Tuesday, 30 March 2010


Well, the weather has most definitely turned and I am hoping that, this week, we will see Winter's very final blast. The potager could really do with Spring's tender touch and (let's not beat around the bush), Winter can, well, go get bent, that's quite enough thank you!

So, with high winds, much colder temperatures and a gastric system that has been relatively normal (excessive wind aside) for the past 24 hrs, I took myself and the pooch up to Peguere for a trot around the 6km/200m of ascent Route Forestiere circuit to see how things felt following my tummy upset and general 'out-of-it-ness', and the answer turned out to be surprisingly good, much to my surprise and delight... the legs and lungs felt strong and I gained over 5 minutes on my last outing on this circuit, getting around the circuit in 38 minutes. One more run on Friday and I should be ready for the race on Sunday.

In the meantime, today's piccy of the Pic des Trois Seigneurs in stormy weather....and Massat in a brief sunny interlude....

Monday, 29 March 2010

Rhubarb, wood and gastric issues

Well, all that tender loving care and extra nourishment that I have lavished on it (yeah, right!) has paid off and the rhubarb is firing on all cylinders. I didn't protect it in any way this winter and with the severe weather that we have experienced down here I fully expected it to have been killed off. But, hell no, this is one feisty rhubarb! Won't be long before rhubarb crumble and ice cream (yes, I know, I'm weird) is on the menuOn the wood front, we have a second beech tree to fell at some point but spent this afternoon stacking the lengths from yesterday's beech felling escapades and clearing away the debris from the pine that we felled a year last January and stacking the log sections that we can use on the woodburner next winter. All good work.

On the not so good front, I have been suffering from some not very pleasant gastric issues for the past 48 hours which have left me somewhat weak and pathetic, so any running or cycling has been out of the question. I am just hoping it clears up pronto as I need to get a run or two in before the race on Sunday. I am anticipating some serious carb-loading in order to replenish my energy reserves before the weekend .... mmm, good excuse for cake!

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Potager ponderings

I am expecting the current gloriously spring-like weather to be rudely interrupted any time soon, so I have had a frenzy of seed sowing and seedling potting-on today. Just for my own records this is the current state of play;
French beans Cokkel - sown direct 23 March
Carrots Early Nantes - ditto
Spinach Tetona - ditto
Mixed salad leaves - ditto
Rocket - sown 27 March
Squash Avalon F1 hybrid (trailing) - seeds now sprouting in pots
Squash Winter Festival F1 hybrid - seeds now sprouting in pots
Cornichon (gherkins) Vert Petit de Paris and Fin de Meaux (trailing) - well established in modules
Baby sweetcorn Sweet Baby - now sprouting in pots
Tomato Tigerella - 2nd set of leaves forming, in pots
Tomato Llidi - removed seedlings from heqted propagator today and transferred to pots
Tomato Harbinger - as above
Tomato sweet olive - failed in heated propagator so sowed anew in unheated propagator
Chilli Hot Tapin - faild in heated propagator (disappointing)
Chilli Rouge Long de Cayenne - great success last year so sowed today in modules in unheated propagator
Capsicum Mini bell peppers for pot growing - failed in heated propagator so sowed anew in modules in unheated propagator
Capsicum Yolo Wonder - v successful last year so sowed today in modules in unheated propagator
Courgette Verte Noire Maraichère - sowed today in pots
Beetroot - only 2 germinated in heated propagator so sowed today in modules in unheated propagator
Potatoes - Rocket and Charlotte still chitting - hopefully plant next week
Garlic, shallots, red onions, yellow onions all well established and on target for harvest later in the year

And I think that's about it! I still haven't got a fixed planting out plan, but I am sure that will develop in due course

Late this afternoon, with Claudine's encouragement, Andy took down an elder and a beech tree that are alongside the little path that is in front of our terrasse and which leads down to the woods. The new Stihl chainsaw that we bought in the UK has been christened (it's a beast!), more light will now come into the front of the house and we have some wood for next winter that is the perfect diameter for the woodburner. Result!

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Paperwork and officialdom

Gah! Enough already! UK company year end accounts to finalise, French year end 'Déclarations' of various sorts (Crikey, don't they just love their acronyms!), paperwork for re-registering the new car in France.... yes, it's been one of those 'it's about time I got around to it' days as these jobs are in danger of becoming overwhelming. So I am finally 'on with it' and I know I will feel a darned sight better for having got these jobs out of the way, even if the act of actually applying myself to them has been somewhat painful. Onwards!

Friday, 26 March 2010

Arse update

For all those that have expressed their very kind concern for my comfort and well-being, I am pleased to report that all is now as it should be - the old bits and pieces voiced no complaint during today's 38km roadie outing on the quiet roads west of Pamiers, a circuit I last did in early October. On that occasion, I really struggled, despite the circuit only having a couple of short uphill sections, but I was feeling really unfit, it was hot and, well, let's be honest, I just couldn't be bothered, hence the time of 2 hrs that it took me to get round! Today, in contrast, 1 hr 35mins and we weren't even pushing it! Excellent. So the way forward is increased kilometrage (is that a word?) and back onto the Cols. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Bodily stuff

My body is a temple. My body is a temple and I should treat it accordingly. I must worship it and accord it the respect that it deserves (am I on the right track here?!). I think I do a pretty good job really, generally, all things considered. Today was a case in point. I gave it a right good thrashing yesterday, pounding up the hill to the Cabane des roses and thoroughly deserved an earful today when I asked The Body to perform again on the Dalou trail race circuit. It cooperated on the first hill, pretty much, ish, but back down at road level, with the second hill looming before us, it overrode my admittedly weak demands to 'give it beans' and instead ensured that I slowed to a pace at which I could enjoy the spring sunshine and notice the woodland flowers instead of sweating like a donkey (what a gurl!) with my head down whilst punishing The Body... for what, exactly?! I got the message loud and clear. Time for some gentle stretching and self-massage to release tired and knotted muscles, time for some gentle runs over the coming week to keep the legs turning over and then hopefully, hopefully The Body will reward me for my dedication by a knockout performance at the Citadelles on the 4 April!

On another topic, I enjoyed a lovely lunch with Pat in Foix today - been ages since we saw each other for one reason or another - but we are both suitably inspired for some hardcore mountain bike and adventure race action this autum. Bring it on!

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Spring, training and sowing

It's been up to 20 degrees again today. Over the past week, the hedgerows and meadows have burst into life with a rainbow of spring colours pushing through the increasingly greener grass. Stichwort, periwinkle, viola, not to mention the beautiful dogs tooth violet that is asserting its authority over the dead bracken up towards the Port de LhersIt is now less than 2 weeks before the Trail des Citadelles and I am running out of time to do any meaningful training. But I did manage a 3.6km with 300m of ascent run this morning up to the Cabane des roses which took me 30 minutes. My heart rate monitor told me that I spent most of those 30 minutes in zones 4 and 5 which meant I was working hard, but everything felt good and hopefully the exertion will have done me some good. The snow up there is melting rapidly but the views are still stunningThis afternoon, I sowed French beans, Early Nantes carrots, spinach and some mixed salad leaves in the potager. A dip in temperature is forecast for this weekend, so I may have to put the cloche into service. More digging yet to do and compost to turn into the old soil from which I lifted the parsnips to ready it for future planting, but I am loving working in my potager again.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Parma Ham

It's been 5 months since the boned ham started the curing process.... and nearly 4 months since it came out of the cure to start the air-drying process. It looks good, it smells good, would it taste good or would we die of botulism?! It was time to find out. The ham has lost over 30% of its weight in the drying process - on first impressions, the process has worked....
and my goodness, it does taste good!
Our first attempt at making our own ham has been a resounding success. But that's an awful lot of ham to get through. Any takers?!

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Earnest potterings

Busy day today. The temperature has been around 20 degrees again and the spring flowers are out in all their glory from the deliciously scented hyacinths in front of the kitchen window....to the delicately scented narcissi in pots on the front terrasseThis afternoon, I repotted the camellia plants that I brought over from the house in Sheffield and placed them on the new terrasse - they will be stunning when they flower next month!The two clematis that mum gave me for my birthday last year are now throwing up new shoots which is an enormous relief. I had fully expected them to have been killed by the freezing conditions that we have had this winter, but they are turning out to be amazingly hardy!

But the potager has been the focus of our attentions this afternoon. Whilst Andy was creating a neater path through the middle and moving the 'gate' so that it is now inline with the path, I was digging over the top patch (the bottom of the photo) in preparation for the imminent sowing of French beans, spinach, rocket and miscellaneous other veggies. The result of both our efforts is an increase in the area of useable soil for planting and a much neater potager.

I still have some leeks, some lambs lettuce and some shallots/garlic in the bottom half but I'll hopefully get the 2nd half of the top section dug over tomorrow and then I am ready for sowing/planting. I just need to finalise what will be sown/planted where - that's a whole job in itself and I intend to do much more companion planting this year. I have sown nasturtium seeds around the perimeter this year as those flowers will apparently attract the dreaded cabbage flea and keep them away from my precious rocket and turnips this year!

Friday, 19 March 2010

On yer bike!

Another wonderfully warm day today - it was showing 23 degrees when we hopped into the car to head down to Foix after lunch. But I really mustn't get too excited as more snow is forecast towards the end of next week .... nooooo! I may just have to hold off sowing my carrots and beans in the potager for another couple of weeks. Anyhow, I digress. A short outing on the roadies this afternoon. Just short of 30kms from Dalou near Foix, to Saint Felix de Rieutort, along the valley where we battled a vicious and debilitating headwind before turning off towards the Col de Py and then a fantastic fast push back down the valley to Dalou. My only issues were my bits n pieces (no surprise there), my left hamstring which appears to be suffering from a mild strain (probably brought on by yesterday's potager potterings) and an intermittent twinge on the inside of my left knee. But I'll live. Not only that, but I fully intend to have another outing on Filly (yes, I know, how sad, I have given my bike a name!) very soon.

Thursday, 18 March 2010


It's been wonderfully warm again today. This morning, I was in half a mind to do a hill interval session today as part of my training for the Trail des Citadelles which takes place in just 2 weeks time. But, surprise, surprise, the other half overrode such a stupid idea and my day has mostly been spent digging/weeding in the potager in preparation for the first sowing of carrots and beans at the weekend. It's been a while since I used my upper body in any kind of exercise, so I am sure my muscles will be pleasantly complaining tomorrow. The potager really needs a good 2 or 3 days of my attention to revive it from its neglected state and I have to say, I am looking forward to the activity.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010


... my arse and other bits n pieces with the saddle of my roadie. Why is it never a pleasurable experience?! 4 months out of the saddle and even a gentle 9 km ride up to the Col de Port and then back down reminded me that 4 months is just too long to be off the bike. The only solution, as any roadie rider will tell you, is to spend more time in the saddle and with this glorious, warm, springlike weather (well into the 20s in the sun today) due to continue through to at least the weekend, who am I to ignore the calling. I am sure the pain will be short-lived. Hmm.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

The return

We finally arrived back at Pissou yesterday afternoon after a looooong journey which started at dawn Sunday morning when we left Dorset to catch the ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe. Both vehicles were fully laden with items that we have kept from the house in Sheffield and miscellaneous other bits and pieces that it is impossible to take back when flying. Fortunately, the weather for the drive back was perfect and the overnight stopover with one of my hosts in central France facilitated a battery recharge before the final 5 hour push down to the Pyrenees - jeez, it's a long trip! We arrived back to clear blue skies and rapidly melting snow - hard to believe that a week ago, the ground was covered with over 50cms of the white stuff!

The house was cold, very cold, which was to be expected after a month of lying empty. But the woodburner downstairs and the petrol heater upstairs quickly brought us some welcome warmth - a year ago, before we renovated the ground floor, it would have taken days to warm the house because of the awful damp that penetrated every room. But today, a comfortable temperature was quickly reached.

Today has been a full-on day of post-holiday catching up, sorting through the mountain of Stuff that we have brought back with us, getting 2 loads of washing on the line etc. But more importantly, I have tackled Potager Matters. I am very conscious of the unstoppable march of time and of the fact that, as yet, I have not sown any seeds for the summer's produce. So, in my new heated propagator, I have sown three varieties of tomato, some chillis and some beetroot. I have also sown two varieties of squash and some baby sweetcorn. By the weekend, temperatures are due to reach 20 degrees so I shouldn't have any problem with germination this year. This afternoon, I also lifted the remaining parsnips which amounted to a fair few kilos!
I have stored the majority in a jute sack in the barn but also have half a dozen stored in the fridge and will also be freezing a couple. Later in the week, I must have a potager day and get the French beans and early carrots sown, keeping a cloche or two handy to protect the sowings in case temperatures dip again in April. But I am hoping, just hoping (yeah, I know, the eternal optimist!) that Spring is now knocking at the door.

Thursday, 11 March 2010


I have covered quite a few kms over the past 2 weeks and pounded up numerous hills whilst absorbing the beauty of the Lake District and the Peak District but my poor little legs are tired now. I had planned a longer outing today but as I started the climb up to Lose Hill from Hope it was obvious it was not to be. 'Oi!', my body shrieked as I asked it to run up the incline, 'No Way! Nope! Not Today!' I didn't have any choice but to listen to it, so rather than treat the outing as a training run, I took it easy and just enjoyed being out in the lovely weather, taking in the views towards Edale ...and back towards Lose Hill from Mam TorThe reward for the slow, steady climb up to Mam Tor was a fun run back down along the edge, a fast scoot along the good paths below Lose Hill and a final spurt back to the car. It was a 10km outing with some steep ascents and I was out and back within 1 hr 30 mins. Tomorrow, a local walk possibly, before we leave the Peak District on Saturday morning to start our journey back to Pissou. I really hope I can keep up the running momentum when I return and that I will be on good form for the Trail des Citadelles in just over 3 weeks time.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Peak running

My run this afternoon was one of those that just makes you feel 'YES!' The training is paying off and the good conditions underfoot enabled me to do a PB on the Whitescar, Froggat, Curbar, Baslow Edge 14km circuit of 1 hr 30 mins. I knocked 6 minutes off my last recorded run around this particular circuit which was in 2006 when I considered myself pretty fit. Today, I finished the undulating circuit feeling strong and could have carried on. I had no aches or pains, no discomfort, despite having pushed hard, so time to crank up the distance with hopefully a longer run either tomorrow or Friday before we leave the Peak District on Saturday.

Sunday, 7 March 2010


Bakewell, a quintessentially English town. The melodic peeling of the church bells on a Sunday morning, the clippety clop of horses hooves along the road, the Sunday papers... it's all rather, I don't know... decadent?

Anyway, back to the nitty gritty, and an excellent run with Ayshea this afternoon in glorious weather .... clear blue skies but with a definite chill in the air. Aysh has only started running again recently after having her 2nd baby in early November. "I won't be running up any of the hills, you know", she cautioned me. "That's fine by me!" I replied. But Aysh is a super-motivated and determined lass and, as I expected, she ran up ALL of the hills ... that was 400m of ascent in total! Go girl!The route took us from Grindleford, up Padley Gorge to Surprise View car park, up to Higgar Torwith views towards Stanagealong to the head of the Burbage Valley then back down the track, along to the Longshaw Estate and a return back down Padley Gorge. 14.76km in a time of 1 hr 46 mins. Despite the crowds out enjoying the Sunday sunshine, it was a thoroughly enjoyable circuit and I felt strong all the way round. I love running in the Peak and hope to up the distance in the course of the coming week. Bring it on!

Friday, 5 March 2010

Moving on

Yesterday afternoon, Andy and I had a mooch up the Langdale Valley from Chapel Stile, taking advantage of the clear blue sky and beautiful sunshine on our last day in the Lakes. It was rounded off by a swift half of Black Sheep ale at the Old Dungeon Gill - sweet!
Today, we are back in the Peak District. The house is now totally cleared and the keys handed over to the solicitor. I have shut the door on Huntingtower Rd for the last time. Although I have many happy memories, collected over a period of 17 years, I am actually very relieved to have sold the house. Letting it out to tenants was more hassle than it was worth. Time to let go and move on.

We are now in a lovely little cottage in Bakewell for the next week. That's the beauty of being self-employed and having a business that can be run from anywhere in the world where there is an internet connection - no pressing need to return home! I intend to enjoy the coming week in the Peak District, running on the gritstone edges and the peakland moors and catching up with some more friends. But at the end of the week, I suppose we really should consider a return to Pissou.... maybe :-)

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Above Grasmere

Beautiful weather here again today.... clear blue skies but with a real chill in the air. My current drug of choice, a run in the fells, was calling me. I needed to get my fix whilst we are still in my favourite part of the world. I found what looked like a lovely circuit, starting at Grasmere, heading up to Easedale Tarn, on up to the ridge that looks down to Stickle Tarn and a descent to Codale Tarn before returning to Grasmere.

The run up to Easedale Tarn was generally snow free but the tarn itself was sporting an icey coat. My route would take me up to Blea Rigg, the ridge in the distance...which I reached within an hour. The view back down to Easedale Tarn and Great Rigg in the distance was quite special.On up some gentle, consolidated snow slopes (zero avalanche risk here) to the ridge that looks down onto Stickle Tarn with Pavey Ark on the right - this could be the Ariège, don't you think?!
Taff was enjoying his outing
Then it was time to descend back down to Codale Tarn which was also under iceWe then had a steep descent (not entirely planned, but I took the wrong route from Codale Tarn!) back down to the north of Easedale Tarn and a trot across the bogs down in the valley that leads back down to Grasmere
I felt strong all the way around the circuit which turned out to be another 14km outing, a couple of kms less than if I had taken the correct descent off Codale. But the going had been harder and the ascent from Grasmere steeper than my two previous outings, so I was pleased with how I felt. Tomorrow will probably be a less energetic day but hopefully I can get in one last long outing on Thursday before we leave this special part of the world.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Up onto the fells

Kentmere is a special place, nestled at the head of a valley, surrounded by beautiful scenery The lack of parking space at the head of the valley ensures that the hills will not be overwhelmed by people at this time of year. I was looking forward to having a run up onto the high fells and hoped to tick off the Kentmere round, an appox 20km circuit taking in the major peaks above the valley. The only factor that could thwart my plan was snow on the higher fells

Up to the Garburn Pass and en route to The Yoke, the hillside was windblown and the snow didn't present a problemThe view started to open out as I gained height and the Western fells revealed themselves in their full gloryThe pooch and I made good progress and quickly reached the Yoke and pushed on to Ill Bell and then Froswick. From there, I could get a good view of the second half of the round that runs up to Thornthwaite Crag, on to High Street and then Harter Fell and Kentmere Pike with Kentmere Tarn down in the valley. It was very white. If the pooch had not been with me I would have gone for it but I could not risk arriving at the head of the valley with an exhausted hound and and having to backtrack the way that I had came. So I turned tail and retraced my steps back towards Ill Bell....
... back down to the Garburn Pass and to the valley below. I had covered a total distance of 14.5kms with 635m of ascent. It had been a cracking outing but the Kentmere Round is still Unfinished Business. It would be good to complete it before we leave the Lakes on Friday. We'll see.