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.
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
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 https://picasaweb.google.com/106845264213097004579/PechDeLimousy
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.
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.
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!!
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