Sunday, 30 December 2012

Where did that go?!

Crikey, Christmas has been and gone already. Mum spent Christmas week with us and we had a really lovely, relaxing time. The weather, unlike in the UK, was dry apart from a couple of overnight spells of rain and temperatures even reached the low 20s on the Sunday before Christmas. I don't think mum was expecting to be relaxing in a sun lounger, reading a book in the sun on the 23rd December!

Mum is a keen photographer and bird spotter which made 'entertaining' her a very simple task. On our daily walks with the pooch, the kites, kestrels, buzzards and herons provided moments of wonder and delight. The peace and beauty of this area captivated her and she can't wait to come back in the Spring to take photos of the flowers up in the mountains - it will be a special time.

While she was here, we visited the cathedral at Saint Bertrand de Comminges at the head of the Barousse Valley which is a place that we have often passed but never explored. It was just beautiful

This little fella made me smile ..... grrrrrrrrrrr!
I have had fun playing with me new camera over the past week or so and I think it has captured some lovely shots

We spotted the first violet of the Spring time today, which was a beautiful surprise!
On the exercise front, I took the step of reacquainting myself with my road bike yesterday, getting in a slow and steady 70km ride up to Saint Girons and back, under wonderful clear blue skies but with a chill in the air. It was my first ride on the road bike since the middle of August and it certainly felt like it. My shoulders, back and legs all protested at this sudden change in activity and my lack of power and strength was very noticeable. But I am hoping that this is just the start of more regular roadie riding. Time to get bike fit again!

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Bathroom stuff

Opération salle d'eau - it has been a difficult project for many reasons. But it is finally nearing its conclusion. And what a conclusion it is. Judge for yourselves.

The room as we viewed it for the first time before the purchase of the house.... it seemed like a tiny, pokey little room and it was hard to visualise it as a bathroom;
Once cleared of furniture, stripped of wallpaper and with the pine cladding taken down from the ceiling however, it started to feel more spacious;
So here is our new bathroom - it is just *beautiful*, don't you think?
Mum is arriving on Friday to spend Christmas with us and she is just going to love it. I am *really* looking forward to seeing my mum and to having her here with us for Christmas. I think she is just as excited! Happy days :-)

Sunday, 9 December 2012

More snowy stuff

The weather during this past week has been dismal ..... cold and wet and with strong gusty winds, but not quite cold enough here at 600m to snow. However, from 800m it was a different story. Today dawned cold, crisp and clear - not a day to waste indoors after being effectively cooped up all week. No, we had to get up into the mountains for some fresh air, sun and snow and a reccy for some potential ski touring activity this winter. It was a half hour's drive to the Col de Menté and from there a short hop up to the Mourtis ski station which is not due to open for another 2 weeks, despite the amazing conditions. The piste bashers and snow canons were busy preparing the pistes which provided the perfect surface for us and the pooch to snowshoe up. We soon regretted taking our snowshoes and not our skis as we were surrounded by ski tourers who were taking full advantage of the fantastic powder, skinning up and skiing down the bowl on the other side of the ski resort. But it was stunningly beautiful up there and we will be heading up with our skis during the coming week. In the meantime, I'll let the photos do the talking

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Still smiling!

Well, the leg has healed wonderfully well and I am now able to pick up the exercise again which, after 4 weeks of doing so very little, is a great relief! I was, however concerned about my fitness levels but it was only by getting out and doing stuff that I would find out where I stood.

Winter proper arrived on Wednesday and Thursday last week, with snow settling down to 800m. We are at 600m so we were just treated to heavy rain and cold, which wasn't so pleasant, but with the woodburning central heating working well we stayed snug and toasty indoors. On Saturday, with a clear, blue-skied day forecast, Suzanne suggested we head out for a snowshoe outing. Oh yes please - what better way to celebrate the 1st December and the first proper snowfall of the year! Ian and Jane joined us as we headed out to Arbas, just 10 minutes along the road from us, and then up the hillside to the track below the Estives de Paloumère.  It took us 45 minutes on a track and then paths, to reach the Estives (the summer mountain pastures for sheep and horses) but it was one of those jaw-dropping 'WOW' moments when we did. It was one of the most stunningly beautiful winter wonderlands that I have ever seen.

We headed on up the hill, determined to reach the point that would afford us the best views of the high mountains
The wind had created fantastic rime formations on the ground and on the hillside above - it was like a cake decorated with ornate royal icing! Quite spectacular.

The views from the top were worth the effort - WOW!

But we didn't hang about for too long as the windchill was quite significant and the pooch was suffering with cold paws. We headed back down, taking in the beauty, before heading back to the car

It had been a grand afternoon out in great company and the legs felt fantastic and not even tired after 11.5kms and 550m of ascent on the snowshoes. And thanks to my wonderful new Canon Ixus 230HS camera (which I highly recommend to anybody looking for a slip-in-the-pocket, highly intelligent camera with an array of manual as well as fully-auto functions, by the way), I was able to capture the outing with some lovely photos! I was well-chuffed (as they say oop North!). More please!

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

A smile on my face

We have just had another spell of glorious weather so, with the leg making great progress and having been effectively cooped up for nearly 3 weeks, I was determined to get out for something resembling a decent walk. So yesterday, we drove the 35 minutes up to the Col de Menté and then took the steady track rather than the steep path up to the Cabane d'Escalette
...which has amazing views towards the Mourtis ski station opposite and Mont Valier behind it
We had a bite to eat for lunch by the cabane and were joined by several vultures which circled overhead, picking up the thermals on this warm, sunny day.... an impressive sight! The leg was feeling good so I thought I would have a bash at climbing the steeper path that leads from the cabane up to the Estives d'Escalette. I was very conscious of my leg and had to make sure I didn't do anything to tear the wounds open again as they are just starting to knit together. I was pleased we made the effort as we saw some fantastic sights including a flock of about 100 alpine choughs  playing amongst the rocky outcrops - I just love the chattering/squealing noise that they make! I wish I could have captured them on video. But more excitingly we spotted a lammergeier/bearded vulture with its distinctive spoon-shaped tail! Fantastic!
From the top of the climb we had the Pic de Cagire in our sights...
... but that would be for another day. It had been an amazing afternoon out in fantastic weather and in a stunning environment with some great bird sightings, but it was quite enough for my first proper venture out in 3 weeks. Andy's hand and shoulder provided welcome support as we descended the slippery path and soon we were back at the car, both with big smiles on our faces. More please!

Friday, 16 November 2012

On a brighter note ....

Two weeks after the dog attack, the infection really looks like it is dissipating and the wounds starting to heal. I am in less discomfort and am able to do a bit more every day which is such a relief, although I still have to be very careful not to do anything that may reopen the wounds. The weather has been absolutely brilliant for the past few days with clear blue skies, warm sun and ambient temperatures up to 20 degrees - this is mid November .... it can't help but lift the spirits, can it! The stunning autumn colours in the deciduous woodlands that surround us here are also reaching their peak which, likewise, just makes me smile. It really is a beautiful time of year down here in the Pyrénées:

This week, we headed into Spain for the first time since we moved here. The Val d'Aran is only 50 minutes from us here, via Saint Beat, and is a mecca for mountain biking and mountain walks. The ski resort of la Baqueira is just up from Vielha and will no doubt feature on our list of 'ski resorts we must visit' this winter. We have so much more exploring to do, which is really quite exciting. Then today we managed a walk around the Lac de Montrejeau which is just 25 minutes from us. It was my first opportunity to try out my new camera, a Canon Ixus 230 HS, which seems to be quite a stunning piece of kit! Along with masses of coots, a fair few great crested grebes and of course mallards, we also spotted a group of cormorants resting in a tree which was quite a sight....
It's not a bad spot at which to wile away an afternoon....
The early evening light, heading back to Aspet was just lovely...
In other news, work has recommenced on the upstairs bathroom and hot water for the shower should be connected this weekend. We may well have a usable shower cubicle up there by the end of next week which would be just fantastic! So all in all, life is once again on the up. This is a very good thing :-)

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Taking it further

Well, it has been 10 days since I was attacked by the farm dog. 10 days of heavy dose antibiotics and the side-effects that accompany them. 10 days of having to rest and keep my leg up to avoid the spread of infection. 10 days of worrying whether the infection will take hold and whether complications will set in. 10 days of frustration and worry. The wounds are healing.... slowly.... so slowly.They are deep and have to heal from within. I have been told that another 2 weeks of complete rest and leg up are required. The weather is beautiful out there now. I want to be outside doing stuff. We have wood to sort. I have work on the potager to do. I have a bike I want to ride. I have places I want to go. I am angry. My anger is fuelled by the dog owner's apparent complete contempt for her legal obligations as a dog owner. I am investigating my options for taking the matter further but, this being France, I am sure it won't be straightforward. But I feel like I have to at least give it a shot. I would hate for somebody else to be subject to an attack by her dogs with possibly even worse repercussions. It mustn't be allowed to happen.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Occupational hazard?

I love mountain biking, even more so since we moved to this area. But it is not without its dangers. I am not talking about the physical challenges and risk of falling off and hurting yourself, which is a given. No, I am talking about risks and dangers that are outside of your control. I am talking about dogs that are not secured. We have frequently encountered loose farm dogs on our rides, not just here but also when we lived in the Ariege, usually working border collies that are often quite frankly nutters. So far, we have managed to avoid a full-on physical attack from one of these dogs, mainly thanks to Andy's swift right foot, but that all changed yesterday when I was attacked from behind. I had no chance to think let alone to unclip and take a swipe at the bugger with my foot. It managed to sink its teeth quite deeply into my right calf. It hurt. Andy was behind me, jumped off his bike and gave the dog some of the same treatment with his fists and feet, which was not appreciated by the old lady whose dog it was. All she could say that it was not 'méchant' (aggressive). Yeah, so that's why it took a chunk out of my calf, was it?!! Jeez! I should say that we were on a public lane at the time. I rolled up my leggings and viewed the damage. It wasn't good. Fortunately the medical centre was only a kilometer away, although only a secretary was around. Fortunately the unexpected but well-timed arrival of one of the doctors saved us a trip into A&E in town. He seemed quite surprised at the damage with the biggest hole being more than 1 cm deep, allowing sub-cutaneous fatty deposits to come from the surface.
Thankfully he did a good job of cleaning up the wounds (Andy was engrossed!) and of stitching the holes
A trip to the pharmacie to pick up high potency antibiotics to try and ward off any possible infection, some good painkillers and a trip to the nurse for tetanus shots before I could head home to a leg-raised position on the settee. I am under strict orders to keep my leg raised and to keep off my feet as much as possible to ensure it heals as quickly as possible. I will have to do as I am told if I am to be back on my bike within the next few weeks. In the meantime, a visit to the gendarmerie is on the cards today where I will be lodging an official complaint. I don't know what action (if any) will be taken. We'll see.

In other news, I have good news. Andy has done a fantastic job on the woodburning c/h system. The job was pretty high stress at times and not without its problems, but he was able to solve all of the issues and it is now all up and running beautifully. It is wonderful to have heat right through the house and to be burning wood again.
One last bit of news, this time more about the amazing birdlife that we have down here. We spotted three great egrets last week which will be en route to warmer climates. No photos unfortunately, but they are very elegant, pure white and bigger than a heron. A lovely sight. More excitingly, we spotted a male hen harrier hunting in a field on one of our local walks the other day too. I have never seen a hen harrier, let alone a male one with its distinctive pure white body, pale grey head and black ends to its wings. It was the most beautiful sight.