Tuesday, 31 August 2010

That autumnal nip

It's in the air. 8 degrees outside when we got up this morning. The mists are so far noteable by their absence but the mellow fruitfulness abounds, with blackberries, plums, damsons, apples and pears all ripe for the picking. I made some damson jelly yesterday which will go down well with winter meats and casserole dishes. Yum!

Today, the clear blue sky allowed the sun's warmth to be felt, but the searing summer heat of a week ago appears to have left us now. I am not complaining, as the conditions today have been just perfect for a roadie ride. I picked up a slight hamstring strain in my left leg after carrying wood up the hill day before yesterday but it had eased off enough for me to have a thoroughly enjoyable ride from Vernajoul just outside of Foix west on wonderfully quiet roads (quite obvious that the tourist season has ended here - hurrah!) through an area known as the 'Seronnais' above la Bastide de Sérou with rolling countryside views towards the hills and mountains of the Couserans...and eventually, via a section of road of dubious quality (let's just say a vélo-cross bike would have been better suited!) we arrived at the very pleasant Lac de Mondély After a brief café stop for refreshments, we headed up the hill and enjoyed more quiet roads that eventually led us back to Vernajoul. En route, we stumbled across an amazing plum tree at the side of the road (no houses in sight!) at which it would have been rude not to stuff our faces with the warm, sweet, juicy fruit! I got my just desserts however when I accidently bit hard on a stone and fractured off a chunk of molar which, thankfully has been heavily filled in the past, so not too much exposed nerve to give me pain. A visit to the dentist is however fairly urgently required!

We had lowered my saddle by just 5mm before the outing and I have to say it has made the world of difference to my comfort on the bike and it was fantastic to finish the ride with no 'soft tissue' discomfort at all! The legs felt strong and the hamstring only gave me minor niggles towards the end. A total of just under 65kms/800m of ascent. Lovely. Stats on the usual site.

This afternoon, seeing as we were already sweaty and smelly, we set about tackling the wood piles that are rapidly increasing in size. I shifted the big chunky logs into position for Andy to split. Lots of wood now ready to stack ready for winter use. But lots more still awaiting some chainsaw action to cut them down to useable lengths.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Shouldn't think about it, but can't help it

Actually, that's not quite correct. In these parts, it's never too early to think about it because we never know when it will be upon us. The winter snows have been known to fall on the area at the end of September and autumnal temperatures can soon necessitate firing up the woodburner. So today, we ventured down the road to where a couple of uprooted beech trees have been resting since the catastrophic snow fall of early May. Beech is great wood for the woodburner so Andy set about chainsawing the 50cm dia trunk into manageable sections that we could transport back to the house. The tree had fallen down a slope to the side of the road, so we had to carry the wood back up to the road which was tricky, tiring and sweaty work. We also sectioned a couple of other smaller diameter trunks that were an ideal size for the woodburner. Four car loads later (goddam, we MUST get a trailer!), we had a respectable pile of wood which is now awaiting logging, splitting and stacking and, in the case of the larger logs, some drying in anticipation of colder temperatures
While we were in 'wood' mode, we also brought down much of the cherry wood that we had stacked up the little chemin following the May snow storm. Much of it is wonderfully dry and ready to use once we have logged it.
I guess we have been holding off doing any wood collecting due to uncertainty over where we will be this winter. But we are more likely than not to be somewhere where wood is the primary fuel source, so best work on that basis. I reckon we have collected enough so far to tide us over for a couple of months of cold temperatures.

Friday, 27 August 2010

The scent of Provence

It has been very hot over the past couple of days, peaking here at 34 deg C in the shade yesterday, some 6 degrees cooler than down at P&K's apparently! The Scottish lady & her son who came to see the house on Tuesday returned yesterday for a second visit and are smitten by the place, especially now that they have seen the views (it was clagged in on Tuesday)! We'll have to see if they now make an offer.

Today, I headed over to Chalabre in the Aude to meet up with Pat for some VTT action. It was a cracking circuit in slightly cooler conditions to yesterday (thank goodness), 20kms with 300m of ascent, including short sections of quiet roads, some forest track, narrow singletrack and a cracking final, technical but thankfully doable descent through woods and scrubland. It was a blast and I am pleased with how I rode it. But the overwhelming sensation today was that hot pine smell that is so reminiscent of Provence and the coastal areas of France. Wonderful! Stats for the ride on the usual site.

Pat joined me after the ride to view a wonderful property in Fougax near Belesta that we will probably be renting for the winter. It's an amazing area with loads of top quality mountain bike circuits and runs plus an excellent base for some winter roadie riding. Plus, the Mont d'Olmes ski resort is just a short drive down the road and the coast is but an hour and a half away. After the visit, we had a lovely light lunch in a little spot just outside of Fougax. A wonderful day all round.

Tomorrow, we are fetching the Astra from the garage in St G and handing over far too much money for the privilege. But hopefully she will now be running like a dream and won't give us any further problems!

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

A hot lunch in Spain

We've been wanting to do it for a while and today was the day. Clear blue skies promised hot hot sun so where better to head than up to the cooler high mountains. Destination Spain. On the mountain bikes. Yes, we had a date with the Port d'Aula 2200m alt, starting at the Granges de Laserre which is, in itself, a very beautiful spotThe Port d'Aula is one of many gateways into Spain across the higher mountains and is accessible via a track, the first 3kms of which have been recently redone to allow better access for cars to the first waypoint at Col de Pause. Unfortunately the loose stoney surface makes progress tediously slow if you are on a bike, but once past Col de Pause the surface changes which makes for a fun ascent on tracks of various quality but always with breathtaking sceneryWe climbed easily thanks to the numerous switchbacks to above the Etang d'Areau from where the vista suddenly opened up with the Cuns d'Aula and Mont Valier within striking distanceWe pressed on and the Port d'Aula was soon within sightAfter 12.5kms and 2 hrs 8 mins of steady climbing (1140m in total), we were rewarded with a wonderful Spanish vista which made the perfect location for a quick butty before we turned around and started the fun, fast descent back down. I couldn't help but stop at every photographic opportunity to record the shere beauty of the landscape in front of me, from the Etang de Prat Matau nestled in an idyllic situation
to the larger Etang d'Areau further down the trackWay down there is the Col de Pause where the gravel track ended! ....
It was a fantastic track on which to just let loose and ride... Andy is far braver than myself on such descents although I have to say, with my new tyres and improved confidence on the mountain bike, I descended far quicker than I probably would have done in the past and arrived back at the car with a super enormous grin on my face, just 38 minutes after leaving the top!! What a cracking outing! Stats on the usual site.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

'La belle endormie'

I've looked at hundreds of properties on the internet in my search for a future home. I seem to be having enormous difficulty in finding a property that meets all of our quite demanding criteria. Last weekend, I stumbled upon this fairytale property.It is exactly the style of property that I have always dreamt of. We visited it yesterday. It was clear that major work would be required to make it habitable - it really was in a sorry state, neglected and left to fall to ruin. But my goodness, what potential! We were there for over an hour. We left the house to have a meander up the little chemin behind the house to look at the land that was part of the deal. Suddenly, loud loud classical music came blasting up towards us from the house which is adjacent to our 'sleeping beauty'. I mean seriously loud music. Well, that was it, decision taken - no way could we consider living with such neighbours. The overriding criteria now has to be NO NEIGHBOURS!

In the meantime, issues with vehicles are plagueing us and starting to cost a small fortune. The worst culprit is the Astra estate on which, last month, we replaced all 4 very worn tyres and a wheel bearing plus the alternator. That was bad enough. But other issues have started cropping up including sudden losses in power when travelling at 110-130kmh (on the autoroute or dual carriageways, I should say!), a cream cheese texture and oily coating to the engine coolant bottle contents and strange but dramatic noises from the wheels from time to time. We dropped it down to the Opel garage in St G this morning and received a call within a couple of hours to advise that the discs and pads on the front wheels needed to be replaced, the radiator likewise plus some other part that I can't remember which is linked to the drop in engine power. In short, a stonking bill awaits us on Thursday :-( Just to add insult to injury, on our way back home yesterday, the Rav started experiencing worrying losses of power when the revs approached 3000 rpm, which is not unusual if you are ascending a col and asking the engine to pull. Looks like we will have to find a Toyota garage sometime soon to sort that problem too!

Saturday, 21 August 2010


It's been my target for a while. I think 83/84km is the furthest I have ridden to date on the roadie. But in hindsight, a day on which the temperatures down on the plain were into the high 30s was maybe not the best day to up the mileage.

I made up a circuit which started in Dalou near Foix and which took in Mirepoix and the Lac de Montbel and which covered the distance but without too much ascent. The route we took is on the usual site. At the 45km mark, Andy and I stopped for lunch in Mirepoix .... which was nice, although we were perspiring in a most unfashionable way due to the silly heat from which we simply could not escape, even in the shade. From there, more lovely riding with views towards the hills and then down towards the Lac de Montbel. I say 'lovely riding' but it was like a furnace, with no escape from the intense heat of the sun. By the 80km mark, despite having consumed four large bidons of liquid which contained a mixture of sports fuel and Nuun rehydration salts, the heat started taking its toll. Everything started hurting and, despite fuelling OK, my muscles started to not respond to my requests. It got to a point where I suggested Andy rode on the final 12kms or so to fetch the car and I would plod on as best I could. I didn't like the way I was feeling and was craving the shade and just the slightest breeze to take the edge off the heat. I did however just make the 100km mark which I am pleased about.
In hindsight, I think my main error was to start the ride when I was already feeling dehydrated. Knowing what the temperatures would be today, I should have ensured I drank loads yesterday. Today, I was probably sweating out as much as I was taking in ... OK, slight exaggeration maybe, but either way, it was impossible for my body to take in and efficiently use what I was putting into it.... something I need to be very aware of next time we do a long ride in the heat.

Thursday, 19 August 2010


We headed over to the Lavelanet area today and, to make a change from a roadie ride, Andy and I had an excellent little mountain bike ride, repeating a circuit that I did with Pat last year. The red no. 9 circuit which took in Bélesta, Aiguillon and Lesparrou was wonderfully dry this time and it took us just over 1 1/2 hours to complete the 20kms with 300m of height gain. A lovely outing. Stats on the usual site.

While we were over that way, we popped in to see a cottage in Lesparrou that I thought could have potential as a base for us for the winter. But it was TINY!! So that one was quickly scratched from the list of potentials. We then popped along the Montségur road from Bélesta to Fougax et Barrineuf to check out the location of another couple of winter let possibilities. We may return next week for viewings. In the meantime, we have got potential buyers coming to view our house tomorrow and also on Monday, so fingers crossed we get a bite!

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Radio silence

Yes, I know, it has been over a week since my last post. But I do not apologise, as I have been spending valuable time with precious family in Dorset. Just to share the news, my 23 yr old son is off to the Haliburton Forest in Ontario, Canada on the 26th August for an outdoor education internship which will see him spending his winter amongst huskies and wolves whilst gaining valuable career experience working with groups in a totally unique and wonderful environment. We are all SO jealous of the opportunity that he has been given and are all wondering whether he will actually have any desire to return to the UK after his time there!

My laddy and I spent a lovely day on Brownsea Island off Poole Harbour on Sunday, mooching on the beach picking up shells, watching yachts and other craft in the estuary....... climbing the enormous, tangled branches of an impressive centuries-old oak tree
...avoiding the over-zealous attentions of random peacocks on the beach...
... all finished off with a lovely boat trip back through the islands to Poole Harbour
My trip also included a fair amount of blueberry picking for my brother. August is peak harvest time and the fruit is an absolute joy to pick.

It was wonderful to also spend time with mum and to have a belated birthday celebration for her while I was there. But yesterday, I returned home. Fortunately, the good weather returned with me - blue skies and warm sun have been the order of the day today which is just wonderful. But the best news is that Claudines's friends and their three dogs departed this morning, leaving us with some well overdue peace and quiet here at Pissou. Bliss!

Tomorrow, we are heading over to Belesta, not far from P&K for some VTT/mountain bike action and to visit a couple of houses that have winter let potential. We have somebody coming to view our house on Friday and another couple on Monday, so fingers crossed we actually get an offer!

Monday, 9 August 2010

Potager problems

The regular spells of wet, unseasonal weather have taken their toll on the potager this summer. It looks like I am going to lose the whole of my tomato crop to what I believe is late tomato blight. Can anybody identify it for definite?I am terribly disappointed as I was so looking forward to sun-drying more cherry tomatoes this year and also to building a stock of passata for the winter. It has not been a fantastic year in the potager, with everything taking much longer to mature/ripen than last year and with the onions and garlic failing to reach a decent size. But I shouldn't complain, as I have had loads of French beans, potatoes, carrots, some good beetroot and celery and also shallots out of it so far.

Elsewhere, we had a short walk up in the cloud along the Peguère forest track this afternoon to loosen the legs up after yesterday's exertions and Andy spotted this spider with its dinner - isn't the web with the water droplets on it beautiful?

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Col col col....

I got a tad carried away after my highly successful ride with Pat on Friday and somehow managed to enthusiastically commit myself to doing another ride with Andy today, this time from the house and with just a leeeetle bit more ascent than I have done in the past year.... or maybe 2! But the weather was glorious this morning and, after a good clean and a bit of a fettle yesterday, my bike owed me a favour so off we set.

The last time I rode from the house up to the Col d'Agnès was over 2 years ago. The actual climb from Massat is just over 17kms long with 921m of ascent and takes you up to one of my favourite areas here, around the Etang de Lhers and then up to the Col with its fantastic views of the high mountains which border SpainDespite the heat, we managed it without a problem. From there, the long descent down into Aulus-les-Bains where we had to take a decision whether to start the run home, down to Ercé and then up to the Col de Saraillé and back down into Massat, or hang a left and climb up to the Col de Latrappe which would add to the distance and the height gain somewhat. What the heck, I have already done the climb a couple of times ... it's short (4.5kms) and only ascends 375m... the legs were feeling OK and I did need a longer ride. So up we headed. Easy peasy (relatively speaking). Then a great descent down to the Ustou Valley and a fun run battling a headwind through to Seix where it was time for a welcome shandy/coffee stop.

By this point, after 56km and nearly 1300m of height gain, my legs were feeling somewhat weary and I wasn't relishing the prospect of even more climbing but we had no choice. That's the price you pay for living where we do! So I fuelled up and off we headed again, on our way back home, via Cominac and the Col de Saraillé, another 430m of ascent over 11kms, then down into Massat. At last, all the ascent done! Er.... WRONG! Home is another 5kms and 200m of ascent further up the hill! Gah! But the Col de Port road no longer strikes fear into my heart and before I knew it we were home, tired but with no significant aches or pains - just very tired legs which is kind of expected after that kind of a ride. My new position on the bike and my new saddle are making all the difference. This is the ride profileFull stats for the outing are on the usual site although the total ascent figure appears to be a little bit inflated. The ride was actually 83km long/2026m of ascent in total which took us just over 4 1/2 hrs (not including stopping time). I'm pleased with that. No more cycling for me for 9 days while I am back in the UK, but when I return, the rest will have done my muscles the world of good and I will be on demon form..... no, really I will!

Friday, 6 August 2010

Flirting with the Aude

It's been a horrible few days, weather-wise and the only exercise we have had to speak of was a quick blast on the roadies from home up to Cominac via the Col de Saraillé 2 days ago to test out my new saddle. Now, I should maybe explain about this saddle business, as fellow roadie riders (especially of the female variety) may find it interesting.

My old saddle was a Sella Italia Diva Sport which was quite 'squishy' and not at all like the rock hard saddles that blokes seem to ride with. Although my sit bones were very comfortable on my squishy saddle, thank you very much, I was constantly finding myself shuffling around on my seat and trying to sit further back in order to relieve some of the pressure on my soft tissue area. I was often ending a ride in not inconsiderable discomfort and it was starting to feel like longer distances would not be possible for me. We tried everything we could think of to alleviate the problem, from tilting the nose of the saddle down, to moving it further forward, to changing the handle bar position but nothing worked. So I ended up replacing the Diva Sport with the Selle Italia SLK ladies saddle which is much much firmer and also (more importantly) much narrower towards the back. We also raised my seat height. The difference has been amazing. After an 83km ride today, I could have carried on! I reckon that the old Diva Sport saddle was simply too wide at the back and was effectively pushing me forward and thereby placing my soft tissue onto the most uncomfortable part of the saddle. My riding position was also too low on that saddle which resulted in early muscular pain and fatigue. So hurrah at last, I can now start riding seriously without fear of ending up crippled!

Anyway, back to today's ride. Full stats on the usual site. This was the profilePat and I had a wonderful gurly outing while the boyz did their own thing. We crossed over into the Aude department and were treated to a sea of yellow thanks to the numerous fields of sunflowers that are still in flower
This is an area of gently rolling countryside, lovely little villages and quiet roads not to mention some beautiful sceneryHeaven for the roadie rider! Poor Pat was feeling weak and washed out thanks to an ongoing gastric problem but being the trooper that she is, kept the pedals turning and we both enjoyed the return of the warm sun. I love riding with my mate! Get better soon, missus!

The boyz seemed to enjoy their ride, with Kev finishing his ride at Mirepoix for work reasons, whilst Andy and Céd made their way back to Neylis along the minor roads.

An enjoyable day was had by all!

Thursday, 5 August 2010


Yes, folks, please join me in wishing my dear mater a most "Happy Birthday!!" Looking forward to seeing you next week when I can convey my wishes in person!

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Hmmm, summer.....?

So far, this 'summer' has consisted of a day or (if we are really lucky), a few days of gloriously hot, sunny weather followed by several days of wet, grey and very unseasonal minging weather. For the past 3 days, while we have been working on Sadie, the weather has been of the typically summery variety, so we had to get on the roadies today before the forecasted wet, minging variety moved back in. So down to Foix we went, where we met the rest of 'The Gang' for a fun, sociable outing up to the Plateau de Alzen, down to La Bastide de Sérou, along to the Grotte du Mas d'Azil via le Saret, where the locals have set up a number of straw-stuffed figures going about their daily business alongside the road which provided me with some entertainment!
From le Mas d'Azil, we headed through to Pailhès and then the long run back to Foix via Montégut Plantaurel. Here is the route profile Stats for the 77km route are on the usual site although there is a blip somewhere as Garmin is showing my max speed as 212.5 kph!!!! Er, I don't think so! My cadence meter also appears to have stopped working which is a pain.

We made it home in the nick of time as the first spots of rain fell, accompanied by the first rumbles of thunder. The storm has gone on for 5 hours so far. The dog is a bag of nerves thanks to the reverberating thunder rattling from hillside to hillside. Some sedatives from the vet may be in order at this rate, for his sake as well as for ours!

A busy couple of days coming up with some houses to view (rental possibilities for the winter/purchase possibilities for longer term) as well as stuff to sort out for the van prior to getting it French-registered. A return to more summery conditions is expected mid week - not a moment too soon for my poor tomatoes which desperately need the warmth if they are to turn from their current stubborn green to a more enticing and delicious red!