Wednesday, 31 December 2008

The end of the year

Well, the year has ended with a cracking ride out on the roadie with P&K. It was the longest outing for quite some while, clocking in at 77km with 3 hrs 20 mins in the saddle. The route included more ascent than on previous occasions over there and took in Lavelenet, Belesta, a nice steady climb up to the Col de Babourade, a cracking descent into Puivert and then a gently undulating ride on quiet roads back through Chalabre, Camon and various other pleasant little villages. There is very little respite from the pedalling on routes such as this one, so a good work out is assured! Click on the image for the route profile.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Raquettes

Some form of exercise was called for today. Two (or has it been three?) days of slovenliness and overindulgence can take their toll We still have Cat 3 avalanche warnings in force in the area, so we took the easy option. Instead of a ski tour we popped up the road to the Col de Port and donned the showshoes for a quick ascent of Pic d'Estibat. The snow was coated in a crisp, icy layer thanks to the very low overnight temperatures which made the steep climb far less arduous than it would have been in soft, deep powder. The view when we reached the top was, as usual, stunningly beautiful.... Pic de la Journalade was coated in it's winter finery......and ornate patterns created from wind-scoured snow decorated our path
Instead of joining the masses heading towards Pic de la Journalade, we headed off to the right towards Turon Ner before cutting back down into the forest and returning by the forest track. The steep descent tested my snowshoe/pole technique but we arrived back at the car unscathed. Hopefully this glorious weather will continue for a while longer and more outings on skis or snowshoes will be possible.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Dinner

The venison had been marinading in wine, stock, garlic, spices and vegetables since Sunday and had already been slow-cooked on top of the wood-burner for a good few hours before it was returned for it's final heat-through in preparation for it's much awaited consumption. It did not disappoint. The beautifully lean meat literally fell off the bone.It was accompanied by the wonderfully spicy 'blushing pears' that I made at the end of August and homemade beetroot and orange relish. Roast potatoes and celeriac mash added the final flourish. What a feast!

Félicitations au chef et à sa sous-chef!

Joyeux Noel!

We were expecting to celebrate 'le Réveillon' with our neighbour Christine yesterday evening. But she knocked on the door at 21.45 with the promised bottle of Champagne and a yule log only to say that she was utterly exhausted, having been up since 05.30, worked for most of the day and was due up again at 05.30 on Christmas Morning (she works in the health service doing home visits)!! She was heading straight to bed, so we promised to keep the Champagne until she can come round at the weekend, relax and enjoy it.

Christmas Day dawned bright and clear.... unlike my head (and Andy's too). Somehow we managed to consume rather too much wine yesterday evening. But all the same, I was keen to have an outing on the skis as I have never skiied on Christmas Day before. By the time we got our act together and left the house, it was midday and the clear blue skies were being greedily gobbled up in front of our eyes by an ominous bank of cloud which was building rapidly. The temperature guage in the car indicated 6 degrees as we approached Guzet and the idea of spending 4 hours skiing churned up mushy snow on busy pistes somehow did not appeal. So we returned to the house and had foie gras on little toasts followed by mince pies for lunch and then oysters mid afternoon. Mmm. The venison is back on top of the woodburner and we will be tucking into our main dinner later on this evening.

Bon appetit :-)

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Mincemeat

It has been a couple of years since Andy last made some mincemeat for Christmas. The last batch was yummy with the blueberries from my brother's plantations adding that 'alternative' touch. Today's batch again contains blueberries but also dried cranberries, apricots, fat juicy sultanas, raisins, almonds, hazlenuts, home made candied peel, apples, suet, spices, lime zest, a banana, brown sugar and a damn fine glug of Armagnac and also some malt whisky.We now have 3 kgs of mincemeat, most of which will be jarred tomorrow and left to mature for future Yuletide celebrations. I will however be making some mince pies for consumption this Christmas - yum :-)

Monday, 22 December 2008

Out with the dogs

Pat and Kev are looking after Flea until the end of the month. She is a lovely little border collie whose home is normally the b&b in Biert, just along the road from Massat. She has met Taff before and they got on well, so I took him back to meet her again today and to enjoy a bit of a run with P&K. Pat had a VTT route in mind that we could run and which should have been around 14km. It was a route that they had not done before so it was new territory. Usually there are little signs which act as waymarkers but we very quickly lost them, which suggested that they had been removed by somebody in the area for some reason. So we made up a circuit based on nothing but instinct. Fortunately, it is not the kind of area in which you can get too lost! It was a clear day and the sun was wonderfully warm. It was lovely to feel it on my face again after what seems like an age. Kev was experimenting with his walking poles. I have been considering learning to run with poles myself, as I believe they come into their own on steep ascents and descents when they assist enormously with your stability. I am planning on doing the Mont Calm marathon at the end of August 2009 which involves over 3000m of exactly that, so I had better start soon!

We soon arrived back at the car after covering just 11kms. Kev's achilles was playing up again and the dogs were pooped, so we called it a day and headed home for some lunch. On my way home, I had some tedious shopping to do but I returned home to find that Andy had put the top coat ofwhite paint on the stairs and landing wall and it looks so much cleaner. I can at last put up a couple of pictures :-)

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Wood again

We have gone through quite a considerable quantity of wood over the past couple of months and the supplies that we have under cover are dwindling rapidly. We have had clear blue skies and slightly higher temperatures today, so we took the opportunity to head into the woods to recover some dead trees that are still standing and which are therefore comparatively dry. We recovered a car load which we then brought back to the house, logged and then stashed in the woodshed. We will see how long it lasts us. Fortunately there is plenty more wood where that came from so there is no danger of running out!

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Venison update

I went along to the maison de chasse up the road in the community of Rieupregon this evening to collect the venison. I was dumbfounded to be presented with over 3 kgs of saddle from a red deer hind! Prime cut! When I asked what I owed in the way of payment (having first clarified that we lived just below the woodland in which the deer were shot), the response was a shrug of the shoulders and a very French 'pffff ....comme vous voulez'....I offered a bottle of wine which somehow seemed woefully inadequate for such prime meat. We have split one of the joints into two for the freezer and the other whole joint has now started its slow marinade ready for very slow cooking on Christmas Day. Yum!

A stroke of luck

Even though it will only be for the two of us, it is about time I sorted out some food ideas for Christmas dinner, as time is now getting on. We have pretty much decided on a nice chunk of chevreuil (venison) so I popped down to the butchers in Massat to see what they could offer. They had what I was after so Delphine put it to one side for me. But then, on the way home, I encountered the chasseurs on our chemin, about to load into a pickup two good-sized deer which they had shot this afternoon. I stopped and asked whether they could spare a shoulder from one of the deer for our Christmas dinner. No problem, was the reply, so I will be popping along to the Maison de Chasse up the road this evening to collect it. Needless to say, the order from the butchers has been cancelled. Quelle chance!

This evening I will be decorating the house with the holly that we collected from the woodland this afternoon. It is time to start getting into some semblance of Christmas spirit, methinks! In the meantime, Andy has serviced the chainsaws and I have done a bit of bike maintenance today.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

On the piste

Jamie flies back home tomorrow and we had to get a day on the skis while he is here to save him returning home disappointed! An avalanche at Hospitalet had closed the road through to Andorra, so we headed down to Ax 3 Domaines for the first time which is only an hour from us. The resort was generally very quiet and we had some good long runs with some sustained skiing. The snow and piste quality was variable, with some icy, fast sections higher up but heavier mogulled going further down. It is good to feel my technique improving and with it my confidence!

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Meet Birty

This is Jamie's creation. He's a big boy, don't you think?!

Another smattering of snow is expected tonight but we should still be able to make it down to Ax-3-Domaines for some en piste ski action tomorrow. Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

More snowy stuff

Another 6" of snow fell overnight. The weight of the snow has been bringing down trees and branches in the area and Pissou has not been untouched. First job this morning was to clear a couple of smaller trees that had fallen across our chemin and which would hinder the passage of the snow plough which we were expecting imminently. More wood for the woodburner :-)
We have been clagged in all day and the snow plough came through too late for us to head over to Ax for a piste outing. So we donned the skis and headed up the road towards Peguere. Jamie used my old metre-long approach skis and with the skins attached, seemed to cope well with the deep powder.
It was hard work in places as I broke trail - the snow was up to a metre deep in sections, but the skis generally did a fine job. It would have been impossible to walk in such deep snow. The ski back down was taxing, as the road is not wide enough to be able to put in turns and the deep powder required very evenly weighted skis in order to avoid sinking in and grinding to a halt. But still, it was good to get out for a brief outing.

Monday, 15 December 2008

....and still it snows

It had been snowing solidly for 36 hrs when we got up this morning. We had had a disturbed night, first with the power flickering on and off, accompanied by the odd blue flash outside and bleeping telephone handsets and then by a mighty crack as the plum tree out the back of the house gave way under the weight of fresh snow. We discovered this morning that it had literally split in half. By morning, there was a good 2 foot of snow on the ground and we had to dig our way to the wood store.We had to leave Pissou to pick Jamie up from Carcassonne airport, but first we had to dig the car out of the snow!
However, without a 4 wheel drive vehicle, we were never going to make it the 1km up onto the main road. The chemin had not been ploughed and 6-8" of fresh snow soon brought us to a halt. I summonsed help in the form of Patrick, the dairy farmer at Col del Four, and his tractor and we made it out. But our normal route up over the Col de Port was closed due to the snowfall so we had a longer trip down to St G and eventually to Foix and Carcassonne. A trip that normally took 1.5 hrs had taken 4 hours. The trip back was uneventful and the Col de Port had, by that time, been reopened thank goodness. Jamie has already built a ginormous snowperson (pics tomorrow) because, after all, that is what 21 yr old students do! ;-) Hopefully we will have a ski at Guzet tomorrow and then a day en piste at Ax on Wednesday and a ski tour Thursday - all weather dependent of course!

Sunday, 14 December 2008

The snowy scene from our terrasse

video

Heavy snow

Heavy, wet snow fell in the night and it was the sound of an avalanche as it sloughed off the roof of the barns adjacent to the house that awoke me early this morning. I was greeted by a very snowy scene indeed when I eventually popped my head out of the door.And it's still snowing! The snow plough has not come through to clear the roads today, so we are effectively snowed in. But we have no need to venture out and the skis and snowshoes are on permanent standby should the need arise. Jamie arrives tomorrow. He is in for a treat!

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Ramsay Winter Round

A friend from back in Sheffield is going to be attempting a sub 24 hr Ramsay Round in the early part of 2009. Shane is a seasoned endurance athlete and many time mountain marathon competitor. He completed the Ramsay Round in February 2008 in just under 30 hrs and will be attempting the sub 24 hr record in aid of Cancer Research following the passing of his mother from breast cancer in October. Please sponsor him via http://www.justgiving.com/shaneohly. See also http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/group.php?gid=41606916964&ref=mf

Thanks

Hay action

Justin and Emily, our friends from 'up the hill' were expecting a delivery of 7500 kgs of hay today. They live half a km down a forest track, accessible only by a 4x4 or a tractor and have been unable to get a hay and straw delivery down the track due to the recent snow covering and low temps - their cows and goats were experiencing lean times! We have had a thaw over the last 24 hours but with more snow due over night, they had to take advantage of the weather window. I volunteered our services to help stow the 30 x 250kg bales in their new barn - we were also joined by Rik from Las Trinquades b&b just up the hill. Patrick from the dairy farm at Col del Four's tractor was put to good use, transporting 4 of the large bales at a time down the muddy track and with Justin's 4x4 jeep and trailer ably carrying 3 bales we made good progress. It was good to get the first few bales stowed in the dryJustin's dog, Sumba, found a warm, cosy, hay-strewn corner from which to watch us work!Within 3 hours we had filled the top floor of the barn. The last job was to attempt to stow the last 2 straw bales on the ground floor. But the stall openings were simply not wide enough for them to pass and we resorted to cutting the twine on one of the bales in an attempt to put it away. Of course, the bale eventually collapsed and with much hilarity, Justin appeared with straw protruding out of places straw really shouldn't have gone!We retired to their cottage for a welcome cup of tea before heading home. 'Twas a job well done and I was pleased to have been able to help our friends.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Gusty

We don't seem to have been out of the house very much this week for one reason or another and cabin fever is starting to set in! Today was forecast to be much clearer than earlier in the week and I was hoping to have a session on the skis, but the day dawned cloudy and overcast, albeit slightly milder. So instead of spending the day en piste, we headed up to the Col de Port with the intention of snow-shoeing up to the Pech de Therme (1673m). We were greeted by strong gusting winds which created a not inconsequential wind-chill factor - very different from conditions down at Pissou. The pooch was therefore required to wear his winter jacket!
The sun was trying oh so hard to break through the stormy skies, but unfortunately it was fighting a losing battleAs we climbed up the zig-zags, it soon became apparent that the deep drifted snow was going to be a problem for poor Taff - he was struggling. We had no choice but to turn around and return to the car. But we had had a brief stretch of the legs and got some air into the lungs. Hopefully we will get some ski action over the weekend.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Clearing

The blizzards of yesterday blew themselves out overnight. Temperatures have struggled to even reach zero degrees today but another good layer of snow has been laid down. Guzet (our local ski station) opens tomorrow (1 week ahead of schedule) and I think we may have to pop along to test the pistes. More snow is forecast for the weekend. In the meantime, next door's rocking chair is clearly hoping for warmer climes.....

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Blizzard

As forecast, we awoke to a light covering of snow this morning. During the day, the temperature has not been above zero degrees and more powdery snow has fallen. An hour or so ago, we decided it would be prudent to pop down into Massat to get in some supplies. We were greeted by full on blizzard conditions on our return but fortunately the plough had passed along our chemin and the winter tyres did a good job. -3 degrees C here now! Conditions tomorrow could be interesting and certainly the avalanche risk in the mountains will be very high. But hopefully skiing in Ax-3-Domaines on Friday- it should be a veritable powder-fest!

Monday, 8 December 2008

Testing winter wear

The day dawned clear but cold. I headed back down to the flatlands and parked up outside Pat and Kev's - the temperature guage on the car was telling me it was 4 degrees. Now, just how good were my spanking new Ground Effect 'Ice Queen' winter cycling jacket and winter leggings?! The first section of the roadie outing from their house was a bit of a hill - nothing as steep as around here, I have to say, but still enough to make me wander whether it had been overkill to wear the winter jacket, neoprene gloves and overboots. But as soon as we hit the descent, I was glad of the windproof jacket. We cycled along the quiet country lanes and ended up in Mirepoix for the obligatory coffee and cake stop. On the return leg, we battled with a nasty, chilly headwind, so sent Kev to the front and we tucked in behind, taking advantage of his slipstream. Excellent! We had covered 68kms by the time we made it back to Neylis. I was very pleased with how the winter clobber had performed. It had been a handy little outing.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Got me gigs!

Had a 'phone call from the opticians down in St G this afternoon to advise that my glasses were ready for collection (3 days ahead of the date that they had given me - very impressive!). So of course I dashed down to collect them, desperate to see just what difference they would make to my close vision. And wow, what a difference! I only need the very lowest strength lenses, but still, clarity has been restored when I am reading and looking at my computer screen. Fantastic. I am sure a photo will follow at some point ;-)

The weather cleared momentarily this morning and we even enjoyed an hour or so of warm sunshine. I took advantage of the change and threw the windows open to let some fresh air into the house and had a much-needed, frantic cleaning session. In the distance, the high mountains came into view and the tops are plastered with fresh snow. More is forecast for Tuesday night with a sharp drop in temperatures overnight. Thursday looks good for an outing. Fingers crossed.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Back on the flatlands

Here, the temperatures have risen and it is grey and damp with mushy, slushy snow on the ground. Conditions are not ideal for any physical activity this side of the Col de Port! So, with Pat and Kev now back home following their trip to the UK, I headed down onto the flatlands for some much needed running action. The temperature there was a good 5 degrees milder than at Pissou and no snow had fallen, which meant that the footpaths, tracks and trails were clear, albeit muddy in places. We headed out with Taff to try and link up a couple of the local VTT trails in the area. Kev was on form... but Pat was feeling the effects of two tennis matches yesterday! Still, we had a giggle..... and covered approx 13kms on the relative flat which resulted in a new VTT circuit linked up.... must take the bike next time! It was a very enjoyable outing which was followed by a very scrummy 'French pasty' that Kev had knocked up for lunch. A grand day out.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

A little bit of this and a little bit of that

The temperatures have risen to between 2 and 4 degrees today which has resulted in the crisp white snow turning to a grey slushy mush. Not pleasant. So we headed down into St Girons. On the hill down into Massat we encountered 2 chasseurs on the side of the road, animatedly pointing down into the woodland, guns at the ready. They had obviously spotted some game. Good luck to them I thought.

The main aim of the trip to St G was to get myself fitted out with some reading glasses, using the prescription that I secured in the UK in early November. Never having worn glasses before, I found it incredibly hard to settle on a pair which a) I liked and b) that suited my face. However, I got there in the end and will be collecting them early next week. I find it strange to admit it, but I am actually quite excited about picking them up! It is a relief to be able to say that I no longer equate 'needing reading glasses' with 'getting old'!

On the drive back up from Massat, we encountered a hunting dog at the side of the road, excitedly pawing and chewing at a rather large sanglier (wild boar) which had fallen there, intermittently barking that oh so familiar bark that we hear so often around here. The boar had probably been shot by the chasseurs earlier and had staggered up to the road where it had either been knocked over or it had simply lain down and bled to death. Either way, two chasseurs vehicles were very quickly on the scene to collect their booty. They had been lucky.

Better, clearer weather forecast for tomorrow and then rain forecast for Friday, but better weather at the weekend.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

And yet more snow

It has been snowing on and off for the past week and another few inches fell here at Pissou overnight and in the course of the day. Today, we have chainsawed into useable lengths more of the seasoned wood that we were storing behind the house, in order to replenish the dwindling supplies in the woodshed. More snow is forecast during the week.