Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Flirting with Spain

Well, we have beeen here for a year now and would you believe that I have not yet set foot in Spain, despite it being 'just over there'?! That changed today. Lee fancied a scramble along a possible unclimbed ridge line up to the Point de Rabasserre which just happens to be bang on the border. Excellent! And what's more, the high point is 2568m - higher than I have been before. Purfik!

We set off early as hot weather was forecast again. The first glimpse of the ridge line was exciting but daunting at the same time. I have never done a scramble out here before, I am not particularly good with 'exposure' and this was an unknown/ungraded route. Still, we were prepared. The first section was a clamber through bilberry bushes and spikey grass but a little over an hour after leaving the car we reached the start of the scramble proper, roped up and got on our way. The first half of the route, moving together, we found our way through the jumble of rocks with Lee leading on ahead....... placing protection at thankfully regular intervals which gave me the reassurance I needed. We were in a spectacular setting... and the weather was perfect with a nice breeze blowing from the West. We made good time and soon reached the end of the section which required us to be roped up and could see the high point of Rabaserre ahead of usBeyond lay Spain! After 4 1/2 hrs we reached the peak and the Spanish vista lay before usLooking back down the way we had come, we could see the small tarn from where we had started the ascent along with great views back down to the Ustou Valley beyond. We pressed on down scrappy terrain and then up to Pic de Turguilla at 2527m which afforded us a fantastic view back along the ridge that we had just coveredFrom Pic de Turguilla, we started the descent down towards the Etang de Reglisse and the Cabane de Turguilla where we found a welcome supply of cold fresh mountain water. Time for a butty stop.From there, we made good time back to the car. I was tired and hot. We had been out for 7 1/2 hrs and the route had included over 1000m of ascent. But it had been a grand day out!

Monday, 28 July 2008

Col de la Crouzette/Col de Portel - ouch!

I was out on the roadie by 09.30 this morning as the forecast was for very hot temperatures again later in the day. Kev joined me for an assault on this year's Tour de France route from Riverenert just outside St Girons up to the Col de la Crouzette and then on to the Col de Portel before commencing a leisurely descent to the Col de Peguere and back down to Pissou. The Col de Crouzette, like the Col d'Agnès from Aulus, has a reputation for being 'ard and certainly the profile was quite intimidating, with the last 3 kms being particularly unpleasant;Still, I had done the Plateau de Beille and Col d'Agnes, so I was up for it! I enjoyed the ride down to St G from Massat, drafting in Kev's slipstream which saved my legs somewhat. The undulating ride to Riverenert was also very pleasant at a gradient of 2-3%, but then the hard work started. It was hotting up and I am not talking just about the air temperature! It was a slog, that's for sure and I was grateful for the sporadic shade cast by the trees and woodland on the way up. A couple of times I really thought I would have to stop, but I knew that if I did that it would be hard to get going again. So I just kept the pedals turning and eventually, an hour and 10 mins after leaving Riverenert, we reached the Col de la CrouzetteI was tired and my water reserves were seriously depleted. But the view was worth the climb.There followed another 3kms of ave 7% gradient to reach the Col de Portel from where we had watched the TDF 2 weeks ago. Thankfully, it was all downhill from there.... I was finished, done in, hot, tired and very sweaty! I was relieved to get back to Pissou after 3 hrs in the saddle and just under 60kms and 1010m of ascent. But I was happy to have 'ticked' another classic hard Col that is on our doorstep :-)

On a brighter note, here is a piccy of a rose bud in front of the house - beautiful, isn't it!

Sunday, 27 July 2008

A little bit of this, a little bit of that....

Over the past few days, I have been trying to get caught up on all kinds of silly little jobs that have been bugging me for ages .... like painting the bathroom cabinet door, turning the mattress on the bed, washing the settee and armchair covers, catching up on paperwork, sorting stuff in the barn, starting to collect wood ready for chainsawing (a big session is due when Andy gets back) has been a productive time. Tomorrow, a bike ride with Kev and hopefully Pat if she has recovered sufficiently from her cold.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008


Lovely hot day again today. Lee invited me to join himself and 2 friends (Yaron and Dave) who are currently over for a visit plus a friend of Justin and Emily's, Will, for a climbing session at Auzat which is a great spot when it is hot, as you belay from the shade of the trees ..... cooool! Unfortunately, Dave was not climbing due to some rather nasty blisters that he acquired after an outing with Lee on Monday! So I seconded Will up a couple of 5cs, 5c+, a 6a but left him to it on a 6b which looked like hell! Nice to be back on the rock although my Sesamoiditis became rather painful after too short a while. Don't really know what can be done about that when it comes to climbing unfortunately! Ow!

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Oh yes!

Andy headed off to the Alps yesterday to meet up with a couple of mates for some cycling and alpine mountaineering action. Tomorrow he will be cycling up the legendary Alpes d'Huez just before The Tour professioneels ride up there to show them how it should be done. Jealous? Moi? To cheer me up, Pat had the fine idea of tackling the Col d'Agnes from the Aulus side... many people have spoken of the ascent in hushed tones, in a similar way to whispers of the ascent up to the Plateau de Beille. But Plateau de Beille is a HC climb whereas Col d'Agnes from Aulus is a mere Categorie 1 but admittedly with some steep, sustained riding;We set off in decent time before the real heat of the day kicked in. Massat, up to the Col de Saraillé, down to Ercé and a nice ride along to Aulus where, with the pending challenge in mind, we stopped for some fortifying cake and coffee. Then we hit the road. I was apprehensive.Steady steady. Granny gear. Just keep the legs turning. The kilometer markers kept coming. I even managed to take a couple of piccys on the 'not so steep' sections! Fantastic views on this ride.
And then there we were. 1 hr 18 mins after leaving Aulus, we had gained 826m over 10.2kms and arrived at the Col d'Agnes. Woo-hoo! I was quite pleased!We then had a fast descent back to the Etang de Lers and from there to Massat - I hit 60 kmh which is a record! The hill back up from Massat was tedious and I was tired when I made it back to Pissou. The ride had taken 3 1/2 hrs and we had covered 65.5kms in total with over 1000m of height gain. Not bad for a morning's work.

Sunday, 20 July 2008


We were treated to an amazing lightning display during the night and a good old storm which did an excellent job of dispelling much of yesterday's heat. Today has been overcast and much cooler (mid teens) so I took the opportunity of doing the Peguere route forestiere circuit with the pooch.... which was nice, albeit up in the cloud for the majority of the run!

Saturday, 19 July 2008


20.30 hrs and it's still showing 29 deg C - it's not forecast to last of course, but at least the veggies are getting some much needed warmth while it does. We've been enjoying the lettuces and herbs but are still waiting for the courgettes, capsicum and chillis do their thang!

Friday, 18 July 2008

Stretching the legs

Yesterday was dismal weather. Today held greater promise. I was hankering after a roadie outing. Pat wasn't playing. Andy was unconvinced ... until I eventually convinced him, that is. The weather was ideal, low 20s, sunny. It was after lunch before we headed out, down the D618 to the Seix roundabout, along to Oust and then up towards Cominac and the Col de Saraillé and back down to Massat. Not a long outing (only 50kms) or a steep one (600m of ascent) but a nice stretch of the legs all the same.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Le Tour

The Tour de France was on our doorstep today, stage 11, Lannemezan to Foix via the Col de Portel. Pat, Kev, Andy and I walked across country from the back of their house up to the Col de Portel from where we had a vantage point just above the summit banner. Our picnic included the obligatory 'coup de vin' which, along with the strengthening sun, was enough to send Kev a) giddy and then b) comotose....
The spread out 'caravane' passed through and we managed to grab a few hats/haribou/misc other tat and then a hush started to fall as we heard the hum of the helicopters which were following the riders. Word was out that a lone Frenchman had made a break. It was Moinard of Cofidis. Sure enough he came over the line... ..2 mins ahead of the chasing pack of 13 who were in turn 15 mins ahead of the main peloton which eventually 'trundled' over the line!
So that was fun! Time to head home! Our path home was picturesque, with the Col de Port in one direction...and Massat in the other...It's not a bad part of the world really, is it ;-)

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Disturbing the peace

Early yesterday morning, we were disturbed by voices down at the house just below Pissou. "Bloody holidaymakers...", I thought, " doubt here for the holiday weekend" (it is the quatorze juillet tomorrow). We were disturbed again at 11.30pm last night as they returned from an evening out somewhere.... loud voices, hilarity, that sort of thing. How dare they disturb our peace and quiet! But seriously, it is easy to get lost in your own little world here and to resent others who may intrude into it, regardless of their right to do so. It is unavoidable really. However, it turned out to be the owner of the house who we have not seen since we arrived at Pissou over a year ago! He is here with his 2nd wife, 2 daughters and a boyfriend of one of them. Anyway, I had a very interesting chat with Monsieur today. He has owned the house for many many years and knew Jean Benazet and his wife Elisabeth when they lived here. He has promised to email me some photos that he took of them in front of the house. Turns out also that the abandoned, derelict house just above ours used to be a school for the local commune in days gone by! Fascinating stuff. During our chat, Monsieur also agreed to us felling the large fir tree that occupies a prominent position in his garden and which obscures the view of the mountains from our terrasse - great news! That will be a job for the coming winter.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Bikey bikey.... ish

Lovely, warm day today. Hilary and Paul were having a rest day today prior to their drive up to the Alps this afternoon and their continuation of the TDF mountain stages tomorrow. Ed (their support driver) and Richard however fancied a ride out this morning. So they left Foix early to ride up to the Col des Marrous and then on to Peguere. I met them on their descent from Peguere at Caougnous and then rode with them up to the Col de Port, down to Tarascon and back to Foix with the intention of then doing the Foix to Peguere leg and back to Pissou alone. We met Hilary and Paul in Foix for a quick coke then I got on my way. However, it soon became apparent that my legs have not fully recovered from the Saunders at the weekend. The route from Foix to Peguere isn't particularly steep but I just had nothing in my legs. Rather than exhaust myself completely, I made the sensible decision at the Col des Marrous to call the rescue service (Andy) who interrupted his strimming to collect me! I had covered 63kms and 1130m of ascent which wasn't bad going really all things considered. But a few days proper recovery may well now be a good idea.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Wild things

Our neighbour from up the hill, Josette, passed by this afternoon with a basket full of chanterelles mushrooms that she had collected from the woodland opposite. She was kind enough to give us a couple of handfuls, from which we made a delicious evening meal of chicken with tarragon and chanterelle mushrooms. Scrummy!

One of our other neighbours from up the hill has confirmed that we do indeed have sangliers (wild boar) on our doorstep which are no doubt responsible for digging up the ground behind the house around the washing line. He also commented on the deer that we have seen both in the orchard behind Pissou and also in the woodland opposite - apparently such wildlife has only made a reappearance in the past couple of years, which is fantastic. Venison and wild boar on our doorstep ... who would have thought it!

This afternoon, I met my mate from Hathersage, Hilary, and her posse who are cycling the 6 mountain stages that are included in this year's Tour de France. I met Hilary, Sarah and Paul up at the Col de Peguere for a refuelling stop after their ascent of the Col de Portel from St Girons. Tomorrow is their rest day down in Foix before they head up to the Alps, but I am looking forward to a cycle out tomorrow with their support driver, Ed, and also Richard who has done 2 stages with them. The Tour is down here in exactly a week's time and we will be heading up to Peguere to watch them fly through!

Monday, 7 July 2008


It's been an exhausting weekend, which started at 07.00 Friday morning and an early flight back to the UK. Friday can be summarised in just a few words.... traffic, traffic, people, hassle, traffic. Horrible. We eventually arrived at the Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon base centre at St John's in the Vale at around 9pm. We were already knackered and we had a demanding weekend ahead of us. The weather forecast was not good, but we were prepared and physically I was well up for the challenge. Up early Saturday morning to do final kit checks. Our packs which contained tent for the overnight camp, sleeping bags, balloon beds, stove, gas, overnight and morning food, hill/energy food, change of clothes and miscellaneous other mandatory bits n pieces had weighed in at just under 5kgs each! We've got this mountain marathon malarky down to a fine art, so we have!

Our start time was 09.18 on Saturday. It was clear that, whatever the class entered, the first leg was straight up a hill.... a steep hill! That got the blood pumping! The checkpoints on day 1 were all relatively straightforward, but the terrain was often rough and marshy and the weather turned decidedly nasty as we progressed over the Dodds - thank goodness for our new, rather expensive Haglofs Oz jackets that we had bought off the Blands' van before the start :-) Perfect for exertion in wet conditions! We made the most of the spell of good running on some well worn footpaths as we progressed to our next checkpoint but I struggled to stay upright in places as I was buffeted by 60mph gusts. However, I was fuelling well and feeling strong. Andy did the majority of the navigation and although both the weather and the visibility deteriorated as we covered the final couple of checkpoints, we arrived at our picturesque overnight camp at Dowthwaite Head, West of Dockray after 5 hrs and 3 mins. We had covered approx. 20kms, much of which was across country on rough terrain and which included approx 1300m of ascent. We had come in 35th out of 101 finishers. I was happy with that. But I was wet, somewhat bedraggled and pretty tired.Our dinky tent was quickly assembled...... wet clothes were removed and we got some homemade pot noodle inside us before the first storm hit. Throughout the night we were subjected to sporadic downpours and a fair degree of buffeting, but the tent held up well and we managed to get a bit of sleep in our exhausted state, despite the somewhat cramped conditions.

Day 2 and we were awake at 06.00 hrs. It was still wet, so I chose to don full waterproofs.... possibly a mistake as I soon found myself overheating as I was working hard. First checkpoint, yes, surprise surprise, straight up that hill (the little black specks that you can see if you click on the photo are people descending down to camp - gives some idea of scale)!The ground was saturated, muddy and boggy. It felt like hard going right from the off. The long 8.5km stretch from the 1st checkpoint to the 2nd seemed to take forever and then we were faced with a very very steep climb up a hillside to gain a ridge and path - by steep, I mean that many people were on all fours, pulling on tufts of grass to help them gain ascent! Tough. But we made it. We eventually gained the penultimate checkpoint but unfortunately from there we made a navigational error which resulted in us missing the final checkpoint. Gutted. Our race was over. We were exhausted. But we had had a cracking race up until then - we had been led into some of the wilder parts of the Lake District that I had never visited before and I had felt stronger and fitter than ever before. It had been very worthwhile and I think we both actually really enjoyed the event despite not actually completing it.

We stayed with Jackie and Steve near Tamworth overnight and were up at 05.00 hrs this morning for an early flight back. It's good to be home. Peace and quiet at last. Now, what's the next challenge.....??

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Back to Blighty

We are heading back to the UK tomorrow in order to participate in the Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon at the weekend, which this year is based in St John's in the Vale near Keswick. And guess what, a low pressure system is moving in tomorrow which promises to provide, cold, wet and windy conditions for the weekend - great!

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

More flowers

Three flowers that we found up on the route to the Port d'Aula....this is some kind of orchid..
and a member of the aster/daisy family?
and the lesser butterfly orchid (platanthera bifolia)..