The Longest Day. From Sunrise to Sunset. The Castle and its Kingdom.

If we live in beautiful places do we have to travel to find more. It seems we do and it can be so inspiring to see a different kind of landscape and for me it’s flora and fauna. We spent the summer solstice in the fortress town of Marvao in Portugal. Marvao welcomes visitors as there is little need to defend the kingdom by having an impenetrable castle these days. So for people there, their economy is supported by tourism and holiday homes. The only other reasons to go up the hill is for the sheer beauty of the views, sunsets and the quaint old streets. And maybe to see the aerial display of the many house martins, swifts and crag martins.

On the 21st of June we got up at 6 to see the sunrise. We were 5 minutes late and were the only ones about. Not quite like Stonehenge on the Salisbury Plains but the view across Extremadura, flat and with a few rocky outcrops and hills on the border with Portugal from the mountain of Marvao was indeed a sight to see.

Sunrise over extremadura Spain from the hilltop castle town of Marvao, Portugal.
Sunrise over extremadura Spain from the hilltop castle town of Marvao, Portugal.
The room for a sunrise view at the Dom Dinish hotel, Marvao.
The room for a sunrise view at the Dom Dinish hotel, Marvao.

After many shots capturing the rising sun we realised that there was still two hour before breakfast was served at the Dom Dinish hotel. This is an excellent and friendly place and rooms with views. Our room had a view of the south western side and the sunset if you leaned out rather precariously from the Juliet balcony. However it is not far from the castle and the town’s walls and these all provide amazing views, plentiful birds in swift flight, and vertigo inducing drops.

So with hours to kill and the sun so pleasant we didn’t retreat to the room but decided to meditate on a bench by the castle and gardens. And we did, only to find we had been sharing the bench with a giant grasshopper. As still as could be. Now nature can teach us a thing or two about stillness. The creature remained for a photography session and was there after our trip up to a castle arch to find the Crag Martin family.

Grasshopper stillness on meditating bench!
Grasshopper stillness on meditating bench!
Grasshopper meditating or Tai Chi position .
Grasshopper meditating or Tai Chi position .

After the encounter with the grasshopper we decided to see if we could photograph the Crag Martin nest we had seen under one of the first arches you go through into the castle. This is a busy spot for people but it seems not many noticed this little family. They also didn’t seem perturbed by us observing them. At first it was difficult to spot but as the beaks of the 3 youngsters opened wide in anticipation of a fist from a parent we realised that it was a very active nest! The parent bird returned a few seconds after the opening of the beaks so the little ones had sensed the nearness of the parent bird. It all seemed to happen quite quickly and photographing seemed impossible the evening before. However, on this summer solstice morning the birds obliged, a little. One was on the nest,one was on the nest resting and still. The other obliged by returning to feed the open mouths and not dashing off so rapidly.

Crag Martin under arch of Marvao castle
Crag Martin under arch of Marvao castle
Parent Crag Martin returning with food for hungry mouths.
Parent Crag Martin returning with food for hungry mouths.

After breakfast we had a good long walk around the Castle. There are many shots of that but not many of the swallowtail butterflies, both types and graylings. We even saw a Red Admiral on some rocks by the Convent. The heat was rising and there was a need to withdraw. The renovated Pousada was very cooling for a coffee with views over Spain and amazing coffee table books with beautiful photographs of horses around the world and some in very high places too.

View from the Pousada Santa Maria, Marvao
View from the Pousada Santa Maria, Marvao
Coffee and coffee table books
Coffee and coffee table books

The rest of the day was spent strolling around, touring in the valleys below, and finally another really red sunset. A real glory be to Nature and maybe final farewells to the history of war and now homes for Swifts, Martins and other critters! And for us, love conquering war with a second honeymoon!

Castle of Marvao
Castle of Marvao
Evening Primrose in castle gardens
Evening Primrose in castle gardens
Rooftops and views, Marvao, Alentejo, Portugal
Rooftops and views, Marvao, Alentejo, Portugal
Sunset from hotel room. Note weather vane is odd!
Sunset from hotel room. Note weather vane is odd!
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Yellow is the colour of……..Botany studies in yellow

And with thanks to Opher’s World for nominating me for some blogging awards. Check Opher out as there are plenty of references to the great music of the 60s, Dylan, definitely and maybe Donovan! But Opher Goodwin has written some great books and one that he has shown extracts of is about Anthropocene Collapse. I love one of the futures he envisages where we as a species do survive and also keep 50% of the Earth wild. Here’s to some of the wild flowers at Finca Navasola. It’s always amazing where they pop up.

Tolpis
Tolpis and so much sun makes photo difficult. A lot of radiating light.

 

A vipers grass. But the lovely lemon flower Rays often closed again within the bud.
A vipers grass. But the lovely lemon flower rays often closed again within the bud.

Yellow is the colour of these wild flowers in the morning.
Yellow is the colour of the Thapsia, tall and elegant from dawn to dusk.
Yellow is the colour of the many, many daisy and dandelion types.
Yellow is the colour that vibrates so bright
Bringing more than just the sunshine’s light.
Bringing the joy of nature’s alluring fight
For the future, the next day, the next year, not the night.

A poem to capture the variety of flowers seen at Navasola this May and June. I had to start identifying through colour as this seemed easier than botanical keys and I had got stuck with 26,000 within the daisy family. Thankfully, we have various books and our own survey which helps narrow this down. But it is still a challenge as there were about five different kinds in yellow. As I was more confident with a range of other flowers I focused on trying to narrow down the daisy types. As we move into June some of this variety are already turning to seed but there are still more to feed the interest of the range of butterflies about. Another post or poem on those!

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Perforate St John’s Wort
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Thapsia, tall and elegant.
Thapsia, tall and elegant on the verge.
Thapsia, tall and elegant on the verge.
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Leontodon Hispidus I think!
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A wild euphorbia. Yellowish. With wasp with very waspish waist!
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Curry plant and very aromatic
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A lone yellow dahlia facing the bedroom window. At least some things grow well without too much water in my real rock garden.

 

McKibben to Obama: You still have time to be a climate champion — but not much

Grist

Dear President Obama —

I feel a little awkward writing a letter to you, perhaps because I helped organize the largest demonstrations outside your house during your residence there: It’s odd to write someone when the closest you’ve ever come to them is being chained to the fence outside their home protesting the Keystone pipeline.

But I’ve had a very long time to think about global warming — since the late 1980s, when I published the first book for a general audience on the topic of what we then called the greenhouse effect. And so I thought I might offer a few thoughts. It’s only in the last three or four years that climate’s political dimensions have come into clearest focus for me, beginning in some ways with those Keystone demonstrations. As I’ve learned more about how Washington works, I’ve understood better some of the paths you took and didn’t…

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A Wild Welcome Back! All alive and well at Navasola! Or on the Verges of a dilemma. When to cut back ? What is best to help improve biodiversity?

Where to start? We were back at Navasola and nature had begun its takeover. We were greeted with abundance but not of our own making. As I walked around though I was astounded by the variety of wild flowers. Wild poppies, wild irises joined the wild gladioli and all mainly around the overgrown verges of the main tracks. In the rock garden I looked for my additions and was greeted by dahlia and lilies growing up through a mayhem of other plants. The Melissa had grown strong and high too. And I saw a beautiful small purple flower I had not noticed before. This intrigued me till I walked over to the veggie field and there it was in great abundance. The vegetable garden was overgrown to at least waist height with this variety of vetch. There was a slightly squashed trail and I followed it to the fruit patch and where our friend had planted some tomatoes and peppers for us. The following night we ate the habas beans that had survived so at least had some home produce!

Wild roses over my magical path
Wild roses over my magical path
Very vetching!
Very vetching!
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Wild poppy amid grown coriander

Priorities? Well, on with my botany as this was the time to really get to grips with all the extras that were on show. Over the other side of the Finca and up a more chalky hill there were carpets of pink. I had never seen so much of the silene last year. This and more beautiful toadflax. Unfortunately I didn’t take photos of this and when I returned to this South Eastern side a week later there were just a few remains of the pink spread.The weather had been hot and dry and this is the next stage for the Mediterranean flora. Grow well while you can and withdraw to reseed when it is hot and dry. During that week though I had been busy taming my veg patch with a scythe, and then having to tame hay fever which I hadn’t suffered from last year. There were so many amazing sculptures of different kinds of grasses. But there is only so much I can do and post. More on my attempts to identify the daisy and dandelion types and much more in future blogs. It seems the summer is the time to be out and to post about all the natural wonders. Another dilemma. Reading other blogs it is amazing the diversity around the world and so much to say and view at this time.

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Wild iris
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Phlomis
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Olives blossoming
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Pink centaury amidst a meadow of much more.

Navasola has quite a few wild meadows but a lot of the variety of wild flowers does seem to be appearing on the verges of paths and tracks. It was interesting to read an article in The Guardian about advice as to when to cut the public verges by roads in the UK. It seems that this is the last bastion of wild flower variety and good for pollinators. However a recent post by Jeff Ollerton seemed to suggest leaving the cutting to much later than July and August as there are so many pollinators that need those flowers then. And with changes in climate these creatures may need more time too. I have made a decision at the moment to do as little as possible in cutting down. I didn’t cut down the wild flower meadow on the Era last year, it is full of even more flowers now. However I did decide to reopen paths into the veg garden and try and use the vetch for mulching and compost. There are also areas where the grass might need to be kept back because of my allergy to it. I also get red skin if in contact with some forms of grass. Annoying as I want to be out and about. It seems to me that closely observing the interconnection between plants, insects and animal life is key to helping enable biodiversity. Any advice is always welcome and when I have more wifi I will try and explore some of those blogs which have such a wealth of information.

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Daisy family….possibly a mayweed.
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My favourite scarlet but blue pimpernels
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Bladder campion, named on walk with N.
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Small but adds to a very aromatic environment. Pitch.
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Wild and overgrown verges.
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Oat type grass: one of many rising high above.
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Overgrown rock garden but with lily ready to come out.
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Overgrown front garden but lavender, mint and winter jasmine all growing well too!
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Wild gladioli, hop trefoil and a campanula all brightening up the building site!
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Veg patch overgrown but strawberries and raspberries growing strong.
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More common vetch!
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Wild poppy, with flowering coriander and planted flowers behind.

The Journey. From one home to another through France, Basque Country, Extremadura to the Sierra Aracena, Andalucia.

With a long road trip ahead of us and the car laden with stuff to take, including all the wood carving tools given to me because of the sad closure of Heston Woodcarving Club, I was just a little bit anxious that our old car would make it. I was also sad to leave London, and all our family and friends but was also missing our little hidden valley in the South of Spain. Almost 2000km between us. I feel split between two worlds but am fortunate to have that choice.

Travelling through the green of France made me really think France could feed the world. So much agricultural land and such an industry with tractor factories all over the place too! Later I read that France was going to pass a law about waste food in supermarkets. Ironic and sad in a time of food banks for many.We had decided to go on roads without tolls and although a bit slower it was much more interesting and gave me more of an insight into being in France. Hopefully, it was also more fuel efficient and would save at least 100 euros in tolls.
I know Northern France quite well and am always amazed by its peacefulness as we used to take school trips to the World War 1 battlefield sites: Vimy Ridge and Beaumont Hamel, the Canadian sites are both historic and a reminder of a Europe torn and devastated by war, a hundred years ago. We passed to the south of some of these but did pass some graves still immaculately kept in small villages. These places are an important reminder of those who fought and of how now we need to continue to fight for a better world for humans and all species to live in. So many died so young and of a similar age to my 17 and 18 year old A Level students. So we travelled through minor roads near the Somme and even further back in time to Agincourt and finally came to the land of the rich. We stayed at Chateaudun, just south of Chartres. Here is supposed to be the first chateau to be found when coming from Paris to the Loire region, famous for all its chateaux along the river. Holiday homes for the rich. And then the revolution and the French love of Egalite, Fraternite,Liberte and all things French, like good food and wine. On the good food and keeping the French language French, there are some popular eating places such as Macdonalds and Buffalo grill which seem to be doing well as fast food chains, though along with Flunch, a cheap way to self service French dining. We enjoy finding Flunch and can easily even share a meal there!

By the small Loir in Northern France.
By the small Loir in Northern France.
Chateau by Loir, without an e.
Chateau by Loir, without an e.
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Tree lined road of planes near Dax in South West France.
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A not so narrow road but well used by the big trucks avoiding tolls.
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The only way to go in France, by bike!
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The only traffic jam on all the N roads but with a view of the Pyrenees, near Spanish and French border.

The journey through the Basque Country of Spain was beautiful and there are now some amazing roads but the Spanish do charge on these new super highways with major long tunnels through the mountains. The amount of road trucking transport is phenomenal. It is times like this that I do wonder how all this will have to change and hope that by reading Naomi Klein’s book ‘This Changes Everything’ a bit more I can get some insight. It seems to me from the book that there is too much control and investment in the fossil fuels industries which has slowed down the technologies we could all be changing to now. Will these be the giants like the dinosaurs bringing us and other species closer and closer to extinction. Or will it be me, one little ant with a lot of emissions. Could I have been driving a solar powered car? Well, certainly the sun shone most of the way this time!
We then stopped in Salamanca, always worthy of a return visit and always something new to see.mthis time it was the historic Paza Mayor,made all the more interesting by a political demonstration by the new found voice of local people. Ganemos in some way connected to Podemos, the fast growing alternative to the big two party system that has run the show for so long in Spain.

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Near Monfrague national park. Time to look out for vultures.
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Long roads through hot and dry Extremadura.
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The sandy track through the abandoned chestnut fields.
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Inside Navasola and down my magical track!
Wild gladioli outside the gate to Navasola
Wild gladioli outside the gate to Navasola

Finally home in our hidden green valley. And was it green. I had worried more about lack of but had been told it was often raining in April! I had to rejoined ice in the exuberance of the wild things growing or despair as my vegetable area was covered in all types of grasses and vetches.some time will need to be spent finding the beans and fruit bushes. Time will also have to be spent in looking at all the wild flowers. There are so many will keep me busy for months but suspect they will not last into the heat of late June.

The journey without tolls was from Dunkirk to Chateuadun to Dax. (with some help from the AA non toll maps.)Dax to Irun and then we chose the highways to Salamanca,mfinally paying a toll near Burgos of 27 euros. We have done this section without tolls but the new autoroute is quite spectacular.