Sierra del Sueve

It’s Spain, it’s June but somebody forgot to tell the weather. We’ve had a decidedly dodgy start to spring and summer – average temperatures in May were 3 degrees colder than in the last three decades and average rainfall was up by 50 litres per square metre!

As a result my garden is in a sorry state. I have planted very little; with so much rain finding the right time to dig has been difficult, and what I have planted is not doing so well. With so little sun nothing is really flourishing as you would expect at this time of year.

Climbing too has been curtailed and our usual escape clause in times of bad weather of jumping in the van and heading off for a few days has not been an option as the bad weather hasn’t just been confined to our mountainous corner of northern Spain but has, most unusually, squatted over vast swathes of the country.

It’s also slowly dawned on me that we have become so accustomed to the (normal) Spanish weather that we have lost some of our capacity to cope in bad weather. Now we see bad weather as a reason to withdraw inside, batten down the hatches and sit it out. Plus our barometer for what is ‘bad’ weather has been reset to a considerably lower baseline. Drizzle that might be termed a ‘soft day, thank God’ in the west of Ireland is now enough to stop us dead in our tracks. We wrap ourselves in fleeces on days that would be worthy of bikinis back in the UK. I think we may have gone a little soft.

As we wait for normal service to resume with the weather it is time to revert to hardier, northern European ways and to remind ourselves that there is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing. So when last week there were storms forecast for Thursday, the day I had arranged for my ‘gardening club’ (we’re a club of two friends, helping each other out with manpower and motivation on a weekly basis) we decided to pack some waterproofs and head off for a hike up the nearby Sueve mountain. (I know, the gardening link is somewhat tenuous here but the statutes of the club are flexible enough to allow motivation to come in various guises ūüėČ )

Bar-Restaurante el Asturcón, Alto La Llama. The start point for our hike up the Sueve

Bar-Restaurante el Asturc√≥n, Alto La Llama. The start point for our hike up the Sueve. They do great pinchos and full men√ļs here.

We set off from Alto de la Llama in a dank, dismal mist. With the Sueve being so close to the sea the views from here as you gain height are usually spectacular, with panoramas along the coastline as well as to the higher mountains of the Picos de Europa to the east and the Cordillera Cant√°brica to the west. On Thursday as we set off we could barely see the path ahead. Luckily it’s a very clear wide track so even in the mist there was no risk of getting lost and wandering off a cliff edge. We did almost stumble across a few wild horses in the mist however.

IMG_9438The Sueve is home to a large population of the native wild pony, the asturcón  and, whatever the weather, you will always be guaranteed sightings of herds of these sturdy animals on its hillsides. As we headed onwards and upwards we were rewarded with a few breaks in the cloud that allowed us to see just how many of these ponies there were around us. A lovely sight, especially given the fact that they have historically been threatened by extinction.

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IMG_9447Once we had gained enough height we actually emerged fully above the cloud that wrapped the coast and had clear views around us.

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That’s some bank of cloud. Much more attractive from above than from below.

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Are those some mountains I spy in the distance?

Now we were able to sight several roe deer, another plentiful inhabitant of this sierra but considerably harder to photograph as these skittish creatures don’t tend to hang around long enough for the slow-reacting photographer to extract her camera from its bag and remove the lens cap. Here are a pair I managed to snap in the distance as they skittered away from us up a rockface.

IMG_9448We didn’t make it all the way to the top; it was a school day and I had to be home by 1pm so we had to conclude the ‘gardening meeting’ early. Which was lucky as we made it back just before the promised thunder storm broke and it really was time to retreat indoors and batten down the hatches.

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Sightseeing Where You Live

Here’s a truism for you: emigrate and they will come.

One of the things about being an expat is the number of visitors you receive in your new home. Be it family or friends or some vague acquaintance who quite fancies a cheap holiday abroad, emigrate and the visitors will come.

Now most of the time this is lovely and can be a fine excuse to pretend to be on holiday yourself. But after a time you realise that you can no longer uphold the pretense of being on an extended holiday and you have to acknowledge that you are in fact living in the place and have a life there and all the inescapable daily drudgery that that entails. You cannot always be at the beck and call of every visitor.

Los Lagos, Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Lago Enol, Covadonga. Perhaps the most famous spot for sightseeing in Asturias. Image courtesy of Pelayo Alonso Huerta

The most useful tool we have found to defuse this situation and bridge the possible mismatch of expectations between holiday- and home- maker is our annotated map. We are currently on our fifth (and already increasingly tattered) copy of the Michelin road map of Asturias, on which we have labelled up an array of attractions across the region, complete with driving times from home and other useful information. Visitors with children? Why not check out the dinosaur museum, 30 minutes drive, free on Wednesdays, with a great playpark, cafe and a lovely beach alongside. Culture vulture? The Niemeyer Centre in Avilés is a must visit Рthe building alone is spectacular and their arts programming is vibrant and internationally relevant.

All our favourite beaches are marked, from tiny coves to exposed surf breaks. For walkers, bikers and climbers we highlight some great itineraries. For anyone on their first visit to the region we recommend a trip to Covadonga and the Lakes  to take in the magnificent, quintessentially Asturian views from the mountains to the sea.

Thus our visitors can pick and choose what most appeals to them and can self-direct their own sightseeing. But that¬īs not to say that we leave them entirely to their own devices. Depending on schedules (and quality of relationship!) we, of course, do our fair share of hanging out together. With some guests in fact it¬īs all about the hanging out and very little about the sightseeing. When grandparents come, for example, all they really want is some time with their darling boy. In which instance we consult the annotated map ourselves to remind us of where some good local restaurants are and we dash out the door to leave them to their bonding.

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The view from the top of our hill, to the Picos at sunset on a winter’s evening. Every day I walk to the top of the hill with the dog and every day the view that awaits me is different, depending on season, time of day and quality of light. I love it.

In all honesty, the most telling sightseeing we share with visitors is often the simplest and the closest to home. The views from our garden as we share a meal and a glass of wine. Sharing a dog walk up the lane is a lovely opportunity for a chin-wag as well as to spy the profusion of wild flowers that fill the hedgerows and to gasp at the views from the top of  the hill, with the jagged, snow-capped Picos mountains in one direction and the wide Atlantic ocean in the other.

Sunset from home

Sunset from home

These are the views that mark my everyday. They are the views that still cause me to catch my breath despite having lived with them for over seven years. Changing light and weather can always throw up a new vision that has me running back inside for my camera. They are the sights that tell, in a large part, the story of why I live where I do and why I love where I live.

This post was written in response to the prompt ‘sightseeing where you live,’ courtesy of The American Resident and her ‘Love Where You Live’ Linky. Click the badge below to read more posts on the same theme.
The American Resident

Springtime, Fully Loaded

Just as one swallow does not a summer make, one sunny weekend away in the campervan doesn’t necessarily mean that our springtime has really sprung. But two weekends on the bounce? Well, now you’re talking.

Being the unpredictable, adventurous souls that we are, this weekend we packed the van and headed off to……drum roll please…..Teverga! Ah, but there is more to this valley than may have met the eye of my blog readers thus far. Saturday we headed straight to the Puerto de Marabio, a high mountain pass with stunning views, a little hermitage, great walking and biking tracks and, you guessed it, some great rock climbing too.

Puerto de Marabio

Puerto de Marabio

Further irrefutable confirmation of the arrival of spring lay all around us, despite the presence of snowy caps on the very high mountains in the background. Spring flowers carpeted the meadows and poked their heads joyously out of every available nook and cranny.

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The hillsides were speckled with blossom laden trees and the stark nakedness of their wintry branches was softened as nature began to dress them once more. Here’s a picture of a tree I photographed in its autumn finery at the end of November now displaying the latest spring-summer greens.

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Another season, another windy day

I guess in reality winter has been relatively short-lived here, the harshest of the weather only really kicking in in mid-January, but it has felt long enough and we are all glad to be returning to a life spent more outdoors.

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Another weekend, another chance to play in the dirt

Another day, another place to sleep (when not running and/or getting into mischief)

Another day, another place to sleep

Another Sunday, another cave-based siesta. Somebody just woked up! This playing outdoors sure is tiring.

Another Sunday, another cave-based siesta. Somebody just woked up. This playing outdoors all day sure is tiring.

Happy Springtime everybody, and happy Earth Day too!

Linking up to Country Kids at Coombe Mill. Click the badge to hop on over and check out lots more family fun in the outdoors.

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

A Sunny Weekend in Los Valles del Oso

Finally, last week, spring decided it was time to be properly sprung and then rapidly proceeded to catapult us full pelt into summer. With temperatures forecast to be in the high 20s over the weekend there was only one thing for it: load up the autocaravana and hit the road.

As time was short (and our van painfully slow-moving) we decided on a brief trundle just as far as the valleys of Quir√≥s and Teverga, south of Oviedo city. The ‘Valles del Oso’ or valleys of the bear as they are known. (And yes, they do actually have some bears there.) It’s a great spot for family days out, has some world class sports climbing and some great places for overnight van camping. So that’s all our boxes ticked then. Who needs to travel further afield when you have all this on your doorstep?

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Clear blue skies, with one rather odd shaped cloud, above a high snowy peak in Quirós last weekend

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The carpark at Entrago, Teverga as the sun came up on Sunday morning. Very popular with climbers and families from Oviedo and Gij√≥n there are always plenty of children to play with at weekends here. It¬īs a great spot for free van camping with newly built toilet and shower block, water and waste facilities, a football pitch, and kiddies’ climbing wall as well as being alongside the Senda del Oso path and in the heart of the Teverga valley. Oh, and there¬īs a couple of bars and restaurants just round the corner too. Perfect.

Saturday we spent at the very family-friendly crag of Quirós, at sector La Selva. With plenty of trees providing shade at the foot of the crag this was the perfect place for a very hot day. As well as preventing the many children there from burning the trees also provided some unroped climbing opportunities for them.

This year we have finally abandoned the baby back pack and Jack is managing the approach to crags (mostly) under his own steam. I can¬īt tell you what a liberation this is! The last couple of years it has mainly fallen to Richie to carry the backpack with Jack, an increasingly heavy, and oftentimes wriggling, load. Meanwhile I have been playing my part by carrying up ALL the climbing gear. So that¬īs a 70 metre rope, a couple of harnesses, 20 or so metal quick draws, shoes etc. Oh, and probably some food and water too. Not to mention a few toys and perhaps some sun cream. I think what I¬īm trying to say is it¬īs been HEAVY. Especially on the steeper approaches, where I have on occasion found myself huffing and puffing and bent forward like an old crone. Now that my load has been lightened after such a long time it feels almost like I can breezily levitate uphill. Winner.

Of course walking with a  toddler does mean taking things at a rather more leisurely pace. Jack, Dogly and I made the (usually 20 minute) descent to the car from La Selva in a sedately fascinating hour or so. There were flowers to be sniffed, sticks to be collected, water to be drunk from fuentes and cows and goats to be inspected.

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The ministry of silly walks.

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Eventually we made it down to the carpark by 6pm. At which point Jack insisted on taking out his balance bike for some off-roading action. Only when he was covered top to bottom in muddy splashes, true mountain biker style, after some daring stream traversing was he finally content to return to the camper for tea. Meanwhile his poor mother was exhausted from chasing him up and down the bumpy paths as he gleefully chucked himself downhill at speed. Still, my payoff came the next morning when he slept in until 9 am.

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Climbing at Eléctricos, Teverga

Sunday was spent climbing with more friends at Electricós in Teverga while Jack mainly played with his diggers in the dirt, made letters from twigs and sneaked in a little siesta in a shady cave. That evening we happily trundled home again, all contentedly exhausted from a weekend spent playing outdoors.

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Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Welcome to the Jungle

This week we’re back to school after the Easter break. The whole ‘back to school’ thing is still new to us but any pangs of sadness I felt on Monday morning were considerably lessened by the sight of Jack in a big hug with his teacher and then being bundled on top of in a mass hug from his little buddies. If there is that much love, joy and hugs in the classroom then it can’t be all bad. Forget Ofsted reports, for now I’m happy with a simple Hug-o-meter.

That said, I was just thinking how if a film was ever made about our little life here (I’m expecting to hear from Hollywood any day now, obvs ūüėČ ) then the soundtrack would most likely be some delightful pastoral melodies (think: la-la-la, tinkly, tinkly, tinkly) right up until mid-September last year, when Jack started school. At this point there would be an almightily loud and dissonant scratch and an abrupt dive into ‘Welcome to the Jungle,’ Guns and Roses style. (Melodramatic, moi?)

While I had previously expressed my reservations about Jack starting school so young (he wasn’t even 3 until the end of October for heavens’ sake!) I now realise that I actually didn’t have a clue about the impact that school would have on us and our lives. And, no, I don’t just mean the early mornings. Although those still do hurt. (Pathetic, but true.)

Of course in reality I totally suppressed the thought of failed to grasp how hard the initial wrench would be for me: the giving up of absolute control over his environment 24/7. Ok, now I sound like a scary control freak. But I’m not. I’m far too lazy to ever be a control freak, trust me. WAY too much effort. No, I’m just a mother who was used to spending all day with my baby almost every day. Being there to protect him, to feed him¬† to hold him, to love him. As a result, for the first week or two of school I was a highly-strung, snappy, neurotic wreck tad overwrought.

My state of mind wasn’t helped on Day 2 when, aimlessly wandering up the road seeking diversion from the constant gnawing questions in my mind (‘what will he be doing right now? is he okay? is he scared? is he happy? HAVE I DONE THE RIGHT THING?’), I bumped into my neighbour. Not unusual, nor usually a bad thing. Then she told me that her daughter-in-law had just been called down to the school to take her son to the doctors. Why? Because Jack had poked him in the eye.

FAN-flipping-tastic. Day 2 of school and my son was already a juvenile delinquent having sent someone to hospital. And not just any someone but the much beloved and cosseted son of the Arse-iest Lady in the Village, as I fondly thought of her. And I don’t mean the size of her backside but rather the size of her attitude. By now I was feeling even sicker than I had been before. You know the feeling, that nausea that comes from the constant pressure on your kidneys as adrenalin steadily courses through your system, stopping you from sleeping, eating or being in the least bit reasonable.

It wasn’t a great time for another neighbour to pick to question my refusal to send Jack in the school transport. First, let me clarify. I had always intended to drive him to school myself for the first week or so. The thought of abandoning my tiny boy at a bus stop and sending him off into the unknown on his own at 8.15 one random morning was more than my heart could bear. I also had concerns over safety as I was unhappy about sending him in a car or bus with no car seat. Like I said, he was tiny. I had visions of him, at best, sliding off the seat as the people carrier rounded one of the many tight bends on the hill down to school. Let’s not even go to the ‘at worst’ scenarios.

I didn’t think it was particularly unreasonable of me to want to personally check out the transport provision before consigning my most precious cargo to it. My friend, mother to another school child from the village, thought differently. Pooh-poohing my concerns didn’t make me feel any better about any of it. And when she made the classic statement: ‘But P’s the same age as Jack and his mother is sending him in the taxi without making a big fuss about it,’ I’ll admit I saw red. All that adrenalin coursing through my system and nowhere to go. Until now.

Turns out it’s not all that easy to think of the Spanish for ‘Well if P’s mum jumped off a cliff does that mean I should too?’ off the top of your head when the top of your head is actually blowing steam. I think I got my meaning across pretty thoroughly however, despite garbled grammar, mangled pronunciation and generalised high-pitched, squeaking.

Thankfully my adrenal glands slowed down their fierce pumping action gradually over the next few days, as it became apparent that Jack was adjusting and that the classroom environment was warm and family-like. I loved that the teacher was happy to chat to parents at the start or end of any school day and that dropping him off in the morning I got to spend 5 or ten minutes chatting with her and some other parents at the classroom door and watching the children doing their thing and finding their feet in there. This rather relaxed, informal approach is a luxury that is possible in such a tiny school; with a total of less than 20 children in two classes.

At pick up one afternoon that first week I also had a chat with the taxi driver on the school run and managed to allay my fears in that respect. While the children did normally travel with just lap belts (the top strap of the seatbelt placed behind them) it was totally fine if I wanted to send Jack with a car seat so that he could be strapped in correctly.

And even Arsey Lady managed to surprise me over the eye-poking incident. ‘Bah….war wounds,’ she shrugged….and, Good Lord!, was that the whisper of a smile I saw round the edges of her mouth? Maybe she wasn’t such a battleaxe after all.

But just as my hormonal systems lowered the alert from red to peaceful green all hell broke loose again. This time it was my friend who thought I was making such a big fuss about the car seat. Her and her husband’s beef started off over the location of the bus stop in the village and ended one morning in a stand-up row with another set of parents over which of their children got to sit in the front of the taxi. Seriously.

Turns out that one of the things they ought to warn you about when your child starts school is that any parent can turn bat-shit crazy as over-protective of their young as a jungle big cat at the least provocation. Oh, and if your child happens to be starting school in Spain, whatever you do don’t provoke a parent in the morning. Spanish parents, on the whole, do not appreciate an early start. (Even less than I do, it would appear.)

 

 

 

Idyllic

I was just sorting through memory cards full of photos that I have yet to organize or do anything with, when I came across this one. I took it on the 8th March at 8 am (The wonders of modern digital photography triumph over my innate forgetfulness.) That means I was on my way to the school bus stop with my son. The simply stunning morning light made me forget the usual morning scurry and sent me dashing back indoors for my camera. (Child abandoned on the street, swinging his rucksack in the air.) Sometimes the beauty of nature really does just stop you in your tracks.

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Just as I was wondering how to catalogue this snap and musing on how I might use or share it somewhere, the daily prompt from WordPress popped up in my reader. Idyllic. It seemed perfectly in step with my response to this photo. I clicked through and discovered that the prompt related more specifically to what your ideal community looks like. How it is organized and how community life is structured. What values does the community share?

Then it struck me, this photo shows exactly what my ideal community looks like. It’s a¬† community based in nature and shaped by nature. A small community but with strong ties. On the horizon you can see the small cluster of houses perched atop the hillside, mirroring our own hamlet, dwarfed by the scale of the mountains behind and the expanse of green stretching between tiny, scattered villages. It could feel lonely but it promotes a depth and strength of connection between neighbours that doesn’t naturally occur in places, such as cities, where you can maintain a lofty self-reliance and independence.

The Spanish refrain goes: ¬ŅQui√©n es tu hermano? El vecino m√°s cercano’ meaning, your closest family is your nearest neighbour. This is never truer than when you live in a small community in the country. We rely on each other in a myriad of ways, both practically and socially. From borrowing a pint of milk rather than making a 20 minute trip to buy one, to sharing a cup of coffee and a chat on an otherwise solitary day.

Even our water supply (the very staff of life!) is community managed. This means periodic village meetings, the occasional Saturday morning spent clearing brambles on the hillside where the pump-house is or, in times of emergency, days spent chasing and fixing leaks in the pipework. I’ll be honest, sometimes it’s a worry and sometimes it’s a drag but it teaches me a darn sight more about personal and environmental responsibility than paying a quarterly water bill ever did!

So there you have it. My country idyll. Just right for me right now. But what about you? What’s your idea of an idyllic community? And are you lucky enough to already live there?

The local water board in action last summer. That'll be all of us then!

The local water board in action last summer. That’ll be all of us then!