Thursday, 24 December 2009

A snowy afternoon walk from the cottage.

Catcliffe woods, start of the walk, next to the cottage where we live.
We set off towards Over Haddon, passing the quietest place in Bakewell, the cemetery.
The snow was lovely and 'creaky/crunchy' in the fields.
It was an absolute joy to walk in.

The sky, which was a little grey when we set off,
was now clearing nicely, with a peep of low sun to go with it.
Looking over the snowy fields towards Haddon.
Sue, enjoying the snow.
Unsurprisingly, we saw little traffic on the back roads.
This is what roads were like before gritting!

We left the road quite quickly, and crossed a stile into the fields towards Over Haddon.

This is the stile to the Lathkill dale Hotel.
We didn't have time for a lunchtime drink today though,
this was the shortest day of the year, and we'd set off walking late.

We walked through the picturesque village of Over Haddon, and wound down the icy road to Lathkill dale.
This dale is always beautiful, but today it was even better, with the snow.

The old clapper bridge across the river Lathkill.

Even dead plants were given a new lease of life with the snow.
Some of them even prettier than when they flowered normally.

The berries too, with a crown of snow.

This one looked like the birds were getting hungry -
they only eat these berries as a last resort!

The snow hung on the branches as though it was stitched there.

As we continued on through Lathkill dale, the watery sunshine
lit up the dale, making it look almost sepia.

Even my old friend, the fungi, was having to put up with the big freeze.

We joined the road again to walk to Youlgreave.

The sun was getting lower now, as we looked across the fields, and the temperature was dropping,
but there was still one particular photo I wanted to capture before sunset.

The sheep don't look half as white when they are in a field of pristine snow.

And this was it! A great scene in any weather (some of you may know this shot - it's one of my favourites)
The little track up to Youlgreave from Bradford dale. It looks super with a blue sky and fluffy
white clouds, but just as good with a mantle of snow.

Looking back up Bradford dale.

We then crossed back into Lathkill dale, and walked up to Raper bridge.
We then crossed the bridge and fields, and re-joined our morning path to take us back home,
with a steady dusk falling, and an interesting sky to keep us company.

France - part eight - the caves

After visiting Fort Liberia, it was time to enter the bowels of the earth - the Grotte de Grande Canelettes.
This cave system is incredible, but what's even more impressive is the sympathetic way they have opened it up to the public.
It's the closest I've ever been to actually BEING a spelunker (caver).

This is what you see when you go through the doors - a wonderland of soft lights and tunnels.
To give you an idea of size - that's Sue, framed in the doorway ahead.

The variety and quality of the formations really is mind-blowing.
There's no other word for it.
The way round is in two parts. On each route, the stairs are gently lit with LED lighting - green for in, and blue for out.
They are SO well positioned, that it almost looks as though they belong there.
Wherever you look, floor, walls or ceiling, there's an amazing rock formation of some kind. Some are HUGE, and some are so delicate, you marvel at them being made out of rock.
This 'stalactite chandelier' was just one of the exhibits.

This part of the cave was just 'mites and 'tites all over the place - incredible!

The lighting is done to give maximum effect, and boy - does IT deliver.

In some places, there is a mix of magnetic fields and air draughts that have been affecting the process of solidification for millions of years. This tiny, delicate formation is called 'the horse' (Le Chevaux).
Fine strands of rock, almost hair-like in their make up, have been blown and drawn over the eons to form this beautiful thing. One touch could snap it off.
Nature really is fantastic, isn't it?

In the low light of the cave, with a hand held camera, it was almost impossible to remain still enough for a long exposure and sharp picture, but this was the best I could do under the circumstances.
You can at least see the fine 'hairs' made of rock.
The long stalactites around it are called 'straw stalactite's (for obvious reasons).

Where the roof of the cave was at a gradient, 'curtain stalactites' formed in large numbers. A picture really can NOT do justice to these. With the light behind them, it was like looking through fine bone chine, and the colours are FABULOUS.

After the visit, Mannes came to the caves and whisked
us back to Brenda's house for the 'last supper'.
As usual, we started with aperitifs (and a beer).

Then, it was time form the star of the show - Rose de Pyrenees.
We cut it into small pieces, and flash cooked it on a hot plate
that Brenda put in the middle of the table.
Being a veggie, Brenda didn't take any of the meat - but Mannes ate with gusto!

Food of the Gods - I kid you not, the flavour and texture was amazing.


The main course was a lovely tuna bake with all the trimmings.
Then, it was time to say goodnight to Starry and Robi,
curled up on their own sofa for the night.

Next day, Brenda & Mannes took us back to Carcassone and the plane home.
As usual, they had MADE the holiday, and we are, as always, eternally grateful to them.
Thanks, Brenda & Mannes xx

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

France - part seven - the last day! :-(

And so it came - day seven, our last day :-(

All good things come to an end, but there was still time for a super walk before we set off back to England. We decided to visit Fort Liberia, as Sue had seen the outside of it, but not seen inside it. First, however, Mannes told us that today was special, as it was the 'carnival of the animals' at Olette. This meant that we could buy what is reputed to be the BEST veal in the world. It's free range, feeds on milk and herbs, and is supposed to be superb to eat. You can't get it all the time, but Mannes said he knew it would be on sale today at the fayre, so off we went.
This was the fayre - not a huge event, very low key, and with some real characters selling all sorts of stuff.

Veg' and home made pastries featured quite a lot.

Also, pickles of all descriptions.

This happy chappy was selling only one thing - can you guess by his mode of transport?

COW BELLS (of all shapes and sizes).

WHO would want to buy this stuff though?
Everything on this woman's stall was made from old bottle tops!



...even chairs (just HOW could that be comfortable????)

There were some impressive horns on show too.

But THIS was what we were looking for - the Rosee de Pyrenees.
Veal from the Catalan region of the Pyrenees - grazed on the mountain grass and herbs,
to produce the sweetest meat imaginable.

Amongst all the bells, bottle top furniture, and other paraphernalia was
this little stall, selling the prize meat we sought.
We chose the three, thick pieces of veal we wanted, paid our twenty six Euros, and then she asked if we'd like to try some. Of course, we said yes. There was a small griddle plate to the right of the stall, and she threw three small pieces onto it, for literally SECONDS each side, before passing them to each of us in turn.
Sorry if you're a veggie here, but that was the most exquisite taste I've ever had.
We just couldn't WAIT to get home tonight to eat what we'd bought.

After the fayre, Mannes dropped us off at Villefranche, the village below Fort Liberia.
The sun was now hot and strong, and we started to peel layers of clothing off as soon
as we left the car and started walking up to the fort.

There it was - perched high above us, the sentinel of the mountains,
watching over Villefranche.

As the path rose, we got some great views up the valley to the town Mannes lives, Vernet le Bains.

The magnificent Canigou. This mountain is the reason Mannes will NOT move house.
He can see it from his garden, and loves the view with a passion.
Can't say we blame him!

Soon we reached the fort.
Here's Sue, in the courtyard before our breezy tour of the ramparts.
We did try a coffee in the shop - big mistake - it was AWFUL.

Again, super views from the walk around the walls.

A soldiers-eye view.

Inside, there were many steps and stairways. This looks like a long one doesn't it?
Sue thought so too, but I knew what was to come.

You can see the old bakehouse chimney.

This is a model of how they think it would have looked.
I love the wooden board to protect the baker from the heat of the oven (IF that's what it was for???)

The inner walls - a sort of beauty in this light, we thought.

Looking down to Villefranche.
The Grottes de Grand Canellettes is just up that valley, and we'd be visiting them later.

Now this is what you CALL a staircase - over eight HUNDRED steps in all.
It's mostly under the bedrock, and what a task it must have been to build it, and hollow the rock out.
It was done so the soldiers could move into and out of the fort in safety.

This has been done for the tourists (hello Sue).
A viewing station halfway down the steps.

At the bottom, two huge doors let us out and into the village.
A look back sees the fort perched above us.

We decided we were hungry, and when I saw this sign 'creperie', I knew I had found a suitable place, as Sue is VERY partial to crepes. We walked in, and were IMMEDIATELY taken by the atmosphere. It was friendly, VERY French, and extremely inviting. Everyone there seemed to be having a good time.
P'arlais vous Anglais? - NON!
Oh well, time to check just how good (or bad) my French is.

Once we got inside, we were told there'd be a wait for food - of COURSE there would, it was a popular place. No problem - we'd have a glass of the 'vin rouge de maison'.

We asked for 'un picher', thinking it would be smaller than a bottle......WRONG!

Looks like my French is good enough to get a great feed!
This was Sue's 'plat de jour'

And this was my duck, with a fabulous courgette bake
(and, of course, lots of French bread).

Happy man.

Then, after the meal, I asked a guy on the next table if he knew how big (or small) the crepes were.
He wasn't sure, so we decided to order one between us (bear in mind we had the veal to eat later).

When it came, it was ENORMOUS, with peaches, calvados and a great dollop of ice cream!
We just halved it - and went straight to food heaven :-)

After eating, and feeling VERY satisfied, we made for the in the next posting, but as a taster.......