Saturday, 26 January 2013

The end is in sight - hurrah!

Apart from yesterday (Friday), it has continued to be wet wet wet down here but without the light relief of Marty Pellow. Snow has continued to fall thick and fast up in the ski resorts where the avalanche risk is extremely high. Despite the sun making a welcome reappearance yesterday, we opted to stay out of the mountains until the situation stabilises and instead headed out for a run up onto the hill above Aspet. No snow there at 400m
The path up onto the hill was muddy and very slippery but up at the Estive (summer pasture) at 650m there was a light dusting
As we headed further along a woodland track to Gaillardet at 700m, there was more of a covering.
It was wonderful to be out in the sunshine, to breath the fresh air and to feel the lungs working. The legs didn't do too badly either and my knee only started to tighten in the last 500m of the run back down. I have been working hard to try and resolve my knee issue in the hope that I will soon be able to run a decent distance without the pain which flares up around the lower iliotibial band on the outside of my right knee. There is a local trail race that I really really want to do in early June so that is my incentive. I just hope my efforts pay off and that I will be fit to enter it.

Meteo are forecasting much improved weather for the coming week with clear blue skies and temperatures up to 15 degrees by midweek. The mountains are calling. Snowshoes or skis? Probably both!

Thanks to the brief weather window, Andy was able to get up onto the roof yesterday to pull the chimney liner for the new woodburner up the chimney which has now enabled us to put it into use. It's a little Colmar2 5kw/7kw woodburner made by Supra but my goodness, it kicks out some heat! What a difference it makes to the current kitchen/future dining room .... it's so wonderfully warm and cosy now!

Thursday, 17 January 2013

All change

As predicted, the weather has closed in over the past week and a massive quantity of snow has fallen up in the mountains which has resulted in a cat 5 avalanche risk. Our local ski station has been closed for the past 3 days and most of the bigger resorts have also been closed. Today, we have heard several 'booms' emanating from up at the Col de Menté where helicopters have been dropping charges to set off controlled avalanches in order to secure not only the slopes but also the access to the ski station. More poor weather is due over the weekend, so goodness knows when we will next be able to head up high.

Here, at our altitude, we have just had rain and lots of it, accompanied by high gusting winds -not the kind of weather in which you want to spend any time outdoors! Instead, we have been busying ourselves getting the big current kitchen/future dining room fireplace for the installation for a lovely little 7kw woodburner that is being delivered by the weekend. The room is 38m2 in size and will be so much cosier with the addition of a woodburner. Here is the obligatory 'before' photo in which you can see the copper cowl that was added some years ago and which was a real blighter to remove!
But it was eventually removed and the cracked back plate also taken out.
Some friends very kindly donated a gorgeous, decorative cast iron backplate which I rubbed down and painted with a light coat of Hammerite - shame it's going to be pretty much hidden behind the woodburner!
The back wall of the fireplace has now been boarded out with fireproof plasterboard and is awaiting a skim and we still need to get the flexible pipe that goes up the chimney, but we're nearly there. It is going to make such a difference to the room - exciting!

In other news, in a weather window today and despite super-saturated soil, we were able to plant up 64 hedging whips along some 50m of the boundary of the orchard. I got whips that will eventually form a stock proof hedge which will hopefully dissuade the deer and other animals from coming onto our land. A mixture of hawthorn, blackthorn, common sea buckthorn, silver berry/oleaster and, strangely enough, some European pear! I am just hoping they will 'take' despite the waterlogged ground. Time will tell.

This afternoon we managed to grab a quick hour on the mountain bikes before the next band of weather moves in. The clouds were building as we rode. It was a chilly, muddy 17km ride but good fun all the same, particularly since I haven't had any exercise in nearly a week!

Friday, 11 January 2013


Twice this week we have made it 'up high', determined to make the most of the glorious weather while it lasts. On both occasions, the snowshoes were left in the car, such are the conditions at the moment.... the south-facing slopes in particular are bare of snow right up to 1700m. On Monday, we headed up to Luchon and walked up to the Lac d'Espingo (1967m) via the Lac d'Oô. I regretted not taking trail shoes and microspikes as it was hard work in B2 boots! Our starting point was the Astau Valley at 1100m ....
... although the forest track soon led us up to the lake at 1500m which was bathed in sunlight. After a quick bite to eat we headed on up the twisty turny path. Lovely views back down to the Cabane at the head of the lake. 

Heading on up ...
As we got higher, we crossed 2 lots of wet slide avalanche debris on our path - thankfully the slopes had purged a few days ago and it was now safe for us to carry on!

Eventually, we could see the Col d'Espingo up ahead....

... and then 'wow'!

We were surrounded by 3000m peaks which we must come back to explore in the summer. It was simply stunning up there and surprisingly little snow - we had only needed crampons on the last section of the walk, from around 1800m. All this may change next week however when more snow is forecast at higher levels.

In the meantime, we got out again this afternoon, up to the Col des Ares which is just 20 minutes from us and headed for the Pic du Gar (1756m), this time choosing the 'fast and light' option, trail running shoes with the microspikes in the pack just in case..... much more comfortable! We were able to reach the Pic in 2 hours (6kms/1000m+), only needing to don the microspikes once we emerged from the woodland into the open. It was a stunning run out. The photos say it all.

The pooch was delighted to stumble across a deer carcass on our descent and even more delighted that we brought part of the leg back home with us as a treat!
We were back at the Col in just over an hour - what a cracking afternoon! We'll have to see what the weather brings over the coming days, but next week is not looking fantastic.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Cloud inversion and climate

Looking out of the window when I got up this morning, I noticed a cloud inversion in the little valleys and dips that surround us. Fortunately we are on a nice little high point here, so cold air rarely descends to us and we are largely spared the cold, dank envelope that plagues the lower lands. But for our little morning mooch with the pooch we chose to venture into the clag and very atmospheric it was too;

We were however relieved to return to the full-on sunshine and its accompanying warmth that greeted us when we arrived home just a mile away! As the day progressed, I could see that the inversion was refusing to dissipate in the distance. I can not imagine how miserable it must be living in a location that is affected by this not uncommon Winter weather phenomenon. How depressing. Do people venture out of their homes when these conditions prevail? Are they aware that just a very short distance away they could be experiencing warm, nourishing sunshine? 

As dusk approached, the cold air mass started to ascend and it looked like we would be enveloped by it ....
... but fortunately it is now dark and we are tucked up cosy and warm indoors :-)

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Spring already? Surely not!

It's all a bit worrying. We're only just into the first week of January and yet the first patches of snowdrops are through and today at 1300m we spotted some Liverwort (Hepatica Nobilis) in the beech woodland above the Col du Portet d'Aspet

OK, so we are currently enjoying the most glorious, warm, sunny weather thanks to a fantastically stable high pressure area, but I think the plants and flowers are going to get an almighty shock when Winter does reappear, which surely it must do at some point over the coming few weeks?

In the meantime, we have been making the most of the glorious weather and had an outing up above the Col du Portet d'Aspet today. We were all prepared to don the snowshoes but it was quite clear on arriving at the Col du Portet d'Aspet that there simply wasn't the snow up there to warrant putting the snowshoes in our packs! We made our way up through the beautiful beech woodland......

... and it was only when we got up onto the ridge at 1500m that we found snow and even then, it wasn't deep. The views were however spectacular as always.

Up on the top, we had a brief pause for a slice of pizza from the boulangerie in Aspet - not a bad lunchtime view!
We were only out for 2 1/2 hours but that's the beauty of where we live now..... it's so easy to just 'pop out' for some good exercise and amazing views!

The drive back down to Aspet was rather more eventful than we would have liked though, as we hit a large patch of black ice and ended up doing a very very scary 360 spin which very nearly landed us off the side of the road. Thank heavens for the wide muddy verge just at that point and the lack of traffic on the road. It was one of the most frightening experience of my life and unsurprisingly not something either of us would like to experience again :-(

But back to the good stuff .....the roadie got another airing on Thursday when we got out for a lovely 70km/1100m+ ride which took us up through Aspet and the Col des Ares before dropping down to the Vallée de la Barousse and back via Barbazan and Sauveterre. The last time I did any proper hills was way back in August, but my legs felt surprisingly good, despite the knee niggle which I have had before on the bike. Full stats on the usual site.

Back at home, we have been doing more apple tree pruning and I believe we have rescued another tree that was in danger of being overwhelmed by mistletoe. It's the big tree on the left in the photo below - the smaller one on the right cannot be saved and is going to be pulled out to make way for new stock;
Here's the 'after' photo. Hopefully it will reward us with a good crop of apples this coming autumn!
The fantastic weather is set to last through to mid week next week, so more outdoor action is planned. Watch this space.