samedi 26 décembre 2015

Christmas lunch

Something a little different for a Christmas dinner this year Duck lyonnaise (recipe here). Very delicious and it was preceded by some spiced scallops with orange and chicory salad.

Susie and I definitely needed a run this morning!

jeudi 24 décembre 2015

This afternoon the sun has come out in Devon for what seems like the first time in at least 2 months. Whilst Quelebu has been lying under high pressure basking in sunshine for months, weather which is forecast to continue until February, Totnes has been enduring unrelenting gales and horizontal rain. Hopefully the weather in the Pyrenees will remain good through early January, allowing me to progress the gite extension ahead of schedule.

Merry Christmas to all.

dimanche 13 décembre 2015


On Thursday John helped me with the concreting again. We quickly put down the DPM, insulation and some mesh and by 1.00pm the floor was done. After some tidying up I jumped in the car and sped off to Pamiers where I picked up the windows for the main barn. I got back after dark and as it was a crystal clear night I covered the concrete over to give it some frost protection before heading over to John's for dinner with him and Ian. A roast dinner with plenty of good wine!

On Friday I fitted the windows without too many problems and after some more tidying and packing it was time to leave.

At Toulouse my flight was delayed by an hour then once we were on board we were delayed by another hour. I wonder if this is a ploy by Easyjet to avoid buying refreshments for the passengers which is obligated if the flight is delayed by 2 hours. It's the second time this has happened in the last few months.

By the time I got back to Bristol is was gone midnight and when I went to start the car, the battery was flat. Fortunately, the staff at the airport car park jump-started the car for free. The tank was nearly empty too but after a detour I found a 24hr garage and by then there was enough charge in the battery to restart the car after filling up.

The little problems didn't end there because when I went to upload the photos of the works at Quelebu, something went wrong and I lost all the photos.....UPDATE thanks to little bit of freeware called "Recuva", I've retrieved the files from the SD card in the camera, even though it claims to be empty.

mercredi 9 décembre 2015

More digging

To St Girons to collect sand then on with the block laying which I finished just after dark. Rain overnight which didn't affect the blockwork but turned the heavy clay into gloop! It was still drizzly in the morning so I finished off the shutters for the bathroom which had been awaiting bolts for about a year! 

After a trip to the Mairie, Danni and Serge's and Gilbert's, the rain had stopped so it was on with laying the drainage. The trenches were partly in stiff gloopy clay (think plasticene) or in sold it took all afternoon. Final levelling of the ground is impossible with the ground so sticky, so I'm hoping to get it done tomorrow, as John has volunteered to help with the concreting again in the morning.

 Drainage for the washing machine/shower, WC/sink and septic tank ventilation.

lundi 7 décembre 2015

The weather remains fantastically warm and sunny (28 in the sun) but with just a hint of frost at night.

On Saturday a trip to IKEA in Toulouse, getting proper beds for Jasper and Ruby's rooms.

On Sunday, I was digging foundations and waging war with the remains of the chestnut tree stump which was right in the line of the proposed wall - chainsaw, axe and pick axe were all brought into play, but the stump won. It's been twenty years or more since the tree was felled but the roots are hard as iron. Foundations are now poured and half the ballast for the next floor slab has been moved from road to barn. Block laying tomorrow.

vendredi 4 décembre 2015

Nice to have the snow back on the mountains

Back for another week. Hope to get the foundations and floor slab for the extension done on this trip. Today I ordered materials, transported more ballast and cement, burnt all the remaining bonfires from the hedge laying and made a ham. Usual early December weather, cold mornings giving way to warm and sunny afternoons.

vendredi 27 novembre 2015

ski-time soon

1m of snow at 2000m and Baqueira opens tomorrow! 

samedi 14 novembre 2015


Once the main digging out was over, the next task was to install the drainage pipe to take the water from the kitchen sink to outside the building (through a hole in the wall below ground level) and eventually to the septic tank. This pipe was laid in a trench and then backfilled. Next, the damp proof membrane, a tough polythene sheet, laid over the entire floor and turned up at the edges to keep out the damp. Then, sheets of rigid extruded polystyrene insulation to keep out the cold.

To level the concrete floor I poured a strip of concrete on either side of the barn (exactly level with each other) on the first day, then once it had started to harden, I was able to pour the concrete in between these two slabs, using a straight edge to tamp the concrete between them and thus get an exactly level floor. Short bars of reinforcement left protruding from the first slabs were cast into the second slab, ensuring that the floor eventually acts as a single rigid floor.

To get my two perimeter slabs exactly at the same level, I first had to construct and level shuttering boards which held back the wet concrete. The foam insulation boards were too soft to fix the shutter boards to and I couldn't fix them to stakes driven into the ground as this would have punctured the damp proof membrane. I improvised by suspending the boards from spars (left over from the hedge laying) fixed to the floor beams above (alas no pictures of this).

On Thursday the 6 tonnes of aggregate and 700kg of cement were delivered to the house. Now I had to transport it to the barn. I shovelled the aggregate into the backbox on the tractor (about 200kg at a time) transported it down the path to the barn, then shovelled it out. 15 or so trips later I had moved about half the aggregate and could start with mixing the concrete and wheel-barrowing it into the barn, where once each shuttered area was filled I could tamp and smooth it.

the first half (3 tonnes) of the aggregate moved, ready to start mixing

The first pair of preimeter slabs, levelled and level with each other

It was 6.00pm on Thursday before this was complete. Thankfully John had volunteered to help me on Friday as the second days pour was perhaps 50% bigger Than Thursday's. Nonetheless, it still seemed a daunting task and as I had to leave for my flight home by 5.00pm on Friday afternoon, I decided to make an early start. 

At 6.00am I took down the shutters from the previous day's concrete and started the transportation of the remaining aggregate. John joined me at 8.00 and by 9.30 we had it all at the barn.  For the pour I loaded the mixer with aggregate, cement and water, and John wheel-barrowed the resulting concrete into the barn and performed the preliminary levelling. We tamped the floor together and by 2.30pm we were done. Over the two days with loading and unloading about 20 tonnes of aggregate and cement shovelled and about 8 tonnes of concrete barrowed and poured. We were tired!

The central slab being slowly filled

All done

Another hour and a half of cleaning up and a few areas of stone filling later and it was time to shower, eat, lock up and leave for the airport. A successful couple of weeks work!

New doorway complete (this will be internal eventually and plastered over, so no worries about concrete in lieu of stonework)

Ready for windows and doors next time

After Gabriele's comment on the last post, here's the barn back in 2007...

A metre of collapsed roof and rubble inside...

...saplings growing out of the walls.

After the initial ivy and bramble removal

mardi 10 novembre 2015

More Digging!

After 2 days of digging and pick-axing through stiff clay and solid rock and extracting about 90 barrow loads of rubble, I have at last dug out the barn ready for the concrete floor. The 6 tonnes of ballast and 700kg of cement arrives on Thursday and I must move it the 75m from the road to the barn that day if I'm to have any chance of pouring the slab before I leave at 5.15pm on Friday! I had planned to fetch the insulation, DPM, drainage, etc in St Girons tomorrow and install it the same day, but I suddenly realised at 4.00pm when I was sat in the notaire's office that tomorrow is Armistice Day and so a national holiday in France. I hastily managed to get the materials before everything closed and had to strap the insulation to the roof of the car as I hadn't taken the trailer.

At the notaire's (Grig, Villanou, Seguy) I finally completed the sale of Pont de la Taule, it took them nearly 8 months to prepare the documents for a straight forward sale. To add insult to injury they'll hold onto my money for another week! Next time I'll go to Toulouse.

lundi 9 novembre 2015

Mountains and digging

The beautiful weather continues with temperatures peaking at 29 degrees in the afternoon. A trip to the mountains was in order!

As is often the case when I plan a day off, I overslept! I had planned to climbed Mail de Bulard by the North ridge but as I didn't wake up until 8.00 I needed a plan B. I headed for Pla de Lau (the starting point for Mont Valier) and left the car at 9.40. Mont Valier wasn't my objective though, instead I headed on GR10 climbing towards Tuc du Coucou. I stormed passed several walkers and one lady said "vous avez un moteur?", "oui, mon coeur" I replied. I had the bit between my teeth!

A little before Tuc du Coucou I turned left heading for Port de l'Esque. It was hot and so wanting a little breeze I left the path and climbed by a steep gulley to gain the ridge just after Cap de Raspe. Spooking some Isards on the way.

There was a light breeze and a fantastic view of the wall formed by Pic d'Orle, Pic des Cingles and Mail de Bulard.

I followed the ridge Southwards and at Pale des Aigles, a vulture flew overhead!

Continuing on the ridge over Tuc de Portillou (2427m) with great views towards Mont Valier.

Ahead, Pic de Barlonguere and Pic de Cornave were still holding snow.

The air was clear, the sun warm and views impressive!

After Tuc de Portillou the ridge becomes increasingly narrow and exposed, and the section before Port de Cornave requires great care as the exposure is great and the rock poor! Did I really solo this in winter with a big pack after climbing the Couloir de Cornave 14 years or so ago?

Looking back along the ridge towards Tuc de Portillou

The the port I descended directly to Cabane de Trinque, and from there followed the path which descends via Peyrelade to Pla de Lau. The steep path through the woods was treacherous as the path was buried under about a foot of dry beech leaves. The leaves masked roots, rocks, holds and were also very slippery - not great for aching legs and knees. 6 hours for the trip and only 1500m of height gain, but enough after the strenuous last few days.

Today I've been digging out the barn floor, there's 15-20cm of stiff clay and rocks to dig out. 8 hours of digging today and I'm only about 70% of the way through! A visit from Ian broke the day.

vendredi 6 novembre 2015

Digger day!

Hedge finally finished. 

Jeanmarc came at 10.30 with the digger. He started by taking out the three chestnut stumps. They'd been felled 20 years ago but were each over a meter across. The first one popped out without a problem but the other two took about an hour and half, with a lot of cursing and swearing. Each weighed about a tonne and was a ball about 4 feet in diameter. The rest of the work was then fairly straight forward.
You can see a couple of the stumps in this picture from 2007. the small one on the right popped out but the big one behind the fence on the left of the barn has another one the same size behind it, and they were the difficult ones to get out.

He left at 4 and the rest of the digging will have to wait until the spring but I was very glad that he managed to squeeze today's effort in at short notice. Alas he wasn't able to bring the aggregate for the concrete floor, So I'll have to try to get it delivered early next week, then transport it bit by bit to the barn or make 10 trips to St Girons!

First there's there the barn floor to dig out and the door way to got bashed by the digger during stump removal so will need some more work.

The old outside loo will need some steps (it's a metre above the ground now)

doorway now walk through-able, prop put back as a precaution

jeudi 5 novembre 2015

Another glorious sunny day. After removing the props and shutters I spent the morning filling in the last of the stonewall, moving more stones and excavating a little deeper in the doorway. Not much more to do now until the excavations are made around the barn.

In the afternoon I set to more hedge laying, exhausted after wielding the chainsaw all day. Still a 12m stretch to lay and quite a bit of clearing up not to mention more fires!

mercredi 4 novembre 2015

First rays of sun on the fresh snow on Valier

Should be able to take away the props tomorrow morning...just in time as the digger arrives tomorrow!

mardi 3 novembre 2015

Snow, hedges and concrete

Heavy rain over night which manifested itself as snow on the frontier mountains and in the morning there was no electricity! 

I pressed on with hedge laying eventually finishing the left hand side of the chemin by the end of the day. The ErDF arrived to look at connecting the barn to the mains, but as it is 38m from the nearest pole I have to make another application for an extension of the grid (30m is the limit) - it will probably add £3k to the price.

After a trip to get the relevant forms from the Mairie, I shuttered the reveals of the doorway in the barn and filled them with concrete. 

The difference in the ground levels between inside and outside is only apparent from outside.