Simple p-leisures

One of the best things for me about being with family and friends is the opportunity to indulge in shared interests; simple things, little leisure pursuits and happy hours that make wonderful memories. When we get together with Sam and Adrienne, walking, cooking and sharing good food and music are pretty much guaranteed to be top of the list and the few days we have just spent together were no exception.

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One of our top priorities was the long-awaited trip to the Cabo Busto cake shop  where we had promised to treat our visitors to a belated birthday cake (and of course, it would have been very rude of us not to join them!). What an amazing place it is, set in a village house brightly painted in red and green and run by a friendly and talented young couple who are very happy to explain what each cake is made from and to (thankfully) allow customers plenty of time to choose. These are not so much cakes as exquisite works of  art and trying to pick one from the gorgeous selection is demanding stuff! After much deliberation, Adrienne was thrilled to indulge in a creation made entirely from almonds (bottom left); Sam opted for the sumptuous dark chocolate hit (top left); Roger plumped for a most beautiful confection celebrating honey (top right) and- no surprise- I was drawn to that soft, summery shortbread topped with a beguiling little heartsease flower. You are welcome to eat your choices in the pretty garden from which the flower was picked but we opted to savour them in a beauty spot by the sea. What a great start to our long weekend!

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Staying with the coastal theme, we took the incredibly steep path down to Playa de Gueirúa, a beach which fascinates me not least because the tide seems to come in from two directions.

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Adrienne and I share a love of pretty pebbles so while Roger and Sam explored the beach and cliffs, we were happy to pootle about looking for examples of interesting colours and patterns, texture and sparkle.

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Sam’s interest in the stones veered more towards practising his skimming skills; he also played chicken with the tide and lost, soaking his enormous walking boots in salt water. I was reminded of a phase in his childhood when we didn’t go anywhere (and I mean anywhere) without a complete change of clothes and footwear for him because he always managed to end up soaking wet, even where there was apparently no water. I smiled to see there is still a whisper of the little boy in the man he has become! (By the way, in case you are wondering –  he isn’t wearing a kilt in any of these photos, it’s a tartan shirt tied round his waist.)

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Another day, another walk, this time up the río Esva gorge. It was the second time in three weeks for Roger and myself but I don’t think we could ever tire of such a beautiful spot. It was interesting to see how things had moved on since our previous walk  despite the recent inclement weather. The flowers were not quite as spectacular but it was good to see that new little stars had opened.

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Heavy rain had certainly swollen the river which literally boomed down the gorge in a state of white rage and water seemed to ooze from every pore in the rocks. There was a fair bit of scrambling over rocks to be done, but ironically it was the flights of steps and boardwalks made from local oak rather than the rocks that were lethally slippery.

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With this in mind, we decided not to return the same way but to take a longer route back up  and over the mountain. Well, why not? We had plenty of time after all. Plenty of food, too. Last time we did this walk together, we left the picnic in the car not realising quite how long we would be; oh my goodness, we were all so hungry and grumpy by the time we had finished! So, fortified by a wonderful spread – little dishes left over from a tapas evening, homemade sourdough rolls, a very gooey, fruity, seed-laden flapjack, peaches and apricots – eaten at a picnic table under the trees, we set off up the mountain. It’s a steep old climb but well worth the effort as the views from the top are completely stunning and once again, we had the place totally to ourselves – just the birds and insects for company. Perfect.

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Crossing the river for the final time, it was decided that a game of poohsticks was needed. This is the kind of nonsense we love, something that is simple, free and – let’s be honest – rather pointless, but which always gives rise to silly banter and much laughter. The competitors readied themselves at the start line . . .

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. . . then dashed to the other side of the bridge to eagerly await the arrival of their sticks.

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Braveheart thought he had it in the bag . . .

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. . . but victory was snatched from him in the last seconds by Adrienne, the reigning poohstick champion (who was very demure and restrained in her celebration, as you can see).

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Ah, time to go home and light the barbecue . . . which in reality ended up being the stove when torrential rain set in yet again, this time with a a dose of thunderstorms for good measure. 😦

We weren’t downhearted, though, as the next day took us to the Muniellos nature reserve in southern Asturias for a walk that promised to be rather special. For a start, only twenty people a day are allowed to do it; access is strictly by prior permission from the government and you can only apply once in any year so we felt very lucky to have obtained the necessary permits. The walk follows a 20km mountain trail to an altitude of 1400 metres through the largest oak forest in Spain and some of the most ancient and primitive woodland in Europe. The bald facts, however, don’t even begin to describe the sheer beauty and majesty of this place. The views are utterly breathtaking: mile upon mile of unbroken forest sweeping right to the tops of the towering mountains; given some of these are roughly a couple of Snowdons high, that’s pretty impressive.

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I have often struggled to convey the green-ness of Asturias but here it surpassed everything I have seen so far. From the ancient oaks with their massive hollow boles (some are six metres in diameter) to graceful birch, brooding holly and yew, glossy beech and hazel and a wealth of lush undergrowth there was just layer upon layer of green. Imagine an ancient oak, its gnarled bark wrapped in mosses with ferns growing from the cracks and silvered lichen dripping from every branch; magical, indeed.

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This walk is not for the fainthearted; in fact, there are strict rules as to who can and can’t do it, and for good reason. Distance and steep climb aside, the path is hard going in many places, narrow and precipitous and often becoming a scramble across scree slopes or rock faces above vertiginous drops. I don’t usually carry a stick when I walk but this was one place I was happy to have my sturdy Asturian pole in hand!

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One of the outstanding features of the forest is the complete lack of human inhabitants and minimal human impact; here nature calls the tune and there is a wealth of natural beauty to appreciate and enjoy.

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What a privilege to walk back in time and experience the northern forests of centuries ago, the pure scale and unspoilt wildness of it all. No wonder this is where the largest concentration of bears chooses to live. No wonder so much hard work goes into preserving this sacred space. What a very precious place it is. Paradise indeed.

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Having shared a picnic lunch at the highest point, we started our three-hour descent with an hour’s scramble down a rocky stream bed, balancing on slippery boulders and trying to avoid wet feet. If you are very tall with huge feet, then straddling a stream is easy . . .

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. . . but if you are shorter with smaller feet, things can be a bit trickier.

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There were several times when I almost got very wet (the worst being later on when I lost my footing next to the much wider and deeper river); I was just hoping that in a timely role reversal, Sam had a change of clothes and footwear for me in that bag! If I’m absolutely honest, I wouldn’t have minded getting wet; it wasn’t cold and it would have been worth it for the amazing day we had spent together. On our return, the warden encouraged us to apply again in a year’s time and I know we will, maybe in autumn next time as the colours must be truly spectacular then.

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So to our final jaunt, a walk along the beach at San Juan de Arena and another picnic before trundling to the airport. The sea was wild and moody, the beach empty and invigorating but sadly, due to a minor technical hitch with the camera, I have no photos to share. Never mind; I have captured the moment in my memory and that, after all, is what counts. 🙂

 

 

Six on Saturday

This is my very first foray into the world of ‘Six on Saturday’ hosted by The Propagator and I’m so thrilled to be taking part. It’s such a lovely idea, gardeners from all walks of life and corners of the world coming together to share what is good (or not!) in their gardens each weekend. In fact, it’s how I started to blog  on the now defunct ‘Vegblogs’ site and five years on I am still in touch with great gardening friends I made there. I am passionate about our garden but equally I love to see what others are up to, there are so many new things to learn, ideas to share and much to celebrate together. So, if you are visiting my blog for the first time through ‘Six on Saturday’ then a very warm welcome and thank you for taking the time to be interested in my little patch of earth in ‘green’ Spain! 🙂

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This week it has been warm and wet, perfect growing and greening weather. The slugs, snails and weeds have been having a field day so there has been much to do in the patch between the downpours and plenty of things to see. It’s so hard to choose (this is a great discipline!), but here are my six for today:

With the autumn planting of ‘Douce Provence’ peas almost eaten, it’s good to see the next crop steaming along behind. These are a mix of ‘Kelvedon Wonder’ and ‘Early Onward’; we have had such a nightmare with los ratones helping themselves to newly-planted peas and beans this spring that there has been much emergency gap-filling and all the rows are now eclectic mixes. No problem, these little beauties are sweet and delicious, especially mixed with a plentiful supply of baby broad beans.

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Those pesky mice were also responsible last spring for munching the roots of three out of four young  ‘Green Globe’ artichoke plants raised from seed, but the one surviving plant has grown to such a monstrous size and is so prolific I’m beginning to feel it’s enough. We’ve already had several meals’ worth of artichokes and there are another ten in need of eating. We’re planning an Italian-style tapas dish for tonight, if such a thing is possible?  Just call it (con)fusion cooking.

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By some complete miracle, the slimy ones seem to be giving the lettuce a wide berth and we have several little patches at different stages all doing well. The contrasts of shape and colour in this group really caught my eye (as you can see, eclectic is a bit of a theme in our garden – purists might want to go and lie down in a darkened room). So pretty. Who needs flowers?

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Well actually, I do because I love flowers, especially when they are mixed through the vegetables. A new star to open this week is verbena bonariensis, one of my all-time favourites and so good in a wildlife-friendly garden. The plants grown from seed last year are now all as tall as me and waving around prettily on their slender stems above swathes of ‘Munstead’ lavender; I’ve found several self-set seedlings whilst weeding the veg this week. Happy days!

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We’ve never grown a grapevine before but somehow a Spanish garden and the beautiful foil of a honey-coloured stone horreo wall just cried out for one. This is a white muscat variety bought from a local nursery and planted several weeks ago: looks like it’s settled in just fine if the tiny flowers and fruits are anything to go by.

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Finally, the garden margins have erupted this week with an explosion of brilliant red poppies, self-set from a cheap packet of ‘bee and butterfly’ seeds I sprinkled last year. They are so rich and opulent with petals like crushed silk and the bees are going mad for them. In fact, there is so much circling and stacking it feels like a little air traffic control wouldn’t go amiss. The bumbles think they have it all taped up but . . .

. . . incoming from the right . . .

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. . . and landed. There’s room for a honey bee, too.

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I am constantly astounded at how such delicate flowers, so fragile and fleeting, can cope with this sort of bombardment! Must be tougher than they look.