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..., 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


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


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!