Another quick jaunt, this time to southern Spain and the Alpujarras, made famous, in part, by the books of Chris Stewart. This corner of Spain is quite different to the open plains of Extremadura where birds, and particularly birds of prey, abound. In the Alpujarras, it is rare to see these wild beasts. They are are shot from the sky and smaller birds are caught in nets. But we did not go to the Alpujarras for birds. This trip was focussed on three mountain walks, a visit to the Alhambra Palace in Grenada, and another to the Picasso Museum in Malaga, all packed into 6 days including the travelling days. First evening, a short walk into the almond groves.First morning, in Lanjeron, looking for Panaderia Jiménez – the baker.
The empty main street of Lanjeron
Walk 1: Acequias del Poqueira.
Chimneys on the roof tops of Capilerira
Having found the baker and spent a bit too long enjoying breakfast in the rising sun, we were too late in the day to get the full way around this 17km circular walk. Had we driven as far as the disused hydro station, a few km above the village, we might have done it. As it happens, the lower section of the path was particularly beautiful. The highlights of this walk were the distant snowy peaks coming in and out of view, the steep terraces hosting goats and cattle across the valley, the bubbling acequias (aqua-ducts) and a herd of curious Ibex.
En route down the incredible twisting road back to Lanjeron, we stopped briefly to look back up to the village of Campileria, visible just above the sun-lit wintery branches, mirroring the snow on the mountains above.
Walk 2: Pueto Palo Loop
This 13.5km valley walk passed through mixed forrest and then up and around a lovely mountain pasture following a beautifully maintained acequia. It was sufficiently warm for us to picnic on its bank and doze in the sun. The return part of the walk was down a wide forest road, easy walking. With time on our hands at the end of this walk we drove up to Trevelez, the highest village in mainland Spain at 1476m, and the home of Serrano Jamon. We arrived just as the sun was setting. It was very cold up there. We warmed up in a small cafe, muscling in on what appeared to be a family celebration. One of us was treated to the delights of Jamon Serrano, the speciality of the region. That same one, was sorely tempted to purchase a hind leg to bring home. The other, being a sensible type, pointed out that it might not fit in her carry-on bag.
Walk 3: Albunuelas – Cruz Chiquita
Our third and final walk started in the village of Ablunuelas. This is a lovely village hugging the edge of a canyon. We struggled to find the start of the path and eventually an old women with whom we had quite a conversation, which neither side fully understood, insisted on accompanying us to the top of the village and send us on our way.
Even if visiting off peak, it is important to purchase tickets in advance. Entrance to the Nazrid Palace is restricted. We arrived by 7am on February 19th having been told we could buy tickets on site. However, on that day we could only buy tickets to the garden and not to the Palace. Fortunately, we were able to buy tickets online. The early start was worth it just to have the place to ourselves. We spent a good 8 hours at the Palace. We had lunch and afternoon tea at the excellent Parador which lies in the heart of the complex. Under no circumstances venture into the Guadelope Hotel for refreshments, even though it is close the main entrance. The coffee is appalling! We drove back to base via Orgiva and the very nice Teteria Baraka restaurant. By coincidence, this Moroccan restaurant is on the Guardian readers top 10 list for best restaurants in rural Spain!
On our final day we visited the Picasso Museum in Malaga. Based at the foot of the Malaga Alcazaba we took a circuitous root to get there, climbing the very steep path to the top and down again. From the top there are expansive views of the port and the Med and you can imagine of the north coast of Africa just beyond the horizon.
Perfect web site for walks: https://treksierranevada.com/walks/start-point/alpujarras
With the days getting noticeably longer and spring around the corner, the Aldeburgh Festival programme just published, it is time to fix up a weekend away!
Please consider a few days at our place in Butley. It is lovely for couples and groups up to six. It is cosy and spacious in equal measure. The surrounding countryside is great for cycling and walking and is excellent for birds.
For bookings, please contact us.
The village pub, The Butley Oyster, re-opened last year, and serves its own beers. It now hosts the village shop. In the barns there is a spanking new 21 seater cinema. Rock up with a DVD, buy a beer and pop corn, relax and enjoy!
The old cottage and the new extension
Cottage dinning room
Principal bedroom in the extension
Orford Castle in the January frost
Butley River in winter with foot steps over the mud
Butley river summer 2017
Flock of Avocets on the Butley river
Reed bed at Butley Mills
Shell Line at Shingle Street
This short blog is more about the tumble than the rough – tumbling blocks if truth be known.
A friend had rediscovered a block-printed sheet that she had bought many moons ago on a trip to India. She asked me to turn her sheet into a quilted bed spread. I was keen to learn how to stitch tumbling blocks and so, rather than make a plain backing for her quilt, I decided to do deviate. Below are photos that describe the creation of ‘Chrisie’s Quilt’.
It was while learning how to free motion on my sewing machine that I discovered how to ‘lower my feed dogs’. What a revelation!
28 April to 2 May 2017
Early departure at 03:45 for a flight to Madrid from lovely Luton. Temperature on arrival a mere 3 degrees centigrade. Extremadura boasts a wide variety of habitat (Cork and Holm Oak forests (Dehesa), grass land, rivers, reservoirs, scrub, mountains) and low human population with the result that it supports a wealth of wild life. Having some insider ‘birding gen’ certainly is critical for the hard-to-find species, but quite frankly, it is amazing what a non-expert could spot along the quiet roads and byways without too much effort. The land scape was sweeping and colourful with a back drop of the Sierra de Gredos mountains, snow capped and rising to 2,591 at Pico Almanzor.
We dropped bags at Villar de Plasencia, a maze of a village where we got quite disoriented. This became the norm in most of the villages we travelled through. The road map was hopelessly lacking in detail but made for some exciting driving on incredibly narrow and sometimes steep streets, watched by bemused residents. We headed to Puerto de Tietar in Monfrague National Park and with patience were welcomed by a Spanish Imperial Eagle as well as Griffon Vultures, Black Kites and Egyptian Vultures.
The following morning the weather was poor. We explored the Embalse de Arrocampo-Almaraz where there are a number of hides, ideal to escape the worst of the rain. These however proved a mixed blessing – one had a door that would not open, one had a door that once opened, would not close, forcing us to sit in a howling gale. The last had no seating, so it was impossible to see out of the hatches. Fortunately the weather cleared and hiding no longer a necessity. We saw, black shouldered kite, little bittern, swamp hen and purple heron, Spoon Bill, amongst much else.
We drove to Salto del Gitano and the Monfrague Castillo in the heart of the National Park. The sun now high in the sky, Griffon, Black Vultures and Black Kites cruised, drying their wings after the rain. Also a wonderful sighting of Black Storks, far less prevalent elsewhere than their white counterpart.
We climbed the steps up to the castle and then up the tower. We followed the path down to the river. The walk made me realise that our planned hike up Breche de Roland later in the summer, was going to be more of a challenged than previously reckoned, cancer treatment through the winter having knocked me back.
That evening we supped on fried Dorade at Villar Real de San Carlos.
The following morning we were up for the dawn and out looking for Western Orphean Warbler. Alas it eluded us due to gale force winds and driving rain. Next stop Embalse de Talavan.
Then on to Rio Almonte to seek nesting Alpine Swifts. After a while we realised we were at the wrong river crossing. Eventually we found the correct bridge but no Alpine Swifts. However, we did get a rare sighting of a lovely Golden Eagle.
That evening we landed at Casa Rual El Recuerdo, just south of Trujillo, home of Martin Kelsey whose knowledge of the bird populations is unsurpassed. The following morning armed with Martin’s clear directions we went in pursuit of Great and Little Bustards, Black-bellied and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse and Rollers all of which we saw.
At sun down, we walked 2/3rds up one of the village lanes and perched ourselves on a sun-warmed stone wall. Holding our breath, we listened for a Red-necked Nightjar. The weather was perfect, warm and still. Insects, particularly moths, in abundance. And then we heard it – a car alarm. That’s it! The bird soared right over our heads, circled, and came back over. A world tick for Andy.
Up and out early on our final morning to seek out more Bustards. We got them. A gaggle of males, females all hidden away egg sitting.
Then we took a slow route back to Madrid crossing a great plain between Belen and Deleitosa where we came across a Vulture fest in full swing!
Then on through Valdecanas de Tajo, Bee Eaters and Theckler Larks at close range.
A mad dash to the airport followed. No time to pick up petrol. Walked straight through on onto the plane, last on. Great trip!
(All logged en route on BirdTrack – never leave home without this fabulous app!)
Great White Egret
Great Crested Grebe
Birds of Prey:
Spanish Imperial Eagle
Little Ringed Plover
Common Sandpiper (dog place)
Stone Curlew (opposite side of road to track to first bustards, under trees)
Near passerine (perching birds)
Great Spotted Cuckoo
Great Reed Warbler
Blue Rock Thrush
Something is needed in the aftermath of the election to ease the pain. So here is an offering from me.
After completing the fox and panda quilt I had a bit of a creative spurt. I was keen to learn how to make curvy seams and also to try my hand at free motion quilting. I was inspired by all manner of things I had seen on Pinterest and also by Leah Day who runs a fantastic series of ‘how to’ videos on YouTube. Each piece is 40cm x 40cm so easily manageable and ideal for a cushion covers.
Here is some of what I churned out:
1) Green Grey Blue
2) Ebola Why Ebola? Because whilst I was making this block, I was listening to a remarkable audio diary of a young male medic setting up a new treatment centre in Sierra Leone.
A former research colleague of mine said this block reminded her of C. elegans, famed for its role in uncovering the mysteries of animal development, and the first animal to have its genome sequenced in full. No doubt I will return to this as inspiration down the line!
3) Chocolate Frigates Another odd title but there is a recurring theme here. This time I was listening to a radio 4 drama about a navel chef preparing a grand meal for the top brass while coming to terms with the departure of his son to the front line in Iraq.
4) Pie Chart Actually this one was not accompanied by a radio show. This block has its roots in the chart now supplied by HMRC with personal tax forms. I never thought that tax would provide a source of inspiration! Clearly I evened out the spending but this was just for artist effect.
5) Half square triangles with gold and blue top stitching This one was made as a gift for my sister. The pale yellow fabric came from a dress that she wore when she was 12. The light blue silk belonged to our grandmother. The darker blue cotton was part of the lining of an old curtain of mine.
In December 2014 I got a quilt commission from my good friend J. As the proposal unfolded it became clear that what was being sought was something far far more complicated than I had undertaken before. The specification was for a double quilt including a fox, a panda, to go in a room with a cappuccino coloured wall.
Rather than let the commission go, I decided to skill up and learn how to patchwork. My mother had been an obsessive and hugely creative hand quilter. Much of her collection of fabric had been given away when dementia took her mind, but on clearing the house after my father’s death, a couple of large bags containing fabric scraps and samples came to the surface. What a fantastic discovery that was.
The patchwork quilt above is destined for Criquette, who has cared for my family at moments of real trauma. Embedded in her quilt are fabrics that once clothed each member of my immediate family.
Unlike my previous quilts, this one includes a binding, complete with mitred corners, another advancement to my technical arsenal.
Having learned the basics of patchwork I set about the Fox and Panda quilt for J, or more specifically, her daughter who lives in San Francisco. She sent me a link to Schenley’s paper pieced fox pattern which I bought on Etsy. I thought it would come with some instructions but there were none. So I spent hours learning about paper piecing on YouTube and then made the fox out of scraps. It turned out ok.
A thirteen pieced nozzle
The panda was harder to deal with. I searched high and low for a pattern and eventually settled on a rather complicated design by Juliet from Tartankiwi. There are 13 individual pieces of stitched fabric in the nose alone!
Having cracked the fox and panda, I began to think about the overall design and colours. Slowly the quilt began to take shape.
‘What joy it was to unwrap something so gorgeous. We were stunned with the quilts sumptuous colours. It will be an heirloom for our family to treasure’.
‘A huge thank you for this amazing quilt! It looks absolutely beautiful and really fits into our home perfectly. The amount of detail and care that clearly went into it are amazing, thank you again. I know it was a huge undertaking so we’re super appreciative’.
The bright red fabric, the calico and wadding were bought online from Empress Mills who offer excellent priced solid cottons.
Backing fabric for both quilts was bought from Sew Creative in Cambridge. They are expensive, but their collection is good.
The floral prints, greens and browns used in the panda quilt were bought from MT Fabrics, one of several fabulous Indian fabric shops on Goldhawke Road in west London.