mud larking


when woody went off on his new adventure, I stopped walking, I’d been walking dogs for 22 years, everyday and whilst I welcomed the break, I was also utterly bereft, the dogs had often been my anchor point and salvation, and at times it was tiresome to have to walk them twice a day in rain or shine but they were true companions, all of them and Woody, being the last remaining member of my little family was incredibly hard to let go, walking without him seemed so utterly awful, I just couldn’t do it….it felt so totally weird walking without a dog. It felt futile, pointless and very upsetting, so I didn’t do it

I had already decided in Italy that I was going to take the rest of the year off, after all the Rick death stuff and renovations and adoption of Woody, I felt I needed a break from it all (in fact when I think about it, I hadn’t really had a holiday for over 12 years. I know that some people think when you move abroad you’re permanently on holiday and that’s as maybe if you haven’t got a house to build, but up until 2017 we had been building non-stop for years and then what with the fire and everything, life hadn’t exactly been a bowl of cherries), so, with the sudden passing of my mum and having to come back to the UK, I needed to do something else, limited by COVID I decided to bite the bullet and walk, I bought a coat and some boots and found an old map

I set myself little targets and then big ones until eventually I’d walked quite a lot of the Essex coastline

there’s something about this landscape that’s very alluring and compelling, it’s raw and ancient, it’s wild and rough, it’s quiet and often very still and then at times it’s noisy and very busy

walking these lands has helped me come to terms with all of my losses last year, it’s been less about scavenging in the mud and more about dropping something off, I have mumbled, shouted, laughed, cried and sung my way around, i’ve stopped to talk to anyone that will listen (such a novelty to be able to speak English), I’ve had conversations with birds, I’ve had conversations with bits of dead birds, and of course conversations with dead people, I’ve asked questions and asked for forgiveness, I’ve stomped and plodded, I’ve marched and I’ve slipped, I’ve sat and just been

some of my walks were walks that I’d been on with Rick and our dogs, so there was something very familiar about them and sometimes they were quite upsetting but then I moved into new territory and things began to shift. When I finally made it out to St Peters Chapel, my destination, I touched the walls of the chapel, said goodbye, turned round and left, I think I’d reached my destination before I’d got there, I’d got what I needed on the way round

Mourning is always complicated it’s not a straight forward process, we get hurled about in a tumble drier of regret, remorse, good memories, bad memories, memories that come back, other memories hiding, like a faded photograph that have lost their edges, you can vaguely recall things but it’s somehow stuck in time, irretrievable….all of this swirls around, at times there are moments of peace, when the machine stops and then everything starts again, going round and round, one way then the other, thoughts falling on top of each other, everything getting tangled up, shrunk and ruined and murky

there are moments in the peace when things drop into place, realisations, understandings, none of which are possible during someone’s life, it seems that only after someone you deeply cared about has passed away, in between the tears and the confusion, this is when those moments occur and that is the shitty thing about death. I would have liked to have the clarity I have now about my husband and my mother, because I could right some wrongs and just let all the other stuff go, I just wish, like hindsight that we could have those understandings when those people are still alive…….it’s almost like their last gift to us, the parting of them allows us to understand something that is bigger than us, something that is stifled by us, something that we humans do not seem to have got the hang of at all

somewhere between the glistening endless mud and the huge open skies, out there with the ancient winkle and oyster beds

in amongst the shipwrecks and lost souls, tucked away for all eternity, washing in and out with every tide, backwards and forwards in a never ending cycle of life and death, lies my grief

death bed

with the sudden and shocking passing of my mother, discovered yesterday, I woke early, having had a fitful night, I no longer know where to put all this grief, I have finally given up trying to make sense of anything and am just somehow floating through the day in a weird haze

So as soon as dawn broke

I wanted to do something special, I decided to finish the last raised bed I had made

I topped it off with old ceramic bricks that came from my roof, I dug it over, I watered it, I scattered some of Rick’s ashes in there, with every allium bulb I planted I thought of both my mum and my husband, I know it may seem macabre but I have lovingly called it my death bed

When I went back a few hours later there were two tiny pale blue butterflies playing above it, so magical, so special, blue was my mum’s favourite colour in the garden (and mine)


one lost, two gained

two amazing things have happened since Rick’s death

One is Peach

And the other is Dave

Peach was a very old friend of Rick’s, not always in his life, but he was at the end, they talked about bikes

Dave is a very old friend of mine, having spent some of our youth together, he was also very close to Rick, they worked together when Rick and I first met, they canoed a lot together

When Rick died they both made contact with me

They have both done something that you could only wish for, they have both stepped up to the plate, they have done what any self respecting man would do, they’ve pulled out all the stops to help me sort myself out in the most practical of ways

Peach supported me on-line through the building of the garden, always there to support me and advise me and encourage me forwards. He gave me a huge amount of his skilled time whilst I was in the UK to sort out my rental recently, he completely re-decorated the house, inside and out

arriving every morning with a huge hug, telling me stories, making me laugh and leaving with a huge hug at night. He will be a friend for life

Dave converted a van and left the UK after lock-down to come and dog sit whilst I went back to the UK

I hadn’t seen or spoken to Dave for nearly 20 years and from the moment he arrived, it was as if we’d only seen each other yesterday, we have both had a very difficult few years with little to laugh about, Dave has made me laugh so much I have nearly wet myself several times and that is what it is all about……….being with someone that can lift your spirits so high that you forget everything shitty and nearly wetting yourself with laughter is the ultimate goal in my opinion……

Dave’s other goal in coming to Italy other than cheering me up, was to get me ready for winter

he rebuilt my hearth and we got the wood burner in

He chopped all my firewood

the only safety boots available were Rick’s old motocross boots, Dave had to wear his slippers inside the boots to make them fit!!!

Dave taught me how to use tools properly, we made an apple crate kitchen

Dave stayed longer than anticipated because he wanted to see Woody off and hold my hand as he went

Dave left this morning having made new friends here in Italy, he had a great time, I learnt a lot about many things and have had my spirits restored

I now have two brilliant men in my life, if Rick’s death has an upside, this is it……..

Woody’s big adventure

Those of you that know me, know that I always took my dog responsibilities very seriously, often too seriously, particularly at the end of my dog Blossom’s life, everything was put on hold, partly because the vet refused to put her down, I might add, it took me a year to convince him that she was not well, but at the ripe old age of 16, she’d had a good innings and it was a natural process of her life to then depart

Woody, however has posed some very very difficult questions for me, he is half way through his life, he’s already had a very blessed and amazing life

when I came back to Italy, Woody was a bit of a mess to be honest, Rick had spoilt him rotten which had in turn, sent him a bit crazy, he was anxious all the time, chewing his bed and himself, not to mention the incredibly strong prey drive that was a natural part of Woody’s personality but had also been a bit too encouraged by Rick

Walking Woody here in Italy had become a twice daily terrifying ordeal for me, constantly chasing anything and everything that dared move, getting him just from the house to the truck was a major event, god forbid if there were any cats around, not to mention the badgers at night…..I was in constant of fear of him being shot by hunters, resorting to making him a ridiculous hi-vis vest

my nerves were at the end of their tether most of the time, as things got sorted with Rick, I calmed down, Woody calmed down, we developed a good routine, he had his boundaries back, he got castrated, he calmed down a bit more

I felt terrible about the life he had, it was never our intention to just live in a village house, it was just going to be a stop gap, but as you know things didn’t work that way, so Woody and I got on with our little life, two walks a day and the rest of the time he was stuck in the house, whilst he seemed content enough, I didn’t

I thought long and hard about my decision to have Woody adopted, but didn’t want him adopted in Italy

I found a charity that re-homes Woody’s breed in the UK, they mostly rescue stray and abandoned dogs from around Europe, Woody’s case was different, he had a history, he’d had a loving home, I eventually plucked up the courage to make contact and lo and behold, a lot quicker than I expected, Woody was wanted back in the UK…..

So today, we all got up at 3am and drove to Potenza (the other side of the country), Woody is now on his way to a new home, a home where he will be loved and cared for, given all the space he needs and can live out the next bit of his life in relative safety

It’s been excruciating for me on so many levels, it’s possibly the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make, but I know it’s the right thing to do, for him and for me

it is the end of my whole life with Rick, Woody was the last part, I don’t know what is next, all I know is that there must be a reason for this, it’s just not clear what it is yet

Go forth my dear sweet, loyal friend and bless your little dog heart

a proper english farewell

I took Rick back to his mum via Ryanair, who, despite my sheer panic at taking the ashes out of the country he loved, taking him on a plane (which he hated) and worrying that they would be confiscated, were amazing, once on the plane, I sat patiently with my mask on, with Rick on the floor, when the stewardess asked for a volunteer to sit in the emergency exit, I jumped at the chance to get away from everyone and said, “yes, I’ll come, with my husband” she looked at the empty seat next to me and asked where my husband was “in my bag” I said, they couldn’t have been nicer and let me have him next to me for the whole journey (apart from take-off and landing)

whilst in the UK we had fish and chips on the first table he ever made

I took him to the first house he built

I took him to my friends garden

and put him in a tree

I said some nice things

“Something that saddened me the most about his death, wasn’t just that he died alone with his dog but that he never really knew how much he was loved and admired, the love that he has received in his passing has been overwhelming not just a great support to me but also a testament to how he had touched everyone’s lives, everybody that he ever encountered

He was a brilliant man, with a brilliant mind, I’ve never met anyone as bright as him and it was a great honour to not just have shared 24 years with him but to have achieved some great things and been a part of that, we made a great team but we also made a terrible team

The thing about brilliance is that whilst it is an incredible thing to experience it is also a difficult thing to live with for the brilliant person and the people around them. There is a limit to how brightly you can shine and rick had reached his limit

Things don’t always make sense and we can’t always know what the bigger picture is, despite not believing in god I do have faith of another kind and I know that he is not just at peace he was called away to be brilliant elsewhere”

His friends came and said farewell, Daniela sang and we ate cakes, we drank tea, we talked and reminisced and laughed alot and talked some more and ate some more cake

he would have loved it

all screwed up

as you know i came back to Italy in a bit of a hurry and whilst I had an awful lot on my plate, it was also incredibly cold and wet and the roof leaked, three things I knew I needed to do before this coming winter was to get the roof replaced, get new windows and doors and get a wood burner installed

I knew, whilst sitting in my tiny cold house during lockdown (crazily writing on the bread oven)

with little to do other than sort the Rick mess out and make a garden, if I didn’t make these things happen nobody else would. So I started hassling people, I got planning permission, it was approved. I hassled a window company and made them commit to coming out as soon as lock down was lifted. I lined up a builder to do the roof, along with everything else, this was a monumental undertaking

I felt that whilst we were all in a state of panic the world didn’t necessarily need to stop and my persistence has paid off

the window men came

the roof man came

I can’t write about this in a particularly interesting or witty way, so I’ll just tell it how it is

My roof is co-joined with my neighbour which meant that we had to do both roofs at the same time and I always knew that until the tiles were off we wouldn’t know what was going on under there and as is the way with these things there was an awful lot going on under the tiles, mostly on my side of the roof!!!!

turns out my house is falling down, the back of the roof beams where it meets the gable had rotten and because of this it had let in an awful lot of water over the years which has ruined the tops of the walls and probably led to the whole house leaning over and leaning forwards…..whose to say the house hadn’t moved first and this then led to the beams rotting, it doesn’t really matter how it happened, fact is it did

the walls were reinforced

and cemented, all the back beams were replaced

thjs, it turns out was a lot easier to remedy than the vaulted ceiling…..

the vaulted ceilings are quite fragile and my back room ceiling had developed a very large crack (possibly due to all the water ingress and heaving) and this it turns out is a very expensive and time consuming thing to fix

several consultants later we bought some very expensive products, the whole dome needed cleaning firstthen pinning

then the gulley’s were coated with a special reinforcing product and a giant incredibly expensive hairnet put over the whole thing and the pins pulled through the net

and then the first coat of expensive product went on top of the hairnet

and then more expensive products over the top of that

this took over a week to remedy and of course it rained, which meant at the end of some of the incredibly hot and humid days, dripping in sweat and fighting off swarms of wasps, the whole thing had to be covered in before the work day ended
instead of putting the very ancient and beautiful ceramic bricks back on the back roof, t and g was used, then two layers of felt and the tiles back on

we then needed to screw the house up, i still need two or three tie rods, but the first two were put in, one through the roof area into the neighbours house

the second screw wouldn’t go through the the back of the house within the roof structure because the back end of the house does not match up with the front end, it had to go through my bedroom and back room

the project over-ran by 2 extra weeks and has cost three times what I expected, it hasn’t rained since but I am pretty sure the roof is water tight and the house won’t fall down yet

my fireplace is nearly ready and steel has been ordered, the flue hasn’t gone in but am confident with a little bit more persistence these things will be done before the bad weather arrives


counting blessings

I left my bubble this weekend, which was terrifying and necessary

I went to Tuscany to visit some very dear friends, I ate some amazing food

walked miles, talked the hind legs off several donkeys, hugged friends and strangers, basked in the sun, admired the amazing views

we took part in an online “how to make gnocchi” course

which was bloody funny and utterly disastrous, but Bella pulled it out the bag at the end and turned the whole thing into a delicious omelette (minus the snotty gnocchi)

whilst sitting on top of a mountain with a group of strangers, amongst the stones and earth, listening to an explanation of the how’s and why’s of grafting grapes and the necessity to grow bio-dynamically and the vision one man has for the future of wine

I realised that the dreams we have for our own futures are not always logical or even sensible but what is clear is if we are honest with ourselves we can do the most extraordinary things…….this is something that I most admired about Rick and his crazy idea’s

seemingly coming out of nowhere and to anyone else completely impossible and bonkers, but with the right amount of determination, anything is possible, because when we focus and follow our hearts, there is an energy that becomes available to us that is not something we can control, it comes from elsewhere….

After many conversations about death and life and the after life and what happens to us when we leave, I do know that all of us are connected to everything, we are everywhere and the longer we disconnect ourselves from each other and nature the worse it will become

so, get out there, get your hands dirty, do something that terrifies you, hug a stranger, eat something you have never eaten before, have a dream that is beyond you’re wildest fantasy, do something for someone with no strings attached, give stuff away, be grateful for everything you have and above all, just try to be nice to each other because you just never know what is going to happen and how much you might wish you had done things differently……….

raising hopes and beds

The original garden was a useable space but with terrible soil and a bit of a slope towards the road with a cedar at the end, the tree blocked the view from the balcony upstairs and it was hanging on the main electricity cable for the whole street, so it had to come down

Rick got the saw mill out and sliced it up with the idea that it would be used for stairs in the house..unfortunately with his passing that is not going to happen so I am gifting it to a friend who is going to make some furniture with it

Rick had started the raised bed project after I left, dug foundations, moved a lot of heavy clay and started some of the block work

I was totally overwhelmed when I arrived back, and kept looking at all the sacks of sand and stone and the unfinished raised beds (which sort of resembled giant graves) and mountains of clay in the garden and just couldn’t contemplate doing any of it, let alone completing it

having gone through an enormous range of emotions relating to Rick’s death, I’ve now had a moment to breathe and evaluate my situation, I have decided that Italy will be where I stay for the time being, after all I bought this house because I loved it, it’s where all my things are, it’s where I last shared a meal with Rick and for a brief moment it was the place that gave us both hope for the future, a common goal and a roof over our heads……

With a lot of encouragement from new friends and old, I decided to finish the project myself, I know I lived with a builder for 24 years but I never did any actual building, but I thought, how hard can it be????

I finished bed 2

I needed to cut some of the blocks but am terrified of spinning blades and electricity, it took me a few days of various consultations with men friends, some plucking up of courage and remembering what Rick would say…….Just do it Doris….I did

With bed 2 finished, I decided to waterproof the insides of the beds, and then back fill with various bits of hardcore lying around, including the old toilet and sink, prunings, ash from the fire, manure from a friend and the soil that had come out of the foundations and some bought compost

I levelled off the area between both the beds and made some steps. I used some of Rick’s old burnt chisels and files as supports, got rid of a bag of gone off cement, mixed with sand and the last of the stones

I had to put an extra course on half of bed one, because the ground level at the front of the bed was the same height as the bed and it looked all wrong…

new back bit - 1
A friend donated some lovely old bricks for me to finish off the tops of both beds

The foundations were already in for the third raised bed and just about enough blocks for 3 courses, so I did that too

I painted everything white, planted all the plants I’d been growing in my tiny propogator, sowed a lot of seed

laid a very wonky beginnings of a patio with some other found bricks

bought some bark chippings

and today I have picked my first radish…..

I have to say without sounding too boasty I am rather pleased with myself, I had a vision, Rick saw it too he started it, I am finishing it

Even with him gone, we still make a good team

I look like a midget but I'm not, he was very big
(Photo taken in 2009 after first potato harvest in Portugal)

I’ve got my zest(er) back

I’m in Italy, in a tiny house with a tiny garden, in the middle of a tiny village, surrounded by stunning countryside, friendly people and delicisousness in the bushes and in the shops (when we are allowed to go to them)!!!

I’ve started replacing all the wonderful things I had, one thing that I was very upset about was the loss of my microplane, I know it’s easy to replace, but it wasn’t just about replacing things and filling my life up again

I had been fundamentally changed by the fire, so I didn’t really want to cook much anymore, I did kind of get into it last autumn, when we arrived in Italy and spent days foraging and making sloe cheese, quince everything and figgy stuff

which I loved, but then I lost the desire again with the breakdown of my marriage and the subsequent, sudden death of my husband…….

I’ve been in Italy since lockdown, organising what has fondly become known as “Italy death bollox” and whilst I was appreciating being here, in a remote and beautiful country, I still had no desire to cook much. let alone forage………

It’s been a long time since I lived anywhere where there were any hedgerows, and it’s a wonderful thing, there’s so much diversity here, you don’t even have to look very hard, you just have to have the right eyes in, a bit like mushroom hunting, once you tune into your environment a multitude of abundance reveals itself…..

What’s nice about foraging is the chance to just stop and admire what is growing out there, the countryside is rife with life, identifying it and making it into something is therapeutic not to mention practical, what’s even better is that when you crack open a jar of something, from whatever season it came from, you are instantly reminded of that time, the picking of it, the light, the sounds, the winding down of the days, the changing of the seasons, this is one of the most evocative things about growing, preserving and making, it’s a reminder that the simple things are the best, it’s the time that you were most calm and happy and grateful, to just be with nature and give thanks by turning her gifts into a culinary delight, elderflower cordial heralds the beginning of a new season for me, a season of abundance, after the quiet time of winter in the hedgerows, it’s a new start, a fresh start with a fresh drink to whet the appetite and forge ahead with a new strength and vigour and determination…… we go again!!!

the next chapter

the time has come to move on……the farm, which was our home, is now up for sale.

this magical place has been here for us to restore our spirits in the wake of such tragedy, but now it needs some fresh hands and fresh hearts

We are hoping that the new caretakers will love it as much as we have and see all the potential it has to offer

The farm is made up of 3.5 hectares in total, consisting of 3 flat meadows, pine forest, chestnut woodland, 2 olive groves (more than 80 olive trees), a river, spring head and levada system, 100m bore hole and water mine, and a 100+sqm registered building plot

In the meadows, we variously planted all the things that went to towards our self sufficient life, some of them in large quantities like potatoes, wheat, corn, onions and garlic, squashes and soya beans just to name a few.

Where once our house stood, is a registered 100+sqm footprint building plot, with access from the tarmac roadThe building site on the farm is south facing making it perfect for solar gain, we previously had solar power and a solar water set up

The meadows are planted with fruit trees (plum, apple, cherry, peach, pomegranate and almonds), there are some very old fig trees dotted around, a nespera and a persimmon

The top fruit orchard is planted with loganberries and tayberries, all the meadows are also planted with a mixture of black locust, oaks and elder

The middle meadow is an established garden with herbs, comfrey, perennials and more fruit trees and kiwis, there is easy access down to the meadows either via slopes for machinery or steps

The woodlands, and pine forest (which once provided the main material for the construction of the house) and the olives all suffered from the fires in 2017, they are all coming back, the olives have been carefully pruned and looked after and are thriving, they will produce oil in a couple of years. although, the forest and woodland are returning, they are ripe for a permaculture/re-forestation project

The farm comes with a ready to move in to, newly decorated caravan, it easily sleeps 2 people. it has an oven and gas hob and gas fridge, lots of worktops and a tonne of cupboard space. a lounge area with table, lots of windows, all powered by it’s own solar system which is included in the price, we will also donate two extra solar panels and a hot water solar panel

the outdoor space around the caravan has an outdoor sink area and an outdoor camp style bathroom. the farm comes with 2 IBC tanks and a pump and control box for the borehole

There is a small newly built battery house, for the solar system and storage

The farm is in a very quiet valley, on a tarmac road with easy access to the caravan/building site. Mains water has recently been piped in along the road and will be turned on in 2020, a small request to the local council will allow you to have access to mains water, once it has been turned on.

The village of Benfeita (which has just received it’s green flag as an eco village) is a 5 minute walk away with it’s wonderful river beach and cafe, post office and shop, not to mention the thriving community of young and industrious people

The nearest town is Coja, which has a school, medical centre, shops, bank and a post office, it is a 10 minute drive away, it has a monthly market and a river beach and laundarette….and a lot of other events throughout the year, the bigger towns of Arganil, Tabua and Oliveira do Hospital are all 30-40 minutes away, Coimbra, with train connections to major cities is 45 minutes away. the nearest airports are Lisbon and Porto, both 2+ hours drive away.

Feel free to peruse the blog, that shows our whole adventure here from start to finish, it’s been an amazing journey

the farm is for sale for €55,000

if you are interested in the farm, please feel free to email me with questions