Belatedly, here’s our Autumn newsletter, September and October, and with Christmas just a few days away, it’s been lovely to trawl through the photos and remember our friends & family visiting in September and our fabulous trip to lac d’Artouste, rattling along on the highest operational narrow gauge tourist train in Europe, 2hrs30 from here, in the French Pyrenees. A couple of pics below, more later on…oh those blue skies…
Everything starts to relax a little for us in September – the bulk of the tourists have gone and there’s the promise of the grapes, ripening and drooping heavy on the vines ( no relaxation for the local vignerons mind you) and whilst we still have guests to think about, the pressure is off – the manic changeovers are less and the piled high stacks of ironing can wait a while. We even found time to plan a short break at the Med once the September visitors had left us. We had Tracey’s nephews cram in a holiday before the September return to school, followed by Lee’s family and then railway friends so we didn’t complete many jobs in September. We did refurb & wire up this donated lamp at the engine shed and Lee fitted a winch system in his garage and was able to haul his 1972 Honda XL 250 up onto the mezzanine level with it (Wife very impressed but are you wondering the same as I was – “Why?” Silly ole wife – a sliver of extra floor space in the garage of course!) The hatch that Lee & Paul installed worked just as designed. Lee also decided to repaint the wheels of the crosing gate – not happy with his original completely black wheels – they are now mainly red – what do you think? Still no nearer to installation though – we need to weld up the 4 sections of running rail that the wheels will run on and create the entrance access driveway from route de la gare – a very big job.
A few pool pics and out & about local scenes during September – the pool is still warm in September and most days the cover is off for swimming. The roads around here are quiet for cycling and even quieter when the July & August tourists have gone – it’s a perfect month, cooler & quieter, for some good bike rides amongst the vineyards and Tracey took the nephews on a road trip, stopping off at Fources for a beer. I forgot to report in the summer newsletter about a dreadful gas bottle explosion that burnt down the restaurant in Sainte Maure de Peyriac earlier in the season – the chef & a member of staff were injured; they are ok now but we have lost a wonderful local restaurant. It is still in the same burnt out state 4 months on. We are told that the chef is taking over another restaurant in Mezin, Les Sept Princes and we’ll give it a try & report back as soon as he’s cooking there again. The evening photo is the church in Sos and the red morning sky is the view from our Warehouse guest bedroom.
So to the nephews visit – very cheap flights into Toulouse from Birmingham, travelling with just a rucksack, less than £80 return for the two of them. They managed to visit the last of the night markets in Sos & Mezin for the usual eating & dancing and we took them to the Pyrenees to see some proper mountains and ride the cable car and then the little, rattly train to lac d’Artouste. It really was a special trip which Lee repeated a couple of weeks later with his railway pals. Jay got to ride his motorbike up and down the grounds too and use the outdoor free gym at Poudenas – Pip rocked himself to sleep in the hammock! On the way back from the Pyrenees we called into Cafe Galerie at Poudenas for what the nephews call “Life Changing Pizzas”. There was a couple of days overlap with Lee’s family and we all went to The Sotiate restaurant in Sos for a meal to celebrate Frank’s birthday – that’s Lee’s Dad. For anyone who hasn’t tried Camille & David’s chicken salad, we can highly recommend it – you can have it as a starter bowl or a larger version as a main meal – crunchy lettuce, cabbage & peashoots, loads of succulent chicken chunks & crispy fried onions with a slightly asian style dressing, really delicious.
Lee’s parents & sister flew into Bergerac from Birmingham and whilst Bergerac is a great little airport, if you require assisted travel, the service can be a bit hit and miss as they unfortunately found out. Frank brought his pal Peter along and they all had a fabulous time just pottering about the station and nattering to each other all day long, enjoying croissants for breakfast and glasses of floc in the evening. We did have a dreadful disappointment with a pudding purchase – we were all looking forward to a slice of apple croustade, only to find that the apple had gone bad inside – the fruit had clearly been hot and sweating and molds had developed under the pastry layers. Tracey took photos to show the owner and when we were next back at Fources we managed to get two different chunks of cheese as re-imbursement. “Result” – definitely language progress because I’d never have found the french words to complain a year back.
Train d’Artouste: Europe’s highest narrow-gauge train
2000 metres high and with tracks built through and round the mountains, this open air train is quite a thrilling ride and the scenery is absoutley spectacular. Our advice is to check the weather in advance and book this trip when a sunny, clear day is forecast to make the most of the views, otherwise, it can be very much like the Snowdon Mountain Railway with very little to see but mist, mist and more mist. Sitting towards the back of the train gives you amazing views of the red & yellow coaches ahead snaking around each twist & turn, disappearing around bends that look inches away from precipitous ledges that hang out over the valleys below. If you don’t like heights, this trip is probably not for you. Tracey does not like cable cars or ski lifts (or the bloomin’ Needles Chair lift on the Isle of Wight) and this part of the excursion is always a bit of a squealy ordeal – something to do with the dangliness, the swaying & the swinging I think. See the “nephew the elder” mockery photo of my cable car fear! I don’t know how I managed that grin in the pic with Lee. The trip starts at Lac de Fabrèges cable car station – about 10 minutes in a cable car, which takes you up to the train departure station. Board your little open carriage and trundle along a mountain edge for almost an hour, in awe of the stupendous scenery – the waterfalls, the mountain flowers, the cattle with their big cow bells and the vast, vast Pyrenean mountainscape. Look out for the fat marmots that bask on the rocks or just pop up and stare at you as the train clicks & clacks all the way to lac d’Artouste station. Here, you can take a 20 minute steepish walk up to the lake itself. Dogs are allowed as far as the lake but not any further into the Pyrenees National Park. You can hike back down if you want or, in the summer months, you can hire go-carts for the descent or just get back on the train for another hours trundling. I’m pretty sure, for any serious hikers, that you’re just a hop, skip & a jump away from Spain once you’ve arrived at the lake. We picnicked at the lake, bathed in sunshine, breathing the freshest air. A marvellous mountain day out.
Note the big screen under the arches at The Sotiate – this was for the rugby world cup and we had some great themed nights during the tournament – the chef cooked Irish stew when Ireland played, Lasagne for Italy, Chivito beef sandwiches for Uruguay and so on. A talented photographer in this visitor group made a drone video of the station and grounds which we love – thank you so much Mick – we’ll try to upload a link to share it at some point. See the great photo of Niamh between her owners in the lac d’Artouste cable car – she’s the most beautiful dog, a bouncy Hungarian Vizsla and just like our Daphne goes everywhere with her Ma ‘n Pa, staying in our Pump House, over the road from the Station, for her second visit to la gare de Sos.
Three Days Away at Leucate
We joined some friends over at the mediterranean at Leucate, between Narbonne and Perpignan, Fitou wine country and had a grand little holiday – swimming in the sea everyday – taking the dogs onto the beach (which had a sign stating “no dogs permitted” but there were more dogs than people), walking, chatting & eating. If you like shell fish, especially oysters, and plates of molluscy things, you’d love this place. The site we stayed on did an amazing Wednesday night barbeque where they cooked up mussles in a wine sauce, got the bbqs fired up so that folks could cook their own meats and provided free wine and karaoke. Note our friends three dogs – 2 beautiful samoyeds and a black chow cross. It’s not always easy to find accommodation when you have three large dogs but the site we stayed on was really accommodating – https://www.mer-sable-soleil.fr. We were able to bring back some great Fitou wine as well.
October, heading into Autumn proper now. Here’s a selection of the colours and the leaves and the annual leaf collecting tasks. We’ve heard a rumour that they might be lopping the plane trees down in route de la gare – they are ridiculously tall now and shed lots of branches down every year – as well as thousands of leaves and the bark. Les Platanes, in french, are pruned very harshly in most villages every year – keeps their unique character, stops them from getting dangerously tall, like ours, and creates shady arbours in full leaf and they often have lights strung through them in village squares – all very french and we love them. I was told that the plane trees in Paris have roots that go down well below the metro level and they live for hundreds of years. In Winter, without their leaves and after pruning, they are gnarly, stumpy & grumpy looking. We wouldn’t want to lose our plane trees but I don’t think we’ll be calling “Swampy” (or was it “Stumpy”?) for protest advice any time soon. See Lee, busy loading the John Deer Gator after pruning our catalpa trees and the old railway line walk – a bed of leaves in Autumn, Tracey’s greenhouse melon – I just grew one plant this year and just got one juicy fruit and see the lovely view of Sos before the leaves dropped. We found a new restaurant to recommend in Feugarolles, after a stroll along the canal – L’Antre Ouvert – note the lovely “courge butternut” soup that Tracey chose – lots of squash soups on menus in Autumn here.
We had regular guests of la gare de Sos visit for their 25th wedding anniversary year in October – friends of ours for years too. They had great weather with late Autumn warmth and we were still out on the platform sipping & nattering at midnight – not a cardigan in sight! The pic of Lou’s lunch is the Station Brasserie at Agen Railway Station – they used the public bus at 11.08 from Sos village to get into Agen (cost 2 euros 30 centimes) and had time for lunch before hopping on the TGV for Paris, then the Eurostar, back home in the Midlands late that same evening – bravo you two! Rick Stein ate here once and raved about it – that’s deliciously juicy confit duck. The other photos are of a local restaurant with an excellent menu du jour choice at Gabarret and celebrating 25 years of marriage with rosé fizz on the warehouse platform.
October eneded with a trip to see our beloved Aston Villa playing in Europe against AZ Alkmaar in The Netherlands with Lee’s friend from the railway and his lad. At Alkmaar Station, you have never seen so many pushbikes – literally thousands – this was pedalling country and everyone was on 2 wheels. Only a couple of pics though of Amsterdam Railway Station – it was rather damp in Alkmaar (but a 1-4 Victory away made the trip worth it).
So we’ll finish with the pets – a right selection of the valley gang – who remembers Terence the Toad? I’ve just put the homemade Unai Emery Christmas topper on our tree – Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas all…November & December news in the New Year.