Hot Summer days..and small singing climbers

There weren’t too many cold Spring days in Cercedilla this year, and i’ve been telling anybody who would listen of my fears of a hot Summer..and lo! ..was i right. We’re going on two weeks of consistently hot days, with maximum temps above 30ºC (peaking at 35ºC right at the end of June) and minimum temps in the 15-19ºC range..and there’s at least another week of the same to come.

With this kind of weather it’s good to get out early in the morning, to hike up the valley before the sun climbs too high in the sky..or to do a little climbing oneself. Rock climbing is what i’m talking about of course. An easy West-facing slab was ideal for my 5-year-old to sing his way up ..maybe even too easy!

Thanks to the songbirds of Navalmedio for their wonderful background soundtrack. The Navalmedio valley is one of the other valleys that lead upwards towards the mountains from Cercedilla, in this case towards the pass of Navacerrada. We’ve been up (and down) this valley a few times in the last month, but our favourite valley by far remains Fuenfría. Above all on those days when you can’t get out early in the morning..

It’s particularly in the evening – after a scorching day in Madrid – that the Fuenfría valley offers shade and solace..and temperatures that you might even call cool, as the sun dips behind the western valley wall formed by the ridge that runs from La Peñota to Peña del Águila and then Peña Bercial. Having spent the central hours of the day in the furnace of the capital it sometimes seems a little unreal to be able to stroll in the cool shade of the wild pines of Fuenfría in the early evening.


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I came upon this solitary flower – startlingly perched on the vertical, the drama of its precarious position heightened by the powerfully downpouring torrent – in the first days of June..and the other day when i passed by there again, there it still was..a little the worse for wear but still there.

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The wolf at your door.. rewilding!

A few posts back i was joking about wolves on the edge of town..and later it occurred to me that i was practically playing the role of the boy who cried wolf. Why? Well, because even as i was making the joke (‘crying wolf’) and commenting on how far away the wolves really were..a few kilometers down the road from where i live a dead wolf was found on the road, just two months ago now. Apparently run over by a vehicle during the night, the animal’s lifeless body caused quite a stir locally. See here..and here (with fotos) for reports.

Since the reappearance of the wolf in the Sierra de Guadarrama a few years back, and the subsequent reports of attacks on livestock, there has been some debate about what is clearly a controversial issue. From the point of view of Nature conservationists, the presence of the wolf is obviously a good thing, desirable both for the wolf in its own right and for the wolf as a fundamental player in a complex ecosystem which will benefit from the influence of an apex predator. In recent years the expansion of ibex (cabra montés) and wild boar (jabalí) populations in the Sierra has resulted in the need to cull hundreds of animals. The action of a large predator like the wolf could transform this – and other – scenarios. For many conservationists, the prime example of trophic cascade – dramatic changes within an ecosystem caused by the presence/absence of predators at the top of the food chain – is the return of the wolf to Yellowstone in the 1990s and the surprising – and far-reaching – consequences of this return. If you are interested in this question, check out George Monbiot talking about ‘rewilding’ at TED:


Livestock owners and hunters have a different point of view. They see their interests as potentially damaged and strongly contest the view that the wolf is a good thing. Some people in the conservationist lobby would point to a certain amount of alarmist publicity given to supposed wolf attacks recently. Even directly falsified reports of attacks. Earlier this year a curious video circulated Europe showing security camera footage of a night-time snowy environment in which a wolf appears and proceeds to kill a smallish guard-dog. The video was apparently presented to media networks in various countries, Germany among others, as a local recording. I have heard that it was even presented in Spain as representing an incident taking place at a well-known Guadarrama ski station! It turned out that the video was Russian in origin.

As a pro-conservationist i obviously endorse the presence of the wolf in Guadarrama, but it is very comfortable to do this while the wolf is 60-70km away in the Northern Sierras. As somebody who likes to sleep out at night in the Summer it’s a little less suddenly have the wolf on one’s doorstep. Rewilding, making the world wild once more, refers not only to rewilding other but also to rewilding self.. and the challenge posed to humans in this idea of rewilding, rewilding oneself, is a very interesting challenge indeed.


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The blaze on every hill

Amazing Summer colour in the hills this year..

Blazing yellow blossoming..atop Hermana Menor.

Blazing yellow blossoming..atop Hermana Menor.

One of the earliest memories of my childhood in Ireland features my father talking of “the furze blooming yellow in the hills”..and this vague, and perhaps not entirely real, recollection of infancy often resonates within me in early Summer in the mountains of Spain. The tough bush-like plants that blossom in a blaze of yellow in the Iberian highlands are not usually furze (Ulex, or tojo in Spanish) but two kinds of broom, generally known as piorno locally. In some ways quite similar to furze but of a different genus (Cytisus), these piornos have a host of other popular names: retama negra/amarilla, escoba amarilla/negra/serrana, ginesta, (h)iniesta, xiniesta and more.

Heading back down towards Cotos, Siete Picos and Mujer Muerta in the distance.

Heading back down towards Cotos, Siete Picos and Mujer Muerta in the distance.

Large numbers of piorno bushes growing together are referred to as piornales..and this last week the upper reaches of Peñalara seemed like one immense piornal, radiating not only an intense yellow colour but also an intense aroma. That morning i could smell it from the train as we travelled over Valsaín.

Looking down towards Cotos and the valley of Valsaín.

Looking down towards Cotos and the valley of Valsaín.

It’s not unusual to see great spreads of yellow on the opposite side, looking to Cabezas and Valdemartín..but this year seems to be the turn of Peñalara and Dos Hermanas. Of course it’s not only yellow, there’s also a little white still to be seen on this side..

Dos Hermanas and Peñalara, the snow still surviving in mid June.

Dos Hermanas and Peñalara, the snow still surviving in mid June.

Indeed not only is the snow still holding out, but there are some quite extensive snowfields above 2200m, particularly one between the two Hermanas. This is quite normal for June..though much less than the extensions observed the last two years, years which were exceptional in snowfall.

Snowfield on the West face of Hermana Mayor.

Snowfield on the West face of Hermana Mayor.

I already blogged about beautiful broom a couple of years back: Summer comes in a blaze of broom.

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Potato vs tomato, or why we need to get back to Nature

To some it may not seem so important..getting back to Nature. Many might say: so what, if we live in a highly urbanised environment, what’s the big deal about Nature?

I could give several answers to the question “Why do we need to get back to Nature?” but i think the following video featuring the British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver in an American classroom is one of the best..

..when you see a 6-year-old confronted by a tomato and he doesn’t know what it is, and likely doesn’t know what a potato is either – you wonder would he recognise an apple? – you must think that there is something wrong here. Did they set up the video? Is it real? Is the kid acting? And if you accept that it’s real, and consider that it’s not just one kid, that several others in the class seem to have no better idea – though they all know perfectly what tomato ketchup is – then you must be at least a little concerned..if not downright disturbed.

Post-industrial urban living is a very artificial paradise..and one of the most artificial things in our plastic Garden of Eden (Made in Guangdong) is the food that we eat.

The industrialisation of food production, often presented as a miracle that has saved humanity, is probably closer to a catastrophic disaster.

We live in the age of pseudo-food.

Many children living in Westernised societies no longer recognise real food. They only know pseudo-food. Pre-prepared, processed, packaged food. Pseudo-food.

And the result is obesity, illness, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, multiple forms of cancer..and general lack of quality of life.

That’s why, thinks me, we need to get back to Nature..

Paradise..maybe we’ve been looking in the wrong place?

And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.

And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

Genesis 2, 8-9

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More wild flowers..and fat wolves!

Among other plants flowering in abundance this year is Valerian, which adorns the old (Roman?) bridge that you cross on entering Cercedilla.

Valerian, growing abundantly on top of one of the buttresses of the bridge.

Valerian, locally valeriana, growing abundantly on top of one of the buttresses of the bridge.

It almost looks as though the bridge has deliberately been decorated by the Ayuntamiento’s gardeners on both sides and all along its length..

The other side of the bridge..equally adorned by Valerian.

The other side of the bridge..equally adorned by Valerian.

but no, this is a spontaneous wild flower planted by no human hand. It’s not entirely clear that the bridge that stands today really dates from the Roman may well do, a great part of its construction is undoubtedly very ancient and its location would fit perfectly the approach of the Roman road that headed up the Fuenfría Valley and crossed Guadarrama at Fuenfría Pass on its way to Segovia. The wonderfully Roman-evocative name Valerian would also make this plant very appropriate for a bridge built by those ancient Latins. The truth is that this plant grows typically in urban scenarios high on old stone walls and can be found in many places around Cercedilla on walls but a few decades of age..this year perhaps more abundantly than others.

Another plant prevalent this year and with a name evocative of the ancient world is the Asphodel  – ἀσφόδελος for the Greeks – locally known as asfodelo or gamón.

The Asphodel, asfodelo or gamón blanco.n

The Asphodel, asfodelo or gamón blanco.

You won’t find this one in town but barely outside the urban precincts it can be found readily beside the trail.

And yes, there are “fat wolves” lurking on the edge of town too! What am i talking about? We know that wolves have newly established themselves in the rather more remote Sierra Norte..but close to Cercedilla??! No, i’m just making a playful translation of Gordolobo, also known as Verbasco or Mullein in English.

Gordolobos, "fat wolves"..more formally Verbascum thapsus, great mullein, just up the road from my house.

Gordolobos, “fat wolves”..more formally Verbascum thapsus, just up the road from my house.

It’s a magnificent plant which can grow up to two meters high and produces a host of small yellow flowers in the characteristic fashion which earns it yet another local name: candelaria.

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Not so cold Spring days..and flowers!

The snow is gone, Winter is forgotten..Spring reigns supreme!

The snow is gone, Winter is forgotten..Spring reigns supreme!

Early May has seen some warm weather..even hot you might say, with temps approaching 40ºC in the Center-South of Spain. In Cercedilla we reached 29.5ºC the other day which is certainly very warm for the middle of May.

The ubiquitous poppy, or amapola locally.

The ubiquitous poppy, or amapola locally.

Despite the warm temps and the exuberant flowering of some trees – with consequent pollen alerts – it hasn’t been so spectacular for flowers on the ground. The poppy is always there, as is the bleuet or cornflower, and other staples..tho not in exceptional numbers. Similar story for rarer flowers..the peonia for instance which last year astonished us with its overwhelmingly abundant blossoming. This Spring has been more normal, we found a few the other day..but nothing like last year.

Peonias, near Cerro Golondrina.

Peonias, near Cerro Golondrina.

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