Monday, December 27, 2010

Gathering winter fuel

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Our main source of heating is wood-burning stoves, as well as in the house we have a small wood-burner in the workshop that we use when working on mosaics or other projects. We have a central heating system that uses diesel but our main preference is for a great log fire. We usually buy wood for merchants who source, fell, split and cut wood for sale to the general public but it isn't particularly cheap here in Asturias so whenever we get the opportunity to get free wood we jump at the chance as it makes sense financially and environmentally.

Luis is very good at identifying wood cleared from common ground or fallen trees that no-one is claiming or processing. He had his eye on this lot for a few months now - a supply of logs from a Cherry tree that was felled on common land near to the railway line. Permission is always sought. After an hour with the chainsaw and axe we can replenish our stock with graded wood for the house and workshop. We have a large wood store that is partially protected from the weather - currently full but more than half of our supply isn't dry enough and is still too green to burn. With this additional load of free Cherry wood we should manage.

Gathering winter fuel
It is good to keep a good level of dry stock for burning when we need it, this winter is particularly cold and we soon get through a fair amount of wood. In March we will buy further supplies so that it is dry and ready for next autumn/winter.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Distant echoes and light amongst stone pillars.

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To visit and appreciate temples and churches for their architectural and cultural value has always been one of my passions. The way the architecture of a particular building captures and reflects human thinking during a particular moment has always fascinated me, I like to pay attention to the way the artistic style of the temple captures some of the believes and ideologies of a specific era.

Oviedo´s cathedral is an incredible building with many gems both within its exterior such as its impressive Gothic tower and those housed within its interior such as the superb High Alter piece, some of the side chapels and the famous Holy Chamber, an earlier pre-Romanesque structure that houses numerous Pre-Romanesque jewels.

Gregorian chant is a musical style I have always appreciated and what better place than a Gothic cathedral to listen to its beautiful sounds. There is no need to agree with or believe the religious ideology it is associated with in order to appreciate its beauty and enjoy the chants purely on their artistic merits. To listen to the pure sound of the monks´ harmonious voices while walking amongst the pillars of the central nave in a cathedral is something to be experienced. Listening to Gregorian chants in a Gothic cathedral would equate to singing and dancing amongst a vibrant Gospel choir - exhilarating.

If you add the chanting voices of the monks and the way the sun floods into the central nave through the vibrant colours of the stained windows above, what else could you wish for whilst enjoying the quietness of the place... Occasionally, the silence would be broken by a solitary figure or a group of people coming in and going out. The way those people behaved while in the church mirrored the different reasons for them being there. It was obvious some people came in to admire the building and others came to pray while someone else would came in searching for solitude.

I wanted to listen to the sounds coming through my headphones while walking amongst the stone pillars and arches while distant echoes occasionally broke the spell.

The main altar piece in this cathedral is such a joy to appreciate when lit up. It is a magnificent work of art created in XVI century by some of the most famous artists of the "Spanish Golden Era" such as Berruguete who incidentally was born in Palencia, my province. This alter piece is the third most important in the country after the one in Toledo and Sevilla, only one to go to have seen the three.

One could always argue whether or not the expense of creating such pieces can be justified if you take into account the reality that many human beings lived through while such works of art took place. Personally, I will leave such argument for another time and on this occasion I just enjoyed two of my passions and appreciated the sunlight flooding in until Faithless broke the spell of the moment and I walked out onto the sunny streets of Oviedo. Luis x

Friday, December 17, 2010

Flowers for Christmas....

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Just in time for Christmas - a wonderful crop of crisp white cauliflowers. Cauliflower cheese, cauliflower soup, cauliflower pasta, baked, roasted, steamed...Yum yum. We must remember to check out the sprouts as well....

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas is coming.....

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Having just spent the best part of November back in the UK, it was difficult to escape the hype and hyperactivity that has become synonymous with Christmas and the ever lengthening run-up to the big day. That was until a few days back here in the peaceful tranquillity that is Asturias.

The Spanish celebrate Christmas but not in the same way or even at the same time as friends and family do back in the UK. Firstly, presents are not given until the Epiphany on the 6th January, by far a greater celebration for the Spanish than Christmas day. Boxing day doesn't exist and Santa Clause is in the main redundant due to the good work carried out by the three Kings who distribute presents in fine fashion. The main gatherings here in Spain are Christmas Eve and New Years Eve. Christmas cards or should I say the wholesale mailing of cards to all and sundry, is not common practice and neither are the obligatory list of presents and stocking fillers. Stockings and pillowcases are also scarce as Shoes have taken their place for the depository of gifts. The shops and bars are tastefully adorned with Christmas decorations and a few homes have placed subtle Christmas references on the outside of porches and balconies. Having no television, it is only the arrival of cards from family and friends that remind us that Christmas is on the way.

Whilst out for a walk yesterday we stopped at the village chapel after spotting something glistening in the entrance. Members of our Village's Festivities Committee had decorated the Ramu as a tree using pictures of the villagers as baubles. It was great to see the 30 or so faces of our friends and neighbours brought together in this way and it served as a timely reminder that we need to make plans, put up decorations and plan gatherings.

Unfortunately, globalisation has recently introduced Santa Clause as another way of selling us all lots of things we don't really need, resulting in two Christmases for a growing number of Spanish people.

Whilst making lunch I spotted this little fella making his way to safety, away from the hunters that are currently active and eager. I hope he makes it.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Dusk at La Pasera

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I just wanted to share with you two photos that show the fabulous sunset I experienced today while I had a moment of solitude with Gawber sat next to me and the beautiful song of numerous birds around me.


Friday, November 26, 2010

A good challenge- cycling to El Fito

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The Fito viewing platform is one of the nicest viewing points in Asturias. It is a concrete structure built in 1927 in the protected area of the Sueve Mountains that rest between the Picos Mountain National Park and the  Eastern coast of Asturias. The views of the coast and the distant Western Massif of the Picos are spectacular on a clear day. El Fito is one of my favourite places where I like going up the steps when there is no one around and enjoy the 360 degree view. I frequently look out for the peaks within the distant Western Massif, especially those I have climbed. I can easily lose myself within the emerald green of the grass in the numerous valleys below and as they drop down towards the golden sands of the long and numerous beaches just a few kilometres away I can see myself enjoying a walk on the beach.

The foto shows the Sueve Mountains as I was approaching it from the coast. El Fito is half way up a winding road  that takes you from the inland town of Arriondas down the village of Colunga in the coast. It is some time since I started cycling up El Fito as you approach it from Arriondas and recently I decided it would be a great challenge to cycle up the the viewing point platform from the coastal plains. Although from there the distance to climb from the coast is shorter, it is a greater physical challenge and mentally is more of an endurance test as you are constantly looking at the road as it climbs up the mountain ahead of you. From the other side, the woods cover the top.
Half way up the road the views down to the coastal plain are magnificent, unfortunately it was a grey day when I took this picture. The stop was very welcomed and I took the opportunity to replace the fluids I was loosing through perspiration.
The last two times that I went up El Fito I cycled from La Pasera on the old coastal road for 27 km and in the village of Colunga I took the smaller road that starts climbing up about 3000 feet while you cycle along for about 6 km. You forget the hardship once you are greeted by views like the one I show you with the last photo taken from the base of the viewing platform and looking across the valleys and the distant peaks. The return home takes me on the road that runs parallel to the river Sella and as you start entering the long and wide river estuary near Ribadesella I can feel the warmer air that comes from the coast before completing the last leg of this 60 km circular rute from La Pasera, altogether and enjoyable challenge.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Autumn sunshine and colour

While Ian is in the UK for the next three weeks, I am  enjoying the company of Gawber and Wentworth while I catch up with some jobs around the garden. The wild flower meadows have been cut and the bare ground in part of the vegetable plot needs to be planted with oats, green manure, to help nitrogen retention in the soil as well as helping to improve the soil structure in readiness for next year´s planting.
This afternoon I decided to go cycling up into the mountains in preparation for my attempt to cycle up to the lakes in the Picos Mountains, a tough cycling route usually incorporated in the Spanish Cycling Tour. Today´s cycling route took me along the coastal road for 15 km before I turned into the small and winding road that leads up to the Hortiguro Heights- a 12 km climb. As I was nearing the top and I got over the cloud line, I was able to enjoy the Autumnal warn sunshine and the changing colour in the trees. I could not resist the temptation to stop to take this photo. On my way back, I took a short break to enjoy the pounding of the incoming tide on the shore of St Antolin´s beach, a beautiful spot with just a handful of people.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Ground force

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We recently helped two people John and Belinda to prepare virgin ground for a new vegetable plot on the banks of the River Sella. The land is being loaned to them by Bill and Sara from La Rondita so that they can grow their own produce until such time they have a garden of their own.

The plot lies on the banks of the river and is totally overgrown with brambles and weeds. Armed with strimmer, spades, brush cutter and edging tool we set about clearing a decent sized plot for the intial two-three beds. Although it is late in the year we felt that if we could plant a few vegetables for over winter, then it would help keep the ground clear and with a bit of luck, a few tasty home-grown vegetables for spring.

Under the strict and watchful eye of Luis, we were each given jobs to do and instructed in the correct methods........say no more. Before long we made excellent progress and managed to clear a large area - the soil is lovely black gold. 
Planting begins under the watchful eye of Luis

100 leeks, red cabbage, cabbage, onions and two types of lettuce were lovingly planted, watered and tended. Oregano, sage and chives were transplanted into one end of the first bed and black plastic was secured over the second bed to suppress the many weeds that will inevitably grow over winter. 

Job well done

Already John is looking worried at Be's plans for a third, forth and fifth bed with plans afoot for fruit bushes, rhubarb, bird hide, compost bin, irrigation this space.

The resident toad - keeping guard for slugs and snails

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Walking in Asturias 7- The Sajambra villages

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The Sajambre valley lies in the Castille and Leon side of the Picos Mountains National Park. Every time we go back to my birthplace in north Palencia to visit my family, we drive on the road that takes you through the stunning Sajambra valley which lies about 1 hour´s car journey from La Pasera.
To do this 7.5 mile circular walk, we need to drive along the narrow and winding road that runs alongside the river Sella as it cuts its way though the rock to form the impresive Beyos Gorge. After 1 hour´s drive and as we leave this beautiful gorge, we drive through the villaje of Oseja de Sajambre where we can park the car and start the walk. If we follow this road, we will climb up to the mountain pass of "El Pontón" one of the three mountain passes that connect Asturias with Castille.

In Oseja de Sajambre is where the walk starts and as we follow the way marks and start walking along the very well known "archdeacon´s path" (senda del arcediano) which is a linear walk taking you deep into the Western Massif, one of the three massifs that comprise the Picos de Europa National Parrk. In time, the Archdeakon's Path takes us trough a deciduous woodland on the mountain side and gives us an opportunity to enjoy the views across the valley before reaching Soto de Sajambre, the next village on our path.

Soto de Sajambre is a village slightly off our path but well worth the extra few yards walking. I normally like to take this short detour as this small village has some very interesting architecture, we can enjoy a coffee stop while admiring the impressive surrounding scenery. Wandering along the two streets is almost like walking through a village that seems half forgotten by time and where a nice sun dial rests against a wall telling us that "time does not stop".

Retracing our steps, we soon pick up the path to the Upper and Lower Ribota villages. This stretch of the walk presents us with some of the more exciting opportunities for admiring a rich alpine flora that varies with the passage of the seasons. During late Winter and as soon as the snow melts away, the primulas, violas, hepaticas and four spices of Asturias wild daffodil are some of the alpine plants that I most enjoy.
During late Spring, there is a profusion and great variety of wild flowers producing a riot of colour. Counting number of the different types of wild orchids is one of my distractions on this leg of the path during the month of May. The sighting of all four species of Asturian wild daffodils on the same day is something that I treasure.

Lower Ribota is a good stop for lunch next to a very fast river Sella. This is a village where have been tempted to stop and sit quietly on one of those village benches where many local affairs had being discussed on days gone by and before the population of these villages started to decline in the 80's and ever since. One day while having lunch on one of those benches, we were joined by a mastiff dog carrying a big piece of stale bread in its mouth that would not eat after being treated to some of our home made bread. From the lower Ribota, the walk follows a path parallel with the river where the hedgerow is very thick and it is a good place for some bird watching. We soon start climbing up towards Oseja de Sajambre where the car awaits us passing through some very open meadows that are full of wild flowers, insects and birds; an ideal place to lie in the grass for a while and let you mind relax. 

Just as we reach the end of this beautiful walk, there is an interesting farming complex turned into a small ethnographic museum that provides a glimpse into a very traditional way of farming with little dependence on solid fuel that can occasionally be seeing practised when we walk through high pasture land in early Summer.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

European Tree Frog

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We had a wonderful surprise a few nights ago. The south winds were blowing a steady warm stream of air and the sky was crystal clear and showing off its many stars and milky way. Returning from feeding Wentworth and Gawber we spotted this tiny little fella. At first sight it looked like a small moth or large spider as it was so small - about 2.5cms in length. He was stuck to the wall about 2 metres from the ground on the back terrace. Luis remembers them from when he was a little boy in Spain and known to him as St Anthony's frog - apparently they are fairly rare these days so it was great to think that the environment we are providing here at La Pasera is attracting such fine creatures. His official name is:  Hyla Arborea (click to access Wiki Link).

Hyla Arborea - European Tree Frog

Tiny fella

Just landed on a candle sconce.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Our river - Rio Guadamia

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This week we took the opportunity to visit our local river and estuary at Guadamia. While Ian waited for wildlife to photograph, I just sat by the riverbank and listened to the water as it rushed down three little cascades before merging with the salty water of the incoming tide.

As I closed my eyes and listened to the sound of the water, I could tune into the different sounds that each of the three cascades was producing. In time, the incoming tide travelled up the river and as it reached the first cascade the sound coming from it would disappear to return a few seconds later once the tide retreated back towards the sea. After a few cycles, the tidal surge would be big enough to reach the second cascade and leave me only with the sound of the third cascade. Soon the water surge would retreat and I would be able to tune into the sounds originating from any of the three cascades.

The tide kept coming in and eventually would be big enough and gather momentum up the river to cover the three cascades and drown away the sound of the river until it started to retreat back into the sea letting me once again enjoy the sound of the water rushing down the cascades.
After watching the fish swimming up the river in search of food and rushing back as the level of the water decreased with the retreating tide, we made our way back to La Pasera enjoying the autumnal light and hot south  wind that we tend to experience at this time of the year.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Macrolepiota Procera

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We have just recovered from severe rain and very strong winds over the weekend resulting in the loss of much of our fruit and some vegetables. The wind was intense at times and throughout the region, many orchards are devastated. Luckily we managed to harvest about 30 kilos of our russet apple before the main storm passed though.

45 litres of rain fell over twenty-four hours, much needed but gentler and over a greater period would have been better... but that's mother nature for you.

Setting off from La Pasera

We had in mind to go mushroom hunting over the next couple of weeks and the recent downpours prompted us to venture out this morning. After so much rain and good warm temperatures it is an ideal time for fungi to push through and bloom. We set off early and took the Camino de Santiago path that runs though the village. Heading along one of the many caminos that veer off towards the cliffs, we soon reached a pasture we knew from previous years. This particular pasture is perched on the edge of the cliffs and usually has an abundance of Macrolepiota Proceras (Parasol Mushroom). Needless to say it did not disappoint and we soon filled our basket with the most magnificent specimens we've seen in a while.

Macrolepiota Procera
We made our way home along the cliff tops and through the winding tracks that criss-cross the pastures. With the fresh smell of wild mint underfoot, intense autumn light, cheerful birdsong and the site of beetles dragging goat droppings into newly dug burrows, it was a really enjoyable walk. So peaceful and refreshing.

Luis with our haul of 'shrooms'

On the way home we passed several Pilgrims making their way to Santiago de Compostela, all of whom, on spying our basket of 'shrooms' asked about our haul and photographed them. The local farmer was busy scything grass for the cattle as his horse munched happily on fresh green shoots and apart from the insects and birds, we were alone... Bliss.

Lunch was an easy decision - sautéed parasol mushrooms, scrambled eggs and home made lightly toasted bread. The remainder of the 'shroom's were blanched, drained and frozen for use later in the year.

Footnote: we only ever gather mushrooms when we are 100% sure of their edibility - if in doubt, never eat fungi or berries you have limited knowledge of...Oh and another thing, pick responsibly.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Walking in Asturias 6 - Vizcares Peak

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As you all know, walking is one of our pastimes and while in Asturias we have had the opportunity to do some fabulous walks along the coastal plains, across the valleys and up the mountains. The series of blogs entitled "Walking in Asturias" will continue presenting you some of the walks that we enjoy in Asturias, both within the impressive mountains of the Picos National Park and other mountain areas as well as on the beautiful coastline and the green valleys .

The Vizcares is one of the many peaks you can do within the Ponga mountain area in the municipal district of Piloña about 35 minutes drive from home.

To walk up toVizcares peak (1420 m high) with La Pasera as your base, we need to drive to the town of Infiesto where we take  a small road running along the river that shares its name with the pretty small village of Espinaredo where you can enjoy several good examples of Asturian architecture including houses, farms, stables and "horreos"- wooden granaries on four or more stone or wooden pillars. Once you have crossed the village, the road takes you up to the picnic area of La Pesanca, a good spot for a picnic by the river where you will be shaded by the numerous sweet chestnut trees and be able to appreciate some of the local flora and fauna. There are four types of Asturian wild daffodil and the photo shows one of them.

After you leave the car at La Pesanca, a concrete path soon leads up into the hills and through wooded areas. You soon start gaining altitude and after a while you reach some mountain meadows where the flora can be spectacular in early Spring with lots of alpine plants. The views of the surrounding limestone mountain are spectacular.

On the way up to the peak a small woodland, mainly wild holly, provides you with some shade where you can take a rest before you start the last stretch of the climb. As you start climbing the peak itself, you can appreciate the beautiful rock formations carved by the elements and carpeted by wonderful mosses, lichens and alpine plants. I recall the intensity of the different tones of green present in the moss and lichen. I can easily get distracted by such natural display and beauty!

Once you have crowned the Vizcares, you can enjoy the magnificent views across the impressive Ponga mountains and the majestic Picos mountains.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Harvest Moon

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The Harvest Moon was a special event this year. It is the first time since 1991 that the full moon and the autumn equinox have come together. On Thursday evening these two events coincided in the small hours of the morning. We spent Wednesday and Thursday evening looking at a spectacular full moon in clear sky accompanied by Jupiter and its moons. Through a scope or binoculars Jupiter's moons (4 that we could see) formed a prismatic ring around it. It is times like this when you wish for two things: to have a really top notch telescope and to have answers to questions such as "just how big is the cosmos and how many other planets have life forms?" Oh and "Just how long a lens do I need for the camera"?

Anyway, Back down to earth. We thought it would be good time to celebrate our harvests. Our fully stocked freezer, shelves straining with jars of pisto, and pasatta, pickles and jams, tables laden with squash, fruit, tomatoes, marrow and carrots, crates filled with potatoes, one year's supply of honey, good wine, containers full of organic flour, vegetable plots still producing copious amounts of beans, squash, beetroot, brassicas, leeks, aubergine, swede, celery, celariac, fennel, peppers, strawberries, tomatoes - we celebrate the bounty and take stock of how lucky we are to produce a lot of our own food, to have found local suppliers of good quality products and to be able to provide others with small offerings and to exchange goods with neighbours, friends and family. The harvest means so much more than food on the table.