Trading trad skills

Trip Start Nov 27, 2009
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Portugal  , Lisbon,
Wednesday, February 24, 2010

We saw an ad on the helpex network for help wanted at a traditional skills course centre.  It is only just being set up but the ambition is to focus on creating a self-sustainable farm with an emphasis on using older historical techniques, neolithic, iron age, medieval etc as well as historical handicraft and associated skills.  We got quite excited and signed up immediately for two weeks to help prepare the land.

On our way up to the project, which is near Portugal's capital Lisboa, we stopped for a night near the beach at Melides. We witnessed some wonderful churning waves (West Coast again, it's true what they say about the wind) and Laura got very excited by an explosion of May Bugs in the surrounding heathland.
 We arrived at our new host's the next day. As it is the start of the project and we are the first helpers, we got the hard landscaping job.  Veronica is developing a renaissance food producing garden. Our primary tasks were to dig pits in the water logged clay soil where leaf litter, good soil and manure would be heaped as well as build a fence to keep the planned animals out of the veg plot.   The digging became easier as the rain eased off towards the end of our stay when the clay stuck less to our shovels and feet!  We gathered a lot of eucalyptus branches to weave into fences.  We've been told that the introduction of eucalyptus to Portugal as a cash crop is not favoured by anyone with an interest in the environment as the trees kill all competing plantlife and all undergrowth, pose a major fire hazard with volatile oils and they drink the ground dry.  After several days of carting limbs we experimented with the tightly woven compost container.  Then more collections and chopping stakes ensued before pounding the fence posts into the ground. For Laura's birthday, we wove the first fence!  It was all trial and error to find the right balance, but we we were very happy with the final result that contains nothing but eucalyptus. There is even an archway bound with eucalyptus bark lashings. We were glad to find a use for waste that poisons the ground to much of the native species.

On truly appalling weather days, we were asked to carve spoons for the medieval cooking course and nalbinding needles - a Scandinavian way of knitting but with knots rather than loops so the finished fabric doesn't ladder or hole when a thread is broken. See for the basic stitch. You know you want to!

We spent a day exploring Lisboa (Lisbon), arriving just as the commuters started. Set on a few hills, Lisboa is up and down for walking, and has three funiculars on the steepest ascents. Grid patterned, broad wide streets built after the turn of the 20th century are just a short walk away from the wandering old town on the hillside with narrow lanes of steps between tilted houses.  



The old tram network is still in use, hosting both modern and quaint trolleys. And, in keeping with all Portuguese settlements, there are at least three churches for every family in the province.  There are tons of photos so less words!

Near Europe's most western point, (visited, tick in tourist destinations check sheet), we had a gawp at Sintra, a UNESCO world heritage site for it's cultural landscape.  
The valley is stuffed full of bizarre architecture, each designer out doing the last with stone ornamentation, spires, turrets, battlements, gargoyles, romantic ruins etc.  
There's an old Moorish fort that you could pay 15 to go in, or you could explore the woodland locally and, oops, find you'd just descended into the grounds (was that a wall we climbed down, officer?). Unfortunately (perhaps fortunately for our readers) the camera battery died during our exploration, so no pictures of our accidental transgression....

We had a really interesting couple of weeks with Veronica and her partner, helping get things started for the course centre. We wish them luck, and if you're interested in traditional skills or would like to do an early singing course check out

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Debbie on

Oh the envy I feel when I read about your adventures - the rewards are high and I just feel so sanguine reading about your world!
I am so not able to get used to the idea of Alex with long hair though....will it be plaits soon then?
Life goes on here in Blighty. Work is pretty yuch due to immense change, child is adorable, partner is a man and thus hard work, but Paris on Tuesday :)
Be safe dear friends x

Lara on

This is very cool. I like the look of the arts centre and want very much to do an early singing course! You two look very happy executing plan hippy with great aplomb!
Choir going well, i'm moving to bournville lane next week so i'll be able to walk to work (and rollerskate once I find the courage to take my skating beyond the alley at the back of my house)

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