Autumn Walks in the Sierra Aracena

Autumn in the Sierra Aracena is a must.The autumn colours start with the poplar trees by the rivers, the fruit trees and finally all the chestnut orchards bring those northern forest changes to the southern part of Spain in our mountains. By the end of November the chestnut harvest is over and this year it has been poor due to a longer drought than usual. We have also just managed with our well but only about 100 litres a day coming up from the water table.We took a brief respite in Portugal to use a washing machine. We didn’t dare risk the amount of water our machine takes even though our solar power makes for a carbon neutral wash. Without water it is very difficult to be comfortable. I could have walked a kilometre to the local village where the springs are still flowing in Fuenteheridos as many women in other countries have to walk long distances. The Castano village spring was still dry too.

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Autumn brings a lot of business as local farmers collect their chestnuts, tourists come to visit and enjoy walks and foraging. The foraging for chestnuts and mushrooms often creates disputes because most of the land in the Natural Park of the Sierra Aracena is privately owned and farmers need the income from their chestnuts but key footpaths are open. Some tourists come in coach loads to see the change of leaves against the bright blue skies. But thankfully it has been cloudier and some rain has fallen. Those of us who live there cannot complain as the rain is desperately needed. So for once I have had almost three months of grey skies with my time in the UK and now back at Navasola.

Organic growers’ market at the Matronal campsite between Fuenteheridos and Castano del Robledo.

Autumn also brings the harvest of other fruits such as quince which must be cooked. I cook it whole and then cut it up and add half sugar to the amount to make the famous membrillo paste. It is delicious with the hard mature cheeses of the Sierra. Below are some other fruit in a friend’s orchard; persimmon or caqui in Spanish. These need to be eaten when very overripe.

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Persimmons in Ruth’s orchard.

I have also spent a lot of time peeling and preparing chestnuts for rissoles and stews.I have a love hate relationship with these amazingly difficult nuts, their harsh husks which spike you, their outer shell which goes quite tough if not knifed into when fresh from the ground, and the awful tannin bitter inner coat which refuses to be removed.

Here are photos from one of our favourite walks above the village of Castano, especially in the evening in order to capture the setting sun. Just before the village of Castano from the road there is a large green structure and a path starts from there. Following along the path from the village you can also reach this track. These are some of the views as the sun came out making it a glorious golden walk.

Lotte my favourite Tibetan terrier at the start of the track
Views of the village of Castano del Robledo

Chestnuts are the planted orchard trees here but robles are the oaks and there are a few different kinds that grow wild here as well as the Cork Oak and Holm Oak. I was delighted to find theresagreen’s post on Chestnut trees. Its very detailed and informative about the whole years cycle. Here is the link but I might try and reblog too. https://theresagreen.me/2019/12/06/sweet-chestnut/

There’s always an old chestnut. In middle of path.
Cork trees
Rocky stone walls typical of the Sierra Aracena
A new oak forest growing.

The walk along this track or sendero from Castano del Robledo finally ends up at La Pena, a rocky outcrop overlooking the Sierra village of Alajar.Here in the renaissance times Arias Montano had a sanctuary and place of learning.Today there is the church hermitage of ‘The Queen of the Angels’ and this is where the romeria in September ends too. All the local villages walk, ride horses, or are pulled in fancy carts by horses or tractors to honour the most important saint of the Sierra. It is a magical place with tremendous views and from there you can walk the path to Castano. There are not many circular walks in the Sierra as the public paths were the old camino reals, or royal paths from village to village for trade. Perhaps the King came that way once.

La Pena, Alajar, Sierra Aracena

I have voted in the British Election, with a heavy heart as I could not vote Green as my party stood down in my northern hill town constituency. There is a weariness of the spirit but there is so much at stake. Even though there was finally a climate leaders debate on TV the ideas of a Green New Deal have not been publicised much by the media or dare I say the Labour Party.

I love that all the political parties are announcing planting tree programmes but my mantra for the New Year will be

‘ We need forests not just trees so keep our forests and make more please.’
‘It takes lots of trees of different ages to make a forest.’

I am struggling without a good wifi connection and also if there are any hints about keeping the blog going without using too many gigabytes as I am running out again on my current plan. I think I need to reduce photo size. However I hope everyone will have a very happy festive time and I am hoping my next post will be more about the animals that have visited Navasola in the past year!

Will also try and link this with Restless Jo and her Monday Walks and encourage her to leave the sea and come to our mountains. We are only about 2 to 3 hours drive from Tavira, Portugal.
Jo’s Monday walk

31 thoughts on “Autumn Walks in the Sierra Aracena”

  1. She is encouraged! 🙂 🙂 The photos are beautiful and I have friends who visit Aracena for the ham festival in late September/early October(?) and tell me what beautiful walks there are. It’s on my list, but there are parts of Portugal I’ve yet to visit. Fear not- I’ll get there! And meantime, many thanks! And Feliz Navidad 🙂

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  2. Beautiful, and thanks for the explanations. Coincidentally, I have just finished reading, synopsizing, and planning a blog recommending the novel “The Overstory,” by Richard Powers, about trees and nine people joined–either physically, emotionally, or by reputation–in their love of them. The first example is of an American chestnut that was planted by an immigrant in Iowa in the 1800’s. It lasted long after most American chestnuts were wiped out by an imported fungus. There’s a lot about protecting old growth, but I will say more in the review.

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    1. That sounds a really interesting story. I enjoyed Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer and in particular the chapters from the point of view of the farmer who was trying to breed an American chestnut with resistance to the blight. Natures ways are harsh. Interestingly there was a comment that too many chestnuts were cut down and if some were left they might have developed their own resistance eventually. Here we have ash dieback, and Dutch elm depleted our tall elms. Now the elm just grows to hedge height. Difficult times here in U.K. as an honest but unpopular left wing broker loses out to one who is happy to bluster and and mislead. There were some good plans for nature restoration and hope the winners take on some f the losers good environmental policies …

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      1. I like Barbara Kingsolver, but I haven’t read “Prodigal Summer.” Maybe I’ll check it out. Also, I heard a part of an NPR story about someone who has developed a chestnut resistant to the particular fungus that wiped out the American chestnut. Some kind of GM product. I don’t know what to make if the whole GM idea, but I don’t trust the motives of people who are involved in it.

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  3. I love this post, Georgina! The outcome of the election wasn’t a surprise but extremely disappointing, nevertheless. I am sorry you are still suffering from too little rain; life can become very difficult without enough water to wash clothes.
    Without forking out £100 or so a year for a WordPress upgrade you could start again with another blog and link to it from your old one so that all your followers know where you have gone. Or you could find some means of copy/pasting your photos from somewhere else thereby not needing to store the photos in the WP library. I know someone who uses Flikr and copy/pastes their photos from there. Reducing the size of your photos would help and you could try going back and reducing the photos already in your library which would give you more space but that would be a very boring and time-consuming activity and I wouldn’t recommend it! 😀
    I was interested to see you cook your quinces whole. How exactly do you do that? I struggle to peel them and then chop them before cooking and nearly cripple my hands doing so!

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    1. Thanks for the advice. I was thinking of a slightly different slant for next year. Just wash the whole quince and take out any maggots. I agree they are hard to peel so I followed this method from a Spanish friend. Just put them whole in a big pan an simmer away until soft. You will see the skin coming off without that awful struggle. When a bit cooler you can core and peel easily. I chop to use in an apple and quince pie or just mash up with sugar and no water for the membrillo paste. I now use the skin and core to make a quince jelly jam. It has a lot of pectin and sets well. Just strain out before fully boiling up. Hope all going well for you. Am enjoying some Sunderland air. Bracing but beautiful beaches.

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  4. What a glorious post! I’d love to walk in your Chestnut forest – I’m not surprised people arrive in coaches to see it. Thank you for the link to my post on the Sweet Chestnut – such beautiful trees. Drought is a terrible thing, I can only imagine how hard it must be for those dependent on crops and for you personally. It’s ironic that we have the opposite problem in the UK this year, where too much rain threatens to ruin autumn plantings of grain crops such as barley and winter wheat. Wishing you a Happy, Rainy Christmas x

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    1. Thank you theresagreen, your post inspired me to get on with my own blog and we had a break in cloudy skies for some sunlit photos. Yes, there’s a bitter irony at the way the climate is changing. Thankfully there is more rain at the moment so hope you get a sun filled Christmas break in your wonderful Wales.

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  5. I’ve just discovered your blog thanks to Jo’s Monday Walks. I’m enjoying vicariously exploring Spain through means such as your blogs. My daughter lives in Barcelona, and slowly, slowly, we’re extending our reach ever southwards trying to discover the paths less-trodden. I’m going to enjoy reading this post thoroughly later.

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    1. That’s great! And how apt to be from the Pyrenees to the Pennines. I guess we flow from the Pennines to south of the Pyrenees in the Sierra Moreno, or Sierra Aracena end. I will be posting more about the area in the New Year. Look forward to catching up with you too.

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  6. How glorious . . .we really missed not making it to Portugal this autumn.

    and agree with you on the trees. Lots of new trees planted too close together in lines does not make a wood let alone a forest 😦

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  7. Lovely photos and text – thank you for taking us on a walk in autumn in your neck of the woods… 😉 Would love to visit Spain. Was actually thinking of relocating to Northern Portugal – still playing with the idea. Hope the drought lifts soon. Many parts of the world now experiencing drought. Very dry where I am right now – visiting Mendoza in Argentina for a couple of months. Fires over in Australia… My we be blessed with rain, God-willing. Thank you for your visit to my blog. I’ll check back from time to time.
    Best Wishes for the Festive Season!
    Jean-Jacques

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank You Jean-Jacques. Northern Portugal is very beautiful and the borders with Galicia. We are on latitude further south but in mountains just across border from the Alentejo of Portugal and the Guadiana river border. Do visit one day. Yes, the rain came in torrents for 4 days. Reservoirs and hopefully our well will have sufficient but we must take care as Mediterranean summer drought is getting longer. The trees suffered this year.

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      1. That’s fantastic – so glad you got rain. I’ll be making a turn in South Africa ealry next year where I believe the draught is one of the worst in decades, although they also got showers a week or so beofre Christmas in some parts – some (minor) flooding too, but under such circumstances the flooding is almost welcome!

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  8. Georgina, it’s now well into the grey of winter here in the UK and hence even more of a delight to venture with you in your magnificent countryside. The autumn colours are staggering and the walks look lovely. Cork trees always impress me, they have a magical aura I feel! As for the markets, I fear I’d need a big bag with me as I’d want to buy so much of the tempting goods on offer.

    I hope you have had a wonderful Christmas and wish you a joyful and creative New Year. xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, glad you enjoyed a walk in our Aracena woods. We are in the grey too but enjoyed sunshine today on the Pennines hills. Oscar has been a present to three little ones and I enjoyed reading it. Wishing you lots of success with your writing and happiness for all your family in 2020!

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  9. Your talk of chestnuts reminded me that we have a partly eaten bag of Geffen Organic Roasted Chestnuts in the fridge, so I did my patriotic duty and ate some more while they’re still fresh. The bag indicates that they’re also imported into the UK.

    The mention of Fuenteheridos suggested that you’re living with a pozo herido. In spite of that, Feliz 2020.

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    1. Felix 2020, igualmente! Glad you ate your chestnuts. I came back to some mouldy ones but all that I put in freezer are good. So now we have peasant chestnut stew to keep us going. Think you discovered for me some time ago the origins of Fuenteheridos. It is to do with a rural word feridos for sharing irrigation. However our pozo has been a bit unwell with no water. It is coming back now but the Mediterranean drought is getting longer. The chestnut trees may suffer as they need a lot of water.

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