samedi 30 août 2008

Comprehension test

Having applied for a Permit de Chasse (hunting permit) to enable me to buy ammunition to kill my pigs and hunt on my own land (and hopefully much of the rest of the commune), today I had a day of theory tuition in Foix. To get a permit you have to take two exams one theory and one practical.

I was a bit apprehensive about whether I would be able to understand enough of what was being said, given that the tuition involved a lecturer speaking french to an all french audience (except me) on all aspects of hunting - species recognition and natural history, law, firearms, safety, etc. without any visual aids or hand-outs for about 4 hours. I guess it's a mark of the progress I have made that I could understand at least 90% of what was being said and at the same time make notes in French and English for future revision. I'm sure my grasp of the language would be faster if I lived in a town or city or worked in an office but given that I live in the middle of nowhere, I was pleased.

vendredi 29 août 2008

Drying Mushrooms

After collecting 4 basketfuls of 'horn of plenty' mushrooms and drying them I have finally filled my 1.5 litre jar. As mushrooms are mostly water, they shrink a lot. 'Horn of plenty' are nothing special normally, but dried they have taken on a whole new flavour and strength - the house is full of a mushroom aroma.

This morning the suzuki managed brilliantly towing 7 trailer loads of hay between the field and the barn on my new piste. It was a bit worrying in places because of the camber, but the cars' centre of gravity is resonably low. I still haven't found a tractor but the jimny is making a good substitute for the moment. I think I can get to one of the last remaining two haycocks with the car - but the barn is very nearly full, so will probably use the inaccessible one for autumn feed, carrying each days requirement on my back.

jeudi 28 août 2008

Ox tongue

Spent the morning clearing a route through the woods to one of the haystacks, then making sure the suzuki could get there and back...just need to try it with the trailer full of hay tomorrow.

Another decent haul of 'horn of plenty' mushrooms in the afternoon to join those already drying and I also found this 'beef steak' or 'Ox tongue' fungus. Went down well at the BBQ this evening.

mercredi 27 août 2008


Spent the morning moving the first two (and easiest two) haycocks to the barn for winter storage - six trailer loads in all. Another three much larger ones still to move, but they will require some piste making to access them with the car, or a lot of manual carrying.
This afternoon I unwrapped the ham, gave it a clean and hung it in the house for its' last 3-4 weeks of drying. Looks yummy.

mardi 26 août 2008

Mont Valier (4)

Sophie and Sandrine spent the night at the Estagnous hut under Mont Valier last night and I agreed to meet them on the summit at 12.00 today to guide them down the route via the Port d'Aula. I was up at the crack of dawn and left the Col de Pause at 7.30 in light drizzle and low cloud. the weather soon improved and after reaching the Port d'Aula in 1 hr 20, I made good progress and was on the Col Faustins in 3hr 40 (even I was surprised). I waited there for Sophie and Sandrine who were making their way up from the hut.

Looking down the Couloir Faustins

Valier's immense South East face and the 'Trou Noir'
A leisurely descent via the summits of Petit Valier and the Col de Tindareille made for a great day.
Sheep relaxing on some rocks in a very 'sculptural fashion'

dimanche 24 août 2008

Col d'Agnes

The fog cleared quicker than I had expected this morning, so that by the time I had finished scything fields 1 and 2, it was a beautiful day with not a cloud in the sky. Alas it was too late for a mountain walk, so I thought I'd get the road bike out again.

I was quickly changed (superman would have been jealous) and on my way. After dropping down to Castet d'Aleu and the main road, I cycled to Oust then climbed the Valley Garbet (via Ercé and Aulus) before tackling the Col d'Agnes (a category 1 climb with 826m height gain in about 10km) which is regularly included in the Tour de France. It was hot and airless and the first third has no shade, but I kept going and soon I left the wooded valley behind and the mountain views opened up. Some shade and a cool breeze made the going easier and I was soon at the col (well nearly 1hr 25mins).

Near the top of the col during the famous Ariegoise Cycle Race.
In fact I only saw one other cyclist goint the same way as me
- he overtook me just 10m from the col - git!

A fast descent to the Etang de Lers and lunch in the café was followed by an even faster descent to Massat. The gradient eases after Massat and by the time I'd got back to Castet d'Aleu my legs were beginning to go to sleep. The 400m climb back to Quélébu (between 1 in 6 and 1 in 7 for the entire first two kilometers) soon had the blood flowing in my legs again. About 4hr 40 for the 70km circuit with 1565m of height gain in all.

samedi 23 août 2008



Have been in Provence (Claviers) for a few days visiting Stella and Howard. Good to relax, swim in the pool and catch up with old friends. At the local market in Bargemon I found some delicious smoked Pork filet and a donkey sausage (the donkey meat is deliciously lean). The weather was much better there than here so I managed to catch some rays too. It's a long way to go - 6 1/2 hours drive normally - but the journey back was longer because I missed a turn and ended up in Avignon then I got done for speeding...bummer!
Alain my neighbour (who lives in Provence for most of the year) sent me some great photos of the barn, which he took a few weeks ago when he was here.

A walk in the woods this afternoon has produced two ceps, some hedgehog of the woods, some chanterelle and masses of horn of plenty (which I'll dry). Tonight its a 100% home-produced meal - potatoes, carrots, mushrooms and sausages.

mardi 19 août 2008

Mountain misadventures back on-line

My mountaineering website is now revised and on-line. The address has changed so use the link on the right if you're interested or click here I hope to add some new misadventures in teh coming weeks.

lundi 18 août 2008

Souvenirs de la Résistance

Whilst clearing out the house at Pont de la Taule at the weekend, behind a stone slab in the old bread, oven I found these: 350 detonators, 60 sticks of dynamite, 25 bullets (.303) and a couple of full clips for a pistol. As the old owner died 20 years ago no doubt he was in the Résistance - perhaps it's been there since then? Certainly from the condition of it all, I'd say so. The gendarmes thought it more likely that it was for felling very large trees...I prefer my story.

samedi 16 août 2008

Fresh Snow

As happened last August, we have fresh snow on the mountains. It fell Thursday night above 2000m and everything was surprisingly white, but alas I wasn't able to take a photo then. The photo above was taken this morning and most of it has gone now.

mardi 12 août 2008 - Sitebuilder

My three other websites which are hosted by mysteriously vanished last week. It turns out that orange have decided to sub-contract out their website building and hosting to some third party (MAGIX AG) - and guess what, the new system is 'flash driven' anf therefore not compatible with the old one. Although they claim to have given their customers a warning by e-mail early in july, I never received it (I even checked to make sure it wasn't amongst the huge amount of trash mail orange inundate you with). Incredibly, with a flick of a switch they deleted everyones websites....f***ing unbelievable. Wow! Orange really know how to look after their customers. Seems there are many more people who are equally angry with orange for their erased's responses amount to "sorry, but we don't care, we've signed a contract with MAGIX so screw our customers".

If you're ever thinking of having a website, or an ISP or a know who NOT to touch with a barge pole.

dimanche 10 août 2008

Pic Rouges de Bassies, Pic Rouge de Belcaire

A griffon vulture on the crest below Pic Rouge de Belcaire

Climbed up Pic Rouges de Bassies (2676m) today with Ian. Starting from Coumebiere we were on the summit in about 2hrs 40min, but it was hot and airless and felt hard work. Last climbed the peak 3 years ago when it was in deep cloud and I saw virtually nothing all day.

The last part of the ascension past Pic Caumale (R) to Pic Rouge de Bassies (centre R) and Pic Rouge de Belcaire (centre L)

After soaking up some rays and looking at future climbing projects, we decided to scramble across the ridge to Pic Rouge de Belcaire -great fun.

The continuation of the ridge to point 2554 was abruptly halted by 25m vertical drop requiring an abseil or at least a rope for protection.

A gulley provided an escape but it was clear that the rest of the ridge is a 'roped' project. Some close encounters with vultures provided some photo opportunities, before we made our way to the Etang des Lavants de l'Escale where some swimming gave us restbite from the heat.

A speedy descent to the car, then cold beer in Ercé and ice cream in Oust before home.

mardi 5 août 2008

dimanche 3 août 2008

A rant about farming here

The cows have been in the woods below Quélébu for the last week. ‘Farming’ up here basically involves enclosing a few tens of hectares or so of other peoples land (mostly absent landlords) with an electric fence and then letting a herd of hundred cows loose in it for two - three weeks a year. The land is otherwise unfenced and mostly woodland, bracken and brambles (once pasture, but neglected and unmaintained for 50 years). The cows trample the vegetation and forage for grass, they destroy the old stone terraces, communal paths and walls – but do nothing to halt the advance of trees, bracken and brambles.

Most landowners here still seem to hold onto the principle of never selling land. I guess this principle is born out of a time when they maintained, used and lived off it, when it was productive agricultural land that their fathers and forefathers had worked hard to create and improve, their only asset. This no longer applies - the land has little agricultural value anymore, few if any of the current landowners are involved in farming or maintain the land and many don’t even live in the Ariege any more (though most retain a second home here to use in the August summer holiday).

One can’t blame the few farmers left here for the way they use the land. Unable to buy it, why should they invest time and money to improve it to pasture once again? There are plenty of people here willing, desperate even, to start farming properly. Every week the local paper is full of adds from local ‘young farmers’ trying to find a few acres of land to buy to ‘start-up’ in business. A search also hampered by France's ludicrous inheritance laws which have left the land split into millions of tiny 'parcelles' - mostly fractions of a acre in size - all under different ownership. Accumulating a couple of acres of 'parcelles' in reasonable proximity to each other is nigh on impossible.

I guess farming will only recommence here when the ‘old guard’ pass on and their children who return to the Ariege for holidays and leisure, will see the land for what it has become – valueless – and take a less compassionate view with regard to selling it to the people who are willing to invest in it and use it - to the good of the local economy and countryside.

Pic Seron (3)

Nina called last night as she fancied stretching her legs - so today another trip to Gerac, this time to climb Pic Seron. Perfect weather and another fine day out in the mountains.