Thursday, 30 July 2009

Dealing with the Garden

River and Hills

Courgettes or Zucchini

Although I grow a lot of fruit in the garden, I thought I'd ty a few vegetables this year. Courgettes, Tomatoes and Peppers. We are currently inundated with courgettes and are struggling to eat as many as are produced! It's time to search out some innovative recipes. The tomatoes are growing strongly, but as yet the fruit is still small. The Pepper plants are still quite small, but I'm hopeful that they will produce.

Of course I missed the major flower display in the garden over June and July and the garden looks a bit tired and washed out right now. I missed the prusion of poppies in the wild garden/orchard and also missed the large cottage flowers in action; the Lupins, Foxgloves, Delphiniums and Gladioli.

Naturally I had a huge amount of weeding to do on my return but thankfully the wild orchard idea had grown so dense that hardly any nasty perennial weeds had got established. The sandy soil also means its very easy to them out. after a weeks work it's looking quite tidy now. The worst part was getting up-to-date with the dead-heading of flowers.

The new fruit trees are looking healthy and the new apples have a smattering of fruit. The two crab-apples have a lot of fruit but I've lost the top of one in a high wind. Amazingly the new Peach tree has recovered from the Peach Curl disease it had in the Spring and is acually producing two fruits. Whether or not these ripen we will see. All the other trees I treated for Peach Curl seem to be fine too. I must remember to apply the treatment again this winter.

Also for the first time the Walnut tree has a couple of fruit which are ripening. It has started fruit in the past but always lost them. So maybe this is th start of an annual walnut crop.

The Vosges

On waking in fine sunshine on our second day in the Vosges I found Paul already up and about. he claimed to have slept reasonable comfortably though his sleeping-bag is very thin.


After packing our gear we set off in the direction of the Ferme-Auberge where we had the beers yesterday and arrived there after edging past a herd of cows at the farm gate. We had fantasised last night and this morning about a ample german style breakfast of sausages and eggs etc and were a little disappointed to discover that they only served a continental breakfast of bread and jam.

We made do and made the best of it by sitting outside in the sun.

We then too the trail out to the Steinberg ridge. This was to finally reconnoiter the Tour route although we had, by then, more or less agreed that we would see the Tour at the Col du Firstplan which was to be the final climb of that stage.


The walk out to Steinberg was very pleasant as we again walked through flowery meadows which we just alive with butterflies. I once again stopped to get plenty of photographs. At the end of the ridge we scrambled onto some rocks - almost Tors - to get a better view, but didn't stay long as they were covered in flying ants!


We returned along the trail in the direction of Petit Ballon and met a family gathering flower blooms in the meadow. They were in fact collecting mille feuille - and thousand leaves - for making into a tisane! She also mentioned collecting the wild pansies in the field too. We'd already noticed how this varied in colour from patch to patch; white, yellow, cream, pale violet and purple as well as the familiar tri-colour versions.

Instead of climbing up to Petit Ballon again and taking the GR%£@ down again we decided to skirt the peak by taking the small lane around the hill and re-joining the trail further down.

It turned out to be a very pleasant stroll in the sunshine and we passed one Ferme-Auberge where we decided it was probably too early for a beer before stumbling upon a second one further down the hill. I suggested that though it was still early we should consider having a decent meal now as it was unlike that we would have anything tonight or tomorrow when we would be beside the road from the Tour.

Paul agreed and we sat down to a meal. As expected the portions where gigantic and we were almost full after the first course. We had taken the Randonneurs Menu of course! After taking our time over the meal and having had two pints we finally staggered out of the place and rolled down the hill to Firstplan.

The trail took us down and down, first along a lane and then through some woods - which we noticed were full of raspberries - until it popped out on a small lane leading to the Firstplan junction. Quite a lot of Camper Vans were set up along the both the lane and the main road. We quickly discoved a Dutch group who had set up a TV with Satellite link and were watching the current stage of the Tour. We squatted in the warm grass and watched with them.

When the stage had finished we crossed the road and found a picnic table which we commandeered. We would sleep nearby this evening. After reading for a bit we walked around to inspect all the other groups that were about. some of these people had been camped here for four days to ensure a spot. We walked up and down the lane. As we watched several new arrivals tried to squeeze but they where usually moved on by the police who periodically came by.

In the evening we went back up the lane we had arrived on and got talking to the last camper. They were locals from just outside Colmar and we spent a very pleasurable hour of so talking and drinking Pinot Noir which they generously shared with us. As it became dark we wandered back to our sleeping spot and tried to crash out. A group of boisterous Norwegians had arrived and were noisilly proceeding to party.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

I'm back!

A bend in the river at dawn

Canoeing and Hiking

I've just returned from 8 weeks. Most of it was spent guiding two canoe trips in the Lot and Dordogne regions of France. I also spent a few days hiking in the Vosges, also in France, as well as catching a stage of the Tour de France. In between times I was hanging out in Paris and also took time out to visit my Dad in the UK.

The canoe trips went well and we had a lot of fun with all our guests on both trips. I guided the first with Carolyn and the second with Paul. It's been a couple of years since I worked with Paul. He's a blast! It was Paul that also came with me to the Vosges.

Although I've done these canoe trips many times I still enjoy them everytime. The rivers are always different and the company is always different.My mood is also different each time so I get to shoot things that excite me at different times during different visits. I don't always get to shoot a lot when actually on the water and it's difficult to paddle and shoot at the same time. It's easier to do when paddling tandem.

More about these trips in the coming days.

The Flower Thinker

The Vosges

Paul and I took the new TGV Est to Colmar and then a little dinky train up into the hills to Metzeral. By the time we arrived we were the only two on the train! In the small town we bought some provisions in the local outdoor market and then made our way to the trail head. Luckily the trails are well waymarked and we had no trouble finding the trail which would take us up to the Petit Ballon.


The trail zigzagged it's way up the hillside thropugh some woods giving us an occaisonal view of the village we'd just left below. Every now and then we had to pass through some stiles; some in the form of kissing-gates and others as turnstiles. We remarked that only thin people seemed to be allowed on the trail.

At one point we found our way blocked by a group of horses one of which had the temerity to push Paul out of the way. I hung back until it was safe.


As the trail climbed it reached a more major trail and we encountered our first fellow hikers. Further on, at a conveniently placed bench, with a superb view, we stopped for some lunch. As we were sat down we were approached by a Dutch fellow, called Carl, who stopped for a chat and told us about a Ferme-Auberge further up the trail where we could get a beer. Superb news.

After our break we continued up the trail which opened out above the trees into beautiful flowered meadows. The number of butterflies around was astonishing and I spent some time trying to get some shots of them,

Eventually we came upon the Ferme-Auberge but we were disappointed to find that they had no tables set up outside. However inside we found Carl having his lunch and we joined him for a couple of pints. He told us how he comes here every summer from The Hague, and how he walks the trails every day. He also told us that he'd have to walk home as his wife now refuses to drive up the winding roads to pick him up! We quizzed him on the best place to view the Tour as it loops around this area in a few days. Unfortunately it seems that we will be unable to get a birdseye view of the climbs as they are all shrouded in trees. That means we will have to watch at the road-side. The problem is where?


After our refreshments we continued up the trail to the summit of Petit Ballon where a group of people were flying radio controlled gliders! We then joined the GR532, which would later take us to the GR5, towards a hostel where we were planning to stay the night.

On arrival we found the Hostel closed. Paul spent some time trying to pick the lock but was unable to. We sat and read at the picnic table and had some supper. We were going to have to sleep outside. I, fortunately, was carrying a bivvy, a sleeping bag and a mat. Paul only had a sleeping bag! He used a tabletop top leant against a wall to fashion a shelter and slept under there. I just chose a soft spot to bed down. We are not plagued by any insects but are slightly concerned that some cows might wander through. The evidence that they do this is splashed around the place!

To be continued ...


My father has spent a good deal of this summer in hospital. A few weeks after returning from a holiday in Texel he contracted an infection in the valves of his heart. He had to spend six weeeks in an hospital bed whilst being dripped antibiotics to clear it up. He was at home briefly before being re-admitted with pneumonia. He now has to wait for this to be cleared up before having a heart operation. This will repair a leaky heart valve or it will be replaced.

Naturally all the family are concerned and although he's had many visitors whilst in hospital it must be deadly dull in there day after day. We are all hoping that once the operation has been performed and he's had time to recuperate from that, that he can slowly get back to a more normal, if slower, lifestyle.