Category: Summer 2020

Kitchen Island

That’s it, we only have a week to go before we head North again. There is a substantial list of chores, and in true Management Consultant style they are ranked in terms of “Must do”, “Nice to” and ease to complete. At the beginning of the summer, well actually the spring, Breezy had a request to build a kitchen island to replace the table. The table has been fine for years and served us well. We have made bred and pasta on it. It has been sturdy even though it is a marriage between legs from a restaurant in Chamonix and a top from a friends office. Top and legs are now divorced and in storage awaiting their next reincarnation.

In it’s place is now a super duper kitchen island.


  • Legs from a salvaged table (Chamonix)
  • Two lengths decking (donated by Peter in the village)
  • Beech worktop (bought)
  • Forklift Pallets (salvage)
  • 4 brass hinges (salvage)
  • 2 stones with holes in as handles (picked up on a beach)
  • 2 leather handles (made from an old belt scout belt)
  • Screws (stock items)
  • Glue (bought)
  • 2 sheets cheep wood (bought)
  • Paint (chalk paint from a previous project)
  • Varnish (left over from bathroom floor)
  • Wine rack (salvage)

Mix all the ingredients together. Jump up and down on it to make sure it is sturdy and hey presto you have a kitchen island.

Categories: Summer 2020, The Project

A beautiful day and a great hike

Lane Formente to Pic Montaud

Blue skies and no clouds, Lee and Suzie arrived at 9.30 with a picnic (and a box of veg from their garden). We set off up the piste towards Port de Salau. Just before Pouille, the shepherds cabin we took the path to the right following the old pylon line for the logging cable way. After a few hundred meters this fizzled out and the rest of the ascent up to Lane Fourmente was a case of following the line of least resistance.

It was hot and going was slow so a bite of foods was required at the ridge. Re-nourished we set off towards Pic Montaud along the crest of the ridge. Amazing views of Mont Rouche to the left and Mont Vallier to the right and a stunning ridge line. We go buzzed by a cross-country paraglider souring the ridge above us before heading off to Mont Rouche.

From Pic Montaud we took the ridge towards Port de Salau and dropped onto the French side above the top shepherd’s cabin to join the main path back down to the barn for cold beer.

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Grande Fache and Pic de Cambales

A slightly longer drive than expected due to a head on collision between a motorcycle and a car got us to La Ralliere where we abandoned the van by the side of the road. Traffic was slow and being turned back there as the parking at Pont D’Espagne was “saturated”. Strange expression for a car park but that is what we were told.

From there we took the Sentier des Cascades up the valley with hundreds of other people, most of whom were scantily dressed and very bumbly. Well worth the walk though as the waterfalls are amazing. A picnic by Refuge des Clots and the crowds disappeared, then followed the river left towards Refuge Wallon.

The Refuge was closed due to renovations (and massive extension) so there were tents spread all over the meadow. We found a spot sheltered from the wind by the stream and pitched our little tent. After a dehydrated meal we hit the sack as the wind made a game of cards in the open air rather tricky.

An 8am start and uphill mode to Col de la Fache where we dumped the big sacks and gained the Grande Fache via the North ridge unburdened. Again very windy but not cold and beautiful views of Vignemale, Los Infiernos, Blatious and the Pic Midi D’Ossau from the summit at 3005m. Back to the Col to pick up the sacks and have a cup of tea before taking the path (more like boulder hopping searching for cairns amongst piles of rock) on the Spanish side under Pene D’Arragon to gain Col D’Arragon and more scrambling up the ridge to Pic de Cambales. Strangely enough we had the summit to ourselves and saw nobody on the way up or down. More fantastic views and a snack before finding our way off down the North ridge to Col de Cambales. This was more tricky, scrambling down with big packs, though fairly well marked with cairns. Some very “airy” and exposed sections and definitely not for the feint hearted.

Once at the Col we joined the well worn path through the lakes towards Refuge Wallon and found a secluded camp spot by Lac de Cambales at about 5pm. Again, no cards, dehydrated meal and bed.

Day 3 and an hour downhill to gain the path up to Lac Nere and on to Lac du Portet where we started seeing other hikers. Then a long descent via more lakes down to Refuge du Clots and lunch by the river. Back to Pont D’Espagne where we waited for the Navette (bus) to take us back to La Ralliere.

All in all a grand excursion to re-charge the batteries.

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Maintenance and Art

With any old property there will always be maintenance. You have oly just finished the place and then you have to start maintaining the stuff you started with. The first floor we laid was the bathroom. In fact that is the first place we slept (because it was the only place with a flat, dry floor. A flat dry floor and a composting toilet. Sounds lovely; so romantic. Anyway, it desperately wanted freshening up, more that a wet mop would achieve. The generator was engaged and Breezy sanded the whole floor and applied two coats of varnish. The difference is amazing and makes the other floors about the barn look a little tired. Next up is the floor in the Naughty Corner.

Then there is the fettier (or roof ridge). The roof covering is old slate and the ridge is sheet zinc. This however is in 6 bits because at the time we were told you could not get a single length 12 m long. This may now be possible (but I doubt it). A consequence is that there are 5 joints where the sheets of zinc overlap. Add to that the 6 nail holes per sheet which secure it to the roof and you have quite a lot of potential for leaks. Over the years, when there is a leak in the roof, I get up there with some tools and a mastic gun and try my best to plug any possible leak spot. Now there is a product called “Zinc Fix”. It looks like mastic, comes in a mastic tube and is called “Zinc Fix” not mastic. It may be mastic, but renaming it adds some value in terms of Euros. To stand the best chance of the new stuff working I felt it would be good to clear away all the old mastic (probably 4 generations) so that I could apply it to zinc rather than old mastic. After all, they did’nt rename it “Old Mastic Fix”. This process, including applying the new stuff took half a day and gave me a blister on my index finger.

Neither of the above were photo worthy so ther are none.

What is photo worthy is the planter made from the old trunk of the pine tree we used to shower under and Doris the Deer. The planter is home to a couple of Dianthus grown from seed donated by my Mother. An Doris is made from bits of flotsam wood collected from the side of the river. It was named Doris so as not to cause offense to anyone we know (we don’t know anyone called Doris).

Categories: Summer 2020, The Project

Celebration and social

Last week it was Rene’s Birthday down at the Auberge in the village.  Breezy made a cake, well actually two Mars Bar cakes, one in the shape of a 5, and the other in the shape of a 0.  That is two cakes each with 2 Mars Bars in, recipe is here.

We joined Rene and Anouk at the bar and celebrated at lunch time with a few friends.  Apparently the Dutch tradition for a 50th Birthday is to get a blow up doll and tape the person’s face to it.  Strange but true!

Then we had an invite to join other friends at a “pop up restaurant” on a Col on Friday night.  Not having been social during the COVID thing, and not getting invited to things generally we accepted.  It was a beautiful evening on Col de la Port with tables all set out.  Many were in a similar position as it was the first social thing they had attended all summer.  Great people and food and a proper night out.  Thanks to Justin and Emily for the enterprise.  There was some entertainment which the French always refer to as a Spectacular, in this case it was a couple of very random clowns

Categories: Summer 2020, The Project

Spanish lakes, ridges and heat

The forecast was for 34 degrees and we woke to rain on the skylights. After a swift breakfast we set off from the barn towards Mont Rouch with big packs. Passed the cabane Clos de Dessus and up to the frontier at 2677m, to the east of Mont Rouch where we gained the trail down into Spain and the Refugi Mont Roig. From there we climbed the ladder of lakes to find a camp spot at Etang de Sens where we stripped off for a quick dip to cool down and a cup of tea. My parents may even recognise the mugs as they were bought for our VW camper when I was a teenager. After a couple of hands of cards and a supper of spicy chorizzo and lentils with couscous we retired to the tent for the night.

Up with the alarm to a completely dry tent and an ascent in the shade up to the col between Etang Major and Etang d’Amunt del Vedo where we gained the ridge up to Pic de Ventolau. Clear skies and amazing views and hot. Taking the ridge west we took in Pic de Calberante and Pic de la Gallina before the Spanish Mont Roig and the French Mont Rouch where we found a tuna tacco shop (picnic) and a Spanish lass with a road atlas doing the HRP. She was very keen to get assistance to identify different peaks on the horizon. Then came the monster descent of 1800m back to the barn in sweltering heat.

The solar shower bag needed a significant amount of cold water adding before it was tolerable. Then the clouds descended and the drizzle started. Fortunately Breezy made an Aubergine Curry before we left so a quick supper, a film and bed; pleasantly fatigued.

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Tree Fellers

Most of our time recently has been dropping trees along the terraces beside the meadow. Partly to tidy up the bent and broken wood at the edge of the forest and partly to preserve the pasture. Anything hard wood worth seasoning as firewood is stacked and the rest is burnt. A long standing debate has been over the fir tree outside the outbuilding. It has been diseased for years but had purpose as we used to shower beneath it. Now we have a new barrel shower on the terrace it’s purposeless and still diseased. Decision was made to take it down and burn it, though a section of trunk is now waiting to become a planter.

Categories: Summer 2020, The Project


Yesterday evening a storm came through.  Thunder lightening and hail.  Not just a little bit of hail but for an hour it chucked hail down the size of broad beans (not the same colour but it gives you an idea of the size).  The broad beans in the garden faired pretty well considering.  The courgette plants look like someone has fired a sawn-off shotgun at them.  There is more leaf debris on the ground than on the plants and what is left on the plants has been shredded.  The lettuce has been liquidised.  and the rhubarb has curled up and retreated into the ground leaving remnants of greenery above the soil.

Today we went shopping and had to buy salad which is the first time in weeks.

Categories: Summer 2020, The Project


Having been monitoring the weather forecast for a couple of options for a cheeky getaway a window opened up to go to Andorra. Toys in the van and off we set for 4 nights camping in Canillo. Breezy found a lovely small campsite in the town centre within easy reach of supplies and restaurants.

On route we stopped in Ax-les-Thermes for a spot of climbing. Once we found the crag we could make no sense of the guidebook. We climbed, had our fill, and passed the actual crag on the way out. Next time we will know where to go.

First day in Canillo we tackled the Roc del Quer directisimo via ferrata. A short walk from the campsite to the start by the main road then an hour and twenty up to the viewing platform at the top. Nice mix of metal rungs and rock holds and some fairly steep sections. In the afternoon, climbing at Cascade D’Urina, a couple of km outside the town. This little crag with a waterfall tumbling in the middle did actually resemble the guide book.

Day two – Vall D’Incles – hitched up the road to the car park with an Andorran Mountain Guide who was super helpful on routes. Very pretty trail up to Refuge Juclar and up to Collada Juclar and into France. A traverse over to Etangs de Fontargenta, pop back over the border at Port de Fontargenta and back through irises to the car park where we got the solar powered bus back to the van.

Saturday – Via Ferrata Pic de Bony – Drove to Grau Roig and took a custom ascent route to get to the base of the via ferrata. Once again we had the place to ourselves, and again a good mix of metal and rock. An hour up for a picnic at the top then descent walk back to the van.

Sunday – Pic de Montmalus, Cretes des Pessons to Portella dels Pessons and return via the lakes. Beautiful route up to the Col on the ridge. Pretty near the top we could hear the screeching of brakes and saw what looked like three mountain bikers descending the very rocky trail towards us. When they got closer we realised they were actually on Enduro motorbikes. Good skills! The ridge was lovely with a steep climb up to Pic de Ribuls. Our chosen descent back down to the lakes was a scree and boulder filled gully and then a field of huge boulders with little marking a not very well used trail. Got back to the van by 3.15pm to start the drive back to the barn.
Fantastic few days away with little time to read a book but a complete recharge of the batteries. Brilliant!

Categories: Summer 2020, The Project, Travels Tags: Tags:

Flora Fauna Guests and other News

So, I have learnt to value flowers over the last couple of years. I can’t say that I have learnt the value of flowers as there is so much to learn. Most of our colour appears on plants that have either been given to us, been snaffled from other peoples gardens or we have grown from seed. There are a few exceptions which have been purchased like a couple of Agapanthus and Dianthus for example. Initially our plants came from Clive, our builder friend who was a great gardener and trained as a nurseryman (Day Lillys, Hollyhocks and Phlox). Breezy’s Father gave us all our roses which now flourish each summer. I won’t elaborate on the items snaffled but most were with the owners permission. From Ken’s in Derbyshire we gleaned a couple of Crocosmia Lucifer corms which we are hoping to see flower this year. From Keith in Chamonix cuttings of Forsythia, Dogwood, Bamboo and Willow. These are still tiny but with leaves and buds. Seed has either come from my Parents in Berkshire, been bought, or gathered from the wild or others gardens. Growing from seed definitely gives one huge respect for Nursery folk who may be bringing plants on for years before they look good enough to sell to people who want instant colour.
Then there is all the learning about what flowers when, what height and breadth each plant will attain so that you can get all year round colour and shape in an area. We have not even got to that stage as anything in our garden is plonked until it is moved. It’s fun to learn, just takes a long time and patience.
Yesterday we saw our second family of Great Tits fly the nest from the bird boxes. Each fledgling pokes it’s head out, tentatively. Then there is a couple of wobbles before they takes flight, beating their wings furiously and using far too much energy to stay in the air. I think I would do the same with just an initial briefing from the parents then venturing out of a small dark room into the wide world for the first time. Very soon they start to dip and dive in the air almost playing as their proficiency increases.
Other guests fall into one of two categories, welcome and unwelcome. Deer are welcome as long as they don’t eat from the veg and fruit garden. Though it must be like stumbling across a tuck shop with the door wide open and nobody in attendance. Unwelcome include voles, of which we seem to have an abundance. They burrow everywhere trashing the lawn (which not long ago was a field) and eat the roots of the plants. Having read that they hate daffodils, these have been planted at strategic points to deter them. They also don’t like coffee so we are scattering all the coffee grinds from the local Auberge around the garden. We have also invested in a solar sonar thing which buzzes every few seconds during the day. Then there is Chilli, Alison and Peters dog, which eats at least two each visit by digging up the garden. Chilli, though destructive, is in the welcome category.
Otherwise we have been using up some of our stash of bits of wood salvaged from different places to be more creative. Recycling materials into art of functional items. Food is also a keen interest for us both and so we have been trying out new recipes at least 4 times a week. Somehow this season we have got 5 courgette plants in the garden so I think we may be supplying the Auberge as well as ourselves.

Categories: Summer 2020, The Project