Sunday, March 29, 2015

The first grass cut of the season.

The grass has taken a bit of a beating over winter with excess rain and a few rare frosts. The growth has remained stunted but it has given dandelions and daisy plants time to gain a strong-hold and proliferate now the better weather is here. After a couple of warmish days and light breezes, the grass is ready to be cut; the first of the season.

The grass cuttings are layered with dry material in the compost bins and overtime it will rot down and be put back into the garden. We try to make as much compost as possible; if you grow vegetables, you need as much compost as you can produce and more.

We don't have a lawn as such, the land used to be an old neglected orchard and meadow. It would be impossible to create the perfect lawn as we are surrounded by fields and meadows, plagued by land voles, abused by the wild boar and use the garden as a work, rest and play area. This suits us and as long as the grass/weeds/mosses are kept in check, it really doesn't look too bad.

We have just had the strimmer serviced and it is starting and stopping when it should, I think we really should have the petrol lawn mower serviced and sharpened as well as it is chugging along at times and takes some battering.

We have left most of the borders as they are filled with celandine's, primroses and narcissus. We also have a few wild orchids that are yet to show their heads so we will probably leave the grassy borders until May or June when we will strim or scythe and let the grasses and seed heads dry and fall before collecting.

It is a real pleasure to feel the warmth of the sun on your back again after what has seemed a really long and dull winter. We are looking forward to the months ahead in the garden and hope to finally finish the front gardens and driveway.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Sourcing and storing wood for Winter 2015 - 2016.


This year we had had a colder and wetter Winter than what we normally experience at La Pasera here by the Asturian coast.We are still using the central heating other than on the very few warm and pleasant days when burning a few logs in the evening helps remove what otherwise would be a chill in the air as we relax at home in the evenings. During the day, daytime temperatures can reach into the lower 20 Celsius.

We occasionally are given an old fruit tree from a neighbour's orchard that would supplement the bulk of the wood we buy from a local wood merchants. After several months of firing our log burners in the lounge and the workshop/studio. we have ordered a load of wood that will finish drying over the coming months for us to burn next Winter. We are also expecting another big load over the next few days, a mixture of oak and birch wood that probably we will not start burning until Winter 2016 - 2017. Storing wood this far ahead ensures the logs we burn are dry and burn efficiently.

Over the last few days we have also finished chopping the hazel we coppiced from one of our boundaries and the small branches and twigs we gathered after pruning the fruit tress. This is ideal kindling. Some of the hazels had grown too big shadowing areas and depriving them of light; some of the hazel had not been coppiced since we arrived at La Pasera. Chopping the hazel and twigs for kindling is a job I particularly enjoy at this time of the year when Spring starts to come into life. The robins are never too far with their beautiful song while patiently waiting on a nearby perch to see if there is something for them to feast on.

A special froe traditionally used in Asturias to coppice trees and clear hedges along with a log used as a chopping block are the ideal tools for this job. The use of knee pads is something I would advise using when kneeling on a hard surface for long periods of time.

Now we only need to store and protect from the rain the chopped kindling wood and wait for the hot and drier weather to draw out most of the humidity so that it is sufficiently dried when we come to use it to start the fire. The next load of wood will be stored under cover in readiness for burning in the future.Gawber and Wentworth will certainly appreciate the warmth of the log burner in the workshop during cold Winter evenings.

In the garden, the proliferating daisies and dandelions not only herald the warmer weather but also the need to start cutting the grass after the cold weather. Cutting the grass has been a job we have delayed for a few extra days so that we could empty the compost bins before we start adding fresh grass clipping and organic matter that will guarantee next year's supply of compost. a valuable resource for the vegetable plot. What are you up to in your plot?

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Walking in Asturias: Carria Peak in Winter

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This is one of the latest Winter walks I recently did with the  Peña Santa walking group as part of my ongoing training for the three challenges I will undertake this Spring to raise money for the Donkey Paradise.

Going out with the group when your orienteering skills are not very good is a good opportunity to walk across some beautiful valleys and mountains as was the case with this stunning walk I did on a beautiful and sunny Winter's day in the area locally known as Ponga which lies next to the Picos National Park.

In Ponga the mountains are lower that those found in the Picos National Park and in Winter the snow soon melts so as a group we have an area where we can go out walking without the need to use crampons, snowshoes or skies, equipment that will be a must for those venturing at this time of the year within the higher peaks.

The drama when walking in the Ponga area at this time of the year resides primarily in the stunning beauty of its alpine meadows and woodlands surrounded by impressive lime stone mountains and ridges. The wild daffodils, of which in Asturias there are 4 native varieties, soon herald the colourful carpet that the warmer weather will bring over the next few weeks. In addition to the beautiful and brave occasional clamp of daffodils, I particularly like the vivid colours of the mosses and lichens so prolific within Ponga's limestone and, stunning at the moment as they are fully hydrated with the melting snow and rain.

Today's walk would take us to Carria Peak at 1431 meters high and was the last of a series of events the Peña Santa walking group had organized on a yearly basis and  as part of a week full of different presentations and exhibitions that celebrate the many outdoor activities that can be enjoyed in the mountains and as a result, the number of people doing this walk was slightly larger than usual.

The walk took us across some stunning scenery and as soon as we gained a bit of altitude and were out of the woodlands, we were rewarded with impressive views of the coast to the north and the snow covered peaks in the National Park to the south without forgetting the stunning area of Ponga itself.

Coming across the occasional bit of snow proved to be too great a temptation not to have some fun as was the case when Cori and Noelia decided to let themselves fall backwards and draw angels in the snow. Who could blame them with the Picos National Park as a backdrop.

The peaks are often crowned with a sort of letter box usually detailing the name of the peak, its altitude and who the sponsor for the box was. As you can see, Peak Carria had a letter box attached to a cross. There is a tradition for people to leave a note in the letter box indicating the name of those who conquered the peak, the date and any other information they may wish to share. The walking group usually leaves one of its publicity cards.

Reaching the summit is always a good opportunity for admiring the views and it is always interesting to hear from those who know the mountains very well, about others walks or when they point out some interesting detail about local history.

The second part of today's walk after leaving the summit would takes us across some areas still covered with frozen snow as we made our descent towards the lowers slopes where we eventually found a suitable place to stop for lunch.

After a short break for lunch we all felt rested and ready to undertake the descent down towards the Beyos Gorge just over 1000 m below where the bus would be waiting for. We walked down the terraces that many centuries ago were created across the mountain side to provide pasture for the livestock. These pastures supported life in the now abandoned and rapidly becoming derelict village of St Ignacio. Other than for one elderly shepherd who occasionally uses one of the huts and gathers the hay as Winter fodder for his animals in a traditional Asturian manner around a long pole, the village and grass terraces are rapidly been reclaimed my nature, an indicator and consequence of a rapidly disappearing way of life.

We came across a lady who as a child would have to walk up the slopes to gather the animals and whose knowledge of the area is invaluable and one of the reasons it is always nice to stop and talk with them as they are a great source of information as Jar, the main group leader would tell us.

Here is the link to my sponsorship page, please visit and if possible make a small donation or help us to promote this worthy cause. Many thanks.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Luis, a donkey called Rosie and a pair of high heels

Yes you read it right...high heels, read on.

In the nine years we have written this blog we have never used it as a platform for fundraising but we feel this is such a good cause we want to share with you our idea. Here in Asturias there is a donkey sanctuary that takes care of retired, abused, neglected and older donkeys. It is owned and run by a lovely lady called Marleen Verhoef from the Netherlands. We have known Marleen for about 7 years and really admire what she is trying to do at El Paraiso del Burro - The Donkey Paradise.

This Spring Luis will face three tough sporting challenges in an attempt to raise £1000 for the care of Rosie and other donkeys at the sanctuary. We'll tell you about the challenges later in this post but first let me tell you a bit about Rosie the Donkey.

A concerned member of the public first contacted Marleen and told her about his neighbour's plans to have their old donkey euthanized because they no longer had a need for her. Marleen and her volunteers investigated further and found Rosie to be in very poor general health, subdued and neglected. Her front hooves had not been trimmed for some considerable time resulting in her being unable to walk. She was about 25 years old.

We don't know the history of Rosie but like many of the donkeys at the sanctuary (24 in total) she had probably led a hard working life, used as a pack horse to carry supplies or people around the fields or bought on a whim and never taken care of. Kept outside in all weathers without shelter and never wormed, had dental or hoof care or groomed. Her front hooves had overgrown and curved inwards underneath her chest, she could not walk, she stumbled resulting in her being unable to feed properly although we doubt she was fed anything much other than scraps.

She was taken to the sanctuary and her life began to change for the better. Initially, Rosie just curled up on the ground as standing was painful. After extensive work over a long period of time, the Farrier was able to correct her posture by building her specially fitted high heeled supports that would, with physio, help release contracted tendons and muscles. With a healthy diet, regular grooming and good general care, Marleen and the volunteers helped her to walk again. Her general health improved tremendously and with veterinary, farrier intervention and dedication she has become a different donkey that can now socialise with her peers and roam the extensive pastures at El Paraiso del Burro.

Hooves trimmed and ready for another fitting

Rosie showing off her 'high heels'

Each donkey at the Sanctuary costs about £500 per year to care for. Marleen and her team of volunteers work tirelessly to care for, feed, and rehabilitate these delightful animals to give them a comfortable and pain-free life in their autumn years. Many need regular veterinary care and all need regular hoof care from a local farrier . The volunteers need housing and feeding and the land, 8 hectares of pasture and woodland, needs regular maintenance to keep the donkeys safe. We are now looking for donations to support this worthy cause.

Luis has challenged himself to three tough sporting events to help raise much needed funding for Rosie's care. Details of which can be found in the page above (under the header). This spring he will cycle to the mountain lakes in the Picos de Europa, a tough 100km ride involving a 12km ascent of 1100m. He will undertake a challenging 50km hike in the mountains in a day and he will cycle 160 km in a day along the canal of Castille. Further information about these challenges can be found on a dedicated facebook page: Luis' Caring for Rosie Challenge 2015 

Any donation no matter what amount will help Luis to keep motivated and keep him focused as he faces these challenging sporting events. It would be great if you could donate some money to help us reach our goal of £1000 - enough to provide basic care for Rosie for the next two years.If you wish to give an off-line donation please contact Ian or Luis directly and it will be added to the total amount donated as an off-line donation or you can donate anonymously. Please sign up for updates as we will publish more about Rosie and her life and updates on Luis' training programme and events over the next 4 months.

Donations can be given here - just press the gofundmebutton:

Anything you can do to support us will be greatly appreciated. Please share this post amongst your friends on social networks. For the time being there will be a page dedicated to this good cause which can be accessed through the link at the top of this page under the main banner. Thank you in anticipation. 

"The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated."