O ano novo

Milreu, near Estoi: a Roman latifundia from the first century AD until the collapse of the empire, then in more or less continuous use until the middle of the twentieth century

This week we finally visited Milreu, near Estoi, a Roman latifundia from the first century AD until the collapse of the Roman Empire. The estate remained in more or less continuous use until the middle of the twentieth century: hence the relatively modern farmhouse

The mosaics at Milreu were created by highly skilled artists. With this bath filled with water, the fish would appear mobile and natural; without water they look odd

The mosaics at Milreu were created by highly skilled artists. Underwater the fish in this bath would appear mobile and natural; it’s only without water that they look odd

New Year's Eve at Fábrica, near Cacela Velha

The last day of 2015, spent at Fábrica, near Cacela Velha; here and below



The sun setting on 2015

The sun setting on 2015

Our river on 5 January

Our river on 5 January

Gurgling water

Gurgling water


The river has risen and spread. It’s not in full spate yet. My ‘Love’ artwork is submerged; I recently had to replace the ‘L’ but otherwise it’s holding strong. I had never expected it to last more than a day and it’s been there for weeks now. The pre-teens got up early every morning and took themselves down to the river to see how the water level had changed, and to rearrange stones, create new water features and select heart-shapes to add to my collection. The ability of the river to entertain them before breakfast was a boon for slumbering adults.

I, too, spend time by the river most days. Now, after several days of heavy rain, I need to wade through it in waterproof sandals if I’m to get anywhere. It’s not particularly cold. In parts the flow is quite strong and pulls at my ankles; in other parts there’s no discernible movement. If the British government were here, no doubt they’d dredge the river to create a single deep channel that would act as a water chute and flood Tavira.

I have my binoculars on me when I go to the river so I can spy on the small birds: White and Grey Wagtails, Long-tailed Tits, Goldfinches, Stonechats and Corn Buntings are among the most easily seen and recognised right now. We also still have our lonely, piping wader. We can’t get close enough for a clear identification, but it’s sure to be something common. My rule of thumb is that if you aren’t sure what a bird is, it’s going to be the most likely option and not a rarity. In this way I have finally decided that the small, olive-brown birds, yellowish underneath and with a stripe through the eye, which fill the reeds with their energetic activity, are Chiffchaffs: common and widespread. You don’t get the opportunity to focus on them for more than a second or two because they are so busy. The best chance to see them is when they come to our garden to feed on the aloe, currently in flower in full view of our bedroom window. What confused me for a time is that they have a dark mark on the face and whiskery-looking feathers around the beak, but I’ve concluded that this is a temporary feature that comes from dipping into long, tubular flowers.

This week I spotted among the Chiffchaffs in the reeds by the river a group of birds of similar size but much stiller. I focused my binoculars on them and was astounded: a thick, orange-red beak and a bright red pennant over the eye. I’d never seen a bird like that before, neither in the flesh nor on a page. Not in Europe, anyway. They were a little like an African finch. How exciting. I went back up to the house in a hurry.

No such bird in our bird bible. I turned to the ‘extras’ at the back, and there I found it. It’s the Common Waxbill: introduced into the Iberian peninsula from Africa. (It would be interesting to know who by and what for.) And guess what? It’s common and widespread, especially in Portugal where it has got a firm claw-hold. No doubt I’ll see it everywhere now.


Maria called. She wanted first of all to thank us for the Christmas gift. They weren’t there when we dropped by with it so we’d had to hang it from their gate. It included a loaf of Husband’s bread, which she said they very much enjoyed. (Their gift to us was a bag of lemons, a bag of oranges – and their oranges are the sweetest and best – half a dozen eggs from their hens and a plastic bottle of their own olive oil: heavenly.) Then she told me that Estrela had had her puppies – this was much sooner than I expected – and did we want any? We didn’t have to decide immediately but over the next couple of days. No problem if we didn’t want them, they just needed to know.

I was pretty proud of myself for getting through a telephone conversation in Portuguese, even if my side of it was stilted and garbled. Maria’s a smart woman and knows how to speak slowly and clearly for those with comprehension difficulties. But the puppy question . . .

We went to see them. Lordy and Estrela met us at the gate: Lordy barking dutifully but wagging his tail; Estrela, however, yapping like a wild thing. We asked Eleuterio if we could see the puppies. The home their mother had chosen, in spite of efforts to encourage her into something more suitable, was the narrow confines of the brick barbecue. She shot back inside at our approach and now she was silent, as though not to disturb her pups. One by one Eleuterio picked them out and showed them to us, while Estrela snatched at the tiny limbs to get them back. They were all returned and she settled down. ‘You’re sitting on one,’ said E to her, rescuing it. But we’d already decided: we were not going to take a puppy. We realised our roots here aren’t deep enough yet, and a puppy is too great a responsibility for now.


  1. Sue

    Happy New Year Mari and Husband. Thank you for all the wit, wisdom and wonderful pictures. I just hope the blog demands to be written for another year.


    1. Edith (Post author)

      Thank you, Sue. Happy new year to you too. I’m sure I won’t be ready to give up the blog for a while yet. xx

  2. Hazel

    I love the pics of the mosaics — we are big into such so, when we next pop over we’d be keen to visit them! Disapproving frown from Corky at your decision on the current litter of pups — but D and I appreciate your good sense: you’ve saved yourselves vast bags of euros in vet and kennel fees. But it must have been so hard to turn down the little squeaking woodgies. xx

  3. Fiona

    Stunning photographs. Your river sculptures sound very Richard Long!

  4. Madeleine

    Love hearing all your news as always and the photos and history are beautiful and fascinating. Your doggie decision was absolutely right. You know how much I love and adore mine but as you so rightly decided there is a lot to consider. So the sky here is a glorious white/grey and about to put on boots and take out the muttlet. Much love xxxx

  5. fatma

    A dog is a big responsibility, and quite demanding. Better to be certain before embarking on an long term commitment. The way you describe the natural wildlife there, your content of your time spent there, I begin to wonder how you ever survived in London…..

  6. Clare

    I look forward to the day when you know that roots are deep enough and you send your post in Portuguese. (I’d give it a go.) Happy New Year x

  7. Patricia Roberts

    It is such a delight to read your blogs ,what a lovely present from you got from Maria ,your life in Portugal just gets better,Happy New Year to all,love to you.

  8. Janet M



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