Straddling Centuries

Yesterday was a fairly typical Asturian Diary day, probably best described as a straddling of centuries (not as painful as it sounds). It started, as is newly customary, with an early morning walk to the bus stop where Jack boards his taxi to school.

Who knew we were on so many flight paths?!

Eager to leech some benefit out of being out and about at this god-forsaken early hour I grabbed my scythe and headed for the fields to do battle with the mattoral (undergrowth) while the cool made it bearable. All very last century but I have to say that (even with my talentless application of it) the scythe is a very effective tool and far more pleasant to use than heavy, noisy machinery.

After a couple of hours of satisfying physical work I dragged my head back to the twenty first century and went inside to do some work online. Before I knew it (certainly well before I’d been arsed to had the chance to clear the breakfast things away) it was time to go pick Jack up.

What should be a ten minute walk home invariably becomes a half hour epic that occasionally stretches into an entire evening. There are blackberries to be picked and eaten and even some grapes outside an abandoned house. There are horses to be talked to. Most of all there are conspiracies to be made. Jack and his buddy spend a large portion of the walk whispering in each other’s ear and making plans to avoid separation at all costs.

Heading off on an adventure

Yesterday his friend was heading off down the fields with his father to collect walnuts. So that was our evening planned for us then. The two boys set off down the track swinging their arms determinedly, both wearing straw hats that A’s granny gave them to protect their little heads from the unseasonably strong sun. I momentarily mused on the possibility of changing Jack’s name to Huck but then shook myself back to reality and the present.

Many fields to cross

We had many fields and orchards to cross before reaching the plantation of young walnut trees. I was conscious of both the distance and the downhill incline as I knew that (as yet) I am no redundant observer in Jack’s adventures – my part would be played later when tiredness would finally be acknowledged and Mum would get to carry the tiny adventurer all the way home for supper, bath and bed.

The shakedown

But first there were walnuts to be collected. In true Asturian tradition the tool for the job was that finest of things, a really long stick. The stick, in its various forms is ubiquitous here. You will never drive past an Asturian walking on a country road who is not in possession of at least one stick. Sights such as tiny, hunched old ladies dragging half a tree trunk behind them are not uncommon. My neighbours’ sage advice to me has been never to waste a walk – you will always pass bits of wood that can be collected for later use, either as kindling or stakes or perhaps for fending off jabali (wild boar). (I may have made that last one up.)

So naturally we had the perfect stick for this particular job already in our possession. A gentle thwacking of the branches encouraged the walnuts to the ground, where we could collect them before other critters got to them first.

With our bags filled it was time for home and, sure enough, Mum got to do a good cardio workout whilst carrying an extra 15 kilos. Who needs the gym, eh?

I’m linking this post up to Country Kids over at Coombe Mill. Click the badge and pop over there to find more posts on outdoors family fun.
Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall


The Greatest Journey – Part 2

When you last saw us we were about to embark on a treacherous journey across Donner Pass. At the entrance to the I80 interstate highway our first challenge was to put our newly purchased chains on the car. Our fumbling, first-timers’ efforts were further hampered by the blizzard that raged around us and by the fact that night had fallen with a sudden thump, like a melodramatic stage black-out curtain.

Despite the poor visibility, numb fingers and rapidly rising levels of panic, eventually we got the buggers chains on and pulled back on to the highway. Already, the snow was laying in thick, ever-deepening piles on the carriageways. Our only clue as to where the lanes went became the brake lights of the car in front, to which we clung desperately as we craned forward in our seats and peered into the swirling storm.

We inched along painfully for miles and miles. The digital roadside signs advised of a 20 mph speed limit, which kept being extended to cover more of the journey as the storm continued to rage. A distance of 70 miles was eventually subject to the restriction – not that we got anywhere near such a high speed but certainly some of the larger American pick-ups with their snow tires on and confident, experienced snow-drivers at the wheel did, terrifying us yet more as they came out of nowhere and sped (seemingly) past us in the outer lane.

We felt hopelessly out of our depth and out of place in our little PT Cruiser stuffed to the gunnels with surf boards and camping gear.  At least our expedition sleeping bags would prove handy should we become benighted. And the surf boards could always be used to defend ourselves from marauding bears. Or cannibals. (Richie’s tales of the original pioneer crossing of Donner Pass was still ringing in my ears.)

Somehow, some eight hours later we finally descended into Oakland and the snow turned into rain. I have never in all my days been so delighted to be driving through a torrential downpour as I was then. My kidneys were killing me from over-production of adrenaline but otherwise we were unscathed.

Woohoo! Back on the California coast it was time to break out the surfboards again.

So it was that we arrived at my Uncle Tony’s apartment, just a few blocks from Ocean Beach in San Francisco, some 5 hours later than expected. Still, I hadn’t seen him in over 20 years so a few hours here or there wasn’t going to make much difference.

Tony had emigrated to San Francisco from Dublin over 50 years previously and had worked there all his life as a yellow cab driver, making him the perfect tour guide. He was a flamboyant, larger than life (slightly bonkers) character and we had more bizarre adventures with him than you might think possible in the space of a few days – fodder for a separate blog post. Or book.

From San Francisco we would drive all the way back to LA hugging the coast on the Pacific Coast Highway, Highway 101. What a drive. Finally our dinky PT Cruiser felt like the right car to be in and our surf boards felt like the right accessories to have (those and a dog-eared copy of Kerouac’s Big Sur, natch) .

Our first stop was not far south of San Francisco, where we pulled off the highway to pay a pilgrimage to Pillar Point.  We couldn’t miss the opportunity to see Mavericks, the famous big-wave surf spot. Incredibly, when we got there it was going off! We sat on the clifftop, amongst all the pro-photographers and watched tens of brave souls run nervously along the sand, with their boards clutched under their arms, about to embark on the 2 mile paddle out to try and catch one of the scariest waves on the planet!

Pillar Point – the clifftop on which we sat and watched some scary big wave action
Image courtesy of Dawn Endico

Suitably inspired (terrified, actually) we continued on to Santa Cruz, where we got our first opportunity in a long time to actually wet our own boards. And what a place to surf! Santa Cruz is Surf Central. Everyone surfs in Santa Cruz. Moms pitch up in their station wagons after the school run to suit up and paddle out, elderly folk gracefully drop in on you in the water and scrawny grommets pull aerial tricks as lesser mortals flounder about (that would be me).

The water is crowded but I found the atmosphere generally friendly and non-aggressive, surprisingly so given how busy it is. The quality of the surf is great, with lots of points as well as beach breaks and reefs. It was consistently good with super-clean, regular lines coming in every day of our stay there.
Whilst at Santa Cruz, we camped at New Brighton State Beach campground, a beautiful forest camp just outside town, great value at just $25 a night. The only hazard there being the squirrels perched high above who took to pelting our car with pine cones.

From Santa Cruz we made the spectacular drive on to Big Sur itself. There we camped right on the edge of the cliffs, directly overlooking the Pacific. Kirk Creek Campground has to have one of the best locations of any campsite in the world and at $22, including a free entry day pass to National Forest beaches and picnic grounds along Big Sur, such as Pfeiffer Beach, Sand Dollar Beach and Willow Creek it’s really excellent value.

The PCH at Big Sur, taken from the air
Photo courtesy of

From here we continued to meander our way along this stunning coastline, visiting some of the aforementioned National Forest beaches and generally allowing ourselves to absorb the natural beauty and atmosphere.

As we passed one beach that had an untypically large number of cars parked at it, Richie impulsively swung the car off the road to investigate what the attraction might be. We followed the small crowd of people onto the wooden walkway that ran along the top of the beach, non-plussed. Slowly our unsuspecting eyes adjusted and we distinguished that the sandy-coloured surface of the beach was in fact a heaving, writhing mass of elephant seals. We had stumbled across Piedras Blancas in full elephant seal weaning season. A truly awesome sight.

The beach at Piedras Blancas – a heaving, writhing mass of elephant seals.

At Jalama Beach County Park we made camp again, hoping for some good surf in the morning. Instead a rain-storm hit overnight and left mushy, unrideable waves in its wake. The night also brought us another unwelcome visitor. We were awoken in the early hours by heavy, rasping breathing coming from the porch of our tent. Undoing the zip we were greeted by a raccoon brazenly rummaging through some food we had stupidly left in the porch. Luckily, after a tense moment, he turned tail and ran. Despite Richie’s initial cries of ‘How cute!’ I had no desire to tangle with a sharp-clawed, tubercular raccoon in the confines of a small, nylon tent.

Jalama Beach – wet and surf-less but unscathed by our close encounter with a raccoon.

The rest of our journey and any parts that I have glossed over here (believe it or not there are some!) have already been written up. You just need to get your hands on a copy of ‘Surfing California’ by Bank Wright, published 1973. This evocative book guided us to and around all of the iconic surf breaks of California and in no small way contributed to our great, final tally of over 4,000 miles driven on this, our greatest journey.

Our dog-eared bible. Published 1973

Thanks again to Emma at A Bavarian Sojourn for tagging me in this lovely meme and prompting me to write up this trip. In turn, I’d like to tag Scribbler in Seville, Travel Lady with Baby, Putney Farm, The Donovan Boys and Erin from The Other Side of the Road. No obligation, of course, but if you (or any one else out there, for that matter!) are looking for an excuse to relive your greatest journey then let this be your cue.

On Being Good

Another fab day climbing. The January sun shone and we were climbing in our t-shirts, despite being at 700metres with snow on the mountaintops close around us.

Alberto climbing Dueto Calavera 7b, Pelugano, Asturias

Jack was in nursery and Richie and I were climbing together with Alberto. I worried Alberto might not be getting enough done, climbing in a three. I needn’t have though, turns out that after a full day’s climbing at the crag he was heading to the ‘tablon’ (bouldering gym) to train!

This reminded me, yet again (climbing’s a great sport for this), that people who are good at something don’t get to be so and to stay so by accident. It takes work, ongoing work, which takes motivation.

Alberto's tablon. No local climbing gym? Get together with some friends, rent an apartment, gut it and build your own wall. Now that's motivation!

Top climbers don’t find it all easy, even though it might seem that way when you read of their exploits in magazines. On the contrary, top climbers are the ones who try really, really hard. On every route or boulder problem, on every day of training. They’re the ones who aren’t defeated by failure but tie back into the rope and step back onto the rock for another try until eventually they top out victorious. And so it is with any sport or indeed any walk of life.

So the next time I reach an impasse, be it on the rock or not, I’m going to take it simply as a challenge to work out the next move and to train a little harder to get the necessary power.

Travelling with Babies and Small Children

I’ve just been reading a great blog by some expectant parents who are clearly sick of receiving unsolicited ‘wisdom’ from jaded been-there-before parents whose primary message seems to be that their life is now over. It’s prompted me to share some of my own experiences as the mother of a two year old and the proud possessor still (by the grace of the universe and the strength of my fingernails), of a life… 😉

Hanging on by my fingernails

Hanging on by my fingernails....Fontainebleau, France (Baby out of shot, playing with chalkbags.)

One of the primary messages of the naysayers seems to be that you’ll never travel anywhere once you have a child. Simply not true.

Of course the journey will be different….

City breaks still delight but they now stand or fall on the quality and quantity of available playparks, rather than trendy bars and restaurants. Note, if you didn’t know it already: a leisurely meal becomes an oxymoron as soon as there’s a baby in the equation.

For our regular climbing and surfing trips we’ve had to suck it up and buy a motorhome (or RV). Terribly unglamorous but definitely functional. (Think fitting in pushchair, baby backpack, surfboards, climbing gear, toys, travelcot etc etc….oh, and one ungainly greyhound.)  Luckily we were never terribly glamorous in the first place so the fall from grace was not so difficult to bear.

A home away from home at the foot of the crag. Catalunya, Christmas 2011

And who really cares about sacrificing street cred when it means we get to keep climbing in gorgeous places like this?

Me climbing, Dad entertaining baby, newly made friend belaying. Os de Balaguer, Catalunya

Yes, indeed. Travel you can, wherever your particular passions may take you.  In fact, the day comes, sooner than you might think, when the little tyrant darling will be telling you exactly suggesting destinations and directing your activities when you get there.

'I think the crux is just over the roof Dad. You'll need that crimp out right.'

Below, Jack oversees a surf lesson for my friend on our local beach.

'I said faster on the pop up. Oh, hang on, there's a photographer about.'

Ah yes, each stage of parenthood comes with its particular joys and challenges. That it is a stage is particularly important to remember at all times. Nothing stays the same. A comforting thought in times of trials and a wake-up call in times of (particularly fleeting) smug ‘We’ve got this parenting thing all sorted’ moments.

In some ways the earliest stages of babyhood lend themselves particularly well to travel. Pre-walking babies are really at their most portable. They weigh little, are pretty immobile and they sleep a lot and just about anywhere, freeing you up to do your thing.

The early days - Jack snoozes in his pushchair while Mummy and Daddy get some bouldering in. Resconorio, Cantabria

On the flip side however, while Jack was at his most portable I was at my most immobile. Flooded with happy, hazy-making breastfeeding hormones I was content to pass the ill-defined days away on the sofa with him mostly clamped to my boob, dreamily gazing at him in simple amazement. This from a woman who never wanted babies.

And then, when we’d finally get him off to bed in the evening, we’d heave a sigh of tired relief….and break out the digital camera to review footage of him from that day….

Yup, take it from me, babies can accompany you to places you never even dreamed of.