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 😉 )
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 Cantábrica 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.
The 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.
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.
We 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.
We’re back in the UK for our first visit in nearly a year and once again we chose the ferry to get us (and all of our many, many bags) here. As our family love affair with ferry travel continues, it seemed rather appropriate (although entirely coincidental) that we set sail from Santander to Portsmouth on Valentine’s Day. Particularly so as it was on February 14th some seven years ago that we first voyaged in the opposite direction, in a hired van laden with all of our worldly possessions, hearts full of excitement and heads a-whirr with the adventures that awaited us in our new life in northern Spain.
I can’t quite believe that a full seven years has passed since we first abandoned British shores but it has and I am very pleased to report that there is no sign of a seven-year-itch on the horizon. Asturias now feels very much like home.
That said, a trip to the UK does paradoxically still feel like a return home. Familiar faces and places, precious time spent with much-missed loved ones and the chance to stock up on some old stalwart products that you just can’t get in Spain. All the space in our car that the distribution of a few cases of Rioja and Albarino wines to our hosts in the UK has liberated will be occupied on the return journey by cases of peanut butter and Marmite, securely packed in place by sacks of teabags. We are living the expat
In fact, in this bi-located life of ours it’s fair to say that the decks of the Pont Aven ferry itself are also beginning to feel a little like home. Or should I say, ‘the big boat playground’ as Jack has taken to calling it.
The soft-play area is certainly the place where I invariably spend the most time onboard. Luckily it has some comfy seats for adults and I always end up enjoyably whiling the time away in conversation with other parents as our offspring bounce riotously around in preparation (hopefully) for a good night’s sleep in the cabins below.
I love hearing these other travellers’ stories – from that of the Spanish family who have swapped the sunny skies of Andalucia for life in a cold and draughty Scottish castle that they are renovating as a hotel to that of the mother who only holidays in destinations reachable overland or by boat because of a particularly vivid dream she had 20 years ago in which she both had a child in her forties and also perished in an air crash. When she unexpectedly gave birth to a son at the age of 42 she instantly forswore air travel. To be fair, I think I probably would have too!
Meanwhile, the highlight of the voyage for my other half was the fact that the Manchester United match was being shown on the big screen in the bar. That was my cue to retire to our cabin with an exhausted, blissfully sleeping toddler and a George Clooney movie on the laptop. A perfect Valentine’s Day all round.
Disclaimer: this post was sponsored by Brittany Ferries and we received a discount on our sailing. All words and opinions expressed are entirely my own.