Thursday, 30 October 2008


There was still slushy snow on the ground here this morning. Pat and Kev plus Donna (our dog sitter)'s partner were heading out for a VTT mountain bike ride down on the relative flatlands so I was keen to join them. It ended up a muddy, sticky outing (broken by a very welcome coffee and cake stop in Laroque d'Olmes) as we headed round the Lac de Montbel, thanks to the recent rain down there.Kev took a tumble which resulted in a broken rear derailleur. He was therefore stuck with 1 gear with which to limp home. The road (once we reached it) was his only option in that state. Still, we covered around 55kms and had a good laugh so it was an excellent outing in that respect!

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Winter wonderland

The snow settled overnightIt's even prettier now that the cloud has liftedMore snow forecast over the coming few days :-)

Monday, 27 October 2008

Cap de Bouirex

The good spell of weather is due to come to an end tomorrow with 10cm of snow forecast at 1600m, so with blue sky and warm sun today I took the pooch for a romp up to the Cap de Bouirex. This is a small 'pic', visible from the house which has been taunting me for some time with its gently angled, apparently grassy approach - ideal running territory, I thought and also a good ski de rando or snowshoe outing as the lower approach is on forest tracks. It was time to investigate.

Having parked on the road that leads up to the Col de la Core (996m), I initially took the very well made 'route forestiere' before heading up the signposted footpath. The path meandered, sometimes steeply, up through the woodland before eventually reaching the pylon which stands at 1500m. The Cap de Bouirex and, down to it's left, the Col de la Core lay ahead.The pooch was tired as we had made a pretty rapid ascent but he still posed for the obligatory photo as we looked towards Mont ValierWe had a good trot up to the Rocher de Cartignos at 1680m from where we had a good perspective towards Biert, Massat and Pissou in the distance..but there, I ran out of the inclination to do the additional 200m of ascent up to the Cap de Bouirex. It didn't inspire me. I didn't feel the 'need' to bag the peak so we turned around and I had a good run (approx 8kms), first down the grassy slopes to the pylon and then down the lengthy 'route forestière' and eventually down to the car at the bottom. Not a long outing but a very pleasant one all the same. The track up to the pylon looks like it will be a nice little outing on skis de rando when the snows come. It had been good to reccy the route.

Now, will that snow arrive as forecast?

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Making hay while the sun shines

... well, not making hay exactly, but we have got gorgeous autumnal weather at the moment with clear blue skies and warm sun (although snow is forecast down to 800m on Tuesday!) so I have spent today in my T shirt and shorts forking through the potager to aerate the soil. I then dug in some well rotted manure and have this afternoon planted the garlic and shallots. The potager has been christened!! In the course of my internet research I have found some carrot seeds which can be sown in the autumn for a spring crop. I think I may have to give them a go too.

I have also cleared out the dead and dying courgette plants and dug over the soil, removing weeds in the process, in preparation for spring planting of summer courge and squash plants. In the meantime, Andy has mowed and the place is looking neat and tidy again.

Tomorrow, while the weather holds, I hope to get out on the roadie again. Pat has contacted me to advise that the Ariegeoise cyclosportive at the end of June next year which we are both keen to enter will be taking in many of our local cols (Agnès, Col de la Core, Col de Port etc), so the training regime starts now!

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Roadie time

It was early August when I last had an outing on the roadie. So when Pat suggested I join them down on the relative 'flatlands' for an excursion on the backlanes, taking in a coffee and cake stop in Mirepoix, I couldn't refuse. The weather was perfect .... clear blue skies and sunshine, although the temperature struggled to reach 10 degrees C. Ideal cycling conditions.

It was lovely to cycle the quiet country backlanes, passing through oh so French little villages with people going about their daily business. It was lovely to be able to put the pedal down for a change and push harder on the gently undulating roads, rather then grinding up the Cols that are in our immediate area. And it was lovely to have a cake break in Mirepoix which is oh so much quieter now that the tourists have gone home! We covered 70kms, I was on the bike for 2 hrs 50 mins and felt like I had had a darned good workout. A good afternoon.


Cold night last night, but we had the woodburner going yesterday evening, so the house is nice and warm this morning. There was quite a sprinkling of snow on the tops last night. Winter is approaching!I am off over to Pat's for some road biking action today, which will no doubt include a coffee n cake pitstop in Mirepoix! It's a hard life :-)

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Cider and water

Today, we bottled the 10 litres of cider that we racked off last week. We added a small amount of sugar to the brew to give it a bit of a sparkle and the initial tasting was very positive. It now needs to be left in a cool place for 4-8 weeks which means it will be ready for drinking by Christmas - but can we wait that long?!We also racked off the second 10 ltr barrel which will be ready for bottling next week. We will probably turn that into a slightly less dry cider.

So, all good on the cider front. The same cannot be said for the water. We turned the taps on at lunchtime and the flow stopped. Our 'bassin' just up the hill, from which the water to the house is drawn, was dry..... not even a trickle was coming out of the pipe that feeds into it from the 'source' somewhere up the hillside. No mains water here! I called SMDEA who are the nice people now responsible for maintaining the supply and somebody was on site within a couple of hours. Thankfully, they successfully restored the supply and water is now slowly flowing back into the tank up the hill. However, they maintain that the source of our water up on the distant hillside is running dangerously low following two poor winters in the area - the stocks are simply not being replenished. Time to set up a collection barrel to recover rainwater, methinks!

Only other event today was our first visit to a dentist in France for a check up. And what a pleasant experience it was. No work required for either of us :-)

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Chestnut Jam

The chestnuts really are too good this year! After a couple of days respite, we collected another 3 kgs of enormous fruit this afternoon. Fresh off the tree, they are amazingly easy to shell and prepare when raw with none of the brown membrane which troubles older nuts. I have now frozen 1 kg for making stuffing later in the year, have 1 kg ready for cooking in dishes later in the week and have transformed 1 kg into some totally delicious chestnut jam which I have never made before. The addition of some Armagnac at the final stage just 'lifts' the unique flavour. According to the River Cottage preserves book it makes a lovely filling for chocolate cakes, can be dolloped onto vanilla ice cream before drizzling with chocolate sauce or spooned into meringue nests and topped with cream. I can feel my waistline expanding in anticipation!

Monday, 20 October 2008

Etang de Peyregrand

The forecast today was for 20 degrees and sunny with clear blue skies. Great! Out we headed, up the Vicdessos Valley but turning off at Lamarade and up the valley to the road end at Bouychet. I had spotted a walk in one of our books which promised us 'un paysage sauvage' with the reward of an étang (tarn/lake) or two throw in. We set off up the Canyon des Escales, following the course of the river which apparently turns into a 'canyoning' playground in the springtime. The footpath was well established with reinforced wall sections in places and was probably used in days gone by as a trade route between France and Spain and maybe also by the 'Passeurs' who accompanied resistance fighters from France through to freedom in Spain during WWII - the border is only 10kms from where we parked but with an ascent of some 1500m. Underfoot it was rocky and uneven and probably very tricky in wet or snowy conditions.

After 1 hour and 500m of ascent, the canyon walls retreated and space opened out in front of us as we reached Jesse de Brouquenat d'en bas. Taff very kindly agreed to pose on a 'passerelle' (bridge) .Heading on up the valley, we reached the Cabane de Brouquenat where we had a much-needed butty stop to replenish our energy reserves before the climb up to the Etang de PeyregrandThe view back down the valley from where we had come was really quite wild and pretty in the afternoon sunlightSo then we started the climb up to the Etang de Peyregrand which would take our total ascent to over 1000m. It had taken us 2.5 hrs to cover the 8kms but it was worth it Andorra is at the head of the etang and then up!

But for us, the only way was down. There were a few runnable sections but generally we were confined to a brisk walk. The round trip took us just over 4 hrs - it had been a lovely outing in a 'véritable paysage sauvage'.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Le Potager

Today dawned fine so I had an urge to start work on the potager which M Benazet has very kindly given us permission to create on the land below his house. The total area that we can use is probably around 50m2 and is part of the land that I cleared with the scythe earlier in the year and which we have been keeping down with the mower over the summer. It is currently made up of grassy tussocks, nettles and weeds. If we had a rotavator we could get it turned over very quickly, but we don't and besides, they didn't have such machinery in days gone by. So this morning I set to with the fork and spade. It quickly became apparent from the presence of worms that the soil is of very good quality and may even have been used as a potager at some point in the past. Andy joined me after lunch and eventually we were able to clear around 20m2 of land.It needs a bit more digging through before I can plant anything and we also need to consider what form of fencing to erect to protect our growing produce from deer, wild boar, goats, horses and whatever other wildlife may take a fancy to it! But it's good to have finally made a start on the project.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Using it up

Today, I collected another massive bagful of walnuts from the tree up the chemin (probably the last of them) and made an apple, walnut, apricot and date loaf which also used up some of the apples that seem to be lingering in the porch! The rest of the walnuts are still in their shells awaiting consumption at a later date. Then, it was onto the chestnuts ....I shelled the last kg or so and have this afternoon/this evening made sweet chestnut puree which will be just fantastic in desserts this autumn/winter. I have frozen probably four portions and have another 2 portions in the fridge. It is sweet but very very delicious! The marrons glacés should be ready tomorrow - it will be interesting to see how they turn out as it is the first time I have attempted these oh so French candied delicacies.

Friday, 17 October 2008


They say that the first step to recovery is to admit your addiction. OK, I admit it, but I don't see that there is anything 'bad' about it. I mean, if I didn't pick up the walnuts, apples and chestnuts, they would just rot, wouldn't they. The problem is that I can't walk past and not pick up the windfall and we now have bags of apples (and I mean probably 20+ kgs) that will probably just rot and end up on the compost heap. But there is only so much you can do with apples! Hey ho.

I have spent much of today removing the membrane from 1 kg of chestnuts (a tedious and very time-consuming process) which are now steeping in a sugar and vanilla solution which will miraculously transform them into Marrons Glacés in a couple of days time. I roasted another couple of kgs yesterday evening which will also need the inner membrane removing before I can make chestnut purée with them. But that will have to wait until tomorrow!

I will be using some of the fresh walnuts to make an apple, walnut and apricot loaf tomorrow. I will have to store the rest for use in salads and other dishes. The good thing about walnuts is that they will keep.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008


The chestnuts have been plumetting from the trees in their hundreds over the past few days. Today we collected a good 3-4 kgs of really good-sized nuts (excluding their casings).I am going to leave them to sweeten for a couple of days and then use some to make a chestnut puree, store some in the freezer for making stuffing at a later date, make a spiced apple (still loads of apples here which need using before they rot) and chestnut crumble with clove custard and possibly some chestnut and red wine pate and also marrons glacés..... any other ideas?

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Etang d'Artax

Despite being here for nearly 18 months now, we have still not explored into the hills that are up beyond Rabat-les-Trois Seigneurs which is up a small valley from Tarascon. Research suggested that the walk up to the Etang d'Artax would be a good outing so that is where we headed to today. The starting point at Gourbat was at around 900m altitude. As with most of the routes around here, the only way was up! It was a steady and sometimes steep climb, but much of it on good woodland paths - the colours were strikingAfter just under an hour and a half we reached the Etang d'Artax at 1695m - we had covered just under 5kms and climbed 790m of ascent.Time for a butty before heading up the steep path to just below Pla Madame and then on narrow sheep trods to Roc de Querquéou from where, behind us, we had Pic de Bassibié (a bigger circuit for another day)... and ahead a view to Cime d'Amont revealing spectacular autumn colours The steep descent down to the Col de Lastris was testing but was followed by a great run (downhill all the way) on forest tracks and good paths back to the car. En route, we stumbled upon this rather incongruous piece of machinery!Who knows what it must have been used for!

In just under 3 hrs, after 12kms and nearly 1000m of ascent, we were back at the car. The outing had tested the legs with the steep ascents and descents but it had been fantastic to explore another wild corner of the Ariège in great weather.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Higher than before

It was a beautiful, clear, warm and sunny day today, so Pic Rouge de Bassiès was our target. It is easily accessible from Pissou, via the Col d'Agnès, and, from photos that I have seen of the route, much of it is runnable on grassy paths which very much appealed to me.

It took us just 1 hr to climb the 500m of ascent (over 3.5kms) from the parking at Coumebiere up to the first Col at 1944m from where we looked down onto the Etangs de Bassiès.Aulus les Bains was visible in the distance as was Mont Valier on the skyline.From there, it was a gradual ascent on good paths, although there was a sprinkling of wet snow on the ground from a few days ago which slowed our progress somewhat. Soon, our target came into view along with the impressive 'cirque' below.However, it soon became apparent that we would be sharing the rest of the ascent with a party of 3 others who did nothing to keep their voices down. The idea did not appeal. We got to around 2300m and decided to retrace our steps and make our way back to Coumebiere via the GR 10 and the Etang d'Alate in order to extend our outing. Taff agreed to pose on the way back and doesn't he look beautiful!We were entertained by some Griffon vultures on the way back who were circling on the thermals above the ridge.The autumn colours are really developing now with bracken and also the bilberries putting on a particularly good showWe enjoyed the rest of the route, although I imagine it could be pretty boggy in wetter conditions as it meandered past mini etangs and across marshy ground.The run back down from Port de Saleix to Coumebiere on good paths was a real joy and soon we were back at the car.

The sum total for the day was 14kms and over 1000m of ascent in 4 1/2 hrs (including butty breaks!). We reached 2300m which is 200m higher than our previous highpoint. It was good to get into the hills again and to do some good running in the still warm sun.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Pommety pomme

Lovely day today, although overnight temperatures dipped to just 2 degrees - it won't be long before we see an early morning frost. The mission today was to collect the enormous, ripe apples from Claudine's tree down in the field with a view to getting more cider on the go. They are lovely, juicy, flavoursome apples which we hope will make a delicious cider. The initial intention was simply to collect them and store them in the barn until we are able to get some more barrels midweek for the fermentation. But the majority of the apples suffered damage as they fell to the ground, so we decided to press them straight away. The result is another 20 ltrs of very tasty juice which we have started off in a large stainless steel container. It will have to be transferred to the barrels later in the week once fermentation is underway.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

A good job

We cracked on with the clearing up of the apple tree behind the house today. I spent the morning lopping the branches that we brought down the other day, saving useful sections and disposing of the leafier pieces on the growing bonfire. Four wheel-barrow loads of apples were transported to the compost heap, (these apples are bland and tasteless, so I didn't feel too guilty), which made it slightly safer underfoot! This afternoon, Andy brought down the remaining trunk. It quickly became apparent that the tree had been living on borrowed time, as the heart wood was diseased and rotten.The rest of the afternoon has been spent logging and sorting the remaining branches. There is still a bit left to clear, but the transformation of the area behind the house is already quite dramatic.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

'T' is for Tree

The large, old apple tree that stands behind our house belongs to our neighbour Claudine but after many years of neglect, it is time for it to be felled. It has grown too big for its location, the branches weigh on the electricity and telephone cables and the fallen apples are a magnet for wasps. Claudine agreed that it would have to go.Using a combination of delicate lopping work around the cables, strategic sawing with an arborist's saw and good old chainsaw activity, Andy brought down all but the main trunk before the weather closed in and we had to call a halt to proceedings.Tomorrow, if it is not too wet, we will bring down the main trunk and then sort through the branches, piling the unusable ones on the bonfire and stacking the rest for use on the woodburner in the spring. Already, our bedroom upstairs seems lighter and brighter and our view out to the back of the house is much improved.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008


After the glorious weather over the weekend which couldn't last, there is a definite autumnal rawness in the air this evening. So the woodburner has been lit and already the house feels snug and cosy.

This afternoon, I took the pooch for a stretch of the legs up the zig zags that lead from the Col de Port to Roc Blanc and then along towards Rocher de Batail. My legs felt heavy and stiff and my system generally sluggish. Must get out more!