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Getting to know the locals better

28 Oct

We have lived in Montolieu 33 months now and we have made some connections with local people. Of course the shopkeepers know us quite well now – Adrian in the wine shop, Nellie at the grocer, Saskia at the baker, Terry and Bernard at the restaurant; and the pharmacist sees Richard quite frequently! We love talking to Monsieur Escarré, who is in his 80s and walks down our track most days with the aid of his walking sticks. Talking to him is a bit of a challenge as he has a strong local accent, giggles a lot and his teeth seem to be quite mobile!

We have joined the retired peoples’ club where we have made some more friends. This month we went to the club lunch where 64 of us enjoyed a four course meal with wine and coffee (great value at €15 a head).

M Borillo, aged 92

M Borillo, aged 92

We sat next to Monsieur Borillo, aged 92, and his wife who together with their daughter had worked at the tannery where we now live. He told us a little about his working life. Before he went to the tannery he had worked on the land at Saissac, an outdoor man. Before he retired (30 years ago!) he had worked on the first floor of the tannery (where we now live), operating a machine that cleaned the skins before they were processed into leather.

When he worked here, there were about 50 people employed. The owner and the manager lived in the Old House. The buyer and transport manager lived in what is now the Little House.

The tannery business was contracting fast and just before its demise, it employed just five people. Looking at some of the old records, it seemed that the French state tried to support it, by paying the salaries of the employees for the last two years, but to no avail.

By chance I met a friend of a friend on one of our sailing trips who ran a leather trading business. He used to make visits around the world buying leather and he had purchased from the Tannery de la Dure many times! What a coincidence!

Anyway, back to the lunch. After consuming a tart and salad for starter, followed by coq-au-vin with dauphenoise potatoes, then cheese and finally a desert followed by coffee and all sustained by copious bottles of white, rosé and red wine, we got discussing our life and background with Daniele, the president of the Club de Retraite. She explained that on Tuesdays they had a course learning English. About seven people turned up but the tutor had returned to England for several weeks and they wanted to continue practising. So Trish agreed to go along! I will let her tell you the story but I am pleased to report that she has made at least three new friends and is talking about inviting some of the group to come and eat a meal with us or perhaps have a drink with us!

Meanwhile I flew off to England for five days for business meetings. Thanks to Graham and Sue Whibley for putting me up yet again!

Interesting sky at Carcassonne

Interesting sky at Carcassonne

I flew from Carcassonne and this time bought a Business Plus ticket – more expensive than cattle class but you get 20kgs into the hold, a reserved seat, priority boarding and most importantly for me, as I have problems standing in queues, fast tracking through security at Stansted.

Anyway, that’s all for now. Got to hit the sack ready for a Skype call tomorrow with my French friend, Jean-Pierre, who lives in Beavais.

Our holiday in the UK

4 Oct

We took three weeks away from our new home in France, to have a much needed holiday in the UK (much to the amazement of our French friends – “who would go to the UK for a holiday when you live in the south of France?”).

Anyway, we set off one morning with car loaded (including Nettles) and collected a paying passenger. We had posted our journey on BlaBlaCar which is a car sharing website. The young nurse had worked a night shift delivering babies. We took her from Montolieu to Tours where we then picked up a young man wanting to travel to Caen. We then drove the last 10 kilometres to our destination – Ouistreham – without a passenger. The lift sharing earned us €50 which covered the cost of the diesel.

We then boarded the 2300 ferry to Portsmouth. Poor Nettles had to stay in the car for the journey which lasted seven hours. We quickly got to our cabin and soon fell asleep, waking the next morning in time for an excellently cooked English breakfast. Not bad for a French ferry company?

We then drove to Kent where we stayed with Graham and Sue. Richard had meetings in London and the next day in West Malling. Then on Saturday we set off in separate cars to Sowerby Bridge in Yorkshire to board our narrow boat.

Our home for the week

The week on the canals was the best we’d had for a long time. The boat was new, the company was excellent and the locks were challenging.

  
  
  
Graham and Sue left to go to a wedding in Suffolk and we drove to Manchester to stay with Trish’s brother George and his wife Heather. I left them on the Sunday to drive down to Gosport, collecting my elder sister, Sally, on the way in Northampton. We then boarded the good ship Lady Emma.

There were five us on board and we had a good time sailing around the Solent, even managing to explore Chichester Harbour. Sadly, all too soon the week was up. It is the last time I’ll sail Lady Emma as she is now up for sale. An end of a 30 year relationship with the yacht. She’s served us well!

  
Trish took the train down to Southamton with suitcase and dog! I collected her from the station and we spent the next two days in the New Forest. The weather had been great all the time we’d been in England apart from a day of drizzle on the canals. The Indian Summer treated us well.

One day, we decided to walk along the coast at New Milton. There is a 40 ft drop from the coastal path to the beach. And Nettles managed to run off the edge of the cliff! We both peered over the top, expecting to find a dead dog but no, she appeared from under a ledge, shook herself and then scrambled up the scree slope, finding her way and hauling herself back over the top, none the worse for wear apart from marks of sandstone on her chest. Talk about lucky!

This is where Nettles ran off the cliff

it’s a lot steeper than this shot shows

We also popped over to Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight, using the new fast ferry service. We had lunch there and then returned to Lymington. We met up with Keith & Jackie for an Italian meal in Ringwood.

Next day we drove slowly through the New Forest, eventually arriving in Portsmouth to catch the overnight ferry to Caen.

On the journey back home, we took two people to Bordeaux, and one from there to Toulouse. Another €88 in the bank. If you are interested, BlaBlaCar has now launched in the UK – see their website.

An afternoon out in The Black Mountains

24 Dec

As all is quiet here and all the shopping has been done, we decided to take a drive up into The Black Mountains to the source of the river Alzeau (called in French le prise d’Alzeau). It’s a lovely spot, very quiet, apart from the roar of the water, that is!

The river flows on but the feed-off to the right is supplying the small canal (or rigole in French) that feeds the Canal du Midi

The river flows on but the feed-off to the right is supplying the small canal (or rigole in French) that feeds the Canal du Midi

This is part of the feeder system for the Canal du Midi which is located in the south of France in the departments of Hérault, Aude, and Haute-Garonne. Its course runs for 241 kilometres between Marseillan, at a place called Les Onglous where the canal opens into the étang de Thau near Sète and Toulouse at Port de l’Embouchure (Twin-Bridges).

The Canal du Midi is a summit level canal with a slope located on the Atlantic side with a length of 57 km and the other on the Mediterranean side with a length of 189 km. The Seuil de Naurouze is the highest section (TheCanal pound).

The canal depth is 2 m on average with a minimum of 1.8 m. The draft allowed is 1.6 m although regular users advise that 1.4 m is already a lot because of mud in some places. The width on the surface is 20 m on average with variations between 16 m and 20 m. Finally, the width of the bottom of the canal is 10 m.

Compared to canals, managing rivers is difficult but only one canal is required between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. Unlike a river it is easier to manage the flow of a canal to ensure a constant flow of traffic throughout the year.

The Canal du Midi is a Summit level canal because it must pass over a height between two valleys. Indeed, the construction of this canal required passage through the Seuil de Naurouze or the Seuil de Graissens.

This is the feeder

This is the feeder

In 1660, Riquet found the solution to the main problem: the water supply to the summit point to feed both sides of the canal. His idea was to get water flowing from the Black Mountain. His important knowledge of the hydrography of the Black Mountain and Sor allowed him to imagine an ingenious irrigation system. He was inspired by the French engineer Adam de Craponne who had implemented the same system for the Craponne Canal.

The river Alzeau is flowing quite fast

The river Alzeau is flowing quite fast

For this he planned to recover the mountain waters in dams and reservoirs and then forward them to the Seuil de Naurouze through channels crossing the Seuil de Graissens. The water from the Sor passing near Revel was the main supply envisaged by Riquet. Other rivers from the Black Mountain were also part of the system such as the Alzeau, the Laudot, the Rieutort, the Bernassonne, and the Lampy.Indeed, Black Mountain is a region with twice the rainfall of the plain of Lauragais with 1400 millimetres per year at around 500 to 600m above sea level. To store the river water he planned to create three basins: the Reservoir of Lampy-Vieux, a hexagonal harbour basin at Naurouze, and the Bassin de Saint-Ferréol with a large earth dam across the mouth of the valley of the Laudot stream.

In 1664, during the study of the project, the Estates of Languedoc asked Riquet to put into practice his idea experimentally. He then built a test channel diverting water from the Sor to the Seuil de Naurouze. It was the Rigole de la plaine which he completed in 1665 and used to prove that it is possible to bring water to the highest points of the course of the canal. This was the event that reassured the Committee of Experts that the king had set up on site to inspect the choices and plans prepared by Riquet. From that moment Louis XIV knew that the canal was technically feasible.

At the age of 63, Riquet started his great enterprise in the Montagne Noire to work on the water supply. This supply system successfully fed the canal with water where it crossed the continental divide, replacing water that drained toward the two seas. The system was a masterpiece of both hydraulic and structural engineering.

Work began on the first “enterprise” on 1 January 1667 with the construction of the trough of the Rigole de la plaine then continued on 15 April 1667 with the laying of the first stone of theLac de Saint-Ferréol. No reservoir-lake of this magnitude had ever been built before.

They built a huge dam for the single reservoir, the Bassin de St. Ferréol, on the Laudot river which is a tributary of the River Tarn in the Montagne Noire some 20 km from the summit of the proposed canal at Seuil de Naurouze. It was connected to the Canal du Midi by a contoured channel over 25 km long, 3.7 m wide with a base width of 1.5 m (4.9 ft). It was eventually equipped with 14 locks in order to bring building materials for the canal down from the mountains and to create a new port for the mountain town of Revel.

In November 1667 an official ceremony laid the foundation stone of the Garonne lock in Toulouse. A first filling of water was made between the seuil de Naurouze and Toulouse during the winter of 1671-1672 and the first boat traffic could begin. In 1673 the section from Naurouze to Trèbes was completed marking the end of the first “enterprise”.

From 1671 the second enterprise began linking Trèbes to the Mediterranean Sea and to build the port of Sète (then called Cette.

In 1681 work on the canal ended at Béziers. However, in October 1680, Riquet died during construction. He did not see the end of the project.

Organic manure – easy to find – hard to collect

3 Sep

We need organic manure otherwise the size and quantity of the vegetables from the garden won’t support our growing community.

Sylvain researched two farms who had organic herds and both agreed to let us have some organic manure. So off we set on the Fiat, towing the trailer. Trish, Richard, Nadege & Alex made up the team.

After over an hour’s drive we arrived in a tiny village where we were directed up a steep hill to a field containing several large piles of extremely good looking manure. The pile furthest from the gate was the oldest.

But how to get it to the trailer? The road was too rutted to reverse down, so we borrowed a wheelbarrow and filled the trailer.

20130903-224128.jpg. Everyone did their bit. 20130903-224205.jpgThis is Alex20130903-224221.jpgThis is Nadege

After filling the trailer, we gingerly drove back to Montolieu! Then we had great fun chucking the manure over the wall!

20130903-224536.jpgThe next step is to get more manure from the other farmer. Then it will be spread over the new vegetable beds, which will then be ready for planting.

The story of the overloaded trailer

10 Jul

After a three week break in the UK, we returned to The Peace Factory on Sunday. We wondered what had been going on whilst we’d been away! A lot, as it happens.

A volunteer had demolished a couple of walls on the second floor. He’d removed the rubble, a bucket at a time, in the lift and had loaded it into 1.5 tonne ‘big bags’ until they were full. On the trailer. Until the trailer was full!

So now we had about 6 tonnes of rubble on a trailer with a gross weight of 1,500 kgs! Being towed by a Fiat Tempra!

So we had to remove at least two thirds of the rubble by hand.

20130710-223939.jpg Here’s me falling over after attempting to pull half a tonne of rubble down the ramp!

And when we eventually got to the council dump, three of us had to move the rubble by hand. I wore out a new pair of gloves and it took over an hour!

A lesson learnt? I hope so. Closer volunteer supervision required! At least we now know that making Trish responsible for the volunteers is a good idea – except when she goes on holiday!

We made it!

25 Jan

We made it to Montolieu. It took 20 hours but we did it. Two cars and a trailer, all fully loaded. 650 miles in one go.

We spent today unloading. We are quite tired so more of this blog later!

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Nick of time

17 Jan

Looks like we will get back to Kent just before the snow storm hits us. We are now on a ferry from Calais to Dover, having driven 650 miles from Carcassonne today in 12 hours.

My co-driver, once again is inspecting his eyelids. Note the (second) empty pint of Stella!

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Made it

15 Jan

Well we made it. Despite the snow in Kent. We woke at 2:30am to about 2″ of snow. Undeterred we climbed into our van and drive to Dover without little trouble. We crossed in style aboard the newest ferry, eating bacon sarnies in the cafeteria.

We then drove south at a steady 70mph. Apart from a delay around the Paris area, the journey was as smooth as silk. We did 650 miles in 12 hours which is not bad for a fully loaded 3.5 tonne van!

We arrived at The Peace Factory just in time for supper.

My co-driver, alert as ever!

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Weather watching

14 Jan

We are catching the 0420 ferry from Dover tomorrow. We will be in a long wheelbase, high top 3.4 tonne white Iveco Daily van with 2.9 litre diesel engine and six speed gearbox! (Trying to be precise here!)

I’ve been watching the weather with more than my normal interest as Kent Weather (@KentWeather) is predicting snow tomorrow and specifically between 3am and 6am. Would you believe it! But he responded to my question on Twitter and reckons that the snow will extend into Nord-Pas de Calais but will be more along the coastal areas. So assuming we can get to Dover to catch our ferry, we will head straight for Lille and then down the A1 to Paris.

I’ll let you know what happened!

White Van Man (again)

11 Jan

We drove down to Dorset today in the Fiat Tempra Estate car and retuned in a white Fiat Daily van! Bit of a difference!

We will load the office into the van tomorrow, piece by piece as we dismantle it!