Wednesday, 28 May 2008

A jolly jaunt up high - storm dodging

Well, the weather has been pretty dire recently, but there appeared to be a bit of a 'weather window' today. We headed up to the Col de la Core at 1400m from where we picked up the GR10 which meandered its way up the hillside before traversing through the woodland and then up towards the Col d'Auédole (1700m). The Cabane d'Eliet was like an isolated beacon amongst the approaching cloudsWe popped over the Col and picked up the well worn track which would take us to the Etang d'AyesThis section provided some great running and fantastic views back down the wild, unspoilt valleyWe quickly reached the Etang d'Ayes and started the uphill section that would eventually lead us to the Etang de Bellonguere. The Etang d'Ayes was a beautiful emerald green colour but the approaching clouds were a worry

We soon left the GR10 and headed off to up the Etang de Bellonguere (1900m) - it was a fantastically wild and unspoilt environment where it would have been lovely to linger a while, but the rumble of thunder spurred us to get a move on! The route from the Etang was a steep uphill to a height of 2000m in the direction of the Sommet de Peyre Blanque from where we traversed along a faint path before descending back down to the Col d'Auédole.
From there, a gentle careful run back along the way we had come to Col de la Core. Looking back down the valley to Castillon, I could see the route that I hope to cycle up to the Col when we get a proper clear, dry spell - hopefully soon! We had been out for 3 1/2 hrs and managed to avoid a torrential downpour although the storm was not far away! It was good to explore new areas up in the mountains and to discover more of what there is to offer within such a short drive of Pissou.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008


The wild flowers around Pissou are just beautiful at the moment. Here are the latest additions. A beautiful yellow dead nettle which is all over the pastures around here....
as is the quite beautiful pink dead nettle...... a member of the milkwort family... and the easily recognisable birdsfoot trefoil.

Monday, 26 May 2008


....God how I hate Pamiers! But where needs must and all that. Everytime I go there, I am taken aback by the brusqueness and unfriendliness of people in the shops. Maybe I am spoilt by the overwhelming friendliness and warmth of rural folk around Massat, I don't know. But either way, going down 'onto the plains' is a chore every time. Thankfully it isn't a frequent occurrence. But every time, I come back home really appreciating the special environment that we live in.

Sunday, 25 May 2008


Yesterday, a profitable trip to St G saw us return with what we believe to be the best French equivalent of English finishing plaster. Yee-haa! It has been recommended to us by an English plasterer so it must be better than the gritty/quick to go off French plaster that we have been using and which has been at the root of the foul language that is rife whenever Andy uses the stuff! We are just waiting for a delivery of plasterboard for the bathroom ceiling and 'cabinet' walls and then we can put it to the test.

Whilst Andy was sorting out the electrics for the 'cabinet' yesterday, I took the pooch for a bit of a run along to the Gite de Liers and back down along the river. As I passed through the woods opposite Pissou, I spotted some bright orange fungi growing on a young oak tree. I was pretty sure it was chicken in the woods but am going to check with la Pharmacie in the morning to be sure. I have heard a lot about the fungus and am looking forward to sampling its delights if I get the thumbs up :-)

Today, I have been prepping (is that a word?!) around the bathroom window and other miscellaneous previously plastered surfaces in various places in preparation for painting at some point.

I was supposed to be having a bike outing with Pat today, but the weather has been, er, a tad wet. This evening, we were treated to a fab rainbow above Pissou and the brief appearance of the sun gave another approaching storm a surreal beauty across the mountains in the distanceThe forecast is not much better for the next few days, so more indoor work is on the cards. Still, progress is most definitely being made.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Bathroom progress

This morning, whilst Andy was strimming I got back to work with the scythe and between us we have managed to make Pissou look a lot more 'kempt'.

This afternoon, it was back on with the bathroom and I was able to get some 'framboise' paint onto one of the bathroom walls.... and rather lush it looks too, don't you think!

Andy has then spent the rest of the afternoon constructing a frame for the 'cabinet' and putting in the door - we have so much more storage space now! Meanwhile, I got on with more scything and no longer have to wade through knee high grass to reach the washing line :-)

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Toilet work and more

Following on from Andy's sterling efforts on the shower front while I was away (final grouting/silicone sealing finished yesterday evening), transforming this.....
... to this....... we decided yesterday that the existing layout of the bathroom makes very poor use of the space available and that the pipework needed 'review'. The big 'chauffe-eau' hot water tank was stupidly installed, wasting much needed storage space. The 'cabinet' that the previous owners had constructed around it which was supposed to serve as an airing cupboard/storage space was an appalling structure of pine pannelling and a shonky frame. The hot and cold water pipework was a jumble of copper piping obviously installed by an amateur who had no idea about plumbing. And then we come to the loo, which had been jammed up against the wall of the 'airing cupboard and had never even been fixed down properly! So yesterday, the 'airing cabinet' was expertly destroyed and today Andy moved the chauffe-eau further towards the exterior wall....... which has created a surprising amount of space to its right. Then he shifted the toilet about a foot to the right and the mess of pipes (how many joints were there?) that connected it all to the outside waste pipe was replaced with a single pipe. Much better! Finally, after much pipe cutting and soldering, the maze of copper pipes was reduced down to a cold and a hot pipe with branches coming off for the shower, basin, toilet and kitchen. Much neater! Next will be the construction of a new frame for the 'airing cupboard/chauffe-eau cabinet' .... nearly there... the effort will be worth it. My efforts as chief cup of tea supplier and moral supporter are paying off ;-)

Monday, 19 May 2008

Trip to Blighty

I returned to the UK last Wednesday for a 5 day break away. The main purpose of the trip was a girly weekend with some mates in the Lake District, but it also provided an opportunity to see my laddy in Leeds (FAB to see you Jamie!) , to see friends in the Peak District (was great to have a catch up, Hils, Ads, Trudi and Julian) and to pick up various bits and pieces from the shops while I was there.

The highlight of the trip was the weekend in Threlkeld near Keswick with Ayshea, Helen, Jenny and Ali. Ayshea and I had a great time on the last girly weekend, some 18 months ago, when we ran the Snowdon Horseshoe. I was excited about repeating the experience. I had printed off a proposed route which took in 4 of the Lakeland passes and which was, on paper, 14 miles in distance and passed through some of my favourite areas of the Lakeland Fells. I was hoping it would provide a good training opportunity for the Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon in early July. Fortunately, Ayshea was up for it, mad for it, whilst the other 3 chose to do Striding Edge and Helvellyn. The weather was good Saturday morning, so we parked at Seatoller and headed up the road to Honister Pass where we would start the offroad running. From there, we headed across the fells and down to Buttermere which provided some good running, but with a steep descent down to the valley. The views were just amazing - it was fantastic being back on the fells againFrom there, we headed straight up the hillside to the left of the photo, to Scarth Gap, followed by another steep descent down to Ennerdale and then yet another steep, fast ascent straight up to Black Sail Pass. There was no stopping us - we were both going strong and fuelling well on energy bars and gels. From there, another steep descent took us down through the beautiful, wild Mosedale valley and some ace running through to Wasdale, where we both admitted that we were starting to feel tired. Hardly surprising seeing as we had covered 16kms and taken in a fair amount of strenuous ascent and testing descent and we had not exactly been hanging about! But there were no overwhelming aches or pains that would prevent us from completing the route. From Wasdale, we headed up a rising traverse to Sty Head, with Great Gable on our left and Gable End to our right with a fantastic view back down to Wasdale.We took it steady as we headed up to the Col and were relieved when the highpoint was reached and we managed a gentle jog down to Styhead Tarn and then commenced the descent down Styhead Gill to Stockley Bridge - we could see the Borrowdale Valley and the end of our route in sight in the distanceThe valley floor gave us the final opportunity for a weary jog 2.5kms back to SeaToller. We had been out for 5 hrs, covered 27kms which included 1700m of ascent and descent. The profile from my garmin GPS said it all;We were pooped and in need of refuelling - a visit to Booths supermarket in Keswick did the job. Although tired and with slightly achey legs from all the descent, I was on a high and chuffed to bits at what we had accomplished and at how my body had held up.

On Sunday morning over breakfast, Ayshea asked what I fancied doing before we had to head home to which I replied 'something steady, a gentle jog, not too much up and down' .... so how come we ended up ascending Hall's Fell Ridge from Threlkeld .... (the local residents were not in the slightest bit perturbed by our presence.....)...up on to Blencathra Saddleback and then a steep descent down Blease Gill back to Threlkeld! This equated to a further 866m of ascent/descent and 8.7kms covered in around 2 hrs 20 mins! But the running up on the top was superb and the views towards the fells spectacular.It was then time to head back down south and after a quick chilli cooked up by Ali, she deposited me at my hotel at East Midlands airport from where I had an early flight back to Carcassonne this morning. It had been a cracking trip. I returned to Pissou to find that Andy has been busy while I have been away and has installed the new shower tray and shower cubicle which he has also tiled and grouted. What a difference! I should go away more often ;-)

Tuesday, 13 May 2008


Today provided perfect conditions for a roadie outing. So I decided to head up to the Etang de Lers and decide from there whether I was going to head down to the Vicdessos Valley to Tarascon and then back up the Col de Port, or head up to the Col d'Agnes, down to Aulus and from there....? I wasn't sure. There were a few options.

The ride up to the Etang de Lers was straightforward enough but when I got there, I decided against the Vicdessos/Col de Port route, opting instead for the quieter roads of the Col d'Agnes and Aulus. I had forgotten how far it was up to the Col, a good 4kms up some pretty steep road in places but I eventually reached the high point at 1570m and was treated to magnificent views of the high mountains bordering Spain, with the descent road sinewing its way down to the valley below. The descent down to Aulus was long (nearly 10kms) but fast - I was pleased I was going in the other direction as it would be a pretty stiff ascent! The view down to Aulus was fantastic.I had to stop to photograph these amazing gentians on the way down - gentiana ligustica. They were quite the most beautiful flower I have ever seen!My legs were feeling quite tired from the 900+m of ascent I had already done, so I decided against heading up to the Col de Latrappe from Aulus. Instead, I headed back down the valley to Ercé, where I had the choice of either carrying on to Oust and taking the main road back up to Massat (longer but little ascent), or of heading back up to Cominac and the Col de Saraillé (steep initially, but ultimately a much shorter route). I decided on the latter. Fortunately, my decision to use the SIS energy powder in my drink was paying off and I still had plenty of energy, although my legs were tiring. I eventually made it home after just under 4 hrs in the saddle. On downloading the data from my Garmin, I was pleased with what I had achieved - 65kms and very nearly 1500m of ascent. It had been a good trip out.

Sunday, 11 May 2008


I got back to work on the patch of land that I started clearing with the scythe last week and found more little fruit saplings struggling for survival amongst the suffocating weeds. They can breathe a little easier now. The land around Pissou is starting to look a little bit more cared for and less 'abandoned' which gives a good feeling. The clearing has also given us access to a couple of mature cherry trees which are showing promising signs of a good harvest this year. Mmm, cherry clafoutis :-)
I have also discovered an excellent patch of comfrey that has sprung up on the land where we cleared the brambles a few weeks ago. I will be harvesting that and using it as a mulch/fertiliser on my vegetables in due course. I have read that it is also an excellent low fibre, high protein, high mineral feedstuff for livestock, which I didn't know.

There is a proliferation of thyme in various spots around Pissou and now is the best time to harvest it, just before it flowers. So this morning, I collected two big bunches that will be hung up to dry for use in the winter. I will probably harvest some rosemary too in due course. In the meantime, slug patrol takes place on a regular basis and the chilli, capsicum and aubergine plants are holding their own. I am starting to feel a little more optimistic about the prospect of some veggie success this summer!

And finally, the flower picture of the day is of these fantastic peony blooms - fab aren't they!

Saturday, 10 May 2008

A spot of DIY

It has been a while since we cracked on with any DIY and there are quite a number of 'jobs pending', so yesterday Andy bravely got back on with his favourite job in the whole world (you may detect a note of sarcasm there) which is plaster skimming. Two thirds of the attic ceiling still needs to be skimmed before I can paint and the upper sections also require scrimming before they can be plaster skimmed. The plaster mix was worse than last time, if the language was anything to go by, but we don't have an alternative product to use at the moment, so the dog and I donned earplugs and did the 'tra la la la laaaaa, I can't hear you!' routine until the worst was over (I may be exaggerating a bit there, but you get the gist)! I, in the meantime, got on with fitting the mosquito/fly netting to the wooden frames that Andy made yesterday which means we can now have the windows open without the house being inundated with flies which was a major problem last year. So, progress is being made.

I also had a nice meander with the pooch this afternoon, photographing the wild flowers which I am now identifying. It is a beautiful time of year here, with the verges, lanes and woodland rich with spring flowers - the military orchid, cuckoo flower, pink campion, greater stichwort, buttercups, various vetches and violas are producing a colourful display! I rather like this very simple picture of a campion against our old barn wall;

Wednesday, 7 May 2008


Pat is back from her UK trip so I joined her and her American friend Julie (who runs cycling holidays in France, Spain and Italy) on a shortish roadie outing down to the Seix roundabout, along to Oust then up to Cominac and the Col de Saraillé. Julie and I had to pose for a photo in the lush green landscape!
From Saraillé it was a lovely fast run back down to Massat and then the climb back up the Col de Port road to Pissou. All in all, 49kms with 680m of ascent in 2 hrs 18 mins. Good to get the legs spinning again after 2 weeks out of the saddle.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008


Over the past few weeks, the vegetation has come on in leaps and bounds around Pissou. The downside is that it is very easy for the land around us to ressemble a jungle, as most of it has not been touched or maintained in many years. One particular bug bear of mine is the land between the approach lane to Pissou and the terrasse area behind the house (below the washing line). It is quite a big area that is currently a foot deep in nettles and other weeds. Andy reckons a ride-on mower would be just the jobby, but I decided to tackle it the traditional way with the scythe, as I was also in need of a bit of physical workout. It was warm work but the scythe was very efficient at cutting through the long growth. It was immensely rewarding work and I made good progress, although there is still a section to work on at the bottom of the patch. That can wait for another day.
While I was scything, Andy got out the Brucey Lucey (strimmer) and tidied up the edges around the house which all looks much tidier and cared for :-)

Oh, and I thought this viola in front of the barn was rather pretty!

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Fete d'anniversaire

Today is Ian's birthday. To celebrate he held a beef-a-thon barbecue in the little hillside community where he and Nina live, not far from St Girons. It was also a celebration of the fact they have just signed the 'compromis de vente' purchase agreement for a barn further up the hillside that they will gradually be transforming into their home over the coming months.

It was a lovely convivial afternoon in fine weather with a mixture of Ian and Nina's English friends and the French residents of the houses in the community all contributing (vast quantities of!) meat for the barbecue, various salads, some delicious desserts and of course the obligatory overdose of wine although Andy and I were not partaking of the poison as we are on our fitness training regime, more's the pity!

This evening the skies are heavy with thundery clouds and the sunny weather looks like it has left us for the foreseeable future.

Saturday, 3 May 2008


3rd May. 26 degrees in the shade, 30+ in the sun. Mmm, toasty. Bought some well-established capsicum plants and a couple of courgette and basil plants from St G market today which are now planted out in good soil in a sunny situation. Let's see if I am able to keep them alive !

Friday, 2 May 2008


Lovely day today so we met up with Lee, Ian and Nina at Auzat for some climbing action on the granite. I think we had all expected it to be a bit busy, as this weekend is a long holiday weekend in France. But to our surprise, the lower grade routes were pretty much deserted and there were only a handful of other parties in sight. Very different to the Peak District crags where it would be heaving and you would have to wait patiently to get a route done!

Having never climbed on granite before, I wasn't sure what the friction would be like, but to my delight it was excellent. We shimmied up a 4c, then a two pitch 4c which was fun and then finally I seconded Andy and Lee up a 5c which was even more fun, with some lovely moves and positive rock. Too soon, it was time to head home. I am already looking forward to next time, when I will hopefully push myself a bit more on lead.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Ground prep

Well, the plan was to go down to Auzat for a bit of climbing action on the granite today, but my legs are well and truely complaining after my enthusiastic running descent down steep terrain on Tuesday. So instead, I decided to tackle a stretch of ground below the washing line that has obviously been used as some kind of border in the past. It's a prime, sunny spot for some veg so I set to work with the fork and spade to lift clods of grass, weeds and nettles while Andy tackled the grass out the back in an effort to make our surroundings look a little more cared for and less neglected. Sure enough, the soil in the border seems to be good quality and there are plenty of worms in there, which bodes well for veggies. I will have to see what I can pick up from St G market at the weekend.
Hopefully my legs will have improved by tomorrow and we can get out on some rock, as the forecast is excellent.