jeudi 29 mars 2007

Hen house

Well here it is, the new hen house complete with zinc roof. I found some old sheets of zinc in the outbuilding. Its based on one of the designs in the book DKA bought me when I left. The handles allow it to be moved around (sudan chair style). The roof slides forward to access inside, where you can slide the roosting perches and droppings shelf forward to access the nest boxes below and hopefully the eggs! Just need to finish an enclosure and I'm ready for the first livestock.

mercredi 28 mars 2007


I didn't go skiing yesterday (overslept) so I built the chicken house (more of that tomorrow) but today I DID go skiing. Just about everything at Baqueira is open and I had a good 7hrs of piste bashing. The weather wasn't too bad although from time to time the clouds would descend and in the ensueing white-out I'd get motion sickness.
It was the first real chance to try out the tourlite bindings and all the benefits of lightness for ascent aside, I prefer them for downhill over the Diamir/Fritschi binding. Perhaps it's because your foot is closer to the ski or maybe it's the different ramp angle - anyway I found my skiing improved in most respects with the new set-up.

lundi 26 mars 2007


A beautiful clear and sunny day today which allowed much of the snow to start thawing. In the morning I designed a chicken house (portable for 4 -5 hens and a cockerel) and a pig house. In the afternoon I bought the materials for fabrication but that will have to wait as tomorrow I'm going skiing. The recent snow promises some spring touring so as I haven't skied since early December I reckon I better get some practice in!

dimanche 25 mars 2007

Xmas present

Finally stopped snowing here. The kids from Pinsou came over for part 2 of their christmas present fabrication. After getting them to draw sea creatures last time, I cut them out of plywood and today they painted them. They have no idea what it is going to be yet. Of course I you?

vendredi 23 mars 2007

Snow, sleet and rain

Been an odd day today. Overnight the snow thawed a bit and during the day we've been on the cusp of the snowfall level - some rain, some sleet and some snow - some sunshine too. Replenished the log store in the morning and have updated my other websites to look more like the blog. A few new photo's too. See the links to the right of this post.

jeudi 22 mars 2007

Break in the snow

A lull in the weather allowed a quick snow shoe through the woods and to the neighbours. Here are some photos.

For Philippe and Sophie...

mercredi 21 mars 2007

Works update

After a quick trip into St G for more cement, here's the finished fireplace (the hearth is still drying hence two tone appearance).

Still snowing

Set to continue all Thursday as well...about a foot here so far (though with strong winds it's drifting around) and 3 feet on the high mountains .

mardi 20 mars 2007

Hearth update

It took 9 hours of disc cutting, hammering and chiselling to get through the tiny piece of stone I had to remove...then I remembered. Aleu's cottage industry for two centuries was finishing gritstones. The roughly shaped carborundum stones (for sharpening axes, scythes, knifes, etc) where brought here and the women would remove all the sharp edges by rubbing the stones against a certain rock that occurred here (presumably harder than the carborundum!). In fact there are few places on the river bank where you can see where they did this for many years and the rock has dished grooves in it. I think I found where this rock came from - my hearth!

And now the weather

Here's the weather

Its been like this for 2 days now and the forecast is for it to continue for at least two more...strange I was topless in the sun last week.

lundi 19 mars 2007

Snow and Granite

Well after some disk cutting and few hours of heavy work with lump hammer and bolster - tiny granite fragments and sparks flying in all directions - I've hardly scratched the surface! Man this rock is hard.
Looking at the geological map this rock doesn't exist here. However, I am very close (about a km or so) from a major fault caused by a granite pluton with contact metamorphism, so my guess is that this is a tiny hyperbyssal intrusion (probably a dyke) passing right under my house! Will probably have a look for evidence of it outside when the snow has gone.
Talking of which it is still snowing and is forecast to continue for the next couple of days. Ironically Guzet Neige my local ski resort decided to close for the season last weekend. It probably has more snow now than it has seen all winter!


Snowing heavily here - 3" in about as many hours.

Decided therefore to rebuild the hearth which has been on my list of things to do when the weather is poor. As you can see it looks like a (bad) rockery and has an ugly metal pipe sticking out of the middle of it (an old air intake from when the fire was an open one).

This morning I planed up some old chestnut and built a facetted timber kerb and I've just started breaking out the old concrete and rocks. The left hand side disintegrated with a few hammer blows but the right hand side seemed more solid. In fact very solid - in fact its bedrock! Not only that it's microgranite, so there are no bedding planes or lines of weakness at all. Hmmm - dynamite anyone?

samedi 17 mars 2007

Look out for the barn door Ned!

Bought some old oak from the demolition yard in Touille and made a new mortice and tenoned door frame for the barn. Although the oak is old it was fantastic to work, it felt a shame I wasn't making a piece of furniture with it. I think it's the first time the barn has had a doorway for a very long time!

jeudi 15 mars 2007

Traditional dress

This is the traditional dress for men from the next valley - looks very practical, but I'm not sure where to get the clogs.


Another hot day. Today I built the fence in the photo (double click on the image if it's too small to see). Some of the wood came from the clearance of fields 3 and 4, I have had it stacked all winter for just this purpose. Of course it all had to be carried up from the woods which took 2 1/2 hours! Still a little more to do until the field is finally secure - perhaps I'll make my first gate?

Weather is set to turn wintry again next week - I knew once I'd packed my skis away this would happen!

mardi 13 mars 2007


Today it reached the magic thirty degrees. The day started with burning all the bonfires (14 of them) in fields 3 and 4, and some more scything to tidy up. A trip to St Girons to buy some more wire for fencing the new fields and some fruit trees - a pear and a cherry which I have planted in field 2. I didn't notice that these aren't self pollinating so I need to buy a couple more next time I go.

Got an e-mail from Jon and Paul who skied up the Roc d'Enfer. They sent me a photo on the grassy summit though they swear they skied up and down! If conditions improve here perhaps I'll get a day in the mountains - a ski tour or a gulley climb.

dimanche 11 mars 2007


Over slept so didn't go skiing but it's been a beautiful day today. In the mid twenties. Spent the day tidying up the hedges and digging out the floor of the barn.
Jon and Paul are skiing in Morzine next week, they want me to join them but its a L O N G way. I'll sleep on it and decide in the morning. I need to go buy some pigs soon and I still have a sty to build!

samedi 10 mars 2007


Finished clearing around the barn today - logged enough wood for at least another winter maybe more and started fencing in the new fields. There's a lovely stand of birches, so I might try tapping some syrup when the sap begins to flow. Perhaps some photos tomorrow.

Will probably go skiing tomorrow as its possibly the last day that Guzet is open.

mercredi 7 mars 2007

Retirement, self-sufficency and pioneering

It’s 7.15 and I’ve just got in from scything some of the new field. Whilst I was scything I was thinking about my life here and some of the comments I had from people in the UK when they asked about what I was doing. The word ‘retirement’ and ‘lucky’ came up quite a lot and I have come away feeling almost guilty. Have I retired? Definitely not!

In the UK I worked hard for long hours as an Architect, helping to build up a business and earned a good wage which allowed me to have good standard of living. The cost of living was expensive because everything I consumed had to be collected as a raw material, refined and processed, manufactured into something and probably advertised before I bought it from a retailer. This all costs money as does the transportation between each stage.

Here in France I work hard for long hours on a variety of tasks (at the moment mostly building, farming and forestry) trying to build up the basics of a self-sufficient small holding. I don’t earn a wage (though at the moment I have a modest income from letting my flat in the UK – planning not ‘luck’). I have a good quality of life. The cost of living here is low (and as the small holding develops this should decrease dramatically). Many of the things I consume here I can make from the raw materials e.g. my heating, hot water, and cooking comes from the Rayburn – this burns wood. I have to cut down the tree, saw it up, carry it to the house, split it and stack it, dry it for a year, then cut it to length to burn it in the Rayburn. This amounts to about 3-4 weeks hard work each year to keep everything running through the winter – in the UK I just paid an electricity bill and a gas bill. Some of my food comes from the woods but when the small holding is established I hope to be as self-sufficient as I am currently with the heating, hot water and cooking. Of course there will always be things I can’t make myself and will have to buy, so I will always needs a surplus to sell or barter with or another source of ‘top up’ income (which is what I spent the first 38 years of my life creating and continue to work at).

Here I’ve changed a high earn/high cost lifestyle for a low earn/low cost one, but maintained, in fact improved, my quality of life. I work just as hard but I find it more rewarding and varied.

I’m nowhere near self sufficient yet, at the moment I am ‘pioneering’ building my homestead, creating fields from forest, building a barn and the infrastructure for self- sufficiency. It’s hard work, definitely not ‘retirement’ and I doubt it ever will be.

mardi 6 mars 2007

Glad to be home

After a short trip to the UK I'm now back home and glad to be here. I like the UK less, each time I go. Still it's good to catch up with old friends, buy a few books and remind myself (as if I needed reminding) why I left.