Wonderings on wandering

Weeding strawberries in sun and hail, almost being blown into wide-angle views of river, forest and hills, plunging my hands into soaking soil and I am reaching back in memory to sandy red earth and dry mountainside, and other more welcome streams of water.

There is something deep, primal, about land and place and our connection to it.



This land sits like a sponge, exuding water when squeezed, and valley streams become deltas..

Around three thousand years ago this was the view out of someone’s front door, minus the trees.


We tried to imagine what this roundhouse would have been like, what the daily life of the people in it would have held. Would our Bronze Age ancestors have had the same pull to settling, to community, to connecting with their land? It seems so…
In this limbo waiting time of not quite spring, we have been buffeted by winds of wandering, trying not to fall through the cracks –


but in the cracks, new growth is found

In the last 7 months, we have stayed in eight different houses, one tent and a yurt. We have lived this and like the hawk we watched from the tor, we have caught the currents and flown with them. But enough now, the cracks are showing. Trying to push through a clear dream but finding doors closed – or, like Alice in Wonderland, we are the wrong size to go through them.

Place and people. Again, that conundrum of finding beautiful and inspiring landscape but devoid of personal connection. And then, a gap in a distant line of trees, a certain hill shape glimpsed from motorway, that taps into memory traces and says ” home”, with all it’s complications.

Small travels… but a big journey

So, back in September we left Stroud on what we had anticipated would be our big travels as a family. There was no definite plan, but the overall idea was to get away for a while, to see some places, to get in some extended time as a family, and to explore ideas for how we can live more sustainably and happily in the future.

We said goodbye to our friends and set off in Olive the VW with the intention of being away for around six months, until the end of March. Though of course we had some apprehensions about leaving friends and family and familiarity for so long, we believed that we would be fine, on the whole, on our travels.


Well, the reality was a little different. We spent the first three weeks travelling from the north to the south of Spain via the western half of the country, as has been documented here. This period had lots of lovely elements to it: we enjoyed some wonderful weather, had some good conversations, the girls played lots and engaged with a reel of new experiences in their customarily brilliant, inquisitive, playful and hilarious ways. But the ‘travelling” bit of our big travels was not working as well for us as we’d thought. Perhaps we are just a bunch of home-loving people. We craved the feeling of being settled somewhere. We very soon tired of the road (with apologies to Andy Irvine and Woody Guthrie); of the unsatisfactory food we were buying with great inefficiency from dismal supermarkets; and of the quite nice but very costly food and drink we were buying at various cafes as we visited places like Salamanca, Mérida, Vejer, Cádiz. We encountered homesickness: not really for home life or for the delights of the English autumn, but for the company of our dear friends and family.


We still had our intention to stay on the farm near Órgiva and join in with the farm work there for a while. As it turned out – as Jenny has written here already – we were very happy at La Jimena. In return for our work and participation in farm life we were being cared for and fed extremely good, organic, delicious food. We were able to experience living in a yurt which was so much more comfortable than living in a tent; with a warm stove, solar-electric lighting, a table and chairs, we were able to spend cosy autumn evenings having precious time for us, as well as a settled rhythm of outdoor life during the day.


But we could not stay here for months and months. We agreed we had no desire to go travelling elsewhere in Europe in the middle of winter. We could have headed south to the Canarias, or even Uganda, but the draw of returning home to Stroud was clearly winning out.

As a consequence of just a few weeks of La Jimena life, with many interesting conversations, we had mentally moved on to thinking and talking together a lot about how we want to live in the future. We have some principles and proposals that we want to try to put into action, for an ecologically and emotionally sustainable way of being, where we reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, reduce our dependence on working many hours in paid employment in order to pay bills etc, where we achieve an equitable gender balance in our patterns of work and domestic life, where we support our children in their learning through giving them our time where needed, giving them lots of opportunities, as well as time to be children as they wish; where we can set up healthy rhythms and tempos of life for ourselves.

We’ve been really focused recently on “what’s next” and we’re itching to start doing it, hopefully somewhere in or near our home of Stroud. Meanwhile we have of course continued to enjoy being part of things on this farm, this remarkable place; but our travels have certainly been far from big in a global sense! I hope nobody wants their money back from the farewell party we hosted in September.

We’ve discovered the joys of roots and rhythms, of place and participation, of connections and care for deeper needs. We have discovered that we are strong people in many ways but we are also fragile without our supporting networks of people, places and practices.

So, we have indeed been on a big journey. In fact, as we return to chilly, flooded Britain, I think our big journey has really only just begun.

Days full of seasons

Full moon again, and as it waxes and wanes the year’s wheel turns and our time here trickles towards an end. For the Spanish locals, this is winter now; frosty mornings and cold winds. For us, it seems there are only three seasons here, and they all intertwine. The wind has blown most of the leaves down, so we walk to breakfast through rustling drifts of yellow, red, dusky brown and gold.

Around noon the sun is warm and the sky the impossibly deep blue of midsummer, a beautiful complement to the ripening oranges on the trees.

And here in Andalucia in December, pear trees with fruit still hanging suddenly get over-excited and spring into bud.

Francis is very fond of olive trees now..

Florence is teaching herself reading and writing, sounding out words on food packets and playing with Bananagrams tiles and lolly-stick words…

‘Ponka’ means ‘egg’ in her own language, and there wasn’t quite room for ‘sinnamonn’ so “I’ll just layer it!”.
Rosy makes some new friends and sees hats in the sky…


And me? I am enjoying watching these long-legged children, fearlessly leaping and climbing, leading goats, singing in all manner of languages and performing in concerts…how they grow.

video from a couple of weeks ago, of baby bunny cuddling

Florence introducing the farm…

Advent and Solstice blessings to you all…


Off to Granada in Mario’s Mercedes – funnily enough, after the boneshaking rattle of our Olive, we all felt slightly carsick. I dredged up enough neuroscience to explain to Rosy the workings of the vestibular system and how it’s all to do with balance and perception…(why exactly does it make us feel sick though??) ….well, it distracted her for a few minutes anyway.

We snuck in the side entrance of the Alhambra to avoid queues and entrance fees. We still got to wander round and admire Moorish and Moorish-inspired architecture


Tucked in an alcove, I found a reminder of the all-consuming-ness of mothering a small child, a balancing act of food, sleep and love which seems increasingly far behind for me.

The walk down to the old town was beautiful


We peeped at the cathedral, wandered through the markets, and bought woolly jumpers….


A fountain reminded us of ‘Where the Wild Things Are’

Rosy with a nearly-Christmas rose:


Olive grove above the Alhambra with the Sierra Nevada living up to its name in the background

And sunset Granada panorama.

Coming back, getting out of the car to dark-bright full-moon peace after the bustle of a city, balance returns.

Crafty clever

Excuse the quiet – over the last week or so we’ve had very sporadic internet and more importantly have been busy with such things as learning to count to ten in Icelandic, wallowing in hot springs at sunset as the stars came out, miniature tipi building – oh and a bit of olive picking in-between!


What do you do if you have one sheepskin coat too many??

Start a moccasin making project!

Somehow I ended up leading this, devising patterns, making a prototype, helping the children cut out pieces, punch holes and stitch together. Those who know me well will be aware of my phobia of all things sewing-related, and will realise how, er, significant this experience is (now don’t laugh or I shall pull your nose).
So with apologies to all my crafty friends…how to make moccasin slippers out of a coat!

Draw round your feet with a generous margin! And work out roughly how big the top needs to be (I came up with a formula involving proportions, how clever is that!). Add a strip for the back.

Cut out your pieces from the coat, preferably using the edge seam of the coat for the back, through which you can later thread elastic to tighten it around the foot (see, cleverer and cleverer). Punch holes around the edge, through top and sole (more cleverness involving sticking a crochet hook through each set of holes in turn as the next is made, to ensure they all line up).
Crochet or finger knit a Very Long String. Use aforementioned crochet hook to pull the string through the holes to sew the moccasin together.

The first fully complete moccasin travelling past at high speed:

The family’s about-to-turn-seventeen-on-Friday son is going to receive a pair of these, lovingly and secretly made – just what every teenager most desires, don’t you think?

Fountain in Lanjaron, spa town near here
(Very rough translation, with heartfelt apologies to Frederico Garcia Lorca – “struggling under the weight of the shadow sang a spring: meekness and murkiness of twilight, I felt the songs of the water”)

The water in the channel coming down past our yurt rushes fast, then suddenly one day the background song is quiet and the channel empty – until the next time that somewhere a gate is closed or opened and water flows again. Living here, connected to earth and stone and tree, water, fiery skies and air that brings snow flurries as well as warm wind, we hear our own background song on and off, a song of in-between, neither here nor there, being present to what is, shadows and light.


A whirlwind trip back to Britain over with, and I seem to have brought the cold back here with me! Very chilly nights and one morning, a smattering of snow on the opposite peaks. Still warm in the days though and beautiful sunshine.

Meanwhile, it’s full moon and small lantern – walkers go singing through the valley, from door to door



‘The Last Bison’ opens to rave reviews at the Theatre on the Edge

And ‘Terror of the stump’ is the latest game in our mountainside playground.

Spanish leaf quiz (by Florina for her British pen pal)- can you identify the trees?

Due to the cold, we have moved into winter quarters – a lovely cosy yurt. Dreams of bringing this back with us end in two thoughts; ‘where to put it?’ and ‘what about the rain?’.
Welcome, come in through our hobbit door…



Last week I seemed to split into two, with a foot in two places, two lives, two worlds. Home is where the heart is – and my heart is scattered, tucked into little corners of people and places. Some connections, I can hold fast to here, and draw support from. They go far deeper than place. Other things belong very firmly ‘there’ – delayed trains, rain, Christmas food adverts…!
More and more, thoughts of how to bring bits of this life back with us…

Five senses

…sunrise between the mountains
…a chicken’s head being chopped off
…a praying mantis in the grass

…water running, near and far
…crickets chirping, endlessly
…Baroque music in a tiny mountain village

…the claws of the largest brambles ever
…the soft udder of a goat and warm milk spurting out
…the hot sun on my back having breakfast outside in November

…warm air in the evening walk up the mountain side to our tent
…the vanilla-sweet scent of a fig tree
…compost toilets!

…fizzy water straight from a spring
…ripe persimmons, soft, squishy, sweet and nowhere near how they are found in Britain
…home-made wine from grapes that grow wild



Wigwams, water and violins

We woke up the other morning to a torrent across the entrance to our clearing – how exciting to have to ford white water to get to breakfast!



These are ancient water courses that flow or run dry according to a system of ‘gates’. Water is stored in deep pools. Before the tracks were made, people would have used the water courses as one way of moving around.
Francis has been gaining skills and working hard under expert guidance, with a large tractor-powered circular saw among other things, and also on our kitchen and shower. The solar panel and hot water tank are cleaned out, insulated and working; there is enough hot water for one shower and a tub bath for girls.
I was promised a surprise this evening, and found the kitchen now has a sliding window along the front to provide more shelter, running water that drains away and is even a bit warm, a table and stools and – electric light! Luxury.



Our loo with a view
We’ve had a Native American project underway and it has inspired all sorts of things. First came the construction of a wigwam…
The three girls worked hard cutting bamboo and dragging it to the site they chose, and then the site had to be cleared. A west facing terrace, good for watching sunsets and hiding behind the long grass to spot bison.


Shaping the bamboo into a round was challenging, but finally we got there, practising lashing along the way, and with help from a visiting British home educating family.


With wigwam complete, four children could squeeze inside to eat mango and pomegranate and examine rather large spiders.
The next job, after following a trail of Native American symbols, was to decide on and make their totem pole. Eagle, goat, owl, sun-wind-water, and olives.

The trail has sparked a flurry of treasure hunt creating…and I have been learning and telling Native American stories.
One of my roles here is as violin teacher to the family’s youngest daughter, which is not only a joy as she is so motivated and keen, but is also poking me into practising. After all, there is a music room here with a baby grand! Hopefully scope for more and more playing….

This, here, now

This is our new home, and work…most likely until Christmas. An olive farm, high up in the mountains, off-grid and beautiful.

A curious mixture of simplicity and abundance

Terraces of olive trees interspersed with grapes, pomegranates, persimmons…wind turbines and solar panels, water courses and springs (no drains or mains here)
Goats pop up unexpectedly and Rosy is in charge of feeding the rabbits (an extra food crop along with the very productive veg garden. She has forbidden me to mention the rabbits’ final destination. What can I say. The stew was delicious.)

We have our own clearing even higher up, with a compost toilet and an outdoor kitchen and shower. The nearest road as we would recognise it is three kilometres away and that’s mountainous and windy (yes, we drove Olive up a steep, dirt track full of rocks and hairpin bends, and along similar tracks on the edge of precipitous gorges. Don’t tell our parents.)
So far we have fallen into a rhythm of outdoors, physical, practical work, a bit of play, some ‘homeschool’ projects and an outing to a village chestnut fiesta. Music, singing, inspiring conversation (often in German! – the girls are becoming linguistically confused) dark evenings and sunny warm days.

Spaciousness of mountainside

And preposterous sunsets.
This, here, now, is good.

Little campervan on the big roads

Rosy has been reading the ‘Little House’ series of books, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s account of her childhood in the late nineteenth century, growing up on the prairies and in the forests of America. The recurring theme of the books is the family’s ongoing travels, setting up home in one place only to then move on to build another house on another parcel of land somewhere else; constantly seeking better pasture, more productive land, safer environments.

The tales of the homesteaders reminded me that two generations of my family emigrated from South Wales to America, although all of them returned to family and familiarity in the Valleys. My great- grandparents were married in Pennsylvania in 1912. In the 1880s, my great-great-grandparents, ‘Maw and Paw’ as they were thereafter known, slept with a loaded rifle under their bed in the rough mining town where their German immigrant neighbours introduced them to the overpowering smell of sauerkraut.

After just a few weeks of setting up, packing down and transporting our temporary home and a constant process of filtering what we have with us and attempts to make storage more efficient, beds more comfortable and so on, I don’t think I would make a very good homesteader at all. The challenge is finding stability in movement, finding continuity in change and finding connection in separation.

For the last week or so we’ve been camped near Cape Trafalgar (Taraf al Ghar, the Cape of Caves). Tales of historic battles leave me cold, but the coast is beautiful, and somewhere not too far out there is Africa….






Not far away, Vejer de la Frontera perches high above the plain, town of Moorish remains and inviting doorways…





….bright tiles and fountains, Moroccan cuisine and ladies in traditional Islamic-style dress keeping watch over brooding walls.

Here be dinosaurs


..and snail cities on sea-blown branches.
And us? We’re packed up, snail-like, and off again, heading away from sea and sand towards mountains again.



Morocco across the Strait of Gibraltar

(I’m sorry about the spots that regularly appear in the corner of my photos – I have a horrible feeling something’s got inside the camera)