Feathered Friends and Showers

When we got back we had squatters in one of the bird boxes. These have now flown and are eating our nuts. This spurred us on to develop some more accommodation for feathered friends. We have now opened two more boxes for great tits, a wren box and a robin’s “shelf”. All made out of offcuts from previous works. The big development is an owl box which is now installed and awaiting bookings.

Also we have reassembled a wine vat and modified it as a new deluxe outdoor shower. The old shower has been dismantled and is decommissioned.

Next adventure!

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Yorkshire Visitors

Well it’s been 12 years coming but chuffed to bits that Liz (My Mum’s god daughter and my friend from day dot) plus hubby Mike and Mike’s son Harry could squeeze in an action packed few days with us. The weather was just superb and they totally lucked out because as they left the rain began…..

They made good time from Carcassone and caught us at the bar rather than the parking so a cheeky drink there before heading up to the barn for drinks and dinner on the terrace. Simple supper on the terrace of spag bog, garlic bread and salad and choccy mousse and then star gazing.

Al and I had de bunked to the Naughty Corner and the stars from there are amazing as there is no building (that being the barn) in the way which is not quite the same from the front terrace. We do love getting back to our old home and miss it some what.

Harry was keen to walk from the barn on the first day rather than drive anywhere and then have a big mountain day on the second day. So Port de Salau it was no moans and no groans at all, Al and I were impressed. 1000m up for a 12 year old without one grumble, that is a first….The Hulleys dipped in the plunge pool on the way back down before we guzzled lots of cold drinks on the terrace. A very quick shower cleared the air and meant we could have a quick game of rummikiub and then BBQ outside with some yummy cheeses and rhubarb cake to finish with. Al got the fire clubs out and Harry and Mike both had a go. The slack line also got some use. Star gazing again and then bed as early start for mountain day the next day.

We had chosen a route with a bit of everything and we hope it ticked all the boxes, a drive up to beyond Guzet to get as much altitude as possible with wheels as it was so hot, small col to climb first then boulder hopping, dip in a chilly but gorgeous lake, Etang D’Aube then Harry led the way following red dots and cairns on the steep scramble to a summit Pic de Seron at about 2500m, for lunch with fab views and then it was back down for another dip in another lake BLISS in the heat and then a little bit of via ferrata to finish with before flopping into Billy! Harry was a total star I think he is going to be a mountain man. He definitely won gold medal for war wounds and path finding!!!

Back to the barn, drinks on the helipad, roast chickens for supper and a relatively early night I think we were all a bit weather beaten!

Woke to mizzle the next day so brekky was inside before they all trundled off to the coast for a few days of R&R. Their timing was perfecto.

Totally fab to have all the Hulley’s to stay and hope you enjoyed your “off grid” experience.

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Col de la Core Mont Valier Refuge and back to the barn!

This trek had been on the back of our minds for a while and seemed an ideal training yomp for Stok Kangri with a night up high at the Estagnous Refuge just below Mont Valier.

After keeping an eye on the forecast we booked into the refuge for the Friday night hopefully giving us 2 good weather windows to explore. Some of the route we had done before, some was new.

We abandoned Billy at Cold de La Core and headed up on to the ridge and up TO Tuc D’Eychelle. Not a great start as the long grass was sopping wet and by 30 mins in our feet were drenched! Sock change once we were on to drier ground. Fabulous hike along the tops to Col de Craberous. Not a soul in sight perfect and not a cloud in sight either. We made good time so decided to drop to Lac Milouga for lunch, a dip for me before the final ascent up to Col de Poeuch which looks down on the refuge. Fabulous views every direction. We are amazed by all the wonderful alpine flowers and sedums we saw en route every colour possible and in abundance.

Was a big ish day with roughly 1800m vertical and we both felt not too bad. Do love the Estagnous Refuge, incredible views of Etang Rond and Long and we sat outside in the sunshine sipping beer till dinner was called. Great dinner lots of carbs ready for big second day tomorrow.

Headed off earlyish as we reckoned on a fairly long day. Climbed up to the Col between the Mont Valier and the Petit Mont Vallier easily with fresh legs before scarmbling up to the Petit Mont Valier and heading along the ridge on fun terrain to Col de Peyre Blanche. It was then into Issard Valley as we call it on the Spanish side as we were lucky to see about 30 Issard along the way, 6 Marmots and again a plethora of amazing flowers/sedums. The path to Port D’Aula was pretty non existent but we found our way without losing too much altitude. Pleased to be at Port D’Aula by 12 noon so allowing us enough time to continue onto the ridge to Port de Salau and drop back down to the barn. Bail out option was to Col de la Pause and then hitch back.

This is a great ridge line for views of both France and Spain. The wind was really blowing but it was a warm wind. We had a few drops of rain and then it just vanished so totally lucked out with the ideal hiking weather. Finally up to Pic de Montaud by 2pm. Found a little spot for a quick late lunch out of the wind before starting the descent down along the ridge and back to the barn. Feet by now were sore! We were both pleased to flop into the barn at 5pm and sit with cold drinks and cups of tea in the final bit of the sun for the day.

Grand 2 days out, and apart from the refuge we saw 3 people on day 1 and not a soul on day 2 but we were very happy to see so much flora and wildlife.

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Ruth and Pete’s Visit

We had been so so so looking forward to seeing our great friends Ruth and Pete, friends initially from Chamonix now living in Australia. Have not seen them for 5 years so just great that they could squeeze in 3 nights on their European hols so we could have a proper catch up.

They arrived just as we were finishing up lunch and as the weather was great we squeezed in a quick stroll up to Cirque D’Anglade before back for bubbles on the helipad, and then dinner on the front terrace with lots of wine and chatter.

We decided to stay local for the next day and after a leisurely start with brekky on the terrace, and the views at their best, we yomped up to Port De Salau for lunch before back via a tiny hidden away dip pool which Ruth and I jumped into. More bubbles, more fodder, and some yummy cheeses and more chat.

Final day not so good on weather front so we headed to Seix for a low level stroll, bad idea as horse flies had same POA! so we cut it short and after a coffee in Seix, boys took on the girls at boules, sadly girls were pipped but mucho fun.

Final night still more chatter to be had, and more food, drinkies. We ended the night with girls v boys on Chinese chequers and the girls pipped the boys at the post this time… The 3 days has just zoomed by far too quickly for us anyway.

We were very sad to wave you both good bye but so chuffed you got to see us here in the Pyrenees, we will get to see your little bit of paradise before too long…..

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Home Improvements

The scorching weather is lovely but slightly too hot to get anything big or heavy done outside. So small indoor projects have been ticked off. The biggest of which has been to freshen up the stairs. Having salvaged the staircase from a mate’s house in Chamonix; dismantled and cut the stringers in half so it all fitted in the van, transported to the Ariege and then renovated the barn around the pile of bits for 3 years, once reassembled they happen to fit in place with about 3mm tolerance. Since then they have been in dialy use but received no TLC at all. So they got a paint job.

Other smaller jobs have been renovating and rewiring a funky salvaged table lamp, making 2 new bookshelves for cookery books, converting a light fitting based on a cart wheel as a candle chandelier and made some more bird boxes. Also started a cork board, though we are lacking corks so if anyone has a stash they can spare that would be ace.

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Greece Climbing and Islands

Armed with the latest climbing guide for Greece we flew to Athens, hired a car and headed north to Meteora. An area of conglomerate pillars with half a dozen monasteries on top, this is bedlam in the summer months with tourists and a great spring destination for climbing. Having said that mid May is starting to get a little too hot already. The climbing itself was great though from long run-outs which tested to nerves somewhat to intersting route finding. We found some 30m 5b pitches with 2 bolts and zero options to use any trad gear for protection. Highlights were:

  • Excellent tavernas to get a taste of Greek food

  • Holy Ghost Guardian – 6a pillar multi pitch route

  • Fantastic history and Monasteries

From there we took a week exploring the Mani Peninsula in the Peleponese. Mostly on foot but managed to get a couple of climbing sessions in at Kardamyli. Top memories include:

  • Picking up our first words in Greek

  • Walking amongst the amazing old towers dotted around the peninsula

  • Trying to buy sheeps cheese from a farmer out of the back of his Hilux who would not take any money off us

On we went to Leonidio where we stayed for a week and met up with an old friend Rob and his wife Kate and their 2 kids who were staying 100m away and also there to climb. Here we climbed daily avoiding the sun when possible mostly with the Connolly gang. Limestone climbing on superb rock with loads of protection. We could easily have spent longer here. Kaprissi, just to the south is beautiful and also has some brilliant climbing. Having a car is a must.

One night in Athens where we dumped the climbing kit and jumped on a ferry. Sifnos was the first stop. You can stay in the centre and walk to any part of the island then get a bus back. Highlights:

  • First exposure to white and blue houses

  • People painting the cracks in the pavements white ready for the tourists

  • Huge art scene

Milos was next. A larger island though we still managed to walk most of it and then use the local transport to get back to base. Highlights:

  • A walk from Triovasalos to Pollonia  along the coast exploring the amazing geology and then a very special fish lunch

  • A day sea kayaking round the coast with a fantastic group and a guide stopping at a natural cave sauna.

  • The beautiful old colourful fishing houses and tiny harbours

Santorini was the last port of call. A little bit of a culture shock with the volume of tourists and all the associated businesses which serve them. Still worth a trip though partly for the contrast and to see “how the other half live”. Here we hired a scooter for a day to get around the southern part of the island which was fun, though a little scary at times. Highlights:

  • Caldera hike

  • Sunsets over the Caldera

  • Swimming at Oia

Final port of call was Athens. We loved Athens, walked miles and saw loads. Highlights

  • Acropolis by day and by night
  • Guided tour around Paul’s boat and a fab seafood dinner afterwards.

We really loved the Greek people, the food, the climate, the scenery, the coast, the hikes, the climbing, the swimming and of course the wine! Would highly recommend it as a place to visit.

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End of another summer

The colours have changed in the leaves giving that golden mosaic on the hills. The nights have drawn in and the indoor shower has seen some action. The garden is all set for winter.

We have had an amazing summer with more explores than DIY days. At last the balance has shifted and even the DIY has taken on a more creative bent. The garden has been brilliant with both fruit and veg (even the deer have enjoyed it).

The last thing we did was to make a sign for the Naughty Corner and fit a new door handle made from box wood.

The garden is planted up with garlic and shalots, barn has now been put to bed until the spring and the autumn crocus are out in abundance. Off to Chamonix for the winter to run the chalet. We shall either see you there or we shall be back next year for more adventures.

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Birthday in the Mountains

As is the custom, each year at the end of September we hope to celebrate my birthday by a mountain walk. This time, I had a plan and it involved 3 days of hiking and a couple of nights in a refuge, since it is getting a bit chilly now.

A friend who we met on a previous walk, Sheri suggested that the area above Lac D’Oo is stunning and worth an explore so after getting a map we booked the refuge and headed off for 3 days of fun in the mountains with stunning weather, long days, great views, good scrambles, a lovely refuge with only 6 of us staying there so dorm to ourselves result not having to contend with snorers.

First day was over 2000m of ascent but once we were past the popular Lac D’Oo we hardly saw a soul which was great. I struggled with leg cramps for a couple of hours and meant that progress was slower than planned. Finally got to the refuge at 650pm and told dinner was in 10 minutes! We had a chat with the guardian re a scramble route the next day which is always good to get the local info.

Day 2 was stunning weather again, we wanted to do a scramble ridge up on the Spanish border and to climb Pic de Perdiguere 3222m also hoped to take in another peak Crabioules but looe rock and lack of a rope stopped that POA. Wow what a fab day, scrambling up over a few peaks following the ridge line and amazing views both on the French and Spanish side. Managed to find the path back to the refuge making a lovely loop.

Day 3, birthday day, we decided with the cloud to descend and do a lower summit on the way back to the van. Skies cleared though very quickly until we reached the van and the clouds came in, perfect timing. Had a lovely day on the hill with my hubby could not have been nicer.

All was lovely and then we hit Lac D’oo on a Saturday and it was mobbed hundreds of people trundling!!!!!

Back to the barn with a stop at the auberge, Rene and Anouk had a bottle of pink bubbles in the fridge for me which was very kind and Clive and Peter joined us too so a lovely finale to our 3 days away. It was then back up to the barn, more bubbles, cards, pressies, foie gras, prawns and cheese. A perfect end to 3 birthday bashing days! Thanks Al for sharing with me and making it a very memorable birthday.

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Bumper mushrooms

There was a time when foraging for mushrooms was a little like cruising the isles of the supermarket looking to see what you would find that looks vaguely appetising. You would gather some specimens, some of which you knew and others you would have to look up in the book to establish their worthiness. Now things have changed. Depending on the particular mushroom one fancies one goes to the specific spot where they should be on display. There are always exceptions to the rule. An example being parasol mushrooms which appear in grassland on long hollow stems. A single cap of one can fill a large frying pan. Searching for these is fairly easy as we have taken to standing on the terrace with binoculars. They are sufficiently tall and large you can spot them from about 400m. Invariably you find an additional two or three on route to gather the specimen you have seen.

This either means that we are getting better at identifying the dozen or so varieties we know or that we are learning where they grow locally, or indeed a combination of the above. There are still some mushrooms we would like to be more confident about identifying. The Russula family we see loads of and some are superb for eating, some are not and then some will make you very ill. There seems to me to be so many subtle variations that it could be a game of Russian Roulette and I personally am not a gambling man.

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Hillary and Ralph got married

We were fortunate enough to be invited to their wedding in a field near Manchester. The dates coincided with Dave and Helen from being in the country so we were also lucky to catch up with them too. So Friday night we had dinner with them and Ken in Derbyshire before heading to the wedding.

When I say the bash was in a field, it was a very nice field with a triple teepee style tent decorated in a chic and relaxed way. A double decker bus picked us up from the hotel at noon and took a meandering route to the venue where we took our seats outside for the marriage. The brides entrance was in her type 2 VW camper caning around the field. The ceremony continued in a very simple but personal manner. Before we knew it the bus arrived at half past midnight to cart us back to the hotel. Time just flew with fantastic food and loads of interesting people. The speeches were amazing and we had a brilliant day.

On the Sunday we caught Ken, Dave and Helen again for a walk and pub lunch in the Peak District. Thanks Ken for putting us up again. And thanks Dave and H for making the time to see us and for the sailing news.

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