Sunday, August 30, 2015

A high summer peek at the garden

Most gardens have several faces that are determined either by natural cycles or through their purpose and the resources allocated. Ours is no different. We have beautiful places that are pleasing to the eye and other senses where you can sit and idle the time away. We have both tidy and not so tidy working areas which are in a constant state of flux, piled high with wood to chop or stone to cut and use. We have unfinished areas that are at the end of a list that grew and grew over the past 9 years and that will one day on completion, serve as the full stop to the overall preparation and build elements or at least signal a semi colon.

Here are a few photographs of the pleasing elements of our garden (in our eyes at least). As the late summer colours overtake the fresh shades of the spring greens, the changing summer light advances bringing with it rich hues and tones to the nearby landscapes and, the midday skies take on an increasingly erratic carpet of blue, grey and white.

Monday, August 24, 2015

August update from La Pasera

It's been a busy month. A couple of visits, a family wedding, a family barbecue, lots of work around the vegetable plot and garden, some building work, a street market to prepare for and stand, and...a few preserving and jam making jobs.

Luis' brother Oscar came to stay with us from El Salvador and besides valuing his help with one or two DIY jobs it was good to hear about his life as a Marist Brother teaching in El Salvador. He have previously been living up the Orinoco Delta in Venezuela so this recent move is quite a change for him.

Another brother of Luis, Ruben, got married to his long term partner Veronica and we all met up with the family at the weekend for a large family barbecue and gathering. It was a lovely day and great for Luis to spend time with some of his nieces and nephews.

Just a snack before the main event...

The vegetable plot is producing well with beetroots, aubergines, basil, peppers, cucumber, marrow and chard ready for harvesting almost on a daily basis. I made two large pots of Basil pesto (Recipe here) with lots of garlic and some mature Parmesan. It is lovely to have with pasta and a variety of vegetable and cheese dishes. I doubt it will last long. Luis made 14 jars of Raspberry Jam and there are still lots on the canes and many more frozen ready for later on in the season.

We have just stood our 5th or 6th annual Rastrillo in Nueva, a small village a few kilometres away. It has always been a great showcase for our chair restoration and with a live demonstration we always attract a lot of interest from passersby who either remember past relatives being able to weave cane or rush or from people who have chairs they want restoring. This year, along side the chairs we took a whole load of bric-a-brac; items we no longer had a need or use for. We took quite a healthy amount of money on the day and will probably put it towards a high-end shredder which will help tremendously with out coppicing and pruning off-cuts.

An early start setting up our stall.

We are gearing up for more visits in September and will continue with some building jobs before winter sets in, more about that in a later post. The main holiday season is nearly over here in Asturias and although it is good to see the place buzzing, it is also a relief when they leave and the beaches and roads become tranquil and at peace one again.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Garden shed clearing - out with the old, in with the new.

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Every gardener knows that the garden shed is worth it's weight in crops as long as it is kept tidy and ordered. There is nothing worse than not being able to find your trowel, spend 15 minutes digging around for the hormone rooting powder or stumbling over the mound of unwashed plastic pots that litter the floor. Unfortunately we are as guilty as many for not keeping this precious work space as pristine as it could be. The potting table on the side of the shed was deteriorating fast and the whole shed beckoned for a little tender loving care.

The garden shed was one of the first things we built when we bought La Pasera as it was a key component in our plan to grow as much as our own fruit, vegetables and salad crops as possible. We have treated it well structurally with regular coats of water repellent stain and regular tightening of battens that protect it from the strong Costa Verde winds. It is sealed around the base regularly and the roof felt is good quality which when put all together, helps us to keep it water tight and in sound condition. However, this past two years we have been a bit neglectful and it was not long before we noticed that the wood was beginning to suffer in places and the seals were letting in small amounts of water, so time to spring into action and get it sorted.

We completely emptied it, washed the pots, threw the rubbish, sorted out lots that could be recycled, cleaned all the tools, swept it for cobwebs, painted it on the inside, repaired a couple of pieces near the base that were beginning to rot, painted it outside, re-sealed it and put everything back it. Suddenly it's enormous!

Re-painted and re-sealed

Waste not want not...
Never one to throw re-usable things away (hence the clutter in the first place), today Luis' brother Oscar, who is visiting from El Salvador, and I used the wood we cleared out to build two new planters. With a bit more sanding and a couple of treatments of preservative they will make a great addition to the garden for spring bulbs.

Clearing out and tidying the shed makes you realise how important it is to keep up with those jobs that you think will wait another season. As the seasons come and go, it is easy to let standards slip but keeping up with these sorts of chores really does make life easier in the long run.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Walking in Asturias: Collado Jermoso refuge


My last outing with the Peña Santa mountain walking group was one of the most memorable walks in the Picos Mountains National Park I have so far had. It was a two day walk with an over night stay at Collado Jermoso refuge, one of the several manned mountain refuges dotted across the National Park.

Only 15 members of the group undertook this particular walk which entailed a two hour journey via a small minibus that could pass the small roads that would take us past the stunning scenery of the Beyos Gorge and El Ponton mountain pass before we could reach the start of our hike in the Valdeon area at the edge of the Central Massif.

The Central Massif has the highest peaks within the three massifs that comprise the Picos National Park and I have always been mesmerised by the beauty and sheer drama this part of the mountains presents those who walk any of the many hiking routes that can be undertaken across a sea of limestone that at times resembles a lunar landscape. Conquering one or several of the peaks over 2000 m high is always a choice depending on personal experience and/or technical ability required.

Salinas Tower
During the first day of this outing, we conquered a peak known as Salinas Tower  at 2450 m high, a peak with fantastic views in all directions. Climbing this peak as part of a rather large group of 15 people poised some challenges especially when we were required to scramble up some mountain passes or when extra care need to be taken to avoid been injured by a falling loose rock accidentally been dislodged by someone higher up the slope. 

Having left our rucksacks at the base of the peak (as they were rather heavy not only with water but also food for the two days and the required equipment to sleep in the open at high altitude), lunchtime was delayed until we had descended. I have always enjoyed eating outdoors and doing so in this part of the mountains is something I value as it is a great opportunity to admire some fantastic scenery while listening to those who are familiar with the terrain identify some of the many peaks before us or the paths that cross the mountains pastures and slopes.
With renewed energy levels, we took the path that would lead us to the refuge were we would spend the night.

Collado Jermoso refuge. Image by Silvia Castro

Within the several mountain refuges dotted across the entire National Park, the refuge at Collado Jermoso is without doubt the one that rests within the most dramatic and beautiful setting of them all. As you approach it from the south, the most common route to reach it, you can appreciate the drama as it appears to precariously perch at the edge of a precipice while to its right the peaks tower up to dizzy heights over 2600 m while a few meters behind it the Cares Gorge also known as the Divine Gorge drops over 1000 m. The back of the refuge is a particularly beautiful and much loved beauty spot where those staying at the refuge for the night can enjoy the drama of a sun setting behind  the Holy Crag of Castille within the Western Massif. Within this vantage point, the views down into the Cares Gorge below and the Valdeon valley opening towards the West adds to the overall drama and beauty of this particular area and certainly attests for the Jermoso name, a word that means beautiful in Bable or the dialect that is spoken within Asturias.

Sunsetting behind Holy Crag of Castille.

Sleeping in the refuges at this time of the year requires booking a place early but you can always have a drink, dinner and breakfast even when you sleep outside as we all did on this occasion. As darkness approached, we settled into our sleeping and bivouac bags and waited for the stars to come out. The beauty of the night sky and the shadows the moonlight cast onto the rocks is something I will never forget and certainly made up for the lack of sleep. A sloping ground was certainly not the best place to lie down to sleep.

The climb up La Palanca with Salnas Tower behind
 to the left and Friero Tower right behind.
After a much welcomed breakfast and coffee at the refuge, we were eager to start climbing up the second peak, La Palanca at 2614 m. The hard efforts rewarded us with magnificent views of the Salinas Tower, the peak we climbed the previous day.

Sitting with our feet dangling at La Palanca's summit was a great photo opportunity and provided perspective to the background peaks one of which is Torrecerredo, the highest peak in the National Park and one I plan to conquer this Summer.

From La Palanca, a 2200 m descent was certainly a challenge and the reason why we all ended with stiff legs the following day. The scenery we walked through and the views down towards Cain, a quaint little village in the heart of the Cares Gorge and where the bus that would take us back after having a drink at the local bar made this tough descent a little more bearable.

Walking through an area still covered with snow is something you can still anticipate when hiking in this part of the National Park but with a little care and attention there is no reason why these areas cannot be crossed safely. Safety should always be paramount and we certainly had a reminder of the risks this type of activity entails when we saw the mountain rescue helicopter in action in our vicinity. We would later on, sadly discover that it was a serious accident the rescue team were taking care of. One reason why appropriate equipment, insurance and going out with experienced and competent guides is essential when venturing in this stunning part of the Asturian landscape.   

Sunday, August 02, 2015

The holiday season in Asturias

Asturias is a popular destination during the heat of the summer in Spain. Many Spanish people come during the main holiday period of last two weeks of July, August and beginning of September. Many leave their town and city based apartments where the summer temperatures rarely fall below 30 degrees Celsius, to come to the milder and more tolerable northern coast; Spain's Natural Paradise, Asturias.

The once quiet towns and low-key cities now buzz with extra traffic, more pedestrians and busy terrace cafes and bars. The beaches that are mainly deserted for 10 months of the year become a mosaic of sun chairs, beach umbrellas, beach towels and sand castles. The hundreds of peaceful walking routes become punctuated with walkers, ramblers, cyclists and runners, the gentle hum of the mountains ring out with cattle bells and camera shutters and the subdued markets come to life with extra stalls and animated stall-holders eager to sell their wares to passing tourists.

As you wander around the small fishing villages, farming communities and hidden towns, the aromas of cured ham, grilled fish and seafood, still cider and barbecued meats float through the air with unprecedented regularity and the haze of wood smoke intensifies the tapestry of greens, golds and blues that are typical of summer here in Asturias. During the next few weeks we will see and hear a proliferation of fiestas, music festivals, street theatres and recitals, all geared up to entertain and bemuse both the locals and the incomers; something for everyone.

It is great to see this influx of visitors during the summer months and although it can upset our normality, we realise that the economy needs it. What always confuses us is why Asturias is so quiet during the remainder of the year? We appreciate that it is the main holiday period for many Spanish workers but we feel that there is no-where better to visit in Autumn or Spring and even Winter than this beautiful region of Spain. OK the weather can be unpredictable particularly in Spring and sometimes in summer but cooler and wet weather fronts rarely last for long and after all, that is why Asturias is so green and lush. With mountains, woodlands, pastures and coast, larger cities and quaint villages all easily accessible within half an hour no matter where you stay, Asturias really does cater for all tastes.

Below are a couple of videos that show some of the beauty of Asturias, the first is a video from the hotel we first stayed in on our first time in Asturias (worth a visit) and the second is one I have featured before of the Cares Gorge; the most iconic walk in Asturias. Who knows we just might meet here one day....?

Winter walk along the Cares Gorge, Picos De Europa, Asturias and León, Spain from Tomas Millar on Vimeo.
A walk along the Ruta Del Cares in Northern Spain. Posada de Valdeón - Caín (León) to Puente Poncebos (Asturias) - Courtesy of

Filmed using:
DJI Phantom Quadcopter
GoPro Hero 3
H32D Gimbal