A highland fling

our wee adventure on the Black Isle

Changing times

It’s harvest time in Yunquera! The sound of tree shakers reverberates throughout the campo, and you see men setting the nets, or preparing a campo lunch, everywhere. As you drive by the cooperative, you see canastas full of olives, ready to be pressed. It’s a comforting sight – money in the pocket in time for Christmas (if you sell your olives), and your family’s olive oil barrel full of delicious golden oil for the coming year.

When we first moved here in 2003, the mills wouldn’t even be open yet. Why? Well, it was customary here to pick olives when they were all black, which sometimes would be as late as February. This made for olive oil that was golden yellow, and very smooth and soft tasting – the taste that was preferred in Yunquera.


Harvest 2015

We were thought odd, as we would pick the first half of our crop in mid-December, then the second half after the New Year. We preferred an oil that was fresher and slightly greener in taste, so picked when our olives were half green/half black.

This year we have noticed a huge change. Our olives are picked and pressed already – the entire crop picked in November, the earliest ever! I’ve seen loads of farmers doing the same, and the canastas at the mill are full of (mostly green) olives.

Why the change, we wonder? Is the price for olives better this year, so farmers are picking early to get the best price? Is it that farmers here have finally recognised that those buying their oil now prefer a ‘grassier’, greener oil? Is it that local tastes have changed in line with this global preference?

I don’t know, but to me, it shows that even in a remote village like Yunquera tastes and customs regularly change !

Autumn’s upon us

It always shocks me how quickly a year can pass. When I was a child, time seemed to drag – it took so long for it to get to my birthday, Christmas morning, the end of school…whatever! But now? Blink and it’s the end of September, another year three-quarters of the year through. My mother used to say

the older you get, the faster time passes

…and at the time, I thought she was crazy, but now I know she was absolutely right! (how often that seems to happen!)

Of course, much of this year has been taken up by cancer treatment, and that time seemed to pass in a haze.

With autumn comes our autumnal chores. We pick the last of our summer veg, and are already nostalgic at the upcoming loss of that fresh tomato on our morning toast. We start winterising the house, making sure the summer furniture is put away, the water proofing is done, potential leaky points scrutinised. We start thinking about cutting firewood, even!

Loading the truck

We’ll be collecting firewood soon!

We will soon be ‘cleaning the feet’ of the olive trees, in preparation for the olive harvest. This is a two-day job for us, cutting away the suckers at the base of the tree so that the nets can be laid. (My wrists and hands have been ravaged by the effects of letrozole (aka Femara), but I’m hoping I’m up to wielding a hatchet)

Then comes the olive harvest! We have been inspecting trees this week, to see what the harvest will be like, given a bit of luck and no wind storms!

Ah, autumn, such a bittersweet time…


Antibiotics – life savers that we can’t afford to lose

I meant to write this post about a week ago, but I was unable to type. Why you ask? Well, while weeding the asparagus bed, I had been (unbeknownst to me) been bitten by one of the tiny, dangerous spiders that I’d heard so much about.

It was a shocking occurrence, really. I had felt a little sharp pinch, but put it down to the spiky weeds we have in such great numbers, and quite frankly, though I’d heard of these spiders, in 11 years of working in our vegetable gardens, I’d never had a single problem.

Oh man, did I have a big problem now. One day, I was fine. The next morning, when I wake up, my finger was swollen and throbbing. I immediately suspected our new puppy Freddie and his little sharp puppy teeth – perhaps one of the small punctures from a bite had become infected.

Over the course of the day, my finger continued to swell. And turn red, then purple/black. My hand swelled up, as did the adjoining fingers. By evening, I had a high fever. Oh my, did I feel awful.

spider bite 2 spider bite 1









The following day, we went to the doctor. She was shocked by how bad my hand looked, and immediately prescribed 2000 mg of a special antibiotic especially for skin infections per day.

Is this dangerous, I asked her?

Well, if you hadn’t come in right, yes, it would be, she said. The infection would slowly travel up your arm, and you would be in the hospital with IV antibiotics.

Later, I found out from a friend that this exact same thing happened to her neighbour. He didn’t go in right away, and ended up in hospital. So this tiny spider is not to be taken lightly. Five days later, and the infection still isn’t all gone — but it is slowly improving.

I’ve thought since then how lucky I was that antibiotics were available to tackle this. It enrages me that we are at risk of cavalierly throwing away this precious discovery of Alexander Fleming’s. What if we no longer have effective antibiotics to tackle infections? What if surgery and childbirth become dangerous? What if we return to the ‘old days’ when hospitals were a place of last resort? What if you had a spider bite that became infected, and risked losing your hand, arm or life?

Why is this happening? We are quick to blame doctors who are too likely to prescribe antibiotics when they are not needed. We like to pick on patients who don’t complete the course, who flush the remainder down the toilet, who continually badger their doctor for prescriptions for (e.g.) a simple cold.

But the real (and often overlooked) problem lies in agribusiness. They use antibiotics in animal water and feed, to ensure the animals put on weight and stay healthy even in overcrowded, poor living conditions.  I’ve seen many articles commenting on this, but no government takes action.

According to the FDA, 80% of antibiotics used in the US are given to farm animals – that’s right, 80%. Since they were first used in animal feed/water in the late ’40s, the amount given to animals has risen by 50%, to compensate for often unsanitary, crowded living conditions. We are to blame – every year we eat more and more meat, and demand lower prices.

Aware of the growing problem, some countries (e.g. Denmark, Sweden, and so on) are reducing or eliminating this practice – but we need the ‘big guys’ like the US and China to follow suit. Less intensive farming of animals, and better nutrition would mean that antibiotics are no longer necessary.

Please educate yourself on this problem, and petition your government to change agricultural practices. And don’t badger your doctor for an antibiotic – let him/her decide.

Don’t think this crisis won’t affect you or your family – like me, you could easily find yourself on the wrong side of a very serious infection. And let me tell you, that is a scary feeling.




Sadly, my last blog was a bit precipitous. Spring has come and gone, but will it return?

This image shows a Large Cayenne.

This image shows a Large Cayenne – but will we ever see these at Casa Tyr this summer? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s chilly today. And windy. And rather cloudy. My newly-planted squash plants are happy with this weather, as are the potatoes –  but my poor tomatoes and hot peppers want the quilt back on!



Spring has sprung

Well, it must have ‘sprung’ somewhere, but certainly not here in southern Spain! As I write this, I’m sitting in my (unheated) office, my fingers stiff, my feet cold.

They're called sunflowers, so where is the sun?

They’re called sunflowers, so where is the sun?

Moan, moan, moan. I know, even I am getting tired of my moaning about the weather! I spoke to a friend in the village this morning, and we were both at it. Walls are damp and need repair, everything needs painting, and you can’t even think about doing these jobs until the walls dry out. When will that be, we ask. June? July? Just in time for the autumn rains? Right now, we can’t even imagine the weather being warm.

Of course, my brother in Minnesota tells me off for complaining about the cold, as their temps are well below zero! Hey, people with central heating, don’t talk to me about cold!

And don’t even talk to me about my potatoes! They sit calmly in the greenhouse, quietly chitting away, with the soil still too wet and cold to rotovate, much less plant. We are a month past our usual planting time, and it is seriously stressing me out! Growing potatoes, onions and garlic are the absolute essentials for any campo person worth their salt, and none of ours have been planted yet! Now that’s stress!

We long for the bright sunshine, to have the sun warm our backs while we’re working. We know that come July, we will be hiding from the powerful heat of the sun, but for now? Come on, sun, do your stuff.

Oh, my aching…

You can fill in the blank yourself !!

This is a tough time of year. It’s spring. You’ve survived another long winter, triumphed over nature again! I’m sure it goes back to prehistoric days, when in winter you were in serious danger from freezing or starving to death. This is no longer true for most of us, but you still have a very glad feeling when winter is over.

But in spring, you can so easily be deceived! One day it will be sunny and warm, and you will be full of the joys of spring. The next? Rainy and cold again, until you feel like winter will never truly be over.

We’ve had that type of spring here in Yunquera. In April, we had some glorious weather, and we felt sure we were in for an early summer. End of the rain. No more cold days. Or so we thought! Since then, though, it’s been up and down.

On the rainy days, everything aches. Or at least for me! Any joint I’ve ever injured aches: my poor hands, with the many fingers that have been broken in the past; my knees, survivors of past surgeries; toes, also previously broken.

We saw our friend working in the vineyard this morning, and asked how he was. “Regular”, was the answer. He said his leg hurts a lot. “Why?” we ask. “Because I’m 70 years old”, says he. He’s cranky about it, and I don’t blame him. It’s been a long, damp winter.

Come the warm weather though, and we all know that all those aches and pains will disappear. By July, they are a distant memory, and boy, am I looking forward to that!

And now, something to cheer us all up – the first of the summer roses is in full bloom!

Pink rose from Casa Tyr

First of the summer roses (photo by Kenton@imagenary.co.uk)

The olive picking workout!

Well, we’re on day 3 of olive picking, and still alive to tell the story!

Sore muscles, dark shadows under the eyes. Feeling so tired you’re not sure you’ll make it to 10pm. Waking up to the alarm clock, in total disbelief at how quickly the night went. It’s certainly not a bed of roses!

On the plus side, our eyes and skin look great from the time spent outdoors. We’re getting a great dose of Vitamin D from the sun – no risk of rickets at Casa Tyr!

Before the usual Christmas glut, rather than sitting in an office, we’ve spent our days outside in the fresh air, walking up and down hills, getting fit, losing weight. We talk about everything under the sun, but aren’t afraid of companionable silence.

And we eat and eat and eat! We use up so much energy that we (and the dogs) eat huge meals, without a speck of guilt. How often do you really, really get hungry, so hungry that you feel almost faint? Well, pick olives for 8 hours a day, and you’ll feel that way every day! No need to count calories this week!

Oh, you doubters in the UK who were “too busy” to help – how you have missed out!

And the olives. Wow, are they good this year. It’s not a huge harvest (olives have a 2 year cycle, one good, one less good), but every olive is in perfect condition. Not a trace of disease or infestation.

We probably have 3-4 days of picking left. Then comes the best part – the pressing of the olives into Yunquera Gold olive oil. It could be a vintage year!