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Walk on the wild side


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Teacher, Paul McKay, left London to live a self-sufficient existence in the Monchique hills with his partner Martyn. He keeps an assortment of animals and grows a variety of crops in an eco-friendly way – all on a limited income.

Wednesday October 3

After an early morning start I met a friend, Dean, at Tasca do Petrol at Gralhos ready for energetic day walking in the Monchique hills. The route, although not scrupulously planned, had been patched together from previous walks and roads I had vague memories of having driven down sometime in the distant past.

The route we took began quite steeply and then settled into a gentle climb, hugging the hillside and giving fantastic views down to the coast. After an hour or so, we reached a point where an ambiguous track shot off to the left, which seemed to be heading towards the new wind turbines.

We risked this route and after an encounter with some excitable terriers, the track settled into a rocky pathway meandering above the pines with open views to the west. We left this pathway for a less-trodden path that passed a deserted ruin standing some 20 metres below the turbines.

It is interesting looking at these sturdy old ruins, solid granite carved into the mountain, and trying to imagine the generations who had previously managed to scrape a meagre living from the poor soil and harsh conditions. Where were the family now? When and why had they made the momentous decision to desert the family home?

We climbed the steep rocky path above the ruin to stand beneath one of the five turbines as its sails spun majestically overhead. It seemed strange in such a peaceful setting that these graceful machines producing clean energy could be the subject of so much controversy.

Finally we reached our destination, the fire watch tower at Madrinha. Dean, not usually the nervy type, was a little apprehensive to climb at first. I assumed his reluctance was due to the worrying rattling sound emanating from the rickety metal structure as it swayed in the wind. Not so. Apparently, his disinclination was due to his last encounter at a fire watch tower, which had taken place a few weeks earlier at the peak of Picota.

He and his fellow hiker, Teresa, had had an enjoyable ‘people free’ stroll to the top and had been looking appreciatively around them at the 360 degree panoramic views. They had just set foot on the bottom rung of the ladder, climbing to the fire watch tower when a flushed head popped out of the window and shouted Bom dia.

Realising they were English, the flushed head continued talking animatedly, a bizarre conversation in English about all manner of things such as the serenity of the serra and the optimo weather for the time of year.

Confused but undeterred, Dean and Teresa climbed the ladder to arrive at the hut and come face to face with the lady in question. They arrived at the entrance just as flushed head and her embarrassed partner hastily buckled, zipped and tucked in everything in order to appear decent.

The blushing faces, heat of the hut and frantic buttoning left no confusion as to what had been taking place. Neither Dean nor Teresa knew what to say so maintained the superficial chit-chat as flushed head and her accomplice made their excuses and departed.

The climax to our particular walk was far less exciting, the only stimulation being the fantastic views in all directions from the deserted watch tower.

Sunday October 14

Winter is most definitely on the way but somehow the Algarve is still chucking out one sunny day after another. All is go here on the farm as we are racing against time to get some jobs done before the winter rain finally arrives.

Our sow, Eggs, is now heavily pregnant and is demanding two meals a day. Our aim is to re-home her on to a new, fresh terrace with lots of grass, herbs and brambles to munch on. We are finally going to bite the bullet and build her a sturdy brick house to keep her and her piglets warm, once they are born in early December.

The idea at the moment is to build a pig house, a creep warmed by an infrared lamp and a feeding area. This is going to be placed on one of our lower terraces in front of the chickens and we hope this will have the effect of scaring off the mongooses who besiege our chickens and ducks each winter.

Monday October 15

What is the obsession with spa baths? After returning from the mini mamamaratona yesterday (8km in 42 minutes), I had a stroll around the BliP exhibition and was taken aback by the number of stands offering an infinite variety of plastic containers full of fizzy water.

An eager onlooker from another planet may well be forgiven for thinking Algarveans do nothing else other than sit in Jacuzzis all day, perusing an endless supply of glossy leaflets and worrying about private health care plans.

Where were the stands offering state of the art pig sties? Where were the egg incubators, the crop rotation systems and the horse hoeing husbandry? Am I out of touch?

I thought I had done quite well in the mamamaratona and the fun run (dodging leaflet thrusters in the arena) until an earnest young gentleman approached me with the suggestion that I prepay and arrange my funeral now.

I ran out of that place, jumped in the truck, sped up that hill and didn’t breathe easily until I saw civilisation as I know it: an elderly man peeing up a tree with his wife trudging ahead carrying the Monchique handbag and a black bucket full of the day’s harvest.

Sunday October 28

Just when you think you have seen it all, life has a habit of saying ‘You ain’t seen nothing yet’. In Portimão today, we nipped into an innocuous looking café to be confronted by an array of ice cream flavours to wake the dead. Bacalhau com batatas was one, sardine flavour another and a rather fruity caipirinha. If you fancy being daring, the café, called Coromoto on Avenida São João de Deus near the market in Portimão, is well worth a visit.