Sunday, 31 July 2011

Sea of Clouds

Asturcon Ponies above a sea of cloud on The Sueve Mountains (height 500m)

When you hear of a sea of clouds you probably think about travelling in an aeroplane flying high above the clouds but here in Asturias where the mountains and sea live hand in hand this awesome sight is quite a common spectacle.

Early morning mist and sea of clouds by the hotel (height 200m)

Sea of cloud filling the valley above Sobrefoz and San Juan de Beleño (height 800m)

Cow admiring a sea of clouds from the Pico Pierzo (height 1400m)

In the valleys some mornings you can wake up and look out of the window only to see a cool eerie whiteness. You may think staying in the warmth of your bed for another hour is the better option rather than venturing out into the cold damp air, but for those in the know making an early start and venturing up into the mountains can have a breathtaking reward; a sea of cloud. A flowing white mass lying in the valleys broken by the mighty peaks bursting up into the brilliant clear blue sky, a source of inspiration and awe for ancient poets and modern day artists and photographer.

Rays of sunlight breaking through the cloud near Vegaredonda refuge (height 1300m)

Sunset over a sea of cloud above the Carres gorge near the Cabrones refuge (height 2000m)

Other times the sea of clouds can be much higher and then if you’re planning an outing you think to yourself “will I be lucky, will I be able to get above the clouds?” Lower down it’s a grey day and as you start climbing the clouds get closer. As you climb further you enter into thick cloud with practically no visibility, the route seems scary and you wonder what you’re doing. You keep on climbing and then the greyness appears to get less intense and you start to gain a sense of optimism. As you climb further rays of light begin to break through the swirling cloud and your reward seems almost there. Higher up you’re above the "sea of clouds", an interlaced mass of whiteness, silently flowing like waves round the majestic peaks, a truly breathtaking sight.

Just getting above the clouds near Ordilaga (height 1200m)

On La Torrezuela high in the Western Massiff of the Picos (height 1800m)

Early spring near Peña Crespa in Redes (height 1300m)

It’s very difficult to predict when this phenomenon will occur and how easy it is going to be to get above the mist or clouds. Normally the sea of cloud is due to moist air coming of the sea which then condenses over night forming mist or low cloud. Clear skies, high atmospheric pressure and lower night temperatures all play a part in its formation and what height you need to get to, to be above it. Sometimes with a short car drive or a gentle walk and you’re soon above the mist. Other times a windy road 1000m up into the mountains seems eternal before you’re above the cloud and in the sun and other times a strenuous hike is needed to get above the 1,500m level before you’re above the clouds. Keeping well tuned to the weather forecast along with the aid of local knowledge can help people decide on the possibilities of getting above the mist or cloud and seeing this wonderful sight.

Clear night in winter with mist forming in the valley close to the Mirador del Fito (height 500m)

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

The Consumer Group

Members of the group visiting one of the recently started local organic growers; Javier from Arobes

Over the years we’ve introduced a lot of environmental initiatives in the hotel and on the farm and its always lovely when we get positive feedback about them from our guests. It’s very satisfying for us to hear a guest say they have enjoyed their stay and that they are now going to try and buy more organic produce or copy some of our other environmental initiatives.

Javier from Ribadesella drying and shelling his small scale production of dried "Faba" beans

Although it’s great to be able to work in an environmentally friendly way at the hotel and see our guests enjoy our efforts, we have been well aware that we could do more with the local community. We try and support small local farmers whenever possible and also have various farm open days where we are keen to share information but we still felt we could be doing more.

Two of the new growers interchanging information on growing.

So when we were approached by Mari Jose from Arriondas last year about helping form a consumer group for residents in the East of Asturias we were delighted. To start with there were about eight people who were interested in the project and in the first meetings we established the ideas behind the group. The members of the consumer group wanted to buy organic produce directly from small local growers and encourage this type of production. We wanted to help support the local growers by giving them some guarantee that we would buy what they produced. The idea would be able to say to the grower(s) we would need so many boxes of vegetables each and every week throughout his production period and thus guarantee an outlet for his produce.

Discussing plant production with two of the group members.

First we wanted to establish how many consumers would commit themselves and be prepared to buy what the grower could produce for us each week. The members of the group had a common ideology and recognized the problems of small scale growing and were prepared to share some of the risks of growing. If there was a glut of lettuce, courgettes or whatever and the vegetable box that week overflowed with lettuce we would just have to be imaginative and consume more lettuce!

Javier from Ribadesella preparing Walnuts for the group.

We visited various producers in the region to look for possible suppliers and our first surprise was the lack of organic growers in a 50 km radius of Arriondas. There was one established organic grower from Ribadesella so we started a trial the box scheme with him throughout the winter, preparing a box twice a month with what he had. We all ate lots of cabbage and leaf beet but despite this the interest in the group carried on growing and the number of members kept on increasing. We also held monthly meetings where we discussed the project over a meal with different dishes supplied by the different members. In late winter, as our initiatives got better known we were pleased to be contacted by a young local grower who wanted to start producing vegetables for the group.

Meeting and social event at the hotel for the group members

Communal effort preparing food for the group

Nine months have now passed since the first meetings; the group now has 22 members and is growing. Another local has taken the initiative to start growing organic vegetables for the group, so there are now three organic growers in the area. Every Tuesday the three growers bring their produce to the hotel farm house where volunteers from the consumer group take it in turns to make up the vegetable boxes and then all the members come to collect their boxes. Members of the group have also clubbed together to buy local organic beef and pork direct from the farmer as well as other types of produce. Congratulations should be given to Mari Jose and all the members of the group who have worked so hard to get the initiative going, a very valuable initiative which I am proud to be part of.

Preparing the first vegetable boxes last autumn.

Welcome

Hotel Posada del Valle is a small hotel in Asturias Northern Spain surrounded by its own organic farm and where we are passionate about organic farming, food, and sustainable livelihoods. In this Blog those of us who live and work at Hotel Posada del Valle open a door to share with all of you who are interested in what we are doing.