Thursday, 29 October 2009

Not the best

We headed down to le Mas-d'Azil today to have a bash at a mountain bike circuit that I had found - it sounded ideal, 22km with 660m of ascent. Easy peasy. I was looking forward to it, especially since the amazing weather is continuing. We parked up in the village, switched on the GPS devices on which we had downloaded the route and set off. It started uphill, up a slippy, sticky track - we ended up pushing the bikes. After 5km I had my first puncture. Shortly afterwards, I realised that we were in fact doing the circuit in the reverse direction to the one proposed on the website from which I had downloaded the route. There was yet more 'up', unrideable up ... it was becoming increasingly hard work. The only redeeming factor was the view.But I was sustained by the thought of the long ride along the ridge at the top which was sure to be fun. However, I had another, more dramatic puncture before we arrived at that point. Doh! When we eventually arrived at the ridge we were greeted with highly technical terrain with slippy limestone rocks which made for a tricky and exhausting 5+kms before the descent down into le Mas-d'AzilBy this time, Andy had damaged a link on his chain and we had both run out of water. We were somewhat relieved to make it back to the car. We had been out for 4 hours. Bonkers. But hey, it can't be an amazing outing every time, now can it!

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

A grand day out

Clear blue skies and temperatures into the 20s this week, so we were up and out in good time this morning, headed up the Aston Valley from les Cabannes near Tarascon for an appointment with the Crête des Isards. I was determined to do the ridgeline after reading a superb feature about it in 'Ariegeois' magazine back in the summer which promised a spectacular setting and amenable terrain. It did not disappoint.

We had a steep climb up from the Barrage de Laparan but soon emerged into the Rieutord Valley from where the ridge could be seen up to our left, heading away into the distance We headed up the valley and then the climb continued up to the Col de Rieutord
from where we had great views back down the valley on one sideand a spectacular view towards the high mountains bordering Andorra...
.. and the Etangs de Fontargenta on the other
A little further on, we arrived at the Refuge de Ruhle in its spectacular setting. It is currently closed but will reopen for the winter to serve as a base for winter mountaineers and ski tourers who explore the area.The ridge line was without any technical difficulty although the constant ups and downs were tiring on the legs and the pooch was showing signs of fatigue in the heat.The views from the length of the ridge were of course stunning with the Plateau de Beille in the distanceand we even saw some isards which was kind of appropriate somehow!The col in the distance indicated our descent pathIt was a fun run down to the ColThe view back along the ridge was stunning
We were back down at the car after a grand outing of 14kms and 940m of ascent, reaching an altitude of 2400m, which had taken us 4 hours. I was still feeling strong with no major muscle aches or pains, although my legs were obviously tired. It had been a fantastic outing in a spectacular corner of the Ariege. I hope to do more of the same before Winter is upon us! I leave you with a photo of the glorious autumn colours here at the moment

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Running in the clouds

Here at 826m alt, we have been in the clouds for most of the day. However, after the past few days of inactivity, I was hankering for a run.... not a long one, but one that would stretch my legs. The Col de Port route forestiere circuit ticked all of the right boxes, under 10km but with a couple of hundred metres of ascent on good tracks. So the pooch and I (in full running waterproofs) headed out this afternoon and it turned out to be one of the best runs I have had in a long while, when everything worked as it should ... I actually felt strong rather than pathetically weak for the first time in a long while and I completed the run 4 minutes faster than my previous best. Despite being in the clouds, it was still a beautiful circuit with the autumnal colours in their full glory

Saturday, 24 October 2009

And more pig stuff

Busy day today, processing more of the meat from the 'cochon'. We had a 12kg ham...
...which we have started off in a serrano ham cure ...
...a second ham which has been tunnel-boned and now in a parma ham cure, the bacon/belly pork is also in a cure, the cheeks and jowel/chaps are in a 'guanciale' cure (no, I've no idea what that is either!), the head meat has been transformed into brawn...
... and the dog has very much enjoyed an ear!
We have had spare ribs for dinner this evening and very tasty they were too!

Friday, 23 October 2009

Porky products

We popped up to Patrick's to collect the half pig from his chiller cabinet this morning and weren't surprised to see a good sprinkling of snow on the high mountains after yesterday's rain and cold temperatures.....albeit a month later than the first snows last yearThe Gascon half pig weighed 44 kgsAndy sharpened his butchering knives...
...and within a couple of hours we had various cuts and joints safely stashed away in the freezer. We prepared some belly with a homemade cure which will give us bacon/poitrine salée in a week or two......made pork, apple, leek and rosemary sausages..... and some saucissonTomorrow, we will deal with the hams.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Reclaiming space and porky pig

We were awoken at 08h00 this morning by the delivery of our new fridge/freezer. Since we started work on the ground floor, the old under-counter fridge and separate freezer have been cluttering up the 'living' area so I had been looking forward to the arrival of the new f/f with anticipation. And even more so seeing as we are taking delivery of half of a Gascon pig's carcass which will need butchering and then freezing tomorrow. The old freezer is now settled in the upper barn and will soon be filled with porky products! I collected the offal this afternoon and Andy has already made a lovely big terrine of paté using the liver and heart.

Today is also our neighbour, Claudine's birthday, so we made her a scrummy chocolate and ginger cake this morning and were invited round for cake and Champagne late afternoon.... which was jolly nice!

We have had torrential rain and low temperatures today which means snow on the mountains. We will have to wait until tomorrow to see just how much! Winter is on its way.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Weather change

We have been enjoying proper autumnal weather for the past week, with cold overnight/early morning temperatures but lovely blue skies and warm sun during the day. However, some Atlantic weather is now moving in with heavy skies and temperatures today some 10 degrees higher than yesterday (up to 20 degrees) and rain forecast. I needed to get out for some form of exercise today having been laid low with the cold and cattarrh over the weekend. So we headed down to Massat and took circuit no. 3 along the old mule track to le Port and then up to Urtrier and then a steep descent back down through the woodland to Massat. It was a brief 7km circuit with 300m of ascent but anything more at this moment in time would have been foolhardy until the cold has gone.

This afternoon, I dug over more of the potager and added some manure before planting more red onion and shallot sets which will hopefully survive any vole attack this winter. I lifted a couple of parsnips for dinner this evening and was quite stunned by the size of the veg that appeared (after some effort, it has to be said!)Excellent, fertile soil and good conditions this summer - perfect!

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Capsicum rescue

We have been experiencing low nighttime temperatures over the past few days, including a frost night before last which threatened to destroy the last of my capsicum fruit. There is little chance of them ripening further at this time of year, so today, I collected the remaining green capsicum, some ripe chillis and some ripening chilli peppers and now have to decide what to do with them!I have already frozen quite a quantity of the small hot chillis and will probably preserve the remaining ones in oil for the winter. The green capsicum and very tasty chilli peppers will probably be roasted to bring out their full flavour and then preserved.

I have spent some time clearing the top section of the potager this week, weeding and preparing the soil for the addition of some horse manure which will hopefully replenish the ground ready for next year's produce.

The forecast is excellent with clear blue skies and sun through until Tuesday afternoon but then we are likely to see some rain again.

Friday, 16 October 2009

That's better

During our break in the UK, we both picked up a sore throat/cough which has laid us low for the past few days. I was supposed to be mountain biking with Pat yesterday but had to cancel after an appalling nights sleep and as I was generally feeling awful. Fortunately, sleep came easier last night and the sore throat eased, so this morning I was determined to get out for some exercise in this fantastic autumnal weather. I chose a 10km circuit from Ercé which I have not done before. It was clear that neither Andy nor I had a great deal of energy, so we took it steady but still made much faster time on the 400m of ascent than was suggested in the book. It was a lovely circuit with great views back down the valleyplenty of photogenic bovinesand some lovely running on narrow 'chemins' and footpaths on the way back down. I was so pleased to have got out for some exercise and the view towards Mont Valier from Cominac on the way home, as the sun was weakening topped off a smashing outing

Wednesday, 14 October 2009


I have had a kg of autumn fruiting raspberries and 3 or 4 kgs of sloes in the freezer for the past month and today I have finally got round to doing something with them. I have made two bottles of raspberry gin using a recipe from the Cottage Smallholder blog which looks really pretty and will hopefully taste delicious by Christmas. I have also made sloe vodka as a change from the sloe gin that I made last year. Hopefully it will be just as scrummy!

Last year, Jean-Claude from up the hill lopped a fruit tree that stands alongside where we park our car. This year, the branches are heavy with a fruit that appears to be a cross between an apple and a pear. The fruit is still very green but tastes sweet and is the texture of a very firm conference pear. Whatever they are, they will make a damn fine crumble!

Monday, 12 October 2009

Blighty and back

We have just returned from a 5 day visit to the north of England. And what fun it was too! We enjoyed a 2 night stay and some amazing food at the quite superb (and highly recommended) Norfolk Arms hotel at Ringinglow, the gateway to the Peak District just outside of Sheffield. A stay in the Peak District simply wouldn't be complete without a run across the moorland and gritstone edges, my old stomping groundHowever, the main purpose of the visit was to celebrate the 40th birthday of our good friend John. The location was a bunk barn near Settle from which we had a cracking 25km mountain bike outing, from Settle, up over the wild moors......and down to Malham TarnFantastic! It is a part of the world we will be returning to with our bikes in the future, no question! It was great to catch up with friends, some of which we haven't seen for 3 years, although far too much alcohol was consumed and too little sleep was had over the weekend. I admit it has been good to get home to the peace and quiet of Pissou after all the travelling, noise, hustle and bustle of the UK.

Monday, 5 October 2009


This part of the world has clearly not realised that 30 degrees is not a seasonal temperature for early October. But hey, I am not complaining .... oh no, no no, no way! After having a quick haircut with Helen down near Tarascon (hurrah! at last somebody here who can cut my hair as it needs to be cut!) and doing some shopping at Brico Depot, I hopped onto the roadie and had a blast on the quiet roads and lanes west of Pamiers, where the scenery is very different to the area around Massat. Gently rolling hills, agricultural land, several small farmsteads - all very pretty in its own way but nowhere near as dramatic
It was good to get back on the bike again, although it brought home to me just how unfit I am at the moment, with every uphill section being more painful than it should have been. Still, it was 2 hours out in the glorious warm sunshine, which always does the spirit good.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Bikes and kitchens

Well, bike and kitchen if I am to be precise. I had a brief outing on the mountain bike yesterday. It was briefer than it should have been, as I had stupidly left my Garmin 305 at home on which I had loaded the proposed route. Without the navigation device, there was a high probability that I would get myself lost on the forest tracks and trails high above Oust and Ercé. But I still managed a 2 hour outing with plenty of ascent and some nice views towards Mont ValierWe have made excellent progress in the kitchen over the past couple of days, with the floor tiles now grouted, the worktops around the gas hob fixed in place with masons' mitre bolts, the gas hob safely installed and the washing machine now secured in its final resting place.

Friday, 2 October 2009


Well, we had to abort our floor-tiling efforts yesterday. The tile adhesive that we were attempting to use was far too fine-grained and fluid (despite allegedly being suitable for floor tiles) and the tiles were literally moving of their own accord as we laid them. So a trip to St-Girons was made to buy a different 'colle', which fortunately did what it said on the tin (or on the bag, if you are being picky) and we have today got the tiles laid and will be grouting tomorrow afternoon. Jolly fine it is looking too.Still a fair bit to do, including the cut-out for the gas hob, the unit end panels and corner posts (we will be making a visit to the local saw mill next week to see if we can pick up some nice bits of oak for those), the kick boards, drawers and the two wall cabinets (one of which will hide the fusebox). Plus, I still need to find some 15x15 cm wall tiles for finishing off. Busy busy.