Saturday, 29 January 2011

Working with our wool

A lovely hand made felt bag from our Xalda wool

We have had our flock of sheep for fifteen years now and when it comes to shearing time we always end up with a big pile of lovely wool. For many years it got put in sacks, stored for a while, but eventually ended up in the rubbish bin. What a crime I always thought, but there is no market for sheep’s wool, synthetic fibres have done away with that.

Sheep shearing; the start of the process.

So over the last three years we started looking more seriously as to what we could do with our wool. One of the easier options was to use it for insulation, but this always seemed a shame, there must be a better way to use such lovely coloured wool.

So we contacted different artisans who work with wool and sent them samples of our Xalda wool. (Frances Baker from East Anglia was one.)After talking with them and receiving samples of their work using our wool we came to the conclusion felting would be the best choice for us to start with.

However we soon realised if we wanted this project to work the major problem was going to be trying to find someone local who wanted to work with the wool and could actually make a reasonable income from it. Then last November I got the chance to go on a day course in Cantabria with fifteen rural women from Eastern Asturias to look at preparing and spinning wool. Some of these women showed interest in working with our wool and there are now three local women who have started working with our wool to make different items to sell.

Washing wool in the village "lavadero"

Some of the fifteen women "picking" wool on the course in Cantabria

Our local women are working the wool in the traditional way and it’s a very labour intensive process. First the fleeces are hand washed either in a “lavadero” the old village communal washing points, or even in the river. After the wool has been dried it has to be “picked” or "teased" which is the process of opening up the locks of wool and removing any small seeds or bits. Once picked the wool is carded which is like combing the wool, before the felting process starts. We originally were carding the wool with hand held carders (which look like wire brushes) but this was very labour intensive and hand wound mechanical drum carders are available which can save a lot of time. So at the hotel we decided to buy a mechanical carder for use by any of the local women who wanted to so as to help reduce the time needed to prepare the wool.

Samathana using the drum carder at the hotel.

Jenny with samples of carded wool ready for felting

We are now slowly starting to see the results of all this work. One of the women, Jenny has made various felt bags and tried with other articles such as slippers, purses and hot water bottle holders. Its early days but with luck we will soon have a range of lovely hand made articles for sale at the hotel all made from our own organic sheep wool.

A variety of felted bags made by Jenny from our wool

Monday, 17 January 2011

Lots of Lambs

Part of our flock of Xalda sheep.

It’s particularly lovely to walk around the farm at this time of year and watch the young lambs running backwards and forwards and jumping in the air whilst their anxious mums look on. We had a lot of lambs born in the last week of December and these lambs are now particularly active running from one end of the farm to the other in a very playful way.

Getting ready for play time

Our Xalda sheep (like most sheep of the northern hemisphere) breed in the autumn and winter months and are known as short day breeders. It is a survival advantage for the specie to give birth to their young during periods of favourable weather and feed supplies. In the valleys and coastal regions of Asturias by February the meadows are bursting with growth and this means plenty of food for the new lambs and the hungry mums.

White mother with her three day old lamb.

Brown mother with her three week old lamb.

Sheep do not need an uncomfortable talk from their parents or to watch a film in school about the birds and the bees. Influenced by a mix of environmental factors and hormonal responses sheep instinctively know what to do and when to do it.

The moon over the farm as seen from the hotel with the Picos in the distance.

In our flock we have the ram roaming with the ewes all year long unlike many “commercial” flocks where the ram will be introduced only for a short period of time so as to control the date of lambing. On our farm there is no controlled mating time and the natural cycles of the earth and the moon are left to assert their influences on the sheep’s reproductive cycles.

Dusk over the farm with the moon over the sheep.

On our farm where nature is left to her own course lambing certainly comes in flushes. A surge of lambs get born in a 5 to 7 day period and this occurs about every 4 weeks.

Some of our sheep with the hotel in the background.

Some people say that the lunar influence on the feminine biology does not have any demonstrated scientific base, and it is a belief consequence of millennia of cult difficult to overthrow. However when you work on the land and are truly in contact with nature, like on the farm at Posada del Valle, its difficult not to believe in lunar cycles and the wisdom of nature.

Newly born lamb with her caring mother.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

The Colours of Asturias

Asturias is a land of many contrasts, a tapestry of rich and diverse landscapes that never fail to inspire. Sited on Spain’s Costa Verde, the Green Coast, Asturias celebrates its beauty by claiming to be a natural paradise.

The beach at "Cuevas del Mar"

Climbing above the clouds in the Picos de Europa

The Bay of Biscay’s water offers blue and aquamarine vistas edged with golden sands and pebble beaches. Summer brings expanses of clear blue sky with occasional visits from grey and silver clouds that carry rain to nourish and refresh. In its prime, the sea is bejewelled with white surf and spray that crashes into rocky shores and shifting yellow sands. Surfers glisten like grey seals carry boards emblazoned with vibrant and fluorescent shapes. There are many beaches to mention but Torimbia, Espasa, Vega and La Isla bring year round joy to young and old alike, fresh, energised air and water that helps you absorb the seascapes and gain inner calm.

The beach at Torimbia

Lobster pots at Ribadesella

The Costa Verde reflects its shades of green throughout its lush valleys, deciduous woodlands and evergreen forests. As autumn falls the greens fade to hues of yellow, chestnut, mahogany, orange and burnt umber as the cooler air and winter beckons. The woodlands open to reveal concealed views of grey limestone scree and platinum tinted mountains. Topped with crisp white snow that glistens in the golden winter sun, the slopes are punctuated by twisted evergreen oaks laid bear to the seasons. The mountains are majestic in their shape shifting as the sun casts shadow and changes shade. The Ponga woodlands, the Pesanca trail, the Picos de Europa and the Sueve mountains show with pride their palette of many colours.

Horses drinking from a stream in the foothills of the Picos

The high mountain peaks in the western massif

Irisis in the wood on the hotel farm

The meadows of Asturias present a riot of colour to attract flora, fauna and fungi that flourish in unique and pristine conditions. The seasons advance and rotate a rich colour wheel from red through to yellow, from blues towards violet and indigo. Dying flowers dry to sculptured, straw-coloured seed heads before being cut to help shed their seed to replenish the carpet of flowers for next year.

Wild flowers in the hotel meadows

Gorse in flower in the Ponga mountains

The Towns, Cities and Villages of Asturias offer a muted palette of life out of season with less hustle and bustle but always filled with the most colourful characters with endless stories to tell and pictures of life to paint. As holidays and vacation time approaches, the people of Asturias prepare to welcome new guests and old friends from vibrant lands further a field. With many opportunities for Asturian culture and customs to shine at fiesta time, generations gather to dress in richly coloured and decorated costumes and to dance and merry make to the rhythm of pipe and drum. The colours of the Asturian flag reflecting those of the sun and sky as it waves in the evening breeze and is paraded with pride by its kith and kin.

The sea town of Cudillero

The Sunday market at Cangas de Onis

The colours of Asturias paint many fond and lasting memories for someone like me who relocated here after using Posada del Valle as a base for several holidays and for all those who visit and take time to soak up the experience. Many return, eager to experience and remember more images from the Asturian land, sea and sky. For the artist, photographer, writer, poet, traveller or voyager, the colours of Asturias will truly inspire and prove its worth as a natural paradise.

Sunset over a sea of clouds above the Carres gorge.

Entrance written by Ian Hicken


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.