After a very wet spring …almost six weeks of heavy rain between March and May , slowing down the growth on the huerto and curtailing long hikes as our soil is a pale clay that turns walking boots into diving boots when wet…we made a promise not to moan about the inevitable long, hot summer! It has been difficult! Almost as soon as the rain stopped we had a very unseasonal heat wave at the end of May and first two weeks of June. Temperatures reaching 37 on one day!
Our visitors have started to return beginning with Walt’s brother and his wife. They all escaped on motorbikes to the Picos de Europa while I stayed in my cave, teaching and walking Rocky before 7am.. it was a bearable 18 or 19 degrees until around 9 then up it would crank again! It is a good feeling however seeing the sun come up and we are much earlier risers now than in the winter. The problem is however that to enjoy dinner and relax in the evening, we have to stay up later! Siestas are crucial!
Our visitors however have loved it…pool , beach , a potter in the huerto and picking lemons for home made lemonade!Seeing our home from the perspective of others and appreciating just how lucky we are has balanced the moan factor and watching two years old Arthur cope brilliantly in 30 + degrees ( they had a slightly cooler week after a brilliant thunderstorm cleared the air) was amazing. He is a wee blondie but his Daddy was born in Malaysia and his Grandma on Dad’s side is Australian. Maybe that has something to do with his resilience !
Temperatures are on the up again this week with weather warnings ⚠️. The predicted Scottish heatwave looks wonderful ..24 in Edinburgh, bliss! I suppose it’s all relative! We are planning our first big adventure with Ziggy and as luck would have it, the ‘cooler’ northern Spain is about to experience a heat wave! Trying not to moan! Watch this space for our escape plans!
I have just spent a couple of hours in the huerto and as always, despite the heat, feel the sense of calm our beautiful communal space and own little parcela gives me. Bringing home more lemons , lettuce, tomatoes and our first garlic harvest also makes me happy. The bees were loving it too, especially the lavender. Time to be indoors now until 4 or 5ish when we will go for a swim and chat to our neighbours about….the weather! Hace demasiado calor 😥 . It’s reassuring that we are not the only ones finding it just a little too hot!
Or maybe just ‘ during a break in the rain’! This week began with a calima or Saharan sand cloud turning the sky red and our garden brown . The rain that followed, thankfully cleaned away much of the sand and then continued to fall continuously for the rest of the week! Murcia is now green Spain and in a break between showers I made it up to the huerto.
The world is in such a sorry state at the moment and I have no words nor understanding of it but I also know how fortunate I am to have the garden to reset my mind and heart. These are just a few photos of my project this morning, the beautiful huerto and wee cat who always joins us when we are working.
The administration of the huerto or allotments is managed as part of our urbanization community and employs a team of organic gardeners to maintain the watering system , fruit trees and communal spaces between each individual plot. They are very particular about the compost bins which are restricted to green waste from the huerto only. Our patio garden is too small for a decent compost bin so for the last couple of years, Anne and I have composted our household vegetable peelings, egg shells, coffee grounds and cardboard in an upside down dustbin! We have produced lovely compost and lots of worms! In our (normally) dry, stoney ground this is fantastic. However the plastic dustbin collapsed and is now in the recycling bin..replaced by a small but perfect purpose built bin. My project this morning , to put it together and start filling it! Simple pleasures! I love it.
Once I finished tucking the bin into its corner, I picked some tasty odds and ends from our own plot and the communal garden while wandering round and enjoying the plants that are loving the rain and the blackbirds who were in full voice. A lovely couple of hours away from it all. Home now for a homegrown salad ! Very grateful.
I know that having officially bowed out of writing a blog in August this may seem a little surprising however the past weeks here in Murcia deserves a mention and an update on life on the hill!
For the first time in 18 months we have had family to stay..the Watsons. Rach, Graeme, Dougie , Penny and Anna. It was a reminder to me of a previous post ‘Sharing our Happiness ‘ and how much we missed doing just that. The week , predictably, went by too quickly but it was wonderful. Murcia weather was welcoming and warm enough for both pool and beach, hiking , eating outside and when ( it is Autumn after all) we had one very rainy day, we began knitting projects, jigsaws and lots of drawing! Saying bye bye was also predictably hard. Apparently there were tears at the airport because they didn’t want to go! Rocky mooched about all day looking sad after all the extra cuddles and adoration that he had become used to, not to mention extra snacks, that he had been getting for a week.
One of our visits during their stay had been to Hugo’s home farm. This is a small finca five minutes from our home which is now run as a donkey/horse/ goat/ hen/ dog/cat/alpaca…in fact any abandoned animal rescue. It is the passion , imagination and incredible hard work of a young Scot from Musselburgh and while the finca belongs to his partner’s family, the project began several years ago in Benidorm and moved to Murcia last year. Local cat and dog pounds and the police all know of Hugo’s and frequently supply them with new guests! This all takes a lot of funding and so on the Saturday of our gangs’ departure I spent a few hours on the ‘cake stall’ of a fusion . . British fete and Spanish paella day!It was a great success and the best of two cultures. I loved hearing the kids whose parents had moved to the region permanently and put children in to local schools, speaking Spanish and English with out missing a beat. The sun shone, animals were on best behaviour, cakes and jam sold and funds were raised. Éxito!
Four days later, the Mattisons arrived! Rocky had a playmate again ..the Duracell toddler that is Arthur with his Mummy and Daddy . So much fun ! The weather reminded us that even although this was Murcia, it was still autumn. Despite quite a lot of cloud and cool mornings it was still warm enough in the afternoons for braving the pools …freezing! the beach…invigorating and ice cream in the city…delicious. Once again, the week went too quickly but oh what wonderful memories to store away.
I was determined to savour every moment that I had with the ‘peques ‘ ( little ones) and as my classes now take up every morning, I had a mad baking/freezing breenge ( Scots for doing something with gusto- difficult to translate! ) for the fete before they arrived. October went by in a flash! It’s already half way through November and Walt has been able to get to Valencia for the final race of the MotoGP. Two years later for this pilgrimage aswell! My Fridays are suddenly busier than ever with classes all day, so I chose to stay at home with Rocky. This meant I could go on a very gentle guided walk this morning to learn about the flora in our Sierra de Carrascoy. It was a beautiful morning and perfect for wandering around learning about plants and flowers . All in Spanish! Tomorrow Anne and I will continue to amuse our Spanish huerto neighbours with our anarchic plot. We must be ‘the talk of the steamie!’ The tomatoes, especially the cherries have not stopped fruiting. We still have aubergines on the go, arm loads of basil and a few padron peppers. See photos for ‘us’ and them! We have planted some winter crops in wee spaces, kale, broccoli and onions and are using our first load of our own home made compost so haven’t done the traditional autumn clear out. Our squashes were also successful and the plants have just been cleared away. We both hate waste so while we can’t compete with the broad bean harvests that our neighbours will have next month, we are still taking edibles home everytime we visit! Anne took on the green onion chutney task this year with delicious results. I will do the annual marmalade marathon in December…when the fruit is free how can we not!!
And so another year rushes headlong towards its end…probably one of the strangest in most of our lives but with lots of wonderful memories still made despite everything and definitely so much to be grateful for. I think that is why I decided to write this wee diary. I do struggle at times, so far from my children , siblings and old friends . This past year and a half has made this even more difficult. However when Walt and I walk Rocky to the top of our urbanization and look over to the Sierra de Carrascoy, the Sierra de Espuña, our beautiful glittering city and the Ricote Valley in the distance, we realise just what wealth we have and how lucky we are to live here. Gracias Murcia..por todo!
I began this blog three years ago, not long after our adventure hit a bump, or should I say my head hit a kerb! I was hugely fortunate to recover quickly but for a few quiet weeks I had time to start writing Adventures not Dramas. To be fair my having a fit and passing out while Walt was driving was pretty dramatic for him. I am never allowed to nod off in the car now . I began writing it for two reasons, one as a diary and way of saving memories and two with the vague idea that I might find that I could write well enough and consistently enough to create a book. Reason one …definitely. Reason two? I am a reader, love playing outside and enjoy making stuff. I am not disciplined nor consistent enough to be a writer! I was a very similar scholar, if the sun was out , why stay at your desk? Therefore nearly four years, many brilliant adventures and a global pandemic later ( who would have believed it) I have decided to say goodbye to blogs. My memories will be photo books from now on! It looks more than likely that my teaching will continue and as permanent member of staff. Instead of an expat retiree , I have found myself with a job, social security number, healthcare and residency. When I showed my passport at Alicante last week the young official said that if I hadn’t been going to the UK, my residency card would have been fine….I am European!
My working days are now not quite as full or stressful as they were four years ago. It’s the anniversary of my retirement from school at the end of this month, but with mornings teaching , afternoons quickly disappear in a blur of doggy walking and gardening when cool enough , sewing and reading and now going out! We are back on the road again! Starting small, we had two days in Benidorm in July . Walt had also done a Portuguese road trip in May as soon as our borders opened up so he started big! I then moved on to two weeks in Edinburgh! I have to admit to being pretty stressed by the whole PCR, passenger locator and quarantine malarkey but it was nearly a year since I had seen the family. It had to be done and it was truly wonderful. I hope that it won’t be so long until next time. Getting bolder, tomorrow we head north again to the Picos on Suze! We will leave around 6am to avoid the heat here but pack waterproofs for Cantabria!
I am incredibly grateful for technology and the world wide web . It has kept us connected to loved ones and kept many of us employed but I am now a little internet exhausted. It will continue to be a work tool, family and friends chat platform and of course provide the odd bit of shopping! However I am bowing out of blogs and social media. I want to get back to real life and not a virtual one! To all my friends on social media and here, I have loved seeing all your adventures and ways of staying positive over the last crazy year. I have loved having chats with old friends and long lost family . I really appreciate all of you. So please forgive me if you don’t see ‘likes ‘ or comments or birthday greetings, I can still be contacted for a chat and will check messages but I am saying goodbye to everything else!
I know Walt and I will continue to have adventures but the moving abroad, finding your feet with new cultures, language and everyday living when everything seems different was a major part of this blog. When I popped down to the village yesterday, Sangonera felt normal , no longer ‘foreign ‘! Enough said. Hasta pronto amigos. Keep in touch…there’s always snail mail. I love getting letters! Besos y abrazos a todos.
A wee gallery of Edinburgh and North Berwick after quarantine with Arthur. So grateful.
It’s pretty fair to say that the last few months have seen my emotions roller coaster. Me and most of my fellow humans. To stop the overthinking I have baked, cooked, grown stuff, sewn stuff and knitted copiously! I have meditated and chatted on zoom , taught on zoom , learned on zoom…again like most of my fellow humans but it has all become more difficult since a very special little human arrived and I have had to get to know him …..on zoom! Oh how I want to cuddle him and get to know him properly not virtually. It was nerve wracking and exciting at the same time therefore when Scotland lifted its 14 day quarantine for travellers from Spain. We decided that before there were spikes in the UK, this seems to be inevitable once restrictions are relaxed , I would make a flying visit, and then the quarantine was reinstated less than a week later! Gutted, cross, sad and all the work I had been doing on myself to be a better, more grateful,more accepting human collapsed in a weekend. As I calmed down, breathed deeply and walked Rocky with Walt, two things became obvious once again. One- I have no control over this current and awful crisis other than to keep following the guidelines on how to stay safe and keep others safe. To worry, be angry or judgemental is not good for me on any level. Two- we had planned a tour of The Picos de Europa long before the dreaded c word, hostels and hotels all booked. Walt’s itinerary carefully worked out based on his falling on love with the region last year on his solo tour. The temperatures in Murcia had cranked up to 33 average and even all the usual activities that keep my overactive brain from buzzing had to he crammed in between 7am and lunch time. Too darned hot! As we walked, slowly and at sunset we realised that there was nothing to stop us bringing the trip forward a few weeks. The original dates had been to allow family to visit in the school holidays!!! Walt walked swiftly (ish) home,got on line and voila…3 days later we were on the road.
The first leg of our adventure was from home to a town just north of Madrid, Colmenar Viejo. We set of just after sunrise and had a super cool start to the journey. Apart from fuel ( a motorbike needs more regular topping up than a car) we only had one stop at a roadside cafe for bizcocho (cake) and coffee. Vonnie style boo boo as I went to order my coffee and Walt’s hot water…my brain was not in gear and I wondered why the lady behind the counter was shouting ..’ señora..para, para. El gel de hidroalcoholico está junto a la puerta’. As I looked at the table where I had been cleaning my hands, I realised that the sign on the stand said ‘do not use…strong chemicals!’ It was the table disinfectant! Too late. I went back to use the gel aswell. Very clean hands! Once I had placed my order and tried to juggle the two cups , a plate of cake and my purse, the same lady quickly came to my aid and at a distance helped me to the far end of the outside terrace with our elevenses . It was the first of many reasons to be grateful for hospitality workers juggling the need to work and keep businesses afloat along side the risks that they have to take all day, every day. As we continued , the day warmed up and Walt had to cope with the Madrid traffic. The autovia goes through the city, there are alternative routes but much , much slower and at 35C in full bike gear , getting to that cold shower was more important! Colmenar Viejo is a working Spanish town with the usual pretty church and concrete 1970s plaza/ square with cafes and shops. ( Think Dalkeith or Abronhill !) However we had not eaten anything apart from our cake and so the meal made for us sitting outside a little Italian restaurant ( on the concrete plaza) was very welcome.
Another early start to beat the heat. Day two. Burgos is a city brim full of Spanish history, recent and ancient. As it was on the way we decided to stop and stroll around a little. It was a flying visit but first impressions were of a leafy, park filled city and a wonderful medieval cathedral. A beer in the shade and we were off again. Perhaps we had made a mistake stopping? The temperature by early afternoon was pretty unbearable and the autovia horrible. We came off at a Repsol in a tiny farming village for water and a sandwich and programmed ‘avoid motorway ‘ in to the sat nav. It was still hot and much slower but far more interesting and the fields full of sunflowers all standing to attention were glorious. As we travelled further north, the countryside became steadily greener and as we began to go through forests…cooler!
Riaño is a village at the foothills of the Picos de Europa. It was a cool oasis as we arrived, dusty and sweaty from the journey. There had been a ‘plume’ of unusually hot air across the whole Iberian peninsula ( we knew that! ) and even in Cantabria and Asturias 30C had been reached that day but the temperature was quickly freshened up by a spectacular storm and by the time we had had our cold showers , a walk around the village and settled on the terrace with a very welcome drink , the evening air was a blissful 22C! I needed a sweater at dinner ! Walt had stayed in the Hotel Presa last year and remembered the young Romanian waiter …not sure if he remembered Walt! However he was very attentive and we had two very tasty dinners on the terrace. Although quieter than normal August time, the hotel had a steady trade, locals and visitors. Suze had plenty of company in the garage. Mainly Spanish bikes as a staycation is the in thing this year ! However there were three bikes with UK plates and on chatting to their riders, they seemed confident , safe and delighted with their adventure.
I had seen Walt’s photos, watched his and other bikers’ videos and read my friend Lis’ blog ( This Simple Life) of and about the Picos and Aturias but nothing had prepared me for the real thing. I am smitten! Our first morning, on the road by 8, no traffic, blue skies and cool, clean mountain air. Fantastic. One of the best things about travelling on a motorbike is that you can smell as well as see everything. Being pillion also means being free to gaze constantly…Walt does all the hard work !
Collado de Llesbo…the bear. My first real immersion in the Picos. There were three campervans and a farmer at the top. The campers were still sleeping! As we rode up to the statue several cows and their calves wandered on to the road. A farmer in his 4×4 appeared, disturbed over breakfast? He tried to round those very determined mamas and their babies up. It was hilarious. One very cross farmer. Stress, country style. He did get them back where he wanted them then threw his staff across the road in frustration. Oh dear! Once at the top, walked up to the statue of the bear. The only sound was birdsong and cow bells. It is a beautiful statue and a reminder of how few wild bears remain in Europe. Murcia zoo has a breeding programme and their bears live in a big enclosure with a pool but on visits with grandchildren and friends I have always thought they looked pretty scunnered ( fed up). Perhaps Murcian summer temperatures don’t help. I recently read that numbers in the wild have increased slightly but that then also brings the problem of coexisting to the fore as farm plundering becomes an issue. There has to be a way?
The sense of peace that morning was wonderful. I think my over thinking was overtaken by the sheer beauty and perfection around us.
As we hadn’t had breakfast,after drinking in gallons of clean , clear air and the smell of quite a lot of cattle we decided we needed real food!
A quick birl ( Scottish for a round trip or a country dance move!) to book tickets for the cable car at Fuente Dè and then back to Potes . This pretty little town is a tourist attraction and was surprisingly busy but still not scarily so ! The Policia Local were keeping an eye on everyone and making sure we followed all the rules. (We only took masks off for photos !) It didn’t spoil a gentle stroll around and then breakfast/ lunch by the river. Lots of lovely local cheeses!
I am not good with heights but Walt wasn’t going to let me away with not going up in the cable car…disinfected after every stage and with half the usual number of passengers, it was why we had had to book 4 hours in advance. It was amazing or rather the views as we went up and at the top were ! Definitely worth it.
I am happiest outdoors and we finished our eight hour day in the fresh air at another mirador..deer pass or Mirador del Corzo and more breathtaking views.
Tired but happy we wound our way ( literally with some interesting hair pin bends to negotiate) back to Riaño and more fresh air with our al fresco dinner. We would have happily made this hotel our base for four days but because of the last minute changes to our plans we could only book two nights. No problem sleeping after all the fresh air and alarms set for our next adventure!
Early on Saturday morning we packed our bags and left Riaño. The luggage on a motorbike challenges you to travel light and to remember all about those pilates classes and using your core! When the side luggage is attached to the bike, Walt is next on then I have to use his peg ( foot rest) as mine is too close to the luggage to push up, holding his shoulder, my tummy muscles contracted and deep breath to then swing other leg over both bags , my seat and avoid hitting top box or pulling Walt and Suze over! Phew! After a long journey, as things stiffen up , the reverse process is usually harder and even less elegant! Walt wanted to take me to Cangas de Onis , a slightly larger town but with a very interesting bridge and to the Mirador del Fitu. This mirador had been swathed in mist last year and Walt was determined to take advantage of the promised vistas…as our new digs were on the way to both of these , we stopped at our hostel in a beautiful little village called Oseja de Sajambre and asked if we could drop of the luggage. No problem, it could sit in their office until our room was made up then the manager come receptionist come breakfast chef would pop them in our room. While Walt was in the hostel organising this, I was having a Joanne Harris moment…the old bakery across from the hostel is for sale, a project! Behave Yvonne.
After our early start and no breakfast the next stop was Cangas de Onis which was indeed an interesting town if slightly busier than our previous stops. We had walk over the bridge, a breakfast and then hit the road again. The day had started sunny , blue skies and very warm. That was all about to change. As we climbed higher towards el Mirador del Fitu, the clouds gathered and the mist descended on us! By the time we reached the Mirador, we couldn’t see a thing! Walt doesn’t believe that it’s ever any different up there now!
Aswell as swirling mist, it was also raining by this time. Fine, soft rain and not cold but enough to make our visors almost impossible to see out of! Slowly, we descended the mountain and as we did, we came out of the clouds! The sun came out again and when we saw signs for the seaside town of Ribadsella only 25 minutes away, we decided to get some sea air to top up the mountain air! The sun stayed out just long enough for us to get there and then it began to drizzle again but the smell of the sea did not disappoint. It had obviously been a sunny morning as swimsuit clad families were all heading off the beach. A beautiful promenade and beachside homes that reminded me of Hendaye …so different from the Mediterranean costas. We were loving the weather …knowing that we would be back in 35C Murcia in a few days…this was bliss!
Time to head back to the hostel and find our luggage…the Cuna de Sella is a small and immaculate hostel. A traditional building completely renovated inside. We had our temperatures checked on arrival and our ground floor room was spotless. The modern extension that houses the breakfast room was small and cosy but this meant a strict timetable for breakfast so that there was ample distance between guests. It all felt very safe and as our room overlooked a terrace and Suze…she was safe too!
Although tiny, the village had three restaurant/bars and all with terraces. There are loads of wonderful walking opportunities nearby and so a steady stream of customers plus locals of all ages, popping in and out for a blether. Like Riaño, for a small village, there was a definite sense of community and no lack of life about it.
Long walks are something we miss in July and August. To grab an hour with Rocky we have to be out before 8am. The upside is ofcourse that we can walk all winter, the snow poles at the side of all roads in the Picos suggest that might not be possible all winter in this region. I have to admit to being envious however when Lis describes her hikes in Asturias,even in July! We were determined therefore to get one good long walk in. Lis recommended the national park of Ponga but as we had already planned a walk and as we were limited to one afternoon we decided to stick to this and come back to Ponga. We rode through it and it is beautiful even from the road,we will be back!
Our last full day dawned grey and damp but we were not daunted.. bike rain gear, walking gear and a picnic all packed, we set off for Caín de Valdeón. The route took us on to a single track road with a surface not dissimilar to a basic track and it was wet…very wet. Tricky riding at the best of times, add in the twisty road and visors with no windscreen wipers and it was a bit scary! We stopped at yet another view point where there was no view, just to take a break. To demonstrate how wonderfully changeable the weather is in green Spain, here are the before and after photos…we stopped in the same spot on the way home 6 hours later!
As we left the ‘before ‘ spot we were seriously doubting the sense in ploughing on. I had shorts and a t shirt packed for our hike, no fleece or Scottish style walking gear. Once again the weather surprised us, gradually improving until by the time we had walked for a while and decided to have our picnic, I needed sun screen ! Our walk was along a gorge on a path built for practical purposes as the incredible canal built alongside proved but now very popular with walkers. It was busier than we had expected but not so much that it spoiled it or that we didn’t have plenty of space to enjoy the spectacular scenery at every turn. It was perfect. We walked for three hours, not a huge hike but much more than we can do at home just now and added to the excitement of riding in the rain and mist early in the day, we were happily tired.Two stops for coffee and una caña ( small beer) on the way home and we couldn’t have been more content!
We were beginning to feel a little sad by dinner time, our journey home began the next morning. Three full days in the most wonderful region. I am country mouse not a town one and Cantabria and Asturias equalled my idea of bliss!
We set of early again the next day with Toledo as our destination and break in the journey south. We had stopped there for an hour or so last October and I loved bring immersed in the history. I was reading Giles Tremlett’s Isabella of Castile at the time. There was also a lively atmosphere and we were looking forward to some people watching. After a long , progressively hotter and sticky ride, Walt negotiated the narrow, cobbled streets to our hotel and we cooled off for a while before going out to explore. Toledo is stunning but what was very strange was that it was quieter than the Picos! Cafes and shops closed, very few visitors and not the atmosphere that we remembered. It’s a city that relies on international tourism and that no longer exists. Sad to see so many businesses closed down. We did find a great wee cafe by the city walls where we were well fed and watered and Toledo is still beautifully kept. Hopefully more Spaniards will visit as the autumn brings cooler weather for a glimpse of their own heritage and to restore some of the businesses in its historic centre.
It is nearly two weeks since our final leg home to Murcia. It’s taken me that long to write this and I didn’t intend for it to be so lengthy. In a way it’s more of an indulgence for myself…a diary to keep the memories of a very special holiday fresh in my mind. I have been struggling with the realisation that getting to Scotland and seeing my family could still be a long way off. Those few days in the Picos were incredible and as I stood at the statue of the bear on our first morning, I relaxed properly for the first time in months. Thank you Walt for taking me there. Thank you Picos de Europa for being simply magical.
We have been allowed back in the huerto. Along with an hour’s exercise and children being allowed out with parents for a walk or play in open spaces, getting back to the garden has been a gift.
I have to admit to having been a bit grumpy when the huerto was closed. I was not alone in thinking that with common sense and care , we could have maintained it and still not endangered any one . However the rules applied to every one who is part of a small neighbourhood project like ours. If you have a larger plot or orchard , you were permitted to tend to your produce. Our garden is surrounded by houses and we could , on reflection , see how our pottering in the garden when no one else was allowed out of their homes could be demoralising and not helpful in keeping the ‘stay at home’ message universal. Eight weeks later, a certificate to prove we have permission to be there, a timetable of when we will be there and a padlock to keep every one except huertanos out and we’re back in business.
A very wet April and hot sunny start to May meant that nature has taken back what is rightfully hers. The weeds and wild flowers are head high, the birds and rabbits loving the peace and quiet. While we have cleared and replanted our plot, the common areas are still wonderfully wild. It won’t last, the crazy summer heat will mean the birds and bunnies heading for shade and snoozing most of the day and the wild flowers dying back until the autumn rains but at 8.30 this morning it was beautiful. We have tomatoes, aubergines, peppers, onions, herbs and salad all bedded back in but I have kept some of my make shift planting at home as well. Stepping out the front door and being able to add to dinner, fresh basil, oregano, thyme, mint , salad leaves and….. a small but very tasty first harvest of potatoes is a brilliant feeling.
Our quarantine is still in place, the relaxations are being phased but with a careful eye on how case numbers of the virus respond to the humans having more freedom. I for one am in no hurry to embrace ‘ going back to normal’. The dangers of complacency seem to far outweigh the fleeting pleasure of mixing with the masses again! I am not a crowd person normally , I do miss family and friends and the ability to plan ahead, however it is a great lesson in taking each day as it comes and in being grateful for the little things. Getting to the garden, dirty knees and mud under my finger nails ( I can’t keep gloves on ) , dropping Walt off at the top of the hill for his first proper run in two months and now a glass of chilled rioja blanco… simples! Have a wonderful weekend.
It is exactly two years since I retired from full time teaching in Scotland, two years since Walt and I sold our home and packed our belongings in to boxes for their journey to Murcia. I can’t believe how quickly time has passed or how every new season feels different from those first few months living here full time. Walt and Ben had been the trail blazers from February until the end of June, walking ,studying Spanish and cooking! Our first autumn and winter together in Calle Jacaranda saw us turning our little holiday home in to a proper home! We took out the wonky breakfast bar, built a new dresser to house my well traveled china, installed a pellet burner for chilly winter evenings and cycled a good chunk of the pilgrim way to Caravaca de la Cruz. ( we have still to complete it.) We enjoyed the gentle autumn and winter, cold at night but sunny days , warm temperatures and longer days. It is light until 6pm even mid winter.
Our first house guests were my oldest daughter, her husband and the three wee ones.(the Watsons) It was only a month since our departure from Edinburgh but I knew that one of the harder parts of moving so far away would be missing the children and grandchildren so it was fabulous to see them again so soon. They arrived on the 31st October, in time for a Halloween treasure hunt with our neighbours and their children and making a pumpkin lantern for our garden wall. We had a lovely week , swimming in the sea, wandering around the city and generally chilling out. It was wonderful being able to share our home and happiness with them.
We were aware from conversations with other migrants to sunnier climes, that we would never be short of guests. Some said that the first year would be the busiest then the novelty would wear off and the numbers would dwindle. It’s safe to say that this has not happened! However , this is not a complaint, we love sharing our home, the chilled out life we have here in the very varied and beautiful region of Murcia.
In January 2018, my dear friend Audrey came back with me from Scotland and spent four days with us and ten days in a hotel in the city! She loves her independence and being able to watch the world go by with her morning coffee in a plaza cafe. She is more of a town mouse than I ! However Murcia is a beautiful little city and we had discovered a great cycle track along the river from a nearby town, Alcantarilla, all the way in to the city centre. I cycled in to meet Audrey and together we discovered more about the history and culture of Murcia. This is one of the big pluses gained by sharing our lives here… we tend to fall into a routine when left alone, walking , cycling, pottering well worn paths. With friends and family who come to visit, we explore more and find all sort of places and stories that we would other wise not discover. Audrey and I went on the city bus tour, it didn’t take long as Murcia is a small city , but I did learn more about its history . We also took her to Cartagena and the Roman theatre that has been so brilliantly excavated and preserved. History geeks day out!!
Several weeks later, Sue, a great friend from North Berwick and Ross High came to stay for a week. Sue like me is a country mouse and so we walked and cycled , chilled at the shore and ate tapas huddled in side our favourite beach cafe ‘Oasis’ as March winds whipped up a dip in temperatures. Spring seemed to be the least predictable season. Cycling the nature reserve at San Pedro del Pinatar was wonderful although we didn’t see many flamingos !
Liz and Leah came just after Easter and for a ten year old, the sight of a swimming pool glittering in the spring sunshine was just too much… I had to go in with her.. it was baltic! As were our picnics at Lo Pagan and Oasis once again! We had just furnished our roof terrace after 8 years of wonky deck chairs and did manage a couple of dinners out side . For the most part it was rather chilly, although Murcia looked beautiful decked in lemons and flowers for the spring festival. It was fabulous seeing our old friends and returning their hospitality which we had enjoyed on our journey south in the Autumn. They live in the gorgeous village of St Abbs, Berwickshire, it is a magical little place. The weather can’t have put them off, they returned this July for the 30 degree plus heat and like so many of our visitors, opened up new experiences for us. The Roman Spa at Archena had been on my ‘to visit ‘ list for a while but Walt is not a spa kind of guy. Liz, Leah and I had a girly day there, taking the waters and having a fabulous chill out. Thank you ladies! We also lathered ourselves in the healing mud at San Pedro, another first, and saw the flamingos!
I travelled in April, twice to Scotland for Dougie’s birthday and my daughter Hannah’s hen do and then I fell over! My brother, wife Laura and their wee boy Harry were due to stay with us at the beginning of May but as I had just been let out of hospital , they stayed in a nearby hotel. I felt dreadful but they insisted and we still had some lovely times together. It did rain quite a lot though! There’s a pattern emerging!
In June, my friend Gail came to baby sit me and allow Walt some time away on the motorbike. It’s safe to say that my dramatic escapade in April had scared him more than me! The sun had finally settled by then and we enjoyed a very chilled out weekend , swimming, watching soppy movies and building my confidence back a little. I normally bounce back from periods of not being so well, I have been very lucky with my health , so the time taken to regain confidence has surprised me. I think I am more or less back to normal now but have developed an annoying fear of going on the motor bike. This makes little sense as the bump had nothing to do with the bike!
In August as temperatures climbed to the mid 30s,the Watsons came back for a fortnight, our very kind neighbours gave us their little holiday home for the overspill! Walt and I were supposed to retire there at night for a peaceful sleep. However as we had a new puppy and my son in law is allergic to dogs, he and Rachel had the quiet house. We had three under fives a puppy and a geriatric labrador! It was a crazy couple of weeks, lots of pool time, water park and the zoo. I miss the wee ones like mad and it was brilliant having them here . They coped incredibly well with the heat and I was the only one to get a little tetchy mid visit!
After two weeks travelling to Italy for Hannah’s wedding, it’s fair to say that the following few weeks of quiet times were welcomed. I started teaching more and joined a dance class.
In October, an old High school friend, Patricia and her husband Greg stayed for a few days. They live in the Yukon and had been travelling for several months so their time here was very chilled. We ate well and swam in the sea. I think they enjoyed being at home and eating in after months of hotels.
We didn’t do as much cycling as the previous autumn, Rocky needed lots of walks and attention. Leaving him in the garden usually meant lots of plants dug out of pots and if we left him in his crate for any length of time, he would destroy all his bedding. He is much calmer now and a fabulous dog, I think he keeps us all , including Ben , young!
Hannah and her husband came out at Easter this year and needed to borrow sweaters! We had some wonderful walks and lots of laughs with them despite the chill, meanwhile Scotland was having a mini heat wave over the Easter weekend! While the ‘over three hundred days of sunshine’ promised in programmes such as a ‘ Place in the Sun’ is not an empty one , it does rain here! Many of our visitors have experienced it.
This year, my youngest son and his girl friend have been out to stay twice and enjoyed June and August sunshine. I think they have hit it luckiest with settled but not too hot weather! Our new ‘experience ‘ this visit was a night in Benidorm! Walt knew it from his youth and had painted a fairly wild picture. Benidorm has a beautiful blue flag beach and maybe because it wasn’t the weekend, we did not encounter one hen or stag do. It was remarkably civilised with lots of Spanish families enjoying the last of the summer holidays.
Most recently the weather was so extreme that it made the news in the UK and beyond. The ‘Gota Fria’ is not an unknown weather phenomenon in Southern Europe . As the summer heat wafts up wards and merges with the colder air, autumn thunder storms and torrential rain are expected. It can happen any time between September and December, very Spanish, no specific time! Sometimes it doesn’t happen at all. This year it happened in September and broke all records. Like the ever hotter summers, the Gota Fria two weeks ago was the worst storm experienced in the Murcia region for over 50 years. Its effect was devastating. There can be no doubt that our climate and planet are teetering on the edge. Sadly several people died, caught in their cars as the flood water rose. Towns on the coast and flat agricultural land have been flooded and property destroyed. Animal sanctuaries and farms washed away. We escaped with a sleepless night as the storm raged and a slightly scary diversion off the motorway, as my brother in law had just landed in Alicante airport. It was his first visit to our Spanish home, he won’t forget his first day in a hurry! We watched the TVE news with mounting dismay at how dreadful and sad the storm’s affect had been on many and with concern about driving to the airport to pick Drew up. His flight had left Newcastle and no delays were reported, Alicante airport was open therefore we reckoned that the A7 motorway must have been passable as well. What could we do? Ask him to get a hotel in Alicante which by all accounts was struggling with the effects of the storm as well? No, we would have to go and get him. This was a humbling lesson in not being smug. There was flooding and there were queues on the motorway as the Guardia Civil let cars through slowly, we were amazed that the camino rurals ( old roads that still run along side the motorway) were now rivers, we couldn’t believe how the mountains had been converted in to Scottish ones with burns running off them but over all the road was functioning and we arrived at the airport early enough to have a coffee and a snack. What was all the fuss about? We’re Scots, used to a little bit of rain. Smug or what? Drew’s flight landed bang on time and we set off back to Murcia but of course by that time , any rios or ramblas that had been struggling before hand had now burst their banks. The motorway was closed and we were diverted off on to muddy, flooded country roads with no idea of how to get back home. Eventually we circled a very muddy industrial estate several times , every road the sat nav told us to take was closed off, one had even collapsed and found ourselves back at the slip road that we had been diverted off. The police had reopened it and very slowly we were allowed to get back home. We were regretting our earlier smugness and feeling dreadful for those whose homes and businesses were in the paths of those burst banks.
Drew had come from Scotland expecting some autumn sun! It took another two days for that to reappear but when it did , all was forgiven! We went in to the city the next day where things were getting back to normal and the height of the river was the big attraction with crowds just standing looking at it. The cycle path that I mentioned earlier was now part of the river and most of the bridges were still closed for safety. It didn’t stop Murcianos enjoying their paseos, dressed to the nines and demonstrating brilliantly how life goes on.
I am back to work this week! Teaching business English and my conversation classes again . A quiet few weeks ahead with no visitors planned until November! Having house guests is a feature of living far from home I imagine. When we lived in Scotland, we rarely had visitors for more than an afternoon lunch or evening dinner. I love it when we have our friends and family to stay and can share our happiness here, they bring so much and help us appreciate how lucky we are to live on our hill!
‘What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare’
William Henry Davies
I don’t find it easy to do nothing. However, I can stand and stare , I can drink in beautiful scenery or close my eyes and listen to waves crashing on the shore. I love seeing, hearing,smelling and breathing in the sights and sounds of our amazing world. I am very grateful that I have the senses that allow me to do this. It is perhaps natural to assume from the lines of this poem are that one has something beautiful or uplifting to contemplate not simply the ceiling fan in a darkened bedroom! Add this lack of view or interesting places to go because it is so hot to the fact that I don’t find it easy to do nothing when I am at home, and you will understand why the months of July and August have become something of a challenge. Walt and I are very alike, if we have a project or an adventure in sight, we seem to forget how hot it is! If there is no journey on the horizon then projects around the house, garden,writing, learning Spanish, motorbike or car maintenance keep us busy but in July and August, these have all to be done before 2pm after that it’s blinds down, fan on time! Enforced doing nothing, except perhaps for reading a book that requires very little thinking or is too heavy! ( physically heavy, hard back or more than 1000 pages).
Now, in my role as Granny and Mum, I am very excited to be going to Edinburgh this week ( cooler weather as well , bliss!) to spend time with the children and grand children, I have to remind myself that every second is precious and to simply enjoy being with the wee ones, I don’t need to do the laundry, tidy the house, make the dinner ( sorry Rachel) , I can play all day with the gang. I was not very good at doing that when my children were little, and the time went by so quickly . The tidy house and home cooked dinners have all gone, the memories of times spent ignoring the chores are there for ever! I loved the summer holidays when we didn’t have to get up at a set time, go to clubs, do homework , prepare lessons! Being a teacher has huge advantages when you are a parent. I did get antsy now and then however, what’s for tea? did I remember to hang out that washing? I wish now that I had just ignored those niggles and focused on having even more fun.
I am also looking forward to four days of cool weather! This is summer number two as permanent residents here in the baking hot south of Spain. What we didn’t realise when we were simply here on holiday is that daily life with two dogs, part time working and a house to run is very different from pitching up for a fortnight with nothing to do other than going to the beach or lying by the pool . Our home was much more minimalist, no dogs, clutter, gardening paraphernalia, books, computers, sewing and knitting boxes and bags dotted around. It was a holiday home, we arrived, filled the fridge, chilled out and didn’t clean it until the last day before going back to Scotland and work!
As we got to know our Spanish neighbours, we couldn’t understand why they moaned so much about the heat in July and August. We loved it! We were coming from long, wet summers and even longer, wetter winters! Two weeks of uninterrupted blue skies and sun shine was bliss, locking the door and heading back to Alicante airport was always ‘sare to bare’! Now when we join our neighbours in a moan about it being too hot, we feel a little guilty. This is what we signed up for, it was our choice to move here. Stop moaning and get on with it! However, it is the enforced doing nothing that is the hardest part of coping with the heat here. Going to the beach everyday is not an option, leaving Ben and Rocky to cope with boredom and 35C for five or six hours is just not fair. We tend to head down to our favourite beach around 5pm on a Friday with a picnic supper . The sun has done its worst, there is a breeze here for the muts and a beautiful sunset for us to watch! Swimming in the sea as the sun goes down is incredible. That leaves six days!
When afternoon temperatures reach 35C and more , the recent ‘ola de calor’ that has affected much of Europe has seen the thermometer hit 40C, there is absolutely nothing you can do except retreat to a darkened room with a fan. We try to limit our use of air con but have had to put it on when those 40C days bore down on us. Today is cloudy with a fresh breeze and a pleasant 27C, bliss! It will not last but I am enjoying sitting outside writing this and Walt is cycling ! Simple pleasures, that we take for granted nine months of the year. We are looking forward to September, but that in itself is a contradiction of my earlier statement in which I said that I really need to enjoy the moment more and not wish time away. And so I will focus on the wonderful aspects of life in the heat… the cooler mornings, getting stuff done, the evenings going for a swim or the beach , a cold drink on our roof terrace as the sun goes down, taking Benny to the huerto as it gets cooler for him to play with his friend Lucky, the wonderful light especially as the sun softens in the evening and the sharp edges go, leaving everything looking beautiful again. Really ? I hear you say , She needs a good hard slap! Be grateful ,you really are so fortunate and the autumn will be here soon!