mercredi 26 décembre 2007

Christmas dinner

After skiing on Christmas eve at Guzet the slopes were beginning to get a bit stony, so this year I didn't go skiing on Christmas day. Visits to neighbours and a spot of scything (in the sun) instead. In the evening I had arranged to have dinner with Justin and Emily, and took along a homemade xmas pudding.

Alas no sooner had I got there than Justin began to feel unwell (he had Oysters for lunch - which are as christmassy here as mince pies in the UK). Evidently one was off and he spent the rest of the night hugging the toilet bowl. Still the dinner was fantastic even if the company was somwhat diminished.

Today I finally managed to burn the piles of thinnings from the hedge laying - yippee!

vendredi 21 décembre 2007


The local ski station - Guzet Neige - opened today. I went mid-morning to collect my season pass and practise. They only had a couple of pistes open (some others looked fine but I think they're saving them for the w/e or more snow which might just arrive tomorrow night). The place was deserted I think a dozen people at the most. Still, 4 hours skiing and I felt back to the level I reached last year so hopefully from here on in, my skiing improves!

jeudi 20 décembre 2007

Moon halo

After a couple of weeks of cold weather, it was decidedly warmer today - typical as the local ski station opens tomorrow!

Strange atmospheric conditions tonight created this strange ring around the moon, must be some kind of diffusion effect caused by ice crystals I think. Difficult to capture on a photo - if you can't see it in the image above it's about 10-12 times the diameter of the moon.

I'm burning birch on the Rayburn at the moment (usually burn ash or oak) it burns completely leaving almost no ash but gives out very little heat. So shall save the rest for the late spring!

The cold weather has also brought some rodents into the house. Some wood mice downstairs (which fell foul of my mouse traps) and this afternoon a tiny weeny mouse no more than 3 or 4cm long was scurrying around my feet as I sat at the computer quite oblivious of me. No loires...yet!

samedi 15 décembre 2007

More ski practice

Yesterday morning an early start saw me skinning up Le Picou at Guzet at 9.00am. The cold days and nights meant the snow cannons had been working hard but without any pisting the slope was a near continous sheet of hard ice (ski crampons obligatoire!) - only the fringe retained any powder and that had a definite crust. My descent was apalling with several falls as I struggled to gain control and confidence. By the time I reached the bottom I was angry and frustrated with my poor performance.
So the skins went back on the skis and up I went again. Half way I met Penny, Andy and John, here to practice on their new ski-rando equipment. Leaving them at the col I reached the top again and had another go - where the sun had now touched the snow, conditions had eased a little, though everything was more variable (hard ice one minute crusty powder the next)...but at last I began to ski better and regain my confidence, carving my turns, and getting a rythmn going. Phew! I was beginning to think I'd forgotten how to ski!

mercredi 12 décembre 2007

Ski tour

Ski tour with Ian today - making the best of the first snow. Nice ascent in perfect weather up to the Col de Pause then through it and up towards Cour Vic until it was time to turn around and head for home. My descent was 'sketchy' in parts - but managed!

Ian is pleased with our first turns of the season

mardi 11 décembre 2007


First ski of the season today. Went to Guzet which had its first snow yesterday. Nothing had been pisted yet and the resort is officially closed but I skinned up to the top of Picou and then skied down the main run. Off piste is something I need to practice so today was good investment. I had planned to meet some friends there but couldn't find them - only saw one other person out on skis.

lundi 10 décembre 2007


Plenty today on the mountains and perhaps 1-2 cm here.

dimanche 9 décembre 2007


Gales and rain for most of today and tomorrow - hopes of more snow on the mountains didn't materialise today but maybe tomorrow? Hoping to grab a ski tour before high pressure sets in in the middle of next week.

This morning I built a vegetable and wine rack for the kitchen, interrupted only by a desperate call from Sandrine who was trying to get to the Christmas market at Salau to set up stall, but found her way blocked by two trees which had fallen in the gale. By the time I got there with my chainsaw someone else had beaten me to it. The rack is just waiting for a top (there's a tray balancing there at the moment) hopefully a friend will bring the necessary piece of beech worktop with him from Ikea when he visits on Friday.

In the afternoon I went to the christmas market before returning home to finish the rabbit pie and feed the pigs.

vendredi 7 décembre 2007

Rain, mud and rabbit pie

After another pointless attempt at burning the branches from the hedge laying, the rain started. Mostly horizontal rain and the pig sty now resembles a mud wrestling arena, no in fact it's more like a swimming pool that's had a nasty sewage leak. I braved the weather and mud to take photos.

Tonight rabbit pie. A classic recipe or 'receipt' as he prefers to call them, from W.M.W. Fowler's 1965 book 'Countrymans Cooking' (a great book recently reprinted - full of interesting ways to cook rooks, cormorants, etc). The rabbit is fried with onions then cooked in cider, before being deboned and put under the pastry with hard boiled eggs, bacon and mushrooms. Afraid the flash makes the pastry look a bit anaemic.

mercredi 5 décembre 2007


After the past few days of rain today was bright and sunny - positively balmy with the temperature reaching 31 in the sun! Fat chance of an early start to the ski season - in fact with high pressure over Spain there are no 'big dumps' of snow on the horizon, probably not this side of Christmas anyway.

With the good weather I felled the last few oaks and after making about 35 fence posts created a woven hazel enclosure around the barn. It will keep the pigs from pulling stones out of the barn walls - which they love to do - destructive little buggers.

I didn't finish until dark so I'll post long overdue photos Friday (oops forgot today).

lundi 3 décembre 2007


Today it pissed down with rain all day. I usually go a bit cabin crazy when the weather is poor as I spend most my time outside, but after all the hedge laying a rest was good. Strong winds forced me to finish the stays on the shutters and tie the door on the barn shut, in the afternoon I baked a Madeira cake in the Rayburn which turned out perfectly - delicious. Also finished my UK tax return!

You'll have to wait for photos of recent works though.

dimanche 2 décembre 2007

I'm a fire starter...not

Yesterday evening and last night it rained. I went over to Claudes for l'apero with Claude, Susan, Yves, Patrick and Michelle. We talked a lot about bears in the Pyrenees and whether or not they ever inhabited the area around Aleu.

This morning dawned clear and sunny and I was able to finish the hedge laying and generally tidy up the path to the barn. Try as I might though, I couldn't burn the huge bonfires of twigs. I tried everything (firelighters, straw, even petrol!) but couldn't get enough heat to get it really going...really frustrating. Will try again tomorrow. Two smallish oaks very close to the barn to fell then all is done. A few days off in order, then I should start turning my attention to the house at Pont de la Taule again.

vendredi 30 novembre 2007


The weather for the past few days has been glorious.
I am still hedge laying though the end is in sight - couple more days should do it. An enormous bonfire yesterday to start disposing of the twigs and branches which are too small for firewood, fencing or posts.
The guy digging out the parking area for Philippe kindly moved the huge felled chestnuts which encircle the barn with his digger - Photo tomorrow. He also dug out the pond a little (the pigs had all but filled it in) though now there's no water in it! I might have to shovel some gluppy clay back in to it.

mardi 27 novembre 2007


Despite my tales of the cold and damp the sun shone all day today and there was a beautiful sunset. A day of more hedge laying.

lundi 26 novembre 2007

Cold and damp

Its been cold and damp for the last few days and it's set to continue. Plenty of mud (sticky clay) which sticks to your boots, picks up leaves, then picks up more mud, which picks up more leaves, etc. Until you've got huge dustbin lids of crap on each foot. Philippe is having an area behind my house excavated for a parking area so there's extra mud about.

Pressing on with the hedge laying and have finished the render on the chimney over the lead flashings - not easy with the grit which passes for washed sand here!

vendredi 23 novembre 2007

10,000 hits

My blog has had more than 10,000 visits!

Fete des toits

My neighbours came over this afternoon for the Fete des toits - a placing of bouquets on the new roofs and some champagne!

jeudi 22 novembre 2007

Changing the colours

Today I made some new shutters from the larch left over from the workshop and barn, and gave quelebu a colour change. the blue just didn't look right with the thatch.

mardi 20 novembre 2007

All done

Amazingly the weather stayed dry today and Tadeusz and the lads finished the roof of the barn. In the afternoon I helped them load the van and clear up before bidding them farewell and bon voyage. They've done a fabulous job.

You can see the evolution of the barn by clicking here and selecting 'slideshow'.

dimanche 18 novembre 2007

Winter approaches

Last window fitted, but some more finishing work internally to do tomorrow. The barn roof is ready for the ridge tiles to be grouted in place tomorrow (there was just enough reed to finish), then final redressing the day after.
The weather remains dry and cold (except in the sun when it's 26 degrees). Tomorrow a little warmer with a southerly wind arriving overnight, so hopefully the mortar won't freeze.

samedi 17 novembre 2007

Barn update

Mission accomplished in Toulouse and by 1.00 all the new reed was adjacent to the barn - fortunately I think we now have enough. In the afternoon I fitted the new window to the barn and the mezzanine. Tomorrow the last window and finishing the hedges on one side of the path.

vendredi 16 novembre 2007

No more reed

-6 last night and everything frozen in the morning (although I was warm inside). Tadeusz, Szimon and Christof made themselves busy using up the last of the reed and finishing around the chimney. With no more reed, I chased the delivery company. Despite rumours that they had been unable to find us, it eventually transpired that the reed was still in Lyons about 1000km away! After getting very shitty with people on the phone (my french is improving) I eventually arranged for the shipment to brought to Toulouse overnight and the guardien of the depot there to open up for us and let us collect it tomorrow morning. Better than the Tuesday delivery I was originally offered!

jeudi 15 novembre 2007

First snows

Snowed last night and light flurries all day. Over 30cm at 2000m - I may be skiing soon!
I continued to work on the hedge and the thatchers worked all day too, despite the cold. The windows for the mezzanine and barn and hopefully the extra reed will arrive tomorrow.

mercredi 14 novembre 2007

Barn storming

Today it has rained and hailed for most of the day, tonight and tomorrow morning some snow is forecast here (it's down to about 1000m already), but then we have another good weather window which should hopefully be long enough to allow the thatchers to finish the roofs - provided we have enough reed!
Have laid about 40m of hedge so far, about 35-40% of the total, but it's delivered about 4 weeks worth of firewood (for 2010) so hopefully by the time I've finished I'll have completed the years wood collecting.

The house is warm and there's a roast chicken in the rayburn.

samedi 10 novembre 2007


Click on the image for a closer look

The roof is more or less finished and looking great. Today I helped Christof and Szimon move all the materials, tools and scaffolding to the barn whilst Tadeus worked like a demon 'finishing' the thatch. After all the recent hedge laying and the days in the mountains I'm feeling pretty exhausted and am looking forward to a long nights sleep in a warm house. Tomorrow the guys are back here working as there is a spell of poor weather later in the week and they want to make the most of the good weather now. I'm going to be cooking them a boeuf bourgignon as a thank you for their hardwork.

vendredi 9 novembre 2007

Mont Rouch (2)

Just got back from a three day trip into the mountains with my neighbour Sandrine. We'd originally planned a circuit staying in two different unmanned cabines but due to the heavier than expected snow in the mountains, we spent two nights at the cabane de leziou and climbed Mont Rouch on the second day instead. It was great to be up in the wilderness and Mont rouch was a fantastic ascent under snow and ice.

lundi 5 novembre 2007

Roof progress

Thatch progressing a pace and house getting warmer

samedi 3 novembre 2007


Thatchers arrived yesterday having driven through the night and immediately erected the scaffold! Today they made a start and have already made excellent progress, getting reed on about a third of the front pitch and a backfill layer on the rear pitch. The weather is set fair for at least a week so hopefully the house roof will be completed before the next spell of poor weather. It's great to see the house with it's original thatched 'hat' at long last.
Meantime I've made a start with the laying the hedges to the barn.

mercredi 31 octobre 2007

There was an Englishman, a Frenchman and a Czech..

The Czech lorry driver returned this morning and I went to meet him at Castet. His lorry was 10 - 11m long, far too big to negotiate the corner in Castet d'Aleu. After greeting him in impecable Czech, I asked him how he was "Jak se mate?" Obviously thinking I spoke fluent Czech he immediately launched into a long response. I'm not too sure of the exact content but reading between the lines I think he said something like..."I waited here all bloody day yesterday and you didn't show up, so last night I had to sleep in my cab and it was f***ing freezing mate, to make matters worse I am travelling with my ex-wife's 60 year old father who has a 50% share in my truck, I hate him and he has terrible flatulance at night and he has the top bunk" which point I interupted him with "Mluvite Anglicky?" (do you speak English?). "No only Czech" he replied (in Czech of course). I think he then realised I didn't understand a word he was saying.

After some hopeless sign language in Franglais I returned home to fetch my trailer. I knew it would be too small for even 1 of the 18 bales of reed which I needed to collect, each of which was about 2.5m long by 1m diameter and weighing close to 300kg. After visits to locals I was unable to find a larger trailer at short notice but Paul in Aleu suggested I asked at the shop in Castet for directions to Monsieur Durand who had a lorry. I tracked him down and he came on his bicycle to look at the load to be shifted. He agreed to help.

The driver and I unloaded the lorry into a layby whilst he swore at his father-in-law who had the job of freewheeeling the lorry forward as we rolled the bales out of the back of the trailer. I bid 'Bonne Voyage' to the driver, ferried the ridge tiles and thatch fixings to Quelebu in my little trailer before returning to meet Monsieur Durand. Fortunately he had a forklift to go with his 1950's Saviem lorry (both about the same vintage). His lorry could just take 3 bales and managed between 5 and 15 mph on the steep hill upto Quelebu. It took until after dark (6.30) to shift the final load but at last they're all here. There's snow down to about 1200m at the moment and it was pretty cold today so I was glad to finish.

mardi 30 octobre 2007


Today I was in St Gaudens all day getting my car serviced - meantime the reed and fixings for the roof arrived with a Czech courier (4 days early). He didn't fancy the tight turn to Aleu so has retreated to St girons for the night. Tomorrow hopefully I can marshall him around the tight corner and help him unload the 18 bales of reed. A good chance to practice my Czech - Ahoj! Jak se mate? Mluvite anglicky? To je hrozne pocasi!

lundi 29 octobre 2007


After way too long I went rock climbing with Ian and Nina this afternoon at a crag near St G. Climbed 4 or 5 routes at 5b and just as we were getting back into the swing of things the heavens opened.

Bad weather for the next few days but the good news is that the thatchers will arrive Thursday pm with the reed arriving the next day - so hopefully I'll have a roof soon.

vendredi 26 octobre 2007

This years jelly

Apple and Chillie with a bit more 'kick' than previous years.

Legs are a bit stiff after yesterday.

jeudi 25 octobre 2007

Pic de la Lesse, Pic des Trois Comtes, Pic de Puntussan

Etang Garbet

An early start in dense cloud from about 6km upstream from Aulus les Bains this morning. By the time I reached the Etang Garbet I had climbed above the cloud but it chased me up the mountain. At the Etang Bleu everything was frozen and I left the path behind as I struck up across the mountainside to reach Pic de la Lesse.

The view of the route ahead from Pic de la Lesse - On the right Pic de Puntussan, in the middle Pic des Trois Comtes (partly hidden behind an unnamed pic on the ridge climbed on the way).

Some pleasant scrambling (in the sun briefly) lead to Pic des Trois Comtes and by 2.00 I was on the top of Pic de Puntussan. There was plenty of snow on the ground and a fair bit of verglas on the rocks. On the Pic the cloud finally engulfed me.

Atmosheric conditions produced a Brocken Spectre.

The long descent in difficult pathless terrain, zero visibility and light snow then heavy rain proved very difficult and several times I had to reascend steep slopes and ravins to keep on track. By 5.30 I was still high on the mountain and not certain of my position and benightment seemed a distinct possibilty. Eventually after 4 hours of exhausting descent through rocks, bilberry and tussuck grass I reached a path (the first since early morning) and as twilight fell I reached the top of the Cascade d'Ars. (NOTE : I would not recommend this route either in ascent or descent and certainly not in poor visibilty).

I just managed to descend to the good piste before dark and a long trudge back to Aulus and then the 6km back to the car in pitch darkness saw me safely down. A long and trying 11 hour day with over 2200m of ascent and about 23km in all.

mercredi 24 octobre 2007


After breaking my balls all summer to build the barn and re-roof the house in less than 10 weeks, some of you may be wondering what has happened to the thatching or rather the thatchers? Well you and me both! After managing to be ready for the agreed 'start date' of mid-September, this has been pushed back to early October, then mid-October and the latest is first week of November! Meantime winter approaches and I freeze my nuts off living in a house with only felt for a roof and no insulation. If the snow arrives early I'm done for.

The staircase for the barn was poured today (concrete steps on top of stonework). The living room curtains are 3/4 finished (one more to make) and this years batch of Apple and Chillie Jelly is ready for boiling and bottling.

The autumn high pressure continues with crystal clear skies, so tomorrow another day in the mountains probably Puntussan and the Pic des Trois Comtes.

vendredi 19 octobre 2007

Pic de la Pale

A longish day in the mountains today, we planned to climb Mont Valier from the Col de la Pause via the Port d'Aula but ended up stopping just short at the Pic de la Pale and found a nice knife edge ridge to a little peak with stunning views.
In the video clips below, Dommy talks to his camera about what kind of person would run along the ridge before I join him on the summit, then we head back to the Col and lunch.

jeudi 18 octobre 2007

Cascade d'Ars, Etang Guzet

On Tuesday a local walk and a huge trawl of mushrooms - enough to make wild mushroom risotto and yesterday a middle mountain walk to the Cascade d'Ars...

...and the Etang Guzet amidst fantastic autumn colours.

lundi 15 octobre 2007

Pic Seron (2)

Dommy and Jon are here for the week and as the weather was beautiful today we did a mountain walk, completing a circuit above Guzet including an ascent of Pic Seron. The Etang d'Aube was a surreal washing-up liquid green.

jeudi 11 octobre 2007

The jinx is lifted

Now the Judds are safely out of french airspace the weather improves and the day dawns clear. Here's the view you never saw - photo taken this morning.

mercredi 10 octobre 2007

Wendy and Matthew visit.

Wendy and Matthew having been staying for a few days after their holiday on the Canal du Midi. The 'Judd jinx' manifested itself as bad weather, and despite staying here for three days they sadly only got glimpses of the view. Nethertheless, we didn't let the bad weather spoil the time together and we went to Foix, the Riviere souterraine de Labouiche (Europes longest underground river), St Lizier and few scenic walks and drives nearer home. Although they left this morning it's still raining!
Chateau de Foix

vendredi 5 octobre 2007


Today had an autumnal feel to it. The leaves are beginning to turn, I harvested the maize and carrots (a mouse beat me to about half of them!) and although it's still warm the day was cloudy and in the late afternoon a thunderstorm. As the roofs are finished, I began work on the stairs to the barn - digging out the clay and then assembling the stonework. It doesn't have to carry any load or be watertight so it's fairly easy compared to the barn walls.

We have a good apple crop this year so the pigs get plenty to eat. The field had some parasol mushrooms in it today so I had plenty to eat too.

mardi 2 octobre 2007

Recent works

The house at Pont de la Taule now has electricity and some lighting too...yippee!
Fields 3 and 4 have been invaded by ground thistles which have smothered the brambles and allowed grass to start growing...hurrah!
The roof has had it's final stones placed on the very top of the gables...huzzah!
The chimney is rendered and has a new hat...tophole!

The table has new lights over it which don't dazzle you and give you third degrees burns...magnifico!
A blog reader dropped in to see me...bonzer!
The front door is now red...halleluja!
The rayburn now has a light over it so I can see to cook...brilliant!
I have curtains in the living room to keep it warm at!

dimanche 30 septembre 2007


For the past few days I've been working at the house at Pont de la Taule. The electricity is due to be connected tomorrow and I needed to install a fuse board and earth. This morning field No 2 got its autumn 'short back and sides' then for lunch I went to Massat where there was a steer roast - free for all the inhabitants of the Canton. The boeuf was enormous, enough to feed the 500 or more people who showed up. Most had come with plates, cutlery and copious side dishes. I turned up with two slabs of buttered bread! The cow sandwich was delicious. Met up with Justin and Emily and a few friends.

And for dinner tonight? Boeuf Bourgignon.

vendredi 28 septembre 2007

jeudi 27 septembre 2007


The clouds stayed low today, but Pic de Lasirouge showed itself's the view from the house.

mercredi 26 septembre 2007

Cold spell

Temperatures have dropped, this morning 6 degrees. There's a decent dump of snow above 2000m and over the next few days snow is forecast down to 900m (I live at 800m). The thatchers are now due in about 3 weeks time so things could turn cold in the house. Today I brought some logs into the house and lit the Rayburn for the first time this autumn.

samedi 22 septembre 2007


Yesterday was another big clear up day with a bonfire and trips to the dump plus some farmwork.

Today it's been overcast and drizzly, in fact it never seemed to get light. So I built two sets of matching bookshelves (one in each corner of the bedroom). At last I can get rid of the bookcase at the top of stairs which robbed the bedroom of light and space. Also I can now bring all my books into the house (some were in the workshop). It's great to have space back in the bedroom.