We can’t leave the town of Belmonte without calling on this lovely couple, who run an organic smallholding in Albariza and who we’d first met at the Fiesta de la Huerta the week before where they had a stall. Here we stock up on a fresh assortment of beautiful organic veg, picking most of it ‘fresh off the vine’. On our walk through their fields and polytunnel we learn that Txema is in fact responsible for the whole cultivation aspect – whilst his wife prepares medicinal tinctures, soaps and various other organic products. With regards to the vegetables, they operate a radical pricing structure: go into the field, pick what you like, come back and weigh the bag. Everything is 2.20 Euros per kilo, no matter what you have chosen – aubergines, leeks, courgettes, apples, carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, chard, you name it!
Txema tells us of his vision for the whole set-up: restoring the old farm house complete with Panera, creating an environment where others can come and get involved in an ever expanding eco-project. We mention the idea of WOOFing and he says they’re not yet ready for that, as they need to make their own ‘roots’ before inviting others to contribute/share in the project. Meanwhile, he is actively seeking knowledge of land- and animal husbandry traditional to the area… gone are the days when whole families and villages would care for every aspect of the land together: coppicing, wall building, maintenance of pathways etc.
There are still a few people left in the area maintaining older practices and he’s very keen to tap into their knowledge. At the same time he calls on the spiritual aspects via the Circulo ArcoIris, which he organizes with Charles from Casa Pascual. There is something very sacred and spiritual about the whole place.
You can contact them via Facebook under the name of Mawenya
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So we had won the first prize in the local raffle: a night for two in a hotel anywhere in Belmonte de Miranda. It turns out that it was easy to find a place to sleep, or a place to eat, but to find somewhere where we can sleep AND eat seems to be almost impossible. Mari from the Spanish equivalent of the Rural Development Agency goes to great lengths to help us. We are in her office talking about this and that, always returning to the topic of our night in a hotel somewhere. 2 very interesting hours and several phone calls later, we are no further to a solution but have had a great insight into the flora and fauna of Belmonte, and the various possible routes we might take IF we can find some accommodation that will also supply dinner. The local policeman forbade us to leave Asturias before trying at least three of the famous local dishes, so we hand his list to Mari. We part on the understanding that we will come back in a few days to continue the search.
The next time we see her, she has worked it all out: We are going to take a taxi to Samartín de Ondes, then walk from there to Dolia (with a little excursion along the Camino Real de la Mesa), where we stay the night, after which we go back to Belmonte via an ancient path that leads through the woods. She sends us off with a telephone number for Kike (pronounced kee-kay!!!) and the instruction that we must take a bit of time to walk around Samartín de Ondes to take in the special nature of this place, to see an old Yew tree by the church and to have a look at the house that has a lot of beautifully carved wood.
The Taxi driver who takes us up to Samartín is going extra slow because he has so much to tell us. How Asturias is the most beautiful place on earth, how the food is the best, nature is the most varied and the people are so open and hospitable. And he’s quite right to be proud of his region!
As the taxi driver told us, there is something special about Samartín. Unlike most other villages, which are nestled against steep hills, Samartín lies amongst open fields, receiving sun for most of the day. The drawback is that it hasn’t got its own little river passing through, but there is a fountain and a wash house. The old wash basins have gold fish in them, looked after and cared for by the whole village.
On our way through the village, we meet Pepe who takes us under his wing. He shows us to the Yew, which is suffering as the area around it has been covered in cement. Then he takes us to a field where we get a stunning view over the valley in the direction of Belmonte. When we ask after the house with the wood carvings, it turns out to be his house! Pepe’s woodwork is exquisite. The whole hose is covered in it. But more of Pepe in a later chapter….
We set off on our way up the hill towards Dolia. Each turn of the road offers a new and beautiful vista of the valley, and soon Samartín is far below us.
After about 2 hours of leisurely walking, we reach the top of the hill near some tumulus graves where we have a break and enjoy an amazing 360 degree vista. The cowbells give a concert not unlike a far away Gamelan orchestra.
(We’d love to have a video here, but have difficulty uploading it…maybe in a few days)
It is so hard to describe how we feel up there on top of that hill, with the warm October sun shining on us. All around us are signs of civilization, from the tumulus graves to the tinkling of cowbells. But somehow it all feels very connected to nature and is radiating a profound sense of peace. This is an old path/road. The romans created the Camino on top of the hills, so as not to be attacked by anyone when they were passing. It was a trade route for food and other goods and also for gold. There are gold mines from that time in this area, some of them still in action (now owned by Canadians!). Actually, come to think of it, looking in the direction of the goldmines does not give that sense of peace – somehow the mountains over to the north-West look used, abused even. They are crowned by a long row of windmills too, and the vegetation looks barren in the run up to them, compared to where we are.
We descend towards Dolia, munching blackberries and chestnuts on the way. On the last 500 mtrs of our walk we get caught by a little shower, so we arrive like two wet poodles in the village, looking for the house of Kike and his wife Ana Clara.
Kike and Ana Clara run a business called Dolia Rural. You can find them on http://www.caminrealdelamesa.com
In 2008 Kike, after retiring from a hectic work life as head of a bank, bought a number of houses in this little village that nestles into a dip high up above Belmonte. Being on the Camino Real, it used to be a very busy village, catering for travelers, providing food and accommodation to people and horses. Now it is a nearly abandoned village – 8 residents stubbornly remain. It is very quiet up there. Kike and Ana lovingly restored the houses and turned them into beautiful holiday homes. Upstairs are 3 double bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms, offering fantastic views onto the valleys, downstairs is a complete kitchen, everything new and clean, and a comfortable sitting area. (peter Gibbs review)
Today, Dolia is at the start of where the Camino changes from being a tarmac road to the original old roman road with its big flag stones. The next village south of Dolia along the Camino is 46 km away! Kike’s vision is to connect to the old tradition, providing food and accommodation to people who want to walk, ride or cycle the Camino.
It’s a business idea coupled with a fierce love for the area, its history, its fauna and flora, its traditions and its many ancient pathways: the Camino isn’t the only one by any means – the landscape is riddled with beautiful deep green lanes, connecting the villages with each other. Kike and Ana Clara serve a simple meal with very tasty meat and entertain us with many stories of the area, after which we fall into a very comfortable bed, resting our weary legs.
The next morning, we wake up to a beautifully romantic dawn, which we watch for a while from the bed through the panoramic windows. But then outside calls us and we go exploring before breakfast. We climb up a steep bank, narrowly avoiding some giant puffballs rolling down the hill and find a place to do a self-timing selfie.
After breakfast, Kike accompanies us on a round walk out of the village to a viewpoint. We talk about his vision and hear about his frustration with ‘the Crisis’ and also with local politics. His idea to restore the ruins of some traditional Ventas ( simple accommodation for people and horses along the Camino) between Dolia and Torrestio, using his own money in return for 50 years of usage, fell on deaf ears, and since the Camino Real de la Mesa crosses around 6 different boroughs, nobody is particularly interested in any ventures that want to promote it.
It’s such a fine balance: compared to the Picos de Europa, Somiedo National Park is much less touristic. Belmonte de Miranda even less, as it’s outside the boundaries of the park. The villages are much more intact traditional villages. The ultimate sign that this place doesn’t have much tourism is that we can only find about five different motives of post cards in a radius of about 30 miles. The photos were taken by a man who has now died. So that seems to be it, no more post cards forever. However, not finding post cards seems to be a small price to pay compared to the beauty this place has to offer, precisely because it is relatively untouched by tourism!
On one of the promontories we find the remains of a horse. It was Kike’s horse, and stories follow, how all sorts of animals came to feed on it – wolves and vultures, and how Kike was able to capture some of them on camera.
On our way back to the village, we watch the beginnings of the wild boar hunt below us – dogs barking on one side of the mountain and hunters lying in wait on the other. The hunters now have to wear high visibility gear – there’ve been too many accidents in the past. Despite the new ruling, Kike tells us that every year someone dies… we wonder if a hunt may be a place where through an ‘accident’ an old grudge is settled, but he doesn’t think so, it’s just that it’s hard to see properly, the vegetation is so dense.
In the woods outside the village, we come across a man stripped to the waist, pushing a wheelbarrow full of cutting instruments and we stop and chat. He tells us though he now lives in the city, he loves coming back at weekends to look after his 20 fincas (little steep fields) dotted around the village. Sadly his sons and wife who is even afraid of spiders don’t join him on these weekends. He was to pass on some local knowledge, showing us two types of hazelnuts. One is cultivated, with bigger, rounded fruit and the other one is wild with a smaller, hard and pointy shell. Although the wild one is harder and we shouldn’t crack them with our teeth, he says they are much tastier and if we kept our eyes open, we would find lots of them along the way.
We say good-bye to Kike and Ana Clara and make our way down the hill on the corredoria, an old path that directly connects Dolia to Belmonte. It is a beautiful, 6km long green lane that wends its way down the mountainside, sometimes near the river along steep fields, sometimes through ancient woodlands. Kike advised us to talk loudly so that any bears might see us before we see them. So we descend happily chatting, until we come upon one of the hunters! It turns out the hunt is still in full progress, in fact it will continue into the night, and our path cuts right through it. After some consultation with his colleagues via the walkie-talkie, he says we can walk on, but should talk loudly so other hunters can recognize us as humans. So we walk on happily chatting, now more afraid of hunters than bears. Frank puts a white t-shirt on his walking stick and holds it high above the head – don’t shoot, we come in peace!!! Suddenly, two loud cracks and we both fall to the ground. Amazing how instinct kicks in. Nothing has happened to us, but they obviously saw the wild boar. A hunter comes running towards us to tell us to stop, as the boar apparently is crossing the path. We wait five minutes until we get the go-ahead again.
We pass a few more hunters on our way down who tell us that they got one boar already and are hunting a second one. In the evening, we see the dead boar strapped onto the top of a dog trailer, a huge beast, but no sign of the second one. We probably significantly interrupted the hunt…
We enjoy coming home to our Emma who is waiting patiently for our return by the roadside. We treat ourselves to a meal in Belmonte ( it took some searching – 9pm is too early for dinner in Spain!). We are the first ones to arrive in an empty restaurant, even before a family with a baby!
After dinner, we decide to drive Emma up to Samartín de Ondes, where Frank has an appointment with Pepe for a massage the following morning.
*More photos for this chapter: https://www.flickr.com/photos/126714897@N05/sets/72157649033615612/
*To contact Kike for accommodation in Dolia: http://www.caminrealdelamesa.com
Besides offering wonderful accommodation in Dolia, being great hosts and a fountain of knowledge regarding local history, flora and fauna, Kike and Ana Clara do package deals to do with the Camino Real de la Mesa eg. they transport you to different parts of it, making it possible to do the walk in several stages.
*To contact Mari from the Rural Development Agency for advice about walking in the consejo of Belmonte de Miranda, plus any cultural events or fiestas, email her on firstname.lastname@example.org , or search her out in the government offices across the river in the older part of Belmonte. She’s been a great source of information and was very helpful.
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For more photos of this blog post, go to https://www.flickr.com/photos/126714897@N05/sets/72157648545448567/
We had met Nanette and her husband Charles at the Fiesta where they had a stall with very delicious homemade things: power juices, energy balls, organic quiches, courgette salads etc. As we got talking to them, we discovered that they kept horses and organized sessions where one was encouraged to communicate with the horses in a non-verbal way.
We were fascinated and asked if we could come and visit and participate.
The day started with some pretty intense preparations and readings of our energy levels. It turns out that we both weigh in at 10 000 Bovi (that’s the unit for vitality – a healthy person normally has 8000) each. In fact, when the measurements started, we both sat quite close to each other, which seemed to confuse the measuring instrument, as it appeared to combine both our energies and consequently went off the scales. In any case, we turn out to be very healthy and vital, and relatively free of unwanted energies. Nice to know.
After a spirit cleaning session with elements of native American wisdom, Charles invited us into the horse enclosure. There was a small area roped off on three sides and the idea was to invite any one of the six horses into that area non-verbally. Charles stressed that it was very important to breathe in a similar way to the horses, ie. through the nose and from the belly.
The first horse to respond and come into the enclosure was Elitaire, the alpha male of the herd and former Olympic show jumper (the brown one in the picture). A magnificent creature who immediately came very close. Charles said we should stand our ground and he showed us how to maintain our space and tell the horse not to enter it. Neither of us felt entirely comfortable with Elitaire, and Ruth felt a spikeyness in the connection. Charles explained how the horses are like mirrors of our inner state, how they pick up our emotions and reflect them to us. It was true, I had a bit of anger inside myself which Elitaire picked up on. As soon as he left the enclosure, he rolled in the field and got rid of the energy. The second horse came in with a much gentler energy and placed herself in between Ruth and Elitaire, creating a buffer zone between the two and diffusing the energy.
At this point, Charles left the enclosure, to see how we would cope on our own. The story went on, with various other interactions taking place, all very interesting.
It sounds like we were doing a lot, but we weren’t, we were just standing there while somehow a lot of unspoken stuff was happening. It was as if we were part of the herd, and the horses were including us in their interactions. It felt very different to any other experiences either of us had had with horses before.
After about an hour of this, we gathered with Charles and Nanette for a de-brief over a cup of tea.
All in all, a very moving and extraordinary day. Charles and Nanette really give of themselves from their heart and have a wealth of different skills in the field of energy work. On top of that, Nanette is an extraordinary cook. Her soups are incredibly tasty and her Gran’s apple pie is to die for.
We all got on well with each other, including with their daughter Sephora, and they extended their hospitality by allowing us to park on their land for three days, bathe in a lovely stream and collect chestnuts. It was nice that Frank was able to reciprocate their generosity with a massage for Charles and Nanette, which with their busy lifestyles (with 21 animals and a 6 year old child) they both appreciated very much.
For anyone interested in the work they are doing (Charles is also deeply involved in shamanistic healing ceremonies and Nanette does all sorts of things from readings to cooking courses), you can get in touch with them via the following link: Circulo de ArcoIris
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For more photos of this blog post, go to https://www.flickr.com/photos/126714897@N05/sets/72157648886905182/
The first night we arrived in Somiedo, when we stayed at what the locals call ‘la Curva’, (remember, it was the place where Frank hacked a path for me to go bathing?), I had an extraordinary dream, which involved me changing into a Werewolf. Suddenly I was twice as tall and strong and full of an incredible energy, and I was walking on all fours. I didn’t see myself, so I don’t know what I looked like, but it felt incredible.
The next day, when we visited the beekeepers house, there was a book of wolves on the table!
Some days further on, we go up the valley past Salienca to a group of lakes. It is a beautiful day, and the steep, winding road up to there allows for some stunning vistas. We have photos, but they don’t really do the majesty of the place justice. The trees are turning all colours, and some of the far away mountains have incredible layers of rock strata.
We leave Emma by the pass at 1700 metres and climb up to the lakes. A steep climb on the left hand side of lake Cueva brings us over the top of the hill to lake Calabazosa. As we come over the top, it instantly feels like we are really far away from other people. We descend to the lake and as it is a hot sunny day, we dare to consider a short dip. The water is ice-cold and clear, and it has that green tint that mountain lakes have – very refreshing! Some very beautiful fish (Rainbow Trout?) are frolicking just beneath the surface, enjoying the sunshine. There is an eerie, two second long and very clear echo. Ask a question across the lake, and you will get a clear answer…
After the swim, we have a picnic and lie back and enjoy the sun. We scan the mountainside for any sign of animal life… What’s that up there? A pair of mountain goats? Sadly we didn’t bring the binoculars with us, but keep our eyes trained on them. Then we spot another pair of animals above them, moving in a different way. They move too fast to be cows, possibly deer? Then one of them climbs higher and appears on the top of the hill as a silhouette. Moving as it does, close to the ground in a very powerful and slinky way, with a long tail…. We can only assume that they are a pair of wolves! One of them is definitely looking straight at us.
Later, a conversation with a local expert confirms that it is possible to see wolves in that part of the park.
We got back to Belmonte in time for the closing ceremony of La Fiesta de la Huerta y Pan de Escanda, only to discover that we’d won the raffle: A night for two in a local hotel of our choice! Apart from the raffle, there were many other prizes offered by local businesses, so that every stallholder got a prize: For the biggest Pumpkin, the greatest variety of products, the tastiest bread, the most species of mushrooms, the most beautifully decorated stall etc etc. Mari from the town hall organisation found a reason to celebrate everyone’s achievements as she handed out the prizes, and so everyone went home feeling happy.
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You can find more photos of Somiedo National Park on the following link at flickr:
Dear Beekeepers of Pigüeces,
We parked Emma, our mobile home, at the bottom of the road and walked up the hill to your house bearing a large pumpkin between us, which we had hoped to share with you.
We found your house where we were welcomed by your ‘plant/cat sitter’. She invited us in and explained that you were in India. We shared some food and went for a long walk up the valley to a beautiful if abandoned village. It was a lovely sunny afternoon, the ancient stone pathway was strewn with chestnuts, hazelnuts and walnuts, and the leaves are just turning, so the woodlands were ablaze with colours ranging from yellow to deep red. The air was still with the odd leaf falling silently. Up by the abandoned village, we heard the familiar sound of cattle bells but otherwise it was blissfully quiet there.
On the way home, we shared many songs with your friend, and admired the changing sky as the day drew to a close.
When we reached the village, we were surprised to see a man grappling with a huge bear!
He wouldn’t be photographed with it, nor would he give us any reason why he had it on his front porch. I wonder if you can tell us, because, we saw a bear in your house too!
The next day, we invited your friend to join us on a mycological walk, which was organized as part of the Fiesta de Huerta (garden festival) in Belmonte. In the space of a couple of hours, a group of 20 people collected over 100 species, ranging from the highly desirable to the deadly poisonous. These were then classified and named by a specialist, a GP with a passion for mushrooms, who told us that he’d collected over 3000 of the 10000 species existent in Asturias. We never knew there were so many mushrooms!
We took some parasol and some boletus back to your wonderful house and shared a lovely meal with your friend. We dipped the Parasol in beaten egg and seasoned flower and fried them, while the Boletus made a fabulous Risotto.
It was lovely to share the beauty of your valley and your house despite your absence, and it was special to meet your friend. If you ever pass by our homes in Devon or Cardiff, please feel free to visit us – or if we are not there, maybe you will have an adventure with the people renting our houses.
Much love, Ruth & Frank
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Gijon to Parque Somiedo, October 16th
We wake up with the roaring of the sea and the rain lashing against the window. The best thing we can do is to join the wetness. We get on our bikes and cycle past the surfers who bob up and down with the waves like Guillemots, waiting for a good one to then surf precariously close to the rocks. We prefer the main beach for our excursion, where the waves roll in onto fine sand. We leave our clothes under the overhang of the life guard’s house and sprint through the rain into the waves. The sea is warm and gorgeous, and apart from the surfers, we are the only people crazy enough to enjoy it.
When we get back home, it’s time to make a fire to dry all our wet things, to make some lunch and to have a siesta.
In the afternoon, we leave Gijon and head once more for the mountains. As soon as we can, we leave the motorway and go on a lovely national road, the N634, where we meet
the Camino de Santiago once more, like an old friend.
We stop off in a little town to ask for some firewood at a furniture shop and they direct us to the sawmill at the other end of town. We get to the sawmill just when the owner is about to close the door. He’s not too pleased at first to reopen the gates, but when we exchange some homemade produce against a few bags of firewood, he soon warms to us and starts chatting, giving us advice about where to go in Parque Somiedo. He tells us about some friends he has in Pigüeces, a German woman and a French man, who make honey.
We drive on a few more kilometers to find a place near the river in a curve in the road.
We have some pork & apple stew made with local cider, and fall into bed.
When I wake up the next morning, Frank has hacked a path to the river. A man has to hack a path so his lady can go bathing
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We are reunited!
After a week and a bit going about our separate ways in Germany and Wales, we are very happy to be reunited. It was good to be abroad – I had a wonderful workshop weekend in Dresden, then a great week in Proitze, meeting so many lovely people and being able to treat myself to several healing massages from Saskia which did wonders for my poor stubbed toe. Frank went to Cardiff, and besides visiting his family and lots of other people he was able to sort out a tenant for his house. We’ve also had news from Yolanda that she has been accepted at the Technische Universität in Berlin! Two worries off our minds and hearts!
Emma was in fine fettle, having been looked after on a secure car park in the centre of Gijon.
This is a picture of Gijon taken from the hills above. We’ve settled back into the Parque Rinconin with a beautiful view over the bay and a beach where we have midnight swims.
We can’t tear ourselves away, especially as the sea is wonderfully calm and the sun is shining. But we are also starting to wonder what is round the next corner of our adventure. Tomorrow we’ll go up to Oviedo where there are a few Tango people who would like private lessons, then either off to another national park, or back down to the sea.
In some ways it feels like the honeymoon is now starting in earnest.
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This is our first longer stay in a city. We find a very pleasant parking with a huge park overlooking the big sweep of beach that fronts the town. The first day turns out to be a bit of a shopping spree – we pick up our second fold-up bike, a speaker and some storage boxes that fit our new shelving system perfectly. Soon there will be enough space inside our Emma for Frank to be able to set up his massage table! The speaker was a last minute necessity – I picked up 2 private Tango lessons to be held in the park on my lovely portable dance floor. In the evening, we stumble upon a treat: a free Flamenco and Tango performance in a tiny art gallery – very intimate and very passionate on both counts!
We have some fun washing in the sea at night. The waves are quite strong and there is an undertow too, and as I have a bad toe having stubbed it on a rock the day before, I keep falling over as if I’m drunk. The sea is lovely and warm. So far we’ve found great places to swim/wash and have not had any need for showers. Just have a look at these two – last Tuesday and Wednesday’s. One in the Picos, one by the sea. Probably about 30 Minutes driving in between. Who needs a bathroom when you got this??? And don’t they both remind you of Devon?
I wonder though what it’s going to be like when the temperatures sink….
We can really explore the city now that we have two bikes! Gijon has an old part of the town near the fortress that is overlooking the ports. When I go to explore it one afternoon, it seems eerily quiet compared to the lively city with its bustling parks where people meet in the evenings and watch the children play in the playgrounds. Gijon has a huge sandy beach at the waterfront, several kilometers long and impeccably clean (it gets swept every night). The people seem relaxed and friendly here.
There is a different culture in Spain about helping people. People stop and help whenever someone is in need, effortlessly and without being asked. For example when Frank’s bike chain comes off, another man stops and starts helping him without even talking to him first.
An old couple park their mobile home near ours, and I see something dangling underneath in a way that probably it shouldn’t. I alert them to it and see how the old man has problems even looking underneath, let alone reach under to sort it out. So I shuffle myself underneath to find a relais dangling that should be fixed. I fix it for them and we chat a bit, and they leave me two water bottles. Being in need and also looking out for others in need is a good opportunity to connect with people. After an exchange like that, I feel so much richer.
On Sunday, we join a group of people for food and Tango in a restaurant in Villaviciosa. The food is excellent, the company is joyful, and the dancing is friendly. It turns out that the head chef is a renowned Asturian singer, and once the food is all under way, she regales us with her songs. First from the kitchen via microphone, but then she also comes out of hiding and sings for us without amplification. She has an extraordinary voice and the songs are exquisite – beautifully decorated laments, strong and with a very interesting non-western tonality. A little bit like Corsican music, but also like flamenco, and like Bulgarian singing too…
Alejandro and Umbe are at the dance. They are the Tango teachers in this area, and they were in fact the performers from a few days ago. They are really nice people and they have a little Tango school called Tango Brujo, beautifully done up, right in the centre of Gijon, where they teach but also host all sorts of other classes from Pilates to Flamenco and swing. They have a Tango festival too. Unfortunately it’s next weekend, when we are both away, Frank in Wales and I in Germany…
We are not looking forward to having to break our journey, but needs must, and most likely we will enjoy our time away once we are there. Frank is off to Wales, to do a clown gig, to see his family and to sort out some stuff. I’m off to teach in Dresden and then in Proitze, meeting Yoli on the way. We will reunite in just over a week to continue our journey.
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We got your number from the bio shop in Cangas de Onis and would be very interested in meeting you and seeing your permaculture project. We live in the UK, where we recently got married at Coed Hills, who have a permaculture market garden. We’re now on a year-long honeymoon/sabbatical, exploring Europe and meeting people. We will ring you later today to see if you’d like us to visit. We are currently in the Picos, travelling in a 7.5 ton Merc (8mtrs long, 3.25mtrs high and 2.4mtrs wide), so we might need some guidance re getting to your place! We look forward to meeting/talking to you.
Love, Ruth & Frank x
For Photos of this chapter, and they are worth a click, go to
We couldn’t quite tear ourselves away from the Picos, so on the recommendation of a lady in the local wholefood shop of Cangas de Onis, we contacted Tim, who’d set up a permaculture smallholding.
The road to his smallholding turns out not to be suitable for Emma, so after following instructions that include stopping at a kilometer stone by the side of the road, we meet a very friendly and relaxed young Dutch guy, who takes us up the hill, invites us for a delicious lunch made with produce from the land, and shows us the little chalet he built himself – a new version of the traditional Horreo, which he rents out via airbnb. He says, it’s quite busy, and I can imagine why. It’s absolutely beautiful, and the views are to die for. A little love nest, or a writers refuge, depending on your needs…
Nearby, we stop for the night and swim/wash in a beautifully clear, if cold, mountain stream and have dinner on our fire wok for the second time. This is a very special place. The valley is absolutely quiet at night, and stars abound. In the morning, we wake up to another clear sunny day and see that we are surrounded by high mountains on every side. The land we camped on belongs to an old farmer of over 80 years. Manolo is incredibly strong, still looking after his 14 cows and tending to the fields and fruit & nut trees. What’s his Motto? ‘Tiene que moverse’ (you have to keep moving) and two bottles a day of his home made cider, poured from a great height, to make it bubbly.
It is amazing actually how similar our kombucha tastes to the cider of the region! Manolo is also a musician, and we visit him in his house to hear him play the accordion. He must be deaf, because he cranks the amplification right up (yes, amplification for an accordion in a small room!!!). He used to play for dancing in the region, so his repertoire is a bit of this and a bit of that, all with an Asturian touch, including Tango Asturiano. I can’t make head or tail out of his choice of left hand accompaniment. It seems to me that he almost randomly hits the chords, using them more like percussion than harmony. It has an odd effect – to my ears it sounds like bi-tonal; the melody in one key, the chords in another. We also play together, Accordeon and bandoneon – he knows a number of Tangos but doesn’t know the chords, so just plays the right hand side. Volver sounded really nice!
I’m definitely more impressed by the way he shovels the cow shit, carelessly flinging a huge forkful right across the barn as if it’s got no weight at all. Tim says Manolo is stronger than the three of us together, and that the one summer when he tried to help him for a week, it took him a week to recover afterwards!
When we say good bye, Manolo invites us to come back and camp on his land any time we like. Thank you, Manolo thank you Tim, for your hospitality! We are grateful that our paths crossed.
Here’s the link to Tim’s beautiful Horreo Panoramico:
The next day, we visit a donkey sanctuary and stay on their property amongst the apple orchards, where we end up doing a very early morning shift, looking after one of the donkeys that had fallen the day before, with a weak “ankle”, that she first had difficulty standing on. By the time we leave, having had breakfast with the owner, a dutch woman, and five volunteers, she is limping a little but out of the stable and back in an enclosure with her son (the donkey, that is!).
As with all organisations like this, money is in short supply and there is a lot of work to do. The grounds are beautiful – apple trees everywhere, meadows for the donkeys, but also woodlands, a stream and a pond. Marleen tells us that when she retired she was looking for an adventure – and she got it in heaps! She built a beautiful house incorporating an old barn, and then ran out of money. The house is not quite finished, but since the government is asking for a big sum of money to have a house signed off, it probably will not be finished for a few more years…. Meanwhile, the income from the apple orchards support the running costs of the donkey sanctuary.
The donkeys are beautiful, and so well cared for and loved!
The team of volunteers is international; Italian, Czech, Irish, Calfornian, Estonian… This feels like a good place to come and do volunteer work if you’d like to be somewhere within reach of a train station but off the beaten track, quiet and beautiful, and with the main work of the day being communing with donkeys.
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There had been diverging opinion as to whether it would work to go up to the lakes in our Emma or not. Some said it was no problem, others said it was a hairy drive. So we decided to do it at night, to save us seeing the sheer drops that people told us about J
Actually, going up at night was a good idea in as much as you can see approaching cars more easily because of the lights, and also there was hardly any traffic around, making it easier to manage the hairpin bends. But as soon as we had settled up at the top, a ranger came and told us we couldn’t stay over night. I discussed the matter with him in my best Spanish, explaining that we don’t make noise or litter, in fact we clean up other people’s litter… While behind my back, Frank was offering a Champagne bottle as a bribe!!! Eventually, with a lot of sighing, he allowed us to stay one night. We probably softened his heart with our honeymoon story.
The next day we went for a walk. What stunning views!!!
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