The prospect of renovating a ruin: Part 1

The prospect of renovating a ruin: Part 1

Greece wouldn’t be the same without the little uninhabited ruins that pepper it’s towns and villages. Winding streets and twisting alleys are adorned with cerise bougainvillea and abandoned houses from a time long forgotten. A trip to Greece always guarantees an exciting culture, hospitable people, fantastic food, stray cats and old stone ruins. We’re helping the stray cats in our own little way, but this blog post is all about renovating a stone ruin, gale force winds and homemade wine.

Old stone houses in Greece…

It’s taken six long years to finally get to the point of renovating our stone ruin seriously. Let me run you through the events leading up to now.

Purchasing our ruin…

We purchased our ruin in 2014. The thick stone walls and mountain views sold it, along with the walnut, tangerine and lemon trees in the little garden. As we stood there in the January sunshine, we took in the scene before us. The whitewashed church standing protectively at the edge of the village, song birds cheeping and two goats tethered on a grassy patch of land munching on lush green grass. It was a Greek paradise.

The goats tethered near the cottage…

The inside of the little house was chaotic and strewn with possessions from a previous owner. It had been derelict for 25 years and everything was covered in a layer of thick dust. A small kitchen dresser was covered in cobwebs and a pair of discarded shoes lay in the middle of the floor. It was as though someone had kicked them off after a hard days work and never returned. The rudimentary kitchen sink was made of concrete and added at a later date, along with the electrics that supplied the single lightbulbs hanging from each ceiling. A washing up bowl complete with plates and glasses were waiting for some hot soapy water. Old bottles of wine had turned into thick, dark vinegar that could compete with any award winning balsamic

The three square rooms were divided by two walls, one of which had a tiny doorway that required ducking to avoid injury. The fireplace was blackened from years of use and hooks extended from the ceiling to hang an assortment of unknown accessories. We were in love with the project and knew that we could bring it back to life with a bit of love any money. Our dream of renovating a stone ruin had become tantalising close.

First impressions count!

Dreaming of Crete…

We arrived back in the UK dreaming of Crete. That little stone ruin in dire need of love and attention, needed us as much as we needed it. It kept us going as we worked and saved to move here. It was the backdrop to our life, a permanence we could rely on, solid and sturdy in a frantic world. As we forged a path through the jungle of life, we knew that one day we’d stumble across a clearing in the dense foliage that offered us relief from the exhausting journey. 

We plundered on with a vision and the determination to make it happen. Any holiday taken from our two busy dog walking business’s was spent in Crete. We tried to relax and reenergise ourselves, but we’ve never been very good at that. Ultimately we’d always end up demolishing walls, clearing the contents of the house and making trips to the tip.

Arriving in Crete permanently…

On arriving in Crete permanently in 2018 (after attempting to cycle) we couldn’t wait to begin renovating our ruin properly. We began removing the crumbling lime plaster from the walls and preparing the joints in-between the stones for re-pointing. The scale of the job began to dawn on us, and without electricity we were limited to how much we could get done. What had once been an exciting prospect had turned into an overwhelming task. It was hard to know where to begin. Our life was overflowing with new challenges and unknowns. A new country, new language and new life were keeping us occupied, and so the cottage sat neglected as we prioritised our own house.

See photo further up…before and after we removed the plaster

Present day…

“How old do you think the house is?” We ask the stone mason. It’s 9am on a Tuesday morning and we’ve agreed to meet him to discuss the crumbling stones around the doorways.

We both feel a little tired after a bad nights sleep. Nancy-floss the one eyed cat kept us awake with her midnight munching on cat biscuits; they are conveniently located on our bedside table, just our of reach of Dora-dog. Then the winds from Africa arrived. Hot blustery gusts whipped around the washing hanging on the line and knocked over patio furniture. We reluctantly tore ourselves from bed at 1am to dismantle our parabolic solar cooker*** which we feared might end up sailing over the countryside like Mary Poppins umbrella. All in all it was far from a restful sleep. We jolt back to reality as Stefanos replies.

*** It sounded a lot more poetic to use the term ‘we’ but Mr Sidestepping-normal has forced me to  inform you that he was the one that battled the wind to dismantle the solar cooker…I lied, I’m sorry.

“It could date back to 1912, 1915, 1920, somewhen around this time. The roof would have been made of reeds and mud originally.” He explains

I try to invent the people that lived here a hundred years ago. Who were they? What did they do for a living? Were they happy here?

I try to invent the people that lived here a hundred years ago. Who were they? What did they do for a living? Were they happy here?

Stefanos the stone mason is keen to show us some of his previous jobs so that we can see the quality of his craftsmanship. We coast along the country roads in his truck and he beeps the horn to acknowledge passing friends and family in vehicles heading In the other direction.

“That is my cousin.” He clarifies

“That is my mothers brother.” He confirms as we pass another truck with a waving driver.

“Another cousin.” He states.

“How many cousins do you have?” We enquire

“One hundred and twenty.” He proudly responds.

We raise our eyebrows with disbelief, but he’s not joking. Greek stereotypes are alive and well.

During the morning we view three properties that Stefanos has built or renovated, sample his homemade wine, eat pies filled with greens, and witness some extremely skilful reversing up narrow lanes. He speaks with passion about his work and family, and by the time he drops us back at walnut cottage we feel like a huge weight has been lifted from our shoulders. His workmanship is faultless. The stone houses he’s showed us are stunningly beautiful. We’ve found someone that we can trust and rely on; we’ve been sent an angel with a cigarette and a beard.

Contemplation…

We’re sitting on the outside sofa sipping the delicious wine given to us by Stefanos. It’s beautiful and fruity; it tastes alive. The sun is going down and the sky is ablaze with fiery colours. It’s ben a hot and sunny day and the forecast is good for tomorrow. The onion seedlings are swaying in the breeze and the parabolic solar cooker is back in position. I feel optimistic about the future, the electricity connection is imminent and Stefanos will begin work in a few weeks time. The prospects of renovating our ruin are looking decidedly up.

As the sun sets we head inside. The wine has left us feeling tired and hungry. I reflect on the last 18 months and realise that we’ve overcome so many challenges so far. Our own house feels like a home, we’re making friends and contacts, and the Greek language is feeling more familiar. Our stone ruin is the last major challenge left to accomplish. One things for sure, before anything else we need dinner and a good night’s sleep..preferably without the disruption of southerly winds and the smell of cat biscuits.


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19 thoughts on “The prospect of renovating a ruin: Part 1

    1. Thanks Jan, you’ve always supported what we’re doing and read my blog…We’re so grateful to have great family and friends.

  1. Keep up the good work! the end result will be fantastic. Living in Crete having to put up with all the changing weather (sun sun & more sunshine) but also working as well, life can be cruel sometimes but I’m sure you both realise that?.
    Envy & Jealousy from others wont get the work done!! ignore them all and crack on, one day I may be knocking on your door asking for a glass of ouzo.

  2. You have done well with the building. We renovated one in East Crete. Found a good Greek builder. Looking forward to retiring there in a couple of years. Unfortunately can’t travel now this year with this virus. Nice to see something positive going on 🙂

    1. That’s so exciting for you, I bet you can’t wait to retire out here. It’s good to meet people that have made it out the other end! The virus is affecting everyone – what a crazy time it is. Lets hope things get back to normal very soon.

  3. It’s very scary here in UK. Like a 1950s sci fi movie. Everywhere closed and empty streets. How is it affecting you on my favourite island? xx

    1. Hi there, its a crazy world at the moment isn’t it? We’re in lockdown here, we can only leave the house with paperwork that states our reason for leaving. There are are few approved reasons, like going to the supermarket etc, but on the whole, we have to stay at home. Lets all hope this blows over soon.

  4. It’s fun reading about your journey! Crete is where I started my love affair with Greece, the last few years I’ve spent most of my time in Naxos, but only renting, I’ve not made the total leap… at this juncture I’m not sure how or if I will continue, but Greece is always in my heart..
    Keep up the good work!
    Karl

  5. I was there with you all the way, lost in your words. I could even smell the intoxicating scent of countryside, exhaust fumes and Stefanos’s cigarette. I sat there with you at sunset with a huge smile on my face. I love following your adventure and know the universe will provide you with all you need. I can’t wait to read April’s and also look forward to your book. Thank you for brightening my day. Much love to you both…….

  6. I was just about to take the plunge to buy a property in need of restoration in Cyprus but the virus has put stop to that for now, so enjoying reading your journey and love the properties.
    Loads of photos now needed more than ever to feed the dream. Wish you well x

    1. How exciting, I hope that when the virus is under control, you can resume the purchase of the property. We love a good renovation project, it’ so exciting to envisage what it will be like.

  7. I came across the article about your move to Crete yesterday on my Google news, of all things, and was particularly drawn to it as my husband and I fell in love with Crete over 20 years ago when we went to Alymirida for the first ever holiday we had abroad. Almyrida was very different then. We dreamt of living there every evening we ate in the tavernas watching the sun going down on hot, sultry evenings, but never had the courage to do it. We loved it so much we went back to Almyrida for two further years before thinking we should explore some of the other Greek islands, which we did, but Crete kept drawing us back. We explored the East and the South of the island, but the West of the island kept pulling us back and last year we came back to Almyrida (although it is very much more built up now – unbelievably so compared to when we first went), it hadn’t lost its charm for us. So we planned to come back on 2 June this year, but it was obvious come the lockdown that this wasn’t going to happen and sadly our flight was cancelled by Easyjet last week – so that was that. Gutted.

    I applaud you for what you are doing, but I don’t know how I would cope with the relentless summer heat. Last year, in June, it was unbelievably hot. The third visit to Almyrida I did end up in Chania hospital with quite serious dehydration (which was quite an experience), and have been very careful since. Warwick and I will follow your blog/newsletter with interest and I trust the lockdown on Crete will soon be over and everything will get back to normal. We feel for the Greeks and the impact that all this is having on the tourist industry – on which they depend.
    These are very strange times we live in and we are convinced that things are not what they seem.

    Blessings to you both.

    Carol

    1. Hi Carol,

      The more I talk to people, the more apparent it is that Crete is such a special place. So many of us have been captured by it and end up returning over and over again.

      My husband finds the really intense summer heat quite difficult, but being cold blooded like a lizard, it suits me! I spend all year waiting for those high temperatures, under 25c is a bit chilly for me!

      I’m sorry you missed your trip to Crete this time around. Hopefully you can get out here somewhen soon. The lockdown is gradually lifting here. As of today, the tavernas are back open again.

      Your comment about things not being as they seem rings very true. We rely on our gut instinct to guide us through life, at the moment it’s telling us that we are not being told the whole story. We feel that something far deeper is going on, but we aren’t sure exactly what. We try to avoid listening to the news, and when we do we don’t really believe it!

      Thanks for reading our blog, it’s lovely to have you here😃

      1. Wow! So wonderful to hear you trusting your ‘knowing’ that something far deeper is going on. I think that comes with living the simple life. You know when something’s amiss when you are not being bombarded with ‘amissives’ all day long. Take care!

  8. I have come across you blog and love it! Your renovation is looking great and the stone work is fantastic!
    I live in Australian and have been wanting to purchase a property in Greece on the main land but to scared to take the plunge due to the fact we can not sight the property.I am English and my husband is Greek.. I love a good challenge so maybe one day!! Happy Blogging 🙂

    1. I’m so glad you’re enjoying the blog 😃

      I’d definitely recommend going for it. As your husband is Greek, you’d have a huge advantage. In the meantime, I’ll try and give you a Greek fix, here from Crete 😊

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