Missionary soup anyone?

We called in to see Kate and Rob a couple of weeks ago; they used to own a huge gite near us, which they sold last year. They had an infinity pool at the gite, but when asked if they’d be putting a pool in the new place, they were emphatic that no, it’s far too much work, besides Kate doesn’t like the shock of the cold water and had hardly used the pool at the gite, something I can definitely empathise with. She told us about a wood fired hot tub she’d seen on eBay. It’s made of wood, like an overgrown barrel, and has a wood fired furnace inside – so the fire is effectively in the water. We were intrigued and started to do our own research.

I found a supplier in Germany who would do us a very good deal on two delivered to the same address. Kate and Rob, being Yorkshire folk, were very interested, so we ordered them. Rob brought his big trailer round to ours, ready for the delivery and we sat and waited…. No, of course we didn’t!

We decided where our tub was to go and drew plans; we laid roof tiles out on the ground to show where the soil needed removing, then Nick got the digger out. He excavated a huge mound of soil at the end of the terrace, made a former in the middle of the space, put in some rubble and concreted a base. Next he started building the retaining wall around the edge, behind which will be plants and small trees for privacy.

The tub was meant to arrive between Monday and Wednesday; the driver had our number and would phone us in advance. We stayed within earshot of the phone, but by Wednesday night had heard nothing. I emailed the supplier, who couldn’t get in touch with the delivery company because it was a bank holiday; of course – France has no fewer than four bank holidays in May, no way were they going to arrive on time. Thursday passed, Friday morning came and went and we were beginning to wonder if they’d ever arrive when the phone rang. It was Neil and Jacqui, who bought Kate and Rob’s old house; the delivery lorry was at their house, and had asked if this was where Jackie lived, to which the reply was yes, just not the right Jackie! They showed the driver the way to our house, arriving a couple of minutes later. So much for having plenty of time to get Rob and Kate round to help with the unloading!

We got both tubs off the lorry, ours into the garden and Kate’s onto the trailer, and by the time Rob arrived, Neil was en route, driving very gently, to deliver Kate and Rob’s to them.

We unwrapped it and put it in its temporary position, had a celebratory beer and left Kate and Rob unrolling hosepipe to fill it with water. The following morning Kate phoned, ecstatic; the kids had loved it when they got home from school, Kate and Rob had spent the evening in it and the kids were back in now, the water still being warm from the previous night. The only problem had been that the water got too hot! A smaller fire next time and Kate reckons she’s found heaven on earth.

We’re waiting a few more days for our concrete base to dry properly, but hope to be able to use ours by the weekend.

Cycling with the Agen club

Our fellow cyclist, Maithé, is one of those people who knows everyone, in Nogaro and much further afield, as well as being aware of everything that’s going on. Some of her friends from the Agen cycling club wanted to ride in the Gers, so Maithé organised a weekend for them. The sixteen Agen cyclists stayed at the cycle club gite, from where they rode with Maithé and another couple of Nogaro members on Saturday, visiting various places en route and eating together in the evening.

On Sunday there were two routes on offer; the usual club run and a route that Maithé had sorted out, with visits to a “palmeraie” and a mini brewery, as well as various villages.

Nick and I were amongst those who went with Maithé’s group; the Agen club are true cyclotouristes, so the pace was gentle as we made our way through the undulating Gers countryside. We hadn’t been to the palmeraie before and were very impressed by the vision and hard work of the owners, who, 40 years ago, grew their first palms from seed as they couldn’t afford to buy trees. As well as a wide variety of palms, the gardens also boast an amazing array of bamboo and other plants that I didn’t recognise; there are sculptures and other works of art hidden round corners and in unexpected clearings, ponds full of water lilies and a wonderful atmosphere at peace and calm. We ate our picnic on the veranda before heading off to Termes d’Armagnac and the mini brewery, where everyone was delighted to put the beer they bought into the support van to be taken back to the gite.

The cyclists from Agen were all very happy with their weekend, Maithé received well earned praise for her organisation and a reciprocal weekend in Agen is on the cards for the future.


When Alex, Graham and the girls stayed with us at Easter, they were lucky; their first week was the first for as long as we could remember that it didn’t rain. We had a lovely day at the seaside with Kieran and Artie, where we played on the beach, drank beer in a few bars and bought Izzy a skateboard; but it was a lot of driving, especially with a 3-year-old and Graham and Alex were tired, so we decided to do very little for the rest of their stay. So the girls did painting and baking, Izzy played on her skateboard and tried her hand at archery and we went for walks. By the time they left, I think they were well rested, having had a good break. Graham took some amazing photos, but they’re a bit big to load up here; I’ll post them next time Kieran’s over to help.

Now it was our turn; we set off for Jaca, in northern Spain for a few days, bikes fixed to the back of the camper.

The lady in the tourist information office didn’t think much of the cycle route Nick had chosen for us; we only went in to ask if there would be somewhere to eat en route, but we came out with a completely different route to try, one which visited some very pretty villages and was somewhat longer than the one Nick had planned. She said it would be 90km, but could be cut short at a couple of points; she didn’t mention the hills!

I have to say it was a spectacular route, climbing and descending through the foothills of the Pyrenees and we found a bar for lunch, where we ordered two platos combinados. We weren’t sure what we’d get, but eggs, croquettes and chips, washed down with beer, went down very well and the owner was very happy to let me practice my Spanish. The village of Hecho was certainly beautiful, with its ancient buildings overlooking the hillside, but we took the shortcut from there instead of continuing to Aiso, doing 96km instead of what would have been around 120km. As it was, we did 1239 metres of climbing, not a lot for Nick, but I had tired legs by the end; on the final climb into Jaca, on the main road, I had an impressive queue of cars behind me, unable to overtake on quite a narrow, but busy road. They must have been cursing me, by now riding at a snail’s pace!

I must confess to having been relieved to wake the next morning to grey skies and rain; a good excuse for a gentle day spent reading, playing guitar and knitting. Nick rode up el Puerto de Oroel, the nearby mountain pass, in the afternoon, but came back rather bedraggled.

We were heading home the following day, but the morning dawned clear and sunny with beautiful blue skies; we’d have a ride in the morning and go home later in the day. This was Nick’s original route, a circuit ending with the Puerto de Oroel. The climbs were steeper than our first ride, making it very hard work (well, for me, anyway) and there was very little by way of civilization, but Nick had spotted a likely looking village on the map where we hoped to eat and refill our water bottles, by now almost empty. We climbed up to the village; no restaurant; no bar, we couldn’t even find the cemetery where there might have been a tap. I knocked on doors, but there was not a soul in the entire place. We ate our emergency rations of peanuts and flapjack and set off again, finally finding a mountain stream halfway up the col. I’d worried about not being able to ride the col at the end of a very hard day, but in fact, it was the easiest gradient we encountered all day, having covered 76km and 1277m of climbing.

Arriving back in Jaca at 3.30, we found a lovely little restaurant for much needed lunch then packed up and headed home.