A Lot of Land

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The search for a rural property continues. The province of Cadiz is rural by any measure. It covers about 7,400km2, and only has around 1.18 million people in it. Half of them live in the cities of Cadiz and Jerez de la Frontera and the wider metropolitan area of the Bay of Cadiz. That leaves a smattering of white villages and a vast sparsely populated area divided between rocky mountains and rolling hills. There’s a lot of land and very few houses.

A lot of land. Over the past month or so we have seen a lot of land. The conversation with the neighbours, barmen, estate agents’ runners, and, most recently, our friend Manolo and his sidekick, Juan, all of whom frequently drive us over bumpy tracks to the point where they peter out, and then lead us on foot to a field, is usually this:
‘Where is the house?’
‘You can build one! Because there is a lot of land.’

Sometimes it is this:
‘This house is very small. It’s more like a nave . . . a . . . shed.’
‘But it comes with a lot of land.’

And often, this:
‘Beautiful house, but it’s too expensive.’
‘That’s because it comes with a lot of land.’

There are rules to prevent the subdivision of farm properties and rural estates. The downside for local landowners is they can’t sell off the farmhouse while keeping the fields; if they don’t want to live in it (or can’t afford to fix it), they move out and the roof falls in. And they can’t split the escritura, split an estate into three working farms for their three kids to inherit; the property has to be sold off for each to benefit equally. The disadvantage for potential buyers, is most houses come with more land than is helpful, and that land is valuable. While the house might be a shack, the obligatory big farm add-on bumps up the price. It’s feasible for 80% of the price for a country property to be for a load of olives you didn’t particularly want. However I don’t know anyone, local, from elsewhere in Spain, or abroad, who would want to see this landscape change, so a shack and an olive field it is.
For now, ‘less land, more house’ is the honed mantra. The other day we picked up a friendly old man called Rafa at the edge of Puerto Serrano. After a circuit of the village so he could shout at all his old man mates through the car window, he directed us onto a rutted track we hadn’t spotted before and around several mountains to the foot of a hill, on top of which we could make out a roof. The property had a barbed wire fence around it to keep in the goats that were studying us balefully from the other side of the locked gate. We couldn’t get in, the owner couldn’t be seen, Rafa’s phone wouldn’t work however hard he shook it, and as we headed back down the lonely track back to the village to see if the owner was in the bar, the car ran out of petrol.

To cut a long story short, some time later, we were standing with the owner on the top of the hill admiring the view from the house. Or houses. The ‘more house’ part of ‘more house, less land’ at least had obviously struck a chord. This place had two, facing each other, rather than the scenery, across a concreted area for the tractor. One house was old and beautiful, and held up by support poles, the other was new, ugly and sturdy. The farmer said they’d moved to the village and, although when his kids were younger they’d come up here at weekends, they weren’t interested in sitting around doing nothing anymore, and they didn’t want to farm either. He, himself, was getting too old to keep on working the olives, and he could do with the cash.

It was all completely wrong but bucolic. Rafa stuffed my pockets with bellota acorns (not just for 4-legged pigs), showed me the well, ran a tap to show the miracle of water, and pointed out the boundary (‘from this mountain to that mountain’). I work hard and buying anywhere that doesn’t need to be completely rebuilt is going to swallow up everything I have, but I don’t actually think I deserve someone’s massive olive and goat farm, especially when he’s standing off to one side looking mournful thinking I’m a rich Daily Mail reader. I bet the farmer wishes one of his feckless sons would take it on, move back, and invite him to come up here and sit in the sun pondering life at weekends. I also think climbing the 45 degree scree slope to check on the boundary fence looks like a pain in the arse. And one of the houses would fall down without its poles. But in general, while this was a no for now, I felt we were getting somewhere.

We drove straight through someone’s farmyard on the way back and dropped in on a friend of Rafa’s who happened to be selling the more usual minute house with three and a half hectare view. Miguel could tell straightaway that we’d never be able to afford this little spot of paradise (perhaps from the way we said ‘Oh god, we’ll never be able to afford this little spot of paradise’, and then looked sadly at the pool, and across the orange groves to the river) but gave us some good, rough sherry out of a plastic bottle, and bread with chopped tomato and garlic and his own olive oil, and a bunch of mint to take home instead.

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