Monday, 28 February 2011


I am going to miss my potager. If I want to grow any veg this year it is going to have to be produce that will grow in pots. But I am determined that we will have some home-produced veg as I find the whole growing process so satisfying. I have also been reading up on bio-dynamic gardening and happened to be flicking through one of my recent 'Rustica' magazines yesterday when I spotted that the 27 and 28 February are 'moon ascending' days and therefore recommended for sowing seeds. So in went the capsicum, chilli, tomato and kuri squash seeds and I also planted some rose garlic, shallot and red onion sets in pots. Now, I know that the influence of the moon on gardening is treated with some disdain by many people, but others swear by it - what have I got to lose?

On other matters, I don't think I blogged about it, but we started having real problems with Taff after Christmas. He seemed to be developing a worrying noise sensitivity, reacting to bangs and whistles on DVDs that we were watching and to clapping & whistling on live music tracks that we were listening to. He was turning into a nervous wreck, although we had no idea what had triggered this sudden change. Various solutions were proposed by various people on websites and on Twitter, but I thought we should try the simplest one first - a couple of drops of lavender essential oil on his collar. Lavender is renowned for its calmative properties so I shouldn't have been surprised when it took its effect. But the change in Taff was amazing. After a couple of days of using the oil, he would acknowledge noises like gunshot and whistling by raising his head from his bed, but would quickly settle back down again, unperturbed. His general demeanour is also much calmer, so lavender oil is now very firmly on our list of household pre-requisites!

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Funny noises

Over the past week, we have been hearing an intermittent noise coming from somewhere around the front door which sounds very much like a smoke alarm when it is on low battery... beep, beep, beep. It goes quiet for a few minutes then it starts again ... beep beep. And over the past couple of days, it seems to be increasing in volume, audible at night from inside the house. So yesterday, we homed in the noise, lifted up a big rock that lies on the border to the right of the door and there they were - two pairs of the tiny little common midwife toad, complete with eggs! Picture courtesy of For such tiny creatures, they sure are capable of making some loud noise! So mystery solved. We shall now leave them in peace and await the arrival of little ones in due course!

Yesterday, I took the decision to enter a trail race in 2 weeks time. The Trail des Pieds Cloutés takes place on the hills above Foix and is billed as 19kms/1100m+ which is more ascent than the Citadelles that I have also signed up for again at the end of April! The plan is to use the Pieds Cloutés as a training run for the Citadelles and to get an idea of where I am, fitness-wise, at the moment. It should be fun, although I have to admit to feeling ever so slightly nervous at the prospect. In the meantime, I got out for a run yesterday before the next band of poor weather moves in. It was a 10km circuit from the house which I have done once before and which involves 320m of ascent. I decided to push myself hard and reached the highpoint after 4 kms 5 minutes faster than I did last time! I blasted around the rest of the circuit, feeling strong, no aches or pains and arrived back at the house just as the rain started after 1h10m - 9 minutes faster than last time! If only I could feel so good and strong on all of my runs. Full stats on the usual site.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Mmm, weather

But unfortunately not of the Good variety. Nope. It has been dire this week. We have had an unbelievable amount of rainfall which has swollen the streams and rivers and which has made any venture offroad a true mudfest. Oh Joy. Not. And unfortunately, it has been very mild with it. The freezing level was up at 2800m yesterday. The ski resorts in the area will not be happy. What an appalling season it has been for them this year.

So this week has been mainly about work. Mainly. But, I did venture out for a repeat of the 7km loop up the hill behind the house on Wednesday. But this time I reversed it, which was actually quite good fun and made much more of it runnable. But (yes, another but), I was literally running down a river and sliding down a muddy, clayey (is that a word?) hill on the final section. It was actually quite good fun! And, more to the point, I felt strong and was running well and thoroughly enjoyed the outing. Stats here.

Then today, I had a cracking 10.4km run with the pooch from Lavelanet to Pereille and around the hill on great tracks and quiet roads but with a couple of interesting sections of mud and water thrown in. Again, feeling good, feeling strong. Stats here, although you should ignore the HR section at the bottom which tells me my HR reached 196bpm just after I started out which is clearly a nonsense! I took the strap off very soon after! I now need to keep the momentum going and keep pushing on in preparation for the Trail des Citadelles at the end of March

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Another week goes by

Can somebody please slow time down for me? It really is going far too fast for my liking. But it has been another active week, which is all good.

Tuesday, I had a run from the house, a circuit which took me up the hill, along the ridge through the woods and back down. I felt like I had legs of lead, was sluggish and it all felt too much like hard work. But I did push hard up the hill and it has been a couple of weeks since I put in any kind of 'effort' on two legs, so I guess it wasn't surprising. The 7km circuit with 375m ascent took me bang on an hour. Stats and stuff on the usual site.

Wednesday was Andy's birthday and we headed out on the roadies for a flattish 60km ride to celebrate. My legs were complaining after the day before's run - my quads had not appreciated the ascent and fast descent and felt aching and empty. Still, it was lovely weather and it was good to be out. Stats for the ride are again on the usual site. A serious stretching session in the evening helped to ease my legs and was followed by a lovely chunk of steak and homemade chips and a damn fine bottle of rouge for Andy's birthday dinner! Yum!

Two days of rest (one of them enforced due to a nasty gastric episode - cause unknown) and more serious stretching saw me on form today for an outing on the mountain bikes. It was time for a rematch with the voie verte which we last tackled in November. On that ride, we covered 51.5kms at an average speed of 17 kph and I finished the ride knackered. Today, we covered 50.1 kms at an average speed of 19.8kph and I still felt strong when we arrived back at the car 2h32m later! I must be getting fitter! Stats for today's ride on the usual site.

Today's ride was only marred by two young (6-9 mth old) dogs who were able to get through the bars of the gate that was supposed to enclose them and took great joy in chasing our bikes and snapping at our heels as we passed. A deft swipe of my foot caught one of them smartly on the head on our outward leg of the ride but on the return leg, harsher treatment was dealt out as they went for us. We first threw handfuls of stones as they approached us but they remained undeterred, so Andy dismounted his bike and got more power behind his throw which met its target and saw the youngsters run away, yelping as they squeezed back through the gate. It's a crying shame that these dogs have acquired such a dangerous habit so young, but with nobody at home to stop them, there is no hope. Of course, it is highly likely that the owner couldn't give a rat's arse anyway. After all, such dog behaviour is not uncommon in the Ariege.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Bike stuff

Today saw the last of the good weather. Low pressure is pushing in from the Atlantic and rain/cold is forecast. So today, we grabbed an outing on the roadies. We reversed a route that we did back in November and which took us over to Puivert and then down to Campagne-sur-Aude and Esperaza before we gained the fantastic little road that took us back up and over to Puivert again. It was lovely riding, I was feeling strong and pushed hard to avoid going on to my small ring - a great work out for the legs which will hopefully pay dividends in due course. Full stats for the 70km circuit are on the usual site

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

What a week ....

... that was! Apart from the warm, sunny weather which always does the spirit good, we got out on 3 great rides on the roadies on lovely undulating country roads and 3 good walks/runs with the pooch including one up above the Col de Menthé with views towards the little Mourtis ski station which was looking decidedly bare. The warmer weather has taken its tollThe mountains of the Couserans were just beyond
On the way back this afternoon, we stopped off at Pissou to meet some potential buyers who seem very taken with the property. Everything feels right about them - they are a lovely down to earth couple that I 'clicked' with, looking for a holiday home and actually want neighbours who are on hand to keep an eye on the property in their absence, they don't want any land to maintain, have a lovely dog who is already best mates with Claudine's pooches and they seem very impressed with the quality of the renovation. So we are keeping fingers crossed that they end up making us an offer. Our search for a new home will then take on a new dimension. But the other good news is that we have been told that we can stay on here in Fougax as long as we like, as the house has been put on the market and, quite honestly, is unlikely to sell quickly. So, for us, the pressure is off for the time being. Watch this space for further developments!

Monday, 7 February 2011

Bloody brilliant!

Sometimes, just sometimes it all comes together. Today was one of those days. Warm, warm sun (a good 20 degrees - seriously!), a bike that finally feels set up perfectly, great roads, the most breathtaking scenery and legs that at last had some power in them. All ingredients for one of the best riding experiences that I have had for quite some time.

We rode from here in the Barousse Valley up to the Col de l'Ares and then the little Col de Buret before dropping down into Aspet where the short but fairly steep little hill saw me resort to the small ring for the first time on the ride. Thankfully, there was a café open where we were able to grab a quick lunch before heading along the wonderfully quiet roads of the 'Comminges', through lovely little villages to Barbazan and back to Bagiry, taking advantage of the fantastic well-maintained 'pistes cyclables' that have been created in this area to help cyclists avoid the busier roads - they are an absolute godsend and much appreciated.

The ride was not long, only 55kms but with 800m of ascent. Full stats on the usual site. Here is the ride profile My legs felt great and with more fuelling I could have carried on. What a cracking ride. I love this area. Another few days of sunny weather are forecast so more rides are planned. Hurrah!

Just a little aside, but today on the ride, Andy and I both had a 'moment' when we realised just how lucky we are to be able to live the life that we live in this stunning part of France. I am hoping that we never end up taking it for granted, for that would be a very sad day.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Is it summer?!

My apologies, first of all, to anybody who is reading this from the UK. I'm sorry. I truely am (ish). But it's not my fault. I didn't order it. But I'm bloody glad that it's here and wish I could send some of it over to you! I also wish I had brought a pair of shorts and some sun cream away with me, but I wasn't expecting temperatures of up to 20 degrees. The sun is warm, so warm, but the air temperature is also very warm which is what makes the difference. And the good news (for me!) is that it is set to last through to the latter half of the week as high pressure dominates - hurrah!

We took advantage of the amazing weather this afternoon to explore up the Arreau valley which runs from La Barthe-de-Neste up to the Peyragudes ski resortThe mountains were stunning under the clear blue skiesWe walked up onto the hillside above Arreau and very quickly spotted 2 red deer hinds above us. They naturally took fright as soon as they saw us and disappeared from view. Red kites were everywhere and buzzards were ten-a-penny. I wished I had gone out in my running gear, as the paths and track would have been superb to run on. Another time. It is good to explore more of the area and to get more of a 'feel' for the Hautes Pyrenees in general. There are areas that are much more visited and populated than anywhere that you will find in the Ariege but there also some lovely quiet little 'off the beaten track' villages and countryside areas that I am keen to explore further. We have another 5 days here so I will be making the most of it!

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Away exploring

Well, the weather was quite frankly appalling last week, grey, cold, damp & depressing. I had to resort to a session on the turbo trainer on Monday. It was the first time I had used the thing. I chose a Sufferfest intervals video which was maybe not the best thing to do when I hadn't even got the bike correctly set-up for my riding position! But, still, it was a useful exercise (although my knee wasn't too happy afterwards) and I can see the training potential for when the weather prevents outdoor riding.

Tuesday, I had my running legs back on and we did a 9km there and back run along the voie verte which felt really good. I need to start proper training on the voie verte, with some speed interval sessions some time soon. Oh jeez, did I really say that?!

But anyway, we have been watching the forecast closely, waiting for some good sunny weather to settle on the Pyrenees, in anticipation of some time away biking and running further west along the chain. On Wednesday/Thursday, our prayers were answered as a big high pressure area esconced itself quite contentedly over most of France & Spain. With sun & blue skies forecast into the coming week, we packed our bags and headed west to the Vallée de la Barousse, just down the road from Luchon. Yesterday, we had an exploratory ride on the roadies in lovely sunshine. This really is a stunning area of wide valleys and easily accessible high mountains beyond Then today, we headed out for a walk from the perched village of Créchets. It was warm, really warm in the sun and we were soon wishing we had worn shorts & T shirts as we sweated our way up the hill! But again the views were just stunning with valleys and villages and mountains beyondAnd then we spotted them, circling, landing, taking off again - a dozen vultures and kites and a fair few crows too. What were they so interested in? We had to find out, so we yomped up the hill. We got close but the vultures took off. I managed to grab a hurried video with my digital camera as they skimmed the trees above us. They were griffon vultures with a wingspan of 2.3-2.9m! Impressive! But we were unable to locate what had attracted their attention. Which is probably a good thing. We then pressed on with the walk which turned out to be a lovely little circuit of 8kms. More please!

One other bit of good news, I received another nibble of interest on the house today, coming for a viewing next weekend. Keep fingers crossed for us?