Saturday 4 December 2010

4th December

We arrived back at Priors Way safely on Thusday evening after an interesting drive through a very cold and snowy France. The country was blanketed in snow from the Dordogne northwards, but thankfully there was not too much of it so we were able to keep going at a reasonable speed. The photo above shows the worst bit - blizzard conditions for an hour or so!
After a slight delay at the tunnel we hit Kent with trepidation, having heard about the chaos on the M20 and M25 over the past few days. However the entire population of south east England appeared to have gone into hibernation - we have never seen the M25 so empty (see night photo above), or had such an easy drive to Maidenhead from Dover. We were very thankful to get home to a warm house, cold beer and hot pizza - and Daniel!

Tuesday 30 November 2010

Tuesday 30th November

We have been watching the snow and cold weather in England with interest - and are wondering whether to bring the car chains with us when we drive back on Thursday! Here we have had several dry and sunny days - frosty in the morning but quite warm in the afternoon. As a result, we have made good progress with the pool and now have the structure firmly in place. We are pleased to have reached the stage where we can leave it for a month. In the meantime, Laurent has been working on the 'Pyrenees Suite' and it is starting to take shape.
Dave has enjoyed spending an afternoon pottering in the garden, which has made a welcome change from wading in the mud around the pool. I am busy writing newsletters and Christmas cards.

We can hardly believe it will be a whole year ago tomorrow that we signed contracts and became the new owners of La Maire.

We have added a few more recent photos to the album, so if you would like to see them, just click on the link below

Sunday 21 November 2010

Pool Progress

It has been a busy week but we feel we are making good progress with both the pool and the 'Pyrenees Suite'! It has been quite tiring physically, but working in the garden in the midst of this beautiful countryside certainly beats going to the gym and it has been very satisfying to see the pool structure slowly take place. It still requires some imagination to visualise sitting on the pool steps this summer, or taking an early morning dip - but it will happen!!

The floor in the guest suite is now laid, ready for Laurent to start work this week, and we have also ordered the patio door-another job done!

The other two photos above show a beautiful sunrise from the living room yesterday morning, and a view of the first snow on the mountains from the paddock.

Monday 15 November 2010

15th November 2010

Work in Progress!
It has been a mixed week weather wise - some sunny and beautifully warm autumnal days, but also a fair bit of rain in between. We have started laying the foundation slabs for the pool. This is probably the most critical part of the installation as they all have to be absolutely level with each other. Lots of patience required, but its going well so far!

Work has also started on the 'Pyrenees Suite!'. Neil and his Dad have been helping Dave lay the screed on the floor (see photos above) in preparation for Laurent to start the plaster-boarding later in the week. It is actually starting to look like a room already rather than a garage!
On Friday morning I gave my first watercolour class in French. Laurent the plasterer is a keen artist and has been wanting to try watercolour for some time, so asked for a lesson. It was fun, and he is quite a natural with a paintbrush - but after 3 hours of teaching in French I must admit I was ready for an activity that was less mentally taxing, so spent the afternnoon digging!

Sunday 7 November 2010

Sunday 7th Nov

It looks quite daunting doesn't it!
This is the pool - a professional 'man with digger' came to do the job yesterday - the rest is up to us! The digger did a really excellent job and coped well with the trauma of breaking an underground water pipe taking water to the farm below us. However all was dealt with efficiently and with good humour. The water board came out and fixed the pipe, we moved the pool a metre to the right - and met another of our neighbours - the man from the farm below!!
So now all we need to do is install the structure - easy!
Today we started to fill in the ditch which will take the water pipe and electricity cables - and got very muddy and wet in the process as the weather has turned again-but its all good fun and the pool will be worth it in the end!!

Autumn at La Maire

The rain didn't last long, and we had some abolutely beautiful Autumnal days here last week - warm and sunny but with clarity and freshness in the air. The Pyrenees have a dusting of snow and look so close. Not long until the skiing season!
The trees haven't quite reached their autumnal best yet, but the countryside looks beautiful already. Some more photos can be seen here:

Our favourite cockerel has been strutting his stuff in the garden as usual, along with his 2 favourite chickens! There are also a flock of Guinea fowl (very funny and insecure birds who absolutely must stay together, otherwise they panic!), various ducks and geese from the farm, and even two very large rabbits which have escaped and have taken to sleeping in our stables

Monday 1 November 2010

1st November

We enjoyed our 3 weeks back in the UK. It was good to catch up with friends and to have some family time as well. We drove back to La Maire on Saturday. Despite worries about fuel shortages, we had no problems filling up and had a good drive. The Autumn trees throughout France were a real picture - I wished I hadn't packed my camera away in the case!

We found La Maire exactly as we had left it - always a relief! The grass and weeds hadn't grown too long and it wasn't too cold either. The night sky when we arrived at 10.30 pm was clear and absolutely full of stars. Dave fired the boiler up, feeding it with the 'granules' that we bought in September. It soon got going, but we also soon realised that it was eating our (very expensive!) granules rather too quickly, and turning them into very acrid grey smoke! However, the very confusing instruction booklet is now making a bit of sense and after experimenting with different settings, Dave has sorted it for now...we hope!

Today is my birthday - but our plans to go for a walk or drive have come to nothing as it has been raining since yesterday lunchtime! It is also a Bank Holiday here today, so shops and restaurants are shut as well - so birthday 'celebrations' are on hold until Wednesday, when the weather looks to be much better. Instead, we have been fixing curtains (me) and light fittings (Dave) and putting some pictures up.

It is lovely to be back despite the weather and the fact that the only signs of life around here so far are the cows and chickens-everyone shelters indoors in this weather and especially so on Bank Holidays. All will be back to normal tomorrow!

Wednesday 6 October 2010

6th October

I held my first beginners painting day here at La Maire yesterday. Friends Lisa and Jenny, Sara and Jeff happily agreed to be my 'guinea pigs' for the day and it was very helpful to be able to run through the class here and check that it all works well. We had a bonus in that the weather was wonderful - clear blue sky and very warm, so we were able to spend the afternoon painting a view from the garden (see above) a after a relaxing alfresco lunch.

Today I am making fig jam with Odile up at the farm. Our trees are overloaded with ripe fruit at the moment, so I asked Odile to show me how it is done here! She was delighted to help and we had a good chat while collecting the fruit - another step towards good neighbourly relations! Janine also joined in and there was some discussion over whether the fruit should be cut in half or not, but Odile was in charge, so cut in half they were!! Odile also showed me more of the farm - in particular the very large pigs awaiting slaughter this winter and the flock of guinea fowl who have just started roaming around our land!
On the DIY front, we are still trying to get the small bathroom up and running before we return to Maidenhead on Sunday for 3 weeks. To be continued.....

Monday 4 October 2010

4th October

Mum and Dad arrived safely last weekend after a good drive down through France despite having developed a love/hate relationship with their new Satnav! They were very lucky with the weather this time. We had plenty of sun and it soon warmed up after a chilly start to the week.
We still haven't needed to light the boiler and start up the cenral heating!

We had a few trips out, including one beautifully sunny afternoon to the village of Sabarat (see photo above)and Le Mas d'Azil. Mum and Dad also got 'stuck in' with jobs at La Maire. Mum painted all the new patio chairs (12 of them!) with teak oil, and Dad put on the wellies again and created a lovely new rockery at the entrance to La Maire.

Our 'waterair' swimming pool kit arrived on Wednesday. It arrived in an articulated lorry, so I was very relieved to hear that it had 8 kits inside and wasn't filled with just our stuff! The driver decided he wouldn't be able to turn around here if he drove right up to the property so we half expected him to give up and leave, but he left the lorry at the bottom of the lane and brought everything up here in two loads with a fork-lift! Very entertaining for the neighbours!! The 'pool' is now stored in the barn (see photo) ready to be installed in November.

On Saturday evening we hosted another dinner party. French friends Marielle and Olivier from the mohair farm came, along with Jean Paul (my English pupil/French teacher) with his girlfriend Marie, and also Lisa and Neil to boost the English contingency - and to save Dave from having to speak French all evening! We cooked roast pork followed by apple pie and plum crumble with custard. The gravy and custard were eyed with suspicion at first, but all seemed to go down well and the conversation was very entertaining!

Finally, the first photo above is of the wonderful sky at sunrise the other day - taken from the living room!

Sunday 26 September 2010

27th September 2010

After a hectic couple of weeks back in Maidenhead, I was happy to get back to La Maire last Sunday, to be met by a very happy Dave. After two weeks on his own here he was in danger of starting to talk to himself! I had an excellent 7.10am flight and was back at La Maire by 11.00am - just in time for a quick coffee before persuading Dave that we should go out on our bikes - the warm, sunny weather was just too good to miss.

Dave had made good progress with the bathroom, and it was also good to see the lovely balustrade made by Neil Anslow up at one of the living room windows - see photo above.

The excellent weather continued for the first half of the week, so we kept putting bathroom no. 2 project on hold and finding jobs to do in the garden - still a lot of weeds to be kept under control!

Lunch every day last week was corn on the cob, fresh from the garden. It has been the juiciest, freshest, most tender corn that either of us have ever eaten. Funnily enough, the French don't know how to cook it and just can't understand why we would want to eat it - they grow field after field of it, but all to be used as cattle fodder, so the idea of eating it doesn't appeal at all!

Helen (friend and watercolour 'student' from Maidenhead) and her husband Allan came to stay with us for a couple of nights last week as they are touring through France with their tent. It was good to see them and we enjoyed their company while they were here. Allan cooked a wonderful curry for us on the second night! They were also very lucky to enjoy what appears to have been the last of the very warm weather - a couple of photos are above.

After two weeks away from speaking French, I was pleased to spend an afternoon with Marielle at the mohair farm, chatting and putting brochures in envelopes to send out to their customers.

I also had a French/English session with Jean Paul, our new friend from the village - always very entertaining and helpful!! I am learning a lot about English grammar as well as French!

Mum and Dad arrived safely on Saturday, after spending 3 days driving down here, which they enjoyed. Mum has taken on the job of oiling the teak chairs (10 altogether!) and Dad is in his element with wellies and spade in the garden, tidying up some very out-of-control flower beds.

More photos of Mum and Dads visit next weekend!

Monday 6 September 2010

6th September 2010

This photo is a view of Foix Castle over the rooftops - courtesy of June!

We enjoyed the rest of June and Jims stay with us very much. We enjoyed their company - and their help - and had a wonderful week of warm, sunny weather, so were able to eat most meals outside on the terrace (even breakfast!) and from Wednesday morning, had our new table and chairs to enjoy as well! (to sit at, not to eat!)

On Friday morning, we went to Foix market, and enjoyed a coffee in the old part of the town, indulging in a little people watching as well!

Thursday was the day of our 'Aperitifs and hot-dogs' evening - a small party for all the new friends we have made since living at La Maire. We fired up the barbeque, cleared and tiled the 'bar' in the dining room, made a few extra 'nibbles' as well - and were ready to go! It was lovely to see everyone - both English and French friends from the village and nearby, the Prax family, from whom we bought the house and who still run the farm behind us, and also Sue and the girls from the office. The children loved the hot-dogs, but were not so sure about 'les oignons' !! Somehow, everyone seemed to know most of the other people there, so it was a good opportunity for 'catching up' and the house now feels well and truly 'warmed up'!

I returned to Maidenhead on Saturday, staying here until the 19th - so Dave is rattling around on his own at 'La Maire' at the moment. The next project is the second bathroom, so Dave will not be short of things to do, and I will expect it all to be finished for my return!!!

Wednesday 1 September 2010

1st September 2010

Progress last week was halted for a day or two as Dave's back siezed up - just as he was putting the final touches to the patio wall ! An enforced rest was probably good for him however, and we had a couple of days of very hot weather, so were both happy to take it easy for a bit. So with the kitchen, main bathroom and terrace all now finished, we can tick off a few more boxes!

June and Jim arrived on Sunday, to clear blue skies - and much cooler weather. Within a couple of days, night-time temperatures dropped from 23 to 10 degrees!! We have enjoyed showing June and Jim around, and having some time off ourselves as well. On Monday we walked up to the viewpoint, discovering that the road sign indicating the distance to be 2km was more like 2 miles! However,we had a lovely walk and got back in plenty of time for lunch. Yesterday was action packed - a walk and picnic up in the mountains, then we hit the night life in Pamiers. There was a live band on in the square as part of the Pamiers fete. The square was full of local people, mostly of 'a certain age' and all dressed up in their 'finest'. As soon as the band kicked off, they all got to their feet and started dancing around the square - walzes, tangoes, cha-cha-chas - you name it, they could do it, some expertly, some barely able to stand, and some just doing their own thing, but all totally without inhibitions! This was clearly the highlight of their year, and all all were having such a great time-huge smiles all round, and great entertainment for us.

Sunday 22 August 2010

23rd August 2010

Here you are Brian - a photo just to prove that Dave is doing some work as well!

We finally celebrated completion of the patio this week (photos above!) - and toasted all Daniel's hard work! We finished the pointing after several aborted attempts as we couldn't find a mortar that we were happy with! However, all looks lovely now,and will look even better when Dave has finished the little wall along the back edge - and a bit of greenery has had a chance to grow!
The weather is also now very hot and sunny, so we have enjoyed several dinners on the terrace overlooking the valley - lovely!

We have also ordered a pool this week - a kit pool, which we fit ourselves, but have a man to come and dig the hole, then the manufacturers come to fit the liner in the Spring. We have decided to locate it at the bottom of the back garden which gets all day sunshine, and overlooks the valley (just behind Dave in the photo!) - so we will look forward to that next year!

The house has seemed very quiet this week after Lucy and Andy and then Daniel left! However, it has been great to have Broadband here at last and be able to chat on Skype.

The dry and hot weather has meant that the grass is growing more slowly and gives the mower a bit of a break - but why do the weeds grow faster than ever?!! We are also discovering that courgettes and runner beans love the climate - so if any of you are hoping to visit us next year - I hope you like green beans and ratatouille as the freezer is full of both!!.....oh and plum crumble!

Sunday 15 August 2010

15th August 2010

Well - it has finally happened!! - we are online at La Maire!!!!

So here is the blog update, posted on a Sunday evening 'chez nous' - not at McDonalds!!!

It has been a good week. The weather has still not been great - it has apparently been an unusually dreadful Summer so far. The usual run uf uninterrupted hot and sunny days hasn't really materialised, but it has actually been great for us, as higher temperatures would have made working a lot harder - and we have still had a reasonable amount of warm and sunny weather, so no complaints! We would just like normal conditions to resume next Summer when we have the pool in place!!

Lucy's boyfiend, Andy, arrived on Tuesday, and was a great help with laying patio slabs, painting the kitchen - and cooking and washing up! We had planned to have a day up in the mountains, but the weather didn't oblige, so we just had an afternoon out at Carla Bayle, which they enjoyed. Otherwise, there has been plenty to do here to keep everyone occupied and we have all had a fun week.

On Thursday evening, Dave and I went to Lisa and Neil's - they had an 'aperitifs' party for friends to celebrate the opening of their B&B accommodation, which they have been working hard to prepare over the past few months. It was lovely to spend some time with all the new friends we have made since arriving here.

It was Daniel's last day today, so we went up the Plateau to Beille again - Daniel was keen to cycle up it, so Dave and I spent some time at the Sunday market at the village of 'Les Cabannes', then drove up to the top to meet Daniel. He really enjoyed the ride, despite some rather moody cloud building up, and it was also very cold (for Summer!) at the top - just 10 degrees!

We take Daniel to the airport tomorrow - we have really enjoyed having all the 'kids' here and they have been a huge help as well - we have made a lot of progress over the past few weeks. We will then be on our own for 2 weeks before good friends June and Jim join us at the end of the month

Monday 9 August 2010

9th August 2010

Good news this week – we finally have a phone line! No internet as yet, but this is the first step, and it is good to be connected to the outside world!

The weather has been fantastic this weekend, so we have made the most of it, with a BBQ on Saturday evening, and a day out on the Plateau de Beille yesterday. The plateau is about 75 mins drive from here, the last 30 minutes being the climb up to the top. The plateau is a cross-country ski area in Winter, but is a wonderful area for walking in Summer, with views of the Pyrenees in all directions. Photos are above.

We also had our first dinner party on Friday evening, with Sue and Steve and Lisa and Neil (8 of us with the four of us!!) . It was a fun evening, and
I also made good friends with our new cooker!!

The patio slabs arrived on Wednesday, so that is another challenge for Daniel before he goes home in a week’s time. The first one took about 30 mins to lay and get level – but things are speeding up now. We have also started tiling the kitchen, and the future pool area and garden around it are all clear of weeds (for the time being.

Lucy’s boyfiend Andy arrives on Tuesday, so we will have a quieter week with some time out, and will hopefully finish the patio and kitchen.

Monday 2 August 2010

2nd August 2010

It has been a mixed week of weather – some glorious hot and sunny days, but also some cloud in between and finally thunderstorms and rain last night. The sunflower photo above was taken during a bike ride from a local view point.

This is the time of year when the French all go on holiday for at least two weeks – sometimes the whole of August, so shops and businesses close and everyone goes away!! This most probably means that we won’t see any progress on our phone line for at least another month. It seems it is just a matter of waiting until they have put the new lines in to the village, which is apparently more complicated than we first thought. However, it will be done. Magali at the office called them again last week while we were there and had a long conversation, stressing how important it is that we get a phone very soon as we have been waiting for so long, so she is doing her best for us and we are grateful that she is doing it for us, as I still find telephone conversations in French very difficult!!

As for progress at La Maire – Lucy has been painting all the landing walls and doors, so it all looks much brighter and fresher. The main bathroom is ready,, except for fitting a side to the bath, and Daniel has spent the week building the barbeque, which is almost finished. The patio slabs should arrive tomorrow so the sitting area in the back garden will soon be ready!
We have also connected up and used the new cooker, so the next job is to re-tile and paint the kitchen….then re-vamp the old bathroom.

On Friday evening, we took Daniel and Lucy for dinner at the Auberge in Carla Bayle. (see photo) It was a lovely evening, and delicious food as always.
On Saturday evening, Sue and Steve invited us to a BBQ at their home. This was also a lovely evening – perfect weather for sitting outside, delicious food…and it was also good to meet some more English people living locally.

Yesterday, we had planned a day out in the mountains as the weather looked promising. As we set off however, it started to cloud over and looked much less promising, so we made a quick decision to alter our route and go for a local walk instead. I had noted one not far from here that goes up to a hilltop TV mast and afforded fantastic views both over to the Pyrenees and also back to StVictor Rouzaud. The climb was certainly worth it, even in slightly murky weather. (See photo taken on the walk). We then drove home via the village of Sabarat, where we had our picnic. This is a very pretty little village on the river, and so full of character –prefect for painting, so I will be back!!

Monday 26 July 2010

25th July 2010

Country and Western festival at Pamiers

Yesterday evening, we all went into Pamiers to see a live band perform as part of the Country and Western festival that is taking place over this weekend. Dave and Daniel came along under sufferance…but actually found it very entertaining!! Before the live band (‘Rusty Legs’!!) started at 9.30, there was a dance floor and music to dance to. Lucy and I were itching to join in, but didn’t recognise any of the dances! Lucy managed a couple however, just by watching and following the steps – I wasn’t brave enough!!.

The live band were fun – and even included a bit of Elvis, Dire Straits….and Queen!!!….so the chaps were happy!! Eventually, a couple of dances came along that Lucy and I both knew, so we were able to join in! We also bought a couple of cowboy hats from one of the numerous stalls surrounding the square.
We were surprised to see so many people dancing and enjoying the music – and I managed to get some info on a Pamiers line-dancing group, which I will go along to in due course!!

Today, Sunday, we took the day off! The weather has been a bit unsettled all week, and was quite cloudy first thing, but we decided to risk it. We drove up to the ski resort of Ax les Thermes and dropped Daniel off with his bike at the bottom of the Col de Pailheres. We then drove up to the top of the Col (featured in the tour de France last week!). Dave, Lucy and I walked (hiked!!) up the mountain for an hour or so – amazing views but quite cool and windy – then wandered back down again to meet Daniel, who managed the ride to the top, but was ready for his lunch!!

There are more photos of July at La Maire at

Thursday 22 July 2010

20th July

20th July 2010

The other excitement this week involved the tour de France stage which started from Pamiers yesterday. We set off from here on our bikes at 8.00am and cycled down into Pamiers to see where the race was to start in the large square. There was a lot going on – people, noise, publicity etc… we wandered around for a bit, then cycled off to a quieter part of the town to watch the publicity procession, which was fun, and we picked up a few freebies – hats, fridge magnets, snacks etc!! We then cycled back over the hill to the corner near our village where the race was passing. A lot of local friends were there, so we had a chat and then found a good spot on the corner to wait for the cyclists. It was very exciting when they finally appeared - they flew along the flat straight towards us and then went by in an instant. I have to say I have never experienced a sporting occasion quite like it – hugely exciting and exhilarating while it lasted – but was over in a flash – then we all went home!!Dave and I picked Lucy up from the airport on Monday evening, so it is now very good to all have some time here together.

July 2010

July at La Maire

July and August are the months in the Ariege when ‘it all happens’!!

The weather is beautiful, apart from the odd day when the cloud drifts across from the mountains and cools down the temperature a bit. Although very hot for attempting any kind of physical activity, there is always a welcome breeze, and it has been very pleasant sitting in the garden in the shade – however we don’t seem to get the opportunity to do that very often at the moment!! This is also the season for fetes and festivals. The Pamiers ‘Latino’ festival was on last weekend, along with the fete at St Victor Rouzaud, our village. This is the local annual event of the year, lasting 3 days, starting with the ‘mousse’ (foam) party on the Saturday evening. Dave, Daniel and I wandered down there to join in with the festivities. There was a complete mix of people there – families with young children, teenagers from surrounding local villages, and a few other English families. We met up with friends Lisa and Neil, and were also pleased to meet Sara and Jeff, and Jo and Chris – us girls all decided to give the foam a go - very slimy and wet – but good fun (see photo!) !! Sunday activities included the church service and some family sporting activities, then there was a meal and dancing on the Monday. However, we were busy on the Sunday and picked Lucy up from the airport on Monday evening, so were not able to join in – next year however is in the diary!!

As for work at our house – Dave and Daniel have made great progress with the patio and at the time of writing, the base is ready for the stone slabs, which will arrive next week. The garden is under control, and the new bathroom is very near completion – we fitted the shower door yesterday, so all we need to do now is paint the floor and add the finishing touches.The new cooker also arrived today!!

Sunday 11 July 2010

Sunday 11th July

So its back to France on Tuesday for me! It has been a busy couple of weeks catching up with work and keeping the pots watered!! A heatwave in Maidenhead comes as quite a shock after the last couple of years! It is good to have Lucy home for the holidays as well and she will join us in France the following week.

Dave and Daniel have started work on the terrasse at La Maire - not the best job for the height of Summer, so they are finding alternative and less energetic jobs for the afternoons. I am looking forward to seeing the changes....and the (almost!) finished bathroom!

The Tour de France will start at Pamiers on Monday 19th July. The route takes them very close to St Victor Rouzaud, so we plan to go and cheer them on. If any of you watch it, we plan to wait on a long bend just after the village of Escosse, which is only a few km after the start.
We will wave, so if you spot us, be sure to wave back!!

Friday 2 July 2010

Tuesday 29th June

Tuesday 29th June

A final entry before Dave takes me to the airport.....
It has been a week of warm sunshine and thundery clouds building late in the day - see photos!

There has also been a bit of drama up at the farm over the last couple of days. Michel (our nearest neighbour and brother of Moise, who runs the farm at the top) called by on Monday morning to say that their elderly mother had died during the night, and that there would be quite a lot of cars going to and from the farm. Sure enough, the cars started from lunchtime onwards and all through Tuesday as well.
We felt we should offer our condolences to the family as well, so also wandered up there in the afternoon with some flowers. They were all pleased to see us - and must have been exhausted coping with such a steady stream of visitors and keeping the farm running as well. We were slightly alarmed to be invited in to see 'la mere', who was there in the house (!!!), but managed to politely decline!!
Moise was still in his work clothes and the atmosphere was actually quite jolly - and became jollier as the evening went on, probably fuelled by a fair bit of wine and Ricard! As Moise said, 'c'est la vie'!!

Daniel flies out to help Dave on Monday, then Lucy and I will join them in a couple of weeks - so we are all looking forward to having a bit of a holiday and some family time.

Monday 28th June

On the way to self-sufficiency!

The past two weeks have passed very quickly and I am due to fly back to the UK tomorrow. We feel we have made good progress, with the bathroom tiling almost finished and both our bedroom and the twin room painted and 'refreshed'. The grass is all looking tidy and the 'Roundup' onslaught on the weeds has begun.

Dave is still nurturing the vegatable patch. Sadly a lot of the seeds didn't survive the cold spell in May, and we really didn't have time to prepare the soil properly this year, but we are quickly discovering what grows easily and what needs more attention. We were able to harvest (and eat!) our first peas today, and they were absolutely delicious!! The potatoes are pretty good as well - and the cherry and fig trees are well loaded with fruit. Jam making will soon be on the 'list of things to do'!
We are buying eggs now from the farm, and have the promise of chickens, rabbit and duck in the near future as well - I'm not sure what condition we will receive them in, but will deal with that when the time comes!!! The chickens roam around our land most of the time anyway, so it is almost like having our own chickens without the expense or hassle!

We also downed tools on Sunday morning to have an outing to the 'Lac de Mondeley', (see above) which is about 40 minutes of very picturesque driving away. We had read (in the Daily Mail!!) that is has one of the best beaches in Europe. Well - the lake itself was beautiful, but the reporter must have been hallucinating as the 'beach ' was just a small area of grey gravelly sand!
Well, we enjoyed the drive and the place, but won't be swimming there!!

Thursday 24th June

Summer at last!

Well Summer finally arrived at the beginning of the week, along with the start of Wimbledon. We are finally enjoying late dinners in the garden - and wishing we already had a pool in place!! However, the interior of the house is remaining nice and cool, so offers a welcome respite when needed.

We have had a sociable stay here so far this time. The Anslow family joined us for the England/Algeria match, which was fun (their company, not the match!!). Lucy and David from the chateau joined us for tea one day, and we have also got to know a guy in the village who wants to improve his English - and help us with our French in return. We both visited our very likeable insurance broker and had an interesting and amusing conversation with him - in half French/ half English! Dave has spent a couple of days working on Sue's garden (also prone to becoming jungle-like) and Magali from Sue's office helped me complete my business application. Once this is set up and we are earning some money, we will be able to enter the French health system. The 'maire' has also been a huge help in filling in the (very confusing !) application forms which we need to complete for approval to build our balcony.

We have been happily amazed by the friendliness and helpfulness of all the local people (maybe with the exception of the sales assistant in the mobile phone shop!) Everyone has something to say and nothing is ever too much trouble for them. From the insurance broker, to local farmers, to supermarket sales assistants and security guards at the 'Brico Depot' (B &Q!), everyone has a smile or a wave and they all seem to take such pride and pleasure in their work.

Saturday 19th June

Dealing with the early summer jungle of weeds!

We arrived back at La Maire on Sunday 13th June - a good drive apart from encountering a tremendous thunderstorm in the Dordogne. I have rarely seen such torrential rain, but we battled through it at 30 mph and finally emerged safely on the other side.

On arriving 'chez nous' late in the evening, it was great to be able to open up the shutters and find the house exactly as we left it!
The garden however, was another story!! Equal quantities of sun and rain over the previous 4 weeks had provided ideal growing conditions for both grass and weeds. The grass was about a foot high, and the 'swimming pool to be' area at the back was a jungle of waist-high nettles and other very healthy looking weeds. Luckily, my flower seeds had also grown and were near to blooming - and the vegetable patch hadn't fared too badly either.

We just about managed to get the trailer unloaded before the rain started, then it didn't stop until Tuesday lunchtime!! However we soon heard about the floods in SE France and realised we had got off lightly!

The rest of the week remained unsettled, so we made the most of the opportunity to crack on with the bathroom and decorate two of the bedrooms. Much to Dave's huge satisfaction as an amateur plumber, the bathroom is now water-tight and ready to go, and the grass all cut...we are trying to ignore the weeds at the moment!

Friday 11 June 2010

11th June

A month in the UK

We soon settled into life in Maidenhead again - after a less than perfect arrival! The journey through France to Calais was great - problem - but then we hit the M25...standstill traffic and torrential rain on a Sunday evening! To make matters worse, we went to Gatwick to collect Reggie (our Ford Ka - left there when Lesley last flew out to France in a hurry!), only to find that he had thrown a hissy fit and had a flat battery. However, a nice man with a van and jump leads was there in minutes and we were soon on the road.

It has been a busy month - we held an 'open week' for the pictures, which resulted in a lot of framing. Along with watercolour commissions, catching up with family and friends and generally sorting things out here, the month has flown by.

Dave and Daniel also went off to Morocco for 5 days on the 'Landrover Experience' trip which Daniel was lucky enough to win in a competition. They had an amazing time and Dave's photos can be seen at
Lots of sand and lots of cars!!

So we are now packing the car and trailer ready for our drive back to La Maire on Sunday. We are looking forward to some warm, sunny weather - but might have to wait a while for that as the forecast is for rain over the next week! Oh well, we will just have to crack on with the bathroom and the decorating!!

Monday 17 May 2010

May 16th

Mixed up weather!!

Well - the first week in May saw the return of Winter! As the weather became progressively colder and wetter, we decided to start up the boiler again - just as well we did, as heavy rain turned to snow - on the very day of Mum and Dad's arrival!! Apparently snow only falls in May about every 20 years in this part of the Ariege, so it has taken everyone by surprise and has created a topic for conversation amongst the neighbours!

So Mum and Dad were not able to see our little corner of France at its best on arrival, but appreciated the warmth and comfort provided by the effective heating system and huge radiators at 'La Maire'. We had spent the previous weekend putting the finishing touches to their room with great satisfaction - the first guest room to be completed!

The rain and cold persisted for the next couple of days, but then we were able to enjoy a few days of warmer sunshine. Mum and Dad were a huge help with painting, gardening and other jobs around the house, but we also found time to explore the area, visiting Pamiers, Foix market, and aslo did a couple of local walks. Mum and Dad also treated us to a delicious meal at 'Auberge Pierre Bayle' in the hilltop village of Carla Bayle (see phots above). We had a table by the window with superb views of the surrounding countryside, delicious food - and a charming waiter! A lovely evening.

Dave (now fully recovered) continued working in the new bathroom, slowly but surely making progress with the mass of pipework and joints required to link it in to the system!

Just after Mum and Dad returned home, Daniel and Richard returned from their (successful this time!) drive to Morocco, and stayed with us for a couple of nights before driving the final leg home.

Dave and I are also now back in Maidenhead for a few eeks, returning to 'La Maire' around the middle of June

Friday 30 April 2010

30th April

Not the best weekend for Dave!!

Well we have now found out where the hospital is.....but not in the best way possible!!
Dave felt very ill on the Friday after Lucy and I left, with a high temperature and splitting headache. On the Saturday morning he woke to find a large bruise on his shin. He felt rough for the rest of the day but felt a little better and hoped it would go away!!
However the bruise had got worse by the Sunday morning so Dave decided to take himself off to outpatients at the hospital,which was very brave of him!! Very little English was spoken at the hospital but Dave coped ok - however the initial diagnosis was very worrying as they thought it was blood poisoning. While I was panicing somewhat at home and changing my flight to get back to France the next day, by the evening, the doctors had decided it was actually a skin infection - still a bad one needing treatment, but thankfully not as serious as we thought!!
I arrived back in France on the Monday - was thrilled and relieved that Lisa was able to pick me up from the airport and take me straight to the hospital. Dave was feeling much better and itching to get home by now, but had to stay in another night! I picked him up on the Tuesday and took him home with 3 weeks supply of anti-biotics and strict instructions to stay off the alcohol and rest. He has obeyed the former but he wont rest unless I tie him down - however the best compromise was to rest sitting on the mower, so we now have a fully mown lawn for the first time!
The weather is still lovely - and getting warmer by the day. However some rain is expected this weekend - eagerly awaited by yht e farmers I think as they haven't had their usual amount of March/April rain in the Ariege this year.
Am writing this in McDonalds in Pamiers - still no phone or Broadband at La Maire!!

Saturday 24 April 2010

25th March - 22nd April

Lucy's first visit to 'La Maire'

During my absence, the guys made good progress and coped admirably with food shopping, using the washing machine and various excursions to Brico Depot - transporting home 5m lengths of decking required some thought!! Daniel and Richard built an impressive area of decking at the back of the house, and the mower was finally repaired. Dave then spent most of the following week cutting the grass - the first cut of the season was a bit of a challenge as the grass was very long indeed!

Latest photos can be seen here

Lucy and I had a good flight out - sat behind actress Tamsin Grieg on the plane - Lucy is a big fan of 'Black Books' so was rather pleased!
Lucy loved 'la Maire' and was very lucky to have some warm and sunny weather for her stay. I was suprised to see how much the garden had changed while I was away - signs of Spring everywhere and everything growing like mad!

Lucy took on the job of shutter painting during her stay (alongside a fair bit of sunbathing and talking to the neighbours' dog!) Green shutters are now all finished and back in place - they look lovely! We also did lots of cooking - mostly cakes - some of which we gave to the neighbours as a thankyou for their gifts of lovely fresh eggs.
Daniel and Richard took on the difficult task of putting insulation in the 'garage room' ceiling and finishing it off with plasterboard. This will eventually be our main guest room so it was good to make a start. Dave is making progress in the new bathroom, but also keeps finding 'little jobs' to do in the garden which is so inviting at the moment! I also wielded a paintbrush - both watercolour and emulsion - generally kept food on the table, and even planted some seeds!

Our stay was punctuated by the flight chaos caused by the dust cloud from the volcano in Iceland. Dave and Daniel were due to fly back to the UK for a 5 day Land Rover driving holiday in Morocco. This was a competition prize won by Daniel so had been eagerly awaited! Their flight was cancelled, but thankfully for them the trip has also had to be postponed. Lucy and I managed to get our scheduled flight home on Thursday - so we were lucky!

The saga of getting a phone line and broadband to La Maire continues! Our initial contract had to be cancelled, then a new phone line ordered - but it now appears more lines are needed in the village, so it seems we will be waiting a while longer! However, we have mobiles, helpful neighbours with broadband, and there is always McDonalds which provide free Wi-Fi - so we will manage for the time being!

Lucy goes back to Loughborough on Sunday, then I will return to France in time for our next visitors - Mum and Dad are coming to stay for a week in May. We are very much looking forward to their stay and showing them around the area - and hope they will also have their usual luck with the weather when on holiday!!
Meanwhile, we need to find a bed....

Next blog update near the end of May - or sooner if we get online!

Thursday 25 March 2010

7th - 24th March

Two seasons in one week!!

Well, after an eventful and productive couple of weeks, Lesley is now back in Maidenhead, and back on-line, so is able to continue 'the blog'. We had hoped to be up and running with phone and broadband at La Maire, but many things never happen quickly in rural France!!

So lots to tell...we had a cold but sunny drive down to the Ariege - then our arrival at La Maire at 11.00pm coincided with the start of a 24 hour snowfall!

We got the wood-chip boiler up and running however and the house soon began to heat up - slowly! The first night was bitterly cold, but happily the house was all in good order after a cold winter.

The sun soon came out again, but temperatures stayed very low for about 4 days - then Spring suddenly arrived and it was time to unpack the the t-shirts!

Daniel and 3 friends were due to arrive the following week to help out, so our first few days consisted of buying a few essentials - fridge, freezer, washing machine, mattresses etc. However there is a lot to learn - we forgot that most shops in France close at lunchtime, so all customers are shown the door at midday, whether you have a trolley load or not!! Delivery of the white goods turned out to be impossible for another 2 weeks, but we were offered the use of the shop's own van to deliver transport our purchases back to the house - quite an interesting experience along the single track lanes!!

A couple of trips to Ikea also enabled us to begin sparsly furnishing the house, so it is starting to feel like home.

The lads all arrived - with wellies and workclothes - so Dave soon found plenty for them to do. The biggest job was demolishing the chicken houses, which they attacked with gusto!! Two days later, the chicken houses had become a petanque ground and a very neatly stacked pile of bricks! Another 2 day job was digging out the land behind the back of the house in preparation for the patio, and then the attic rooms to be cleared and painted.

The lads managed a couple of days out as well, to the coast, to Carcassonne and to the mountains - and by the middle of the week we had English TV up and running - just in time for the France/England rugby match!!

Fresh air and hard work makes for very large appetities, so we have also been keeping the local supermarkets in business!

We have both thoroughly enjoyed our first few weeks at La Maire. We still find the beautiful countryside all around quite a distraction from the jobs in hand and it is such a lovley place to wake up to in the mornings.
We have been warmly welcomed by the farming community around us - they all came out to say hello, and we were also pleased to be able to meet up with friends Sue and Steve, and Lisa and Neil from the village, all of whom are helping us to settle in so smoothly

Dave is staying there to continue working for another couple of weeks, with Daniel and Richard to help. I will go back with Lucy - her first visit- in a couple of weeks time....who knows, maybe we will be on-line by then!!

Some photos of the last couple of weeks can be seen at

Friday 5 March 2010

Friday 5th March 2010

Well - we are home again from our really wonderful holiday to Hong Kong, Sydney and New Zealand. A few more photos from our trip can be seen here
So - next stop - St Victor Rouzaud!
The new trailer is sitting in the front garden ready to be packed and the car is ready for some exercise after its 6 week rest on the driveway!
We are looking forward to being back at La Maire and starting work - Daniel and some friends are joining us for a week or so so help with some of the dismantling of chicken sheds, clearing up and if it is wet - painting. It will be good to have the extra pairs of hands - and we will enjoy their company as well. Our first week there will involve quite a lot of shopping, so we all have somewhere to sit and sleep - if there is any time for that!!
Dave's first item on the shopping list is the tractor mower!
We understand March tends to be the wettest month in the watch this space!!