Thursday, September 18, 2014

Walking in Asturias: Torre del Friero

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The Picos National Park covers a wide geographical area within the Spanish regions of Asturias, Cantabria and Castilla-Leon. The park in itself is divided into three areas or massifs: the Western Massif also Known as Cornion is the closest to La Pasera and where the lakes are. The other two massifs are: The Urrieles that occupies the largest and central part of the national park and the tallest peaks within it: The Andara in the East is the smallest of the three massifs.

September is a very good time to go walk in Asturias as the weather is still hot, the light quality is fantastic and there is plenty of wildlife that can be appreciated along the way. When you walk at an altitude of 1500 m or above, you very frequently come across groups of deer, chamois, the alpine lizard and numerous raptors; on this occasion we failed to spot the lammergeier or bearded vulture that has recently been reintroduced in the Central Massif.

This walk up to the peak Torre del Friero (2445 m high) is in the Central Massif and was organised by a local walking group Grupo de Montaña Peña Santa as part of an annual event where the group chooses one of the massifs and tries to climb in smaller groups as many peaks over 2000 m high as possible in a day.

To start this walk, we drove into the Baldeon Valley in the region of Castilla Leon through the Beyos
Gorge that runs along the river Sella before we passed the Ponton mountain pass that enabled us to drop into the Baldeon Valley, a popular walking area and for many, the beginning of one of the most famous walks in the whole National Park, the walk on the Cares Gorge also known as the Divine Gorge; its beauty certainly justifies the "divine" adjective.

Our guide for the day, Sergio, is a great guy and someone who knows the mountains very well. This knowledge is an essential part to maintain personal safety when doing this type of walk as there are parts where a bit of scrambling is necessary. Sergio manages a blog were he publishes blogs and images of his outdoor activities. The blog itself is a great source of information for potential future walks. You can check his site Castacangas

Under Sergio's confident guidance, we decided to extend this walk to incorporate some beautiful pasture lands with great views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. What surprised me is the abundance of alpine flowers blossoming this late in the season.

Photo by Castacangas

Photo by Castacangas

Photo by Castacangas

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A weekend photowalk around the village -1

We walk most days, either to the coast via many of the coastal and farming tracks that lead to the cliffs or further afield through neighbouring villages and pastures. Which ever way we go we always wander our way through the village paths and caminos. It is easy to forget how attractive our little village can be. Here are a few photographs of the countryside around our village, we'll feature more in subsequent posts so bookmark or subscribe now.

View towards El Sueve

Cows grazing next to La Pasera


Rio Guadamia

Our coastline

La Pasera

Setting sun

Village houses

Caminos and footpaths

Development opportunity?

Resting Buzzard

Take flight
A welcome storm to end the week

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Foraging for the wild peach


We always look forward to September in Asturias. The weather is warm, not too hot, gentle winds, not too strong, and misty dew-fresh mornings. The walnuts trees are laden with fruit, the hazelnuts begin to shed their fruit, the brambles offer up an abundance of blackberries and the wild Asturian peach (Piesco) is ready for harvesting.

The wild peach is small, the skin is slightly tougher than commercial peaches and the sweetness is not guaranteed however the intense peach flavour more than makes up for any other shortfalls. The peaches grow on small trees on the edges of fields and tracks around Asturias and most of them fruit well but are rarely harvested by locals these days as it is easier to go to the local supermarket and buy bigger and standardised fruit. We prefer, where possible, the wild and superior tasting Asturian Peach.

This year we have gathered enough to make a large batch of peach jam and enough to dehydrate for snacks. The flavour is intensified in both processes and is has just enough tang to get the taste buds tingling. The jam is made using our standard recipe of half the amount of sugar to that of fruit. It really is delicious on toast or as a sweet relish with cheese.

The dried peaches will be vacuum packed and will accompany us on walks into the mountains. They are packed with energy and will boost flagging stamina as we explore Asturias and the Picos de Europa in all its glory.

Friday, September 05, 2014

In search of sciurus vulgaris... the red squirrel

On several occasions we have seen a red squirrel in the garden here at La Pasera but they are very shy, quick and eager to climb high to avoid the cats Wentworth and Gawber who wouldn't think twice about trying to capture one. This picture is from a rare chance I got to photograph one in the garden after Gawber had chased it up a tree.

Luis had business in Gijon recently and I was aware from previous visits that there were a small colony of red squirrels in and around the park of  Parque de Isabel La Católica  : a perfect opportunity to try and get close up and personal. The park has a large lake and several aviaries. The lake is inhabited by various wild birds, geese, ducks and swans. Peacocks and peahens roam freely and put on great displays even when resting.

The park has a large number of very mature deciduous and coniferous trees, a range of fruiting bushes and fungi thereby making it the perfect habitat for red squirrels. Camera in hand I soon spotted a young squirrel, probably this years kitten, bounding across the path and onto the grass into the bushes quickly followed by a larger deep red adult which ran up the nearest large conifer.

I stood quietly in the shade of a walnut tree and watched as several squirrels appeared and disappeared, checking me out and assessing the threat level.

I spotted a young adult squirrel leaping from branch to branch making its way towards the water's edge. It was unfazed by a nearby gull and spent 30 seconds or more drinking from the lake before taking off again into the trees.

At eye level, an adult squirrel beginning to eat a walnut, probably dug up from last season's hoard as the shell was covered in a fine dusting of earth.  I decided to make my way towards it at a slow pace whilst taking photos. Typically I had the wrong lens on but with stealth I managed to change lens' mid-way and get closer step by step.

Throughout my advance the squirrel devoured its nut but kept a close eye on me. I knew that at some stage it would retreat.

I took one last step closer, it shreaked and ran up the tree out of sight and out of reach.

I was happy with my photographs and with watching the squirrels as the traversed their territory, happy for me to join them for a short while but equally happy when I left them in peace.

The squirrel that comes into our garden has long ear tufts whilst the ones in the park had none. I wonder why that is, seasonal, gender, age, regional...?  

Monday, September 01, 2014

Visiting a traditional market at Porrua de Llanes

Once a year in a small village not too far from home is one of the most interesting fiestas in our area; Mercau Tradicianal. The market runs for two days, usually over the last weekend in August thereby making the most of the holiday makers who flock to Asturias in the month of August. The fair has only been running since the early 1990s but it has the feel of something with more history. It is loosely billed as a celebration of life before the industrial revolution.

The market takes place in the small village of Porrua which has a central park that has a well kept circle of entangled and grafted plane trees which form shade and a retreat from the mid-day sun. Around the outside is a wide circular walkway.

By the time we had arrived the streets were filling with visitors and participants alike who all congregated at the local bar 'Casino de Porrua'. This is where the opening parade starts from, making its way through the narrow village streets eventually reaching the park and the hoards of awaiting visitors.

As we made our way down, we could smell the wood-smoke from the huge barbecue which was heating up its embers ready for the onslaught of ravenous visitors eager for ribs and sausage. The streets were carpeted in a thin layer of golden straw and many people were dressed in traditional costume.

The outer walk-way was filled with stalls selling artisan products ranging from carved wood, leather work, book binding, jewelry, pottery, hand-made shoes, puppets and potions. The barbecue area included demonstrations of bell making, a re-enactment of a traditional Asturian kitchen and ladies spinning yarn from wool and flax.

Underneath the plane trees were many stalls selling food and drink. Cheeses from the region, artisan breads and cakes, snacks of tortilla, corn pancakes with meat filling, bocodillos (small filled rolls)... and so on. Complimented by the huge barbecue, there was no excuses for anyone to go hungry.

Together with the donkey, horse and oxen and cart rides for the children, the highlights of the fair are the many street performers, traditional pipe bands and dancers that wander the fair and entertain the eager crowds. They create such a buzz and whenever they stop to perform, a crowd soon forms and their imagination is captured for a few special moments.

Three characters that always raise a smile are the giant (human) foam puppets who stroll around and interact with the crowds. One in particular always draws a following mainly on account of his rather large (foam) penis he is only too willing to show to the ladies and demonstrate its squirting ability to lookers on....( watch the video).

You can easily spend half a day at this market, wandering around, sampling the wares and admiring the craftsmanship and skills on display, soaking up the atmosphere as you stroll. We shared cider with friends, ate tortilla and sampled cheese, bought cheese and bread and Luis even skipped. Replete,  we watched the world go by and petted a young donkey, all in all a great day out.