Saturday, 27 November 2010

Voie verte explorations

I've mentioned the voie verte that runs from Lavelanet to Mirepoix a few times already. I find the local history of areas such as this fascinating and it was interesting to discover that the railway line was put in in the late 19th century to transport passengers, raw materials (mainly wood) and manufactured goods (textiles and horn combs) from the foothills of the Pyrenees to the major road network further North.

The wood production continues in earnest, but the cloth/textile industry that used to employ thousands of workers in over two hundred factories in this area has declined massively with now just a handful of textile manufacturers remaining. Since the 1940s, the development of the national road network and de-industrialisation resulted in a decline in the use of the railway until December 16th 1973, when a train whistle was heard for the last time on the line. The track lay dormant until 2006 when it was converted into the 38km long pathway or voie verte used by walkers, cyclists and horse riders today.Yesterday, we decided to explore the track on the mountain bikes and set off from Sainte-Colombe sur l'Hers in the Mirepoix direction, not really sure how far we would get. But the track was good, generally hardpack but with some muddy and grassed-over sections plus a couple of tunnels, one of which was a couple of hundred metres long but very poorly lit. We passed the pretty 'bastide' village of Camon....After 20kms we were considering doubling back, but I spotted a church spire in the middle distance which indicated a village/town at which I hoped we could grab a coffee and a bite to eat. It was Mirepoix! We had covered 26kms in 1 1/2 hours which was not bad going. After a quick sandwich, we turned tail and headed back along the track. The ruin of the Chateau de Lagarde was silhouetted against the cold, wintry sky with the snowy mountains in the distanceEverything was feeling good and much to my amazement, we made it back to the car in 3 hrs, despite the everso slight incline on the return leg. I was tired - my body knew it had been riding solidly for 3 hours - but it was a good tiredness. Full stats for the ride are on the usual site. The voie verte has now been ear-marked as a winter bike training route for when the roads are too wet/icy for road biking. It will also make an excellent running route when conditions 'offroad' are too muddy/snowy. There is no excuse for any loss of fitness this winter!

Today, we made a quick trip back to Pissou to collect another carload of wood which should see us through to just before Christmas.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Low season/winter taper

Tapering is what every *cough* serious cyclist does in the winter. Drop the mileage, drop the intensity, do 'maintenance' rides.... that sort of thing. So, of course, that is why we cracked out a 92km/860m+ circuit yesterday. I blame Kev. He chose the route. But, give him his due, he didn't know that we were planning on cycling the additional 17kms to Laroque to rendezvous with him, Pat and Céd. It was actually a very enjoyable ride at the end of which my legs protested with a tired ache but no accompanying pain, which is good. We took in much of the circuit that we did with the club a couple of weeks ago but in reverse.The weather was clear but decidedly nippy, with a noticeable temperature drop just as we were riding the 12kms home. We timed it well, yet again, with the first drops of raining falling as we arrived home. Still no snow though, although I believe that may change over the next 48 hours. Maybe. Stats for the ride on the usual site.

Today, I took the pooch for a run/walk along the Voie Verte from La Bastide de Sérou which I walked on Tuesday. I covered around 11kms, alternating running & walking. And again, no pain! I do believe I may be making progress.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Rant alert

Well, the 'neige forte' that was predicted by Méteo France only extended down to 1000m alt. In fact, at that altitude, it would be more accurate to describe the fall as a 'dusting' rather than a 'dumping' and us folk at 540m have not seen so much as a floçon. It has however been wet, very wet. Temperatures are due to fall further over the next few days and precipitation will most probably turn to snow down here if that is the case. Watch this space!

In the meantime *rant alert*, my battles with our ADSL provider, SFR are continuing. I may or may not have mentioned it before, but since we moved into this house we have had no telephone. The way it works here is that the phone and internet both go through a 'box' (router) which, in this case is an SFR 'Neufbox'. You cannot plug your phone directly into the phone socket and make a call. No, that would be too simple and uncomplicated. It has to go through the box. But whilst our box detects that the telephone handset is indeed plugged in and the test call to the handset works, we are not getting a dial tone and the box is not detecting the fact that the handset is being picked up and put back down. There is a fault, there is a problem, most likely with the box. So call SFR and get it sorted. But the phone doesn't work. Use your mobile. But we have no mobile signal at the house. I have spent 2 hours today, 2 hours I tell you, sat in the car in the next village where there is a mobile signal, almost crying with frustration at one point, until I was advised that OK, we'll send you a text with a date and a time for the engineer's visit. I have still not received said text. The mere thought that I may have to call them again is enough to send my blood pressure soaring. Inefficiency at its best, that's SFR.

On a brighter note, in an attempt to de-stress I took the pooch for a mooch along the 'Voie verte' from la Bastide sur l'Hers earlier. This is the old disused railway line that runs from Mirepoix through to Lavelanet and is part of the Trans-Ariege VTT (mountain bike) route. The old station building still stands although the ivy and the weeds are rapidly making inroads....... the no doubt once proud station name sign is looking sad and neglected
On what day did the station clock stop, I wonder?
What used to be displayed on this 'panneau'?So many questions. I must look into the history of the line and I will hopefully find some answers.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Before the snow comes

There is a vicious rumour that the arrival of Winter may be imminent in these parts. I am holding Méteo France responsible. Overnight and tomorrow morning, they are forecasting the first dump of snow of the winter. Quite how much we should expect is anybody's guess - the forecasters always get it wrong, so there's no point them even having a stab! I took this picture at lunchtime today during our roadie ride and the approach of the big black snow-bearing front is unmistakable.So yes, anyway, having seen the forecast and with the added lure of sun and blue skies this morning, we jumped on the roadies and had a quick blast around the Lac de Montbel..... which was nice. 57km/550+/2h24m - full stats on the usual site. The first drops of rain caught us literally as we arrived back in the village and a steady rain is now falling. We couldn't have timed it better.

Yesterday, we did a walk/run up through the Gorges de la Frau to Comus on the Plateau de Sault, which is only some 5kms in distance but a height gain of 460m, the majority of which is in the first 1.5kms! At the end of the gorge, a good, very runnable track leads up to Comus. The light was flat and dull, so these photos are a tad washed out
The run back down the track was fun and the exploration leads us to believe that it would make an excellent snow-shoe outing this winter. Once up at Comus, there are so many possibilities for extending the circuit too, so fun times ahead.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Active stuff

The weather since Sunday evening has been, quite frankly, minging. But that is one of the peculiarities of this part of the world - one day we have clear blue skies and temperatures into the 20s in mid November and the next, a 15 degree plummet in temperatures with snow down to 1500m. So we have spent the past couple of days mainly working, but we did manage to have a brief run along the lane during a weather window yesterday afternoon which was the first time I had properly 'run' for quite some time due to my ongoing itb/glute issues. But I have been encouraged by the lack of pain after a couple of walks with decent ascent/descent over the past couple of weeks so thought it was worth giving it a try. I have also changed some of the stretches that I have been doing which also seems to have made a big difference. The run was only 6-7kms on a pretty flat track, but I couldn't have done that 3 months ago without considerable pain but I had no discomfort at all yesterday! Excellent! I am finally getting somewhere and am most likely going to put in my entry for the 20km 2011 Trail des Citadelles next week :-)

Today, we awoke to a hard frost thanks to a clear night. It was dry but the forecast was for more rain this afternoon. We had to grab a roadie ride while we could so we donned the winter riding clobber and headed out for a very pleasant 70km/700m+ undulating circuit which took us 2h45m. Full stats are not on 'the usual site' as Garmin Connect appear to be having problems and the site is currently down.

Sunday, 14 November 2010


There is a small plantation of pine trees just along the chemin here and on the ground, amongst the pine needles, there appears to have been an explosion of funghi of many sorts. Our mushroom ID books are back at Pissou but I am going to try to identify them from the internet, unless you wonderful people can enlighten me? We're pretty sure none of them are edible though.It has been amazingly warm again today, up into the 20s, so I took the pooch for a bit of an exploratory mooch up to the Gorge de la Frau this afternoon. The start of the gorge is only 6kms from Fougax and forms part of the Sentier Cathare, the Chemin des Bonhommes, the GR7b and is also the descent route down from Comus on the Plateau de Sault for the Trans-Ariege VTT circuit that I hope to do next year!

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Ode to the Aude

Or maybe not. My attempt at an ode would most likely turn out more like some ridiculous limerick. So I shall spare you. But the Aude has to be one of the best places for road biking. The fact that this is mid November and the temperature was into the 20s certainly helped on today's ride. The highlight for me today was the quiet 16km long country road that we chose to take from Puivert through to Esperaza with beautiful undulating scenery and minimal traffic. Just amazing and wonderful riding.It was lunchtime when we arrived in Esperaza and, funnily enough, we couldn't find anywhere open for a bite to eat, but we struck lucky in Campagne-sur-Aude with one of the finest ham and camembert baguettes that I have ever had! That provided the fuel for the long, steady climb up to Nébias which appeared like an oasis in the green landscape ahead.From there, along to Puivert and up the hill before the fantastic run back down to Belesta and home. The ride profile ......
Just under 75kms/960m+/3hr15m - stats on the usual site

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Into the hills

It is only 15 minutes from here to the village of Montsegur from where the GR de Pays du Tour du Massif du Tabe leads you up into the mountains and eventually to the Pic de Saint Barthélemy. Anybody who may have thought we had abandoned the mountains for the flatlands should think again - they have never been so accessible!!! So, with chilly but sunny weather this morning, we set out on an exploratory walk/jog/run to check out the snow level and to test out my legs once again.

The route takes you up through the woods on good tracks and paths before a clearing is reached from where the snowy Pic de Soularac comes into viewThe tracks continued to ascend through the woodland but the going was good and the legs felt strong, thank goodness! We pressed on until the woods gave way to another clearing at 1500m (Jasse de Pratmau) beneath Pic de Soularac where we were greeted by a dusting of snowThe GR led us straight ahead before climbing again, up past the well-equipped cabane (a great spot for an overnight bivvy before a winter assault on Barthelemy), through some more small pine plantations and eventually, after 1hr 40m/5kms/900m+, to a saddle at 1800m from where we had amazing views back down the valley and to Montsegur...
...round to the Pic de la Frau ....... to the Col de la Peyre and high mountains beyond...
... and to the ridgeline that leads to Pic de Saint Barthélemy
The snow was ankle deep and we weren't kitted out for winter conditions so decided to leave further, higher explorations until another day. But with an early 'Alpine' start (sans pooch, naturellement!), Pic de St B is within our reach this winter which is quite an exciting prospect.

We re-traced our steps and were back at the car within 3 hours. My legs were giving me warning signs on the steeper sections of the descent but so far this evening I have no pain, so fingers crossed I will be OK in the morning. If so, things bode well for bigger, longer days out in the mountains this winter. I am also optimistic about getting back into the running again. Entries have just opened for the 2011 Trail des Citadelles at the end of April. Would I be tempting fate by putting in my entry, do you think?!

Wednesday, 10 November 2010


....or, to give it its proper Spanish name, Dulce de Membrillo, is known as quince paste to us British folk. And, oh my Lord, it is lush! I picked up some cheap, 'straight from the tree' quinces in Lavelanet the other day, specifically with quince paste in mind. It is a simple recipe but I could really have done with the sieve with the roller bit (passoir à coulis) that we left back at Pissou rather than having to process the pulp through the sieve by hand which was truely tedious and time-consuming! And my maslin (jam pan) would also have been useful, but I managed with two pans all the same. The end result was truely delicious.

Membrillo is traditionally eaten with a slice of Manchego cheese and a glass of sherry in Spain. But I shall be eating it either spread on a chunk of fresh baguette with a morceau of Cantal Entre Deux cheese or straight from the fridge 'as is' - it is that delicious!

I still have a few quinces left and it would appear from some Google research that they go well with slow-cooked lamb. Guess what we will be having for dinner at the weekend?

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Further explorations

OK, so you can hardly count yesterday's rather wet excursion up to Toulouse in the van to purchase ceiling & wall-covering carpet and floor vinyl as an 'exploration', but it was a worthwhile trip out all the same. With poor weather forecast through to the weekend, at least we will now be able to busy ourselves working on carpetting Sadie in preparation for fixing some of the units back at Pissou next week.

But today, we woke up to a sunny morning. In view of the forecast for the coming few days, I couldn't bare to not make the most of it. I wanted to explore up above the Plateau de Sault before the snows come. I've biked up there a few times now but have never explored beyond Belcaire, even though the little ski station of Camurac is only a few kilometers up the road. So that is where we headed today, although snow has yet to visit this pretty area which is at 1200m alt. We parked at Camurac and headed up the hill above the village from where we could see the next weather front pushing in over the distant mountains. How much time did we have?!A mixture of walking and jogging took us up a good track and then down through woods which opened out onto the wonderfully named Pla du Boum. The name is somewhat ironic in view of the wild situation, because 'boum' is French slang for party! But it was a spectacularly beautiful spot all the same
We meandered up to the Col du Boum before dropping down to the little village of Comus which is on the Cathar Trail and also on the Trans-Ariege mountain bike route that I was looking at doing in October. The weather was closing in rapidly.Pic de Saint Barthelemy in the distance was wearing a snowy coat after the wet, cold weather of the past 2 days We arrived back at the car in Camurac after 10kms/1 hr 40m of walking and gentle running, just as the first drops of rain were starting to fall. Good timing. It will be interesting to see how my legs/itbs feel in the morning, as I had some pain following our outing up above Montsegur the other day. I was very wary and restrained today, not wanting any more discomfort, but all feels good this evening so I am hoping that my programme of remedial stretching is working.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Out and about

Friday morning is market morning in Lavelanet. It's a wonderfully varied market with good local produce in abundance. Amongst many other things, I bought a whole rabbit, half of which is destined for the freezer and the other half is being transformed into a Normandy rabbit dish this evening with apples, cream and calvados .... nom nom! I also came home with some bargain-priced quince with which to make quince paste and some truely delicious and dangerously quaffable 'vin primeur' from the Côtes d'Agly vineyards which you pass through on the road to Perpignan. The market will be a regular destination for me on Friday mornings, no question!

Yesterday afternoon, with continuing warm weather, Andy and I jumped onto the road bikes and knocked off a quick 50km/370m+ circuit from the house taking in Lesparrou, Chalabre, Puivert with its hilltop chateau.....followed by a fast descent back down to Belesta and home. We were only out for 2 hours Stats on the usual site and there was still time for me to take the pooch for a mooch when I got home! It's amazing how much more you can fit into a day down here.

This morning brought another clear, sunny day so I suggested we head up to the Col de Montségur and explore the path that leads up onto the ridge and eventually through to Pic de St Barthélemy. It was wonderfully clear, sunny and warm when we set out, but in the distance we could see an ominous bank of Weather approaching. Our path took us steeply up the hillside before a long contour around the hillside in the woodland and then another steep ascent up onto the ridge at 1600m. The bank of cloud was marching ever closerA hurriedly snatched photo of Pic de Saint Barthelemy in the distancebefore a quick retreat back down towards Montségur which was about to be swallowed by the mass of cloud
These two photos were taken just 2 hours apart!We made it back in the nick of time. We had only covered just under 6kms, but the height gain was nearly 600m. I am hoping my legs will not pay the price tomorrow. But it was good to explore some of our new surroundings and scope out what could be a possible snowshoe outing in the winter. Pic de Saint Barthelemy is also within reach, but probably with an overnight stop in a cabane en route.

When we returned to the car, we found an emaciated hunter's dog, curled up and shivering at the edge of the car park. The poor thing was barely responsive and did not look like it could survive the cold, wet night that was forecast. Fortunately, there was a mobile number on her collar and I was able to get hold of her owners. We bundled her into the back of the car and headed down to Belesta to hand her over. The poor thing could barely walk but they appeared totally unconcerned at her state which, it has to be said from prior encounters with these dogs and their owners, is nothing unusual. They are not pets, after all :-(

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Clubbing it

Pat and Kev have been riding with the Cyclo Club du Pays d'Olmes since they moved down this way 2 years ago. They meet at Laroque d'Olmes, a 15 minute drive from here, on a Wednesday and a Saturday afternoon and I was so looking forward to riding with them once we had moved down here. Yesterday was the day! The average age of the club riders must be around 60, but what a cracking bunch of riders they are. I was welcomed into their midst without question. The fact that I am a mate of Pat & Kev's no doubt helped. I was however somewhat apprehensive about the tactics required for riding in a large group, but those fears proved unfounded as the ride progressed. There was a wonderfully laid back feel to the ride, with frequent stops to regroup and allow the slower riders to catch up and I heard mutterings from established members about the new lass being 'not too shabby', so I don't think I let the side down! 65kms/700m+/2hr40m riding - stats on the usual site. I am already looking forward to next Wednesday's ride.We have spent today back at Pissou, working on Sadie and getting together more stuff that we needed to bring down with us. Andy got the kitchen structure and the oven housing completed which is another good step forwards
It has been a long day and we arrived back in Fougax after dark. We drove the van back as we have to drive up to Toulouse early next week to collect the thin carpetting for the walls and ceiling and also the floor vinyl. We also need to arrange for the van to be inspected at a Mercedes garage up there so that we can get the 'attestation' for the lights and speedometer that are required before Mercedes will give us their European certificate of conformity. This is the final obstacle to us getting the van registered in France. We have successfully registered two vehicles in France so far, a Vauxhall/Opel and a Toyota and neither of these manufacturers have demanded an attestation for the lights and for the speedometer. Quite honestly and in my humble and probably ignorant opinion, it is simply yet another way for the Mercedes organisation to make money. After all, as I pointed out to them, the van has passed its 'contrôle téchnique' which it would not have done if we had not changed the headlamps in order to conform with French road regulations. And surely Mercedes themselves can tap the vehicle chassis number into the computer and find out what kind of speedo it has? I must be missing something, but either way, we have no choice but to fork out yet more dosh and spend yet more time in order to satisfy French bureaucracy. It's all pretty frustrating!

The weather has turned gloriously warm again today and looks set to top 20 degrees again tomorrow. So Lavelanet market in the morning then a blast on the roadies in the afternoon.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Just do it

We're running out of basic household supplies. We need a 'proper' shopping trip. What day shall we head down to Saint-Girons/Tarascon/Foix and brave the min. 1 hour round trip?
We're running out of basic household supplies. We need a 'proper' shopping trip. I'll just pop along to Lavelanet. There and back and big shop done within the hour.

I fancy a bit of a jog, a stretch of the legs, nothing too far or too steep. Better jump in the car and head down to Massat then
I fancy a bit of a jog, a stretch of the legs, nothing too far or too steep. I'll just step out of the door and go as far as I fancy going!

I could really do with a good, long outing on the roadie, not too much ascent, just good distance. Forget it 1) There's snow down to 900m 2) Ascent is unavoidable.... unless you want a 1.5-2 hr round trip drive
I could really do with a good, long outing on the roadie, not too much ascent, just good distance. Let's go!

Fancy a coffee and a chat with me mate. Jeez, I just can't face the 2 hour round trip! Maybe another time.
Fancy a coffee and a chat with me mate. See you in 10 minutes, Pat!!!

It's called having a life. It's quite exciting really! Fun times ahead :-D

Monday, 1 November 2010

Fête de la citrouille

It's been a day of solid rain, but, even so, I have been out for a mooch with the pooch and also popped along the road to Bélesta this afternoon to check out the 'vide grenier' (attic sale) which, true to form, appeared to be the ideal occasion for the locals to sell of their tat and rubbish! But this weekend is also the fête de lq citrouille in Bélesta and the variety of pumpkins, squashes and gourds on display in the market hall was impressive.But I think this one should earn a prize for the ugliest gourd in the world, n'est-ce pas?