Winter drawers on!

The Spanish meteorological office AEMET is forecasting strong winds, low temperatures, and snow for Mallorca over the coming days, for areas as low as 300 metres above sea level. That means that even parts of the capital Palma could see some of the white stuff. Apparently Mallorca is suffering the coldest January since 2005; we remember that one well (and not with fondness): it was our first winter here – and we had a leaky roof without insulation and no central heating.

On many winter days the temperature is comfortable enough to have our coffee and/or lunch outdoors on our most-sheltered terrace, basking in the warmth (sometimes even heat) of the winter sunshine. Our cats also like to feel the sun’s rays and take advantage of any warm places to snooze. Best not tell them what’s in store for the coming days.

Snoozing cats

Room for three cats only in this particular sunny spot

The Boss has just returned from the wood supplier we use in Porreres with a fresh load of logs for the woodburner, so we’re well prepared on the heating front. And we’ve just received a goodie-packed food parcel from our lovely Oxfordshire friends Kristina and Duncan – who visit us every year from the UK.

Fortnum & Mason goodies

Fortnum & Mason comes to rural Mallorca

No, they weren’t expecting us to be snowed in and unable to go out and buy any food; our box of Fortnum & Mason gourmet treats was their generous Christmas gift, which was somehow delayed in transit. If, by any chance, we do become snowed in, we won’t be going hungry…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mr Rat came a-calling

We spotted a dead rat in the lane near our home a day or two ago and it reminded me that we hadn’t seen a rodent – dead or alive – for some time. Thankfully. Having seven outdoor cats around the place is the best rat or mouse deterrent going.

Before the cats took up residence on our finca we tried a few measures to deter the rats and mice that we often saw around. The first was the large plastic owl (brought over with us from the UK) which we suspended from a branch on one of our almond trees. Our Mallorcan neighbours must have had a chuckle about that…as did the rodents, we imagine, since they weren’t the least bit put off.

There were electronic gizmos emitting an  unpleasant sound that only rodents could hear – allegedly. If they did hear anything from these gadgets, they didn’t seem at all bothered.

The Boss blocked up any inviting gaps and holes in the structure of our house and, eventually, we stopped hearing the creatures scuttling within the thick stone walls or under the roof tiles. We still saw them occasionally outside but I stopped worrying about them coming into the house.

rat

An unforgettable night

Look away now if you’re of a nervous disposition because, in spite of the various measures taken to make our home rat-proof, we had a four-legged, long-tailed visitor one night. I’m shuddering now at the memory of it.

I woke up suddenly in the depth of the night to the sound of scratching. It wasn’t The Boss – who was sleeping peacefully (little did he know …) – and it wasn’t our Birman cat Minstral, who sleeps at the other end of our one-storey home. What could it be? The noise became intermittent but closer so I shook The Boss until he groggily came to.

Silence had returned by then, of course. “Go back to sleep, you must have imagined it,” he replied after I’d explained my fears. “Nothing can get in here.” Minutes later the noise started again but The Boss didn’t stir. I listened carefully, trying to work out where the sound was coming from. The sitting room! Feeling brave, I climbed out of bed, grabbed my bedside torch and went to close the sitting-room doors. Whatever was in there could stay there until morning.

“What are you doing?” groaned The Boss when I slid back under the duvet.

“The thing. I’ve shut whatever it is in the sitting room,” I said confidently. “We can sort it in the morning.”

“You’re imagining things,” he replied sleepily, “just try and get back to sleep.”

And I did manage to drift off again. I know that because I was woken by The Boss yelling out some time later. Whatever I thought had been in the sitting room hadn’t; something had just run right across The Boss’s head! Yes, a rat.

We both jumped out of bed and scarpered to the guest room for the rest of the night – having made sure that the creature was confined to our room. All I remember of the next day was a lot of banging and crashing as The Boss tried to catch and remove the creature. And a long session afterwards with rubber gloves, buckets of steaming-hot water, and disinfectant.

A cautionary tale

So how did the rat get into the house? The original walls of our house are around 80cm thick, which means a deep recess between the windows and the external shutters (persianas). The Boss had closed the shutters at dusk from the outside, unaware that a rat had taken refuge within the recess. When it couldn’t easily escape it found its way into the house through a very small hole in the old mosquito screen (which we’d been meaning to replace). A very small hole.

The moral of the story: check those deep window recesses for unwelcome visitors before shutting your persianas. Fix those old mosquito screens. And adopt a few stray cats …

 

Hiking New Year from rural Mallorca

Walkers in Mallorca

A walkers’ coffee break by the Med

The Boss and I have started 2017 with plans to become regular walkers again. In the UK we lived close to the Cotswold countryside and Sundays were often spent striding through muddy fields and cool copses, trying to work out where we were supposed to be going. At the end of our walk we’d reward ourselves with lunch in a cosy pub or a hot drink and home-made cake in a traditional ‘ye olde tea shoppe’.

Since moving to Mallorca we’ve become less-frequent walkers, for a variety of reasons – none of which is related to the lack of English pubs and quaint tea shops on the island. In January 2015 (full of the usual good intentions at the start of a new year) we visited Lluc for a walk in the mountains. I had dragged my faithful Hawkshead walking boots from the back of the wardrobe, dusted them off, and reacquainted them with my feet. Alas, with every step I took in the mountains, a bit more of the soles turned to rubbery dust in my wake. I eventually hobbled – in sole-less boots – back to the car and we went for a drive instead.

Booted anew

About six weeks ago I finally got around to replacing my boots. But I did it in style, buying a sturdy pair from the renowned Mallorcan company Bestard, which was founded in 1940 in the small town of Lloseta. Mountaineers scale the scariest peaks in the world wearing this brand, so I’m confident they’ll be tough enough for our modest excursions. (I did the canny thing and bought mine at a discounted price from their shop at Festival Park Outlets).

My Christmas presents from The Boss included a pair of walking poles (highly recommended when walking in the mountains, on rough terrain, or the wilder areas of our own land). He unwrapped his own pair of Bestard walking boots. We wasted no time in trying out our new ‘toys’, notching up three decent walks in warm sunshine over the festive period. It’s hard to beat a fine-weather winter’s day for a good walk.

We’ve lived on Mallorca for 12 years and 2017 is the year we intend to discover more of the island’s renowned walking routes … taking our flask and cake rations with us, of course.

Es Calo

A walk to Es Calo on the Bay of Alcudia, with views to the Tramuntana

Mallorca woods walk

The walk above the coastline from Cala Molto near Cala Mesquida

Mountainous Mallorca

Puig Mayor in the Tramuntana mountains, from the walk around Cuber reservoir

The knowledge:

Keen walkers living on or visiting Mallorca may find the following of interest:

Mallorca Hiking Club – If you’d like to walk with a guided group (a great way to meet new people), check out the walks arranged by this Club. The dates for their walks scheduled in 2017 so far are as follows:

January 15th and 29th; February 12th & 26th; March 19th, April 2nd, and May 7th.

Serra de Tramuntana – Here’s information about Mallorca’s magnificent mountain range, with its renowned GR221 hiking route.

The excellent book GR221 Mallorca Ruta de Pedra – published by Triangle Postals and available in Englishis packed with useful information.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Season’s greetings from a soggy Mallorca

The past few weeks on Mallorca have passed in a somewhat manic blur of work, rain, technical problems (car, dishwasher, and domestic water heater!), rain, medical matters, rain, work, and the usual pre-Christmas social and planning activities. And did I mention rain? After a bone-dry few months, Mallorca had a jolly good wash this week with four days and five nights of heavy rain, thunder, wind, and leaden skies – resulting in flooding in parts of the island.

Despite everything that’s been going on, we’ve now finished our preparations for another modest but enjoyable¬† Christmas on Mallorca. Whatever you’re doing at this time of year, The Boss and I send season’s greetings and best wishes for 2017.

Christmas tree lights

Have a sparkling Christmas!

 

 

Preparations for winter on Mallorca

Autumn on Mallorca means preparing for the winter, when you live in the more-exposed areas of the countryside. In the past few days The Boss has climbed the ladder to swathe our two terrace canopies in bubble-wrap and tape, as protection from the worst of what winter may throw at us weather-wise.¬† Walk around some of the island’s resorts and you’ll see the more vulnerable exterior fixtures and fittings of hotels that are closed for the winter similarly covered. Our terraces look a bit sad, as a result, but we had to spend a lot of money recovering the canopies this year, so it’s all about protecting our investment against the elements.

Canopies under wraps

Canopies under wraps

We do have one small terrace that catches the sun and is sheltered from the north winds, where we keep a table and chairs throughout the winter. Unless it’s raining or very cold, we often have our mid-morning coffee here and sometimes lunch too. Today, despite the gloomiest of skies, we fired up the BBQ one last time this year (before The Boss tucks it away for winter) and had a leisurely lunch al fresco.

Pip – fit to pop

Our outdoor cats are also aware of the changing seasons. They stay closer to home and, in the morning and early evening, are all waiting at the front door of our home waiting to be fed. In summer they are grazers, coming to the terrace to eat when they feel like it but, at this time of year, their habits change.

This summer grazing habit of six of our cats resulted in a bit of a barrel-belly problem for Pip – our youngest cat (an adorable calico). As she stays close to the house most of the time, any food left uneaten by her cat companions was clearly too much of a temptation. She was either being plain greedy or just ‘clearing up’ any leftovers to be helpful.

Lip-lickingly good, those leftovers ...

Lip-lickingly good, those leftovers …

It’s hard to put a semi-feral cat on a diet – she could be eating things out in the wilderness that is our valley – but we’re doing our best. Pip is now having her meals separately from the other cats and, when they have finished eating, we’re removing their bowls. The cats have adjusted well to this – probably because eating for them at the moment is more about gaining winter weight for warmth, than grazing on a whim.

Be prepared

On the subject of food, many seasonal restaurants are now closed until around Easter next year. With fewer tourists and so many places shuttered up (or swathed in plastic), a sense of the impending winter is in the air – although it’s still officially autumn and the air itself has been pretty mild some days (in the low 20s Celsius some days). The Boss – in the best Boy Scout tradition – has prepared us for what may come. He’s stocked up on logs for the stove and red wine for the rack. Winter? I guess we’re almost ready for it …

 

 

 

A gap in the garden

Something was missing when we looked out at the garden yesterday although, strictly speaking, not missing at all as it is still very much present …

In January this year we noticed that one of our huge sword plants had sprouted a stalk that looked like a giant piece of asparagus. It quickly grew taller and we knew that this was the beginning of the plant’s death knell. It would produce flowers, then eventually die. We had no idea of timescale but hoped it would survive so that our visitors in the spring could see it.

Sky-bound

Sky-bound

It survived until yesterday, nine months later, and all of our visitors this year were able to see what looked like a freaky type of tree. We’d been wondering how much longer it would last, as it still looked pretty green and healthy. The flowers it had sprouted up on high were a magnet for the local bees and, after the flowers had died, small green things replaced them. These baby swords would drop to the ground regularly and we’ve been scooping them up to avoid our garden eventually turning into a spiky no-go zone.

For most of its nine months, The Spike had had a tendency to lean, and we’d already worked out more or less where it would land if it fell over before we could remove it. When it crashed to the ground some time yesterday (we missed the event itself), our predictions turned out to be accurate.

The End

The End

Now we just have to dispose of the ‘trunk’ (which we’re told secretes an irritating fluid you don’t want to get on your skin) and pick up the thousands of baby sword plants from the garden path. Then decide what to do about the new gap in our garden greenery.

 

 

 

 

Season of mellow fruitfulness on Mallorca

Autumn arrived very suddenly this year on Mallorca. On the day the season officially changed, it was as though someone had flicked a switch and disconnected summer. It was off with the shorts and on with the jeans. We’re not really complaining because autumn has so far brought a decent amount of rainfall – something desperately needed on the island.

Within a few days of rain falling (at times, hammering down), our garden was re-invigorated: plants that had seemed on the verge of death perked up and sprouted new growth, autumn crocus popped up around the base of the birdbath, and flowers have bloomed again. What had recently been a parched rock-solid patch of garden is now lush with the dreaded heart-shaped weeds that return every year. After more than a decade of painstakingly digging them out individually, with a view to killing them off forever, I raise my hands in defeat, flying a white hanky on the handle of the garden trowel: “Enough!” The weeds are green. It’s the colour of a garden.

Not quite winter, not quite spring

This time of year is called ‘winter-spring’ by the locals and there are clear similarities to the official springtime. New growth, plenty of lambs frolicking around in the fields, and chirpy birdsong surround us. The big difference is that winter, rather than the warmer summer months, is to follow. The Boss is already making preparations to ensure we’ll be warm and draught free indoors.

dsc_1686

dsc_1687

The damp weather also brings mushrooms and toadstools. We find plenty on our land but, being nervous about identification of these various fungi, wouldn’t dream of eating any. But don’t they make great subjects for photos …