Rivel workaway – 12th to 24th January

Tuesday 12th January

Today it’s pretty much all painting for me.  More coats of paint on the shutters and then primer on the shutters Daz and Martin have prepared over the last couple of days. Meanwhile Daz continues work bringing down the level where the swimming pool used to stand.  Poor sod – he’s definitely got the harder job; 5 hours of digging!

P1050711 P1050713 P1050712 P1050716 P1050715 P1050714


Wednesday 13th January

A fabulous day off today, we all go to Ax les Thermes skiing and we have a great day.   It’s definitely a smaller resort than La Mongie but there’s fresh snow and the pistes are in good condition – so we have a blast.

P1050718 P1050717 P1050720 P1050719 P1050723 P1050722 P1050721 P1050726 P1050725 P1050724 P1050728 P1050727 P1050731 P1050730 P1050729 P1050733 P1050732 P1050734  

 We enjoy a picnic lunch perched on some rocks looking out over the beautiful scenery.  Then more skiing.  Daz has a mega wipe out, loses both his skis and a pole and slides a considerable distance down the piste but thank God he’s not hurt; just his pride is dented!


Thursday 14th January

Well another change in the weather, yesterday was blue skies and warm sun, today clouds and drizzle, but at least we are both working indoors today.  But first off I am off for a pilates session with Maggie in the next village.  I also drop off one of our panniers to a seamstress friend of Maggie’s as one of the sidestraps came off last time Daz was packing.  I’ve never done pilates before… bit of a shock to the system, made slightly harder as the teacher didn’t bother with any English instructions!  But enjoyable none the less, shame we are only here for 2 weeks.  Whilst I was away Daz has been busy up in the rafters of the house we are helping renovate.  There’s a load of timber logs being used as ceiling in the attic and they need to come down.  They are covered with about 50 years of dirt, corn husks that rats have left behind, broken roof tiles and it’s at least 3 inches deep in places!!

P1050738 P1050737 P1050736 P1050740 P1050739 P1050742   

 So first Daz has to use a crow bar from above to lift them from where they are sitting and turn them over to deposit the detritus onto the floor below, he then drags them to a balance point and lowers one end to the floor.  They can then be moved  and stored for future use. All this whilst he is sat up in the rafters beneath the roof in the dark, cobwebbed, dirty, confined space… by the time he’s finished he looks like he’s been in a sand storm for 24 hours, and can only taste dust!!  

I get on with painting the shutters again, yes, I know, getting monotonous.  And Daz uses chainsaw, hammer and chisel to remove a rotten piece of wood from a foot thick beam that is “holding up” the roof!! This is so he can put a new piece of wood in to strengthen the beam,  it will be bolted and strapped to the old beam and hopefully will hold the roof up for another 100 years… fingers crossed!!

In the evening there are visitors for dinner, Barbara and Alan, who have retired out here as well. Alan was in the army and Barbara was a piano teacher.   Barbara’s American but moved to England after meeting Alan.  They have been together 40 years and have lived here for 3 and are doing up their house.  Dinner is lovely, spicy cauliflower soup, teriyaki trout with sticky rice, cheese board and then apple crumble.

Alan Rickman died of cancer today age 69.  Only days after David Bowie (10th Jan) died – same age, same illness.


Friday 15th January

Not much today, just filling 20 sacks with the rubble and detritis from the top floor, lugging them down the 3 flights of stairs then 2 runs to the dump to empty them.  All in all we think the total weight was about ¾ of a tonne!! We also chopped some of the 18 foot beams into 2 to make them more manageable.  

P1050742 P1050741 P1050745 P1050744 P1050743 P1050747 P1050746 P1050751 P1050750 P1050749 P1050753 P1050799 P1050755 P1050754 P1050758 P1050757 P1050756 P1050760 P1050759 P1050763 P1050762 P1050761 P1050764 P1050765 P1050769 P1050770  

 Martin is going to use them when he builds the outside terrace on the third floor by taking one of the walls down.   Then another coat of paint on the shutters and we’re done for the day.  Tonight it’s a trip to Lavelanet to the cinema to see Starwars.  Daz is very excited – he loves a cinema outing.  Post film reviews: seems an echo of the first one that then became a 4th one.  And this one was the 7th one, of a probable 10 or more. It will run on like Rocky!


Saturday 16th January

The temperature is really dropping here in southern France and it’s a struggle to force ourselves to the cold house to get on with our work.  I’m priming more shutters, whilst poor Daz has to scrape down the window frames so he’s much colder.

P1050772 P1050771 P1050774 P1050773 P1050779 P1050800  

 After lunch, after 2 trial runs playing a card game called Tarot (I think we were starting to get the hang of it), we go out to clear the barn loft.  It’s eventually going to be Martin’s model railway room – personally I think he’s being cheated; evicted from the house to the barn!  After work we introduce M&M to ‘Nominations’, they’re both very taken by it.


Sunday 17th January

A day off today and a quiet one for us.  We borrow the bikes and cycle into Chalambre, stopping to find a couple of geocaches.  Unfortunately the 2nd one we look for hasn’t been found in over 9months.  

P1050781 P1050780 P1050784 P1050783 P1050782 P1050786 P1050785 P1050788 P1050787 P1050790 P1050791 P1050795 P1050794 P1050793 P1050797 P1050796 P1050798  

We cycle around the village and pop into the bar for a couple of beers.  Then we head home and drop in on Barbara and Alan so we can have a nose around their house.  They’ve got a lot to do but there’s so much potential.  Fantastic news:  Mandy and Alex are thinking of coming out to visit us. They need to come out before her 20th week of pregnancy (she told us on Boxing Day that she’s pregnant).  Vik and Gav might come out too.


Monday 18th January

The temperature has really dropped here and Daz and I seem perpetually cold.  I start the day with some painting.  The shutters I primed the other day need their first coat of green.  Once they’re done I paint the hinges black.  Meanwhile Daz is busy erecting the scaffolding so that he can prepare the window frames for painting; scraping and sanding.  I think he also hangs a pair of shutters I’ve painted.  

P1050801 P1050803 P1050802 P1050806 P1050805 P1050804 P1050809 P1050808 P1050810 P1050812


After lunch I prime another shutter that Martin has sanded and repaired and Daz finishes priming his window frames.  Then it’s demolition time – whoppee!  We knock down a wall in the kitchen and then clear up our mess.

P1050814 P1050816 P1050815 P1050818 P1050819 P1050820

And today Daz shaves off his beard.  Clean shaven at last – hurrah!!!

P1050828 Gorgeous!!

Tuesday 19th January

More demolition today.  This time the plaster and lathe false ceiling in the kitchen needs to come down.  We thought if we removed a few key supports the ceiling would collapse but no such luck.  Instead we spend ages chipping the plaster off the wooden lathes.  This is really hard as we are using hammers and chisels above our heads and after a couple of hours the stress position is starting to hurt!

P1050829 P1050823 P1050831 P1050830 P1050834 P1050833 P1050832 P1050836 P1050835 P1050839 P1050838 P1050842 P1050841 P1050840 P1050844 P1050845 P1050847 P1050852 P1050851 P1050850 P1050854 P1050857 P1050856 P1050859 P1050858

Then Daz attacks the lathes with an axe and runs straight down the middle and down the right hand side.  Now we can pull that half of the ceiling down.  There is so much dust coming down it is awful, our noses and mouths are full of it!!  We separate the rest of the lathes from the beams then after lunch attack the other half of the ceiling. By 4 o’clock the whole ceiling is down and all the wooden lathes have been separated from the plaster/rubble.


Tomorrow we can begin clearing up!!  We do make a remarkable discovery once the ceiling is down… there has been a fire at some in the past which burned through the huge foot wide support beam that runs from wall to wall. And several joists have a couple of foot missing where the fire has burnt through them.  Someone has bodged a few half bits of wood in the joists to make a ‘repair’ and it’s a wonder the whole central wall and upstairs haven’t collapsed!!  Martin will need to do a proper repair before replastering!


Wednesday 20th January

Not much change today, rubble clearance and painting of shutters and window frames.  

P1050862 P1050861 P1050860 P1050864 P1050863 P1050867 P1050866 P1050865 P1050871 P1050870 P1050874 P1050873 P1050876 P1050875  

After work we cycle the tandem out in the late afternoon sunshine to Chalabre, have a quick beer and then back.  But it’s a lovely ride and we are both starting to get the itch to cycle.  Next Monday we will be cycling onwards to Spain and fortunately the long range weather forecast is looking favourable for early next week.  I’ve sent approximately 63 emails on warmshowers and couchsurfing only to be accepted in 6 (actually 7 yeses but one from father and son in same house in same  village) locations; the failure rate is still very high for us on these sites.


Thursday 21st January

Today is another skiing day – fabulous.  We go to Martin’s closest resort Monts d’Olme.  The weather is beautiful so a perfect day for skiing.  Daz hires big feet and really enjoys their dynamism.  However, the boots I’ve hired suck.  I really struggle with hire boots because I have high arches and before this trip away I hadn’t used hire boots for over 10 years. So we return to the shop and change boots but they’re not really a good fit.  The resort only has one chair lift and all the others are button lifts and at the start the jerk is so huge we nearly take off.

P1050879 P1050880 P1050884 P1050882  

 There’s some novice boarders having a real tough time with these lifts and falling off repeatedly.  Still this will be our last skiing excursion until next season so it’s great to be out on the slopes.  On the way back Martin takes us past Montsegur, a huge rock outcrop over a small village with a castle on top, very impressive.  We are glad we didn’t have to cycle up here to see it as the road is very hilly and then there is a further 20 minute hike to the top, a picture from the roadside will have to suffice!!

P1050891  P1050890 P1050885 P1050892 P1050889

  Friday 22nd January

A spot more painting for me and Daz paints more window frames.  Then he moves the wooden beams/logs from the top floor of the house to the wood store in the barn.  Then Daz and Martin mix some cement to fill the window recess.  

P1050897 P1050895 P1050899 P1050900

But all this is dull compared to the great treat from Maggie.  Maggie has been collecting kimono for many years and absolutely adores all things Japanese.  She has made 4 extended trips to Japan including a trip to learn how to dress in kimono.  And this afternoon she’s dressing me.  She’s picked a 1940s kimono with a geometric pattern and has also selected accessories I might like.  

DSC_0003  DSC_0001

What a fabulous experience.  There are so many elements to being properly dressed.  First the tabi (little white ankle socks with a separate large toe);

P1050907 P1050906  

Then the  undergarment ,

P1050911 P1050910 P1050914 P1050912 P1050916 P1050915 

There’s a collar stiffener inserted into the collar to keep the erect and then some special tying to ensure the nape of the neck is showing.

Then kimono but also the obi sash; effectively a wide belt worn under the bust .  

P1050918 P1050917 P1050921 P1050923 P1050922 P1050925 P1050924 P1050927 P1050926  

P1050931 P1050930 P1050929 P1050933 P1050932 P1050935 P1050934 P1050938 P1050937 P1050936 P1050940 P1050942 P1050941 P1050945

The focus is to view the nape of the neck; it’s considered the sexiest part of a woman’s body by Japanese men.  Once I’m dressed we (Maggie, Daz and I) go outside into the garden and then take a little turn around Rivel whilst I practice the walk; tiny steps with the feet turned in.  What a fabulous dress-up session.  Absolutely loved it!

received_10153841501957889 received_10153841501997889

received_10153841501847889  received_10153841501502889  received_10153841501597889


received_10153841501022889  received_10153841500922889



The kimono(きもの) (着物?) is a Japanese traditional garment. The word “kimono”, which actually means a “thing to wear” (ki “wear” and mono “thing”), has come to denote these full-length dress. The standard plural of the word kimono in English is kimonos, but the unmarked Japanese plural kimono is also sometimes used. Kimono is always used in important festival or formal moments, it is the representative of polite and a very formal clothing.

Kimono are T-shaped, straight-lined robes worn so that the hem falls to the ankle, with attached collars and long, wide sleeves. Kimono are wrapped around the body, always with the left side over the right (except when dressing the dead for burial) and secured by a sash called an obi, which is tied at the back. Kimono are generally worn with traditional footwear (especially zōri or geta) and split-toe socks (tabi).

Today, kimono are most often worn by women, and on special occasions. Traditionally, unmarried women wore a style of kimono called furisode, with almost floor-length sleeves, on special occasions. A few older women and even fewer men still wear the kimono on a daily basis. Men wear the kimono most often at weddings, tea ceremonies, and other very special or very formal occasions. Professional sumo wrestlers are often seen in the kimono because they are required to wear traditional Japanese dress whenever appearing in public.


The formal kimono was replaced by the more convenient Western clothes and yukata as everyday wear. After an edict by Emperor Meiji, police, railroad men and teachers moved to Western clothes. The Western clothes became the army and school uniform for boys. After the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake, kimono wearers often became victims of robbery because they could not run very fast due to the restricting nature of the kimono on the body and geta clogs. The Tokyo Women’s & Children’s Wear Manufacturers’ Association (東京婦人子供服組合) promoted Western clothes. Between 1920 and 1930 the sailor outfit replaced the undivided hakama in school uniforms for girls. The 1932 fire at Shirokiya’s Nihonbashi store is said to have been the catalyst for the decline in kimonos as everyday wear. Kimono-clad Japanese women did not wear panties and several women refused to jump into safety nets because they were ashamed of being seen from below. (It is, however, suggested, that this is an urban myth.) The national uniform, Kokumin-fuku, a type of Western clothes, was mandated for males in 1940.  Today most people wear Western clothes and wear the breezier and more comfortable yukata for special occasions.


Many modern Japanese women lack the skill to put on a kimono unaided: the typical woman’s kimono outfit consists of twelve or more separate pieces that are worn, matched, and secured in prescribed ways, and the assistance of licensed professional kimono dressers may be required. Called upon mostly for special occasions, kimono dressers both work out of hair salons and make house calls.

Choosing an appropriate type of kimono requires knowledge of the garment’s symbolism and subtle social messages, reflecting the woman’s age, marital status, and the level of formality of the occasion.

  Saturday 23rd January

Our last working day in Rivel.  

P1050947  P1050946

A final bit of painting for me whilst Daz helps Martin put his newly purchased fibre board into the barn attic.  Then they work on getting some fire wood ready.   Then our last job is to dismantle the framework against the barn and then clear all the brambles and other undergrowth.

P1050951  P1050948 P1050950 P1050949 P1050952 P1050955 P1050954 P1050953 P1050957 P1050956 

Work done.  Tonight we’re going out to see a band in the brewery in Puivert.

Before going to the pub music night we dropped in on Owen and his wife, this was the guy we had previously met in Puivert when out for a cycle and got chatting.  He had mentioned he had some French and Spanish language lessons he would copy for us, so we could continue our lessons on the road.  Thanks Owen, and good luck with the house hunt!!  The brewery is packed full by the time we arrive and there’s a young chap playing the accordion at the front.  The appreciative crowd is a mix of old and young, French and English.  We struggle to the bar to order drinks and Paul who we had met before welcomed us.  We mentioned we were leaving on Monday and he told us to pop in on the way through. We stood,  there being no free seats in the bar, and listened to the music, after the accordion player there was an old man singing what sounded like French folk music and playing the guitar with the young lad on another guitar backing him up, then after another guy with a harmonica and guitar.  All very low key and great fun, and the micro brew was excellent too!

P1050960 P1050959 P1050958 P1050962 P1050961 P1050965 P1050964 P1050967 P1050966 P1050969

Sunday 24th January

Our last day in Rivel.  No work today, but a trip out with Maggie and Martin to Limoux.  This busy little market town holds a festival each year… The Carnival of Limoux takes place for three months on the weekends between January and Mardi Gras and is conducted in Occitan, the area’s traditional language. The festival is famous for its alternation of bands and pierrots. And as soon as we arrive in the centre we can hear a band kicking off and as we turn the corner we see a parade of women dressed in gaily coloured clothes and masks marching before the band.  There is confetti everywhere, a modern twist on the old custom of throwing sugared almonds and flour… According to a tradition that dates to the 14th century, millers were released at Mardi Gras from their dues to the Dominican priory at Prouille and celebrated by walking through the streets scattering sugared almonds and flour, accompanied by minstrels. The carnival has been celebrated in Limoux since 1604. We walk around the town, down to the bridge over the Aude and then have coffee in a distinctly Spanish style bar/cafe.  Later we get treated to a meal in a very nice restaurant by Maggie and Martin.  The food is excellent and French, what a fab end to our stay here.  

P1050972 P1050971 P1050975 P1050974 P1050973 P1050976 P1050980 P1050979 P1050978 P1050981 P1050985 P1050983
Tomorrow will see us leaving Rivel, and heading towards Spain. We will be cycling down the Mediterranean coast to Gibraltar and then Portugal.  

 France has been fab, and we will definitely be back some time.


Toulouse and Rivel workaway – 1st to 11th Jan

Friday 1st January

Today we head into town for geocaching and sightseeing.  Unfortunately we struggle to find quite a few of the caches and blame our failure on the French to English translation – clearly someone/thing has to take the blame.   

P1050354 P1050356 P1050355 P1050359 P1050358 P1050357 P1050361 P1050360  

Even looking in the Japanese garden next to Zen doesn’t bring us any luck.

P1050363 P1050362 P1050365 P1050364 P1050367 P1050366 P1050369 P1050368   

Failed to find 4 out 7  but at least it takes us to parts of the city we would otherwise have not visited.  

P1050372 P1050371 P1050370 P1050375 P1050374 P1050373 P1050377 P1050376 P1050379 P1050378 P1050382 P1050381 P1050384 P1050383 P1050386 P1050385 P1050389 P1050388 P1050387 P1050391 P1050390 P1050394 P1050393 P1050392 P1050397 P1050398 P1050395 P1050401 P1050399  

Back home we eat the famous ‘king’s cake’, it contains a favour and whoever finds it is King.  And it’s me – so I get to wear the crown.

20160111091502 20160111091515  

Last night Kate and Brett told us of their engagement – this is such fantastic news.  They first met on an Exodus holiday in Morocco when Brett joined us for our Xmas/New Year getaway in 2013.  2 years later – an ENGAGEMENT! Note to self:  ‘Must buy hat’!  We learn that the reason the French had such a subdued New Year is that they are still in a State of emergency after the Paris attacks and all planned festivities were cancelled.

Saturday 2nd January

Today we visit Carcassonne (we have a car from Drivy car –  not a hire company but people lending their cars at very low prices)  which has an amazing castle – backdrop of Game of Thrones. The city is famous for the Cité de Carcassonne, a medieval fortress restored by the theorist and architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc in 1853 and added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1997. Consequently, Carcassonne greatly profits from tourism but also counts manufacture and wine-making as some of its other key economic sectors.

P1050404 P1050403 P1050402 P1050406 P1050405 P1050408 P1050407 P1050410 P1050409 P1050413 P1050412 P1050411 P1050415 P1050414 P1050418 P1050417 P1050416 P1050420 P1050419 P1050422 P1050421 P1050424 P1050423 P1050427 P1050426 P1050425 P1050429 P1050428 P1050432 P1050431 P1050430 P1050434 P1050433

The fortress is a complete surprise.  We only noticed it when geocaching along the river despite the fact it dominates the horizon.  And inside it’s like a month mini city with shops, cafes and restaurants with spectacular views over the surrounding area.

P1050437 P1050436 P1050435 P1050439 P1050438 P1050441 P1050440 P1050444 P1050443 P1050442 P1050446 P1050445 P1050448 P1050447 P1050451 P1050450 P1050449 P1050453 P1050452 P1050455 P1050454 P1050457 P1050456 P1050460 P1050459 P1050458 P1050463 P1050462 P1050461 P1050466 P1050465  P1050464 P1050468 P1050467 P1050470 P1050506 P1050473 P1050472 P1050471 P1050475 P1050474 P1050478 P1050477 P1050476  

We also do some Geocaching with much greater success than yesterday.  Today is the anniversary of the start of our travels.  A year ago we flew to Finland for our workaway in the Arctic circle.


Sunday 3rd January

We stay in Toulouse today and visit the Victor Hugo market – a large indoor market selling all kinds of local produce which has several bars selling wine and tapas which we enjoy.  

P1050480 P1050479 P1050482 P1050481 P1050485  

Kate gets chatting to an old Spaniard man at the bar and shows us another of her languages, clever girl! We are so jealous.  Her French and Spanish is fluent and effortless.  Later we retire to the capitol square and enjoy more wine and cards!


Monday 4th January

Today we visit Albi and Cordes sur ciel.

Albi is located on the River Tarn, 85 km northeast of Toulouse. Its inhabitants are called Albigensians.  It was the seat of the Archbishop of Albi and is the seat of the Diocese of Albi. The episcopal city, situated in the center of the actual city, around the cathedral, was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 2010. The town is beautiful dominated by the cathedral.  We visit the Toulouse Lautrec exhibition but it’s far to say Daz is less than impressed. In fact he thinks Henri’s art is ‘shit’.  Daz is a bit of an art critic!  


P1050484 P1050483 P1050488 P1050487 P1050486 P1050491 P1050490 P1050489 P1050493 P1050492 P1050495 P1050494 P1050497 P1050498 P1050500 P1050499 P1050503 P1050502 P1050501 P1050505 P1050504 P1050509 P1050508 P1050507 P1050511  

We also do a geocaching trail of 10 along a stream – very scenic.

P1050510 P1050514 P1050513 P1050512 P1050516 P1050515 P1050518 P1050517 P1050520 P1050519 P1050523 P1050522 P1050521 P1050526 P1050524

The Gothic Cathédrale Ste-Cécile of Albi, built in the 13th century in the heart of Cathar country, is the largest brick building in the world. Perched high on a hill above the River Tarn, it looks more like a fortress than a cathedral – and that’s no accident.  The Cathedral of St. Cecilia in Albi was built as a defensive fortress and statement of strength after the Albigensian Crusade (1209-1229), a holy war waged by the Catholic Church against the heretical Cathars and the count of Toulouse.

P1050528 P1050527 P1050531 P1050530 P1050529 P1050533 P1050532 P1050536 P1050535 P1050534


Although the architectural style of Albi Cathedral is Gothic, it has none of the delicate stonework or wall of glass that characterize the style in northern France. Instead it is made of solid brick (a material both cheaper and faster to use than stone) with modest lancet windows. It features solid rounded buttresses, which were probably inspired by existing fortifications around the Bishop’s Palace (late 1200s and still standing).

The cathedral’s great mass culminates at the west end in a great tiered belfry (1355-66), rising 78 meters into the sky. The tower is roughly square with rounded buttresses at the corner; each tier supported by a rounded quarter-arch and decorated with a quatrefoil railing. At the top is a newer octagonal portion (1485-92). The tower is nearly as wide as the nave, which has no side aisles. Viewed from the west, the cathedral looks a bit like a great pink rocketship.

Along the roofline on all sides of the cathedral are white stone gargoyles, which were added during 19th-century restorations. The elaborate south porch was added by Bishop Dominique de Florence (1394-1410), incorporating an earlier round tower, while the ornate, Flamboyant Gothic baldaquin over the south door dates from the 16th century.

Based on its sober, fortress-like exterior, one would expect the interior of Ste-Cecile to to be austere, plain, and practical. But the cathedral is literally covered in religious art on the inside. The walls, vault and side chapels are richly painted, the choir is enclosed inside an ornate screen, and sculptures stand on many of the pillars. The structure itself, however, is simple – a unified space with no side aisles.

The most interesting of all this decoration is the huge (16.4m x 15.6m) mural of The Last Judgment that covers both sides of the rounded west wall of the nave. Painted between 1474 and 1484 by unknown Franco-Flemish artists, it is considered one of the most important works of art of the Late Middle Ages. The painters of the Last Judgment were contemporaries of Hieronymus Bosch and some of the horrifying scenes of Hell are reminiscent of his work.

The scene is divided both vertically and horizontally: the Blessed are on the left and the Damned are on the right; Heaven is shown along the top, with the Resurrection of the Dead below, and Hell at the bottom. Interestingly, it lacks a Christ in Majesty, an element common to virtually all other medieval depictions of the theme. The vision of the underworld stars a variety of monstrous demons and suffering humans, organized around the theme of the Seven Deadly Sins. Labeled in Old French, they depict (from left to right): Pride, Envy, Wrath, Greed, Gluttony and Lust. Sloth is missing – maybe the painter didn’t get around to it!


Cordes sur ciel

The fortified town was built in 1222 by Raimon VII, the Count of Toulouse, who, though not a Cathar, tolerated what other Catholics considered a heresy.

Since the late 20th century, the village has become a popular tourist destination. Until 1993, the town’s name was Cordes, a word thought to come from the Indo-European root “corte” meaning “rocky heights.” That year, it was renamed Cordes-sur-Ciel, to indicate its height above the clouds over low-lying areas of the valley.

P1050537  P1050541 P1050540 P1050543 P1050542 P1050546 P1050545 P1050544 P1050548 P1050547 P1050550 P1050549 P1050553 P1050552 P1050551 P1050555 P1050554

Back at the ranch Daz makes a delicious spicy Zanzibar fish soup, yum.  Bad news – Daz has another speeding fine!

Tuesday 5th January

A quiet day today.  B&K go for run.  Then we have a spending spree in Decathlon, a French sports retailer.  Me ‘n’ Daz for new socks and Brett for anything that takes his fancy!  We also visit the Royal gardens and do a couple of geocaches.  

P1050557 P1050559 P1050558 P1050561 P1050560   

In the evening we had hoped to have dinner at the Winter Gardens, a  restaurant recommended by Bernadette. Unfortunately it was closed so we end up at Le Bistro instead and taste some classic French dishes.   


Wednesday 6th January – leaving Toulouse – Pamiers

Distance 24.97 (should have been 70km!)

Avg 16.5 kmph

Max 45.2 kmph

Total 1137.1 km


I can say in hindsight ‘what a crap day’.  We got up in, what has become, typical cycling day routine.  Get up, pack bags, load bike, eat breakfast and go.  Unfortunately just being outside to load the bike was enough for us to realise the weather might be against us.  Initially it was just the wind and cold but by the time we’d eaten breakfast, there was heavy rainfall to add to the mix.  So we thought a delayed start was in order. So we played cards for an hour and left at 10am, thinking that the skies were brighter and that the rain had stopped.  Kate and Brett had planned to escort us out of Toulouse on city bikes but wisely Kate demurred – best decision of the day methinks!

So off we went with Brett as our escort and the rain soon started again.  By the time we stopped at the last bike bank we were all pretty wet.

P1050564 P1050563 P1050562 P1050566 P1050565 P1050569 P1050568 P1050567 P1050571  

 Brett took out a new bike giving him a further 30 minutes free biking.  And off we went again but the weather was foul; wet and windy.  Brett bade us farewell – Bless him he’d been cycling 45 minutes and still had the return journey.  I can’t believe he cycled as far as he did in such dreadful conditions and there was nothing of any interest en route to recommend it.  We continued on our way but the true awfulness of our position only became apparent at Pins-Justaret!  Our route was taking us onto a dual carriageway where the cycling would be grim and probably terrifying and possibly prohibited.  We were soaked, cold and still had 60km to go.  However the town had a train station.  So after some discussion,which left us even colder,  we headed for the station.

P1050570 P1050574 P1050573 P1050572 P1050575  

 Excellent there was a train to Pamiers, our destination, only an hour and a quarter to wait.  So we headed for the village and found a restaurant.  On route, we failed in our start up process at a junction, and fell over with bike on top, still clipped in!  First time on this trip, lets hope we don’t get many more! We’re pretty sure the restaurant was closed but took pity on 2 miserable looking,wet cyclists.  At the appropriate time we headed back to the station.  To date, we’d had 2 successful train trips.  The train arrived and we pushed the fully laden tandem to the closest bike compartment, but there were loads of people sitting in the entrance area.  So we ran to the other cycle compartment at the front of the train (it was a short train).  We got to the compartment and the doors wouldn’t open.  At this point I was preparing to give up.  I’d seen that each entrance way had people in the way, and that to fit the bike into this small area would be problematic.  Daz had other ideas.  He wanted us to go to the last set of open doors and he steered the bike straight in, at full speed.  I was stuck at the back; worried about the bags and the gap between the platform and train and about the doors closing mid entry.  I think my cleat skidded and next thing my foot had had slipped down between the train and the platform.  My shin had smacked against the step , the bike fell on top of me and the seat bag flew off.  Luckily several people rushed to assist.  The bike was picked up and pushed in, the seat bag rescued from its position between the train and the platform, and I limped aboard.  I had smacked both my shin and hip during the fall, and gouged a chunk from my shin.  So a very painful incident.  

P1050576  P1050577  

Our tandem was now blocking the passageway and since the only working toilet was in the last compartment, people wishing to use it had to step over our bike boom; this included the ticket inspector who we were convinced would throw us off his train.  But fortunately he didn’t and we arrived in Pamiers.  We had considered making another push to Mirepoix, a beautiful town and only 20km away but we were too cold and wet and miserable to go for it.  We headed for our stop, the Premiere Classe, which was in no way premiere. The reviews were dreadful, but the receptionist gave us the ‘handicapped room’, the biggest room available, and told us to take the bike into the room.  As the reviews stated, it’s like a dingy, motel room you see on American movies, but at least we get to share our room with our tandem. A first, how bizarre

P1050579   P1050578

Thursday 7 January 2016 Pamiers to Rivel

Distance 49.37km

Avg 16.2kmph

Max 58 kmph

Total 1186.47km


A very civilised start time this morning of 10.22.  Neither of us seemed keen to get up and actually after yesterday I was positively dreading the experience.  But fortunately a change in the weather led to a pleasant ride to Mirepoix.  A beautiful town.  

P1050580 P1050581 P1050585 P1050584 P1050583 P1050588 P1050587 P1050586 P1050590 P1050589 P1050593


At the heart of Mirepoix is one of the finest surviving arcaded market squares – Les Couverts- in France. The square is bordered by houses dating from the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries.  It is home to the famous Maison des Consuls which is decorated with around 100 carved wooden heads of animals and monsters.   There is also the cathedral of St-Maurice which has the second widest Gothic arch in Europe (after Gerona in Spain). The foundation stone was laid by Jean de Lévis on the 6th May 1298. Construction continued, with interruptions, over the next six centuries. The cathedral was restored in 1858 and 1859 by Prosper Mérimée, and Eugène Viollet-le-Duc.


After a relaxed sightseeing visit in Mirepoix with lunch we headed on to our destination in Rivel.  We had considered using the cycle path but the tourist office suggested it was only suited to mountain bikes.   So a road ride it was.  Unfortunately a bizarre discussion about our pedal phasing developed because twice in recent biking excursions our chain has come off.   The chain on our tandem is longer than a typical bike because it needs to connect 2 separate crank sets; one for my pedals and one for Daz.  And Daz and I have a preferred position for our pedals which evolved in the months after we first acquired the bike in Jan 2014.  When the chain comes off it takes careful positioning of our pedals to ensure our preferred position is maintained and on these recent occasions we were in a rush and just put it on any old how.  This led, on both occasions, to a really bizarre biking experience; really bouncy and uneven.  So we were discussing what phasing position had we alighted on accidentally to produce such a weird phenomenon.  I believe this was 90 degrees out of phase (OOP).  Our preferred position currently is slightly OOP with me leading; this means I have increased effort over Daz.  When we first had the bike it was slightly OOP but with Daz leading, which reduces the required effort of the stoker (me) but since Daz also controls the gears, it always felt too easy for me.

P1050595  P1050594 P1050598 P1050597 P1050596 P1050600 P1050599 P1050602 P1050601 P1050603 P1050606

The whole subject of pedal position is further confused because on a traditional, upright tandem both sets of pedals are in precisely the same plane.  Upright tandems are set up in phase  (IP) because there’s no danger of a pedal grounding on a sharp corner and because it looks good.  IP means the power stroke for each cyclist is at the same time, whilst 90 degrees OOP results in continuous power strokes; first the captain’s left leg, then stoker’s left leg, then Capt’s right and finally stoker’s right.  90 degrees OOP leads to optimum performance.  

So the discussion seemed to suggest we’d only tested 2 phases.  Slightly OOP led by Daz then slightly OOP led by me.  Ridiculously neither of us can remember trying IP or 90 degrees OOP.  So with 8km to go we put ourselves in phase – well we thought we had but we were still out so with 4km to go another adjustment and we think we’re in phase.  Now we need a reasonable trial to establish what we think before we try OOP by 90 degrees!  


We arrive in Rivel in the middle of this experiment.  Maggie greets us and Martin arrives not long after; he’s working on a house in the village.  They have a beautiful home showing the skilled work and artistic eye of Martin, a master carpenter who also has extensive experience in theatre stage creation.  Meanwhile Maggie collects kimono and other Japanese artifacts and intends to write a book on kimono.  We have our own private part of the house with our own bathroom.  We unload, unpack and clean up and enjoy a lovely evening meal – a roast chicken dinner followed by bread and butter pudding made with brioche.  Yummy!


Later as bed-time study we look more into crank phasing – yep we know how to have a good time!

Here is the Wiki article on tandem crankphase..

“Riders may choose to synchronise their pedalling through in-phase (IP) or out-of-phase (OOP) pedalling. In in-phase pedalling, each rider’s cranks are the same or opposite clock positions at any point in time. In out-of-phase pedalling, both riders have their cranks in differing non-opposite positions. This has the potential for a wide range of variation. Some tandem riders arrange their cranks so that they are 90° out of phase to produce what is called the “4 banger arrangement”. In practice, OOP setups range from a mere two-tooth phase difference between cranks to a full 90° phase difference. Generally, OOP provides the greatest benefits to the tandem team that has disparate leg-strength.[citation needed] When the tandem is pedalled IP it is possible, and often happens, that the stronger rider literally drops the pedals out from beneath the feet of the weaker rider and cause the latter to be unable to contribute meaningfully. Using OOP makes a significant difference in gearing choice as each rider has the full mass of the tandem in their power stroke, so lower gears are preferred. However, using OOP can help develop leg strength for the very same reason. Some argue that this produces a smoother power stroke, or that it reduces stress on the drive train because the point of maximum power is reduced to roughly half and distributed over the chainrings.”


We also read further articles detailed the advantages of IP; ability to pump (cycling out of saddle) (impossible on our recumbent); greater control at slow speed (we couldn’t see any logic in this); ensures pedals can be kept at a point to avoid grounding on road or kerb (not remotely possible on our recumbent) and looking good (who cares).  So having put the bike into IP as an experiment it really isn’t a desirable position; we struggle enough on hills without needing an additional dead spot.  So the investigation is whether 90 degrees OOP (the 4 banger arrangement) improves on our usual OOP by 30 degrees.


Friday 8th January  

Day one of our Rivel workaway.  Martin wants our help to retile the house roof.  Originally he had insufficient romanesque roof tiles so laid them sparingly on the flexoutuile; a corrugated plate monolayer, composed of cellulose fibers impregnated with bitumen for laying under decorative tiles.  However, now he’s bought the barn at the end of his garden which contained loads of roof tiles.   First of all we need to get the roof tiles to the roof which means loading the wheelbarrow at the barn with 20 heavy roman tiles, pushing it to the house and unloading… numerous times!

P1050605 P1050604 P1050607 P1050609 P1050608  

Outside the house is a ladder to the 1st floor balcony.  Daz is on the ladder, I pass him the tiles and he passes them to Martin to restack on the balcony.  

P1050611 P1050625  

Then there is another ladder from the balcony through a hatch in the roof and we all climb the ladders to repeat the process to stack the tiles on the roof. We had to do this at least 4 times, as the balcony could only hold about 70 tiles and we moved at least 280!!!

P1050610 P1050616 P1050615 P1050624  

Then we strip and stack the tiles which were originally laid and then relay the whole roof.  This takes all day although we do have a coffee and lunch break.  

P1050612 P1050614 P1050613 P1050618 P1050617 P1050623 P1050622 P1050621  P1050619 

It’s very hard work and all 3 of us are pretty shattered at the end of the job.  Then Daz and I borrow M&M’s bikes and cycle to St Colombe.

P1050627 P1050626 P1050630 P1050629 P1050633 P1050632 P1050631 P1050635 P1050634

In the evening, after delicious teriyaki trout followed by pancakes, we go up to Martin’s man cave where he’s built a replica of Seattle’s railway network from the 1950’s – incredible. There are buildings,  bridges, mountains and the station itself which he has modelled out of plastic, cardboard and polystyrene.  Really nice to see the trains all moving about, passenger, freight and shunting yard engines!

received_10153817701617889 received_10153817701552889 received_10153817701392889 received_10153817701282889 received_10153817701197889 received_10153817701147889 received_10153817701067889 received_10153817700857889

Additional knowledge for our future property search:  Bon Coin is a publication that will show all properties for sale but it’s not just for property but for everything.  A sunken swimming pool equals extra high property tax, so Martin left half his above ground on the slope and doesn’t pay extra. Registering a car in France costs 350€ which is a deterrent to changing cars which means the second hand car market is depressed and expensive.  But there’s no car tax.


Saturday 9th January

Today we start work on the house in the village that M&M purchased. Well they purchased a tract of land to increase their garden and a barn that was on the land… the house in the village came free with it!!  The house is massive, 3 stories with about 7 rooms, high ceilings, but it definitely needs some work.  Martin wants me to put another coat of paint on the shutters, whilst the boys go off to move some heavy flagstones and cut firewood but they’re back in no time; it’s raining.

P1050637 P1050636 P1050640 P1050639 P1050638 P1050642 P1050641  

 Instead they work upstairs in the top storey where there’s a loft room which has a ceiling of huge beams.  But these beams are simply resting on a couple of larger cross beams.  Martin wants to remove all this for his own use leaving the loft room with exposed roof trusses.

P1050645 P1050644 P1050643 P1050647 P1050646  

 They start moving and cutting beams but end up covered in filth that’s probably 50 years old.  After our coffee break the rain has stopped so they crack on with the fire wood; Martin is our first host since Finland who doesn’t have a wood splitter, so they do it by axe.  

Painting done and work moves into the garden.  There’s a sunken area where their pool used to sit. Around the sunken area is decking and a gravelled, landscaped area.  Martin wants this area lowered so it’s more aligned to the house level.  So first I clear the leaves and weeds from the gravel whilst Daz dismantles the decking.  Then we push away all the gravel and pull up all the plastic layers. Finally we pile up all the sand on which the pool was sitting.  

P1050650 P1050649 P1050648  

Finally it’s all done and after a speedy clean up we all head to town for a spot of shopping.


Sunday 10th January

Today it’s a day off and so we borrow the bikes and cycle to Puivert and then on into Nebias.  After an initial long climb out of Rivel it’s great cycling with fabulous views.  

P1050620 P1050653 P1050652 P1050655 P1050654 P1050657 P1050656  

In Puivert there’s a castle. The Château de Puivert is a Cathar castle situated in the commune of Puivert, in the Aude département of the Languedoc. This building, on top a hill overlooking the village and its lake, reaches an altitude of 605 m.  In the twelfth century a castle stood on this site, which had strong Cathar and troubadour  links. A meeting of troubadours took place here in 1170, and in 1185 festivities attended by the Viscount of Carcassonne and Loba, Lady of Lastours (Cabaret).
The castle has been listed as a monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture since 1902. The castle of Puivert is still in relatively good condition.  It is privately owned, but open to the public and undergoing restoration. In addition to the castle, there’s a lake, which is apparently mobbed in the summer months and looks fabulous with the surrounding hills reflected on its surface.  

P1050660 P1050659 P1050658 P1050663 P1050662 P1050661 P1050665 P1050664 P1050667 P1050670 P1050675 P1050674 P1050679 P1050682 P1050681  

After we’ve cycled around Puivert looking for a cafe, we notice a bar and there’s a guy there and we call ‘Bonjour’ but he answers in English.  He’s the landlord (Paul Bayliss, we later learn) and he’ll be open at 3pm and showing Bath V Toulon a bit later.  So we pootle off to Nebias.  Not much going on there and we forget to find the Labyrinth.  (Hidden near the small village of Nebias, at the foothills of the Pyrenees, find the Labyrinthe Vert (Green Labyrinth), a mysterious maze of limestone, roots, and moss, and the source of many local legends. If you ever wanted to visit a place that looks like the Fangorn Forest made famous in Lords of the Rings, the Labyrinth will enchant you).

We head back to Puivert and see a chap standing by a Land Rover with British plates.  We say ‘Hi’ and then end up chatting to him for 30minutes or so.  He’s from Scotland and he’s renting here whilst he looks for somewhere to buy.   He’s got loads of tips of places to visit locally.  By the time we finish chatting it’s 3pm and bartime.  The bar is fabulous – it’s actually a brewery and Paul brews all his own beers.  The building is an old petrol station and inside there’s a bar and all the vats required to brew the beer.  

P1050685 P1050684 P1050683 P1050688 P1050687 P1050686 P1050690 P1050689 P1050692   


We sit and chat with Paul and Daz tries a couple of pints of his special brew and is very impressed especially when he also gets pork scratchings.  Finally I have to tear him away; it’s getting late and the temperature will drop radically and we don’t have any bike lights.  So we head home but what a fabulous day we’ve had.


Monday 11th January

Today it’s back to painting and I give all the shutters another coat whilst Daz and Martin take off more shutters and rub them down.

P1050696 P1050698 P1050697 P1050700 P1050699   

 Then Daz takes down a plaster and brick wall downstairs and I clear the barn where we’re going to put the rubble from Daz’s wall to bring the floor level up.

P1050701 P1050703 P1050702 P1050705 P1050704 P1050706 P1050710 P1050709 P1050708 

 Once I’ve cleared we push the trailer from the house to the barn and empty it.  Then we go back to the house for the last of the rubble and repeat.  Once that’s done we start work on the pool area.  Martin wants the level lowered by around 6”.  A pain because there isn’t a decent spade or shovel here: only ones with broken handles.  But we make a start on the job.



11 Dec to New Year’s eve. Workaway, skiing and housesitting!!

Friday 11th December 

Today is French lesson day so we start early so we can squeeze in a dog walk before Odile arrives.  Odile arrives and John shortly after.  Sandy and Mike are off for a weekend break in Mirepoix.  So whilst Daz has his lesson, I clean and tidy the tool shed next to our gite.  

P1040935 P1040934 P1040938  

Then I have my lesson and Daz tidies the storage tent in the garden.

P1040940 P1040939  

 Everything is spic and span.  After lunch we go into the forest to cut down more trees for firewood.  It’s tough going for poor Daz because the chainsaw needs a new chain.  

P1040942 P1040945 P1040944 P1040943 P1040947 P1040946

We’re going out to Castelnau tonight to see a band, meet Odile and Steve and Queenie.   The band is playing in a small bar in Castlenau which is packed; mostly by the English contingent although there is a small French group at the bar.  With Odile are another couple, Diane and Fred, who renovate properties near Marciac. We also get chatting to Bernadette and Howard and Heather and Peter.  Both couples want to hear about our adventures and we want to know about their decision to live in the midi Pyrenees.  Both extend invitations to us, Bernadette and Howard live in Masseube and tell us to pop in anytime and Heather and Peter are off to their caravan in Spain after Xmas and tell us to pop in when we’re passing.   

We’ve wanted to see Steve and Queenie’s house since we first met them so when they invite us back for a nightcap we accept.  They bought a farmhouse with loads of farm buildings at a really great price but they’ve had so much work to do.  They’ve still got a lot to do but the place is great.  And they’ve got a puppy which is sooo cute.  Odile is getting one from the same litter.  


Saturday 12th December

The alarm goes off at 0730 and I go downstairs to deal with the dogs. Rushka, the oldest husky, has been sleeping indoors since it got colder but she has a weak bladder so we have to let her out early.  Then I let all the huskies up into the paddock.  Then I try to clean their kennel but it’s not easy because it’s still quite dark.  Once everything is clean and tidy I bring the huskies back down to their kennel, so I can then take them to their cages in the van.  This is all part of their routine. All is fine with Kael and Puskin but when I go to fetch the next 2, there’s a disaster.  Hermione is ‘mathering’ Dixi and then before I know it Dixi and Taiga are out of the kennel.  They streak off, still with Hermione on their heels, and I think they’re heading for their cages.  But instead they run past the van to the bottom of the garden, straight over the electric fence into the chicken enclosure. By the time I arrive two chickens are already dead and Dixi is chasing a third.   I’ve been yelling for Darren but to no avail and it’s too late anyway.  I get Taiga and take her to her cage and then find Dixi on the lane tearing into the third chicken.  Shit, what a disaster.  I know this is terrible; 3 hens are dead but thank God all the dogs are still in my possession!! I thought Dixi was going to do a runner.  Back at the house I take Daz a cup of tea.  He’s slept through ‘chickengate’ and thinks I’m pulling his leg when I tell him.

Today we have a tour planned recommended in a tourist guide.  We head off to Capvern les Bains, a spa town which is mostly shut and then onto Mauvezin castle, also shut but with incredible views.   

P1040952 P1040950 P1040955 P1040953 P1040959 P1040961  

From here we head to Bonnemazon and the Cistercian abbey, yep also shut and then to Bagnères de Bigorre which is really busy with a large bustling market.  We wander round and find an indoor market with cheese, fish, meat and vegetable stalls.  There’s a corner that seems especially busy, everyone stood around eating and drinking and we realise there’s a stall that has fish tapas so we have lunch there.  

P1040969 P1040972 P1040971  

  There’s so much nice food to chose from, including oysters, scallops in their shells but we finally settle for a plate of fishy tapas and a plate of calamari.  Yummy.  We even get to listen to a famous local choir, the Chanteurs of Montagne who are having a Christmas lunch in the hall, they are fab. We decide to head off, we’ve only done a tiny fraction of the route but realise that time is against us since we need to get back for the dogs.  So instead we decide to explore a bit more of the town and then end up back in the indoor market enjoying a glass of red wine whilst practising our French on David, a pissed-up French electrician who decides he wants to chat to us and introduce us to all his mates.  A fun afternoon and then it’s time to head home.

P1040980 P1040979 P1040984


Sunday 13th December

We’ve got a busy day planned so Daz is out doing the dogs before the alarm goes off.  We need to do the dog chores, take all our stuff and bed linen back to the gite, tidy the house and feed the chickens.  It’s fast and furious and then we head to Marciac, where there’s a Christmas market, stopping off en route to see Debbie and Tim.  Unfortunately Tim’s already gone out but we have a cup of tea with Debbie, apologies Debbie if you read this for catching you in your dressing gown!!  Then, next stop Marciac.   In the summer this is the venue for a 2 week annual jazz festival that attracts thousands!

P1040984 P1040986 P1040985 P1040988 P1040987 P1040994 P1040992 P1040996 P1040995  

  There are stalls all round the square and there are plenty of people enjoying the beautifully crafted wares for sale.  Of course we don’t buy, just window shop and we’re just perusing an estate agent’s window, when an English voice says ‘Don’t buy here!’  – it’s Fred and Diane who we met on Friday.  They’re meeting Odile here but as usual she’s late.  We all go for a beer on the edge of the square and have a chat… well we try to, but a small band of musicians with drums and horns and tubas start up as soon as we sit down and we have to shout to be heard!

From Marciac we head to another Xmas market in Masseube.  It’s fairly tame after Marciac but we also want to visit Bernadette and Howard.  We follow their directions and we think the house we’re looking at can’t be it, it’s a huge town house in the Basque style.  But it is theirs.  We have tea and cake and enjoy a guided tour and learn why they sold a huge house that they built new at a financial loss to move into Masseube.  Daz and I think that after our cycling adventure we might settle abroad.  But we need to establish our priorities and what house, country, lifestyle might suit us most.   So whenever we meet English here we try and establish what sort of lifestyle they have.  All these beautiful large houses in the country are fabulous but they are so isolated and just going out for a meal, a pub or a supermarket entails a fairly considerable drive!!!

After a lovely visit we have to head home for the dogs.  I worry all the way back – will Sandy and Mike be home because I still need to break the news of ‘chickengate’ – Daz has said he’ll carry the can which whilst being incredibly spineless on my part is so tempting!! They’ve been absolutely fabulous to work for and have been so generous, allowing us to use their van when we have our days off, I really hope they don’t take my news too badly.  


Monday 14th December

Today we start the day with a dog walk and then it’s back into the woods to chop up more wood for firewood. Daz changes the chain on the chainsaw and it’s cutting much better.  We do about 5 trailer loads of wood and then pack up.

P1040949 P1040948 P1050003 P1050001 P1050005 P1050004  



 We’re off skiing tomorrow and Queenie and Steve have kindly offered to lend us their spare car (a 26 year old fiat panda!) which they have for people staying.  

P1050008 P1050007 P1050009  

What a great offer and it means we don’t have to deal with what was going to be a torturous journey; lift from Mike to Lannemezan, train to Tarbes, bus to Bagnères de Bigorre and a hitch or taxi to La Mongie.


Tuesday 15th December

It’s an early start this morning.  By 8.30 the car is packed and we’re on our way.   We arrive at La Mongie about 10ish but the last 40 minutes have been really stressful for Daz because he wasn’t convinced the car would make it – but it did, mostly in second gear.   We thought we knew where our apartment was but instead discovered it was a supermarket.   However, we asked directions and finally found the building but then couldn’t find reception.  We wandered around following signs hoping to find some signs of life and found a lady who pointed us to the building next door.  At last we were in the right place.  

P1050010 P1050012 P1050011  

The caretaker took us to our apartment – a tiny space which sleeps 4 – I wouldn’t want to be sharing this space with 3 others!  Once unpacked we drove back into the village to look at prices of ski passes.  We decide we’ll get the 4 hour pass today and with that decision made we go off to hire equipment.  And then we’re out on the slopes, skiing.  I’ve never skied with Daz and we have great fun, as we’re well matched .   There hasn’t been any snow here since November and some of the lower pistes are suffering from heavy use and some are closed ( only 70% of the slopes are open), but there’s more than enough pistes open for us to enjoy swishing down the slopes.

P1050016 P1050015 P1050014 P1050019 P1050018


Wednesday 16th December

We’re on the slopes for 9.15 but overnight after the pistebashers have done their work it feels like we’re skiing on corrugated ice so we head up to the sunny slopes and ski fast and furious on blues and reds until 12.30.  We head down the slopes to the town because I want to go up the ‘Pic du Midi’, a gondola to the highest most peak but our ski pass won’t let us on.  We need another ticket; €36 each on top of the ticket we’ve already bought… daylight robbery!!

P1050017 P1050022 P1050021 P1050020 P1050023 P1050026  

 Instead we go to lunch.  I have a pizza and Daz the menu of the day – confit duck.  I decide my ski boots are too painful to ski this afternoon so head for the apartment.  Daz skies.  He finishes about 3pm but within seconds of returning home, he’s crippled by ‘delhi belly!’.  Thank God he stopped skiing when he did.  For the next 5 hours, he makes panicked runs to the toilet and finally there’s a reprieve when the imodium kicks in.  But he still feels terrible, with severe stomach pain.

P1050025 P1050029 P1050028 P1050027 P1050031 P1050030 P1050033 P1050032



Thursday 17th December

Daz has had a really rough night; unable to sleep with the stomach pain.  He’s in so much pain he can’t find a comfortable position so I give him some painkillers hoping this might improve matters.  Poor Daz – I’ve never seen symptoms like these and I’m wondering if we need a doctor.  We think it was probably yesterday’s lunch that’s made him this ill.  We certainly won’t be skiing today.  Instead we have a quiet morning and head into town for a late lunch.  Well… all Daz has is half a beer and some chips but he’s still getting cramps and he’s still feeling rough.  So we think it’s probably safer all round if we head back to the apartment but first we visit the pharmacist and she recommends something for the cramps and some sort of antiseptic for the stomach which we hope will kill off whatever bug is causing the problem (the young girl in the pharmacy had to get her French/English translation book out, but Daz’s gestures and miming seem to get the idea over!!).


Friday 18th December

Daz is feeling much better but he’s still not 100% so we decide skiing probably isn’t the best option.  So we clean our apartment and hand it back;  return our ski gear and head back down the mountain.  So we’ve been in La Mongie 3 days and we think even if all the pistes were in good condition and open, there’s only enough skiing to keep us entertained for 2-3 days.  A full day’s ski pass is €41 pp (reduced because all the pistes weren’t open) and 3 day kit hire was €57 each.  We’re really glad we came up here; it’s not the Alps but if we were to seriously consider living in the Midi Pyrenees, then it’s another tick in the box for us.

So goodbye La Mongie and first stop Bagnères de Bigorre for a coffee.  Then Daz decides he needs a haircut so we get that done.  Next stop Lourdes.  

Lourdes is a small market town lying in the foothills of the Pyrenees. It is part of the Hautes-Pyrénées department in the Midi-Pyrénées region in south-western France. Prior to the apparitions of the Heavenly Mother in 1858, the most prominent feature of the town was the fortified castle that rises up from a rocky escarpment at its centre.  In 1858 Lourdes rose to prominence in France and abroad due to the Marian apparitions seen by the peasant girl Bernadette Soubirous, who was later canonized. Shortly thereafter the city became one of the world’s most important sites of pilgrimage and religious tourism. Today Lourdes hosts around six million visitors every year from all corners of the world. This constant stream of pilgrims and tourists transformed quiet Lourdes into the second most important center of tourism in France, second only to Paris, and the third most important site of international Catholic pilgrimage after Rome and the Holy Land. As of 2011, of French cities only Paris had more hotel capacity

The Virgin Mary appeared to Marie-Bernadette Soubirous on a total of eighteen occasions at Lourdes. Lourdes has become a major place of Roman Catholic pilgrimage and of miraculous healings. The 150th Jubilee of the first apparition took place on 11 February 2008 with an outdoor Mass attended by approximately 45,000 pilgrims.

Today Lourdes has a population of around 15,000, but it is able to take in some 5,000,000 pilgrims and tourists every season. With about 270 hotels, Lourdes has the second greatest number of hotels per square kilometre in France after Paris.

In the evening of February 11, 1858, a young Roman Catholic girl, Bernadette, went to fetch some firewood with her sister and another companion when a Lady who was indescribably beautiful appeared to her at the Massabielle grotto. Although the Lady did not tell Bernadette her name when asked at first, she told her to return to the grotto. On subsequent visits, the Lady revealed herself to be the “Immaculate Conception” (Que soy era Immaculada Concepciou). This was a reference to the dogma of the Immaculate Conception which had been defined only four years earlier in 1854 by Pope Pius IX, stating that the Virgin Mary herself had been conceived without sin. Bernadette, having only a rudimentary knowledge of the Catholic faith, did not understand what this meant but she reported it to her parish priest, Father Peyremale. He, though initially very skeptical of Bernadette’s claims, became convinced when he heard this because he knew the young girl had no knowledge of the doctrine. The Lady also told Bernadette to dig in the ground at a certain spot and to drink from the small spring of water that began to bubble up. Almost immediately cures were reported from drinking the water. And yet the water has been shown through repeated testing to not have any special curative properties. Today thousand of gallons of water gush from the source of the spring, and pilgrims are able to bathe in it. Countless miracle cures have been documented there, from the healing of nervous disorders and cancers to cases of paralysis and even of blindness. “The estimate that about 4000 cures have been obtained at Lourdes within the first fifty years of the pilgimmage is undoubtedly considerably less than the actual number.”  During the Apparitions, Bernadette Soubirous prayed the Rosary. Jean-Paul II has written : “The Rosary of the Virgin Mary is a prayer with great significance, destinated to bring fruits of holiness”.


The château fort de Lourdes is a historic castle located in Lourdes in the Hautes-Pyrénées département of France. It is strategically placed at the entrance to the seven valleys of the Lavedan.  Besieged in 778 by Charlemagne, it became the residence of the Counts of Bigorre in the 11th and 12th centuries. In the 13th century, it passed into the possession of the Counts of Champagne, part of the kingdom of Navarre before coming under the crown of France under Philippe le Bel. It was ceded to the English by the Treaty of Brétigny in 1360, before returning to France at the start of the 15th century after two sieges. In the 17th century, the castle became a royal prison, and a state prison after the French Revolution, continuing in this role until the start of the 20th century when it became the Pyrenean Museum (Musée Pyrénéen) (1921) which it remains.


This place gets 5 million visitors a year which explains why most buildings are hotels or restaurants but at this time of year it is really quiet. We get a bite to eat (and sickly Darren decides this is the time to try ‘steak tartare’ – UNBELIEVABLE!) and then walk down over the river to the Basilica and Eglise.

 P1050041 P1050043 P1050044  

Also here is the statue of the… normally you wouldn’t be able to move for religious tourists who bathe their ailing areas with the holy water; or it’s possible to fill a bottle with holy water to drink; or there is a private bathing area if you wish to be immersed in holy water.   

P1050036 P1050035 P1050034 P1050038 P1050039 P1050046 P1050045 P1050050 P1050049 P1050052 P1050055 P1050053  

But as it’ s winter there are just a few old people washing themselves… we do see one woman cupping water in her hands and rubbing it on her husbands back, and it’s fun to watch him jumping at the touch of the cold water !!  I get some and rub it on Daz, some on his belly in the hope of it getting better and some on his head … you never know, it might seep into his brain!!!

P1050045 P1050057 P1050056 P1050059 P1050058 P1050063 P1050062 P1050060 P1050064 P1050068 P1050069 P1050076 P1050074 P1050088 P1050095 P1050089 P1050096 P1050091

We also visit the hillside fortress that sits in the middle of town. This time we really are the only visitors, and it’s awesome. The views all around are outstanding, and the history is interesting too.

P1050098 P1050097 P1050101 P1050100 P1050099 P1050103 P1050102 P1050106 P1050105 P1050104 P1050109 P1050108 P1050107 P1050111 P1050110 P1050113 P1050112 P1050115 P1050114 P1050117 P1050116 P1050118 P1050121 P1050120  

 Finally we decide to head back, but then we notice the route home will take us near Tarbes so we decide to have a look.  It’s quite a big town, and by the time we get there the Christmas lights are all on, and we even find a nice Christmas market with icerink and vin chaud (hot gluhwein).  We stay a while and watch two professional looking skaters going through a couple of routines… at one point the lithe young girl is balanced upon the male skaters head, and then in another he throws her over his head and she performs a somersault…  you don’t see that at the Olympics!!

P1050123 P1050125 P1050127

P1050156 P1050144 P1050161 P1050170 P1050171 P1050167


Saturday 19th December

Only 3 days left of this workaway and Sandy wants all the dogs walked so we do that first thing.  

P1050173 P1050172 P1050174  

Then we set about in a determined fashion tochop, split and pile all the wood we brought in from the woods.  Surprisingly we get it all done; both Daz and I expected it to take a couple of days.  

P1050175 P1050178 P1050176 P1050179 P1050181 P1050183 P1050185 P1050187  

Hopefully there’s enough to last them this winter.  Then we head off to return the ‘heroic little Fiat Panda’ to Queenie.  Unfortunately they’re not in but we leave a little gift to thank them for their generosity.  Without the car and with Daz being so poorly, I think our 4 days away would’ve been completely ruined but having the car meant we could go a-visiting!!


Sunday 20th December

Today is our penultimate working day here and we take the dogs out for a walk.  We stroll up our usual path whilst Daz whispers sweet nothings to Kael. We are so fortunate that every morning we walk the dogs in the most glorious surroundings with the sun shining.  Having dry and sunny weather makes such a difference to one’s outlook and also impacts so much on plans.  In the UK it’s difficult to plan any outdoor activity because there’s a good chance inclement weather will ruin the plan.

Mike tells us that they want to visit Simorre market and if we’d like to go we can have lunch together.  Good plan and before this excursion we need to get some work done.  

P1050198 P1050197 P1050201 P1050202 P1050205 P1050208 P1050207  

Mike is still desperate to get the porch finished and the replacement parts that were needed arrived whilst we were away.  So Daz helps Mike and I rake and tidy the drive of leaves.   Every so often I go over and give Daz a hand to move and wash the glass panels or to lift them into place.   Then it’s Xmas market time and off we go to Simorre. But it’s a bit of a ‘hippy’ fest and not really very exciting or impressive.  Mike and Sandy offer to get out lunch but it looks really unappetising, filet of saetin, potatoes and mushroom sauce and whatever the vegetarian filet is, Mike says it’s as tasty as his shoes leather.  Ummm sounds yummy – not!   But at least Sandy has found a Xmas tree that suits her exacting standards.

Back at the house Daz and I have a quick bite to eat and then resume our chores.  By the end of the day we have 3 of the glass panels in the porch completed (we couldn’t do more because Mike ran out of flashing) and the drive and terrace are both swept and tidied for Mike and Sandy’s Xmas day guests

P1050211 P1050210 P1050212


Meanwhile Daz seems mostly recovered from his bout of Delhi-belly although he’s still taking the antiseptic tablets, hoping to wipe out whatever bug is in his stomach causing all this unpleasantness.  However despite the improvement in his health, his main obsession is his failure to ‘have a poo!’. If i’d been as ill as him i’d just be relieved I was feeling better.  But not Daz – clearly in his world he’s not really better until his ‘toilet habits’ return to normal.  And so far it’s been 4 days without a ‘movement’!


Monday 21st December

Our final day with Mike and Sandy.  First job is to put the glass into section 4 of the porch roof and then Mike will nip off to get more flashing and we’ll walk the dogs.   When we get back from walking Rushka, Kael and Taiga, we find Mike is already back and is putting the flashing on.  Unfortunately he has now realised he’s run out of screws for the top caps.  Bugger!  Sandy has noticed some shrubs she’d like pruning; all pretty straightforward.  However,  she’d also like the climbing roses on the ‘tunnel trellis’ that covers the steps down to the pool to be pruned but how to get to them is the question?  

I prune, Daz helps Mike and occasionally I’m called in to assist with glass moving.  Finally the 5th and final section of the porch roof is done.  Well not completely finished but Mike will manage all the finishing touches himself.  So Daz gets out the chainsaw and returns to the tree stumps left in the garden from the tree cutting exercise.  Sandy doesn’t want them growing shoots etc and one method is to cut the stump to ground level, cut the surface of the stump and pour on various liquids; including diesel, salt solution or copper sulphate ( but the options are extensive).   The solution should soak into the cuts made and down into the roots.  Finally cover the stump with soil thus blocking out sunlight – result expected:  dead stump ( God knows how long that takes).  But there are a lot of stumps but Daz gives it his best shot.  Meanwhile I’ve pruned the easy shrubs and i’m using steps ladders and ladders to try and prune the ‘tunnel trellis’.  I’m not keen on ladders so Daz has to assist with the final phase and whilst it’s not perfect, it’s much closer to Sandy’s ideal than when we started

P1050216 P1050215 P1050217 P1050219 P1050218

I clear away the mess I’ve made whilst Daz checks the tandem and does a spoke ‘tuning’ adjustment.  Finally we take Dixi and Pushkin for a walk and we’re done for the day.  Just a bit of packing to do and then Sandy and Mike are taking us out for dinner (to the Tarragon in Castlenau).

Sorry forgot to mention today’s big event:  Daz has had a poo and it all went well.   Hopefully now everything will be back to normal and I won’t have to receive a daily update on his ‘toilet situation’!



We’ve just been out for a lovely meal and Mike and Sandy gave us a beautiful present made on their laser cutter; a decoration of a couple riding a  tandem and a plaque with a Good Luck message engraved on it – fabulous.

P1050225 P1050226  

 We’ve had the most fantastic 6 weeks.  We’ve really enjoyed working for M&S who told us what jobs they wanted doing and then left us to get on with it, and manage the jobs as we saw fit.  The meals they provided were excellent and they let us borrow their van so we managed to see far more of the midi pyrenees than if we’d only had the bike and public transport.  Their house and its surroundings are idyllic; their huskies and griffon are fun to look after and the weather has been beautiful.  


Tuesday 22nd December

Today we’re up, packed and the gite cleaned and ready to hit the road by 9am.

P1050221 P1050228 P1050227 P1050231 P1050229 P1050232 P1050236 P1050235 P1050234  

 There’s been a frost overnight and we’re both freezing on the bike but we think we’ll soon warm up.  Our first stop is L’isle en Dodon for coffee.  This is a really pretty village and a local man sees our bike and we have a chat about our travels.

P1050236 P1050237 P1050241 P1050240 P1050239

 He recommends a different route to the one we had intended to Samatan.  So we follow his advice (all in French!!) and make good progress to Samatan where we stop for lunch.  We’re over half way and so far it’s been remarkably easy; surprising after 6 weeks without using the bike.   But things change. After Samatan we start gaining height and now there’s a wind.  By L’isle Jourdain we’re starting to tire badly.  Another stop and a survey of the local estate agents.  Prices have risen dramatically since our first today.  In L’isle en Dodon there’s a reasonable selection around 50,000€.  Now it’s closer to 200,000€ because we’re closer to Toulouse.

We’re ready for our last push. And then we’ve made it.  We’re in Encausse with Michele, Andy and their son Joe. They’ve got 2 dogs, Coco and Muppet, a cat and some chickens.  They’ll be leaving for Xmas in the UK on Xmas eve and we’ll be looking after the house and animals. Daz is in heaven. There’s English TV so he can barely take his eyes off the TV screen.


Wednesday 23rd December

A lovely lazy day.  It’s odd to have so little to do but very restful.  We take a drive to the local market at the nearest village, Cadours.


It’s quite busy and we sit and have a coffee and indulge in some ‘people watching’.  Back at the house we take the dogs for a little walk.  Muppet doesn’t need to be kept on the lead once we’re off the road and wants to play ‘fetch’ but Coco has to be on the lead the whole time!

P1050243  P1050242 P1050245 P1050247 P1050250

  Thursday 24th December

It’s Xmas eve!  We go for a walk in a large forest nearby where Michelle and Andy have placed a geocache trail, and along with the dogs we have a lovely walk.  

P1050256 P1050255  

Some of the caches are quite adventurous and mean Daz has to climb trees for clues to the next coordinates… good job in another life Daz was a trained monkey!!  

P1050258 P1050260 P1050259 P1050263 P1050262  

Unfortunately one of the dogs, Muppet, finds some fox poo, and rolls all over it and for the last half of the walk we have to dodge the stinking smelly dog everytime it comes near!!  Driving home we have to have all the car windows open!!   Whilst they clean up the dog me and Daz pop out to a local village where a large market is on and enjoy a coffee sitting in the sun.  Later the family bid us farewell and we are left on our own as they fly back to the UK for the Xmas holiday.

P1050264 P1050267 P1050269 P1050268 P1050271 P1050274 P1050273 P1050277 P1050275 P1050279 


Friday 25th December.

Happy Christmas!!  We get up and after taking the dogs for a walk have a nice relaxing day.  Daz finds the petanque balls and we go and have a game on the local village court. We cook a roast chicken dinner and watch TV and walk the dogs again… a very quiet day!

P1050279 P1050280 P1050284 P1050283 P1050282

Saturday 26th December

Happy Boxing day!  After walking the dogs we take a trip to Toulouse and see some of the sights.  

This is a pre recce for when Brett and Kate arrive on the 30th.  Toulouse looks very nice and it looks like there will be plenty of stuff to see and do.  We particularly like the large indoor market where we sample a glass of wine and marvel at all the beautiful food on display.

P1050286 P1050285 P1050289 P1050288 P1050287 P1050291 P1050290  

The French are out in force on this holiday, as unlike the UK everything is open.  We walk about in the sunshine and enjoy people watching and window shopping!

P1050294 P1050293 P1050292 P1050297 P1050295 P1050298 P1050302 P1050305 P1050303 P1050308 P1050307 P1050306

Sunday 27th December.

We take the dogs on another geocache walk around some local woodland and fields.  Today it’s quite windy and chilly, even with the sun shining.  

P1050310 P1050309 P1050313 P1050312 P1050311 P1050316 P1050315 P1050314 P1050319 P1050318 P1050317 P1050321 P1050320


Monday 28th December

A lazy day today.  Just a couple of dog walks but we’re making excellent progress on Game of Thrones and our movie list.


Tuesday 29th December

We take the dogs out for another geocache walk.  Today I finally saw the infamous processional caterpillar.  There are trains of them crossing the road.  

P1050333 P1050335 P1050334

The urticating hair of the caterpillar larvae cause harmful reactions in humans and other mammals. The species is notable for the behaviour of its caterpillars, which overwinter in tent-like nests high in pine trees, and which process through the woods in nose-to-tail columns, protected by their severely irritating hairs.

The larva is a major forest pest, living communally in large “tents”, usually in pine trees but occasionally in cedar or larch marching out at night in single file (hence the common name) to feed on the needles. There are often several such tents in a single tree. When they are ready to pupate, the larvae march in their usual fashion to the ground, where they disperse to pupate singly on or just below the surface.

The larvae should never be handled as the abundant hairs on their bodies cause extreme irritation (urticaria) to the skin.  5th stage larvae can eject hairs when threatened or stressed; the hairs, which have the form of harpoons, then penetrate and irritate all areas of exposed skin nearby with an urticating protein.   Allergic reactions may follow in susceptible individuals on subsequent exposure to the hairs.

Wednesday 30th December

A disturbing night – BooBoo the cat loves sleeping in our room.  Usually she just sleeps on our bed but sometimes she climbs up on to the wardrobe and sleeps in the holdall that’s up there.   All very restful until she decides to jump down, directly onto Daz’s belly.  A rude awakening for us all!!!

Another geocaching walk with the mutts.  We don’t think Muppet likes geocaching – he gets bored waiting for us and starts barking and running around our feet.  An impatient lad for sure.  

P1050321 P1050320 P1050324 P1050323 P1050322 P1050326 P1050325 P1050329 P1050328 P1050322 P1050326 P1050325 P1050329 P1050328 

Kate and Brett are flying into Toulouse today and we’re off to pick them up.  It’s great to see them both.  We take them to our Airbnb apartment, which is lovely.  Overlooking the river Garonne.  We’ve brought most of out luggage too so that tomorrow we won’t have a fully laden bike.  We leave them to it and head back to Encausse and the mutts.


Thursday 31st December

New Year’s Eve and unbelievable it’s raining.  What bloody terrible timing.  We need to clean the house and make sure the dogs are OK before we leave them ‘home alone’ for the afternoon.  Our hosts aren’t due back until this evening.  So Daz goes out for a very damp walk whilst I start cleaning (a chore I find particularly loathsome).  It’s surprising how filthy the house has become in one week with just us and the dogs – but there’s dirty paw prints and fur balls everywhere.  Daz comes back and now we’ve got 2 wet stinky dogs to add to the mix.  Finally it’s all done and after another quick dog walk we’re off.

We cycle to L’Isle Jourdain and get the train to Toulouse. This is our second train trip with the bike and it’s super easy especially without our heavy panniers.  We cycle to the apartment, just stopping at a boulangerie for a snack.  We get chatting to a French guy and ask about Toulouse on New year’s eve.  He recommends an Irish bar to see in the New Year – sounds like a super plan.  At the apartment, a quick shower and we’re ready to go.  We need some shopping for New year’s day and then we get the city bikes and cycle into town.  Unfortunately Kate and Brett have said that Toulouse seems mostly shut and this is confirmed when our first pub stop, an Irish bar, is shut.  So we head for the pub that the guy earlier recommended but we do get sidetracked by a pub with a happy hour but even this bar is closing at 8pm.  So we stay until closing time and then resume the search for the Irish bar – it’s only shut!  What a nightmare.  So we head for the Capitol building – there’s a huge square and here at last the bars and restaurants are open.  We enjoy a couple of beers and then decide to head home for cards and wine but en route we see a pub, ‘George and the dragon’ – surely a good omen.  But New Year approaches and there’s no count down, in fact there’s no acknowledgement of the new year.  It comes and goes and nothing happens.  Disappointing.  Clearly the French aren’t interested in the New Year

P1050336 P1050338 P1050337 P1050341 P1050340 P1050339 P1050343 P1050342 P1050346 P1050345 P1050344 P1050349 P1050348 P1050347 P1050352 P1050351 P1050350 P1050353