Monday, 30 June 2008

Port d'Aula

... well, nearly! The weather today has been overcast and cooler, although still very humid. A stretch of the legs was in order. So we retraced the steps that we had taken on the skis from the Granges de Lasserre along a rough track up in the direction of Port d'Aula. We made much faster albeit much sweatier progress on foot than we did on skis and quickly reached the Col de Pause. The clouds swirled in and swirled out. Would the weather hold? We reached the Etang d'Areau... ...and heard the ominous rumble of thunder ahead of us over the higher hills. Hmm. After a quick butty break, we pressed on and reached a high point of around 2000m (a distance of just under 9kms from our starting point and 800m of ascent) which afforded great views of the peaks just along the chain from Mont Valier. But the storm was just about on top of us, so we took the prudent decision not to press on for Port d'Aula (another 3-4kms and 200m of ascent) and instead turned tail and began the run back down. We followed the GR as much as possible which involved sections lower down through long, wet seeded grass which coated my legs with seeds. When we arrived back at the car my legs were showing signs of a severe allergic reaction to the grass seeds, erupting in a red itchy and very unsightly rash. A visit to the pharmacy in Seix provided me with some strong antihistamines. Those, combined with a warm shower followed by a hydrocortisone cream application soon calmed my legs down. But it's something to watch out for and be aware of for future outings!

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Yummy yum

Today, with the aid of a strategically placed ladder, we collected over 3kgs of big juicy cherries from the tree that is just below the washing line. They are far bigger than the ones that are up the chemin, so I made some cherry jam with them. Mmm.... We are planning another haul next week and have a recipe for cherry chutney which I think I will try, as it sounds luscious!

Of the tray of lemons that I bought from St G yesterday, over half have now been jarred and will have transformed themselves into delicious preserved lemons in a month's time! My goodness, it is worth the wait. We first made them over 2 yrs ago following our trip to Morocco and 2 jars lasted us 18 months - they are a delicious addition to all manner of stews and Middle Eastern/North African dishes. The other half tray of lemons will be used in an elderflower cordial recipe next week.

Strimming and weeding have otherwise been the order of the day today - the courgette plants are finally taking off and the chilli plants are also looking a lot healthier, thanks to the recent warmth.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Bugs n stuff

St G market this morning - the number of English voices that I hear down there is on the increase. How many are 'vacanciers' just visiting and how many are 'résidents' is anybody's guess.

This afternoon, we intended to explore the GR de Pays du Tour des Trois Seigneurs which heads off from Liers (just around the hill from Pissou) and meanders its way in the direction of the Pic des Trois Seigneurs, taking in the Col de Goulur at 1529m. The first 500m or so was lovely running on good footpath but then the ascent started. It was incredibly humid in the woodland and of course the insects had a feast as we passed through, dripping! We eventually emerged from the woodland to nice views back down the valley towards Echerboul and Pissou just round the corner. But the terrain deteriorated and started to resemble the jungles of Borneo rather than the Pyrenees! The GR has obviously not had much traffic yet and the brambles, nettles and other weeds have had the chance to proliferate. There was no pleasure to be had in continuing. We had done 400m of ascent over a 9km return route and enjoyed a good run back down to Liers. The pooch posed for a piccy en route.

Friday, 27 June 2008

Oh what a lovely bunch of...

.... cherries! There are some enormous cherry trees up the chemin from Pissou which we raided today;
The paler variety are a lot sweeter than the darker ones. They are wild, so are not exactly the biggest fruit in the world. But a pound of them is currently sitting in a jar along with a bottle of vodka which should be tasty in 8 months time! Some more cherries will be made into a cake or a dessert tomorrow when I have been shopping for other ingredients. The alpine strawberries are also providing a nice addition to the morning bowl of muesli :-)

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Plateau de Beille

For some bizarre reason, despite having had only one brief outing on the roadies in 7 weeks, we decided to ride from Les Cabannes up to the Plateau de Beille today. The route covers 15.8kms and climbs 1255m, making an average gradient of 7.9%. The profile of the climb is like this (click on the image to enlarge it);Uggh and ouch. Was this a good idea on a day when the temperature was up to 30 degrees?! Hmm. Aw, sod it, let's go for it, we could always turn round if the going got too tough. After 4kms, Andy was struggling in the heat and was just about out of water. It looked like that was the end of his ride. I ploughed on. A passing van gave me the boost that I needed when it slowed down and the lass shouted 'Allez, allez, bravo!' Fortunately, the clouds came over which took some of the heat out of the ascent. However, as I approached the final 3 kms I could see a storm approaching from the mountains. I could not afford to get caught out. I covered the final section at a good pace. I had reached the top in 2 hrs. I was well chuffed! This was my first 'Hors categorie' climb! I didn't dawdle at the top. I quickly turned tail and legged it back down the hill. To my surprise, 1km from the top I came across Andy who had been revitalised sufficiently by a passing van that had donated some water to be able to continue the climb! He swigged the remains of my water and then carried on to finish the climb. The descent took 30 mins and we made it back to the car before the storm caught up with us. It had been a cracking ride up a climb that I had built up in my mind as being a real beast. Easy it isn't. Do-able it most certainly is! Yay!

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Just pootling

The idea had been to get out on the roadies today, but with storms forecast to roll in at around lunchtime we decided it would be a better idea to take the car down to the garage in the village to have its breaks inspected, as they have been making a worryingly load grinding noise since before the weekend. Jean-François duly confirmed that yes, the pads are indeed, er, a tad worn but fortunately are not yet impacting on the discs. So pads ordered and car off the road. Apart from that, today I have scythed the top chemin which leads from Pissou to the road. It had waist-high grass in places, making a 'round the block' circuit with the pooch a rather less than pleasant experience, especially after rain. Job well done.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Hotting up

Was 30 degrees in the shade at 2pm this afternoon. Claudine's thermometer on the front of her house read over 40 deg C an hour later as the sun caught it. Even our mate, the European green lizard was looking for some shade in our porch....!So of course I decided to work up a sweat in the attic painting the chimney breast wall while Andy constructed the shelving units for the airing cupboard in the bathroom. I now have somewhere to store my sheets and towels, duvets and pillowcases - yay! From this....
to this. All in all, a much better use of space than the previous set up. Photos of the attic to follow once I have done the second coat, but it is certainly starting to look lush up there!

Sunday, 22 June 2008

A meander above Soulcem

Hot again today. Time for an outing. The area further on from the Vicdessos Valley and Auzat is an area that we have not yet explored, which is bizarre seeing as it is an area of great interest for the outdoors person.... it has two 3000m peaks (Pic d'Estats and Montcalm) and is also home to the peaks which border Andorra on one side of the Etang de Soulcem and those that border Spain on the other! But today, we had modest aspirations with a nice circuit planned first up to the Etangs de Gardelle (2400m) then on to the Etang de Rouzamet followed by the Etang de la Soucaranne before returning to the Orris de Carla at the head of the Etang de Soulcem.

As soon as we left the car, we were hit by a steep ascent which pretty much followed the line of the torrent that you can see here, starting from left of the photo...The view back down to the Etang was impressiveAs we progressed, we could see the Pointe de Razamet looming above what we assumed were the Etangs that we were aiming for. It is a fantastically wild landscape up there! However, as we reached 2200m where the route branched off up the hillside to our left, it became apparent that our progress was about to be quite rudely curtailed due to the snow that remained on the ground. We had set out equipped with our running gear and had rather naively not imagined that enough snow would remain to cause us a problem. But we were wrong as this NW facing slope shows
We had no option but to retrace our steps and start the steep descent back down to the Etang and the car. But we had climbed 640m over a distance of just 3 kms so it had been worthwhile. It will be good to make a return visit in August/September when the snows have fully melted and hopefully we will be able to ascend to the Etangs de Gardelle which look like they will be worth the trip;

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Ladies and gentlemen and casual onlookers...

...may I present to you..... yes, at last, the finished bathroom! From this...
to this...From this...
There are still a few details that need attention, but it has already been a fantastic transformation. Then it only remains for me to paint the attic chimney breast wall (photos coming soon!) and this bout of renovation work will be at an end. With the major work completed and the return of more seasonal weather (albeit a tad 'warm' today with temps of 30 degrees C in the shade) we can now start spending more time outside getting some fitness back and enjoying our environment again. The autumn will no doubt see us tackling the stairs (new treads are required), stripping the attic floor and maybe even starting on the ground floor renovations.... but that is too big a job to contemplate at this moment in time. A un autre jour.....

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Yay! Woo-hoo! Yee-haa!

Finally, finally, the lows have moved on and high pressure zones dominate the area. Yee-bloody-haa! Today has mostly (OK, mainly!) been clear blue skies, sun and warmth - God how I have missed the sun. I celebrated (?!) by taking the roadie for a quick spin. My legs quickly made it known that they did not appreciate being back on the bike after a break of over 5 weeks - it was hard work. I only did 48kms - Pissou/Massat/Col de Saraillé/Oust/back up the D618 to Massat/Pissou, but it was more tiring than it should have been. Still, it got the legs working again, I was out in the sun and that is all that matters. Next time it will be easier.

Plans for the coming week are to bag a 3000m peak or two - Andy is off to Iran on 12 July and some ascent/aerobic activity will stand him in good stead for the trip. Looking forward to exploring some of the higher hills up the Soulcem Valley which border Andorra - plenty to go at, that's for sure!

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

The end is nigh

This was the view from the Col de Peguere looking down to Massat this afternoon, just before the pooch and I got drenched in a torrential downpour...heavy, dark, rain-laden skiesBut tomorrow, we are promised, it will be a very different story - clear skies and temps in the low 20s. After weeks of cold and wet we are crying out for some warmth... please mr weatherman, don't let us down?!

Monday, 16 June 2008

neeeaaaarly there ..... no really!

Attic - just awaiting delivery of my fab new colour for the chimney breast wall which will hopefully be this week, got the door to clean up and stain/varnish, a section of wood on the doorframe above the door to clean up and stain, little window to clean up and wood lintel to stain and then it's about done! Apart from the floorboards of course, which are looking increasingly tatty and horrible as the rest of the room is looking cleaner and brighter! Must hire that sander.

Bathroom - tiles now up around the loo and waste pipe boxed in and tiled. Much better :-) Still grouting to be done and skimming of ceiling/cabinet walls and then sizing and painting. Good weather is rumoured to be just around the corner.... can we complete the works in time?!

Took the pooch for a walk (me)/run (him) along the route forestière off the Peguère road this afternoon and was surrounded by cloud for most of the way (1000m). You boys will be pleased to hear he has completely recovered from his ballectomy last week and is behaving as if nothing has happened!! Wonder whether his energy levels will drop in due course .... hmm, I doubt it somehow.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Wot, no rain?

First day for what seems like ages that it hasn't rained! We took the opportunity to pop down the road to Seix where they were holding their 'transhumance' today. The sturdy, fine Merens horses were on the move up to higher pastures....and the cattle and 'brebis' (sheep) were in holding pens ready to move on. We also saw a group of youngsters in a procession, wearing sheepskin jacket type things, walking on stilts... but I wasn't able to catch what they represented... something to do with sheep probably ;-) The sun made a brief appearance and made us realise just how hot it will be once the clouds move on... word on the street is that Wednesday will be THE day! Oh, we so hope they are right! This cold, wet, foul weather seems to have been going on forever. The vegetables have given up due to lack of warmth. The ground is saturated everywhere. But the ducks are happy!

On the renovation front, the attic is so very nearly completed. I am just waiting to hear whether my English paint-selling contact has a particular colour (a lush colour!) of Crown emulsion in stock and then I can make a feature wall out of the chimney breast/window wall, which will really finish it off.... well, apart from the floor which is crying out to be sanded. A test patch revealed beautiful floorboards beneath the white gloss paint - it's a travesty, I tell you, a travesty! Today, I cleaned up the doorframe which we constructed from timber recovered from the barn. It became apparent that the dark brown staining was in fact cow poo, which a good scrubbing has removed to reveal a gorgeous oak wood! The cross beams are now painted, the chimney wall sized, the small window ledge stained.... nearly there!

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Doggy no balls :-(

.... poor pooch..... very very sore... too uncomfortable to lie down... and it's raining..... again.... even more so...bummer

Tuesday, 10 June 2008


Tomorrow is C-Day. We haven't yet broken the news to Taff, but by tomorrow afternoon (cross your legs boys!) he will be minus 2 balls :-( It has to be done. He has been absolutely unbearable over the past 5 days. His hormones have gone into overdrive with Josette's bitch being on heat. From 06.00 he whines to be let out. No amount of firm words from us makes a blind bit of difference which is totally against his normal character. We are knackered. He can't be happy. He is a pent up bag of doggy testosterone. We don't want him wandering off to God knows where next time he senses a bitch on heat. It's too much of a risk to take. So he has to be 'done'. Josette and Eric are mortified. They feel it is 'their fault' which of course it isn't. Hey, that's animal life.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Ploughing on

I went rampant with the chestnut wood stain today and it has brought the big old beams up to a wonderful, rich lustre. I am particularly pleased with how the central beam in the attic has come up, as it was in quite a state before, with paint residue, old plaster, filler and expanding foam remnants tainting its beauty. I also covered the beam on the 1st floor landing and the bedroom doorframe which now look lush against the clean white walls. I was finally able to clean the attic up a bit this afternoon and return the bed to its rightful position. Shame about the floor but that is a major job for another day.The attic window has been bugging me for some while as it really lets the room down, so Andy dug out the old rotten wood and removed the old mortar from the window ledge before renewing the mortar and laying two pieces of recovered timber from the barn which have been stained with the chestnut woodstain. The side walls will eventually be skimmed smooth and the window panes cleaned up which just leaves the woodwork above the window to be treated, as it is affected by the capricorn beetle and is in need of some TLC.
The last remaining job in the attic will be the chimney breast which shows signs of seepage and staining from the chimney and previous water leaks. We will create a wooden frame and then erect plasterboard which will provide a much neater finish. Onwards, troops, onwards!

Saturday, 7 June 2008

It's official....

... we suspected it, but it's confirmed. I wandered up to Josette and Eric's this morning after the dog woke me up with at 07.00, whining to be let out, and didn't return. Sure enough, her bitch is on heat and he has been shagging. Not that she seems too concerned about it! "J'essaie de les surveiller, mais...." (I try to keep an eye on them but...). The truth is, she is rather taken with Taff and I think would quite like her 8 yr old border collie bitch to have puppies by him. Josette reckons she is going to get her speyed, but I won't believe that until it happens! So Taff has been housebound this afternoon, apart from a brisk jaunt up the Zig Zags from the Col de Port and back down which is about the only exercise I have had for the last 10 days (just call me 'lard-lass'!)

On the house-front, progress is as follows;
- Attic now fully painted and looking fab
- Plasterboard now up on the inside and outside of the bathroom cabinet
- Insulation now up in bathroom ceiling
- Plasterboard now up on bathroom ceiling
- Plasterboard and insulation now up on the 1st floor landing ceiling

Good progress for sure... the end of this blitz of renovation is in sight, thank goodness. Still no sign of good weather though.

Friday, 6 June 2008


Since the shenanigans with the pooch two days ago, he has regularly disappeared for anything up to 6 hours during the day. Twice now, I have driven up the hill to Josette and Eric's and found him romping with their bitch, without a care in the world! Unfortunately, they were not around on either occasion for me to ask whether she is on heat or not. Either way, it is becoming blindingly obvious that Taff prefers the company of her up the hill to the company at Pissou. Maybe we should offer him up for adoption?!I gest not!

But on to other matters .... plasterboard. Our delivery arrived today so Andy spent the afternoon putting sections up in the bathroom whilst I cracked on with the attic, sealing and then painting the upper sections and cleaning up the really quite beautiful woodwork. I should finish the job tomorrow. It is going to be a fantastic room by the time it is done, although we have still got the onerous task of sanding the floorboards to come. Hmm, that will be fun.... not. On the bathroom front, plasterboard jointing and skimming to do, ceiling and insulation to put up, tiling around the loo to do. Nearly there! Hopefully the completion of these works will coincide with an improvement in the weather and we can finally get out and get some exercise.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

A night on the tiles

Typical teenager, heads out at 8pm, you try to get hold of him an hour later but no response, it gets to 11.30pm and you decide 'right, sod him, I'm locking the door'. You expect to be awoken at some point during the night by pleas to be let back in to the dry and warm... but no. Your neighbour opens the door to let out her dog at 07.00 and a very wet creature is on her doorstep, obviously been up all night, God knows where. When you open your own front door, he slinks back indoors sheepishly and with not a word. It's the first time he has done such a thing and it will no doubt not be the last! Fortunately, we live away from any traffic and with only a few houses within striking distance he could not come to much harm on his wanders. But still, as a concerned parent, you can't help but worry and fret about the little blighter. Dogs, who'd have 'em.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Plaster and progress

The wet weather continues and with it the plastering frenzy at Pissou, with a determination to complete the works upstairs so that we have a place to base ourselves when we start ripping the downstairs to pieces! The lower half of the attic wall beneath the beams and the new attic doorway are now fully plastered, painted and finished off. This is what it was like before we moved in.... ... work in progress...
... to where we are now.The upper sections above the beams have now been scrimmed and will hopefully be skimmed tomorrow and then sealed and painted by the weekend. We now just need to hire a sander to strip back the attic floor to its natural wood and that room will be finished. The stairwell walls leading up to the attic are now fully plastered, 2 sections have had the top coat of paint, 2 sections are awaiting sealing and then painting. The walls surrounding the bedroom and bathroom doorways have been finished off and finally painted. The side wall leading down to the ground floor has also been plastered to a much better surface finish and is ready for painting. Just waiting for the plasterboard delivery on Friday and then we can finish off the bathroom :-)

Sunday, 1 June 2008

On the move

Well, we signed for Pissou a year ago yesterday. The year has gone so quickly. I remember, when we arrived last year, seeing signs up in Massat for the 'Transhumances' and wondering what on earth that was all about. I soon learned that it refers to the local tradition of moving the livestock back up to the summer pastures, known as 'estives'. It is a real celebration here, with the herds of cattle, sheep and Merens horses being accompanied by members of the public (fully equipped hiking ramblers for the most part!) on the trek back up to the high mountain pastures where they will remain until the autumn. The event is followed by a 'fête' in the local community with food and dancing. All this explains why Massat was heaving when I drove through en route to St G market yesterday! I learnt also that our local 'berger' Gérard and his 5 dogs have left for the high pastures with his flock of sheep and will spend the summer down towards Andorra and the Spanish border.

Back home, Andy had been getting on with more plaster skimming in various locations which can now be sized and hopefully painted by the end of the day. The door frame surrounds are also ready for finishing so a busy day ahead.

Yesterday evening, our neighbours up the road, Josette and Eric (of goat fame) invited us to the 'inauguration' of their gite which they have at last completed. I headed up with Claudine and met more of our neighbours and had a good chat with others that I have only really spoken to superficially before now, which proved very interesting and worthwhile. It was an excellent 'soirée conviviale' with some scrummy patisserie provided by Gil, the boulanger.