Friday, February 27, 2015

UPDATE - Bat Rescue

It has been an eventful few days. Our previous post about finding a drenched and exhausted bat provoked a lot of comment and advice both on the blog and on social media sites. We also contacted various organisations in Spain and the UK that support bat education, research and rescue. In addition we contacted Seprona (Servicio de Protección de la Naturaleza). The advice offered was mixed, some helpful and some not so helpful. In the end we made a decision that we would follow our instinct of minimal intervention and as early release as possible.

We continued to offer honey and water via droplets out of a syringe and made available finely minced cat food and meat jelly. The tiny bat took little and spent most of the days resting underneath cloth in a plant terrarium on the cool balcony. Our thinking was a couple of days to recuperate, then rehouse in a bat box and let nature take its course.

I built a bat box with instructions and specifications found here (something we have been meaning to do for some time), and made the decision that we would temporarily, position the box up high on our workshop window ledge; some 4 meters of the ground. The time came when there was a break in the weather and the temperatures had risen...

Time to relocate the bat to its new home and wait and see. We gently moved the little bat (a pipistrelle we think) and helped it climb up into the sanctuary of the new bat box. It slowly climbed higher and higher into the box. From the ground we could just about see it.

Much to our surprise and delight, about an hour later whilst Luis was taking a look through binoculars, the bat eased its way down and took flight. Fortunately I was close at hand and we both watched as it soared with ease and made its way to rocky outcrops and woodlands just across the field next to our house. This is ideal territory and we hope that it found refuge and that it has a second chance to live a fruitful life. Pipistrelles can live 6 or so years.

The next time we see bats diving and gliding in the soft yellow light of the local street lamps we will no doubt remember our encounter with this delightful creature and consider what a privilege it has been to spend a few days caring for it. The next job is to make further bat boxes and install them around our plot. We'll keep you informed in further posts.

Our first bat box

Monday, February 23, 2015

Rescuing a bat in winter

The weather has been pretty grim for the past few weeks with many heavy storms, strong winds and cold. Not the best of weather for creatures great or small. On my way to the workshop yesterday morning I spotted something out of the corner of my eye that made an impression in my mind as I carried on and began rummaging through the chest freezer. You know the sort of feeling that you need to take a closer look... On my way out Gawber the cat, who was two steps in front of me, stopped and sniffed at this little dark lump on the ground. I looked closer and saw a tiny bat. My first thought was that it was dead, probably caught out by a heavy storm or even worse, clawed by one of our cats as it swooped down looking for insects. Its tiny wing moved. It was sodden and covered in cobwebs.

I gently put the bat in a small cardboard box with some dried leaves and kitchen roll and, placed it in the boiler room where there is always a warm ambient temperature. After removing the cobwebs with tweezers, the next job was to research what to do? I trawled the Internet and found that most sites recommend making the bat safe, handle only with gloves due to disease and then call a bat charity, volunteer, vet or animal rescue centre. This is rural Spain... I was on my own. I had read that bats found in such circumstances could be exhausted or dehydrated and to try feeding it water and jelly from cat food from a paint brush. I tried several times but the little creature just licked the moisture of its furry face and then kept turning its head away when offered more. The bat had dried out and was much more alert and active.

 I contacted a couple of people who were volunteers for UK based bat charities who suggested that once it had dried out to put it up high in the evening and it could possibly fly. I did, on the balcony, it didn't.

The bat box on the balcony

Following further investigation and advice via contacts on social media, we concluded that the bat was probably still in a hibernation period and it could have been blown from its roost. We were also advised to examine it closer for tears in the wings as antibiotics would be required if that was the case. Fortunately, the wings seemed intact. We have made further attempts to hydrate it with honey and water and will put a small amount of cat food/jelly for it to eat if it wants. It is now housed back in the boiler room in a plant propagator filled with a piece of cloth, a twig or two, some dried leaves and honey water. If it is hibernating, it could be a few more weeks before it is ready to fly and as they can live on very small amount of fat reserves, I am not too worried. We will keep you updated on his progress and carry on with our research and investigation as to what the next steps should be.

Alert and ready to bite

If there is anyone out there who has experience of this sort of thing and can advise us what to do, please get in touch.



Joining in #AnimalTales with Rosie at:

Thursday, February 19, 2015

A walk to the local nudist beach...

Following a couple of weeks of grim weather it was great to wake up to bright blue and clear skies and a golden sun that was going to rise high and begin to bring some warmth and much needed energy. Foregoing the pruning of the fruit trees we decided to take the morning off and head for our local nudist beach...

Just along the coast is the stunning beaches of Toranda and Torimbia. In the height of summer they do get busy but not packed however, at this time of year it is almost guaranteed they will be deserted. Torimbia is a popular family-focused nudist beach that can only be reached by foot along a track that winds its way down the hillside to a secluded beach bar and golden sands. The bay provides protection from the elements and the gentle sloping beach provides safe swimming for all ages.

Toranda is a beach in the next bay to Torimbia and although smaller and more exposed to the ocean, it is equally stunning. There is a small car-park near the beach down a rough track next to a never-completed, and now derelict) building - probably built without permits and prevented from being completed. This morning even the local police were enjoying their patrol and took their patrol car along the beach and parked up. Along the way we passed divers returning from their foraging for sea urchins and goose-foot barnacles which they will sell to the local restaurants.

There is a track along the headland that leads from the car-park in Toranda to the beach at Torimbia but sadly with the recent spate of torrential rain the track down to the beach has suffered a landslide and it is precarious to get down although another track has been trod which was relatively easy to navigate.

Now the big question is DID WE STRIP OFF? Maybe if you look close enough you might just spot us.... Click here to reveal all

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Preparing the soil for Spring vegetable planting


We have a crop rotation system here that works well for us. With three large beds we can plot where and when we plant crops to ensure we make best use of companion planting, soil fertility and crop timing. Two of our three beds are still packed with winter crops such as celeriac, leeks, kalettes, cabbage, cauliflower, swede and kale.

Following lots of wet weather the ground has dried sufficiently so that we are now able to do some work on the vegetable beds. The third bed was seeded with green manure (oats) back in Autumn, these are now ready to be dug in along with some home-produced compost. This will be left to rot down for several weeks before potatoes, onion and tomatoes are planted.

We have worked hard over the past few years to improve the soil structure as our beds were established on meadow land that was mainly solid clay. With the addition of sandy topsoil, raising the beds, adding as much compost and manure as we can get our hands on and annual sowing of green manure the soil has greatly improved. Earthworms are now abundant and help work the soil along with many other insects and micro-organisms. The soil is loose, full of organic matter and a much richer and more fertile ground in which to grow vegetables.

Elsewhere in the garden processing the coppiced wood continues and we are gradually building up a good stock of kindling for use next winter. There is life again in and around the garden with visiting deer and wild boar. Sadly, as I write this blog-post I can see the hunters in the bottom field and I can hear their dogs frantically rooting out anything that moves in the nearby woodland. I just hope these three nightly visitors stay safe...

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Restoring a suite of rush furniture

Rush chairs and benches are very comfortable and last many decades if used correctly and protected from the elements. Being a natural fibre it is prone to damp weather, mold, insects and breaking due to excessive weight. Most rush restoration is due to normal wear and tear following several decades of normal use. This custom made suite of furniture was brought for restoration by its owners; the suite is usually sited on an outside covered terrace. most of the rush had deteriorated due to damp and breakages. The structure of the chairs was not really appropriate for rush as the seat frame was very deep which would make forming the contours of the seat, difficult but possible with extra care and manipulation of the material.

The two benches, one with a detachable seat frame, had been designed for rush so were much easier to  craft into a comfortable seat.

After many hours of skilled craftsmanship the suite of cane furniture was re-rushed, re-waxed and collected by its owners who were delighted with the result. Advice regarding the care of the seating was offered and only time will tell if they heed it. All in all a lovely suite of furniture that would grace any dining area. Further information on restoration can be found at

Friday, February 06, 2015

Making a new fruit basket in Escriño style


For a couple of years now I have been on the look out for a new fruit bowl, ever since our last one got broken (but it was recycled and re-fashioned into a birdbath). You might think this is an easy task but the ones I saw were either too fragile for their size, too small, the wrong colour, too deep or just not up to the job. In fact we have been using an antique plate originally designed for meat. As my quest for the perfect fruit bowl grew tiresome, Luis offered to make one in Escriño style using rye straw and rattan...perfect. This meant I could commission the correct size, depth and shape.

We have featured Escriño baskets before when Luis learnt how to make them on a short course in Palencia. That time it was a bread basket, this time something more substantial was required. We eat a lot of fruit throughout the year including commercially bought, home-grown and foraged so we needed something that was sturdy, strong and capable of holding substantial amounts.

Escriño is an old tribal craft technique that binds together straw, grasses or pine needles with either strips of willow, rattan or any other binding material. This style of basket can be found in all parts of the world including Africa, South America and Asia. This small basket (below) is from Luis' brother Oscar who brought us it as a gift from Venezuela, of similar construction but much smaller and finer.

The rye straw was grown by Luis' family and the binding he would use was rattan cane he uses for bergere chair weaving. The spiral of straw is measured by a gauge made from a cut-off thimble. The shape is formed as the spiral of straw is woven. The final weave is finished off with a rattan weave that adds a design element and added strength to the basket. These baskets are seriously strong and are rock solid once completed. The technique looks relatively easy but it takes a lot of patience and skill to produce anything worthy of display.

After many hours weaving his magic, sometimes on a sunny terrace sometimes in the workshop or even the lounge, we now have a wonderful, perfectly formed and functional fruit basket that should last for many, many years. Now to plant the seed that we need a new waste bin for the bedroom.....

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Walking in Asturias with Peña Santa Mountain Group


We have always enjoyed walking and since we arrived at La Pasera in Asturias, we continue to explore and enjoy the varied landscapes this region in Northern Spain has to offer. There are several walking groups in the region and I recently joined a local one that shares the name with one of the main peaks in the Western Massif. The Peña Santa mountain group is the largest of the groups and based in the nearby town of Cangas de Onis, one of the three main gateways into the Picos De Europa National Park, it is the oldest and an efficiently run group.

There is a yearly membership fee to join the group and once you are a member, you can access insurance cover at a much lower rate. This insurance card also gets you a discount when you stop overnight in a mountain refuge.

Other benefits of going out with the group when taking into account my lack of orientation skills is, that all the walks are led by guides who knows the mountains and the particular routes we are doing.

On each walk, in addition to the guide, there is also a person who closes the walk and whose role is to ensure no one is left behind or gets lost. Luciano is a group member who enjoys this particular role and lately I find myself joining him as he is someone very passionate about the mountains, nature, a way of life that is rapidly disappearing and whose knowledge of local history is incredible.

Luciano telling me about water and wildlife. Image by Cristina Perez.
In addition to the two monthly walks the group organises within different parts of Asturias, the organising committee also celebrates what is knows as the "mountain week" in early February when during the course of the week there will be a series of events celebrating outdoor activities in the mountains with numerous exhibitions, projections and presentations given by local and national mountaineers.

El Friero Peak, simultaneous Peak Climb, Summer 2014. Image by Sergio Perez Castaño

The calendar of activities and events for 2015 also includes 3 mountain bike rides, two walking trips with overnight stays in Madrid and the Basque Country, the 9th Lakes of Covadonga Marathon Xtreme and the simultaneous multiple peak conquering when the group splits into very small groups and tries to conquer as many peaks as possible within one of the three massifs that comprise the Picos National Park. This year this event will take place within the Eastern Massif and I already have my mind set in one of its peaks.

The group's yearly calendar always closes with a climb to a suitable peak just before Christmas when young and grown ups can accompany the group taking a Nativity set (Belen de Cumbres) that will be left on top of the chosen peak, a tradition celebrated by most of the mountain groups here is Asturias.

Belen de Cumbres 2014. Image by Silvia Castro
Image by Silvia Castro

In addition to the monthly outings, smaller groups of members get together to do more challenging and technical walks not suitable for a group of up to 25 walkers with varying abilities and ages ranging from 11 and 83 years of age.

The group has recently seen and increase of younger members lowering the average age of the group. One must not forget the coach driver, Javier, who after dropping us at the start of the walk would patiently wait for us at the end of the day and would always allow us time to stop at a local bar were we can enjoy a drink and come together to celebrate after a hard day's walk.

Bustiellu horreo (granary). Image by Gema Castaño
What is clear is that the group never cancels a walk come rain or shine as I have realised after some walks when the use of waterproofs and umbrellas was a must. The rain never bothered me and in spite of the limited views when walking across valleys or having to slightly adapt the route to take in the day's adverse weather condition. The warmth, friendship and laughter from the members of the group never fails to brighten up the mood on a rainy day. After all, it is the rain that adds to the beauty we enjoy in Asturias. Cheers to the group and future days enjoying the stunning scenery in Asturias.