Pica d’Estats

For a much needed change of scene we headed to Auzat (to the East) where we parked at Cascade de l’Artigue after a coffee in town. Donned the hiking boots and large packs with food and camping kit and set off up the hill towards Refuge Pinet. The ascent was via Etang Sourd where we ate lunch by the shepherd’s cabane. At the refuge we met up with the guardian who suggested that we use the winter room rather than camp. She had a couple of helpers and all three were scuttling about getting the place ready to open the next day. As we ate our supper storm clouds were brewing so we opted for the winter room which we shared with a Mario from Briancon.

Our intention was to climb Pica d’Estats then Montcalm and take a different descent but the advice from the guardian was not to risk it with the snow conditions. There were some snow covered slabs and ropes and harnesses were required. She did say that we could leave our camping stuff at the refuge the next day and pick it up on the way down.

Leaving the hut at 8am, 80% of the ascent was on snow with great weather and amazing views. We shared Pica d’Estats with Mario spotting different peaks in the distance, then headed across to Montcalm which was less impressive. A quicker descent and reached the refuge just as a storm hit with thunder, lightning and torrential rain. Nice walk down after the storm and lunch back to the van.
Camped in Vic Dessous for a couple of night to get in a Via Ferrata at Goulier and some rock climbing. Even managed a meal out together (felt like a date).

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Recent exploits

With little of note to write about here is a selection of pictures for you.

Local walks over old and new terrain included Pot de Salau with Sherie and Michiel, Cirque D’Anglade with Spike the dog and a couple of little explores. The first was up to the old ruins of a Chateau above Pont de la Taule and an adventure above Saube exploring the inside of a cloud.

The rest of the time we have been dodging rain, cutting back the forest, pottering with seedlings and filling holes in walls.

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Col de Pause to Cabane D’Aula

Breezy got the maps out again and selected a fantastic route which we had never taken from Col de la Pause. From the car park we took the 4×4 up to the first shepherd’s cabin and then a path off to the right towards a col and then down to Cabane D’Aula. Beautiful flowers on the way and a steep descent to the cabane. Then joined the GR10 to ascend back up to a col, at which point Breezy had spied a wee ridge with couple of small peaks which looked very doable.

Lunch spot was at the first small peak Pic de La Banque over looking Mt Valier and our route below. After a leisurely lunch we followed the ridge back to the first col of the morning and then a trundle back to Billy.

An amazing walk, made special with the abundance of amazing alpine flowers and having the place to ourselves.

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Social snowy walk

An invite to walk in the mountains with other people. What an exciting opportunity. Lee and Suze picked us up from Seix and we headed up to Col de la Core to meet the others. Another couple we knew and some newbies, even more exciting. From there we trundled up to Etang D’Eychelles for an early lunch. Then continued up the valley to Cabane D’Eychelles when we took off the path to the col behind it negotiating a few patches of snow. Following the ridge towards Vallier with stunning views we gained 3 peaks before descending from Col de la Crouzette via more snow to retrace our steps from the cabane. Amazing weather and great company with 1000m of ascent.

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Cascade de D’Ars

With the recent rainfall and the more relaxed travel limitations we decided to venture out of the valley for a hike up Cascade D’Ars. Having parked in Aulus we took the GR10 towards the cascade rather than taking the 4×4 track from the hairpin. It is a much more interesting route up the gorge and joins the 4×4 before the bridge. The Cascade itself was very impressive and definitely worthy of a few photos.

We climbed the trail up to the top of the cascade where we ate lunch before taking the loop back down through the forest. As we had no bread to make sandwiches I made two empanadas the night before with red pepper, onion, courgette, chorizzo and wild mushrooms (dried morrels, horn of plenty and ceps). Oh and half a boiled egg in each. At first I thought that I had made them a little on the large side but these Spanish equivalent of Cornish pasties were delicious and devoured accordingly. Thank you Mr Stein for the inspiration.

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Cloche or Solar Oven

Having more time this season we are making better use of the garden. Rather than buying plugs and planting the salad crop we have taken to growing from seed. As most people have more time on their hands there is a lack of plants available to buy. Similar to toilet paper and bread flour. In fact there is also a lack of seeds. We however were lucky in ordering seeds online at the beginning of the winter.

We have various salad seeds and some hardy perennial flower seeds. Hopefully the additional flowers will provide us some colour all summer, (maybe not this summer but next could be great), and the salad stuff should keep us going to supplement the shopping.

So with all the above potential we decided to use some reclaimed double glazing units and make some cloches to bring on the seeds in the early season. And they worked brilliantly. We had dwarf French beans (non climbing variety rather than tiny beans), asparagus peas, several types of lettuce, courgettes and some flowers all in cloches when the sun came out one afternoon. We were out cutting back the forest and didn’t even think that the sun may be making our little plants a little warm. When we got back to the barn and took a peak inside great clouds of steam came out. All our little precious plants were cooked. What is more some of the plant pots had melted.

Lesson learnt – open the cloches in the morning in order to avoid our heat traps becoming solar ovens. Also we now have a second use for our cloches once we have enough plants. We can use them to heat water and even cook food, though the latter may take a little experimentation.

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Wellington Boots

Now I have had the same set of wellies since I started caving in Derbyshire. They were all the rage when I bought them. Everyone (I say everyone, but actually only the people I caved with) had the same brand. I think they were called Sure Treads, but they were known as Sure Slips as wet limestone which has been polished by water tumbling over it at high pressure for hundreds of years is particularly slippy even with the best boots in the world. Until a couple of years ago I still had two strips of car inner tube around each ankle so that you could wear your Troll oversuit over the wellies and secure the bottom of the legs tightly to the boots. This meant that you could wade through deep water for short distances without getting wet feet. Deep is a relative term, I know; in this case deep is between knee and waist. If the water was over one’s head then the rubber bands failed to keep your feet dry. So these boots are now over thirty years old and sadly they have sprung a leak. Well, actually the right boot has sprung a leak. I tried gaffa tape and insulation tape to cover the offending slit but neither stayed on in the wet. It was fine when dry but not in the wet. And it’s in the wet that counts. If I only wore them in the dry they are actually still quite serviceable.

So, I have had to buy my second set of wellie boots. They are green and have treads on the soles. After thirty years the old ones were similar to racing slicks and skidded about all over the place. Maybe having graduated on wet limestone I didn’t notice the lack of grip. Or maybe over the years you don’t notice the gradual deterioration but they were worn out. The new boots also fit. This is also a revelation. I didn’t realise that wellie boots could fit. Not that I tried them on in the shop; I just selected a pair which stated they were the correct size, seemed to be intact and were middle of the range budget wise. What is more they fit around my calfs as well, especially when I am wearing my Seasalt Wellie Warmers inside. This is an added bonus as they gather no sawdust from the chainsaw. The good old Sure Treads were like funnels for sawdust, leaves and twigs, not to mention water. This was irritating to say the least. Not only did it mean stopping frequently to empty the detritus, but it also took ages picking the bits out of socks before they went in the wash. The snug calf fit also makes them quieter and the slapping noise of the top of the boot flapping against the leg as you walk has completely disappeared. I can imagine this would make them better for sneaking up on animals and people who weren’t deaf much easier.

I am contemplating administering a hole in the left boot, filling my old wellies with potting compost and planting strawberries in the top. After thirty years of mediocre service they deserve a second life and I think they will look rather good hanging on a wall around the barn. By the way, I do not recommend or condone the use of wellie boots in conjunction with a chainsaw. There are many boots which offer far better protection and are designed for the purpose.

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Real weather

Although the temperature has dropped it has not gone below zero. This is good news as the seedlings are still happy. It has just been wet. All sorts of wet from drizzle to downpours. Today for example it was mizzle in the morning, we had lunch in the sun on the front terrace. and then we were coppicing this afternoon and burning the scrub and it started raining. That is the second day on the trot that rain has stopped outdoor play. I am just pleased that I didn’t bother to water the plants in that I moved this morning. A Forsythia and a couple of red dogwoods are now in the front bed below the retaining wall. They are only a few centimeters tall but will grow into healthy shrubs (hopefully) courtesy of Keith Walker from Chamonix. Thanks Keith.

The other up side of mixed weather is the food. With less opportunity to get outdoor stuff done we spend more time looking at recipes and creating lovely meals. Thoroughly enjoying the Tray bake book and the Bosh book and playing with different breads.

Next up is to teach Breezy some rope tricks.

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Well our quarantine time flew by which was great and we had fab weather too which definitely is a huge bonus.

We have had one trip to St Girons since we were allowed off the land and that was fairly busy with the usual large load of laundry, DIY, garden and food list. Things take time with queues etc and even though we left at 830am not back till 230pm for a late lunch of prawns on the terrace in the sun. Quite enjoyed having someone else do our shopping!!!

Life is simple here and we are in no real routine except coffee in bed for an hour in the morning whilst I do my Spanish studying and Al reads his Cabin Porn book! and then we tackle the cryptic crossword for 30 mins and usually manage to get a few clues solved it’s a slow process for us but fun!!!!

So as the sun has been shining we have been out in the garden all the time which has been fab. Shorts and T Shirts, brekky in the sun after an hours work before it was getting too hot to strim and then decide on what little chores we should do for the day before a late lunch around 2pm on the terrace, exercises back ones for me and then core stability for both of us and then off for our hourly walk! We are still restricted so have been exploring all the hidden paths around the barn keeping mainly in bounds. Have seen loads of fab spring flowers popping up and lots of beautiful wild orchids on our little explores so more of nature trail walks than yomps!!! Looking forward to getting into the big mountains again soon.

In the garden we have got most things under control, lots planted both plant wise and veggie wise and we have protected all the edible things from the deer this year so more of a chance of having more homegrown produce which will be fab. Unless the moles get them. They have dug a total warren out the back and makes like an obstacle course falling down all the holes each time we are out there!

Lots of colour about the place, Dad’s rose climbers on the front wall are incredible and just a mass of buds at the moment about to come out in full force, tubs are planted up, irises are out and amazing colour and our crazy yellow and red tulips could have won a prize we thought anyway! New hanging baskets in place, long tubs made to hang near the shower area so a blaze of colour there too.

This year most things have been grown from seed, (since we wont be traveling off anywhere this spring time) so we have made some cloches to help them on their way. Have a few more to make.

Birds are nesting in our bird boxes which is also pretty cool but no sign of owls in the owl box we made last year.

The new outdoor shower is getting a lot of use and the views from it are amazing, we still need to make a proper soak away for it but not a nice job so it keeps moving down the list!

Al got stuck into wall building down near the “Naughty Corner” and it is now waiting for some small shrubs to go in there. It was a lot of digging out of tree roots, nettles and brambles. Followed by Al building the wall. I can’t cut a loaf of bread straight so not a chance of a straight wall from me!!! He’s done a grand job and hoping we can now get some shrubs in there just deciding what….Keith maybe your forsythia cuttings which you gave us and are looking very happy at the moment will do the trick.

Other small jobs have been making coat hangars to put up on the walls in the porch/pantry area, creating a unit to house all our water bottles instead of having them strewn all over the place driving us nuts! making supports for the lupins and other flowers in the garden.

We have started copicing along the terrace to the tree house platform but as fires are banned for now we have stopped work on that till we can get some of it burnt.

I have been having fun in the kitchen too, making lots of veggie food from new cook books, breads, dairy free puds for Al, new chicken and fish recipes and the occassional new soup on wet days like today. Rest of the time its delicious salads with more goodies than greenery just as Dad likes them!!!! Next week is new lamb ideas and more new veggie fodder. We are lucky to have a very well stocked dry food cupboard so can make a meal very easily when fresh supplies are low. It’s been fun making do with what we have and making a tasty meal each night.

If anybody is wondering what to do with too many courgettes, I have a winner of a bread sort of made up seeded bread with courgettes and goats cheese truly scrummy!!!

Days fly by and we never seem to stop. With wet weather today though it is an indoor e mail, blog, photo catch up day with the fire on and some homemade soup for lunch. Life could be worse!

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Deafeningly quiet

As part of the agreement with the local Mayor we are in isolation for three weeks. While the rest of the country is still locked down we are in a very lucky position to be living in isolation anyway. Anouk from the Auberge is ferrying fresh water and food shopping to us which is amazing. In the meantime we are pottering in the garden and making odd things for the barn.

One such creative project was to make a cabinet for the gas bottles in the front porch. Four old table legs, some matchboard and the sides of some wooden draws (all salvaged); add a lick of paint and we now have a cabinet worthy of a farmhouse kitchen. We have also repainted the kitchen units, restored an old oak coffee table, and Breezy has finished her heart shaped cork board.

The local wildlife has also been enjoying the peace and quiet. The deer have eaten our beetroot and blet (sort of spinach) and we have seen a wild boar from the bed when having coffee in the morning.

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