Friday, November 15, 2013

it's in ruins

So that’s a ‘no’ for all those plots that have brought me to the conclusions above, which is all but one of them I have visited so far. This last one, for the time being, is holding my imagination.  A third of a hectare, with three ruins of buildings, a huge oak and several fruit and nut trees.  Views to the south and west, over an inhabited valley with the mountains in the distance.  Space for a house and barns, a big garden, polytunnel, chickens and maybe even a goat.  There is a well, water, phone and electricity not that far away, along with neighbours and a little village.  
spot the distant mountains

a right proper ruin

and another one

beautiful oaks

plenty of space for veggies and chickens

boundary on the left with village beyond

I’d love to go and visit again, but for the time being, Percy is in the garage.  His exhaust pipe has rusted through and driving anywhere draws everyones attention. The noise is unbearable.  I spoke to the garage last Friday, but Ford don’t take parts orders on Friday afternoons here!! Monday was Armistice Day, so all was quiet and on Tuesday the part was ordered, promised for Wednesday, it is now Friday and has yet to arrive.  Patience required; I’m just happy to be staying with a good friend, Pierre, the baker who I met and skied with last season.  He’s happy of the company and chance to speak english, after 18 years in England he has a better accent than me, loves explaining the intricacies of the french language.  We’ve been out walking, cut wood for the stove, made soups, baked cakes, for after the village Armastice speech (attended by almost everyone in the village 25 inhabitants) made christmas puddings and mincemeat, collected chestnuts to make purées and desserts, watched french TV (a rarity for me).  I’ve spent hours and hours trawling through estate agent listings on the internet and made myself a good and proper list of visits.  It’s been good being here.

Friday evening and finally I have caught up with myself.  I am writing now, about today.  The garage called today and Pierre took me down to get Percy through the snow.  All fixed, managed to get back up to the village at 800m in the twilight, everything white and the snowflakes seemingly flying straight at the windscreen the whole time.  Great slabs of snow keep sliding and crashing down of the roofs there is the smell of woodsmoke in the air and even though the snow is blowing in the wind there is a certain stillness in the air.  Winter has arrived.

searching in earnest

I passed through Lourdes, Bagnere de Bigorre and Tarbes, staying a couple of nights and visiting as many estate agents as I could find.  Needing to be further away from the mountains, for several reasons.  Property is much sort after as the region is beautiful, land tends to be in smaller lots as the terrain gets hillier and steeper and also, as the snow melts in spring, cold winds chill the foothills long after the spring has started.  Great, that’s narrowed the search area still further.  

a certain pull, lovely neighbours but miles from anywhere

Percy is coming into his own.  I just park up on the outskirts of town, take the bike off the back and cycle round town stopping wherever I need.  No parking hassles, or narrow streets to navigate in a big vehicle and when I feel like a break, or when france closes to eat lunch from 12:00 to 14:00 I can pop back for my own lunch or have a kip or get some warmer/cooler clothes to wear.

uninspiring with overhead powerline and 3m drop to get to the road

From Tarbes I spent a couple of days pootling round the countryside discovering, in depth, the local area, the beautiful valleys with their wooded sides and pastures with cattle grazing, the larger flat areas with maize fields for miles, tiny stone built villages where no life is seen but everyone knows that you have passed through.  Winding zig zag climbs through chestnut and oak forest opening out to stunning views to the mountains, plains or just the next valley when reaching the summit. My search area here is narrowing and my geographical requirements more precise.  

wires and more wires everywhere

Now that I have seen a good selection of possibilities within my budgetary constraints, I know that I shall be more selective from now on.  Bare open plots are a blank canvas, but it’ll take years to grow trees big enough for shade.  Being amongst the maize is claustrophobic and the thought of being doused with pesticide spray from a helicopter does not fill me with delight.  There is remote or nicely tucked away - with a village in easy reach.  Damp and soggy valley bottoms and windswept hilltops.  The right place is there, I just need to find it.

bleak, windswept and featureless

just a field, nothing more, nothing less

mountain free

stunning sunset

if you park in the right place, the morning view can be amazing

blueberry bushes with their autumnal hues

time for reflection

sorry, can't remember,  but it's above Hautacam

ferme de hameau de pau

I returned to Francoise and Vincent in Pau for an autumnal week.  It was great to see them again and I was welcomed like a good friend.  As we chatted away during the first evening I was surprised and very pleased to hear that Francoise thought that my french was better than it had been in the spring.  Slowly but surely my grey cells are absorbing a new language.

Vincent and I got on with chores around the property, pruning hedges and shredding the resulting branches, picked the last of the raspberries and prepared the fattened rabbits for the freezer.  It was great to learn a new skill, though sombre at the same time.  I can give a graphic account if you want or just say that I now know how to dispatch, skin, clean and prepare a rabbit for the oven or pot.  It wasn’t as difficult or complicated as I had imagined and to see how fast the whole process happened not as onerous a task either.  So, in the future, when rabbits decimate my garden I shall know exactly what to do with them..

percy in front of the gite

the route up to lac bleu

lac bleu
We spent a day trekking in the mountains, took time out to check out the second hand stores in town, cycling out into the country to find a café, which was closed, a great ride anyway. Visited the opening of a community gardens. Helped some friends with their self build eco house.  I could stay with Francoise and Vincent for ages, but as they live in the wettest town in France, I have to move east to find somewhere somewhat drier.  That said, I left with plenty of leads and a gathering of estate agents to visit.
amazing autumn colours

Vincent and Francoise harvesting beans.  Haricot de Bearn to be exact.

interesting landscaping ideas, mixing old with new

cycling out, with the mountains in the distance

the first raised bed for Vincent's new no dig garden


Biarritz has been a fairly topic of conversation when beaches and surfing has been mentioned in the past, so as I was passing closer than I had ever been, it seemed a shame not to take the opportunity to visit.  The weather was still exceedingly warm and sunny for the time of year, so I headed there immediately I had crossed the border.

A smart, well proportioned beach town, with cliff top hotels, a casino, interesting shops and plenty of moneyed inhabitants.  Interesting when mixed with a large beach bum/surfing population who lived for the next storm and the perfect wave, a can only imagine that both parties tolerate each other and get on one way or another.  With Percy I didn’t fit into either category, but into the weird and wonderful world of the motor home traveler, not that I really feel at home there either.  Just as well as I spend very little time in the allotted camper van parking area as the town and beach are so much more enjoyable.  

The sea was rough with brilliant waves for surfing.  I momentarily wished that I had packed my wet suit and body board, but logistically there really isn’t room.  Swimming is a close second, though after the med last month and the chilly river beaches I had enjoyed in Portugal I severely braced myself for the freezing atlantic waters.  What a pleasant surprise, in comparison to icy river dips, the sea felt warm and playing in the waves was great fun, I lasted a good half hour before feeling the chill and quickly warmed myself in the sun afterwards.  A couple of mornings cycling round the town and the afternoons beach side was a great treat and a wonderful way to pass my birthday, I treated myself to a cliff top restaurant meal to celebrate the passing of another year and the renewed opportunity to further my plans.  Tomorrow the search would become No:1 on the agenda once again.

spot the surfer

the southern side of town

sunset over the spanish coastline

funky modern aquarium

18 October 2013.  birthday boy.

yes Milady, I stayed in Milady

Thursday, November 07, 2013

portugal through spain towards france

I stocked up with stores and provisions for the future at the local market and shops, treated Percy to two new tyres (much cheaper than in france) before heading off once again.  Through the hills of Sierra d’Estrella, across the border into Spain.  

It was the first time that I had been in Percy alone since leaving the UK which made it kind of strange for the first day or so.  No one to chat to or marvel at the scenery, no one to map read or program the sat nav.  On the other hand it was peaceful and there was no one to explain to when I took unplanned diversions or stopped for an hour or too to look as wood burning stoves, agricultural machinery and second hand junk. 

Spain passed quickly, with one overnight stop in Bergos, somewhere I would happily visit again, though apart from that, not the most interesting route.  I shared it with a huge quantity of trucks, mainly portuguese, heading in the same direction, up to northern europe with their cargos of goods.  I was glad to get the main part of the journey behind me and return to france.  

Next stop the beach for a few days, a little pause to gather my thoughts, enjoy the last dregs of summer and hopefully get a final dip in the sea before winter.
evidence of a recent forest fire

well burned but with a little regrowth

Percy taking a break after a long climb

road and rail pass through a huge gorge

back on the flat........again

suburban apartment blocks ( could be anywhere in (Spain)

Monday, November 04, 2013

crossing the border

I did hesitate, when entering Portugal, whether to follow the estrageros (foreigners) instructions and log my credit card for the automatic tolls but I’m glad that I did.  Three days ago, as I left the country, the border police took my passport and registration documents and checked that all was in order before letting me leave.  I cannot imagine the amount of hassle that would have caused, all for fifteen or so quid I spent.  You put in your card, the machine has already read your registration plate and it gives you a receipt.  As you travel the motorways, the vehicle passes under camera gantries that automatically note that it is your vehicle and deduct the appropriate (displayed) amount from your card.  No slowing and stopping at a toll gate, no scrambling for change and clambering to the wrong side of the cab to pay, no wondering if the barrier will close too soon.  You just drive and it automatically does the rest.  Big brother is watching you all the way.

I digress.
and on and on and on

Sunday, November 03, 2013

memories of portugal

I couldn't capture the brilliant, star filled night skies

or the absolute silence of the valley

but these are a few of the views that I did....

sunset from the hills

a whole ear of corn sprouting after a shower of rain

container gardening with a difference

the local village to my brothers house

Me, Dad and Windy (Peter)

the river beach at Açor


coimbra in the rain

wet, wet, wet

chilling war memorial 
avenue gardens

botanical gardens

botanical gardens

university live

with definite communist influence

loving the graphics