We have managed to escape Chamonix and COVID-19 and make our way down to the barn. We had special paperwork to travel supplied by the Mayor of the Commune down in the Pyrenees but fortunately did not get stopped en route so never actually had to produce it. There have been a couple of leaks in the roof over the winter but the place is in pretty good nick and no mouse activity which is great.
There is so much more to do here than Chamonix and we have been very industrious since arriving. Half the weeding of veg and flower areas is already done. We’ve started strimming and already have loads of vegetables planted up. Some are in plastic bag “propagators” to get them to germinate earlier and others are under cloches (made from plastic water bottles) to protect them from frost.
The much sought after Morel mushrooms appear this time of year for about three weeks. They are associated with Ash trees of which we have a handful on the land so we decided to go for a wander with a stick and a bag. Our first find was a False Morel (Faux Morrille), this chestnut brown critter looks like a Morel and could easily be mistaken for one but, alas, is poisonous. Apparently one starts feeling sick and a headache comes on, this leads to a comma and sometimes death. When you slice through one of these there are many chambers in the stem and in the fruit body. A true/safe Morel has a single chamber in the head and the body. The others in the piccys are safe and some of the largest we have found. When we first started looking for Morels everyone said they were incredibly difficult to find. You could spend hours searching through grass and come away with nothing. These on the other hand were so large they could be spotted a good few meters away and one could certainly injure oneself tripping over them.
They are now cleaned up and in a basket drying above the wood burner.
As is the custom, we plan to get away for my birthday in the hills. This being a big birthday we really wanted to get out and explore. Plan A and Plan B failed due to refuges being closed or full so Plan C it was….
We headed west from the barn about 3 hours drive west to a new area of the Pyrenees we had never been to before based around Pic du Midi D’Ossau which is a fabulous looking peak with lots of rock climbing routes to get to the summit plus a slightly technical scramble route too.
We totally lucked out with the weather wall to wall blue and I think we saw one cloud in 3 days, with temperatures around 27 and no wind we were in luck for the adventures.
First day was a gorgeous walk via several lakes up to the most stunning Refuge D’Ayous situation wise we have stayed in with the backdrop of the Pic du Midi at it’s best. We dumped heavy kit at the refuge and trundled up to a small peak that afternoon Pic D’Ayous, back in time for a very quick dip and then a good night in the refuge. This refuge was run by 4 great women and they had created a great atmosphere. Well worth a visit for anyone in the area.
Sunrise over the Pic was stunning and off we headed. We had wanted to do the ridge but after speaking to the guardian plans changed. She said all the rock was loose and not advisable at all. So we headed off to climb Pic des Moins via some more very pretty lake and an easy scramble to the summit with great views into Spain. From the summit we could see why the guardian had said the ridge was not a goer!!!! We then continued on with the loop around the Midi taking in another Peak en route Pic de Peyreget before descending to the Refuge Pombie. Had time for a very quick dip in one of the lakes on the descent before getting to the refuge. As we approached I saw a basic army style tent and said jokingly to Al better hope we are not in that!!!! and guess what we were. With the gorgeous weather it also meant clear, starry and freezing nights. Sharing with 14 others and a bad snorer was far from ideal! Anyhow that is the end of the 40’s and so begins the 50’s!!!!
We got a little info from the guardian on the scramble/climb to the Midi via the voie normale and headed off with helmets, harnesses and rope. There are 3 technical parts, the first we missed altogether and found another way up which was definitely climbing so the rope came out. Big packs, big boots twas interesting! Back on route and then some great scrambling in the next 2 chimney sections. Quite a bit of loose rock so very glad of the helmets. 2 hours of scrambling up to the summit and fantastic views. What a brilliant way to spend my birthday with my hubby.
Steady descent but quite long back to the van and then back to the barn for bubbles, pressies, cards, prawns and cheeses perfecto!
We do appreciate how lucky we are to spend most of the summer in such a spectacular and unspoilt part of the world, still so much more of the Pyrenees to explore…..
In the winter in Chamonix, a great friend, Sauze, asked if we fancied joining her and her husband, Patrick, on a trip to climb a 6,000m peak in Kashmir. As any invitation for adventure or travel always receives a “yes”, we agreed. Later we started hearing of unrest in the area and some pot shots being exchanged with the Pakistan army over the border. Fortunately one of the guests in the chalet had an associate who was fairly high up in the Pakistani Military Intelligence so we received a report stating that it was mostly political and that it would all be calm again after some elections. A few weeks later we discovered that the destination was Ladakh and not Kashmir after all.
The build up to the trip was a logistical nightmare to get the right kit together in the right place at the right time. Usually all our winter kit stays in Chamonix. Some climbing kit from the UK went to Greece with us and then into my parents shed in Berkshire. Other kit, like high mountain boots, was gleaned specifically for the trip and needed “breaking in”. A spreadsheet was required to identify how it was all gonna come together and want needed to migrate from where to where. Then there was a suit for me and a dress for Breezy which needed to get to a hotel in the New Forest for my parents 60th wedding anniversary in Sept.
Itinerary wise we flew into Delhi then got a flight the next day up to Leh (3,500m). A few days in Leh, exploring and getting some altitude hikes in before starting the trek to Stok Kangri. Five days trek to get to base camp (>5,000m) then a rest day before getting up in the small hours and ascending; getting to the top, then back down to base camp for 11am.
After the trek we returned to Delhi for a city tour then Breezy and I tagged on a couple of nights in Agra to see the Taj Mahal.
We had an amazing trip and fabulous food throughout. Great fun and lots of laughs. Everyone we met were so friendly and helpful. Traffic in India, especially Delhi and Agra is crazy. You can watch it for hours and see no discernible patterns or rules of the road emerging. The only rule I managed to discover is that all traffic, motorised or not and whatever size, gives way to cows.
Last night in Agra
Family at the Mosque
Yak shit drying
At the summit of Stok Kangri
Last breakfast at Base Camp
View from the saddle of Stok Kangri
Carol & Breezy
A collection of toilet tents
Street market Agra
Carol river crossing
Monastery above Leh
Partick & Sause ascent of Stok Kangri
Stok Kangri ridge acsent
Breezy on the walk out from Stok Kangri
Prayer flags and incense burning
Ancient rock carving
Lewis and Greg
Typical Indian truck
Inside the cook tent
Carol ascent of Stok Kangri
Confluence Indus and Zanskar
Tea Stall Agra
The shoe gaurdian
Last breakfast at Stok Kangri base camp
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.
New deluxe outdoor shower
Owl box in the making
New deluxe outdoor shower
Old outdoor shower
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.
Hulley family on Pic de Seron
At Port de Salau
Plunge pool below Port de Salau
All on the terrace
Pretty patterns of weed on the lake
Outside the cabanne on the way to Port de Salau
Ascent to Pic de Seron
Lunch at the Col
BBQ on the terrace
Breezy and Al on Pic de Seron
Breezy and Liz
Pic de Seron
Liz and Mike
Harry scaling the ladders below Pic de Seron
Last up to Port de Salau Liz & Mike
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.
Izzard and a view of Spain
Sunset from the refuge
Sunset from the refuge
View of Etang rond and Etang long from the refuge
Looking back to Col de la Core
Looking down into the Haute Salat Vallee
Breezy on French Spanish border
Sunset from the refuge
Relief toward the end
Clouds hanging over Seix as we departed
Above the refuge on the walk day one
Sunset from the refuge
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…..
Ruth and Pete with us
Pete plays boules
The old pylons from Port de Salau
Outside the cabanne Port de Salau
Roast chichen supper
The old pylons from Port de Salau
Outside the cabanne Port de Salau
Our nearest waterfall
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.
Not much left
The before shot of the stairs
Cork board started
New book shelves
Stripped of wiring and fittings ready to be cleaned up
Finished paint job
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:
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:
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.
Meteora Holy Ghost Gaurdian
One eye VW
Inside a fishermans hut
Just after the jump
Hoovering the pavement
Coffee with Rob
Religious festival Milos
Sea kayaking Milos
Wind sculpted rocks
Sea kayaking Milos
Beach hut on red beach
Sea kayaking Milos
Coming up for air
Sea kayaking Milos
You can see why it is a honeymoon destination
The Olympic start line
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.
New sign and handle