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.




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.


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.


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!

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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 Quirós 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?


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


The carpark at Entrago, Teverga as the sun came up on Sunday morning. Very popular with climbers and families from Oviedo and Gijón there are always plenty of children to play with at weekends here. It´s 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´s 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´t 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´s 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´m trying to say is it´s 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.


The ministry of silly walks.




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.


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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Reflections on New Year’s Day

It’s been a lovely Christmas holiday here in Asturias. The sun has shone and shone and we have climbed and climbed. Today is cooler and wet – a good day to catch up on a little writing and reflecting in front of the wood burner. As I type my body is aching from this unaccustomed barrage of consecutive climbing days. My head is aching a little too, but that’s a different story 😉

Villa de Sub

Our friend David in mid-flight. Villa de Sub, December 23rd.

Santa Claus visited last week and scored top marks with his gift. The instructions to him had been nice and specific and easy to follow: ‘a Fireman Sam fire engine with lots of buttons and flashing lights and a nee-naw’. The house has echoed to wailing sirens ever since.

The jolly red fellow also delivered gifts from grandparents and relatives in the UK, including Jack’s first camera. He’s already building an impressive photography portfolio. Some of the photos are at rather an artistic angle and some of the close-up portraits of his parents are less than flattering, taken as they are from his viewpoint, looking up. Great for capturing double chins and nasal hairs. Luckily Mum gets veto over any publication.


The beach on Christmas Day, at a rather jaunty angle. Copyright Jack.


A cheeky self-portrait of the photographer

Now we just have to sit it out and wait for the Reyes Magos (the three Kings) who pay their visit on 6th January (the feast of the Epiphany.) Traditionally it is the Reyes who bring children their gifts in Spain and so it is that we find ourselves rather awkwardly caught between two Christmas cultures. I would have been tempted to traitorously ditch the Santa Claus tradition entirely in favour of the Reyes if it were not for their timing. Presents that arrive the day before the new school term starts can’t be played with in the Christmas holidays. And that would suck. For everybody. So Santa had to visit but so do the Reyes so that Jack isn’t the only child in the village to wake up to an empty stocking on the 6th. Because that would suck even more.


Jack delivers his letter to Prince Aliatar, the messenger to the Kings, at the school Christmas show. Note: I am not the only one confused by the surfeit of present-giving traditions, all the children were wearing Santa Claus hats!

Happy New Year everyone! May 2013 bring you all that you wish for (via whichever wish delivery system you choose to believe in 😉 )

An Autumn Weekend in León

Finally, after months without rain, the drought has ended. This is a cause for great celebration. Crops have suffered, drinking water supplies have dwindled and this corner of ‘Green Spain’ was showing signs of scorching at the edges, its usually lush verdant hues beginning to be tinged an unbecoming yellow and brown.

Now that’s what you call a dry reservoir. El Embalse de Riaño, León this September

Last Wednesday normal service was resumed. Autumn arrived in Asturias with a sudden snappy dip in temperatures and the heavens opened. You could almost hear the earth breathe a sigh of relief.

So shallow and fickle is human nature however (or at least the humans in this household) that by Thursday and with a long weekend looming we’d already become bored with the rain and decided to hightail it over the mountains to León, where drier climes (and, yes, climbs) awaited us.

This is one of the many great things about living in Asturias – we have the best of both worlds. While Asturias has a mild maritime climate, across the Cordillera Cantabrica in León a harsher continental climate reigns, with hot, dry summers and cold, snowy winters. The upshot is that we live mellowly surrounded by soft fertile greens but easily escape the rain that feeds them if it should happen to inconvenience us (i.e. by falling at a weekend).

The drive over the Puerto de San Isidro is always spectacular and perhaps never more so than in autumn. The steep sides of the mountain pass are densely wooded and I have never seen such a variety of shades of reds and yellows as were on display. Sadly, on the way up the pass we weren’t able to make a photo stop, as stopping in our heavy, underpowered motorhome on this steep, unrelenting mountain climb is best avoided for fear of never getting going again. Must. Not. Lose. Momentum. is our mantra, muttered through gritted teeth as we lean forward in our seats desperately trying to stay in third gear.

Looking out from the crag at Pedrosa, Leon

Still, I hope some of the photos from the weekend give at least the tiniest inkling of how beautiful the autumnal colours were. On talking to our friend Alberto about it (he’s a fanatical mountain runner and climber and knows the Cordillera Cantabrica like the back of his hand) he informed me that the very best place to view the autumnal display is by hiking in to the Pena del Viento peak from the top of the pass at San Isidro. From there you look back down into Asturias from León and, he assures me, it is like standing above a volcano, so vivid and startling are the autumnal reds. Maybe next year.

Alberto climbing at Pedrosa, above the Valverdin valley, Saturday morning

Walking back to our motorhome in the early morning chill. (After a dog walk, not a night on the tiles, natch.) We overnighted tucked away in the trees, alongside a river, on the outskirts of the bustling little town of Boñar.

Gratuitous photo of Jack entertaining himself at the crag, learning how to clip a bolt

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I was never very sporty at school. Small and studious, it was clear from an early age that I was never going to make it to the Olympics. Although I did attend a Maths Olympiad in University College Dublin when I was 15. Not quite the same levels of excitement.

The first (and only) time I tried to throw a javelin, I clonked myself on the head with it. Funnily enough, they never let me try the shot putt. My memories of volleyball are of falling on my arse a lot. Being less than statuesque, basketball stardom also failed to beckon, although I do recall being praised for my passing. Sadly my quick-fire passes sprang more from a deep sense of ‘oh my god, get this thing away from me’ rather than from any technical skill or savvy game planning.

And so it was that I limped (mostly metaphorically, although I did once sprain my ankle in a tangle with a trampoline) through my Physical Education in school. My long-suffering P.E. teacher Miss Larkin never lost her enthusiasm, however. Which sometimes somehow just made it all seem worse. But sometimes her positivity was so powerful it even reached me.

Her advice to us all that having a sport that we played would serve us well in later life as a means of meeting people and making new friends, especially if we ever had to move somewhere new, really resonated with me. I guess I was always about the friends. You can keep your medals but I will work hard for a decent social life.

And so it ultimately proved to be. Despite failing to find my ‘thing’ all through school, in my early twenties I found climbing. Dragged unwillingly along to a climbing wall in north London by an enthusiastic boyfriend, to my great surprise I quickly found myself hooked.

Here was a sport that was social without being a team sport. (All that letting your teammates down and being last to be picked gets a bit tired.) Here was a sport where you could just compete against yourself. Getting to the top of routes that felt hard to me gave me real satisfaction, it didn’t matter that others around me were doing far harder stuff.

Best of all, here was a sport you got to practice in the most beautiful and fun of settings. Weekends away with friends started to be spent at the crags of the Peak and Lake Districts and on the sea-cliffs of Pembroke. Holidays were taken to relaxing sports climbing destinations like Mallorca and Kalymnos.

And slowly, without really noticing it, I started to get fitter and stronger and healthier. And, (dare I say it?), even somewhat sporty. Finally gaining confidence in one sport made me much more open and able to try others. Later I would also get hooked on surfing. Being motivated to perform well in climbing would make me turn to pilates and core-strengthening exercises as well as being more aware of my overall aerobic fitness.

Me, climbing at Gandia, Alicante on New Year’s Day 2011

Now, as an ex-pat in Spain I have really lived the truth of Miss Larkin’s words. The quickest and easiest friendships to form have been with other climbers. They are also the deepest. Climbers are the people we spend the most time with. The shared sporting passion unites where language and cultural barriers could divide.

The two photos that accompany this post neatly illustrate the impact of this sport in my life. We had travelled to Alicante in our new motorhome to spend the Christmas fortnight in sunny southern Spain. On 31/12/2010 we pulled up at the foot of Gandia crag at around 7pm. Packing a bottle of Cava and a seafood platter we were ready for an exciting New Year’s Eve spent in our camper with our 14 month old son.

Richie stepped out of the van to make a phone call, as reception was poor inside. At precisely this moment, some Galician climbers we had previously met in Fontainebleau happened to be descending from the crag after a day’s climbing. And that is how we ended up seeing in the New Year with them in their friend’s luxury villa outside Alicante.

New Year’s Eve amongst friends

Sport. It’s a wonderful thing.

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