Category Archives: Spain

Festivals in the Sierra Aracena: The Romeria of La Reina de Los Angeles

It’s the 8th of September and the day of my favourite festival in the Sierra. Its full of horses, mules, donkeys and a wonderful mix of devotion and conviviality. Today is the day where each of the surrounding villages pay homage to the Patron Saint of the Sierra Aracena, La Reina de los Angeles whose hermitage is at the Pena de Arias Montano. This is a beauty spot on a rocky outcrop overlooking the village of Alajar. It is also full of history and the extraordinary story of Arias Montano, a highly learned man of the Renaissance times.

Although in 1970 this Romeria was given a very public and national status it is truly a very local event. At least nine of the surrounding villages go on a pilgrimage to the hermitage and this includes Seville. All travel on foot, horseback or the lucky ones in a carriage. The Virgin Mary of each local village church is taken by bullocks in beautifully adorned carts. These are paraded in front of the Queen of the Angels at the hermitage. She too is then taken out of her seclusion and shown the beauty of the views.

If you live in or close to one of the villages such as Fuenteheridos and Castano de Robledo this is also the time to meet up with neighbours and share good food and drink. After the religious devotions there is time for picnic and chats. It is a balancing act of cultural traditions, religious devotion and neighbourliness which also seems to honour the natural beauty of the area and rural lives, past and present.

For many it is time to get out the wonderful flamenco dresses, ride your horse, sing songs and enjoy a day out. For me I relish being here as it was the one festival I always had to miss as the school term had begun. I was always given a running commentary about the horses. Perhaps one day I’ll finally get back on a horse and ride up over those hills to the Pena. I might need a little assistance too!

 

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Gardens and Butterflies 

David Attenborough is asking folk in the U.K. to help with a butterfly survey. The numbers of British butterflies seem to be going into a decline. There has been a lot of interest in gardening for wildlife and it was hoped that bees and butterflies could be recovering but there have been a range of factors affecting numbers and particular species.
Here are some of the butterflies I was fortunate enough to photograph at Navasola in May and June. I love the wild plants and flowers here and these seem to support a variety of wildlife but I have been delighted that my efforts in creating some small patches of garden have not only paid off with a range of flowers but also brought these beautiful butterflies close by.
Last year I was given some Sweet Williams by a friend nearby. These were planted last year and survived August heat and bloomed beautifully from the end of April to June. I hope these will self seed but I have collected seeds too. I may also be lucky and get a second show of flowers from the same plants next year. Seeing how these flowers have attracted a range of butterflies and bees means they are a must for any wildlife garden and nature lover.

Please let me know any hardy flowers that have attracted butterflies in your gardens and parks. Of course the eggs and larva also need very specific plants too and these are often wild ones that are seen as weeds. Enjoy!

Who is looking at who? A Cardinal in the Sierra Aracena.
A newly hatched Cardinal spreading its wings out to dry.
A fritillary we struggled to fully identify. Visited at same time as the Cardinal.
Swallowtail heaven!

A Meadow Brown keeping an eye on me!

All taken by me but with a LUMIX camera borrowed from my naturalist friend and artist.

Summer journeys almost over: butterflies, bees and boars.

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From a very lush and wet warm summer in London, through the beautiful greens of France, stained glass of Chartres, Cloudy heights of the Pyrennes, Cool air of Bejar, to the hot and dry Sierra Aracena. However, the Sierra is always green in summer because of its varied trees; chestnuts, oaks and various poplars and willow.

The red admiral landed happily on the sunflower planted by my daughter in London. She loves the garden, birds but is not so sure about the flying insect world! The wild bit at the back with nettles helps the red admiral thrive.

Arriving at our finca there were few wild flowers. It’s the wild carrot time and a few yellow mullein. Most was quite dry. Apart from my garden areas where Ruth had admirably kept the plants well watered from the drought and heat of July and August.

A pretty wall brown landed for a while on the echinacea near the house. Bees and other pollinators seem to like this cultivated flower.

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Another long journey. This cricket was on the windscreenwipers. We thought it would jump or be blown off. It stayed on its green home, our car, while we collected our freshly baked bread from our local village. It is an alternative bakery with organically grown wheat or rye flour. A large traditional clay oven is used. The cricket waited.

And the cricket returned for its photo opportunity and chance to be a celebrity in my animal stories of Navasola! We think its pholidoptera griseoptera, a dark bush cricket.  There are so many, and then there’s the true crickets. And the cave cricket. And a camel cricket! It was light brown and the Dominion guide suggests there are several similar species in Southern Europe.

There is certainly a cricket with a high pitched chirp and it keeps me awake at night too. At least its not aircraft noise and it is rather soothing.

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In April and May it was so wet. The rainfall in May filled our pond to overflowing. We went down to investigate the water level in the pond now. There was nothing. Last year it had retained water at a lower level through the long dry summer. Why had it dried out? The evidence was before us. That wild boar family that loved rolling in the mud in May. I guess now they’ve scored an own goal. No more water in the pond. Tusk marks in the strong, expensive, plastic base. Without this, the water did just drain away. We will have to rethink on this one. Seems a shame to put a boarproof fence around a water hole.

We’ve also just been reading about reports of wild boar, jabeli, visiting the beaches in Spain. At dusk I think and still not quite sure which beaches.The report in Spanish was about the increase in the wild boar population. Not enough hunters? I say, not enough wolves! We’ve got 7 more baby boar on our small finca. Perhaps some will move to the coast?

Apologies for not much blogging recently. I think I have been suffering from my own drought. I have been trying to re edit the first chapter of my novel.It’s been quite a journey writing it, literally as it has taken in a quest through Spain, France, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Holland and the UK. A nature quest! I have also spent a lot of time struggling with rewriting the beginning and becoming anxious about the next stage. There have also been the chores and the DIY and clearing of beloved brambles and the heat! Most needs to be done in the early morning!

Thank you to all who read this far and have been following my journey. I look forward to some more catching up with you all. The weather is a little bit cooler. I have re edited my first chapter!

Blogging with boars, birds and bunnies!

A week of changes. Changing places and changing weather.

Just before leaving Navasola I wandered into my huerta or vegetable garden. I wanted to check on the plants. I am hoping that I have created enough paths and cut back grasses and vetch to keep it all more under control. Last year when I returned in May I posted about my ‘Wild Welcome Back’. I was overwhelmed with neck high grass,vetch and then hay fever.

Maybe this time I  had a wild  farewell.

There were rustling sounds from within the abandoned olive grove. I stood very still and listened. I thought it might have been some noisy blackbirds. It often is! To my surprise a large female boar made her way into the field. Although there was a ‘boar proof fence’ between us to protect the huerta, I didn’t want to see it tested. I stood very still. Females are said to have a reputation. Following  her were three slightly smaller wild boar. Then one by one, a group of stripy baby boar trotted in. No camera,  no  phone, just me and the boar family.

Part of the Huerta by the boar proof fence and gate.
Part of the Huerta by the boar proof fence and gate.

I stood still and watched them move around grazing and looking like large dogs. The youngsters climbed up over some rocks. I just kept still, not daring to move and too far from the gate.Then the large female saw me. She came forward a little and but decided to turn away and run off, with the young ones following. It was quite a sight. Reading up a bit more I discovered that these groups are matriarchal and called sounders.They consist of the very young and slightly older females.It is far more common that boar will run away but it seems they may move towards you a little as their eyesight is so poor and they are curious. Most injuries to humans from boar are during a hunt and with the males turning to defend themselves if cornered.

After this event we were off to Portugal for my flight. I had a quick check on the house martins I am trying to survey. There are not so many on the frontline this year but these small birds were working hard with the mud to build over netting put up to prevent them. I had been disappointed to see this attempt to deter them in a local street.They certainly wouldn’t have bothered anyone in that location and it now looks quite unsightly. It also might mean the nests are less secure for the young. The birds are undeterred and determined to build in places they must remember. Those whose nests had not been destroyed have had a head start. I think they have got young and these might manage two broods.

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Flowers at our favourite restaurant in Cabanas, Portugal.
Flowers at our favourite restaurant in Cabanas, Portugal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Dorset we had snow and hail, lots of birds and a vole. The bullfinch is a regular visitor at my friend’s  bird feeders, along with a nuthatch and some pheasants. After the snow a kestrel came by but the birds had disappeared into the nearby hedgerow.

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Sculptur of half hare, half woman outside Salisbury cathedral.
Sculpture of half hare, half woman outside Salisbury cathedral.

Back in London I was shown the video of the baby robins nesting in the ivy by the house and at least two are now alive and well, feeding in the garden.  My daughter has fallen in love with feeding the birds and they seem to reward her. I was also updated with the slow motion function on the latest  phones. Mine is too out of date but it was lovely to see they had captured the garden Robin flying! Sorry no video as I have to update WordPress and pay money to upload a video! Will think on’t!

Baby robins by back door in London
Baby robins by back door in London

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now I am in the north of the U.K. and enjoying my other daughter’s young pet bunnies. These bunnies seem to want to blog with me!

 

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To be close to the animal world seems important. My wilder world of Navasola is still without pets and the wild ones choose their moments. Mice in the middle of the night and a mongoose went up through my rock garden one evening. The wild ones like to be invisible and secretive  but it is good to know they are out there.Not in the house! Four mice have been ‘humanely’ removed to at least 1 km away!

Mongoose was wandering over the rocks and seen from my sanctuary window.
Mongoose was wandering over the rocks and seen from my sanctuary window.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bunny friends!
Bunny friends!

I am off to stay with a friend in Rhodes so hope to keep up with blogging about the flora and fauna there soon. I may not be on wifi much but hope to catch up with everyone’s blogs again soon too.

 

 

Los Reyes Magos in the Sierra Aracena. Feast of the Kings Processions.

It has been good to have a friend to stay and we have had a busy week. However, one of the main attractions was to see the processions for the Feast of the Kings in Higuera. This procession is said to be the second biggest in Spain. This fact came from a glossy book about all the cabalgata processions in the Sierra Aracena. Each village had their own procession and timing and the Higuera one was the last. Photographs are thanks to Madeleine with her Fuji camera.  By chance in the morning we stumbled across the preparation of the floats for the main town Aracena’s procession. It was interesting to see how much work and time was involved and the workshop was near the emporium Mercedes ( a real Aladdin’s cave for the home) .

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Here we were very specifically told that the rain which was just beginning would stop at 6 in the evening. God must have been very willing and indeed the downpours came to an end just after 6.

We were able to see our local one  in Fuenteheridos, which was lovely and very community based with children on the floats. It started from the local school and ended at the church. We were showered with sweets and footballs. There seems to be a tradition for a float with a windmill. I wonder why?

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Onto Higuera, with some good parking advice from a friend in the village, we were able to dive into one of the local museums about the distilling of liquor. There was still time for a free offering of the local chestnut liquor. This warmed us up because now the night was very cold and starry. Orion seemed to be doing a break dance position over the small town of Higuera.

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We now realised why this was the second biggest procession in Spain. Gone were the small tractors pulling the beautifully decorated floats and young people of Fuenteheridos. Gone were the bigger tractors and more stylised floats of Aracena. Here in Higuera were the juggernauts of engines with their long trailers. All of the areas big lorries were probably here tonight. And their trailers all dressed up very realistically with scenes from the bible story surrounding the birth of Christ and the the three wise men or kings as the Spanish tells us. Los Reyes Magos.  Here we were lucky to see the Guiding Star getting into position. There was a real baby for Jesus, Several brass bands. Fireworks at the start. There was such a stillness in the tableaux as many familiar scenes passed by and some unfamiliar. There was no hiding the horror of Herod and the slaughter of innocent new born babies.

And the cold! How did they all keep so still in the cold January night? My iphone photo of the Angel’s feet is my own symbolic gesture to the devotion and effort which goes into this night. And then the sweets! In the villages the local children are also given presents from the community later on towards the end of the procession.blhig slaughter

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All through the Sierra Aracena in each of each village or towns there is a  distinct tradition for celebrating the arrival of the Three Wise Kings. Here no camel was in sight!  The other floats showed scenes based on the Holy Land with goats, wells and sheep. Real ones and all quite still!  I am so pleased I have finally been in Spain for Christmas and this time. Have usually had to go back to work by the 5th and 6th of January!  I’d certainly recommend it and to wrap up warm. And if you want to be involved don’t offer to be an angel with bare feet!

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Clear Skies, Bright Stars. Advent and Hope for Peace.

Here is a seasonal post inspired by  Dverse Poets and the stars.

We are now back at Navasola and although the stars and the sun do shine very brightly here I will miss being with my daughters this Christmas. It will be our first Christmas outside the UK and our first at Navasola. We were first greeted in Seville with grey and overcast skies; same as in London and other parts of the UK over the past month.Today the sun has come out bright,warm and strong and with the clearer skies the stars too are shining bright in the very dark skies we have here in the Sierra Aracena.  The viburnum tinus berries are metallic and bright. A Sardinian warbler, great tit and jays were gathering food by the house and now and again a butterfly flies by! The vultures also enjoyed the thermals when I was out on a walk with Lotti and Ruth. See post on Autumn for Ruth’s photography and links to her art work. She inspires me to draw!

We are looking forward to finding out more about how Christmas is celebrated here and in particular the Feast of the Kings on the 5th and 6th of January. Here there are processions showing this part of the Nativity story and children get presents.

It is the end of another blogging year and I have been inspired by so many of the links made to Navasola through nature blogs and many others now. I have managed to read some books by Opher Goodwin and in particular Anthropocene Apocalypse and Ebola in the Garden of Eden. Both very good reads and with current concerns about the future of our planet. Opher Goodwin

 

I am also glad to be linked to Dverse poets who have managed to spark some poetic muse in me. The poem below is inspired by poems by Victoria Slotto and Bjorn Rudberg  about the stars. I have also linked to another poet Malcolm Guite and bought his book with poetry for Advent. These have inspired me to write this poem about the stars I saw above Navasola in the summer months.

Stars over Navasola

Above the silhouette of trees appear a clarity of stars
Numinous and numerous I search for one.
The childhood star my father saw I saw.
The Pole star’s perfect North still guiding some.

 

The wizened faces of the chestnut trees with me stare,
Abandoned olive branches touch the sky I seek to name,
With virtual app- titude we see the lights of Vega and Altair,
Bright threesome pulse with Deneb and the flighty swan.

 

An owl sounds out from Navasola East.

The moon still hides behind the hill.

Through the dark of earth and sky, wander many a beast.

Summer sounds and warmth surround me still.

 

 

Now in December’s dark chill drawn days,
Advent’s hope casts doubts on the prophecies of stars.
What and where is that bright star, the magi say?
How much to know, how far to go, to go, how far?

 

 

 

An Autumn Walk in the Sierra Aracena. The falling leaves of the ancient trees. The photography and Art of Ruth Koenigsberger

Old chestnut trees in the Sierra Aracena
Old chestnut trees in the Sierra Aracena

I am so pleased I have the opportunity to share the photography and links to art work of my friend and neighbour Ruth. Her photographs come from walking around the countryside with her dog, the lovely Lotti. ( featured in previous posts and a surrogate dog for me at present!) When I can I walk with her and breathe in the beauty of the changing seasons we have here. I have also shown her garden with all the poppies in my previous post and haiku to Liberty, Love and Light. The link is to her art work at the Artagora Galeria Virtual Ruth Koenigsberger. I love the way she can capture both colour and light. For me there is a deep link to nature in her work and a spiritual light within her creative art. Try the link on her name and walk round a virtual art gallery too! There are  castano trees, ancient chestnuts from the Sierra and the Caldera in La Palma but also some imaginative interpretations of our world from the inner eye of an artist.

I miss all my friends in the Sierra Aracena as I have to be in the UK for a short while. Many there live a peaceful lifestyle that can bring them close to the natural world through organic gardening, permaculture, spiritual practices, yoga and of course the creative arts. It is almost a year since I wrote Bats on my Birthday and have found blogging useful to warm up my writing muscles. I hope to write more stories and poems to help us come closer to this wonderful and diverse world of nature.

For this week I want to highlight the need to care for the living systems on the planet. There are so many people who want to rise above the atrocities in Paris and send a message that we must change the way we live in this world or the living planet will suffer and not be able to give us and all other creatures the habitats and food sources we need to thrive.

As I cannot walk on the Climate Change March  on the eve of the talks in Paris I will try some virtual walks like this one in the Sierra Aracena. Let’s hold the Climate Change talks in the light  and where possible petition and campaign for the change our planet needs.

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The lovely Lotti
The lovely Lotti
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Hollyhock and black carpenter bee in Ruth’s garden. October 2015