Thursday, October 22, 2009

the floor in the forge

clearing the way to put a new floor in.

levelled floor with all the water and electricity cables carefully laid underneath

Layers of insulation, panels of compressed cork waste.

Underfloor heating pipes being laid. To be fuelled by heat exchange from water in the well.

finished slab of a chalk, sand and gravel mix drying for three weeks before the tile floor goes down.

I won't be there for that ...... good luck Nicholas.

villefranche market

Nun jam

Multicoloured market in a medieval square

Fresh Farm produce

Streets of Najac and distant tower

Najac houses almost balanced on their hill

A Wednesday outing to celebrate the tower roof being finished. Well, not really finished, but watertight for the first time in about 30 years. All the old slate tiles have to be regraded, shaped and replaced, but that is a job for the lucky helpers next year.

Our day out started with a drive to Villefranche, a historical old town that was constructed by a french king in order to close down another local town that was not towing the line. Instead of a battle, he simply set up a town and let it be known that there were no rents to be paid for houses, and minimal taxes on goods produced. The merchants of the day soon moved the twenty kilometers or so to their new quarters and the town of Najac fell into a quick demise. It was not the only time that the townsfolk made the wrong decision, they chose the Cathar religion rather than catholicism when sides had to be taken and later backed the king during the run up to the revolution.

We bought croissants and pastries from one street market and went to a bar for breakfast. They were quite happy to serve us tea and coffee whilst we ate our own food and watched the world go by.

The main fruit and veg area is held in the old square in front of the cathedral. Big farms, little farms, nuns selling jam and cakes, old guys with cages of birds, farmers with saussicon, cheeses, nuts, all in glorious technicolour, techni-taste and techni-smell, wonderful. Nicholas and Heath took a break whilst I did my tourist photo thing and picked up a few heirloom tomatoes to increase the seed stock for next year.

On to Najac for a wander round the old town, it probably hasn’t been much developed since Villefranche was invented, so rather picturesque and restored now that it is on the tourist trail. Not particularly fortified but well protected on its narrow ledge bounded by the river. Small cobbled streets and tall buildings, a grand cathedral and even grander tower all almost piled on top of each other to escape falling down the steep sides of the valley. We had a good look round, got thrown out of the cathedral because the priest wanted to go for lunch, 12 to 2.30 just like everywhere else. Eyed up a few old ruins in need of a few thousand euros and a bit of tlc before finding a restaurant to have lunch ourselves. A good soup, toulouse sausage and saute potatoes and a superb creme brulee all washed down with a local drop of rose.


The walnuts keep falling and we keep picking them up. It started with a few every morning about a month ago, now there are hundreds of them, crates and crates. We put them all out in the sun in the morning and carry them into the bottom of the tower to keep dry at night. If it rains they stay inside all day.

They are an important crop, I have tasted the ‘Vin de Noix’, a fortified wine aperitif, flavoured with walnuts, and know why they are prized. Not to mention the walnut oil, two kilos of shelled nuts gives one litre of the most wonderful tasting oil, beautiful on salads and just nuts. Walnuts on their own, with cheese, before a meal, after a meal. The village elders have a few each morning and swear that they are good for keeping an active memory. They look a little like a brain, so that is good enough for me.

The chickens love them and chase anyone who helps pick them up in case they find a broken one or inadvertently step and break a shell. If they see one being broken, they are there, ready to snatch whatever you have in your hand, discarding the shell and taking every last morsel.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


there is a glitch in the system somewhere. I have written a post three times and when I try and upload the photos, the whole thing disappears. So I give up for today.

Will give it another go in a day or two, until then I shall enjoy the remains of my Birthday and put some photos on Facebook instead.

Returning to the UK on Wednesday 21st October, hope its warmer there than it is here....

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Cistercian Towers

Aveyron River Gorge

The Belgians Tower

The Tower at Bonnecombe

Bonnecombe Abbey

NIcholas spends much of his free time researching the history of his tower to find out what its role was and how it fits into the history of the area.

We spent most of Saturday visiting the Abbey central to region, at Bonnecombe, and another restored tower, owned by a lovely Belgian couple, overlooking the river Tarn.

It as amazing to consider how far the monks travelled on foot and by mule cart to take care of their lands. The Abbey was a good hour away by car and the other tower, another forty five minutes or so further on. We wound our way up and down steep valley sides and through quaint old villages with narrow streets, ancient stone buildings and little hump backed bridges constructed centuries before the car was even invented. Through wooded areas, farmland and not much more, rural France is vast and seemingly unending, although the terrain does alter from time to time.

The towers were outposts for the Abbey, homes to the monks that oversaw the local tenant farms. Often incorporated into local farms and usually with large storage barns. They collected rents, rendered justice and controlled the local population. During times of unrest, they were fortified and well defended, many towers being extended upwards to provide better vantage points and with additional walls added for courtyards and security when required. I have spent many hours unearthing their foundations and learning how to spot differences in stonework through the ages, the latter being useful during our expedition, although the tower we visited has been almost completely rebuilt as it was in such a state of disrepair. The Abbey is nestled in a wonderfully tranquil valley, close to a river and seemingly miles from anywhere. It to had fallen into disrepair and was partially rebuilt quite a while ago and has had a variety of uses since then. Much of the decent stone was ‘liberated’ by locals for their own building projects, as happened everywhere, but the current buildings are impressive and great plans are afoot to improve the number of people visiting and enjoying the space.

The Belgians were excellent hosts, providing a wonderful lunch and giving us a comprehensive tour of their property. Restored from a couple of crumbling walls, with the guidance of some old photographs and the efforts of a local builder, they now have a wonderful home. We went for a stroll round the village to walk off lunch and chatted with the locals, a really welcoming little village, steeped in history and with fabulous views. The tower had been associated with the requisition of wine for the Abbey and the tradition continues. A local family was preparing to harvest and had gathered everyone from every generation to come and help, from great grandparents to teenagers, they were all their to help, and in the middle of their celebratory lunch, but we were invited to join them and sample some of last years harvest, Nicholas and the Belgian got all the local gossip whilst I sat, listened, absorbed the atmosphere and enjoyed a spot their latest vintage. The local accent is something to be heard, almost incomprehensible to my novice ears and with a good twenty people chatting, impossible to follow. It was mid afternoon before we started to head back to the tower via the amazing sight of the Millau Viaduct........

Millau Viaduc

A slight change form all the historic things that we have been looking at ad working on for the last few weeks.

A brand new structure, designed by Sir Norman Foster and at present the viaduct with the tallest pillars in the world. There is even a visitor centre that shows films of the construction which is fascinating, (I hear you yawn) and sells souvenirs including bags of construction sand, just in case anyone wanted some.

It doesn’t really need much of an explanation, but if you need more.....

Sunday, October 04, 2009

a VISA update

Still no news so I have been doing a bit of research on the internet.

According to a recently published document from US Homeland Security, the department that processes visas, the processing time for an appeal for my type of visa is up to 16 months.

I know, its a bit crazy, and may not be completely accurate, but what can one do apart from wait?

So, I am coming back to England in the next couple of weeks to catch up with my nearest and dearest, family and friends and brainstorm what the best plan of action is from here.

No stress, no bother, just a situation different to the one that I have been expecting for the last six months. I still want to go to Love Apple Farm to work, though it may be a while before I leave.

Looking forward to seeing you all (UK folk) quite soon.

the river

stone skimming
a quick dip
Nicholas and Agnes preparing lunch
full 'house' for a huge Sunday lunch

The river is not as warm as it was, the rain from a couple of weeks ago has forced colder water up from underground and cooled our local swimming hole. It is still a very pleasant way to wash away the grime and sweat of a days work and float along in the current of the river.

There was another gathering here yesterday, Nicholas parents are here for the weekend and there is also a friend staying from the UK who is helping out and great fun. Anges brought her crowd of helpers over, and a few neighbours joined us for lunch. Aligot and Toulouse sausage again on the bbq, tomato salad from the garden, wonderful desserts arrived with the guests along with plenty of wine and pastis. Music wafted from the open windows, blending with laughter from the great table and the chickens wandered around our legs waiting for scraps to fall to the floor.

A true, rural, al fresco dining experience. We ate until there was room for no more, chatted and laughed into the afternoon and before the heat of the day had subsided, took those that were eager, and some that were less eager for the swimming experience. Some made it to the river and enjoyed a coffee at the bar, others ventured a bit further and paddled and a brave few took the plunge and had a wonderfully refreshing afternoon swim in the cool waters of the Aveyron River.

We reheated ourselves round the freshly stoked bbq fire when we got back to the tower, marvelling on the simple pleasures of life and the fact that so much enjoyment can be had from so little. May be we should hunger for things like that in life and less for other, more materialistic pleasures. It’s just a thought.