Sunday, 30 September 2007

Hog roast ...... not!

Well, I have to say, they don't do things by halves in our little community! An A4 printed sheet arrived in our letterbox earlier in the week, inviting us, as members of the Massat community, to the annual 'fête de boeuf'. Our friends, Pat and Kevin, enlightened us. It was basically a big picnic to which every member of each of Massat's 6 communes was cordially invited and of which the centrepiece was a sacrificed (OK, I mean barbecued!) whole cow! This we had to see - a cow on a spit? We had to bring our own salad bits and the other 'trimmings' but a chunk of beef was free to all and sundry.

It was a beautiful, sunny day. We headed down into Massat for 12 noon and found our way up to the 'Pouech', an area of level ground where a big marquee and benches were installed. The benches were largely already occupied by members of the local community who were happily sipping the local €2/litre red wine whilst clapping along to a local dance troupe who performed admirably in their clogs and colourful attireUnfortunately, Andy was feeling decidedly under the weather and decided not to stay, but with Pat and Kevin, I found a bench on the outer edges at which we quicikly set up camp. And then we saw dinner....

It had been over the coals for 24 hrs and looked ready for dissemination to the hungry hoards! And it was worth the wait! Lovely tender, melt in the mouth beef which had been slow-cooked to perfection, just as you would expect..... mmmmm! Entertainment was provided by a cool jazz duo of double bass and acoustic guitar. All very convivial. Over lunch, I met more English people who have made the Massat area their home, including Sal and Austin who run the Roquefort Cycle Lodge on the road to Biert, Philip and Heather who run the Maison Esmeralda guest house in Biert, Lee who is an ex-architect who sold up his business and house in the UK and happily settled down the road in Aleu, plus Justin and Emily and their two massive but beautiful natured dogs who are setting up an agro-tourism project up the road. All interesting people.

The picnic party would have carried on all afternoon, but I made my excuses at 2.30 and headed back home, where I spent a relaxed afternoon reading a book on the terrasse in the 23 degree afternoon sunshine. Bliss!

Friday, 28 September 2007

What a difference a day makes!

Wow! We awoke to this view this morning
Off out to 'go high'! More later!

Now returned from our wee trip, up to catch the snow while it is here! I had read about the Cirque de Cagateille in one of my books of the area and it was touted as 'the second biggest cirque of the Pyrenees after Gavarnie'.... which is massive! Got to go there, I thought. So, with pooch in tow, 45 minutes after leaving the house, we had our brown leather walking boots on and were on our way up the path. The views from the approach road had been tantalising as we passed through little communities of medieval atmosphere where people were still carrying out basic tasks as they have been doing for centuries - this area is so unspoilt, it is amazing.

Within just 20 minutes, we were rewarded with breathtaking views of the Cirque and the snow-capped peaks above

It had been a very easy walk that far (no snow, pretty much on the level) , so we decided to continue on the path up from the Cirque (980m) to the Etang de la Hillette (1797m) for which there had been a sign at the car park cautioning '3 hrs' to reach it. The ascent up through the initial woodland was steep. The pooch had been showing signs of an upset belly at the car park and en route to the Cirque so we were a bit concerned as to how he would do, but he was fine. After an hour of heading up, we reached a 'panneau' indicating 'Etang de la Hillette 1hr 15min'. We were making good progress. Soon we came out of the woodland and onto snow covered slopes but where the rocky path was well marked. We encountered a couple of steep icy patches through which Taff needed guidance and careful watching and at times on the lead, but he has quickly picked up the importance of words such as 'wait' and 'steady' which was a blessing.
After exactly 2 hrs, we reached another panneau pointing us to the right and indicating 'Etang de la Hillette 5 mins'. Great!
Ah, not so great. The final approach was down a via ferrata type metal ladder and then a via ferrata traverse round onto the final path to the Etang. No place for dogs.... not even our super-dooper little mountaineering pooch! Shame.

Thwarted, we retraced our steps but only after I had taken a couple of shots from our highpoint.
The descent was tricky in places and we both commented on how cumbersome brown leather walking boots are compared to our normal fell-running footwear. I seemed to stumble back down in a very ungainly and unladylike fashion and it seemed much harder work than it should have been. 1 hr after leaving the top we arrived back down at the car park. It had been a cracking afternoon in one of the least spoilt areas of France and we didn't see another soul once we had left the Cirque. Amazing. And the pooch is well and truely pooped! Just hope this fine weather continues. Chilly tonight though, so the woodburner is on the go again. Mmm, toasty warm.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

My birthday and there's snow on the tops!

Yes, it may only be the end of September but the tops had a good dusting of snow last night! Our little weather station is reading an outside temperature of 4.9 degrees at the moment, so there may be more to come. Even the hillside behind us, which is at under 1000m, has had a light dusting! Could this be the sign of a hard winter to come, or is it just a passing meteorogical 'dip'? Reminds me, I must contact our neighbour Claudine to ask if we can do some logging on the fallen trees on her land down the road - think we need to bolster the log supplies just in case.

I was woken a couple of times in the night by the sound of torrential rain and we discovered this morning that the pipe which runs excess water from the guttering and household pipes off down the hillside (no mains drains or sewerage system here, no siree!) is blocked once again and water is backing up to the surface just outside the house. The problem is we have no idea how far down the 100m+ pipe the blockage is located. We tried the 'throw chemicals at it' thing last time but that didn't work, so it is a bit of a puzzle but one that needs to be solved if we are not going to end up with a flooded house next time we have a downpour!

19.45 pm - update on the aforementioned drain 'situation'. One minute Andy is making scrummy meatball things for tea and the next he is up to his elbows in smelly, stinky, yukky stuff, water that has been backing up and getting stinkier by the day as the blockage gets a hold . He decided to dig a bit below the surface above where the pipe heads down from the drain, is it seemed to move there when he pushed up with his hand inside the pipe. And what do you know, the piece of flag that was just an inch or two below the surface and which covered the plastic 'sump' had broken and a piece broken off. The actual sump was therefore an inch or two deep with pebbles and other associated goo which won't have helped. Then with the aid of a running hosepipe (we don't have any rods!) he started ramming down the pipe and eventually we heard a 'whoosh' down the hillside as the blockage cleared and the build up of water flowed out. Hopefully that will be the last time that has to be done!
I am now looking forward to the tasty Italian meatballs that I am expecting for tea

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Guests leaving

After 4 nights with us, Trudi and Julian left this morning to head down to the coast and along to the Camargue before meandering back up to the North on Monday. It has been lovely having visitors but it's a shame the weather has been pants since the weekend and we were not able to get out for a walk or go climbing together. Still, I think they left with a good idea as to why we have chosen to make this area our home!

Andy excelled himself with the wonderful vegetarian delights that he has produced over the last few days. I have already mentioned the squash and capsicum curry, but we have also had a lovely Moroccan spiced stuffed marrow, some yummy baked figs and last night, the grand finale was a fine, hearty mixed bean casserole followed by nectarines done in white wine and cinnamon, all washed down with some not bad €1.60/litre white wine from our little shop down in Massat! I think T and J left inspired to broaden their culinary horizons when they return to the UK and I am looking forward to experiencing more veggie delights at Pissou!

The temperature dipped down to around 10 degrees yesterday so we lit the wood burner for the first time this autumn.... and what a difference it makes to the house! It felt so cosy and snug and homely with the fire burning and Andy cooking the casserole on top of the woodburner - much more energy efficient than using the gas hob and electric oven and more 'how it should be done' in this part of the world! The heat soon worked its way up through the house and even the attic felt warm and welcoming after an hour or so. I am actually really looking forward to the winter months, knowing how cosy we will be in our little house!

While he was here, Julian took some fab photos using his macro lens... here are a couple of them;


He also took a couple of shots of Taff which are lovely!

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Guests arriving

After a final clean up and tidy up, the ladders were removed to their rightful place in the barn, the floor was hoovered and then mopped (probably the first time in it's life!), the rug laid and the bed made. Oh, and the final touch was a small bunch of flowers on the small chest of drawers and a scented candle and the addition of a throw for the bed settee acquired just this morning from the fabulous Saturday market in St Girons;

I love this room. Once it is completely finished (scrim done, gaps in the plasterboard filled in, gaps between the floorboards and the wall filled etc) it is going to be a very special place

Andy cooked a very yummy squash and capsicum curry for our friends, Trudi and Julian, who arrived after a very long journey down from Calais - over 11 hrs! Nice to have company again and to receive the precious supplies of mint and tree tea shampoo, ribena, assam tea and tahini that we had pre-ordered :-) Unfortunately, it looks like the weather has turned just in time for their stay, with low cloud, drizzle and temperatures around 13 degrees. It's always the way!

Oops, missed a post yesterday! Andy was busy so I took the pooch up the zig zags above the Etang de Lhers yesterday afternoon to the Cabane des Roses. This was a walk that we did a while ago and which I always reckoned would be a good route to attempt to run, as the incline is not too bad and the terrain good. I managed to run most of the lower zig zags but tired on the upper half. Took me just under an hour to reach the cabane from where I had fantastic views towards the Col d'Agnes and the mountains bordering Spain beyond.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Nearing completion.....

... on the attic that is! Well, not fully completed but at least it is habitable again. My job this morning was to lob a load more concrete mix into the gaps between our wall and Claudine's walls, using rubber gloves and handfuls of the sandy goo (the space is too tight to get a trowel in). Then this evening, we finally finished putting up the plasterboard which has been a real pain in the proverbial backside job due to the total lack of anything straight in the attic. Not even the walls are straight and the beams are decidedly curvy! So Andy was ready to throw in the towel, not able to face another piece of plasterboard when he had a sudden burst of energy (or was it the death throes! I'm not quite sure!) and said 'one last push' and half an hour later, the last piece went up. Damn fine it looks too! So tomorrow, I can get the room tidied up and cleaned up ready for Trudi and Julian's arrival on Saturday evening.

Yesterday, I should add, was spent travelling up to Ikea near Toulouse in order to fetch the bed settee and 2 armchairs which I have had my eye on for some while now (not the one in the picture. That is an old one for infrequent use only). We also picked up various other housey bits such as a duvet, pillows, cushions, kitchen stuff, a rug and who knows what else. Have I mentioned how impossible it is to find shops here that sell such items? There are no department stores, no 'household goods' shops or kitchenware shops that we have been able to find in this area ... not even in the main centres such as Foix and St Girons. Ikea seems to be our only option and I am damned if we are going to suffer the 3 hr round trip (add on the shopping time and 5 hrs has gone before you know it!) more than once in a blue moon!

Popped down into Massat this afternoon and I think we both realised how lucky we are to be living in the midst of such a lovely community. The village has a lovely feel about it, a real spirit which is rare these days. We are very lucky.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Well, it had to happen....

... it was only a matter of time. We had a warning last week but nothing ever came of it, but this afternoon, well.... the heavens opened! The first rain we have had for 17 days accompanied by the always impressive thunder as it rattles down the valleys and bounces off the hillsides. Once the storm had passed over, the temperature must have been a good 10 degrees cooler which is not unusual for this mountain climate. The mountains were impressive as the storm cleared away....

But anyway, I digress! What have we been up to today? Hmm, now then, it started with the chainsawing (think of Andy as the Bruce Forsyth, and me as the Anthea Redfern of the process!) of various pieces of fallen wood that we managed to 'recover' from various nearby locations which has boosted our wood stockpile a tad, although we really need more to see us through the winter. It was a lovely warm (mid 20s) morning with clear blue sky which made for warm work. Andy's sweat continued as he attempted to repair/plug the gaps in the attic wall between our house and Claudine's next door using rubbish French 'cement' (I use the word loosely) and various sized stones/rocks that I managed to recover from outside. Oh the joy! And then, post lunch, oh yes, we set about the installation of the plasterboards above one of the half height beams, which we managed to complete by 6pm. So just the other side, above the beam, to do and all of the major plasterboarding will have been done. I think we will both be rather relieved when the job is done.

Had rabbit in the left over plum and apple sauce from the other night for tea - mmm, yummy

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Attic progress

It's been a very warm (mid 20s) and very sweaty day today as the work continues in the attic. Andy got the wiring sorted so we were able to put up the last 2 big plasterboards. The conduit is nicely hidden away behind the boards and the new ceiling light is in place and it looks fab. He also constructed a little stud wall at the top of the stairs which we are also going to plasterboard and to which a door frame will be fitted and eventually also the old door which will make it into a lovely contained space up there. Tomorrows job will be to cement some large stones into the gaps in the wall between our house and Claudine's which will seal off a potential route for vermin to enter the attic (we have proof that it has been used in the past) and then we can get some plasterboard put up above the side beams, which is going to be fun! Then the end will be in sight - woo-hoo! The actual plastering of the boards will have to wait for some while, as it is a massive job thanks to the horrendous nature of French plaster.

The pooch has been on edge today, not sure why, but he was hiding underneath the dining table while we had our evening meal and has been making warning 'woof' sounds on occasions throughout the day. He is a good guard dog and soon alerts us if he hears anybody within spitting distance of Pissou but we couldn't see any reason for his behaviour today. Very strange.

Not much else to report today. I am looking forward to having time to get out on the bike or up on the hills for a walk/run, as I feel like I am rapidly attaining blobby status due to my inactivity of the last couple of weeks. Andy has been doing all the physical work on the attic so I don't think he quite feels the same ;-)

Had roasted veggies for tea tonight - mmm, yummy

Saturday, 15 September 2007

The guns ring out

Yes, it sounds like hunting season has well and truly started on the surrounding hillsides. This evening we have heard a few rounds of really loud rifle fire on the hillside above us, so they are most probably hunting the deer that have been making those eerie sounds in the woodland! We are looking forward to seeing 'chevreuil' (venison) in our local butchers soon and in the meantime, 'don't go in them there woods'!

We had another big shopping trip down to Foix and Pamiers today to get stuff which will enable us to get the wiring finished in the attic and also some concrete with which we can fix rocks/stones into the spaces that are apparent high up on the walls where we have removed the wood panelling.We got 7 large panels of plasterboard up yesterday which was a job and a half and not much fun :-( Fortunately, the panels which need to be fixed above the two big side beams are smaller and hopefully more manoeuvrable but it is still going to be tricky and awkward because nothing is straight! But today, I got the new light fitting which will hang from the centre beam and also a blind for the velux window, plus some light fittings for our bedroom and a curtain pole and curtain which will make it nice and snug in the winter months.

While we were down 'on the plain' at Pamiers, we became aware of how totally different the attitudes of people down there are compared to our local community here in the hills. Here, everybody is so smiley, helpful and generally happy, whereas down there people are surly to the point of rudeness and totally unhelpful. Plus, the temperature on the plain seems to be around 10 degrees hotter than with us, so all in all, we were relieved to return to our little mountain cottage!

Had some lovely, fresh lemon sole, simply cooked, accompanied by French beans, for tea tonight

"Holy Cr*p"!! I have just been jolted from my wine-induced reverie by the preceding expletive uttered by my hubby! He has just spotted the biggest, longest-legged arachnid (spider to you and me!) crawling up the wall above his desk. It's leg span must have been 10-12cm+ - it crawled up to a joist which is 9cms deep and curled its legs around it

Now, I know spiders are fab creatures and kill nasty bitey flying things like mozzies, gnats and the like, but I'm sorry, this one had to go. After first threatening to kill the not so wee beastie, Andy was persuaded to capture it in a pint glass and throw it outside. We are just hoping he hasn't got a twin brother lurking somewhere amongst the beams and joists!

Thursday, 13 September 2007

There's a storm brewing....

It is looking very ominous over Mont Valier this evening..... and according to the Meteo, thunderstorms can be expected tonight and tomorrow. Oh well, we have had 2 weeks of unbroken sunshine, so I guess it couldn't last. Fortunately, the weekend is not looking too bad.

Never mind the weather, I hear you cry, what's happening with the current project?! Well, thanks for your interest! The good news is that all of the insulation (bar a couple of sections at each end where the wall/beams need further attention) is now up! Woo and a hoo! It has been hard work, as there is nothing even about the spacing between the timbers and all of the lengths are different. But it is done now. Next, we will be looking at the first fix electrics and then plasterboarding so we are not done yet!

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Making progress

The day dawned clear and bright again (we have been so lucky with the weather so far this month) and I took this shot looking left out of our house this morning, just as the sun was making its appearance over the hill. At this time of year, we have sun on the house from about 09.00 until 18.30 hrs - lovely!

But then it was back to the renovation work. Today has been 'insulation' day. After a bit more cleaning up (including scraping more of that god-awful foam filler off the beams - it's everywhere!), we finally set to with the lovely new high-tech aluminium 'isolation mince'. It took us the best part of the day to get the bottom half of both sides done and wow, what an improvement already. Quantity-wise, it's going to be tight as we may have under-ordered, but we have had just about zero waste so far, so fingers crossed we will be able to get it all completed tomorrow and then we will have the plasterboard to look forward to ;-) Oh yes, we are so looking forward to that. But Trudi and Julian, Steve and Jackie, don't panic, it should all be done before you visit us (Penny crosses her fingers!) and should be rather nice.

Not much else to report today other than to say that the butcher is open again (hurrah!) after their 2 week holiday and the dog was very very grateful for his 'déchets' (offcuts) this evening! As for us, we had a scrummy omelette with the wonderfully fresh free range eggs that we get locally.

Then I took this piccy of the sunset over the mountains before retreating back inside for a glass (or two) of rather nice Gaillac red!
We finished working on the attic late so we had a very simple but very tasty omelette for tea tonight

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Crisis!

Well, it had to happen some time, but we didn't have any warning and I was totally unprepared............................................ the boulanger has gone on holiday! I did my normal 'pop to Espies' (2 mins down the road) to get bread for lunch, only to be greeted by a sign on the door that said 'magasin fermé du 11 au 21 septembre'. What are we going to do?! To make matters worse, Françoise who runs the little 'epicerie' and general store next door has ALSO shut up shop for a couple of days! Unbelievable! In all seriousness though, Gil the boulanger works his ar*e off and has had an exceptionally busy summer so his break is well-earned. It seems to be the thing in our neck of the woods that after working non-stop, 7 days a week for the peak summer months, the shop-keepers shut up shop for 1-2 weeks in September to recharge their batteries. The boucher (butchers) and one of my other fave little shops in Massat from where I get some lovely ground coffee have also been closed since the beginning of the month but I think we should be returning to normal tomorrow (apart from the lack of bread!) - thank goodness.

So this morning was spent doing the final tidy up/clean up in the grenier which included Andy 'finishing off' the velux window frame which the previous owners obviously didn't have a clue how to tackle!
After lunch, I got cracking with the spraying. I got all togged up in me ghostbusters outfit..... and got pumping. The job wasn't as bad as we had been expecting and the spray less noxious than anticipated so we decided to do both sides in one hit. This means we can start (and hopefully finish!) putting the insulation up tomorrow and then the plasterboard by the weekend. I can't wait for the full transformation to be finished. It is going to be such a lovely room.

Lamb curry for tea tonight (the cooking smells are making me drool!)

Monday, 10 September 2007

More wrecking

We got the lambris and old insulation down from the other side of the attic ceiling today - how I hate that job! We discovered more capricorn beetle evidence and are looking forward to spraying tomorrow which will prevent any further infestation and will also kill any remaining larvae.

We had a visit from Tom today who is a climber and lives over the other side of the Col de Port at Bedeilhac. He is also a professional house renovator and took a look at the roof of our barn which is suffering from a few missing and slipped slate tiles. After his inspection, the good news is that he only found four spots where remedial work was necessary - generally the roof is intact, although a full reroof is advised before we do any major internal work to the barn. While he was here, we picked his brains about the new routes that he has been helping to put up near Auzat, which is a 40 minute drive from here. Full topos are available on this page (click on Le Montcalm and then Montcalm 2) for those who are interested - great if you are climbing in the 5's and 6s!

Sunday, 9 September 2007

A busy Sunday

So the job this morning was to clean down the woodwork up in the attic in preparation for doing the 'traitement' spray. A quick hoover down to remove the dust and dirt I thought. Wrong! It soon became apparent that a number of wood-destroying critters (in particular the capricorn beetle lavae) have made their home in the beams. As I pulled away pieces of loose top layer, a mass of wood dust would descend and I soon saw the extent of the infestation on two beams in particular. Fortunately, as I removed the powdered layer I came to good, solid wood which indicates that we have caught it just in time. Hacking away the infected wood was filthy, time-consuming work but very necessary if the treatment is to work. We also decided today that we would do the other side of the attic as well, as neither of us relishes the idea of having to repeat the exercise at some point in the future. Let's get it all over and done with in one push. So tomorrow we will set about pulling off the rest of the pine pannelling, removing the old insulation and inspecting the woodwork - can't wait :-(

This afternoon, we at last got out on the bikes again :-) The weather was perfect (clear blue skies, 20+ degrees) so we did a little outing that we had to abort on a previous occasion when Andy got 2 punctures on his bike. Starting just 20 mins from Pissou, it is a lovely 36km (return) route, gently uphill, initially following the course of the river Salat and then the river Alet up to a very pretty little spot called Serac from where the Col de Latrape (5.9km, ave gradient 7.2%) winds it's way up and over the hillside before descending down into Aulus (we will be attempting that one soon!). Here, you are in the shadow of the Guzet Neige ski station and the quite spectacular Cirque de Cagateille which we hope to explore soon. This time, no punctures, so after the briefest of stops (we really must stop for refreshments next time!) we headed back down the valley, me drafting in Andy's slipstream, reaching over 50kph at times :-) The whole outing had taken us just 1hr 25mins but we had had a good blast on the bikes and everything seemed to be working as it should with no aches or pains.

So tonight, we have guinea fowl on the menu cooked in a traditional Catalan style. Mmmm.

Saturday, 8 September 2007

Wrecking day

As mentioned previously, we have taken the decision to undertake the not insignificant task of tackling the attic space in order to turn it into a really lovely room for our visitors (it's got tons of potential with three lovely old beams running the length of it). The pine pannelling that is currently up there is just so 1980s and anyway, the timbers need to be treated for insects as they haven't been done for 15-20 years. So this afternoon we set to it, having decided that we would aim to complete just one half of the attic now and leave the rest for another day (it is a big job!). This is a 'before' shot.

Andy manfully pulled down the panelling with a crow bar with pieces of wood and dust flying everywhere. We flung the pannelling out of the little attic window and laid the better pieces on the beams in the barn to make a temporary floor where tools can be stored. I then donned a face mask to start pulling down the old Rockwool insulation - behind one section there was the skeleton of a rat which had obviously died some considerable while ago! There was evidence of other wildlife using the insulation as home too so it is a good job we are pulling the lot down! Can't have our visitors being woken up by critters of various sizes scuttling across the floor, can we! Once I had removed the old insulation, we got a good look at the 'charpente', the woodwork that forms the underside of the roof, and fortunately it is in good condition. We will clean it up tomorrow and then hopefully spray with the insect treatment and get the new insulation up early next week. Should have the plasterboard panels up by next weekend if all goes to plan!

Apart from the above, it's been another gloriously warm day - we really must get out on the bikes tomorrow. So much to do and so little time!

Friday, 7 September 2007

Haircut day

It was a rather daunting prospect for me, seeing as my hair has been cut by the same hairdresser for the last 20 odd years! But I don't have any choice about it now that we are out here, so with some trepidation we both headed down to the little 'coiffeuse' in Massat, 5 mins down the road to see what she could do. Fortunately, she did a reasonable job and I dont feel like I need to hide away in a corner with a paper bag over my head, although she did take off rather more than I would have liked! Still, at least I won't have to go again for another couple of months. Andy's comment was 'she 'ain't no barber'! But I think his shorter cut looks just fine.

The other bit of news to report is that the climbing red rose that I planted next to the front door has flowered! I have always wanted a climbing red rose and at last I have my wish :-)
Apart from that bit of excitement, it has been a thoroughly uneventful day, although we have taken the decision to start on the attic which is going to be a major job and I will be posting photos as we go along. This afternoon, we have cleared all of our outdoor gear out of there and once Andy has put all of his tools away we can clear them out and then start pulling the 'lambris' pine panelling and old insulation down which is going to be a filthy job and will require full body cover, goggles and face mask. Those insulation fibres are nasty things. We have got just under 3 weeks before Trudi and Julian will be popping down for a couple of days, so we are going to have to pull our fingers out. However, we can always lodge people next door at Claudine's if the space is not ready to be occupied, which is a good back-stop :-) I am really looking forward to making the attic into a lovely guest space with its big old beams and great view out of the velux!

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Shopping day

About once a week (less if we can help it), we make the trip either down to St Girons (12miles/25 mins down a winding road) or over the other side of the Col de Port to Tarascon or Foix to do 'shopping'. It will inevitably include a supermarket shop (there is a fab Intermarché 'Hypermarché' in Foix and a smaller one in St Girons) in order to stock up on basic essentials such as loo roll, dry goods and usually some good fish, plus also a 'bricolage' shop to get DIY stuff necessary for the house renovation. Today was a 'shopping' day, which took us out of the house from 13.45 until 18.00 hrs. Tedious but necessary. We managed to get the necessary 'corde' to finish the repair on the wood-burner door (Andy can't wait for some cooler nights so he can get it lit!), we popped in to 'Geant Carrelage' to try to find some bathroom tiles (found some very nice ones but would cost €80 for under a m2!), got some DIY stuff from Mr Bricolage (2 pine shelves which we can add to the 'wardrobe' to make more storage space, a new loo seat and various other insignificant bits and bobbins), got an 'airer' from Foir Fouille (like Wilko) plus over £100 pounds worth of shopping from Intermarché! But that did include a fair few bottles of wine (ave price €3.50), some lovely meat (includes a guinea fowl, a pigs trotter and a shoulder of lamb) and some 'rouget barbet' (red mullet) of which you can read more on Andy's new blog. By the time we had done, the car temperature guage was showing 26Deg C and we had had enough, so headed home where it was a far more amenable 20 Deg C.

Took a lovely photo of the sun going down beyond Mont Valier this evening....


Wednesday, 5 September 2007

We've knackered the pooch!

Beautiful day today again, clear blue skies, temps in low 20s, very still, so we headed up to the Col de Port (1250m), 15 mins up the road from Pissou and walked in the direction of the Pic de la Journalade (1945m) via the Pic d'Estibat (1663m). The latter was our first destination back in early June and is a climb of over 400m from the Col de Port and a distance of 1.5km approx. Back then, it practically finished us off but today it was a mere hill! We then covered good ground along the high pastures where the horses, sheep and cows were grazing (back on the lead for Taff!) and reached the foot of the Pic de la Journalade in 1 hr 35 mins, a distance of around only 5kms but which included 600m of ascent. We quickly realised that the rough, steep section ahead of us would be difficult for the dog and, more importantly, difficult to descend, so we reluctantly decided to run back down to the Pic d'Estibat and the Col de Port. Another important factor was that we were running low on water for Taff and there were no streams or other water sources in sight, so it was the right decision. It is worth mentioning that the views from 1800m were amazing, with Mont Valier and other Pyreneean peaks in the distance. The tranquillity reminded us why we have chosen to call this part of France our home. The run back was very steep in parts and tested the knees and quads but they stood up to the test well and we arrived back at the car 2 hrs 40 mins after leaving it - Taff was tired - it was his longest outing with us yet. But our next outing will be longer, up to one of the higher level 'etangs' that we have within a short drive of Pissou. Can't wait.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Bedroom wall completed - yay!

So we filled the streaky grooves in with patching plaster this morning, sanded down the rough bits, wiped it all down with a damp cloth and then on went the sizing coat of paint. An hour or so later, I rollered the top coat on. Wow, what a difference! We then manouevred the wardrobe and chests of drawers into place and hey presto, our bedroom is at last taking shape (photos to follow when Andy gets round to putting his stuff away!).

Strange sounds in the woodland
I took a little movie from our bathroom window this morning as we have been hearing some very strange noises coming from the woodland opposite. We reckon it may be a couple of stags but either way, it is an eery noise as it echoes across the valley. If anybody recognises the sound, let us know! But we have been hearing gunshot in the area over the past couple of days and reckon hunting season is starting, so we will have to take care when we venture out into the woodland from now on. video

Monday, 3 September 2007

Furniture at last!

As promised the very nice 'brocante' man from Foix (complete with 2 helpers!) turned up at 09.45 this morning with our wardrobe thingy and chest of drawers. He looked at our wee staircase and reckoned the wardrobe would go up it. Wrong! After a fair bit of huffing and puffing it became apparent that there was no way it was going to get round the tight turn in the stairs. So we got the ladder up and in it came through the bedroom window - yay! The 4 drawer chest of drawers on the other hand came up no problem.

But the partition wall between the bathroom and bedroom needs to be plastered before we can put the furniture up, so this afternoon, Andy had another battle with the dreaded French plaster. As usual, it seems to be full of grit which we have concluded is actually little pieces of plaster that has 'gone off' in the bag (although it doesn't seem to matter whether a new bag or an opened bag is used!). So instead of his normal smooth finish, the wall is covered in streaky, grit-created lines which we will probably have to go over with patching plaster or something - nightmare! So it is going to be tomorrow before I can paint the wall and then we will be able to put our new furniture up and get the clothes put away. I am sure it will be worth it.

We then had an early evening walk with the dog up to the Cap du Carmil (see below) where the cloud was down which made it very atmospheric. There were still loads of bilberries up there but we didn't have the time or the inclination to pick the tiny little berries. We also contemplated the possibility of searching the woods up there for shrooms when conditions are right. We also came across a small troupeau of Merens horses including a couple of foals up there. They are very similar to the fell pony, with their long mane and black colouring - sturdy mountain horses!

Home made pizza for tea - mmm yummy

Sunday, 2 September 2007

Never Again! I mean it!

Another wasted expedition up the hillside in search of the apparently abundant girolle mushroom! There we were, all keen, newly acquired wicker basket in hand (bought specifically for the purpose, I should add), determined to find the elusive spot 'on the other side of the hill' where they apparently flourish, having already discounted 'this' side of the hill following our fruitless search the other week. 'Find the single storey ruin' the man said 'and then just head up the hillside'. Oh yeah? Right to the top we went, up steep wooded slopes, at times contouring round the hillside on the narrowest of paths - did we see a single shroom? Did we 'eck! The worst bit was the coming back down, as we found ourselves in the midst of thick, tick-infested bracken up to our heads (the deer love it up there) and brambles round our ankles. We were relieved when we eventually found the path back to Pissou, by this time dripping with sweat and itching from the bug bites that we had sustained in the bracken. But a quick inspection didn't reveal any ticks, thank goodness. The dog was by now well pooped and collapsed in a heap when he got back in the door!

So never again! I 'ain't going up that hillside ever again in search of the phantom girolle!

House news
Been a pretty lazy day really. Got the bathroom wall painted a plain white for the mo, which at least means we could fit the sink back and put the mirror back in its place. Much better it looks too! Now, I just need to find some suitable tiles - I am hankering after some old 'carrelage' that may have been recovered from an old chateau bathroom kind of thing, so am keeping an eye out on Fleabay. Fingers crossed. I also painted the chimney breast in the bedroom which now looks much cleaner and has also meant we have been able to hang the lovely mirror up there - lovely it looks too.

Our new bits of furniture are being delivered in the morning. Can't wait to get clothes put away.
In the meantime, Andy has made cassoulet for tea which promises to be yummy. Time for an aperitif yet.....? Salut!

Saturday, 1 September 2007

A glorious day

Beautifully sunny, temps in the mid 20s, still, blue sky - lovely. Andy headed down into St Girons this morning to get some bits and pieces but I couldn't face the hour long round trip so spent the time doing some housework interspersed with spells outside soaking up the sun on the terrasse and reading about French culinary traditions! This afternoon, I took the pooch for a brief run up to the Cap du Carmil (1479m) from the Col de Peguère (just 5 minutes up the road from us) which is another ski de randonnée route that we have got our eye on for the winter. It is a lovely, gradual gradient with the most fantastic views towards the Pic de la Journalade and Pic des Trois Seigneurs and the rest of the Pyreneean Mountain chain in the distance.



In the meantime, Andy managed to sort out some more of the plastering in the bathroom, particularly above the window, where he had removed some thick, older plaster, behind which he has now buried the electrical conduit which looks much neater. Painting tomorrow, I reckon.

Still no sign of his skiis which apparently left Germany nearly 3 weeks ago now. Phone calls to the carrier, GLS in Toulouse, have resulted in us being told that the package is 'lost'! Nobody is admitting to having it and it seems to have fallen off their track and trace system on the 24th. Marvellous (not)! So emails have gone off to the supplier in Germany that he bought them from asking for a replacement set of skiis to be sent without further delay. Here's hoping they don't get lost too!