When most people dream of escaping the drizzle for a life in sunny Portugal, they normally imagine a villa, a stone’s throw away from the beach and, if it’s a particularly good dream, their own pool. Not many people would opt instead for a hut in the mountains, with lots of actual stones to throw around and their very own pond. But this is exactly what intrepid English couple Bob and Jeanette Chesters decided to do.
I sometimes feel a bit like Ben Fogle in his TV programme ‘New Lives in the Wild’ when I go in search of some of my stories. It was certainly what was springing to mind this time as I turned off the main road just slightly out of Messines and headed down a quiet country road with nobody much to see, except perhaps the odd local tractor driver making his way through what is at the moment a very dry and rugged landscape. I followed my directions carefully until I twisted my way around a dirt track, marvelling at the rather epic view of the surrounding mountains, and came to the top of the hill where I found the house.
Bob and their dog Chester (a somewhat ‘ball obsessed’ Springer Spaniel) came out to greet me. Bob is quite the character and during my visit it became clear that he has done an awful lot of things in his life and trying to keep up as he jumped from here to there was a little tricky.
But I’ll give you the gist. He grew up on a farm and was an electrical engineer and went on to work in defence (there was even mention of “lasers”). And this was just his work life! In his free time, he would organize rallies (his real passion) and was also a dispatch motorbike rider who would zip through the traffic with his “blues and twos” flashing to get hospitals the supplies they need in an emergency. He and his wife Jeannette, who also came out in a beautiful bright flowery dress and with a whole host of other animals in tow (that I will introduce you to in a minute) had even been on a bike trip through Morocco.
So, with this background, maybe it’s not so surprising that in 2017, much to their family and friends’ dismay (since they were hoping to go and stay with them on holiday) they didn’t buy a villa with a pool, they bought this old Portuguese house with a pond. They’ve done (and are still doing) it up nicely. The kitchen and front room are in one part and, for the time being, they still have to go outside and back in next door for the bedrooms and office. But at least that gets them out regularly to take in the spectacular view in the daytime and the incredible star show at night.
They’ve also planted lots of different fruit trees and have a veggie patch. These are still a work in progress, but luckily they did inherit a peach tree right next to the house, which has just finished giving them so much fruit they had to give a lot of it away, which made them very popular at the All Saints Anglican Church in Lagoa (where Bob is the warden). Did you know peppers grow on trees? I didn’t, and I was rather amazed to see how they regularly spice up their lives with pink peppercorn from Jeannette’s favourite tree, that’s also growing next to the house.
Now, as promised, let’s meet the animals. This could take a while... They have two other dogs. Munchie, who has recently come to live with them after a friend of theirs sadly passed away, and Teddy, a Jack Russell. There’s also Socks, an adorable little kitten that’s also a new arrival (and called Socks due to her cute little white feet). They also have chickens and Bob and I walked down to the water to see the line of vines he’s recently planted and also to meet the white ducks that live there. To be fair to any would-be guests, I would think twice about wading into the pond, too. Apparently, it’s full of water snakes that can sometimes be seen sunbathing on top of a fake wooden duck that Bob has left bobbing in the water.
I asked them if living out here in the wild they’ve met any other creatures? Bob told me there are foxes, ferrets and there are even rumours of a lynx. All these are good reasons to make sure you lock up your chickens at night. Bob told me how one night they were getting home a little late when they saw two foxes sneaking slyly up towards the coop. This is when his history with rallying really came to the fore and he floored it up to the house and got there first.
There’s also wild boar that like to come and have a mud bath next to the pond. I asked Bob if he had actually seen them? As I know wild boar are famously difficult to get the drop on. He said no… but he had set up a camera with a motion detector down there in the hope that they would set it off. Amusingly, when later checking the film, he found that it wasn’t the boar that it caught, but another member of the family that I haven’t yet introduced. Their other cat, Tigger, who is a bit of a tiger, hunting all manner of things and bringing them home to put on the carpet, had this time obviously caught a frog and the picture shows her looking straight into the camera with this unfortunate amphibian’s two legs pointing out of either side of her mouth.
It is certainly a wild life, but it all seemed pretty dreamy to me. What do you think?