Tour of the Basque coutry part 2

Each Pentecost Sunday, in St. Jean de Luz, there’s a big bike ride, known as the ride of the quiet valleys, done by the best part of 1000 cyclists each year. The Nogaro club had booked to do this many months ago, before we joined, but a fortnight ago a couple of people dropped out and we were invited to take their places.

We set off by car, in convoy, from Nogaro on Saturday morning, arriving in Ascain, near St. Jean de Luz in time for lunch at the hotel where most of our party were staying; we were lucky enough to be one of the three couples for whom there wasn’t space, and who had to stay at a nearby chambres d’hotes, a far better option! We had lunch at the hotel, a pretty meagre affair; they were obviously not geared up to feed hungry cyclists, then eight of us decided to go for a ride.

I only intended to do about 40km, in view of the ride the following day, but got talked into going “just to the top of the first col”, at which point they told me that we were at the halfway point now, so I might as well continue. I don’t think maths is a French cyclist’s forté; since when has 28 been half of 72,?, the distance we covered that afternoon. I’ve never descended a mountain road in a group before and certainly not at the speeds we did on Saturday; it was quite scary and although I thought I did fairly well, I was given a masterclass in descending hills before the next col! It was a beautiful ride, though, along tiny roads, lined with overhanging trees, beside bubbling streams, over the border into Spain then back into France to tackle the last two cols.

Probably as a result of the miniscule lunch we’d had, (my excuse and I’m sticking to it!) by the time we reached the last col, I was struggling to keep up, but they refused to leave me behind, and as soon as the road started to rise, I started to drop off the back of the group. A short way up the hill I felt a hand in the middle of my back and Gilles pushed me the whole of the 3km to the summit, in the process leaving the rest of them behind! When someone’s pushing you, you have to give everything you’ve got and ride as hard as you can, so consequently, by the time we got to the top, I was nearly on my knees! But the last few km were easy enough and soon I was able to soak in a bath at the B&B.

The following morning we all set off to do the main ride; there were four routes to choose from, 34km, 67km, 90km or 130km. Nick and most of the rest of the men opted for the long route, but I chose the 67km; the hotel was 10km from the start/finish, so we had to add another 20km to the distance.

All the rides started along the same route, splitting up further down the road, so I stayed with the Nogaro group for the first few km, before following the yellow arrows through pretty villages built in the typical Basque style; terracotta roofs, white walls and Basque red shutters and balconies. Loads of the hedging in the area is a type of mock orange and the perfume was amazing as we cycled along in the warm sunshine. One of the cols was the one I’d been helped up on the previous day, so it was a great relief to get to the top with no assistance and no difficulty on Sunday.

Nick completed his ride with no problem, having ridden about 650km during the previous 10 days, while his friend was visiting. His total for the weekend was 220km, while I notched up a mere 160km.

Sunday evening’s dinner was turned into a sort of stag & hen do by Maithée, one of the club members; JB and Claudine, two of our number, are getting married next Saturday, so Maithée bought them Pierrot and Pierrette costumes to wear for dinner on Sunday evening. The meal was no better than the rest we’d eaten there, but the atmosphere was very convivial.

All in all, a good weekend;-)



Tour of the Basque country part 1

After 6 days of dodging rain to get some miles in, eating and drinking well and visiting an armagnac distillery it was time to test the fitness in the hills. Tuesday had been a long ride in a head wind, then wednesday was time to swap Glyn for Jackie but since the flight was 10 pm there was time for a ride in the Basque hills. We parked at Cambo les bains, a thermal spa then made our way to the start of the first climb col d’ ispeguy and entry into spain. The scenery changes with the architecture on the spanish side in the warm sunshine,good roads for the descent then we are soon heading up the next col.Over the top and a drop into Dancharia, one of the shopping meccas just on the Spanish side of the border, then afternoon tea in Ainhoa one of the best Basque villages (all painted red), a large steak finished off the week well before the flight home.

I hope everyone’s enjoyed Nick’s posts; but not too much as you’ve got me again now!

I had a fantastic week back in Harrogate; Izzy and I are now both word perfect in “Sneezles” and “The King’s Breakfast”, two of my favourite childhood poems, a love I’ve delighted in passing on. It was great to catch up with lots of friends while I was back, as well as being able to see Kieran pass his motorcycle test and buy a bike. He should be heading back to France in the next few days.

It’s late now and I’m tired after a very busy weekend, so I’ll do part 2 of “Tour of the Basque Country” tomorrow – watch this space;-)

When the cats away

For the next week there will be a change in focus on this site, blog will now be  B(ike) LOG having swapped Jackie for Glyn at Biaritz airport we arrived home at midnight. Up at seven as we had the offer of a ride with the club, thursday was a bank holiday a sunny 88km then back for apperos before lunch. A slow tour of the area in the afternoon.

Friday dawned and the forcast was for possible rain most of the day so we decided to go out and play it by ear, there was a black cloud in the north so we went south!. after Termes we hit the beaumarche  ridge and rolled into the bastide of Bassous having been passed (just) by a long prosession of antique cars. To early for lunch we pushed on to montesquiou where the only possibility of food was an very ordinary bar, yes we can eat but not untill midday (it was 11.50). We were then shown the resturant down a passage and ate like kings, soup, salad compose, duck breast potatoes courgette au gratin, creme brule, wine, coffee and a “canard” to finish (armagnac served in the warm coffee cup).  The next few miles were a bit of a blur, I missed the turning for Tillac so we visited Mielan in stead, then it seemed like a good plan to visit the house that started the dream, it was onluy 5 miles.  16.30 and still heading south, a quick look at Montegut then head for coffee in Marciac before a flatish ride home arriving 19.30 for food and shower after 98 miles.

nice little pad

the house that started the dream

A blog babysitter

I’m off to sunny  Harrogate tomorrow, to see Alex, Izzy and Graham; and to catch up with lots of other friends too. The house is all cleaned, my packing done and I’ve just got to make some quiche and flapjack; then I’ll be ready to don the three thick sweaters I can’t fit in my Ryanair-sized bag, but which I’m assured I will need when I get back to the UK.

Nick has a cycling-mad friend coming to stay, but has promised to do a blog from time to time, so keep checking; I’ll do a report on my trip (if anything exciting happens), when I get back.

A grand day at the seaside

The sun was just rising over Nogaro, shortly after 6o’clock this morning, when 60 walkers piled onto the coach that was to take us to Bidart, on the west coast, to walk a section of the Sentier Littoral, the coastal path. The weather forecasters got it wrong; instead of blue skies and sunshine, there was quite a bit of high cloud, but that kept it to a perfect temperature for walking.

On arrival, we split into 3 groups, doing different distances and I joined 23 others to do the 25km between Bidart and Hendaye, on the Spanish border. It was by no means a flat route as you climb up and down the undulating coastline, between meadows full of wild flowers, rocky outcrops, forests heavy with the scent of acacia and occasionally a bit of beach walking. We were never out of earshot of the sea and could hear the waves washing onto the shore, as well as the sound of countless cicadas in the fields and birds singing in the trees.

By the time we reached St. Jean de Luz, the halfway point, we were all hungry, particularly since we walked the length of the bay, past all the restaurants serving delicious-smelling food; so we found some benches and stopped to eat our picnic. Not for us a restaurant meal; we didn’t have time to hang about.

After lunch we set off once more, stopping briefly to look at the ancient fort and the lighthouse, before heading out of town along the well trodden path. By mid afternoon the sun had finally shown his face; as we walked through a beautiful deciduous forest, the dappled light through the trees, along with the sound of birdsong, gave the place quite a magical feel. We stopped to admire a Victorian era chateau before the descent into Hendaye, where the final kilometre of the route went along the beach; so we all took off boots and socks and paddled our way to where the coach was waiting for us. Everyone agreed it had been a grand day out!

Sadly, my camera stopped working part way through the morning; but Christian is going to send me his photos, so I’ll put them on this page when I receive them (probably not for a couple of weeks).

Cabanon roof finished!

When Kate, our neighbour, told us how long she’d spent cleaning roof tiles to reuse them, I must confess that I did wonder if the poor girl had ever so slightly taken leave of her senses. Until yesterday, that is, when I saw the state of the tiles Nick had taken off the cabanon roof; they were totally encrusted with decades worth of moss and lichen. So we set to, to scrape and scrub them clean(ish).I

It was another hot day, 30ºC in the shade, not that there was a lot of shade where we were working; but there was rain forecast for the night, so we decided to push on till we finished. We would both clean several heaps of tiles,  pile them onto the scaffolding tower, then I would pass them from there to Nick, on the roof, who’d put them in place.

By 9o’clock, shortly before the sun disappeared behind the trees, we finished;, having worked a straight 12 hours. We were filthy, hungry, mozzie-bitten and exhausted, but with a tremendous sense of achievement. I just hope the promise of good food, good wine and job satisfaction is enough for those two mad – sorry, I mean brave – souls who have offered to help us replace the main roof this summer!

Happiness is a nail gun with a full magazine

Somebody, who shall remain nameless (he knows who he is!), has had the temerity to suggest that I don’t do any real work around here! I’m mortally wounded; cut to the quick! Ahhh, the plight of women the world over; who perform their day-to-day tasks with such quiet efficiency that the male of the species is blissfully unaware of how molly-coddled an existence he leads. Some even still believe it’s the pants fairy who does the washing!

Today was a different sort of day, though; with Kieran back in England, Nick needed some help to replace the cabanon roof. Having spent the morning finishing the task of moving the firewood from the terrace to the woodpile (by barrow or by hand since the trailer no longer fits through the gap since Nick filled it with roof tiles), I then became roofer’s labourer for the afternoon, helping lift beams and lats, position the tarpaulin and nail them in place.

That done, Nick sat down to a three course dinner which included home made bread, home made paté, a choice of quiche, made with home grown eggs and walnuts, salad with home grown lettuce, rocket and radish, all rounded off by a choice of crumble or lemon cake.

Not much time for painting my toenails today then ! 😉

At last – an egg!!

It’s taken a long time, but today, one of the big hens, we don’t know which one, produced an egg! A beautiful, perfect, brown egg, which we hope will contain a deep yellow yolk. So a reprieve is in order and we won’t turn them into casserole or curry, not just yet, anyway.

On this morning’s club bike ride, I ended up riding with Maurice and another guy whose name I don’t know; they form the slower contingent, both being well into their sixties, I should think. Maurice was apologising for not having had time to shave this morning, to which I replied that it didn’t matter; I hadn’t washed my hair either. We had a good laugh as we rode along and although I’m not quite sure how much of the conversation I understood correctly,  I think it was suggested that in future I should ride in full make up and stockings, while they claim that they’re taking English lessons! Perhaps it was as well that I had to come home early. When he saw Nick after the ride, Maurice told Nick I’d gone home early to make him his favourite cake.

After what was a cool, wet start to the day, the sun came out at lunchtime and the afternoon and evening were lovely. Nick continued to dig out the soil at the side of the house and fill the hole with rubble while I started shifting the wood pile from the terrace to the wood pile in the field. Nick’s already removed the bricks and other building materials off the terrace, which will have to be broken up and removed – yes, producing a load more rubble!

Eggs soon???

The big chickens, Sage and Onion, may be about to start earning their keep! There were 2 soft-shelled eggs this morning; one on the drive and the other in the chicken run. They have yet to learn where to lay and, presumably, how to produce eggs with hard shells, but it’s a start – watch this space!

The nuggets, on the other hand, won’t be laying for some time yet; when they do, I wouldn’t be surprised to find eggs on the kitchen windowsill, since as soon as we open the shutters in the morning, they all hop straight up there, tapping on the glass with their beaks. I think they’re pining for Kieran as he used to feed them there; you’d better pass your motorbike test and come back soon, Kieran, or they’ll have forgotten you!

After all the rain, and now the warmth, the garden is going mad; weeds are springing up faster than we can pull them out and the potager is looking good. We’ve planted tomatoes, aubergines, courgettes and peppers, have eaten most of the first crop of radishes and sown some more and have enjoyed spinach and rocket in salads. Tomorrow we can cut the first lettuce. Can’t believe I’m getting excited about such things; I really must get out more! I was told off for having planted stuff out so early, by the gardeners at the walking group yesterday; apparently it’s quite common to have a frost for the feast day of ” la sainte de glace” (or that’s what it sounded like!), which happens next week. We might be lucky, though, as no frosts are forecast yet.

Apart from sitting in the sunshine, watching the lettuces grow, I’ve lasured (glossary: lasure – French wood treatment, somewhere between creosote and varnish) the new shutters and Nick has bought a load of wood to replace the cabanon roof, which leaks badly.

I can’t believe it’s nearly a week since Kieran left; we don’t seem to have achieved very much, but yesterday was walking/cycling clubs, today was patchwork club, tomorrow is a bank holiday, so the cycle club is going out, Wednesday is the usual club bike ride and I’m teaching to cover someone’s absence…… And I thought retirement was supposed to be a time for slowing down and doing less!


Summer’s arrived (I hope)

After four weeks of almost constant rain, the weather seems to be improving. The last few days have been warm and sunny and much more conducive to getting on with some work; or going cycling, or sitting out, drinking tea, or watching the chickens, or any number of other things that aren’t work!

Having taken Kieran to the airport yesterday for his trip back to the UK, Nick and I intended to start some serious work on the house today, but it was such a lovely day that we ended up going out on the bikes instead, having a leisurely lunch and spending most of the afternoon shopping for such exciting items as a new wheelbarrow and chicken feed. I’m beginning to think, where the chickens are concerned, that we’ve been sold duds; the two big ones were sold as “ready to lay”, but in spite of lots of clucking noises, which my neighbour assures me means they’re laying eggs, there’s nothing. We’re thinking of changing their names to Casserole and Curry if they don’t produce something soon! They’re great entertainment, though: all through dinner tonight, Sage stood on the kitchen windowsill, shaking her tail feathers at us; I can only think this must be the chicken equivalent of mooning!

We haven’t been totally idle, though; while I cooked tonight, Nick hung the shutters on the first of his workshop windows and made the final preparations to hang the next pair (my workshop). Perhaps tomorrow I’ll start painting them.