Monday, 31 December 2007

The goodbyes

It was time to head over to Carcassonne this morning to wave goodbye to my nearest and dearest. It hadn't exactly been the most relaxing of breaks for them for a variety of reasons (especially mum), and I imagined she, especially, would be happy to get home although she agrees that Pissou is an amazingly tranquil spot in an exceptional part of the Pyrenees. I am pleased she has had the chance to see it. So it was with many tears and big hugs that I left them at Carcassonne, Jamie for his morning flight and mum for her early afternoon one. A bientôt, mes chers

Sunday, 30 December 2007

Skiing at Guzet

According to various ski info websites, the Guzet ski station enjoyed a fall of around 20cm of powder during the night. It was mum and Jamie's last day here, so what else could I do but head up to Guzet with them! Mum was fortunately quite happy to spend the afternoon in the very nice cafe/restaurant up there while Jamie and I had a play on piste. The cloud was down and there were intermittent flurries which made the descents interesting. The resort was also pretty packed with vacationers, which made the limited runs somewhat hairy, as we were buzzed by youngsters on snowboards and diddy, short skis. But I was pleased not to fall over once and to ski a somewhat worn and knobbly blue run in something resembling style! There were lumps and bumps everywhere which indicated just what a hammering the resort had taken over the Christmas period when there was limited snow cover. However, it was a useful outing and Jamie thoroughly enjoyed finding his ski legs again.

Saturday, 29 December 2007

Discoveries

Today, mum, Jamie and I headed down towards Tarascon and discovered a fantastic little b&b, just the other side of the Col de Port in the Saurat Valley, run by a Dutch couple. It is in a fantastic, peaceful spot and has been beautifully renovated, retaining the original old beams and stone walls. The prices were very reasonable and she was fully booked for the New Year period. But one to bear in mind for the future.

The other discovery was a superb little restaurant, tucked away in Rabat les Trois Seigneurs, called la Table de la Ramade. We had planned on grabbing a sandwich from Tarascon but, spotting the sign for the restaurant, thought we would see whether a light lunch was available. It was, and the quality was simply superb and excellent value too. Jamie was intrigued by the flavours that were presented in the sauce accompanying his salmon steak and insisted that I ask the waitress to find out the ingredients from the chef! It was an altogether relaxing luncheon that was very much appreciated by the three of us.

Friday, 28 December 2007

A meander with mum

Jamie needed to crack on with some revision today, so I took mum into the mountains up from Salau. We had a lovely wander on an easy track to the little Cascade de Leziou which the dog thoroughly enjoyed too! I started to get a bit giddy about the snow shoeing and ski de rando potential up into the mountains above us to the Port de Salau on one side and Mont Rouch on the other. It was a lovely afternoon out and we enjoyed a coffee in Seix before returning home.

Thursday, 27 December 2007

The bug bites.

I awoke to a nasty gastric upset, not dissimilar to the one that I experienced back in June, with diarrhoea and cramping tummy pains. Not pleasant. It wasn't food related, as we had all been eating the same things and nobody else was affected. So I took the wise decision to abandon the idea of heading out onto the hills with Jamie. Instead, Andy took him up to the Col de Port, from where they headed up Le Pic d'Estibat and then on to le Pic de la Journalade, from where the summit photo was taken. Winter conditions prevailed and axes and crampons were put to good use, but the weather was perfect and the boys enjoyed their outing which took a little over 5 hrs in total.

I, meanwhile, had an easy day doing a bit of long overdue gardening around the terrasse with mum which was a productive exercise. We now have an area in which I can sow the wild flower seeds that Jamie gave me for Christmas which will brighten the terrasse up no end. As for the tummy, the painful cramping continued and I felt weak and pathetic!

Andy's brother Matt arrived in the evening, to stay for 3 nights as a stopover en route to Valencia in Spain where he is attending a motocross training course, so full house. In fact, we have put both Jamie and Matt next door in Claudine's house as Pissou doesn't have the capacity for so many visitors!

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Les Grottes!

On the way to Pissou after I had picked her up from the airport, mum had seen the signs advertising 'Les Grottes Préhistoriques de Niaux', just outside Tarascon and expressed an interest in seeing them. Having visitors provides an ideal opportunity to do some things that you would probably otherwise not bother doing. The weather was not fantastic, so it was with pleasure that I took both mum and Jamie to visit the Grottes. The visit was in French so I translated for mum and Jamie - our guide was a very enthusiastic lady who provided us with a passionate commentary about the people who had gone before us and who had made their mark on the walls of the caves. The paintings were impressive. Mum thoroughly enjoyed putting her schoolgirl French to the test, much to the delight of our guide who was amazingly helpful and informative.

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Christmas at Pissou

Mum and Jamie arrived safely last night, tired but well. Christmas Day weather couldn't have been better with clear blue skies, still and warm in the sun. They took full advantage of the terrasse to relax and enjoy the view.Christmas lunch was an extended affair, with an aperitif of foie gras on toasts with a sparkling 'blanquette artisanale' white wine. We then had the most delicious oysters I have ever had, courtesy of Joelle and Philippe's shop down in Massat. The last oysters I had (some years ago, admittedly) were salty and not exactly a pleasure to eat. But these were just divine... soft, unctuous and flavoursome. Mmm. We then roasted 2 ducks from which we enjoyed the breasts for dinner, saving the legs for a cassoulet later in the week. Much wine was consumed and it was a very pleasant and relaxing day and so totally different to any Christmas Day back in the UK!

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Pyrenean Christmas

The most wonderful thing about being in this part of the world is how wonderfully low key the build up to Christmas is. The fact that we don't have a TV or radio probably helps, as we are thus spared the unending hype of the adverts and suchlike. So far, this has been the least 'pressured' I have ever felt at this time of year which can only be a good thing. Our Christmas tree was procured by Andy from the woodland opposite Pissou and is decorated simply with red ribbon and some plain white lights down the trunk. The beam downstairs is adorned with holly and a few cards hang from some red ribbon on one of the vertical wooden posts. Andy has made a wreath with trimmings from the tree and some holly. All very simple. All very natural and totally in keeping with the house and our environment. Nothing flashy or gaudy here, thank you very much!

Some of the shops down in Massat will be open even on Christmas Day morning and the little 'Casino' supermarket will be open all day Christmas Day, so there is no mad panic to buy things that we will need for Christmas week which again removes much of the pressure that we have experienced with previous UK Christmases. We are looking forward to some French oysters, local foie gras and some duck for our Christmas dinner, followed by some of my mum's homemade Christmas pudding. She is arriving here with my laddy Jamie tomorrow and I am soooo looking forward to seeing them! It will be mum's first visit to Pissou and only the 2nd time that Jamie has been here - he will see a big difference in the house from when he was last here in June!

Saturday, 22 December 2007

A brief balade

The fine, sunny weather continues so Taff and I joined Pat and Kevin plus Flee (a border collie belonging to some friends in Biert) for a walk up the hill behind their house towards le Roc du Peyre Caussile (1339m). This is the hillside visible from the back of Pissou so it was good to finally see what it is all about. The walk involved some 600m of ascent from Espies with a couple of very steep sections up a woodland path, which gave us a good workout. Soon, we emerged from the woodland onto a hillside strewn with dead bracken which reminded me very much of certain areas of the Peak District. The dogs, egged on by Kev, were still going great guns. From the top, we had fantastic views towards Pic de la Journalade and les 3 Seigneurs with Pissou in the foreground. From there, it was all downhill back to Espies. A jolly little outing which took us a little over 2 hrs by which time the pooches were pooped!

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Ice.....? Well, almost

Andy and John headed up to the Cirque de Cagateille (1400m approx) today to try and get some ice action. They were a day or two late as John's report on UKC testifies! But loads of potential there as these photos show. The routes are multipitch and at a nice angle, the Cirque is north-facing so it has everything going for it. But the local 'meteo' is forecasting a rise in temps over the coming few days with the possibility of rain at the weekend so my laddy 'ain't going to be pleased when he arrives for a week on the 24th!

I, meanwhile, took the pooch for a brief 'balade' up the zig zags above the Col de Port where the snow was patchy and obviously melting. I did however get propositioned by a gnarly 50+ bl0ke with 3 dogs who asked me the equivalent of 'do you come here often' which was quite funny!

Friday, 14 December 2007

Skiing again

Over the past couple of days, the fine weather has held and the low temperatures mean the snow has remained. Following a visit to Telemark Pyrenees to sort out some new thermal liners for my ski de rando boots on Wednesday I was keen to get out and give them a try. John arrived down with us yesterday and hired some ski de rando kit from Tarascon, so we reckoned a trip back up to the Guzet ski station for a bit of a play was in order. We met a friend, Lee, there and skinned up to the top in wonderfully warm sunshine. Ski de rando is a new experience for John, as he is really a boarder so it was quite a surprise when he launched himself straight down a red run when we reached the top! The slope had been roughly pisted, but it was exceptionally icey where the snow cannons had been used and where it was still in shadow. The edges were crusty powder which proved to be my downfall on two occasions. John reckons he 'skis like bambi on ice' which would be fair! But for a first outing he did rather well!

This evening. Andy appears to be suffering from a mild case of sunstroke but still managed to rustle up a very tasty rabbit casserole which was mopped up with some of Gil's incredibly scrummy bread. Saint Girons market in the morning to stock up on fruit and veggies.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

The skis see the light of day - yay!

The gales finally stopped and by lunchtime the skies cleared to reveal snow down to 800m. The temperature was still low so we headed over to the Guzet Neige ski station to get a feel for our all new ski touring kit on some fresh powder. It was kinda pretty out there with frosted trees and stuff.

But anyway, enough of the pretty stuff, the skiing didn't start too well with considerable discomfort from my boots due to pressure points on my shins, so we will be off to Telemark Pyrenees to sort out some thermo liners, I reckon! But we did manage a gentle skin up a gentle path to the top of Picou....
followed by a leisurely descent back down what will be a green run when the resort eventually opens. Just nice to be out really and in such beautiful conditions!

Monday, 10 December 2007

Busy

The gails and rain continued today and the temps have been dropping. The good news is that there is now snow down to around 700m and even flurries down to as low as 400m, so the tops should have had a good pasting and we may get out on the skies tomorrow :-)

Due to the foul weather, we have again been confined to indoor activities but this means I have at last got the curtain made for the door that leads from the porch to the living room/dining room/kitchen which has cut out the majority of the drafts. It also makes the space down here that much cosier :-)

I also got the lovely oak dining room table cleaned, nourished and waxed which is a job I have been meaning to do for ages. And mighty fine it now looks too!

The rest of the afternoon was spent moving gear up in the attic and scrimming the wall section that was behind the bed ready for plastering. Quelle joie!

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Blowing a hooley so indoor work it is

We were subjected to more gale force winds and driving rain overnight last night, which have continued into the evening today. There was a fair amount of tree debris on the road but fortunately no actual fallen trees when I made a quick visit down to Massat earlier. The dog has been edgey all day, not liking one little bit the groans of the wind as it rattles around the house and through the trees - the great wus! He really should toughen up a bit. Minus temps forecast overnight tonight and more rain tomorrow which will hopefully fall as snow higher up.... pleeeeezzzze???!

So anyway, we did more work on the attic and the stairwell today and it is starting to look good. Quite a contrast to the same space in early September We are now about ready to start working on a racking/storage system for all of our outdoor gear which will be installed below the window which will make skis/climbing and mountaineering equipment much more accessible. The newly created doorway and separating wall are pretty much finished, with just some scrimming and plastering to do. Again, quite a transformation to the scenario in early September.

For tea tonight, we continued our knack of eeking out the cheapest but tastiest cuts of meat by creating a tomato-based 'daube de boeuf' using a 3rd of a chunk of 'paleron de boeuf' (upper shoulder/top blade steak) which cost me €11 (the other 2 chunks have been frozen to await a future creation!). Using one of Andy's cast iron casserole pots, we cooked it with a load if chunky veggies in the oven on a very low temperature (120 degrees) for 4 hrs before transferring to the top of the woodburner where it had another 45 minutes on a higher heat to evaporate off some liquid. The result was scrummylicious and we had enough for 3 meals! So we have fridged one meal for the day after tomorrow and frozen the other portion. You can't beat the long, slow cook for getting the best out of what would normally be 'tough as old boots' cuts. Shame Andy hasn't been updating his blog recently, but time has been spent elsewhere.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Ow, Ow, Ow!

I have had a wee twinge in my neck since last weekend, which I assumed was possibly because I had been sleeping funny or something. No big deal, I thought, it will go. It didn't. Wednesday, as you can read below, I spent sanding down and painting. No major discomfort. But then overnight it developed into the most excruciating pain which almost made me cry as I tried to turn over, as if somebody was sticking hot needles into an area between my shoulder and my neck. I was wincing with pain even following the slightest of movements. Whiplash, Andy reckons, as a result of throwing the ball for the pooch at the weekend which would have been OK if I hadn't been so silly as to work on a 30 degree wall the other day which just served to inflame it :-( Horse tranx ibuprofen had no effect whatsoever on the pain, but a visit to the Pharmacie got me fitted with a fetching collar and some codeine which I was instructed to take alternately with Ibruprofen every 3 hrs. The collar brought immediate relief thank goodness, as it took over the job of supporting my head from the muscles/ligaments that I have damaged. By yesterday evening, the drugs were taking effect and I was more comfortable. I am so hoping this clears up quickly as I am feeling decidedly deficient in the exercise department :-(

And as for the weather...well, best not mention that. Gale force winds and lashing rain today, but it's mild with it, so still little chance of snow. Rubbishy has been warned and will be bringing his climbing kit and maybe his bike instead of the snowboard next week!

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Renovations continue and balmy weather t'boot

With visitors (OK, a visitor...."Hi Rubbishy!") arriving in a week's time, we reckoned it was about time to do a bit more on the spare room (les combles) situation. It is a pain in the arse job, but one that needs tackling in chunks ... a bit like an elephant... after all, you can't eat an elephant in one go.. can you... or something.... uuuummmm!

So anyhoo, I spent the morning sanding down the 'rough bits' created by Andy's 'skimming' with shitty French 'plaster' and then spent the afternoon 'sealing' the plasterwork with a dilute white paint mix. It seemed to take forever and was all the more soul destroying when I realised that my efforts accounted for only 1/4 of the attic! We still have 3/4 left to scrim, skim and paint :-( But it does look better and I can see how it will look when we have finished and I am quite excited (after all, I'm just a guuurl!). I did allow myself to take the odd break on the terrasse this afternoon to take advantage of the unseasonal warmth of the sun (shorts n T-shirt, in December, ffs?). What a contrast to the chill, wet, miserable weather of the last couple of days! Long may it continue.

Andy got the stairwell up to the attic scrimmed this afternoon and the space is unrecognisable to the same space 2 months ago....so much potential in this house... still early days.

Anyhoo, I luuurve the sun and the warmth and all that... but when your impending visitors are hoping for snow (and lots of it) and you are sooo looking forward to testing all the new kit, you feel a bit stuffed really. Rubbishy is arriving in a week's time and Jamie is out for Christmas and both are so excited by the prospect of snow and 'going high'... how do we break it to them that, actually, hmmmm, well, there 'ain't none...??! (answers on a postcard please...?!)

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

A bit of an update

Following the wee chimney fire last Thursday, we took advantage of the good weather at the weekend to reinstall the woodburner. This involved Andy straddling the apex of the roof for a couple of hours in order to secure the double skinned stainless steel 8m long conduit that now runs directly from the woodburner, up through the chimney and out of the chimney pot which is how it should have been installed originally. It was with a mixture of trepidation and excitement (well, on my side anyway!) that we lit some paper to check that there was no smoke escaping from the system. All OK, so we set a proper fire going. The difference was amazing! We quickly realised just how badly the burner had been drawing due to its poor installation. Wow, we had heat again! And, we knew it had been correctly installed and we were safe. Job well done :-)

Car update - Jean-François down in Massat got the car up on the ramp on Saturday and yes, we do indeed have an oil leak coming from somewhere around the oil pump (well, duh!). Infuriating when you consider that we spent nearly £600 back in January having the engine dismantled in order to replace both the oil pump and the timing belt. Looks like a certain amount of dismantling and therefore a number of hours work will be required to fix this apparent gasket problem .... money we don't really have at the mo, but hey, it has got to be done.

Anyway, Tuesday today and we have had solid rain for the last 36 hours accompanied yesterday by some pretty high winds too which is rare for this neck of the woods. But this afternoon, the skies are brightening and the worst weather appears to have moved on.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Chimney Fire!

Ironic isn't it. We are all kitted out with the new conduit to go up the chimney and what happens this morning.....? Fire! That roaring sound accompanied by a crackling orange glow that was visible through the gap between the conduit above the stove and the ceiling gave it away. It appeared that because of the incorrect installation, rubbish was able to accumulate just below where the conduit has been terminated inside the chimney (the conduit should have been run all the way up to the chimney pot!) and, not surprisingly, with the high temps of the woodburner it ignited. Although we were able to spray water up into the gap in a vague attempt to quell the temperature, it was still a case for the local pompiers who duly rolled up from Massat. They confirmed it had been confined to the area where the conduit ends and also confirmed that the installation was illegal, so thanks to the former owners for putting our lives in danger. They also confirmed that the conduit had been placed too close to an old beam and other woodwork which makes up the ground floor ceiling/ first floor floor thereby increasing the fire hasard. Fortunately, we caught it soon enough and there is no major damage. Thank goodness we were in when this happened - I can't even contemplate the outcome should we have gone out for the day. So our major project over the coming days is to get the woodburner properly and legally reinstalled so that we can sleep safe.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Money, money, money

Would be nice to have more of it, to be honest, but doesn't everybody say that? Sorted out the winter tyres up at Pamiers today... which is great.... but it would have been nice if the kind garage man hadn't told us, while he had the car on the ramp, that we have a major oil leak....?! NOT what we needed to hear. We checked the oil level which was just on 'Min' so topped it up before heading back to Pissou. Think a visit to M Minitti in Massat will be in order tomorrow ... hopefully it will be something simple like a gasket or something .

While at Pamiers, we also picked up our 10m of piping (conduit flexible) which will be dropped down the chimney and affixed to the woodburner to prevent us from getting asphyxiated by carbon monoxide as a result of the previous owners' bodged attempts at DIY (sorry, 'house renovation' of course) :-( We are just hoping that this will be the last of the dangerous 'nasty surprises' that we come across, but we are not banking on it.

Forecast is looking good for tomorrow - maybe we can get 'up high' or at least 'higher than most' (anybody read "Rum Doodle"??!!). Here's hoping.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Beautiful stuff

It started off well, when I looked out of the door this morning....
...8 minutes later (yes, just 8 mins), the vista was even more impressive as the clouds cleared.......and then this evening we had a truely amazing sunset... - good weather in the offing tomorrow, methinks. I'm not obsessed with Mont Valier, really I'm not ;-) Neither is Andy who has informed me that he is going to climb up and ski down it this winter.... bring it on!

We took advantage of the good weather to stretch our legs on a wee meander in the direction of Tuc de la Coume (1700m ish) which we have down as a possible raquettes route when we get some snow. However, we chose the wrong day to actually WALK the route, as the initial forest trail was a mudbath ... unpleasant and on the steeper sections downright dangerous to be honest. Not a pleasant excursion, but in snow I am sure it is lush! Some good views all the same
Tomorrow is Pamiers to collect the winter tyres and the 'conduit flexible' that we need to make the woodburner's chimney safe. More money.... Hey ho.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

A week with no news....?

Yes, I am sorry, truely I am. But not a massive amount of anything terribly interesting to report, to be honest! However, a brief summary is as follows;

Côté Rénovations;
We decided that access to the gear behind the bed up in the attic was problematic. We decided that the medium term plan would be to build some kind of shelving unit on the other side of the room on which climbing gear, skiing gear, mountaineering gear, boots etc could be stored and better organised, which would provide easier and quicker access. But before that could happen, we had to scrim the plasterboards on that side of the room and get a lick of paint on them too. Oh joy! My scrimming and gap filling attempts were largely successful but Andy's battle with the French skimming plaster was the source of much frustration and fury (not for the first time and no doubt not for the last!). I was obliged to follow on, smoothing over the grittiness (is that a word?!) and gouges with ordinary filler. A quick light sand down and a 1/4 of the attic ceiling will be ready for painting. Only three more sections to do!! Hurrah! But will we get it completed before mum and Jamie come out at Christmas......? Watch that space.

Andy has also managed to get the stairwell side of the new section of the attic stud wall plasterboarded and that has made a big improvement to the appearance of the way up to the attic.

Côté exercis;
Wednesday, I needed to stretch my legs, so took the pooch for a quick blast up Estibat (Col de Port to the top, 340m of ascent over 1.5km in 30 mins) then a quick descent down to the left and onto the next ridgeline, where lovely easy running on cow tracks led me eventually back down and round the hillside to the path that I had taken up to Estibat. It was a pleasant hour out in good, still but chilly conditions. Everything seemed to be working well and I felt that I could have done the whole thing again.

Today is Sunday and the day dawned dull, cold and very overcast.... not a day to 'go high' we thought so instead, as a bit of a leg stretch, we did the route from Massat along the Chemin des Diligences to Biert and back (9km in total). Lovely, easy running (well, jogging!), pretty much on the level and on good terrain. The icing on the cake was a sign on the Chemin, pointing up the hillside which said 'site d'escalade, Grotte Superieure', several routes from 5a to 7b apparently! We had no idea that this climbing was on our doorstep so now we just have to get hold of the topos from somewhere and get up there :-) Bonus!

Côté méteo;
Hmm, although snow appears to be down to around 1100m and it is certainly colder than last week, no more snow is forecast, so we may not get a chance to play with our new kit in the foreseeable future after all :-( Patience, dear girl, patience!

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Visit to the ski resort...

.....no, not to ski (it isn't open yet!) but to check the area for ski de randonnée possibilities. Guzet Neige is at just over 1500m and there was certainly a good covering on the ground and temperatures were ensuring that it did not melt. We parked up and headed in the direction of the signposted footpath which would take us up to over 1700m. Almost immediately we realised that conditions underfoot would have been perfect for our skis and skins! We walked up to the highest chairlift from where we had fantastic views in all directions. But high level cloud was coming over from the Spanish side of the Pyrenees which we took as a warning of snow to come.The unpisted slopes were taunting us.... ... a couple of what would be good blue runs led back down to the main ski station, the snow was perfect and there were relatively few people around considering it was the weekend. We decided to make every effort to return to Guzet over the coming week (if conditions hold), before the slopes open to the public, in order to familiarise ourselves with our new kit and for me to gain some confidence before we head into a less 'controlled' environment.

We were treated to an amazing sunset this evening, the likes of which I have not seen since we arrived at Pissou....A portent of more fine weather to come we hope.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Winter stuff

We didn't have any more snow overnight and the day dawned crisp and clear. No way were we going to stay at home today! The tops looked like there was a good covering over 1200m, so we reckoned a brisk walk this afternoon up the zig zags to the Cabane des Roses (a 20 min drive from Pissou) would be a good idea, just to 'dip our toe in the water' and see what conditions were really like. The answer was..... perfect!This was the dog's first real outing in snow and he loved it

The snow was only 3 or 4 inches deep on the lower part of the track but 5 or 6 inches on the upper section at 1600m. it was very loose, dry, powdery snow which had obviously not melted at all since it fell 2 days ago. The track would provide perfect conditions for skiing down.... next time! The air temp was -2 Deg C when we left the car and probably more like -5 or -6 at the top. Out of the sun it was decidedly chilly. On reaching the top, we were rewarded with amazing views of the Pyreneean mountains above Aulus, looking towards Spain.
The coming 2 or 3 days promise more of the same weather, with more snow forecast for next week... can't wait to get out and do more, hopefully on skis next time!

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Broke :-(

It's all Andy's fault. No, really it is. The nearest whiff of winter (forecast is for snow over the coming days) and he gets this unsatiable (well, nearly) urge to go buy 'things'! The target this time was Telemark Pyrenees down in Ax-Les-Thermes which is owned and run by a fab English guy called Neil. We bought the B2 mountain skis a month or two ago for a bargain price but they were no good without the bindings or the mohair/nylon skins which would enable us to ski up hills. But of course, we couldn't go up into the mountains without avalanche transceivers (should the worst happen). And what about all these other 'bits and pieces' that we couldn't do without? Well, we may as well get the snowshoes as well then, I chipped in. So that is what we did. The very nice, friendly guys at Telemark have now kitted us out with everything that we need to have some enjoyable and memorable moments up on the hills. Sod the money , tomorrow is another day and all that. I can't wait! Andy, you are forgiven ;-)

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

A jolly meander

For quite some while, I have had my eye on a little meander up to a spot called 'Goutets' which, at 1480m, lies in the shadow of Le Pic des Trois Seigneurs, the highest peak in our immediate area. I had first seen Goutets mentioned in a book about snow-shoeing in the Ariege. It is a tiny village whose purpose in the 19th century, was to house the shepherds whose animals roamed the high pastures during the summer months. With the rural exodus of the 20th century however, the 'orris' fell into disrepair and it looked like this witness to the heritage of the area would disappear altogether. But fortunately, there has been a move over the last few years to preserve Goutets and the miniature village is once again being used by local shepherds during the summer months - in June every year, the 'transhumance' movement relocates the cattle, goats and Merens horses from the lower winter pastures up to the higher pastures which is where the 'bergers' make their home until October/November when the process is reversed.
Anyway, enough of the cultural lesson! We set of from Le Carol (20 mins from Pissou/950m) which is a sweet little hillside village, virtually unchanged for decades. From there, we picked up a footpath signposted for Goutets. It climbed steeply and then after a km or so, levelled out and took us through woodland where we came across several abandoned buildings, testament to the activity in this area in days gone by. Soon, the narrow and sometimes rough footpath met the track which led from Carol to Goutets. We followed this track and reached the village 1 hr 15 min after leaving Le Carol, a distance of just over 5km and 480m of ascent. It was lovely to see the restored buildings and to imagine the life of the shepherd during the summer months. But we couldn't linger, as light was fading and there was a chill wind in the air. So we donned our lightweight windproofs and set off at a run, following the excellent track which led us back to Le Carol in just over 30 mins. It was good to stretch the legs again, although I was having trouble shaking off the general tiredness and malaise feeling that has been dogging me for a few days. So anyway, we have now bookmarked the route up the track to Goutets as a possibility for a ski de rando/snowshoe outing in the not too distant future

Saturday, 10 November 2007

The route forestiere VTT attempt MKII

If you have been paying attention, you will remember that Pat, Kevin and I had a bit of an epic on our mountain bikes at the end of October (27th, to be precise), thanks to Pat incorrectly noting down the route description. Well, as the day dawned crisp, cold but perfectly clear and calm again today, Andy and I decided to have a bash at the 'proper' route, a 38km ride, initially along a single track road but then heading off onto the forest tracks up onto the hillside. This time, I had programmed my GPS with the route in order to lessen the possibilities of a mistake that could be costly both in terms of time out on the hill in the cold (and by 'eck, there were some really cold spots) but also in terms of energy expenditure, neither of which we could afford. This was also to be my first outing on the mountain bike using my new SPD pedals (I had been using baskets before but they were becoming a pain). So I was quite excited as we set off.

The first section, along the road was as I had remembered from the previous excursion.... good riding for 18km on good single track tarmac where we didn't meet a single car! Everything was working great and my Spds were a dream. We then headed off onto the forest track and the ascent started. By the time we had covered just under 4.5km on the forest track, we had already climbed 300m (without stopping!). We found a lovely sunny spot and had a sandwich which would replace some of the energy that we had expended. The woodland spread out before us in all it's autumnal glory. Quite, quite beautiful.

We only went wrong once, when we went a kilometer off down the wrong forest track due to ambiguous instructions in the guidebook. But fortunately, the GPS showed us where we had gone wrong and we were able to rapidly retrace out steps.

We were expecting an end to the ascent at some point, but it just kept on coming. We would encounter enticing sections of downhill, only to be subjected to yet more ascent round the corner. Surely it had to end soon? The profile that I downloaded from the GPS when we got home shows what we were actually up against. The lowest point is where we started out onto the route forestiere (click the image to enlarge).

With about 5km to go and faced with yet another ascent, I have to admit that we got off the bikes and walked for 50m or so. This isn't what we had been expecting. After 3 and a half hours, we finally arrived back at the car with toes that were numb from the cold and craving a nice pint of tea. Here is a summary of our exertions!

We enjoyed a lovely beefy stew (made 2 days ago) with roasted squash for tea this evening. Very yummy and much needed it was too! I think we may even have earned one of Gils' delicious Sunday patisseries tomorrow!

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Marrons

Or 'chestnuts' to you! The last time we went looking for chestnuts in the woods (a couple of weeks ago, if I recall correctly), we were disappointed to find only small, inconsequential things that did not warrant the effort required to collect and shell the things. But today, we were pleasantly surprised to find a carpet of big, firm chestnuts which we will roast on top of the woodburner, shell and then use to make a stuffing for a pork dish, a chestnut puree or whatever else we fancy this weekend. Mmmm! The dog is hilarious with chestnuts and plays with the casings in a decidedly giddy manner. Bless!

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Wood

Following my chat with our elderly absent neighbour, M Benazet, last week, I was keen to strike while the iron was hot and to stash the load of dead wood that I had collected into a pile on his land down the road. So Andy took the chainsaw down there and cut the branches into manageable lengths ready for us to load into the back of the car and dump (in a neat pile, of course!) outside the back of the house. The wood was all beautifully dry and an ideal size for our woodburner and it is comforting to know that we need have no worries about access to a good supply of more of the same should we run short during the winter. It actually took 3 trips in our estate car to collect all that we had been working on but we now have an impressive pile which is ready to be reduced to woodburner-size logs in due course. Next, we have our eye on two silver birch trees that have fallen on Claudine's land and which seem to be easily accessible from the road. They will provide us with more than enough wood to see us through until springtime :-)

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Dusting down the roadie

It's been a while, a couple of months I think, since we last had an outing on the road bikes and I have to say I have missed my little thoroughbred. We are enjoying a spell of fantastic weather here at the moment and conditions were perfect today (if not a tad chilly) for a spin into the mountains. So we parked at the usual roundabout from where the road heads off up to Seix/Oust/Aulus and departed in the direction of Couflens which is a village at the foot of some amazing hills. We had a good ride up, 16km or so and 600-700m of ascent, admired the view and then, because of aching sit bones following quite intensive bike activity recently, did a U-turn and sprinted back down the quiet roads to the village of Seix where we felt we had earned a nice hot coffee. My head was starting to pound from the cold on the descent so the hot drink was most welcome (reminder to self, take more dosh next time so we can afford cake!). It had been a nice little outing and hopefully it won't be the last before the winter weather descends and the bikes are consigned to the barn until the springtime.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

VTT day (again) :-)

The day dawned crisp and clear again today and it was quite an eerily beautiful spectacle first thing, as the clouds started lifting from the valley behind the house. After last week's VTT outing, I had a hankering to get back on the bike again but this time to do a route slightly closer to home. I had been told that there was a route that linked one of the little villages off the Col de Port road with the 'route forestière' that ran from the Col down to Liers (Pat and I did that track a couple of weeks ago and it was fab!), although I had no idea how good or bad it would be with the bikes. The lure of the downhill forest track proved enough of a temptation for Andy, so we set off from Pissou and rode up the Col de Port road to the Col de Caognous from where we picked up the single track road that skirted the hillside at a slightly lower level. All great. Nothing technical and it was lovely to see more of the little communities that dot the hillside around here.

So eventually, we reached the end of the road and after a bit of fumbling around, found the route that would lead us up to the Col. But it was hardly 'bike friendly'! It was the old 'chemin de Boussenac' that was used by the communities way before cars were invented and which has since become overgrown and tricky to negotiate on a bike. And it deteriorated further until we were pushing our bikes up a narrow woodland path that was overgrown with bracken and brambles. It was exceptionally hard work and not particularly enjoyable. I was more than a little relieved when we finally hit the forest track and were able to begin our descent back down into the next valley. We shortly arrived down at Liers from where we were greeted by breathtaking views of the Pic de la Journalade. The views back down the valley towards Massat were also quite beautiful - lovely spot to do some bike tinkering as we recovered from the bone-shaking downhill! This is also where they have transformed a lovely old church into a 'Gite d'étape' or hostel - the bells still remain.From there, it was downhill all the way back into Massat from where we only had to negotiate the hill back up the Col de Port road to Pissou. That proved to be hard going, with Andy suffering from dehydration and certain muscles in my legs giving me trouble. But we made it and rewarded ourselves with a delicious 'mousse au framboise et cassis' that I had collected from Gil le Boulanger this morning - a simply divine patisserie with layers of fairy-light sponge alternating with the best raspberry and blackcurrant mousse that I have ever tasted! Mmmmm!

Oh yes, exercise total for the day, 28.79km, 1177m of ascent (I am dubious about this figure, to be honest!) in 3 hrs 32mins, burning 1517 kCal.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Success :-)

The day started off well with a beautiful autumnal scene looking towards Mont Valier from the attic window. The sky was clear as a bell up here at Pissou but we had to make the 25 minute journey down to the Saturday market in St Girons this morning where it was grey and chill. Pissou was obviously above the cloud layer! We spent a couple of hours getting our market provisions (including Andy's genuine Castelnaudary terracotta 'cassoule' that he has been hankering after for a while) and doing the supermarket shop. By then it was 12.30 and we were debating whether to head straight home for lunch or see if we could find a good local eatery which we have so far failed to do. We opted for the latter and decided to follow signs for 'La Table de l'Ours' which was actually on our way home out of St Girons. I was simply dreading the prospect of yet another failed attempt to find somewhere nice to eat at lunchtime, so it was with some trepidation that I walked into the restaurant which was just nicely situated, away from the road, up on a hillside above St Girons. They had a 3 course 'menu du jour' but I thought that would be too much at lunchtime, so we opted instead for the house speciality which was 'La salade de l'ours'. An 'ours', by the way, is a bear - the Pyrenees used to be home to wild brown bears which are now gradually being reintroduced to the area!

Anyway, I digress. The salad duly arrived and it was quite a plateful to say the least! The centrepiece was a beautifully done piece of duck breast, but there were also thin slivers of magret de canard, a slice of fois gras de canard on a slice of lightly toasted baguette, some goats cheese also very lightly melted on a piece of baguette, a lovely green salad with lardons (bacon pieces) sprinkled over it and beautifully dressed. I knew it hit the spot when Andy uttered those words I have been waiting to hear..... "This is actually rather good"! Result! The salad actually met his impossibly high culinary standards! Yee-haa! I was particularly jovial at the end of the meal as I had benefitted from a 1/4 carafe of rather yummy house white wine. So all in all, it was a very successful outing and one that I hope to repeat in due course.

Friday, 2 November 2007

Herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically across the plain

... well, not quite....they were actually wild boar/sanglier attempting to escape the chasseurs who are currently out in force! I took the pooch up the Col de Port zig zags this afternoon and then headed right towards the Rochers du batail. We were about half way along when a group of a dozen or more boar appeared 100m ahead of us, from the forested area down to our left, crossed over our track and then disappeared down the other side. I wasn't quite quick enough in getting my camera out, unfortunately, but I am just relieved that there weren't any hunters in hot pursuit otherwise we could have been in trouble!

So anyway, yes, the pooch and I had a lovely walk (and a bit of a run) this morning in lovely conditions - clear blue sky, surprisingly warm temperatures - and we were rewarded with the most spectacular views of the snowcapped Pyreneean chain. Quite breathtaking. There were patches of snow up on the top which sent the dog into giddy mode which was quite hilarious! I did take a movie shot of him but need to adjust it before posting.

So, exercise totals for the day, 11.55kms, 2 hrs 42, 682m of height gain and 535 kcals spent :-)

Apart from that, during this last week, we have more or less finished laying the barn floor, although we still need to chock between the beams and the boards where there are significant gaps, in order to prevent it from bouncing quite as much

I also spent a couple of hours yesterday hauling sections of fallen trees down the hillside on our elderly neighbour, M Benazet's part of woodland down the lane, ready for Andy to get his chainsaw out and cut them into log size sections ready for stacking on the terrasse. M Benazet is now 85 and grew up in the Massat Valley and still speaks the local dialect. He popped by with his daughter during the week and we had a good chat. He was quite surprised to learn that I had an interest in the dialect and it brought a smile to his face to read parts of my newly-acquired book on understanding and learning the dialect :-) While he was here, he asked if we could drop an old, dead apple tree behind his house which we were all too happy to do, in order to bolster our wood supply!

Saturday, 27 October 2007

VTT day ... and a half!

Today was the day that Pat and Kevin were going to have a look at the forest tracks route that Kev had identified on the map and which looked, on paper, like it should be around 33km with 700m of ascent. Yep, I'm up for it, I said, sounds like fun, particularly since I had really enjoyed my mountain bike outing with Pat last week. Besides, it would be good to get a feel for some more of the forest tracks in the area so that Andy and I can take ourselves off and explore further in future.

The first part was along a very quiet single track road on the other side of the valley from the Col de Port. Easy riding. After about 50 mins, we reached the point where we branched off onto the forest track. My Garmin GPS training device was showing 12 and Pat chirped up '12km, yes, that's about right'. I remember thinking 'has it really taken us nearly an hour to do 12km?' We hadn't exactly been hanging about! I should have listened to my intuition. Anyway, the turning that we then needed to take off the main track should apparently have been another 4 to 5km further on. We realised after too long that a) we had missed the turning and that b) my Garmin was for some reason showing miles and feet instead of km and metres! We had no idea where we there. The only sensible thing we could do was to turn round and retrace our steps. Anyway, here is a piccy of Kev!
The return route, once we reached the road again, seemed to go on forever...it seemed to be one steady incline whereas I didn't remember it being a downhill run on the way out. And to make matters worse, it soon dawned on us that the 12km that Pat had expected from where we had parked was in fact more like 12 miles! I didn't recognise the route back and questioned whether we were in fact on the right road. I kept on expecting the van to be parked over the next hill but each time I was disappointed. I started to suffer from a lack of fuel and bonked in the last couple of miles as the upwards gradient took its toll. There was nothing left in me. I was shattered.

It was only when I got home and downloaded the data from my Garmin and plotted it onto my Memory Map mapping software that I discovered we had in fact covered over 65km with over 1300m of ascent during which I had burned over 2000 calories! No wonder I was dropping. Lessons were learnt from the outing but it was an enjoyable few (4!) hours on the bike. My legs had felt strong and I felt fit. So it's all good :-)

Friday, 26 October 2007

Barn flooring arrives!

The nice man from Mr Bricolage turned up this morning with our load of 'dalles agglomérés', or tongue and groove chipboard panels from which we will create the 1st floor of the barn. The only 'problem' we have is that the barn is not exactly square and the beams are not exactly even, so it looks like we will have our work cut out to get a good level floor laid! Watch this space!

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Toulouse!

We bit the bullet and made the trek up to Toulouse again today. However, instead of just gracing Ikea with our presence (we needed more rugs, cushions, bed stuff), we decided to make a proper day of it and head into Toulouse city itself where we would have lunch and do some shopping - if Andy couldn't find his 'rouleau patissier' (rolling pin) in Toulouse then there was no hope! Besides, I had heard it was a lovely city and well worth exploring.

So, after the obligatory Ikea trip, we got parked up in central Toulouse by 1pm and headed straight for 'La Maison du Cassoulet' for which I had read excellent reviews and which promised quality regional cuisine. We were not disappointed. We both had a very pleasant salad for starters followed by coeur de canard (ducks' hearts), flashed to perfection in a frying pan and I had monchons de confit de canard which just dropped off the bone. Fantastic cuisine and I was so pleased we had at last had a decent meal out, following several previous disastrous attempts to have a proper French 'luncheon'.

Lunch was followed by a meander into the shopping area which was a wonderful mix of the traditional and the modern, with little cafes and brasseries tucked away in old streets but also modern department stores and designer shops. We did find the wooden rolling pin that Andy has been searching for, so no excuse now for not making me loads of yummy patisserie!

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Big stuff and bigger stuff!

Not posted for a few days as we haven't really been up to a great deal. Only shopping in Pamiers, spending loadsa money (well a bit) on some chipboard flooring for the barn which will be delivered this coming Friday. We have also boosted our wood supplies by recovering and logging various bits and pieces that we have found within walking distance of Pissou. Our woodshed/pig poke is now pretty much full and the overflow is being stored under the tree on the terrasse :-)

But anyway, I digress.... look at the size of these....!

They are 'Coulmelle' or Parasol Mushrooms which have suddenly started springing up around here - the cap on a mature one is a good 6 inches across! It is advisable to only eat the cap, as the stem is very tough and woody. So we chopped up the two big ones and one of the smaller ones and tossed them into a cast iron pot along with a chunk of beef and had it for tea .... yummy! And no funny belly next day either, which is good news. We will be on the look out for more!

The 'bigger' in the title above, refers to this which is 110m high - it will no doubt be awesome in the spring once the winter snows melt. I took the pooch up there this afternoon as we both needed a bit of exercise ... it was a bit of a walk/run thing. I had the intention of carrying on up past the waterfall, climbing another 300m to reach the Etang du Garbet but I had a banging headache and decided instead to retrace my steps. But the view from the falls was lovely, with the autumn colours in all their glory looking down towards the Aulus valley.As a point of information, the path to the falls from Aulus and beyond, up into the mountains and through into Spain was used during the 2nd World War as an escape route for French resistance fighters. I found this story particularly touching. One day, I would love to undertake this route which has loads of historical significance ... you can imagine the trials and tribulations of people following the same route during the 2nd World War when their lives were at stake.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

VTT day

Well, my mate Pat is still on her own (Kev is back this afternoon) so she emailed to suggest a VTT (Vélo Tout Terrain - or 'mountain bike' to you and me!) ride from the Col de Port. Great idea. The bike hasn't seen any action to speak of since we came out here so she was due for a spin. The route she described sounded interesting with a good descent on forest tracks from the Col de Port to the village of Liers which is in the next valley over from Pissou) and then a fairly steep ascent back up to the Col de Caugnous which may involve some 'portage' or carrying of the bikes. OK, I said, I'm up for it - lead on!

The weather was a tad chillier than it has been for the past few days but that was good. So I met Pat at the end of our road and we cycled up to the Col de Port which took us around 50 minutes (considerably slower than on the roadie!) from where we hurtled ourselves down the forest track. Now, Pat doesn't hang about and we reached a speed of 44.6kph on the descent which was decidedly uneven in places. She naturally reached the road at the bottom ahead of me but then she does know the track fairly well. I was pleased with how my bike was feeling and also how I felt, although the fore-arms had taken a bit of a hammering on that section.

The next section was a short section of tarmac on which we caught up with a 'transhumance' group leading the cattle down from the higher pastures in readiness for the winter. I was wondering why there had been a fair amount of fresh droppings on the road! Fortunately, we turned off fairly soon and started our ascent back up to the Col. It was OK initially but we then took a turn which led us onto a footpath and a steep ascent on which Pat chose to carry her bike. I, however, could not get it into a comfortable position on my shoulder so chose to push it instead. Hard work! After a few breaks, we at last reached easier ground from where the road led us back down the hill to Col del Four from where we went our separate ways. Total for the day? 25.05km, 1030m of ascent and 1454 calories burned :-)

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Return of the Merens

A month or so ago, I had a chat with a local bloke who owns 5 'Merens' horses which he occasionally pastures down in the woods below Pissou. We had the pleasure of watching them being taken down to the pasture then, and today it was apparently time to move them on again. We watched the same man and his daughter (I think) appear from the woodland footpath in front of the house, two of the horses with halters on, but the other three walking free. They are lovely sturdy mountain horses, not dissimilar to the Fell pony in the UK, jet black in colour, with a long flowing mane. They briefly stopped to graze at the back of the house where the public 'chemin' leads back on to the road. Then they were led off down the road to new pastures. A lovely sight.

Monday, 15 October 2007

A productive day, I would say

The day dawned clear again, blue sky and temperatures up to 20 Degrees - marvellous. We decided that whilst it was still fine, we should get the timbers of the barn treated, as this would entail putting everything outside whilst I was spraying. It has been a job that we have been meaning to do for some time. We desperately need to get a floor down on top of the 1st floor timbers in order to create a workspace in which Andy can do his woodwork and use his boy's toys - the shippon on the ground floor really isn't an ideal environment in which to be using table saws and circular saws! We did however have to remove one visitor who seems to have made the underside of the beams his home. Strange that it was all on its lonesome when we had previously seen quite large numbers of them up in the rafters. They had however been sensible and moved on before being forceably removed!It only took a few hours to apply 2 coats of spray so we are now ready to order the tongue and groove chipboard sheets which will form the base layer of the first floor.

While I was spraying away, Andy took his angle-grinder to the step at the entrance to the terrasse which has been getting in the way since we moved in. However, we ran out of concrete before he was able to complete the new, much more aesthetically pleasing (and less of a liability!) step that is replacing it. So more shopping to be had there.

It seems that Josette is currently letting her goats have the run of the hillside at the moment. We noticed that some of the flimsy fencing just up the road had been pulled aside (we assume deliberately) to let them have access to the road and wherever that may lead. Well, it just happens to lead to Pissou! We were alerted to their presence behind the house by the washing line by the jangling of the bells around their necks. However, a whiff of Taff and they shot back up the road en masse. Shame really, as the area behind the house does need grazing ..... either that or strimming!

For evening meal, we had a rather yummy Portugese fisherman's stew that Andy made with the last of the fish that we bought on Saturday. It was simply scrummy and there was even enough left for our lunch tomorrow!

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Summertime... and the living is..

.... not bad actually! Mid October and I was out on the terrasse in my shorts and strappy top this afternoon, with an air temperature of 20 degrees but an actual temperature that felt considerably warmer! Wonderful!

Anyway, I am ahead of myself as usual. Do excuse me. Back to earlier happenings. I had arranged to pick up my mate, Pat, from Espies this morning at 11.00 to do a walk/run route that I have had my eye on for some time now. Her hubby, Kev, is in the UK at the mo and they had their elderly dog, Sam, put to sleep on Thursday, so she has been feeling rather miserable. I thought that an outing 'up high', in the fantastic weather that we are briefly experiencing would provide a bit of a tonic. So we parked up at the Col de Port and headed up the zig zags on the other side of the road, Taff accompanying us, and reached the top in just under 25 mins (quickest time yet, I believe). We then walked/jogged/ambled along the edge for around 4.5kms from where we enjoyed amazing panoramic views, not only of the Pic de la Journalade, but of Mont Valier and, on the other side, the plains of the Languedoc. Pat very kindly agreed to pose with the pooch so you can at least get some kind of an idea of what it was like.
It was the kind of day when you just want to drink it in, absorb it and store it up for times when life is not quite so good - do you know what I mean? Unfortunately, water was an issue and both the pooch and I were in danger of suffering from dehydration so we decided to turn round and head back down to the Col de Port. What a fab way to spend a couple of hours covering only 8.7km but with ascent of 470m - very worthwhile!

For tea, we had a very healthy Seafood risotto using the shellfish that we had bought in St Girons - very scrummy and plenty left for tomorrow's lunch :-)

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Market Day

Saturday sees one of the best markets in the area take place in St Girons, a 25 minute drive down the valley from here. It always has a tremendous selection of local fruit and veg, tons of local cheeses, saucisson, honey, bread....... a veritable Cornucopia where we are spoilt for choice. We duly filled our basket with quality produce and, once shopped out there, made our way to Intermarché down the road at Saint Lizier to stock up on other essential dry goods. This is one of the few shops that remain open between 12.00 and 14.00 hrs - and how blissfully quiet it is at lunchtime - an ideal time to shop! They have an excellent fresh fish section there and we bought all kinds of bits and pieces with a view to making a bouillabaisse this evening, although things don't always go according to plan. A trip to Bricomarché next door followed where we bought a 'poèle à pétrôle' heater mainly for heating the attic when we have visitors in the colder months ahead.

The big discovery of the day however has been the wholefood/environmentally friendly shop that we discovered in St Girons. It has been a concern since we moved in that the cleaning products that we use are not doing the 'good bacteria' on the hill much good. We are not hooked up to a mains system here and ALL of our waste is taken by pipes away from the house and is jettisoned off down the hillside where it is washed away by rain or absorbed into the hillside. So today, we were able to secure supplies of very reasonably priced environmentally friendly toilet cleaner, washing up liquid and washing tablets which will ease our conscience somewhat. We were also able to stock up on dried goods like pulses, rice and muesli. I think we will be frequent visitors to that shop!

This afternoon, with the return of some good weather (been 18 degrees, sunny with clear blue skies today!), Andy decided it was an opportune moment to take a look at the chimney stack to try and find out where rainwater was managing to seep in and trickle down the chimney breast in the attic, threatening to damage our newly installed insulation and plasterboard. So he got his harness on, roped up, secured himself to a tree, self-belayed and got onto the roof to take a look. The good (I think) news is that there are very few spots where water can get in, but mastic was applied wherever there appeared to be even the faintest possibility so hopefully we shouldn't have any more 'dripping' occurrences in the attic and future visitors can sleep comfortably!

Friday, 12 October 2007

Culture, dahlink, culture!

I finished Graham Robb's book last night and have now become enthused with a desire to find out as much as possible about our immediate area (the Massatois valley) and, further afield, the Ariege region generally. It is an area rich in culture, history, heritage and tradition which also has a fascinating linguistic background which (as a linguist!) I am keen to explore. All of these factors obviously go towards making the people who they are so by understanding their past, I hope to understand them more fully in turn. So my quest started this afternoon when I popped into the little 'papeterie' in the village where I picked up a copy of 'l'Histoire de Massat' by J-M Servat which covers the history of the valley from the 18th century through to the early 20th century. The book refers to the 'Editions Lacour' website on which I have found many more interesting books on the region which I may well acquire in due course! I also picked up 'le dialecte de la vallée de Massat - grammaire, dictionnaire et méthode d'apprentissage' which looks like heavy but fascinating reading! I spoke briefly with the bloke in the shop who said that the dialect is dying out as it is no longer taught in the local school and families are using it less and less at home. It is a real shame.

On my way back up to Pissou, I popped into Espies for some bread and took the opportunity to tackle Françoise about her quite thick accent which I had rather romantically assumed to be 'from the area' only to be told ''ben non, je suis de Montpellier d'origine!' Montpellier is along the Med coast so Françoise is obviously an 'import' to the area. I was however heartened to know that even Gil the boulanger has difficulty understanding her sometimes!

The other thing that has resulted from my reading of 'The discovery of France' was a rekindling of my A level passion for 'le Grand Meaulnes' by Alain Fournier written in 1913 (I have ordered it today from Amazon!), a book referred to by Graham Robb..... "His tale of boyhood longings set in the rural Bourbonnais, gave a tantalising sense of 'la France profonde' as a distant but familiar place, a little world full of simple things that spoke of another age: the stove in the freezing classroom, the clog-wearing pupils who smelled of hay, the gendarme and the poachers, the beaten-earth floor of the general store, the silence in the countryside". This work was one that I adored as an A level student. I somehow imagine our little part of the world to have once been not dissimilar to the summary so concisely outlined by Robb and I am impatient to read more!

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Rain, Rain .... at last gone away

Since Jackie and Steve left on Sunday morning, the weather has been awful. We have had torrential rain and temperatures below 10 degrees. But guess what... we don't care! Our little house is snug and cosy and warm when the elements do their worst. We get the woodburner going and snug up on the settee to read our books. Mine is currently 'The Discovery of France' by Graham Robb which is a fascinating take on the history of France since the 17th century. I haven't read anything like it since I did my degree some number of years ago. Great stuff.

This morning, when I awoke, I glanced out of the window expecting to see us surrounded yet again by low cloud but was greeted instead by clear blue sky, snow on Mont Valier and a fantastic cloud inversion down the valley. Just beautiful.
Andy was not feeling fantastic this afternoon, so I took the pooch back up the zig zags to the Cabane de Roses (see post of 22 September for the last time I did it). I reached the cabane in just under an hour last time, but today I was there in 41 minutes! The cooler temperature probably helped and I tried to stretch out as I went, so I was altogether more comfortable on the run. Must make it a more regular thing!

Monday, 8 October 2007

Visitors come, visitors go

Steve (Andy's dad) and Jackie left yesterday morning after spending 4 days here at Pissou. It was lovely to have visitors again and Andy really enjoyed coming up with culinary delights which certainly succeeded in tickling the tastebuds! I think the favourite dish (at least as far as Jackie was concerned!) was the wickedly rich chocolate pud, which was simply divine, but they also enjoyed a yummy rabbit in cider recipe and a special pigeon dish on their last evening. Mmm! I also introduced them to another local aperitif called Hypocras which is very much an acquired taste but which Jackie took to very quickly! It actually goes very well with lamb apparently so watch the recipe blog for some interesting new recipes!

The weather held out for their stay so we took the opportunity to introduce them to one of the very important tasks for us, which is the recovery of wood for the wood burner. A small fruit tree had fallen onto a power/telephone line just above the house and although it is not on our land, we decided that we should do the right thing and remove it so that the line is not pulled down when the first snows arrive. So Andy and Steve donned chainsaw gear and set to.

The tree yielded a good supply of both large and small sections of wood which have certainly bolstered our supply for the winter. Claudine is back next weekend so we will take that opportunity to clarify what other wood we can recover from the surrounding area.

Whilst it was still fine, we drove up to the Col d'Agnes, 20 minutes from the house, from where you have amazing views of the mountains which border Spain. The clouds were accumulating rapidly on the high tops, but it was still spectacular and I think Steve and Jackie were suitably impressed!
Whilst they were at Pissou, it became apparent that we did indeed have mice in the house. This was confirmed without doubt when Steve was using the little boy's room and a cheeky mouse appeared from under the door! What can you say! Andy also spotted one scuttling across the living room floor one evening so we decided we had to take action. I bought four traps from the shop in Massat and Andy melted some chocolate onto two of them and wedged a lump of cheese onto the other two. 24 hours later, the trap in the bathroom presented its first victim to us and then yesterday, we caught another one in the living room. I had been talking to Gil, the boulangerie about the meeces and he happened to mention that he has a snake who is quite partial to the odd rodent. So I duly presented yesterday's victim to him in a plastic bag, for which he said the 'serpent' would be most grateful! We have talked about getting some kittens which would turn into evil mouse-killing machines in due course but I think we have decided that they would be too much work in the short term. So that idea is temporarily on hold.

I bought a tray of greengages (prunes Reine-Claude) from St Girons market on Saturday with the intention of making some plum jam. Jackie ploughed in with stoning the fruit (9kgs of it!) and I used 2.5 kgs to produce some very tasty greengage and almond jam. The rest of the fruit, we bagged and froze for use in cooking during the winter. I also made some apple chutney on Wednesday which we have to leave for 2-3 months before we can eat it - darn! But the wait should be worth it. Today, we will hopefully be making the sloe gin from the sloes that we collected last week. Next, we hope to gather some big juicy chestnuts from the woodland below us - I love this time of year!

The weather appears to have deteriorated somewhat, with heavy rain and very low cloud. The forward forecast is looking decidedly dismal, so time to get on with the indoor jobs, I reckon.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Just a normal day....

.... ish. We have visitors arriving tomorrow (hi Jackie and Steve!) so we 'popped' down to St Girons at lunchtime to do a supermarket shop. We had intended to have a civilised lunch in St Lizier before doing our shop, but the cafe that does ace sandwiches was shut! Our plans to eat out at lunchtime seem to be thwarted each time that we venture out. So we ended up (yet again) with a yukky sandwich from Intermarché instead :-(

We left the supermarket to be welcomed by a temperature of 27 degrees according to the car! What is going on?! By the time we had made our way back up to Massat, it had mercifully cooled down to a bearable 22 degrees.

Today, we also collected more apples and also the sloe berries that we discovered yesterday. I will be starting work on the chutney tomorrow and may also make a tarte aux pommes or quelque-chose.

Yesterday, we started to recover some of the rocks/stones that Claudine's workmen had left in a pile outside her new back door. I decided that I needed some physical activity this afternoon, so spent an hour lugging the rocks from the pile that we had created there, up to the area outside our rear 'window', a distance of only 10 metres or so but it IS uphill and some of the rocks were very heavy... honest! It was nice to feel like I had actually exerted myself for a change!

Then this evening, we heard the stag in the woodland again - rather too close this time!

I could hear him making his way through the woodland, so he can't have been more than a couple of hundred metres away! The pooch was not happy!

Monday, 1 October 2007

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness

Ok, we are still waiting for the mists (although low cloud we have had aplenty), but the mellow fruitfulness seems to be going in the right direction. We raided the apple trees around Pissou this afternoon and this resulted in a basketful of fruit for which we now need to come up with some ideas! A rabbit with apple and calvados dinner this evening is the first step and I think I may wander into chutney territory before the end of the week too. We can always par cook and freeze whatever is left....

Just before lunch, we ventured back into the woodland across from the house (the guns have been quite for a few days, so we reckoned it would be safe!) in search of the elusive shroom and found a few paltry specimens which made us seriously wonder about the credibility of some of our neighbours who insist that there are girolles and ceps aplenty to be had in them there woods. This afternoon, we followed the advice of I can't remember who, who insisted that there were plenty of ceps to be had up in the woodland above the Col de Port. So, reenergised by lunch, we headed the 10 minutes up the road to the Col and from there off into the woodland. The pooch thought all his Christmasses had come at once.... TWO outings in one day! We found plenty of specimens, particularly as we got higher up into the woodland, away from the well worn path but still no ceps. Doh! But at least we had had some exercise and we saw some really pretty crocus like flowers which seem to have sprung up all over the place, but which I thought were usually a spring flower....?Our other discovery of the day has been some sloes around Pissou which we will be collecting tomorrow and which we hope to transform into sloe gin before Christmas

Other news of the day;
Had a call from Claudine following my text asking whether she had indeed received my email about the wood, to which she answered yes and indeed she had replied! Time to check the spam folder :-( Anyway, no problem for us to 'recuperate' (a bastardised, overused anglicisation of the well used French word 'récupérer' meaning to recover and use) the wood on her land which is great news! I am so pleased we have asked permission and can quite categorically say to Josette or anybody else who may question us 'yes, we have for permission from the landowner to take it'! Looks like our winter log pile fears have been allayed.

Claudine also told us we could take some of the big stones which had been piled in a heap where her builders had opened up a new doorway to the rear of her barn conversion. These big stones/rocks will be invaluable when we come to reinforcing the wall of the barn which is currently just standing in parts on the hillside with no foundations! Nothing unusual in this part of the world! She will be back at Pissou on the 13th so we are looking forward to having a good chat with her then.