Wednesday, April 22, 2015


seldom is the air so clear at this time of year.  the storm last night did a marvelous job of clearing the view.  I have a friend staying and this was the first real view of the mountains as we head off to spend a few days discovering the sights and sounds of the Pyrenees.

spring is sprung

Everything is growing at breakneck speed at the moment.  Alternating rains followed by warm sunshine for several days is providing ideal conditions for everything including the weeds.  Spring has really sprung, the surrounding countryside changing colour day by day, getting greener with every hour.  Seeds sown and germinating fast ( they will be going on holiday as I will be sepending a few days in the mountains at Lou Rider, so they’ll have to come with me to get watered!!)  Check out the photos......

fresh new growth of spring

loving the purple sprouting.  even the second cut is delicious

the raised beds have remained almost weed free where a decent mulch was put down in autumn.
liking this very much

cut a hole through the trees to get easy access to the lower field

first walk of the season

I phoned my friend Simon for a chat and he suggested heading to the mountains for a picnic the following weekend.  Good idea, though I do know that such affairs with Simon involve plenty of time, an open wood fire, meat and often an overnight stay.

Bagneres de Bigorre market, that Saturday, was lovely.  The first time I had been there for over a year, the sun was shining and the narrow streets and small squares bustled with spring excitement as folk mingled, shopped and caught up with friends after a winter of cold and often grim weather.  

Simon and I crossed paths almost immediately, arranged a place to meet and carried on with our shopping. I bumped into Dominique, a host from several years back and had a good chat.  Several stall holders recognised me from my local Wednesday market trips closer to home, everyone has time for a few words, so my shopping trip took a fair amount of time.  

We met up, was introduced to Sabrina, Simons girlfriend and Nina who was to join us for the afternoon, had a leisurely coffee in the sunshine, watched the world go by for a bit before heading to the mountains.  We stopped for wood on the way and installed ourselves on a favourite patch for the duration of the picnic.

Fire lit, we settled down to enjoy the impressive view in front of us.  For everyone it was different as we had valley, pasture, snowcapped mountains and distant activity of the glimpse of a cable car accessing the observatory on the highest peak in the region to take in.  The savage beauty of the mountains surrounded us.  There were patches of snow fairly close by that hinted of recent coldness yet frogspawn had already hatched into millions of tiny tadpoles in ponds of water, obviously warmed by the intensity of the spring sunshine.

Simon cooked his, now famous, chicken on a string.  I have blogged about it in the past and enjoyed several such meals.  It always tastes exquisite, probably because you sit round the fire and watch it spin and cook for the whole two hours it takes, frequently discussing other such occasions or food in general.  Nibbles of saucission, nuts and cheese were passed round and the wine flowed.  Our glorious sunny morning turned into a sporadically cloudy afternoon and the temperature started to drop.  No problem, just a few more clothes.  The chicken, as ever, was absolutely delicious, moist, succulent and probably all the better for being ripped from its bones with our fingers, almost too hot to hold onto, grease running down our hands and, for me, with a frequently vegetarian diet, a real treat.  Lovely.

Conversation continued into the evening.  The weather turned and we huddled under a hastily constructed shelter that protected us from the wind and the worst of the rain, the radiant heat of the fire warmed us as the light faded and day passed to night.  We snacked on bread, cheese and fruit in the evening and retired early to our respective vans.  

I snuggled into my bed in Percy,  piling high the blankets and sleeping bags to ensure that I stayed warm through the night, half expecting a dusting of snow in the morning.  Most of the bedding was quickly discarded as I warmed my cocoon, falling into a deep and satisfying sleep without delay.  The early morning light woke me, brilliant oranges, pinks and greys quickly turning to blue, blue and more blue.  A couple of isolated clouds and, on opening the door, surprisingly warm air.

We breakfasted on vast quantities of toast, home made jams, steaming tin mugs of tea and a few slices of fire cooked bacon, a new find at the market - someone who produces real, english style bacon all prepared on the rekindled open fire.

After a leisurely start the three of us headed off to stretch our legs for the first time this season.  A light hike of a couple of hours to a low peak some 400 metres above our camp site.  It was tough going and we took it right slow.  Sabrina left Simon and I after half an hour or so, returning to the van to read and enjoy the sunshine.  We persevered and hit the peak without too much of an ordeal.  I vowed to get out more, stretch my legs and get in a bit of decent exercise on a more regular basis.  Gardening and land clearance is strenuous, but in now way energetic enough to get the heart and lungs working properly.  It will be done.

The views were stunning and the sunshine warm.  We snacked on bananas, apples and a handful of nuts whilst taking in the scenery, chatting about our winter activities and achievements and being thoroughly warmed by the spring sun.

An easy descent, reminding me that there were yet more muscles in my legs that needed to be put through their paces more frequently.  I can think of no better place to do it either.

Sabrina had tended to the fire and on our return proposed a light lunch before  heading back to civilisation.  Pan fried mackerel, purchased fresh the day before and kept cool in the mountain stream ever since.  Food and the french go hand in hand, the appreciation and excitement over every meal, however simple and light leaves me slightly lacking in my english mentality.  Rarely do I come across a meal that is fast here, eat and go is not part of the mentality here.  Enjoy, savour, discuss and take your time.  It was gone four in the afternoon by the time we said our goodbyes and headed back to our respective homes.  An amazing weekend spent in great company.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

two months away

Wow, that was over to months ago, my last posting.  I did go to the UK, I spent a wonderful month visiting family and friends, catching up with folk and generally escaping the worst of the wet, cold weather here and waiting for the spring to commence so that I can get on with planting and more clearing work.

On my return I brought with me a ‘flu like no other I have ever experienced.  It really knocked me for six.  I spent the better part of two weeks in bed, mainly aseep and toe following ten days or so on a very slow recovery.  I am pretty much fit and well now, happy that it was only ‘flu rather than anything more serious, but things like that certainly bring home the fact that we are not invincible and that change can arrive without warning in any manner of guises.

I am hugely grateful to my neighbour, Heather, who packed me off to bed in her big warm house and told me I was welcome to stay as long as necessary to get me back on my feet and well enough to resume my camping lifestyle.  She’s let me be, not fussing or bothering overly, but giving me the space and time to recover under my own steam, insisting that I do less than I wanted to during the early days so as not to cause a downturn in progress yet making sure that all was well.  It’s been a resounding success.

This last few days I have been up to strength, albeit with shorter days, and have tested my abilities by helping out around the garden here, doing a bit of pruning and planting twelve fruit trees in the orchard area of Heather’s garden.  All has faired well and now I am back on my land attacking knee high weeds in th vegetable garden and planning what to sow first, where and how.  

Do I go for direct planting in my heavy soil, probably with a bit of soil improvement, or into pots first, with the extra challenge of transplanting and watering issues later on in the season.  I’ll probably do a mixture of both, just to be sure.  The sun is shining again and the soil surface is dry enough to produce a fine tilth.  Better get on with it now before it hardens to rock or becomes a soggy mess again if it rains.