Sunday 26 May 2013

I'm still here!

Time between my blog posts seems to be getting longer and longer, doesn't it. But that's because life continues to be so darned busy down here! This, however, is a good thing. A brief summary of the past 4 weeks for you.

My brother came to visit us at the start of the month for a few short days of mental 'switch off' which was desperately needed. Fortunately, the weather Gods played ball and he had glorious weather for his stay. The peace of the place started working its magic very shortly after he arrived...
We took him for a walk up to the Estives de Paloumere above the Col du Portet d'Aspet which tested his legs and lungs but for which he was rewarded with stunning views

We also had time to put him to work in the potager....
Time passed by oh too fast, but I'm pleased to say he returned home much less of a stress monkey, which was the important thing!

Everything has been on hold in the potager for the past two weeks as the weather has been truly appalling with unseasonally cold temperatures, driving wind and rain. Pretty miserable. Thank heavens for the polytunnel which has already earned its keep. I have been able to sow all kinds of veg in troughs and modules that it would have been impossible to sow outside. It has also enabled me to pot on young brassicas that would have perished outdoors. But we are forecast for better weather from the coming weekend, so I will no doubt have a big push to plant out a lot of stuff. Watch that space.

As the weather has been so dire, we haven't got out on the bikes as much as we would have liked, but we have made the most of every weather window that has come along. I have now got a fantastic new saddle (a women's specific Bontrager Affinity RL in case anybody is interested!) which has finally relieved a lot of the discomfort that I was experiencing on the bike and has made the whole riding experiencing a lot more pleasurable! My best ride to date was at the start of the month, an 85km/1400m+ ride taking in the Col des Ares..
... which I steamed around, feeling really strong, in 3h32! That was a cracker.

We also had a scenic 73km/1100m+ lumpy ride in the foothills which was more exhausting  than riding a col with all its ups and its downs
Then today, on the first sunny day in 2 weeks, we met up with Helen and Chris over in the Luchon Valley who run Pyractif cycling holidays for a blast into Spain then up and over the Category 2 Col de Portillon back down to Luchon.
The river Garonne down the valley was very high thanks to a combination of recent heavy rain and snow melt
It was a wonderfully sociable ride of 79km/1000m+ made 'interesting' by a strong headwind back down the valley from Luchon which saw the boys working hard to bring us girlies home in a not too exhausted state!
May is the month of beautiful Spring flowers in the Pyrénées. Here are a few of my favourites. The unique tongue orchid ....
... the pretty lady orchid....
.... black rampion (phyteuma nigrum), only found in France...

Monday 29 April 2013

More hours in the day please

We seem to be hectically busy at the moment, with demands on our time and energy coming from all different directions. Work on the house, work on the potager area and 'business' work are taking up most of our time, although we have made time for a couple of good rides on the roadies since the beginning of the month when weather has allowed.

Talking of weather, April has been a bonkers month with wild fluctuations in temperature. We had a gloriously sunny spell earlier in the month when it peaked at 28 degrees but just 24 hours later the temperature plummeted to just 3 degrees and we had snow down to 700m! Last week was the same - I was getting sunburn on my back whilst working outside midweek but then come Friday the temperature was back down to 4 degrees and snow at 800m. 

With Spring knocking on the door, thoughts have very much been turning to the potager and growing more veggies with the aim of being self-sufficient in vegetables by the end of the year. I decided we needed an additional area to be created for growing soft fruit if I am to make more of my own jams and jellies this year. After a word with our lovely neighbour farmer Alain, he came down with his tractor and turned over an additional 250m2 of land at the end of the potager for us....
... part of which I covered in cardboard with a layer of rotted horse manure on top and then a layer of black polythene to suffocate the weeds/grass...
... and then we erected a 18m2 polytunnel alongside the potager where the tomatoes, capsicums, chillis and various sowings are now biding their time until the proper warmth eventually arrives and they can be planted out.
On Friday, just as the weather was turning, we managed to re-fence the whole of the above land (all 400m2 of it) as one plot, which makes much more sense. Andy is going to build me a potting shed in due course which will sit next to the polytunnel. It's going to be a 'proper' kitchen garden by the time we're done!

As far as work on the house is concerned, we have been working on the second bedroom. This weekend, with the arrival of poor weather, work transferred indoors and we have now completed the decoration of the room, which has also been completely rewired and the ceiling insulated and plasterboarded. Here are a couple of 'before' photos;

... and the 'after' shots...

I am really pleased with how it has turned out.... lovely and bright and fresh, but with the warmth of the restored chestnut beam and original wooden floorboards. We just need to rehang the curtains, find some pictures for the walls and add a small rug to the floor at the foot of the bed. So now we just have the stairs and landing to do and that will be the upstairs (at that end of the house at least) finished! 

On the exercise front, the roadies saw more action in April with a couple of lovely 70K rides in hot sun. When the weather plays ball in April, it really is a beautiful time of year for road biking. The fresh green foliage, the frothy white and pink of fruit blossom, blue skies and the snowy peaks.... just stunning

Sunday 14 April 2013


Oh dear, I appear to have been neglecting my blogging duties. I don't suppose anybody will have noticed, though? Anyway, here's a quick update on what life has been all about over the last month. It has been busy busy busy!

The highlight? A wonderful relaxing trip back to the UK to see my gorgeous new grandson, 3 week old Rufus James. He is absolutely adorable and both my son Jamie and his lovely lady Emma are doing a fantastic job with him.
While I was visiting them, we were able to meet up with my sister and her family for a lovely walk around Delamere Forest Park - SO good to see my sis again.
We returned to Jamie and Emma's village to find that the thatch of their local pub had caught fire! Fortunately the pub which dates back to the 15th century was not completely destroyed as it does great beer and traditional pub grub.
My visit up north was over far too soon. But while I was in the UK I was able to catch up with my good mate Trudi in Paignton and managed to get in a 10K run around Abbotsbury in West Dorset on the way back. It was far harder than it should have been (how unfit am I?!) but it was very pretty

The weather was fortunately dry for the whole of my visit but it was bitterly cold. I returned to wet, cold, horrible weather back at home which didn't exactly do the spirit good. But fortunately a lovely big high pressure area that has drifted up from Africa has now brought hot sun and clear blue skies. At last I can get some serious work outside. We have created a little herb garden at the front of the house in a space that was previously just overgrown and full of rubble....
... and I have got to work on the potager, preparing it for sowings and plantings. In the medium to long term I am hoping to adopt a 'no dig' approach, but this requires the addition of lots of organic matter to our heavy clay soil which is going to take time as it is a big plot. But where I have managed to enrich the soil already, I have now planted Charlotte potatoes, sown parsnips, carrots, florence fennel, spinach, mangetout, dwarf peas, French beans, beetroot, rocket and salad leaves. The capsicum, chilli peppers, aubergine and tomatoes won't go in until June and I also have some brassicas, leeks, red onions and celeriac in modules that will be planted out later in the year. I have also got strawberry plants, raspberry canes, gooseberry, redcurrant and blackcurrant bushes. I really can't wait until everything is cropping. Exciting times!

With the fine weather, we have today had our first ride for a few months on the road bikes. I felt surprisingly good, all things considered, although my energy appeared to disappear after we stopped for a slice of pizza from a boulangerie when just 12kms from home .... weird! But it was a lovely figure of 8 circuit up to Saint Lizier and back, 70kms/670m+/3 hours. Hopefully we will get out on the bikes much more often if this lovely weather hangs around a bit longer. It's looking good so far :-)

Friday 15 March 2013

New life

OK, so the start of Spring may be experiencing a bit of a stutter with a sharp drop in temperature and 2 days  of light snow down at our level, but still, there are signs of new life. I am not just talking about the seeds that I sowed indoors at the start of the month, although they are doing very well thank you (all 5 varieties of tomatoes have emerged, as have the aubergine, 3 varieties of salad leaf, red onions, leeks and basil). The other very important new life is that of my first grandchild! Yes, one has become a granny! How amazing is that! My son and his lovely lady are the proud parents of Rufus, born at home on Thursday 7 March weighing in at 7lb4oz.

Isn't he a cutey pie? I have to wait another 2 weeks before I can see him but I can't wait to say hello to the little fella!

Any other news pales into insignificance alongside the arrival of my grandson really, but for my own records as much as anything else, we have been busy. Work has started on the second bedroom....

with the first and most unpleasant job being to pull down the pine panelling that covered the ceiling and beam. Rats had previously had access to that ceiling space and we collected four big bin bags full of dried rat poo, rats nests, dirt, old corn husks and various other detritus. It was pretty foul.
But the good news is that the wonderfully rustic old chestnut beam is in fantastic condition, with no sign of insect or beetle damage. It cleaned up well.....
... and looks fantastic after an initial coat of linseed oil
Next job, the electrics and then we can start work on the ceiling.

During the lovely warm weather that we had up until Tuesday, I was able to get a lot of work done on the potager, preparing the ground for my plantings and sowings. I dug in the green manure of field beans that I sowed back in the autumn and cannot believe the difference that it has made to the soil. Instead of being heavy and claggy and a nightmare to work, it felt light and airy and much easier to dig over. Hopefully my brassicas will appreciate it! Next week, our farmer neighbour Alain will be coming down with his tractor to turn over the section of land that adjoins my potager in order to effectively double its size. I am going to create a soft fruit area and also make use of the extra space to grow more veg. I don't think there's any chance of me being bored this summer!

Monday 4 March 2013


Yup, goodbye snow, hello sun! OK, realistically, we'll probably have a few more cold, damp days before Spring really gets into gear, but for the moment, just allow me to bask in the notion that the corner has been turned? With 19 deg C being reached today, I don't think it is unjustified!

With Spring my thoughts turn to sowings and plantings and how to get the most out of my potager this year. Over the past couple of days, I have started my indoor sowings. For my records as much as anything else, this is the tally so far;
- chilli pepper (Cayenne)
- chilli pepper (Ring of Fire)
- capsicum (Marconi Red)
- capsicum (Sweet Banana)
- aubergine (AvanHF1)
- plum tomato (Roma)
- cherry tomato (Tumbling Red)
- stripey tomato (Red Zebra)
- ordinary tomato (San Marzano)
- lettuce (Lollo Rosso, Webbs Wonderful and Winter Density)
- red onion seeds (Red Baron)
- basil
- sweet peas

I have had some dwarf peas and mangetout outside under a cloche for the winter and a few have survived and are growing strongly. Today, as the soil is warm, I have sowed some more under there, along with some carrots. The Charlotte potatoes are chitting indoors and I will be sowing courgette, kuri squash and butternut squash indoors this week too. I have had some leeks in the ground since late September and they are taking up a lot of space without appearing to grow at all. Does anybody know if they are a lost cause or whether I should just pull the whole lot out so that I can use the space for other things? I am thinking the latter!

Whilst we have had such good weather, we have taken the chance to clear up a bit outside, sorting piles of old wood, building a bonfire, loading the trailer for a trip to the tip.... the place is looking much tidier.

With the changing seasons, the Spring flowers are starting to some through. My favourite so far is Viola Alba ...
... closely followed by Hepatica Nobilis (both the purple and the white are SO pretty)

... although these little red fungii are fascinating...

Thursday 28 February 2013


We returned from our holiday in the Var to a few days of lovely, warm weather which enabled us to chainsaw to length and stack two more stères of wood ready for the cold spell that was forecast. It also enabled me to dig over a patch of the potager in anticipation of some frosty mornings which I hoped would help to break up the heavy soil a bit. I have now got my sowing/planting plan sorted and am impatient to get started on the production of this years veggies!

The snow arrived as forecast on Sunday and, for the first time, it actually settled here at our level. Our little hamlet looked very pretty in its snowy setting
 We had a couple of lovely pretty snowy walks

which the pooch enjoyed

Then my thoughts turned to skiing. It is three years since I last skied. Looking back at my blog posts, for some reason I just lost all of my confidence and, instead of enjoying time on the slopes, I ended up stressed and tense and having a thoroughly miserable time. Not fun. But with the arrival of fresh powder, the anticipation of a blue sky day and some amazing ski resorts in this area, I was keen to see whether my feelings had changed or whether I should seriously consider selling the skis. So, with Suzanne and Steve and a couple more of their friends, we headed across the border into Spain and the resort of Baqueira. I have to admit to being pretty apprehensive and nervous but thanks to the conditions those feelings were soon put to bed. The snow was stunning and the skiing an absolute delight. The resort has a massive choice of wide, sweeping blue and red runs which enabled me to find my ski legs, to relax and actually enjoy the experience. Baqueira Beret is also a spectacularly beautiful resort which probably helped!

Fiona and I were of the same mindset and were quite happy just cruising down the easier runs, whilst the others went off to explore some of the harder stuff. But despite spending the day there, we only just touched the surface of what Baqueira has to offer. I am keen to go back before Winter ends and explore some more. I think I'll hold off selling the skis for the moment ;-)

On the house front, we have now decamped from our bedroom into the gorgeous guest room in anticipation of starting work on the former. It will be lovely to have both rooms done and it's nice not to have any time pressures to get it done.

Monday 18 February 2013

Exploring a corner of the Var

It's a long while since we last had a 'holiday' ... in fact I think it was this time last year, when we headed down to Spain for a week. So we were long overdue a break away, particularly seeing as the weather at home has been rubbish since what seems like forever. We headed along the Med coast, through the Languedoc region to Provence and, more particularly, the Var department which is an area of France that we have never visited before. It is a fantastically varied area, ranging from the upmarket port of Saint Tropez to it's backdrop of the wild, hilly areas of the Massif des Maures and the Massif de l'Estérel.

We had planned on doing lots of mountain biking and running, but unfortunately our plans were somewhat scuppered by the onset of a nasty gastric bug on the Thursday before we left which continued until the Tuesday of our holiday, leaving me weak and totally lacking in energy. Boo! The one run that we did manage to do was very disappointing as my knee flared up again after running nearly 8kms on the relative level. So so frustrating. So we did a fair bit of walking, with the wild coast of the Saint Tropez peninsula being a real highlight. Our first walk was from Plage de l'Escalet to Cap Taillat. The coastal path was challenging in parts but the coastline was just stunning.

The second coastal walk was from la Bonne Terrasse to the Camarat lighthouse.

On another day, we walked a cracking 9km circuit  in the Esterel massif which included Mont Vinaigre. Although the peak is relatively insignificant at 614m, it had a covering of snow on the Northern side. From the peak, we had fantastic views across the Esterel hills to Fréjus to our right and Cannes along the coast to our left

Throughout the area you can see the fascinating cork oak tree, from which the cork bark is harvested every 10 years to make, well, wine corks as much as anything else!

We also explored the Villepey lagoons at Fréjus where we were expecting to see a good variety of birdlife but we were sadly disappointed. Nothing but gulls, coots and the occasional comorant.

There was a lot of military activity in the area, thanks to the military camp near Draguignan to the North. We frequently heard gunshots and shells going off which pleased the pooch no end, as you can imagine. There was also a lot of helicopter activity which we observed close up during our aborted run near the Lac des Escarcets one day!

While we were in Provence, it would have been rude not to stock up on the rosé wine for which the area is renowned. But I'm not sure that 30 bottles will last me the summer. What do you think?!

It was lovely to explore another part of France. We will hopefully have another trip back there later in the year, but next time in Sadie and with the road bikes. After all, that area is where many of the pro teams train and there is an inexhaustible network of quiet roads on which to have fun. But for now, we are back home where we have much to be getting on with after our week away, starting with the chainsawing of some more wood to replenish our pile which is now seriously depleted. Sunshine is forecast until the end of the week. Yippee!