vendredi 13 juillet 2018

What lies beneath

Once the hearth and fireplace were finished it was time to lift the floorboards. The boards are supported on concrete sleeper walls with battens cast into the top of each wall. The battens had rotted away and were often soaking wet, because between the walls close to the back wall of the house the clay and rock was almost level with the battens/underside of the boards. Also the groove which each batten lay in, was like a drainage channel for any water seeping out of the rear wall. No ventilation under the floor either.

I dug out all the clay and rock between the sleeper walls, stopped the them before the rear wall to avoid them acting as drainage channels and replaced the battens, before replacing the boards. It should give the floor another 2-3 years of life before we need to tackle the job of replacing everything and casting a properly damp proofed and insulated concrete floor under the timber one.

And with the first coat of limewash...

mardi 10 juillet 2018

Fireplace again

Rendering the walls...

 First coat (thrown)

Second coat and tiling

samedi 7 juillet 2018

Fireplace stage 2

I last worked on the fireplace in 2008, when I discovered the volcanic cill that rears up like a wave out of the floor. The micro granite is incredibly hard and last time after " days of hammering, chiselling and disc cutting I conceded partial defeat and enclosed the remaining rock in a 15cm high timber surround and filled the rest with concrete.

The floor in the living room (the original part of the house which I didn't build) has no concrete slab beneath, just clay and rock - so slowly it is rotting at the edges. Re building the floor needs to start with the fireplace where damp and water seep in, prevented from downward progress by the cill.

I can't afford to hire a compressor and pneumatic drill, so the hammering and chiselling re-commenced. No room to properly swing the sledge hammer so 3 more days of seemingly fruitless effort were required. I can appreciate why convicts were sent to break stones with sledge hammers - nothing is more soul destroying. Despite hours of bashing the same piece of rock with all your might, there are sparks, some splinters of rock and the constant rebound of the sledge.

Eventually of course it succumbed, little by little and the height of the hearth after concreting and eventually tiling will be just 4cm.  The hearth is now straight rather than bowed giving us more space in the living room...once I've filled the gap now devoid of floorboards!

samedi 30 juin 2018

Etang bellonguère, Pic de Montgarie, Etang d'Eychelle

With 32 degrees forecast for the day, Alun, Breezy, Susie and I took a relatively early start from Col de le Core. We made our way across to the Col Aurèdole before descending a little to join the path to the Etang d'Ayes and cirque de Campuls. It was quite busy here so we continued on the GR10 before branching left just before the col to reach the Etnag de Bellonguère. We'd hoped for a little swim here but the water was too shallow and full of frogs.

After a quick bite to eat we climbed eastwards to pick up a path which became increasing vague heading SSW towards Pic de Montgarie, which I last visited on skis (read here). We scrambled up rocks to the summit for great view.

Vultures were cruising around us, then a real treat when a bearded vulture decided to come in close (3m or so away).

After much photo taking it eventually climbed higher and higher then left.

Looking back to Montgarie

We climbed up to the ridge to the East crossing at a grassy col between points 2258m and 2331m before descending to the Cabane d'Eychelle and then the Etang d'Eychelle for a swim.

Temperature and humidity rose as we descended back to the Col de la Core but more wild flowers distracted us including my favourite Starry Saxifrage.

About 1200m of ascent on a very hot day so beers in Seix were well deserved!

mardi 26 juin 2018

Hay making 2018

This years haymaking saga - A very wet April, May and Early June has lead to exceptional grass growth, when the dry hot weather finally arrived the meadow was 4 feet high! My finger bar mower with newly sharpened blades coped admirably, but the weight of cut grass on the bar meant stopping every 25m to clear it.

The busatis double reciprocating finger bar mower

Half way through the cutting a disaster - each set of cutter blades are held in place by a bolt with a conical end that locates in a counter sunk hole in the blades. The bolt ultimately works loose and before eventually parting company with the blades, vibrates itself to near destruction. Over the years the bolt threads are stripped and need to be re-tapped. This year the cast component that the bolt screws into, had its thread stripped so the bolt wouldn't tighten. Fortunately in the box of spares I obtained from the seller was another identical piece! Changing was a nightmare as the casting was locating on a double ball joint and a tapered pin - After 3 hours I succeeded and the rest of the mowing went plan.

Tedding the hay went without a problem apart from a broken tine on the tedder.

Next up was forming the rows for the bailer. Last year Nanou our neighbour did this. But he has just had an accident and severed his finger so he was in hospital. I went to see Michel at Courex who owns the "andaineur". He was fine with me borrowing it but the size of the machine was on the limit of the capabilities of my little tractor. I managed to collect it and get it into the field but When I tried to attach it to the power take off on the tractor the adaptor was too long. Normal these are removable and you can put an appropriate sized adaptor on suit your tractor - not so this machine! The adaptor was permanently fixed. No choice but to return the machine. In our steep field when I tried to exit uphill the weight of the andaineur lifted the front wheels of the tractor off the ground so I had no steering! Eventually Susie helped steer the tractor but exerting sideways force on the andaineur and I made it to the road. Implement returned all the rows had to be raked by hand.

Kuhn "cocinelle" bailer ( basically a John Deere machine made under licence in the 1950's)

Next up bailing. My old bailer refused to worked. For a whole day we struggled with only one knotter working and hence one string per bail. I tried every adjustment under the sun but it wouldnt work. At sunset I discovered that a piece in the knotter mechanism was broken and so the knotters weren't synchronised. After an hour of trying to free the broken part to adjust it, I resorted to removing it all together and swapping it with a part from the similar abandoned machine in the Pla d'Artigue. After re-synchronising success....until I ran out of bailer twine. The twine has to be old Sisal twine as modern plastic twine is too slippery for the old John Deere knotters. After trips to several suppliers in St Girons I found the twine and at last we bailed all the hay (including re-bailing most of the one string bails from the day before). over 200 bails compared to 130 last year.

Its not over until the fat lady sings  - the bails need to be safe in the dry of the barn. We borrowed Patrick and Michelle's bigger trailer to move the bails. With planks and ropes we managed to get 24 bails on the trailer so after 8 or 9 trips - which took most the day in 32 degrees of heat - the job was done. Definitely time for a Champagne celebration.

mardi 19 juin 2018

Tuc de la Messe

With a day of good weather forecast Susie and I headed off to Col de la Core this morning to climb Tuc de la Messe. the weather was warm and we made steady progress to l'etang d'eychelle...spotting a ringed ouzel and a vulture as ell as some new wild flowers en route.

After the etang the snow started to quickly appear on the ground, there are still some significant depths in the mountains (locally 2-3m). We spotted an isard from the cabane d'eychelle then followed some huge footprints all the way to the col de la crouzette. We thought a bear - but there were only 4 forward facing toes so perhaps a patou?

Onward through the snow, until finally summit, by which time the clouds had risen and we were looking across a sea of clouds.

 Still alot of snow above Milouga

 The descent was hot in soft snow and we got burnt. Eventually we entered the cloud layer but it was only a few hundred meter thick and we were soon in the clear again;

 Two vultures eyed our descent

6 hours and about 1200m of ascent.

lundi 18 juin 2018


After the longest period of awful weather in the Couserans anyone can remember, things are starting to improve. Susie was beginning to lose the plot and I was definitely getting cabin fever.

The vegetable gardens and poly tunnel are starting to produce food, but everything is behind and desperately needs sun.

A free afternoon on Sunday was an opportunity to stretch our legs and we decided to climb Montgalas (1326m) from the house. Our friend and neighbour Anne-Marie in Biech had recommended it. A 14km round trip with 6-700m of ascent. There was a lot of forestry tracks and alas no view, even from the summit...disappointing. 

 The summit

  One of many wood ants nests

Back at Quélébu we've been topping the fields which aren't for hay - there's so much grass after all the rain that the sheep can't keep up and can't even find each other!

samedi 16 juin 2018

More orchids

 Green woodpecker

 Common twayblade

 A rare wild white columbine

 Scented orchid

Greater butterfly orchid