Friday 30 December 2011

Lucy's 'Chubby Creations'

New cards and prints by Lucy

Click on the link below for more information
Chubby Creations by Lucy Olver

Happy New Year!!

Spotted on the river at Henley on Christmas Eve
At least they will have deserved a large portion of Christmas Pudding!!

We have had a lovely Christmas and New Year break in England and will look forward to driving back to La Maire on 3rd Jan.
The blog will continue in 2012. It is our New Year resolution to produce a 'photo a day'. Our albums will be posted on the blog at the end of each month

Happy New Year to everyone
Lesley and Dave

Wednesday 30 November 2011

Dave's birthday

Dave's birthday dawned bright and sunny, so we decided to drive up through one of the mountain passes and find somewhere to walk. We parked at the top of the Port de Lers and walked upwards! Views both on the way and at the top were stunning yet again. There is still just a sprinkling of snow on the summits which adds to the beauty of the scenery. We drove on to a little lake with the most wonderfully clear reflections before returning home via the 'scenic route' and a beer stop.

Sunday 27 November 2011

A sunny autumnal day and a new bread oven!

This week I have been building a traditional wood fired Roman bread oven in the barn. Made from clay dug up from the back garden it has been very satisfying to finally make good use of some of the clay that caused us so many problems this time last year, when we were wallowing in it in the pool hole. Made of three layers of clay mixed with sand and straw the oven was finally completed on Sunday and has survived three fires during the building process to help dry it out. We are now looking forward to traditional Italian pizza cookery, and if I feel very brave even a roast dinner. All being well the oven should be able to reach temperatures of 300 to 350 deg C which allows pizza to cook in about 2 mins, or as it slowly cools it can cook a roast joint of meat in a very different way to a normal oven. That's the theory, but time will tell.

Lesley :
We had more chambres d'hotes visitors here for a couple of nights at the beginning of the week. They had booked the two rooms upstairs, so Dave and I decided to move into the Pyrenees Suite while it is empty. We settled in well and are still there!!

English friend and fellow artist Sara called for coffee one morning and we had a productive hour discussing printing and selling our work. We both agree that this is such a lovely place to live as an artist - we really are spoilt for subject matter. However there seem to be more artists here than there are customers, so selling is not quite so easy!
Sara's lovely paintings and photography can be seen here:
(Copy and pastethe above link into a new browser to see Sara's website)

Now that he has finished his metallurgy course, Jean Paul is doing some work experience to help him decide what to do for the rest of his working life. This week he has been trying out a boulangerie in Pamiers. The daily 'baguette' is such an important part of French life that it has been interesting to hear how it all works and how 4 people manage to produce over 800 baguettes a day!

Yesterday evening we hosted a dinner - there were nine of us altogether, six English, one South African, one Dutch and one French. Everyone helped out, bringing generous and delicious offerings of food and wine. It was great fun - the perfect way to liven up a dark evening, but I don't think I will need to eat for another week!

Here are some more photos of Dave's bread oven and of the garden in the autumn.

Sunday 20 November 2011

Back at La Maire

We have had 3 very enjoyable weeks back in the UK - it was very good to see everyone, both family and friends. The drive up through France was probably the best yet - not a cloud in the sky all the way, beautiful Autumn colours and a lovely afternoon and evening with Melanie and Steve at their house near Duras on the way

We returned to La Maire last Sunday, stopping off near Versailles on the way to deliver a painting to a family who stayed with us last Summer. It was lovely to see them all again, and the excellent coffee and cakes were very welcome as well. We were very glad of the SatNav, which got us safely away from Paris and on the route south.

Apart from one cloudy day since we have been back, it has been warm and sunny again. However the woodchip boiler has been giving Dave a headache as it really doesn't like mild weather and keeps going out! Believe it or not we are looking forward to some colder weather!!

We have had a sociable week - two dinners with friends, then all our neighbours here for lunch today. We served up traditional roast beef and lemon meringue pie for 10 of us altogether. It was a good chance to get back into the habit of speaking French and they were a lot of fun.

On Saturday, we decided to make the most of the lovely weather and go for another walk - at the 'Prat d'Albi this time, which is just the other side of Foix. The walk wasn't too strenuous and was very open and scenic. The Autumn colours, although just past their best, were really lovely.
There are some photos here

Friday 21 October 2011

A few photos

A few October photos...........

Mirepoix on a sunny October morning
The Land Rover in its new car park chez nous
October 18th - probably the last day this year I will get to wear my shorts!
October 20th - the first snow has arrived on the summits

Monday 17 October 2011

Another hike - the Pic de Sarrasi

Yesterday, Sunday, we went for another hike in the mountains, making the most of the continuing perfect weather. We decided to go up high again as these are walks that we won't be able to do in the winter when the snow arrives. However this particular 'hike' turned into more of a climb!! We parked in a small ski centre (just one button lift and about 5 runs) about an hours drive away. The route took us up through the ski area, which was a bit bleak and cold at 10am with the sun still too low to warm us up. However once up on the crete, we climbed up to the peak of Sarrasi at 2213m. The crete looks a bit precipitous on the photos, but the path was good and the views superb. Arriving at the top, we had superb 360 degree views of the surrounding area. The walk actually continued up another crete to an even higher peak, which the guide book promised us would give 'mega-top' views as opposed to just 'top' views. We tried it, but when the path completely disappeared and the walk turned into a rock climb, we decided it was time to give up! We went back down by a different route, with super views all the way, and arrived wearily back at the car after 6 hours on our feet.

Making steel - final episode!

Last week, Jean Paul built his Japanese forge to strengthen the iron extracts from the first forge by heating it at a very high temperature and adding just enough carbon to turn it into steel.
This is an open forge, and so-called because the Japanese used them to forge their swords.
The fire worked well - the pieces of iron extract were added along with more charcoal. The metal melted and collected at the base of the forge. Jean Paul then extracted them from the fire and compacted them with a hammer. This process didn't go entirely as planned as the pieces of metal, now steel, kept breaking up into smaller pieces. Jean Paul had already realised that something had not gone according to plan in the original forge, probably due to the materials used in the building of it. It just goes to show that this is a very technical and complicated process where all the elements need to be exactly right for the process to work. However, Neil came to the rescue with his forge, and we managed to salvage one piece of solid steel, which can be seen in the photos here
Jean Paul was relieved after 4-5 weeks of work to finally have a piece of steel to present for his diploma, but was disappointed that it didn't go entirely as planned. However the whole process was very interesting ....and he might well have another go!

Monday 10 October 2011

After a couple of days of rather overcast and cooler weather, the sun came out again on Sunday afternoon and we decided to go for a local walk. The 'Pech de Limousy' is a hilltop about 15 mins drive from La Maire, offering the most fantastic views all around, both back towards La Maire and over the forested foothills to the summits of the Pyrenees. A 20 minute walk took us to the top - the air was clear and the views superb.
There are more photos here

Sunday 9 October 2011

Making steel - episode 2

Last week Jean Paul finished preparing the furnace for the iron reduction. I helped by sorting the magnetic bits of ore to go into the furnace with a magnet - this was fun, but very messy!!
Thursday was the big day for extracting the iron from the ore. Jean Paul lit the fire in the morning. It needed 3 hours to reach the correct temperature before adding iron ore and charcoal in equal quantities every few minutes. We were able to watch what was going on in the furnace by looking down a pipe with a protective lens which was inserted into the side of the furnace.
The iron should melt and collect in a 'loupe' at the base of the furnace.
Jean Paul wasn't entirely happy with the way the the fire was going - so opened it up with a certain amount of trepidation! Well - there was a 'loupe' but it seems that something didn't go quite right and the iron has too much carbon in it, which turns it into steel. Well, it is steel that he wants eventually, but the loupe now has to be heated in a 'Japanese furnace', which risks adding even more carbon.....which will not be good as he will end up with cast iron!! So the experiment continues this week.......
It is proving to be a very complicated and intricate process where all the elements need to be just right for it to work effectively.
More photos of last weeks experiment are here

Sunday 2 October 2011

Another wonderful walk in the mountains

Yesterday, we drove up past Vicdessos to the Etang de Soulcem for a wonderful day of walking. Just 15 minutes walk from the car park this wonderful valley opened up before us. We had planned to just walk up the valley and back, but the weather was so good that we decided to climb up to a couple of the lakes. It was quite a hike both up and down and when we returned to the car 6 hours later our legs had turned to jelly! It was however a fantastic walk and a great day to be in the mountains.

Some more photos can be seen here

The garden in October

Just a few images of the things that are flourishing in the garden at the moment. On the menu this week: pumpkin soup, fig jam, a little bit of hot chilli pepper, and raspberry crumble, but not all together!!

Making steel - episode one!

This week we have been further involved in Jean Paul's project to make steel from iron ore. I had another trip up to the area of disused mines in the mountains earlier in the week with Jean Paul and two other students from his course. The lads found an impressive cave which was a real treasure trove of iron ore, so they filled a couple of wheelbarrows which they then transported back down to the cars to share out equally later!! The ore then needs to be broken up, cooked and powdered. The next stage is to cook it in a furnace and to add a certain amount of charcoal to give it strength and turn it into steel. This method apparently gives a much better quality product than any steel produced by modern methods.

Jean Paul has been building his furnace in our barn this week. It is made entirely from earth and has to be made to certain dimensions to ensure that it is effective. It is currently drying - ready for the fire to be lit next week. More to follow.....
Some more photos can be seen here

Saturday 24 September 2011

Le Mont Fourcat

We have enjoyed another week of wonderful sunny weather, but the rain of the previous weekend freshened up the air so it has been perfect for cycling and walking. On Tuesday we did a local bike ride which took us along a ridge with wonderful views of the 3 summits of the Montagne de Tabe, which we can see from La Maire

On Wednesday, we decided to climb to the top of Mont Fourcat, the Western-most of these peaks. After an hours drive to the parking area, we started walking up through the forest on an easy path. After a little while we came out into the open and completed the gradual climb to the summit which took 2h 15mins in all. The views from the summit were really excellent - it felt as though we were on top of the world with a 360 degree panorama, taking in the Mont d'Olmes ski area, Foix and Pamiers to the North, as well as far-reaching views of the Pyrenees stretching West and South towards Andorra.After a picnic at the top, we made our way back down, arriving eventually at the car with very wobbly knees!!Some photos of our bike ride and walk can be seen here

Other news this week - we have had guests in the suite and have enjoyed eating with them in the evenings. Last night was warm enough again to eat in the garden. My dancing 'rock' dance class has re-started-more of a challenge this year as I am in the 'advanced' class, but everyone is very patient and willing to explain things several times over so I can understand!! Our quince tree has produced 3 fruit - enough for 4 jars of jam!!

Sunday 11 September 2011

Making charcoal

A different and interesting week!
To complete his course in metallurgy, Jean Paul has to make a quantity of charcoal using traditional methods. This involves collecting the wood and then building a fire which gently smoulders over 1 - 2 days to convert the wood to charcoal. A large quantity of soil, grass and ferns is required to cover the wood and allow just enough air to enter. It needs to be constantly watched while it smoulders to prevent the wood from actually catching fire and burning to ash. Jean Paul lit the fire in his Mum's garden on the Wednesday morning and camped out all night to keep watch over it. Dave and I went to watch the grand opening and it was rewarding to see that it had worked - a huge pile of perfect charcoal! The next job is to build a kiln (in our barn) in order to extract iron from rock. This is quite a complicated but traditional and effective process, so we will look forward to seeing it put into practice over the next week or two.
There are more photos of the charcoal fire here

Also this week, the swallows have been very active. There are hundreds of them in and around the garden, seemingly attracted by the swimming pool - we love watching them swoop over the water for a drink. However, they also appear to be gathering en masse in advance of the winter exodus. On several mornings this week, we have seen them lining up shoulder to shoulder (wing to wing!!?) on the electricty cables - quite a sight!
We have also had some really beautiful morning mists with the slightly cooler mornings - always well worth a photo or two!

We have also enjoyed having more guests here this week, both from Berkshire and Wales, and spent a couple of entertaining evenings with them all over dinner. We have had a good week of warm and sunny weather and it is still warm enough to eat outside most evenings.

Monday 5 September 2011

5th September

Odile from the farm told me last week that they would be killing the ducks on the Wednesday, and if we wanted one, we should let her know. Sure enough, we went up to the farm on the Wednesday afternoon and purchased both a duck and a chicken for the freezer. We had noticed on the Wednesday morning that the ducks were all over our garden, on the walls, on the roof tops....and assumed that they knew what was coming and this was their last taste of freedom. However, it turned out that these ducks did indeed know what was coming and had the initiative to escape - so they have a few more weeks of life left yet! This pleased us a bit! Although we were happy to buy a fresh duck for the freezer, we had seen them as babies about 4 months ago, so seeing a few of them grab a little longer to live was quite satisfying!
However, as can be seen in the photos above, the next brood are already out enjoying the freedom and fresh air! So although their lives are short, they are happy! C'est la vie!!

Sunday 4 September 2011

So as promised - the pool landscaping so far! Just the bottom left-hand corner still to do. Dave has put in some steps and paving slabs as well as filling the area immediately surrounding the pool with pebbles, bordered by kerbstones to keep them in place. This is the best option at the moment while the back-filled earth settles, which can take a few years. It is good to prevent the grass growing too close to the pool edge as well, because cutting it has proved very difficult without filling the pool with greenery!
The whole area looks much more finished now - and very 'beach-like'! We have had some warm sunny days this week as well so have been able to enjoy it as well.

We are still busy with visitors during the coming week, and despite a rather overcast day today, the weather is still looking quite promising, so they will hopefully be able to see the area at its best - and the pool will remain in use until it just gets too cold!

We managed another bike ride one morning last week, and I have been finding some time to paint - see one of the results above. It is proving quite a challenge capturing the unique light of the landscape here. It changes constantly. I love the way the mountains get progressively paler as they recede into the distance, and the summits are nearly always topped with a few bits of cloud. The sunflowers are being harvested now, and the corn will also be taken down in a week or two depending on the weather. However the figs are ripening - so it will soon be time for more jam making!

Tuesday 30 August 2011

30th August 2011

A quieter week at La Maire! The weather soon cooled down after the weekend of the 21st, and by Wednesday the morning temperature had dropped to 12 degrees - and the pool just 20 degrees! However, the sun soon returned and things are more or less back to normal in the upper 20's and the pool back to a comfortable temperature for swimming. Evenings have been lovely - warm and calm, and we are still eating dinner outside.

We have had more visitors - in the past week from Spain, Canada and Belgium, both on holiday and house hunting. We have also had some more time to relax. It has been a real treat to spend some time sitting by the pool, reading in the garden and going for bike rides.
Dave has also found time to start landscaping the pool area and I have started painting again.

The photos above are of Dave's tallest sunflower!!!.......and a typical Ariege view of countryside and mountains from a local bike ride.

See the next blog entry for photos of the pool landscaping and a painting!

Sunday 21 August 2011

21st August 2011

We treated ourselves to a day out today. It is still extremely hot so we decided to go up into the mountains. Jean Paul had recommended a short walk to a lake just the other side of Ax-les-Thermes so we decided to give it a try. It took us just over an hour to drive there, and we started walking by 9.30, before it got too hot. After a steep climb through the forest to start with, the footpath soon flattened and opened out to provide us with a really lovely walk up to the Etang de Comte. The scenery was stunning, the weather perfect and the walking easy. We spent a lazy hour or so at the lake, then slowly made our way back down to the car.

On the way home we did a detour up to the ski resort of 'Ax les 3 Domaines'. At 30 degrees it was difficult to imagine it as a ski resort, but we hope to be able to try it out this winter.

A few guest comments from our first season

Your gorgeous house, beautiful garden and immaculate accommodation, not to forget your amazing hospitality, made for an unforgettable stay

Quel accueil agréable: le calme, la sympathie, le charme de la belle nature…..

We arrived at La Maire to a very warm welcome and a lovely suite which exceeded our expectations by a good margin…….

Merci pour votre accueil chaleureux, votre générosité et ces petits moments de partage qui rechauffent les coeurs.

Great holiday, superb accommodation and fantastic company. Hospitality at its best! Thankyou so much for a great week

3 jours qui furent un grand moment de nos vacances. Le site est merveilleux dans un environnement natural qui a gardé tout son authenticité. Lesley et Dave nous ont fait partager de tres agréables moments de convivalité Franco- anglais et leur table d’hote vaut le détour. Avec un moment tres particulier que fut le cours d'aquarelle donné par Lesley

Saturday 20 August 2011


A perfect evening at La Maire! 38 degrees with a welcome breeze. It is calm and peaceful -all we can hear are the birds and chickens. Even the farmers are having a rest from the heat. A glass of chilled rose on the terrace with ripe home-grown melon after a welcome dip in the pool - this is what we came here for!!

Thursday 18 August 2011

The last few weeks have been a social whirl! It has been lovely to have friends to stay, but also to meet so many different and interesting people - our chambres d'hotes guests. Some just stay for a night, some for a few nights, some for a week. Some are French, some are English, sometimes some of each at the same time. We love meeting complete strangers on our doorstep, enjoying a few dinners with them, then bidding them farewell as good friends. We do enjoy seeing families having fun here. After all the hard work we have put into La Maire this year, it is so very rewarding to see everyone enjoying the house, the garden and the pool.

On Saturday evening we were invited to a party thrown by Denis, our near neighbour from the farm. He was celebrating his 40th birthday along with his cousin, also 40 and also called Denis! The French certainly know how to enjoy themselves!! It all kicked off in the village hall with aperitifs and plates of lovely food. Denis and Denis dressed up as the guys from 118 118 (118 218 in France!!) and provided us all with a bit of light entertainment...actually very funny! At 10.30 we were all led into a long marquee set with tables for a banquet of paella, bread and wine, cheese and mouthwatering profiteroles. In between courses we were treated to a firework display outside....then the dancing started at about 1.00am!! Of the 150 or so people there we were the only ones who were not close family or old friends so we were honoured to be invited. We were made to feel very welcome and loved the lively atmosphere - lots of singing, laughing and banging on tables!!

We also had our English friends from the village here for drinks on Monday evening - we missed you Sara...come back soon! It was good to have the chance to get together during this very busy month of the year when everyone in France seems to be on holiday except those running chambres d'hotes and gites!!

Thursday 11 August 2011

11th August

Just had to add these 2 images of our very own sunflowers!!

Monday 8 August 2011

August 8th 2011

Have just spent another lovely weekend - this time with friends Melanie and Steve. The weather forecast was for rain all weekend but luckily it turned out to be wrong! We spent a hot and sunny afternoon at the pretty hilltop village of Carla Bayle - see photos above.

It is now the height of the season so all the artists studios were open and it was probably as busy as it ever gets with tourists -mostly British! However we didn't witness any sales so its probably not worth investing in studio space just yet!!

We ate outside on both evenings but had to rapidly retreat indoors on Saturday when a perfectly calm and warm evening developed into a storm with gusting winds and heavy rain - within minutes!!

Otherwise, the grass continues to grow and we have more visitors in the house this week. It feels very good to dee people enjoying the house and grounds - and especially the swimming pool!!

Tuesday 2 August 2011

1st August

We can hardly believe it is the 1st of August already - where did July go?! We arrived back at La Maire on Thursday at 11.00am after a very early flight and spent the rest of the day grass cutting and shopping. The rain of the past week has given a new lease of life to both grass and weeds -good for the farmers but not for holiday makers!! However the sun has returned this weekend, just in time for us to welcome our very good friends the Pollocks and the Deweys. We all enjoyed several happy hours of walking, eating, drinking, table tennis, lively discussion and lazing by the pool.
Thankyou David Pollock for the first 3 lovely photos above.

A French family also stayed with us at the weekend. They were here for a wedding in the village - and some wedding it appeared to be!! There were 500 people at the little village church, and then afterwards at the family home just across the valley. However in true plain and simple simple Ariege style, the wedding car was a landrover decked out in local greenery - see photo above!

Saturday 23 July 2011

Since the family left we have had all sorts of weather conditions thrown at us - unsusual for the Ariege, or typical?! Who knows!! A couple of wild thunderstorms interspersed with both cloudy days and also very hot and sunny days have encouraged both grass and weeds to grow like crazy, and have also created the most wonderful cloud formations at times.

The sunflowers have been at their best and temperatures have been plenty warm enough for swimming. Lucy has been in most mornings before breakfast! The pool is now finished, coping stones and all, but we just need to landscape the surroundings.

We enjoyed having old friends Claire and Paul here to stay for a few days, and we had a lovely meal at the Auberge in Carla Bayle. The restaurant is high up in the village so when a huge storm battered the windows during the meal, it felt as though we were on a boat in a stormy sea! Luckily it abated in time for the walk back to the car. There is a photo above of us all in the village above.

On another wet day, Jean Paul took Lucy and I to Toulouse. Luckily the torrential rain stopped for our wander around the city - a very colourful city with a lively square and lots of old streets to wander though and a pretty tree-lined walk along the river. See photos above. We had a nice lunch and found a few of our favourite shops for a browse before driving home - again in torrential rain!!

Daniel left us to return to Maidenhead on the Friday, then we enjoyed having more visitors to stay - both English and French. One sunny evening we enjoyed dinner in the garden with both English and French guests. One of the pleasures of providing chambres and tables d'hotes here in France is the opportunity to meet so many different people and also for them to meet each other, to sample each others traditional foods and attempt to converse in each others languages. We ate pate made at the farm, chicken chasseur and sticky toffee pudding!

We are now back in Maidenhead for Lucy's graduation ceremony which took place on Thursday. It was a lovely day and we were very proud to see her receive her well-deserved certificate for a 2:1 in Graphic Design.

We will now enjoy a few more days here in Maidenhead before returning to La Maire to welcome more friends and customers to stay - August will be a busy month and we hope that the sun will shine!!

Sunday 10 July 2011

10th July 2011

La Maire is feeling very quiet this afternoon after saying goodbye this morning to Clive and Sue and the girls and Mum and Dad. They all arrived last Sunday, along with Daniel and we have had the most wonderful week. It has been great to have the house full for the first time and of course to be able to spend the week with them all, as it doesn't happen very often!!

We spent the week eating, talking, swimming, relaxing in the garden, playing table tennis, walking and visiting local towns and villages. Everyone helped so the catering was never a chore!!

On Friday evening we had our eagerly awaited party to celebrate finishing (well, almost!!) work at La Maire. The weather was perfect - calm and warm. Our guests were a mixture of French and English friends and it was great to get everyone here together. Jean Paul's band 'Shaker' played for us after the buffet for a couple of hours and were really fantastic.

I would like to be able to put a video up - but will have to make do with some photos - here they are....