clearing a field ready for vegetables, pruning the old trees in the orchard ready for the season ahead, and working on moving water around the farm to all of the lower terraces. 

We have tried to focus on projects that would remind us of the beauty of the life we were building. Harvesting our first olives and pressing our first oil was a huge moment…We did also have a pretty disastrous first attempt at wine making! 

There is a never-ending list of things to do, and we’re doing as much as we can ourselves, but also asking for the help of our incredible community as often as we can too. After all, they’re the experts and we have a lot to learn.

A New Year dawns

The non-stop rain over the winter had been hard to handle but it had replenished the spring and water was flowing once more. 

It was time to begin preparing the “food” area of the farm, our vegetable garden began to take shape with another visitor from a local tractor driver, and we began planting fruit trees of all varieties around the farm. 

We also spent a lot of time in our established orchard, pruning back trees that haven’t had any attention in almost two decades. We’ll see if our work will yield more this year. 

When we first moved in, with the land being so overgrown, and the previous owners’ things still in situ, we sort of felt like we had inherited someone else’s place. A final day of serious work from some industrious neighbours helped us to correct that, cleaning back the last of the brambles, and revealing all of our grape stands – we’re now preparing to replant vines, so we can make our own wine.

Looking ahead

With our little house now complete, furnished with all the trinkets and treasures we’ve collected from our travels around the world… the farm is truly feeling like home. 

We have a big year ahead; we’ve started to sow our first vegetables and look forward to harvesting our first home grown food this year. 

We have lots of friends and guests visiting and so John has been hard at work creating a tiny house for people to stay in… 

Our ultimate goal is for our property to be completely off-grid, and for us to be as self-sufficient as we possibly can be, so we are also starting to think about how to establish a solar system big enough to take us off the mains electric grid. There’s a long road ahead, but we’re super excited for the journey, and would love to have you along for the ride with us.

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