vendredi 31 octobre 2008


A pretty big hole in the wall of the barn but I manged to fill rebuild it pretty quickly and was done by 2.30.

A fruitless trip to St G to get a new oil and fuel filter for the tractor (I'll have to take the old ones with me and match them tomorrow). Back home to move the sheep and tinker with the electrics on the tractor - all lights, indicators, etc now working.

Fruit cake, blackberry and apple crumble and a rack of pork with roast potatoes cooked in the rayburn and I can relax. Storm outside with gale force winds - first wind in a long time and a test for the garage as it's from the south!

jeudi 30 octobre 2008

Tractor at last!

My little tractor has arrived at last. It started first time with a charged battery and at the weekend I'll give it a full service (oil change, etc). I would do it tomorrow but the guy installing the septique tank just called to say that having made a hole through the wall of the barn to get the waste pipes into it, there was a bit of 'a colapse' and now there is a big hole. So I need to go and look and do some urgent repairing...sounds ominous.

mercredi 29 octobre 2008

An exhausting day

Awoke to the 'coup de blanche' (40cm of snow at the Port d'Aula). After checking on the sheep I recovered the electric fence charger from Pauls field and put the battery on charge. As the house was empty of firewood, I sharpened the chainsaw but then realised I was out of petrol and had left the wheelbarrow for transporting the wood at Pont de la Taule.
A trip there, collecting fuel on the way and I arrived to find the special wall climbing digger in place behind the house surrounded by trenches reassembling a scene from the Sombe. On the way back I dropped in on Jason and Grace for a cuppa.
When I got home for lunch, I found a message on the answer phone from the man in St Girons who is going to collect my tractor from Pamiers saying he could collect my tractor after lunch, three days earlier than planned. After a call to Pamiers to make sure the tractor was available and accessible for collection, I decided that having had enough tractor delivery problems to last a lifetime that I would go to Pamiers to see the tractor for the first time and make sure that there were no more problems! This meant leaving immediately - no lunch.
The tractor is lovely and in excellent condition (much better than I had hoped). Unfortunately the battery is flat so I couldn't turn the engine over. Nevertheless we loaded it on the trailer and it is now in St Girons. Tomorrow lunchtime it will be here - over a month since leaving Italy!
By the time I got home it was dark. But the fire is lit and some home grown pork filet has filled my grumbling stomach.

mardi 28 octobre 2008


Up early this morning to head over to Pont de la Taule in the torrential rain to fell the box hedge which was barring access for the wall climbing JCB. Probably needn't have bothered as the rain has been that heavy today I don't think anybody has bothered getting out of bed.

Once finished and after stacking the wood I can use for joinery, I headed for St G in search of a tractor-carrying trailer to hire. Soon discovered that in France one needs a special driving licence to tow a trailer heavier than 550kgs - the idea went down the pan! Went to a garage to see if they would collect the tractor with their breakdown truck, but apparently that too is against the law. Eventually ended up at a vehicle breakers who were happy to put any vehicle on a trailer and move it. Fingers crossed delivery is Friday.

The rain continued and by late afternoon was turning to snow. I moved the sheep to the barn before Jean-Pierre arrived. A 'chasser' from Soulan (the neighbouring commune) he'd found my blog and arranged to meet up. After several whiskies he invited me to dinner with his wife and his brother who's birthday it was. After all the rain and snow I couldn't get the car out of the garage so he gave me a lift. A fun evening in good company and nice to realise that my french comprehension and language skills have come a long way.

About an inch of snow here so far tonight and still snowing.

lundi 27 octobre 2008

What a day! Euro.Tra.Ma (Euro Trauma)

This morning after waiting in yet again, in case the tractor delivery company should call, I was trawling the web when I discover that the Italian delivery company Euro.Tra.Ma (should be Euro Trauma) had a UK depot. I called them and spoke to someone helpful who told me that there are in fact two english speaking and several french speaking employees at the Italian office! I immediately got on the phone and although none of the english speakers were available I did manage to talk to someone in french. As with all my communication with Euro.Tra.Ma they were rude, unhelpful and promised to call me back (which of course they didn't). After waiting several hours I called them again and told them I was absolutely pissed off with waiting for my tractor - whereupon they told me they would e-mail me immediately the location of the tractor and I could collect it. Having heard it was only 20km you can imagine how relieved I was. But when the e-mail arrived the address was Pamiers - about 100km away!

I've written them a stinking letter of complaint but given that they are employed by the seller and not by me, I have no contract with them so no route for legal action. Right now I just want my tractor. I'll have to find someone who can hire me a suitable trailer or alternatively I could drive the tractor the 100km - but that's about 6-7 hrs driving and I don't know if I need to service the tractor first - Lynch's film "The Straight Story" springs to mind.

If you ever have the misfortune of coming across Euro.Tra.Ma my advice is give them a wide berth - if you ever want to receive your goods.

Then at 2.00 across to see the contractor installing the septic tank. Having emptied the barn of fertilizer we've discovered it's built on solid rock, so the discharge from the tank can't filter into the soil and will probably just run across the surface onto my neighbours patio! An alternative solution was required and having rejected a cess pit we arrived at a solution which will pump the discharge from the tank up the hill beside the house to filter down through the garden. Only problem is getting a digger up onto this land which involves climbing two 2.5m high walls. We met a man with a special digger. After much chin scratching he decided he could help - tomorrow at 8.00! Only problem is he needed a dozen trees removed. So home I rushed, grabbed the chainsaw and by sunset had managed to take down the offending trees. There are two more big trees to come down but they're not essential for access so they can wait till tomorrow.

dimanche 26 octobre 2008


The gorgeous weather continues here - last night a party at Virginie and Martins' (early Guy Fawkes night fireworks) and met lots of new people - always good. This morning awoke too late for a day in the mountains (despite the clocks going back) so did some autumnal tidying.

The 7 or 8 trees that I had left in field 2 were taken down and logged, repairs were made to the fences and hedges to keep them stock proof and one of the two remaining haycocks was moved to the barn (by hand).

Then some gunsmithing. I stripped the rifle, adjusted the trigger down to a more friendly 3 1/2 pound pull weight, sealed the inside of the wooden stock and made some adjustments to the stock so that the bolt and safety catch didn't bind on it.

Sandrine and Natasha stopped by this evening for a glass a wine (orange juice for 5 year old Natasha!) and to watch the sunset.

vendredi 24 octobre 2008

Remington Model Seven

My new rifle arrived today though I am still waiting for the scope and mounts which are coming from the UK.

Firstly the gun is not quite what I ordered or thought I ordered. Remington only has an American website/catalogue which illustrates models available in the USA. Try to order any of these in Europe and you're told they are unavailable outside North America. Looking in the Rivolier catalogue (Rivolier seem to function as the french importer) I ordered the Model Seven 'as pictured in your catalogue' - a Model Seven CDL in fact.

Now mine has arrived it appears that Remington Model Sevens for the European market are different.
Different stock altogether - Hogback not straight comb.
Different checkering pattern (very poorly done).
Longer in the forestock, no rosewood end.
No swivel studs fitted ( though the shop supplied and fitted some for free).
The barrel has iron sights already fitted.
The trigger is the older style remington trigger, not the new x-mark pro.
The bolt, receiver and barrel however appear the same.

The stock - nice bit of wood, finish is a bit plastic looking 

The business part - note the hinged floor plate doesn't close snugly.

The fitted iron sights (hopefully they won't interfere with the scope when fitted). Forestock goes to within 6" of the end of the barrel - looks a bit too long, to my eye. Sorry about photo quality should have taken pictures in daylight.

The trigger breaks at 6 1/2 pounds! but actually it is crisp (with no creep or overtravel) so it feels much much less and I might leave it as it is.

Having said all that, it's still a nice rifle for the money - very light, comfortable and manoeuvrable - I just hate not getting what I asked for. The tikka was better finished but it was much more expensive. Anyhow, the proof of the pudding is how it shoots and I'll only find that out when the scope and mounts arrive, I go down the range, zero them in and fire some rounds.

But why do a company as huge as Remington Arms not publish a catalogue or set up a website to tell european customers what they're getting?

You might be interested in what I did to my model seven over the next few years...see here and here.

jeudi 23 octobre 2008


Cold and drizzly yesterday, so no surprise to wake up to this view this morning.
Finally got to the bottom of the tractor delays - apparently my tractor is in a secret location 20km away being held to ransome by the f***ing delivery company who are in some kind of payment dispute with the Italians...and I'm innocently stuck in the middle.
Mid-morning I moved the sheep to another part of Pauls' field (never try moving an electric fence without winding all the wire back onto a drum first - lots of knots and swearing otherwise).
In the afternoon I finished digging the area in front of the house spreading all the manure.

mardi 21 octobre 2008


Works have started on the fosse septique installation at Pont de la Taule with the excavation of the floor of the barn - so I have a huge amount of 20 year old fertilizer arriving at quélébu.
Hurriedly, I've enlarged the vegetable patch by the house to recieve all this fertile waste.

In the afternoon I pressed on with some more mining in the house at Pont de la Taule.

For dinner tonight another 99% home produced meal - lamb chops, cooked with onions, a giant parasol mushroom, a chilli and some apple/mint jelly, served with potatoes and carrots (olive oil wasn't home produced - hence missing 1%).

lundi 20 octobre 2008


Another full day at Pont de la Taule - burning all the rotten old wood and barn contents mostly. Barn first floor is now more or less clear, apart from a mound of dusty and very old hay. Found a very nice leather apron - not sure if it is for butchering, sheep-shearing or something more kinky! I've taken it and hope to put it to all three uses.

Loaded up the trailer with all the none combustibles then remembered the tip isn't open on Mondays! Drinks with the old mayor and various other assorted locals at Chez Rogalles before home.

My 'Permis de Chasser' arrived today, but now I need to validate it. You can do it on-line ... anywhere in France apart from in the Ariege! Another trip to Foix. Still no sign of the tractor.

dimanche 19 octobre 2008


A productive day at Pont de la Taule. Barn emptied and swept of cobwebs (we're talking hammer house of horror cobwebs here) ready for the start of septic tank works tomorrow (hopefully) and the first door frame in place.

samedi 18 octobre 2008

Remington Model Seven

After much thought I decided on the Tikka T3 laminated stainless in 7mm-08. The tikka is a nice gun, if a bit heavy and bit long in the length of pull department. Anyhow the stunning good looks of grey laminated stock and SS barrel swung it. I went to order one in St Girons, but guess what...there weren't any with the french distributor and a manufacturing problem at the Finnish Tikka/Sako factory means no more laminated stocks for 4 months at least. Although more or less the same gun, the regular Tikka T3 didn't appeal - such was my disappointment.
There was this lovely Steyr lightweight in the shop staring me in the face - beautiful gun - but it was too expensive for me. Looked at few others rifles but there was nothing I liked...was about to leave empty handed when an old (late 60's) stalker came in (he had a lot of VERY expensive guns and scopes from what he was saying). Anyhow after telling him about my dilemma, he recommended the Remington Model Seven, which was on my initial list but I'd forgotten about it. He actually had a soft spot for the model with the Mannlicher full length stock (not my taste) but the Model Seven ticked all my boxes except that the trigger is none adjustable (actually it is adjustable but Remington void your warranty if you adjust it). After a quick phone call the shop (L'Affut) confirmed they could get hold of a regular Remington Model Seven in 7mm-08 in less than a week (unfortunately the very nice 25th anniversary edition is only available in the US). So anyhow that's what I've ordered - good price too. Cheaper than the Tikka by quite a bit so I can splash out on a Leupold VX11 2-7 x 33 scope and decent mounts. The compact size of the Seven should be good in the woods here, suit my stature and at just 6 1/2 pounds, is light enough for long days in the mountains.
I'll see what the trigger is like when it arrives - most articles say the Remington factory set them at as much as 5 1/2 lbs! So might adjust it to around 3lb if it feels too stiff (most other manufacturers standard for a hunting rifle). Loads of articles on the web about how to do it.
I hope delivery is quicker than my tractor, which I'm still waiting for.
Spent most of today continuing with the 'mining' through the wall at Pont de la Taule.

jeudi 16 octobre 2008

Muck Spreading

A day of tidying up the vegetable patch, digging it over and covering it with dung from the barn. Just the leeks and carrots are still in the ground - the latter I'm digging up as I need them, the leeks will stay in as long as possible i.e. until it snows.

Autumn colours on one of the big beech trees between fields 1 and 2.

More rifle research and the bureaucracy of firearm importing is making me look again at the Tikka T3 laminated stainless. Can probably order one in St Girons. Unbelievably (given the tiny size of the UK rifle market compared to France) they are about 3/4 the french price in the UK.

mercredi 15 octobre 2008

Which Rifle?

Remington 700 mountain LSS

Browning A-bolt stainless hunter

Having passed my hunting exams, the question of which rifle to purchase comes to the for. I've been researching for a quite a while but am still undecided. Biggest problem is rifle availability in Europe. Winchester and Browning are both owned by the FN Group in Belgium but the range of rifles offered in Europe is a tiny fraction of that offered in the US. As for Remington I don't know what the availability is.

I'm decided on 7mm-08 calibre, a bolt action rifle with wooden stock (not a fan of synthetics despite the practicality). I like the Browning A-bolt stainless hunter (but is it available here in France?), the Remington model 7 anniversary edition with its' 22" barrel and also the Remington 700 mountain LSS (but I've heard nasty things about the Remington standard trigger which is non-adjustable). Sako's and Tikka seem a bit heavy and big for me ( I'm 5' 7") and most the european manufactured guns I find very 'fussy'. Take Verney Carron for example...very popular in France but to my eye truly ugly. Steyr and Blaser are a bit of an unknown quantity.

Not sure about Ruger M77 either and whilst I hear good things about the 'new' Winchester model 70 I think the new trigger system is only available in the US and the european offerings are all with rear blade and front sight and only in WSM/WSSM calibres.

Thinking about importing...any feedback/advice welcome!

Sheep and Tigers

Moved the sheep to Pauls' field today, a task that took most of the day. All the electric fencing in field 2 had to be dismantled (it can stay down now as the hedges have grown up and are pretty much stock proof) then re-erected in Pauls field, some scything needed to be done under the new fence location, then moving salt lick, electric fence charger, water, etc - not to mention the sheep of course. More fencing was required to marshall them down the 500m or so of track leading from the barn to the field.

A lot of to'ing and fro'ing and carrying with sack trucks and wheel barrows. It's one of the many tasks I hope will be made easier with a small tractor. I've been looking for one for about 18 months and finally settled on a secondhand Antonio Carraro Tigre 2700. 10 years old but only 1000 hrs or so on the clock. It's coming from Italy where secondhand mountain tractors like this seem to be about half the price they are here in France and the UK. So even with transport costs it was still much cheaper than a local purchase.

Dealing with the Italian company selling the tractor was complex (as I don't speak Italian) but thanks to 'babelfish' on-line translator and a local Italian lady who helped with the bank transfer - all has gone smoothly (if not quickly).

The tractor is now in Perpignan awaiting final delivery to me by a french company. This is where the problems start. In my experience the french have not heard of 'customer service'. Evidently the tractor has been in Perpignan for a few days but the company only rang me yesterday to say they were delivering it that afternoon (no warning) and by the way it's coming on an articulated transporter (which won't get through the village) and we expect you to be ready with a crane or unloading platform to lift the tractor off the back of the lorry as our vehicle has no unloading ramps! When I told them I could not take delivery as I would be in Foix taking an exam and in any case I didn't have a crane, they were most annoyed. After some ranting they gave me the dreaded "We'll call you back". In France this means probably next week, unlike in the UK where it means probably in 30 minutes. No call today, their phone number is irretrievable, and they didn't give me the company name - so I must wait.

mardi 14 octobre 2008

Hunting Permit

Passed my 'chasse practique' exam today, so I can now purchase ammunition. I can also hunt within 150m of my house, but will need to join the local hunting club to be able to hunt right across the commune.

lundi 13 octobre 2008

Hoof trim

Today all the sheep had their hooves trimmed. The first three sheep (now two) had theirs trimmed back in June, but the second three (by the looks of it) have never had theirs trimmed. It all turned into something of a marathon. The sheep-sofa came in handy, but it was still back-ache inducing work. What I need is a rising table! I found a woodworking surform very useful for finishing off after the initial trim with the hoof trimmers. It's amazing how quickly their hooves have grown.
Despite vigourous handwashing, I have smelt rather 'sheepy' today! Thankfully, a shower and change of clothes seems to have sorted the problem.

dimanche 12 octobre 2008

Pont de la Taule

Difficult to see what's going on in these photo's but basically I've broken through the wall at Pont de la Taule and have started installing a door frame. Work is difficult as the marble blocks are enormous and as none of the walling is coursed it's very difficult to match opening heights on either side of the wall. Everything is held up with acro-props and I was glad to reach a stage at which having rebuilt part of the wall above one of the lintols, I had an excuse to clean up and leave!
Back at Quélébu by 3.00pm, I converted my little first floor fixed window which I installed earlier in the year, into an opening window.

samedi 11 octobre 2008

A tree once stood here

An ash tree to be precise. It grew up through the electricity and telephone wires and through the beautiful and massive lime tree which dominates my house. It was starting to compete with it, so it had to go. I had to climb it and take it down branch by branch as it was enclosed by utilities cables on three sides and my workshop on the fourth (who said a tree has four sides?). All is now safely logged for another winter.
While the ladder was out I cleaned the chimneys and cut the grass on the workshop roof.
The sheep are back from the woods (field 4) and now in field 2. Paul dropped in for l'apero and reminded me that I can put the sheep in his fields nearby, which I'll probably do later next week.

vendredi 10 octobre 2008 arse!

Today I set about constructing a hay manger for feeding the sheep over winter. Stupidly, rather than design my own, I decided to use a plan out of a book - mistake number one. Apparently perfectly dimensioned for sheep, definitely perfectly dimensioned to make swinging a hammer or driving a nail impossible. I also decided to re-use/salvage some of the crappy timber from the old wood shed - mistake number two. The passage of time was marked by screamed expletives, bent nails and tantrums...and look at's not like I've created a thing of beauty. Something about it reminds me of an old pub piano...probably the weight. I bet the bloody thing won't work. The sheep will probably bump their heads and not be able to reach the hay.
Tomorrow something different - anything!

mercredi 8 octobre 2008


Spent most of today working on knocking another doorway through a near 3 foot thick wall at Pont de la Taule. This one will link the main house to the storeroom which will become the bathroom. The red line shows the approx position of the door. The big block at the bottom is solid bedrock (marble). Hence the reason I've been putting off this job for some time, but in fact it hasn't proved too difficult to break through. Forgot the camera, progress photo's soon.

mardi 7 octobre 2008

...and relax.

After yesterdays' walk, today I pottered in the kitchen - mincing the lamb offcuts and turning them into sausages, then boiling the bones with some carrots, onions, celery and bay leaves to make some concentrated stock for the freezer. A stroll in the woods to gather a few mushrooms, then a cuppa at John and Sandrine's.
Tomorrow, I need to trim the sheep's hooves then I might put them down in field 4 for a few days.

lundi 6 octobre 2008

Mont Rouch (3)

Another trip up my favourite Couserans peak Mont Rouch (2868m) today with Ian. Weather was beautiful with not a cloud in the sky. Snow from last week still lingered on much of the route.

The summit views were impressive with the crystal clear atmosphere.

The leaves are just beginning to turn here, but the light in the birch woods was fantastic - like a Klimt painting.
This evening the lamb was butchered and is now in the freezer, just some scraps to make into mince tomorrow.

dimanche 5 octobre 2008

Loss and gain

This morning it was with a sense of dread that I descended to the barn - expecting to find Jeanie dead. But no, there she was in the field with the other sheep. She was sat on the ground and even nibbling a few blades of grass. I thought she might just pull through. She was still fine at noon when I left for lunch with Ian, Nina, Marc and Sara. Alas when I got back at 4.00 there were only 5 sheep in the field and in the barn there she was dead.

After a moments silence and wishing here 'bon voyage' to sheepy heaven, I got to work saving the carcass. Fortunately blue tongue doesn't render the carcass inedible. It was the first time I've done a sheep so it took a bit longer than I had expected, but tonight I have two sides of lamb hanging in the kitchen and liver for tea.

Tomorrow, a day in the mountains and in the evening I will butcher the lamb and get it in the freezer. There was a frost last night and tonight it is clear - I'd like to hang the meat outside but I think there are too many predators. Still without a fire I think the house will be cool enough for the meat to set.

samedi 4 octobre 2008


Despite all the antibiotics and anti-inflammatory injections Jeanie has slowly deteriorated and this evening she seems very weak and ill. I doubt she'll make it to morning but there is nothing else to be done. It's heartbreaking to see her in such a pathetic state. Someone in the village told me a shepherd friend of theirs has lost 40 of his flock of 70 to the disease, so I guess I have got off lightly if I only lose one.

Though many locals are bemoaning the 'cep' shortage this year, there are many other mushrooms to eat. Tonight some more gypsy mushrooms and cauliflower fungus (actually the very similar sparassis brevipes) with my lamb, and home produced vegetables and mint jelly.

A Touch of Autumn

mercredi 1 octobre 2008

Chasse practique

Today after a rushed morning's shopping, I went to Foix for an afternoon course in preparation for the 'chasse practique exam'. I thought this would be the easy bit, having used shotguns and airrifles for quite a few years...but no. The french have very specific ways of handling firearms which differ very slightly from the ways I have learnt. Undoubtedly the french ways are very safe, if a bit awkward sometimes (I think deliberately so to prevent safe techniques degenerating over time into potentially unsafe ones). The problem is I must now unlearn many years habits if I want to pass the exam. In my first trial run of the exam I failed before I had even fired a shot because I rested my trigger finger erect against the side of the trigger guard. Strictly 'interdit'. Also when breaking a shotgun one has to rotate the gun through 90 degrees (away from you) and push the stock away from the barrels. When reloading one must put the stock under your arm and hold the barrels with your left hand over the top, not underneath.

A final part of the test involves a simulated 'chasse en battue'. Where hunters with rifles stand in a line and game is driven past them. Using a bolt action rifle is a new experience for me. More difficult, throughout the test I have to give a commentary of my actions in french - which involves some new vocabulary.

Two weeks of practice coming up!