dimanche 31 décembre 2006

Forest fires

Its getting hotter and hotter here (30 in the sun today) and still not a sniff of snow. In fact there have been several forest fires nearby which are still not under control despite the best efforts of over 200 firefighters - over 600 acres of forest has been destroyed. We could see the huge plumes of smoke from the mountain yesterday and for the past few days there has been a haze in the air from the smoke. Bonfires have been banned in the department.
On a brighter note, here's a curtain I made last week for the front door from a bed throw, some leather bootlaces, a handful of pebbles and an old bit of copper tube.

samedi 30 décembre 2006

Cirque de Cagateille

A great winter walk today with Al and Sandrine. Into the cirque de Cagateille, plenty of ice in condition (just). Then a stiff climb into the upper cirque above the falls and grand traverse between the two frozen lakes in deep powder.

8 hours on the hill and we even managed to get some sun for lunch.

vendredi 29 décembre 2006

Field 4

Here's the path we cleared a few days ago leading down to the stream....

...and here's Al demonstrating dry stone walling techniques.

mercredi 27 décembre 2006

Cabane Subra

Today Al and I went for a walk to the Cabane Subra (the same Place I went with Sandrine last week only this time by a different route contouring in from the Col de la Core). Snow conditions were quite different, generally less of it but what remains is developing an icy crust. Conditions otherwise were perfect and in the sun it was positively balmy!

Al saw a spotted eagle (or so he claims), but we both saw an izard.

Yesterday we cleared one of my 'parcelles' which I spent all summer trying to find the exact boundaries of. Now it's winter and the vegetation has died back it was very obvious. After some work with the bowsaw and chainsaw we have also cleared an ancient 'chemin' bordered by earth mounds almost all the way to the stream at the bottom of the valley.

samedi 23 décembre 2006


As it's pretty cold at the moment (-6 centigrade at night) I was able to detect a strong icy draught behind the fireplace and thus discovered a huge loire tunnel to the outside. No wonder during the summer, despite bloking up every route into the house, the loires kept coming!! As the dead loire photo has been my most popular post, here's another dead loire to feast your eyes upon (note the accuracy of the single head shot).

There is a Santa Claus!

Santa came early with my new french car. Number plate will change shortly to a 09 plate indicating I live in the Ariege. Compared to the old one it's incredibly quiet and comfortable!

mercredi 20 décembre 2006


The mezzanine bedroom is now nearly finished. The circle on the end wall is a window which lets light and air into the room (it was night time when I took the photo)...and yes I know it doesn't look like its in the middle...it is, but the roof pitches are different on each side of the house.

mardi 19 décembre 2006

Another great slow cook recipe

This is a flemish hot pot. Brown plenty of onions and beef cut into 1" cubes (I added some liver too) put in casserole with 1/2 pint dark beer (could use Guinness) a slice of bread spread thickly with mustard and a piece of dark chocolate. Bring to boil then slow cook for 3 hours in oven at 350 ish. Yummy!

Let it snow

Snowing very lightly all day...might be as much as 1cm!!

lundi 18 décembre 2006

Vallee d'Estours

Went for a walk with Sandrine today in the Vallee d'Estours. Above 1200m there was quite a lot of snow and it snowed very lightly most of the day. We reached 1700m before it was time to turn around and head back - Sandrine had to meet the kids from school.

On the way back we passed a horse skeleton picked clean by vultures. As one of the legs was separated I couldn't resist the 'jake the fake' routine.

pimp myspace

Tonight it is snowing lightly at Quelebu - the first time this year - but probably the last snow until January.

I have a creoste problem with the Rayburn chimney mainly resulting in a creosoty smell when it is first lit . I think its a problem caused by the old uninsulated chimney (can't replace until next year when I do the whole roof) and the wood I'm burning being green (next year my wood pile will be much dryer as most of it was felled this year). I'm using a weekly additive to reduce the problem but there is little I can do until next spring.

mercredi 13 décembre 2006

Skiing at last

Yesterday I was building hazel hurdles and today as the weather was set fair and the car battery is charged again, I decided to go skiing. Only Baqueira (Spain) and Piau Engaly are open in the Pyrenees - Baqueira is a mere 20 miles away as the crow flies but a 2 hour trip by car and I opted to go there.

Snow is still poor and soft here, but thanks to snow canons Baqueira had 5 pistes open. The snow wasn't to bad, a bit icy and few stones here and there but the weather was great and it was good to find my ski legs. Took a fall on some ice which was good as it tested the binding release and snow brakes (both of which worked) and only my pride was hurt.

lundi 11 décembre 2006

No skiing for me today

Last night was very cold and after the drizzle yesterday everything froze solid...including the car! This morning it wouldn't start (flat battery from yesterday) and despite parking it on a slope I couldn't move it. In the end I got an old axle and tried to lever the car forward from behind the back wheels, it was then that I discovered that the rear brakes had also frozen solid. Eventually I managed to freewheel it down the road but with the brakes binding I couldn't get enough speed to bump start it. ) :

Battery now on charge.

Apparently in these parts one leaves the car in gear and releases the hand brake to stop it all freezing together.

Alas today is beautiful - clear blue ski, very cold, ideal for skiing. Tomorrow the forcast is not so good - Oh well winter has only just begun, I'll have to ski another day.

dimanche 10 décembre 2006


Its been cold (and damp) for the past few days and the extra snow promised by the weather service hasn't arrived at lower altitudes. Transplanted some hedging yesterday from field 2 to field 1 and went to a christmas market in Salau this afternoon (moral support for my neighbour Sandrine who was selling photgraphs, cards and calenders). When I went to leave the market I discovered I'd left my lights on! Managed to bump start it fortunately. Tonight I've left it in a place where it can freewheel downhill just in case the battery isn't fully charged!!

Several ski resorts are partially open and tomorrow I'm going to go skiing at Baqueira in Spain (I hope). Best to find my ski legs before launching out on a ski mountaineering expedition!

vendredi 8 décembre 2006

Boeuf Bourguignon

Made a delicious beouf bourguignon today. The beef was marinated with garlic and herbs in red wine for 24 hours. I gently fried carrots and onions before browning the meat, adding a little flour, then it all went in the Rayburn with the marinade. 3 hours of slow cooking later I added some mushrooms, bacon and shallots (also gently fried) then gave it another hour. Served with roast potatoes the meat was as succulent and tender as is possible and the rich flavour and aroma of the casserole...a dream.

Oh the joy of slow cooking!

mercredi 6 décembre 2006


At last it snowed today!

dimanche 3 décembre 2006

Pudding Club No 2

This lunchtime was pudding club meeting number two.

On offer were a raspberry and apple fruit cobbler with custard (me), a dessert of apricots in set semoulina served cold (Susanne), plums and apricots from Celine's garden stuffed with homemade marzipan (Celine), a peach and apple tart (John) and finally a lemon tart made with a sugar substitute that went kinda' wrong(!) and didn't taste as it should (John too). All washed down with Gaillac Premier (local equivalent of Beaujolais Nouveau) and a white Bordeaux pudding wine.

vendredi 1 décembre 2006

Floor update

All the work was worth it! The floor looks great. Last night the smell from the polyurethane was so overpowering I had to leave the house before I passed out - I slept at the neighbours. Only problem is that now I'll have to do the stairs too.

mercredi 29 novembre 2006


After two days of mindless noise and dust the floor downstairs is 'partially' finished. At the end of day one after 10 hours of sanding the floor looked worse than when I'd started and I began to wish that I'd never started. Thoughts began running through my head like 'paint it instead'. After the second day of sanding it's not 'the floor of my dreams' - perhaps the varnish will bring it to life? I still have all the perimter to sand before I can start that and as the following photo shows there still another day of sanding yet.

Still not sure what kind of wood it is...perhaps chestnut or sycamore? Whatever it is, it is very hard and that coupled with the useless underpowered and knackered old sander I hired, has made for some hard slog!

lundi 27 novembre 2006

Climbing in Iraq

Here are Jon and I climbing in the Iraqi desert aka Fairy quarry (Somerset), I'm in the mujahedeen hat! And here I am again disciplining a young wouldbe suicide bomber, aka Luke Hadfield.

Field number two

Here is field number two. It has too parts, above is the first...

...and this is the second which is lower down. On the left is the large fallen beech tree.

As you can see it's pretty big, though I've cleared a lot of it already. Compared to field number one it's a bit smaller and the vegetation looks a lot easier to clear. It borders some lovely mature forest and has several small stone walls along it's boundries.

John and Sandrine have been clearing a piste to their grange 'project'. A JCB has been in full swing and for the first time you can see it from the road.

dimanche 26 novembre 2006

Edible garden forests

Although the days are getting shorter and a little colder, the weather is still incredibly mild (today peak temperature in the sun was 28). The mountains have some snow on them but each day it recedes. Skiing at Christmas? Not unless the weather turns soon.

Over the past few days I have been painting the bedroom floor, little by little as the paint gives me a migrane if it's too overpowering. Downstairs, I've sanded back a piece of floor to see if it's worth sanding all of it...I think it is. Not sure if it's oak or elm - probably oak. I'll hire a sander next week but I know from experience just how much dust it will make, plus there 40 years (at least) of varnish to get through first.

Also I've been clearing field no.2 or rather clearing all the dead, damaged and fallen trees and thinning the overstood coppice. A huge beech tree was blown down about 3 years ago and it took about 8 other trees with it and crushed several coppices - clearing up the mess is a long and tricky business. Fortunately the big beech's two main boughs went either side of a maple which has stablised it (it's firmly wedged in fact) so de-limbing it is much safer as I know the tree is unlikely to move.

In the evening, I'm reading 'Edible Garden Forests' a practical permaculture guide (a weighty tome). So far it's very interesting, though I haven't got to the practical bit yet. Up until now, whenever I've looked at permaculture, there's been lots of theory but little actual practical advice, so this book promises much! I've certainly got the perfect opportunity to try it.

mardi 21 novembre 2006

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

At last we have had some rain in the last couple of days (falling as snow on the mountains). This morning I laid some more hedge before 'rain stopped play'. On the way back I found some small parasol mushrooms which made an omelette for tea.

I lit the Rayburn for the first time in over a week - which was a good excuse to bake a fruit cake.

Paul has lent me his DVD's of 'Back to river cottage' so after so many people have drawn parallels, I can at last see the series for myself. I've only watched episode 1 and there are definite similarities though they seem to have edited out all the hard graft (or perhaps Hugh had a team of helpers to speed the filming along?)

mardi 14 novembre 2006

Hedge Laying

The amazing weather continues, last night it was 4 degrees (slight ground frost) and today in the sun it was 34 degrees! I spent the day laying hedges around the field. I've never done this before but actually it's quite enjoyable and after all the scything its much less effort. I don't think my hedges will win any prizes - in places there's not much to play with - but I'm pleased with my efforts. I tried to take some pictures but they're difficult things to photograph - so here are some more autumn colours with a bit of hedge in the foreground.

I have also made a start clearing the second field - starting with the perimeter - as there are a lot of fallen trees and overstood coppice to be cleared with the chainsaw. Unfortunately, it's impossible to get the Suzuki there, so there is little I can do with all the wood - except carry a couple of logs back under my arm each time I visit.

lundi 13 novembre 2006

The new bookcase

The picture speaks for itself!

dimanche 12 novembre 2006

Pudding club

The first pudding club has just finished and I think it was a success, though perhaps there was too much pudding! Still it was good to have all the inhabitants of Quelebu and Pinsou together (except for Patrick and Michelle who had to return to Toulouse).
From left to right: John, Saskia, Philippe, Sandrine, Natasha, Hannah, Claude, Yves, Celine and Susanne.

samedi 11 novembre 2006

Pudding Club

Disappointed with french puddings (or the lack them) I have decided to start the Quelebu pudding club. The first meeting is tomorrow evening and I've cooked up something on the Rayburn (plus it gave me the chance to start getting to grips with the Rayburn oven).

We have Lemon Meringue Pie, Apple Pie and Squidgy Chocolate Roulade (unfortunately made with French cream which is a bit on the sour side, but the chocolate sponge is quite bitter so I hope it'll be OK).

jeudi 9 novembre 2006

Cap de Ruhos

Another walk today. I was late setting off because the car wouldn't start. It was my first visit to the village of Salau since Ollie and I were walking the Pyrenean Haut Route, as then I ascended the Col de Crusous - only this time in fantastically clear conditions. When Ollie and I climbed here it was zero visibilty and raining ( I remember a long slog in knee length wet grass). In fact it's a spectacular ascent. From the col I turned right and ascended the steep ridge to Cap de Ruhos. It's a great peak with stunning views but because of it's more famous neighbours (Certescan and Mont Roig) it's often overlooked. The views were even more far reaching than from Pic de l'Har a few days ago. Aneto, Maladetta and Posets are all unobscured and even Vignemale was clearly visible to the west (80 miles away as the crow flies).

From here I continued to the nearby Pic Montagnole then took to the narrow arete, scrambling west as far as a crazy quartz pinnacle just after the Passage de Montareino - mostly on the Spanish side where it was warm in the sun, or balancing along the crest...the french side was icy as it was still in the shade. I wanted to try and descend from here directly into the Cirque d'Anglade to make a circuit but I couldn't see if there were steep cliffs barring the way (the map said yes, but it looked OK as far as I could see). With lots of frozen streams and verglas on the rocks in the cirque I decided to retrace my steps. It'a amazing that there's so much ice here as the daytime temperature in the sun is still in the twenties! At Quelebu it was 30 in the sun yesterday with a nightime temperature of 3!

The views into Spain were fantastic too. Especially looking down onto Lac Mariola.

I got back to find work underway on the house/grange opposite, like most french construction this seems to involve spraying vast quanities of concrete on everything...in this case beautiful stonework...such a shame.

dimanche 5 novembre 2006

Pic de l'Har

Went for a walk today with Sandrine my neighbour. The weather was fantastically clear and we climbed Pic de l'Har which has superb views. We passed the abandoned mines de bentaillou....

...before ascending the peak with great views extending from Pica d'Estats in the East to Monte Perdido in the west. Managed to get some good views of the Couloir Tartereau and the Central Couloir de Pic Crabere - future winter climbing routes.

The area around the villages of Sentein and Eylie where the walk started, is very picturesque. Every field has two stone barns built into the steep slopes, not sure why there are always two.

samedi 4 novembre 2006


Went to the market in St Girons this morning and bought a nice Afghan hat. The market was busy and Philippe my neighbour, who sells his honey there, showed me the empty space next to his stall ready for me to sell eggs, saucisson and pork chops!

L'apero with Claude and arrangements for a walk tomorrow with Sandrine, then it was time to try the Rayburn oven and the bath.

The roast chicken and roast potatoes cooked in the Rayburn were delicious. The bath, the first I'd had in over a year, (I usually shower thank-you) was fantastic - however I'd forgotten that I was going to make some plumbing alterations to facilitate emptying the bath afterwards. Lots of futile and frustrating fiddling with the sink waste and improvisation with funnels and hosepipe later...I conceded defeat and using some breather hose from the car managed to drain the bath out of the door! There was water everywhere but the floor needed a wash anyway!

Some more work required me thinks, for the effortless bathing experience.

vendredi 3 novembre 2006


Found the original operating instructions for the Rayburn on the web yesterday. Just as well as I needed to move the firebricks for central heating operation. Of course these broke when I tried to move them as the Rayburn has never been cleaned before and the bricks had certainly never been moved before. I managed to fix them with some fire cement and now they're in their proper place. Also discovered that it is possible to access the flues which direct heat to the boiler. These were completely blocked!! Tonight I am firing the Rayburn for the first time - so far so good.

Today I built a cupboard to enclose the electrical meters and distribution board with a boot rack below. It has transformed the living room, hiding loads of mess.

Tomorrow, I'll get in some of the wood still waiting to be collected from Philippe's as it might rain on Saturday night.

mercredi 1 novembre 2006

New table

Yesterday I built a new table to go over the bath and it's chariot. Constructed from floorboards with a stained frame and decorative studs around the perimeter - it looks the part. The plan is to hinge it to the wall to make using the bath easier (but I haven't any hinges at the moment so that'll have to wait). Its a decent size so at last I can entertain. Going to start the Quelebu Pudding Club when the Rayburn is up and running.

Spent the afternoon logging a large tree that was blown in over in the storm and was blocking the path. This meant taking the Suzuki 'off road'. It's a capable little machine and not only managed to squeeze through all the tight gaps and rough terrain but also managed to pull a fully laden trailer up some formidable slopes on the way back.

Here's a few pictures of Provence.

The Gorges du Verdon


View towards Cannes from the Esterel

lundi 30 octobre 2006


Have been visiting Howard and Stella in Provence for the last few days so haven't posted for a while so here's an update.

On Wednesday night there was a tremendous and unforecasted storm (I think it sunk a load of race yachts in the Bay of Biscay). There was no rain just a warm hurricane force wind (which was fortunate as I could go outside in my dressing gown to try and tie things to the ground - like the car!). I was up all night as 100 mph winds tried to rip the roof off the house. The large lime tree by the workshop has a trunk nearly 1 metre diameter, it was bending in the wind...a lot...I thought it would be blown over. As I'm surrounded by forest the noise of the wind through the trees was deafening and the power flickered on and off all night. I consolled myself with the thought that the house has stood for 150-200yrs weathering all sorts of storms...but the new slate roof and the workshop have not! I went out and locked all the window shutters over the windows and weighted down the corrugated iron sheets on the wood pile with loads of tyres (to no avail - I heard the wind pick them up and hurl them down the road).

In the morning the worst of the storm was over and amazingly everything had survived. Healthy trees had lost large branches, several had been blown over (more logs for the winter), a few telegraph poles in the village had been snapped in half and generally there was lots of debris everywhere. I spoke to John who has lived here 7 years and he has never experienced anything like it.

I left the carnage behind and set off for Provence. The 7 1/2 hour drive was awful as for the first 5 hours I travelled with the weakening storm and the Suzuki being high sided with a short wheel base and noisy at the best of times, hates cross winds. My complete lack of sleep didn't help either.

Fortunately, hospitality was waiting at Claviers. Howard and Stella's home in Provence is lovely and as always I was treated to fantastic food, drink and company. The weather in Provence was beautiful the whole time we were there.

On Friday we headed to Theoule-sur-Mer in the bay of Cannes and swam in the Med, before an excellent lunch in a beach side restaurant 'the Marco Polo'. A walk through the Esterel completed a lovely day.

Sheila and Kevin, who were also staying at Howard and Stella's, were excellent company and we all drank and laughed late into the evenings.

On Saturday morning I did some logging to help out, then Kevin and I took off for a tour of the Gorges du Verdon and the Lac de St Croix - my old stomping ground. It was strange to be back after 14 years. I visited Comps sur Artuby, Aiguines, Bauduen and Aups - little has changed really. The gorge was more spectacular than remembered, I should have arranged to stay longer and redone some of the walks I used to lead.

All to soon it was time to leave. Even though I love Provence and it's picturesque villages have an unrivalled charm - it's good to be home in Pyrenees. My heart is definitely here.

Photo's to follow (very slow internet connection tonight).

mercredi 25 octobre 2006

At last the shed has windows (double click on image to see more detail).

And the field is almost clear.

mardi 24 octobre 2006


Was going to go for a walk (well more of a climb) on the arete that straddles France, Andorra and Spain (Baretyes - Medacorba), but a poor nights sleep and an indifferent weather forecast dampened my enthusiasm, so I worked in the field instead. Pity - it was a blisteringly hot and clear day. The sunrise was spectacular (this is the view from the bedroom with no touching up or photoshop enhancing).

Most of the field is now clear, 2 more days should do it, but it was hot work and every hour I had to go and drink a litre and a half of water!

Will probably do the climb tomorrow, as the weather is still supposed to be good, but there will be a strong southerly wind which might make the ridge 'interesting'.

Then off to see Howard and Stella in Provence on Thursday.

jeudi 19 octobre 2006

Field clearance

At last most of the field is cleared (just 300 sqm of easier stuff to go) but for the first time I can see from one end to the other.

From this jungle...

...to this fertile meadow!

Unfortunately, I managed to snap my scythe 'snath', not surprising after all the abuse it's been getting. I've glued and lashed it whilst I await a replacement.

Went to the local agricultural market in Seix yesterday looking at pigs!! Look at these lovely little porkers.