First whole day on site

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Having arrived last night in Salau and found the apartment. We went up to the Bergerie this morning with a packed lunch of ham, tomato, goat’s cheese and mango chutney sandwiches. The bread in the bread-making machine actually worked which was a bit of a surprise based on throwing something together last night in a tired stupor. We also had a flask of black sweet tea. Progress today was great.

We've Arrived...YIPPEE! 

Totally cleared out the granny flat (annex) and dug down enough to put a concrete floor in. Shifted over a ton of stone and earth. Bearing in mind that this only represents about 1/12 of the total floor space, we have a way to go, and the rest of the space is more tricky with some things that are integral to holding up what is left of the roof.

Half way through the morning three kayakers came down the stream wearing full face helmets and paddling from rock to rock (no eddies to be seen – not that they would have used them anyway).

Towards the end of the afternoon we set about the brambles, nettles and bush clearing as a break from lifting, digging and carrying. Looking forward to a bonfire before we leave. On the way home the bar at the Myrtille was open so we caught up with Danielle and Freddy for an early evening drink. One of the locals swears there is an eau de source (spring) behind the property. He was a bit vague as to where but is adamant he has seen it when foraging for champignons and that the water is of quality to die for. Plan tomorrow is to attack the main space. Helmets are a must!

Categories: Spring 2007, The Project

Structural Engineer

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Got the structural engineer's drawings. Martin has done a fantastic job. We gave him the architect’s drawings and a few sketches. He came back with two options for the roof and for each option he has put a table together of all the different permutations of wood thickness and depths of wood that will do the job. So now all we need to do is find suppliers and see what is available. Over the summer we can then give all that to a friendly quantity surveyor who will turn it into a shopping list. Easy really!

As well as perfect timing on Martin’s behalf for our departure on Thursday, the other great thing is that he requires payment in wine. Thank you Martin and enjoy!

Categories: Spring 2007, The Project

Chain Saw Day

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Having bought a chain saw for the project, thought it wise to be able to know how to use it (safely).

Friends of ours Alan and Christine from The Peak kindly offered their teaching skills for a day. Another friend of ours Kate Daniels (see piccy below) joined us. A very worthwhile day, in the morning we learnt how to dismantle the chain saw so we could clean and maintain it. This also gave us much more of an insight into how it works, the safety mechanisms etc. which made actually using the chainsaw for the first time that afternoon not quite so nerve racking!! 

Many thanks Al and Christine for your patience and making it a fun learning day. You are welcome in The Pyrenees any time. Bring your saws for those tricky trees!!! 

Kate Chain Saw Day

Kate Chain Saw Day 

Categories: Spring 2007, The Project

Eco March

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Generally getting lots of research done on eco stuff. Regarding solar PV pannel, we are currently looking at alternatives to incorporating them in the roof. This has advantages aesthetically. Also it allows for expansion easily and potentially offers us further rainwater capture for water (if we go down that route).


Categories: Ecofriendly Matters

March Update

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We have managed to get the apartment we were looking at. There is a sofa bed and another single bed as well as our room so plenty of space for visitors.

Gradually managing to get tools from the UK to Chamonix via friends who are driving our way which has been very helpful. Thanks to Adrian for carting over the chainsaw much appreciated.

Al has managed to collect 3/4 of a tonne of slate from Kate Daniel’s parents house and has stashed it at work for the meantime. We are intending to take a few sample slates over in May to see how they compare to the slate locally. Thanks Kate for your time in driving over there.

Architects drawings are now with the structural engineer, Martin. He is in the process of designing us a couple of different options for the roof. The best bit is he wants payment in the form of wine!!!

Also managed to line up a QS, Tim, who is going to take Martin’s specifications and turn it into a shopping list and an estimate of man hours and construction phases. This is going to be invaluable in the autumn when the roof goes on.

Had a deal of interest and offers of assistance from friends who want to come and help. Bring it on!!!!

Categories: Spring 2007, The Project

May Time

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So here’s the latest. We have decided to follow the Mediterranean style of building the Bergerie upside-down, with sleeping space on the ground floor and living / eating space on the first floor. In theory this means that we can use the natural light from the largest window and any skylights we put in during daylight and then sleep where we don’t need light. It also means that we can sleep in the cool and live in the warm. Not planning any new openings but having access from the first floor at the back onto the terracing at the rear of the building. Sketches to follow.

Just need to find out what the local roofing timber is (oak, Caledonian pine, pitch pine) and then we are getting Martin the structural engineer involved to design us a roof. Although the initial need is to get the building secure we are planning ahead so that once the roof is on it will support any future development of the building in terms of light, power, flues and chimney.

Cranking up the planning for our month down there in May at the moment with lists of tools we will need. Lists of jobs to be done and priorities. Any help in that department is grateful. Picked up a chainsaw off eBay and Breezy and I have a day booked with Derbyshire friends for a chainsaw induction. Do this, don’t do that etc. tools include pick axe, chainsaw, spades saw, shovels etc so if anyone is, or knows anyone who is, driving out to Chamonix before May and has space for a few tools or even a box of nails, please let us know. On the grounds that they won’t allow nail clippers in hand luggage I think they may turn their nose up at a chainsaw.

We think we have found an apartment to rent in Salau for the month with floor space and a spare sofa bed so if anyone fancies a visit then let us know. Monti Bianco (Debs) is planning on coming out on the 19th for about five days which will be FAB. The thinking is that we don’t want to be spending a portion of each day just subsisting if we were to camp at the Bergerie. A hot shower at the end of a day is great too. Having said that if anyone wants to camp then that is cool too.

Had a look at transport logistics for anyone considering coming out:

Flights – Sleazy Jet fly to Toulouse which is very handy if you are wanting to catch the bus to St Girons where “Vinnie The Van ” will pick you up or the train to St Gaudens where pick up will be possible too. also fly to Carcassone and Pau which are both feasible but it is more difficult to get to us on public transport although hiring a car is an option. Ryan air do have a sale on at the moment – flights from 99p + tax.

SNCF (train) – Train is 13 euros one way so a bargain.  You just need to make your way from the airport to the train station in Toulouse.

Bus – There is a bus from Toulouse to St Girons.  St Girons is only 40 mins from the bergerie and the bus goes from the train station in Toulouse centre as well.

Car –  If anyone is considering driving we have taken a load of photos and distances to help with getting from St Girons to the Bergerie without a map. Thought it may be useful! Will post it up on a separate page closer to the time.

Crackin’ on!!!

Thanks also to everyone who has helped with the eco tips, very much appreciated.

Categories: Spring 2007, The Project


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Thanks Monti Bianco (Debs)  you beast for getting me into gear on this front!
We have had lots of interest from family and buddies some who are very keen to come and visit, lend a hand, sample the local wine, eat the yummy cheeses, wander in the mountains, or just to get away and see this area of The Pyrenees.
So for those who would like to squeeze a visit in this year, here are the dates we plan to be down there.
Al has booked time off work from 4th May until 4th June. I am as some of you think on one permanent holiday!!!! so will be there with Al until the summer season kicks in in Chamonix.
We would ideally like the first week to get ourselves organised before having any visitors. So feel free to visit any time from 11th May until 4th June.
If you are unable to make a visit in the Spring we are also planning a month or so in September dates not yet confirmed but I reckon from about 7th September. Will keep you posted on that though.
We are planning to rent an apartment for these 2 months to make life easier. We are in the process of finding somewhere but as yet do not know how big this will be and how much bed/floor space will be available. Again we will know more soon re lodgings… watch this space. There is a lovely place in Salau “Auberge Myrtille” where we have stayed cheap and cheerful with good home cooking too and a little bar which would be a good second/first option depending on finances and level of comfiness!!!
As I am sure you are all aware we have just a tad to do on the work front so we will not be able to do pick ups from the airport so it would mean renting a car to get to us. This will also let you go and explore the area and get away from the DIY!!!!
There are lots of options flight wise with old “Sleazy Jet” and “Ryan Air”.
There are 3 main airports to choose from all about 2 hours drive away.
Carcassone who I managed to get a ticket £15 one way with taxes. Very appealing to my Yorkshireness!
We would love to see anyone down there but I think we need to emphasize that we will be working hard for the month we are there although we are intending to get to know the area as well with a few explores which we will try and time in well with visitors. Rest assured food and wine will floweth in the evenings to keep us going!!!!
As and when people decide to come and stay we will post it up on the Blog so that we do not have too many people all at once.
Look forward to seeing whoever comes.
Categories: The Project

Information sharing & useful links


Many thanks to Matthew and Esther Phillips for their information sharing on the eco front. They have sent through a couple of links which are really useful:- which is an easy read FAQs on photo voltaics.  which is the result of research paper about making buildings 'breathable' and why it's better all-round than the modern technique of trying to envelop buildings in impermeable barriers. This is especially important for old buildings with their stone walls without damp-proof courses. Like ours! Be warned this is not an easy read unless you are a boffin. Still not sure what meaning to take out of that one.

Thanks also to Mark & Lauren who added a comment to the previous post with a couple of useful links to pages of links. I will plough through them but I am impressed with this site purely for its numpty proof, plain speaking information.

Next steps for us is to work out what power we need to generate and how, then identify what implications that has for the roof design so that we don't end up having to alter the roof after we have built it. Just seems like everything needs to be considered in detail before you start anything. The biggest nightmare is establishing where to start as there seems to be so many variables.

Happy New Year to all! 

Categories: Ecofriendly Matters

Christmas News

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So, tiz Boxing Day, after a very Merry Christmas Day in The Chamonix Valley. Long lunch with champagne sitting in the sun up the mountain gave us lots of thinking time and ideas. Chatting with Keith & Lyn, we discovered a few people in the valley have already invested in various eco friendly systems. We now have a few contacts to touch base with, and hopefully glean some hints, tips and also how the French system support eco investment. We also need to traipse around builders merchants and talk to a couple of builder friends regarding French roofing techniques and materials. This is gonna be vital for the structural engineer so that we can actually make what he designs. We also need to find the “French termite map” to establish what timbers we require. If anyone knows where to locate this map then let us know!

Christmas Lunch

Christmas Lunch

The blog seems to be working as we are getting more information and contacts to talk to. Thanks Jane & Richard (Fletcher) for finding this and putting us in touch with Ester & Mathew looking forward to hopefully meeting them in the New Year and sharing ideas.

The Roof

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We have the plans back from the architect so need to pass them onto the structural engineer. Gonna get them scanned and put them up here for anyone interested. Current thinking is to use salvage slate for the roof covering as this is what it would have been originally. There are a few slates around but we need to track down a load more old ones so if anyone out there has a stash in the south of France please let us know. Don't worry I won't hold my breath. Put a couple of pics in to show what sort of thing we are thinking.



Still need to think through what we want the roof to do for us in terms of eco friendly stuff, power, water heating etc, and design that in as well. If anyone has experience to share on that front please let us know. It would be a shame to make unnecessary mistakes.