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Archive for September, 2012

Today’s picture shows the famous London EyeEye

We had decided to spend a day in London on our way back home and as the weather was kind and Mrs Tootlepedal had long wished for a trip on the London Eye, we decided that this was an opportunity too good to miss.   My sister Susan agreed to act as her companion as a trip in the Eye would be a truly terrible experience for me.  We hadn’t booked in advance and wondered whether there would be huge queues as the South Bank was crowded with tourists but in the end, there was a wait of only twenty minutes so we got tickets and I waved them off on their circular journey.

setting off

While I waited for them to go round, I amused myself by taking in the ground based entertainments on hand.

human statue

South Bank

I was hanging around but this chap had perfected the art.

From time to time I looked up….

EYE

…and this picture, taken by my sister, shows what it was like looking down from up there.

eye view

Mrs Tootlepedal told me afterwards that they could see for miles and miles from the top of the circle and they were lucky to have a very clear day even if it wasn’t sunny.

The mechanism of the wheel is interesting to me and I enjoyed watching these little tyres doing all the work of pushing the huge wheel round.

wheels within wheels

This is really what you could call ‘wheels within wheels’

The hub and spokes set up is very similar to a cycle wheel.

hub

I had time while they were in the air, to look at the fine buildings on the north of the Thames.  Unless you knew, it would be hard to guess where this leafy chateau was.

Even though it is a very safe set up, I was pleased to see them nearing home on the way down.

Returning fliers

Mrs Tootlepedal somewhat obscured by reflection.

It is not a particularly cheap trip but Mrs Tootlepedal had thought it a very worth while experience, enjoying looking down on familiar landmarks like Buckingham Palace from above and having the whole city laid out before her.

Susan then headed for home and we headed by bus for Brixton where our daughter lives and she took us round two covered markets there which were full of exciting things and delicious smells.  We had a mildly middle eastern lunch in a tiny cafe and as we came out of the market, I was very taken with this building…

laundry

It is still in use as a laundry today

I don’t suppose that there would be much use for an insanitary steam laundry.

Then we walked back to Annie’s house where we were entertained by the varied wildlife in her small garden.  I wished that I had my good camera with me but had to make do as best as I could with the little one.

I did manage to catch a spider at work eating a fly though.

spider

There were many blue and great tits, with goldfinches and sparrows too but they were too far away for me and I had to wait till some bigger things came along.

squirrel

parakeet

This was a most striking parakeet.  The little camera doesn’t do it justice at all.

You don’t get either of those in our garden.  She gets woodpeckers too but not today sadly.

The day was rounded off by another excellent meal at my sister Susan’s.  We have eaten very well during the holiday and there will have to be some serious weight watching when we get home.

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Back in Blighty

Today’s picture shows my sister Susan by the Kennet and Avon canal in Bath.  While we were having our holiday, my three sisters were having theirs.  The photo was taken by my sister Mary, whose computer I am moonlighting on to post this brief entry.

Susan by a canal

We had a splendid day of travel by train after Mike gave a start by giving us a lift to Narbonne Stataion.  Val had put up a picnic breakfast for us and this was so generously proportioned that it lasted us for the whole journey.

The TVG train from Toulouse arrived on time and we had the good  fortune to have a seat on the top deck so we had good views of the surrounding countryside.  Following some advice from Gerry, we looked out of the window at the right time to view Mount Ventoux and marvel at the hardiness of those who pedal up and down it.

The TVG dropped us at Lille station with plenty of time to connect to our Eurostar train to London which arrived and left on time and we finally arrived in London 10 hours after we left Pepieux, feeling relaxed.  The three mile journey on the tube to my sister Mary’s was by far the hardest travelling of the day.

Her little house was looking very smart in the sunshine.

Mary's house

The far end of her garden is enlivened by a flourishing Virginia creeper.

Virginia Creeper

The day was rounded off with a splendid fish pie at my sister Susan’s who lives 200 yards up the road from Mary.

A man can’t have too many obliging sisters in my view.

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Pride of place in today’s post goes to a rather unflattering picture of Gerry and Shoko who kindly came all the way from Nîmes on a motorbike to have a meal with us.

Gerry and Shoko

The beer in the picture is Gerry’s and the knee is Mrs Tootlepedal’s.

I had booked the excellent holiday we have just enjoyed after reading a recommendation in Gerry’s blog so it was brave of him to come with Shoko to see how we had enjoyed it.  We were able to tell him that it had been a great success.  It was great to meet a hitherto entirely digital presence in the flesh and we enjoyed an excellent meal provided by Val and Mike with good conversation before and after the meal.  Gerry turns out to be a descendant of one of General Wolfe’s soldiers and may well be of Scottish stock.  We would be delighted to see the two of them at a well known Langholm B&B in the not too distant future, though we can’t promise them the wonderful weather that we have enjoyed here.

It was another fine day in Pepieux and we started it by walking round the village to stretch the non cycling muscles in our legs.

Pepieux

Views of the village

The view from Pepieux

The view from the village

We set off on a largely flat trip today after our visit to the hills yesterday and it wasn’t long before we passed out first chateau of the day.

chateau

Another chance to buy a bottle of wine foregone.

We headed across country before turning down towards the Canal du Midi for a final visit.  It was the clearest day we had seen and in the distance we could just make out the Pyrenees sticking their heads up.

Pyrenees

I managed to take a single wildlife picture of the day when I caught this lizard basking in the morning sunshine.

lizard

We hit the canal at Marseillette and headed west on a section we hadn’t cycled on before.  We weren’t the only ones thinking of cycling along the tow-path and we must have met thirty to forty people pedalling along either in pairs or larger groups.

Two cyclists

Here are just two of them.

Inevitably we passed another château and inevitably it was in the business of making wine.

another chateau

All through our stay here, the grapes have been being harvested, transported, poured into vats, pumped out and at the same time giving out the distinctive aromas of the early stages of wine making.

Some time after a good lunch of bread and pate, we reached a moment at an arbitrary stretch of otherwise rather featureless canal bank where we decided that enough was enough and turned for home.

The underlying rock has been a source of interest for us as we have pedalled about but we thought this anticline on a ridge beside the canal was among the best sights.

anticline

I am sure that some geological know all in NZ will tell me that this is not an anticline but it looks like one to me.

The pedal back to La Redorte was enlivened by busy traffic at the locks we passed.

Triple lock flight

A boat coming from the top to the middle lock in a flight of three.

lock

And emerging from the bottom lock after a twenty five minute trip of about 100 yards.

There were some peaceful moments too.

bridge on Canal du Midi

The rivers we have crossed and recrossed during our week have all been dried up in spite of many signs warning of the danger of inundation but there seems to be no shortage of water in the canal itself.

Lock overflowing

We stopped for a final coffee at La Redorte and our arrival at the dock there was overseen by a brooding presence in an upstairs window.

La Redorte

Thank goodness for the bars

We took one last look at the canal…

La redorte

…before pedalling the few miles back to Pepieux.  We had covered a whisker under 300 km in our six days, four of them in perfect weather and the other two in pleasant enough conditions so we were well satisfied with our week.

And as I said before, the day was rounded off in first rate style by our meal with Gerry and Shoko.  Thanks go to them once again for taking the trouble to come and see us.

Tomorrow will be the day of the train for us again.

 

 

 

 

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Round and round

Today’s picture shows a fine château near Aigues-Vives.  I felt a French trip log should have a château in it somewhere.

Chateau

It was extremely chilly when we set out this morning and we both had three layers on our tops and were wondering why we had thought that bringing a pair of long trousers with us wasn’t a good idea.  The cause of the chill was a low lying mist and we set off on wide ranging circuit hoping that it would clear.  Our plan was to start by exploring a little bit south of the Canal du Midi and it wasn’t long after we had crossed it, that we were rewarded by this fine stretch of plane tree lined road.

Tree lined road

You can see the mist hanging around us.

We added to our church experience by passing this one Escales describes as Romane.

church at Escales

From Escales we headed towards a ridge well supplied with windmills and as you can see the see, the mist was beginning to burn off.

Windmills in mist

We passed alongside  another of the little well wooded ridges that pop up all across the country here and we were struck by the pencil thin cypresses poking out from other shorter trees.

cypresses

After a coffee at a pavement cafe in the busy centre of Lezignan-Corbieres, we turned back towards the canal.  We had noticed this tower on previous days but the mist had cleared away by now and the sun was in the right place for a photo opportunity today.

Tower near Roubia

It could almost be in the borders

We stopped by the canal for a lunch of bread, pate, goats cheeses and local apples at Roubia.  The church across the canal had not only got got bells in its towers but megaphones too.

church at Roubia

Out hosts Val and Mike told us that there are regular loudspeaker announcements in Pepieux on subjects as diverse as vegetables on offer in the market, coming events in the village and local deaths.  Perhaps these are used in the same way.

The bridge at Roubia caught my eye again.

Roubia canal bridge

And behind us even more   windmills had come into view.

Windmills

There were windmills in every direction so we were pleased that we have had only one windy day in what must be a windy part of the world.  A light wind behind us and the flat terrain had made our morning pedal a very easy task.

From Roubia we went along the roads parallel to the canal for a couple of miles or so before striking north towards the hills.   Mrs Tootlepedal had remarked in the morning that it would be easy to take so many photographs in country like this that you would never get round to cycling very far and it was true that there was nearly always something pleasing to the eye, either beside the road, in the distance or as we passed through the lovely villages on our way.

A typical view

I certainly would have liked to have had the good camera with me.

As we cycled up into the hills, we passed some more cypresses.  You never see this sort growing in Scotland so it was interesting to see them on home ground here.

cypresses

We were heading for Aigues-Vive which we had visited from a different direction on Tuesday and it involved a stiff climb up a dead straight road which is the very worst sort but once over the top, we had fine views and some welcome downhill.  One of the views was of the chateau at the top of this post and it had to be carefully cropped to get rid of the many telegraph poles in it.  Sadly that took out Mrs Tootlepedal too so I have put (nearly) the whole picture in here in honour of her willingness to pedal up steep hills.

Chateau with Mrs T

A well earned downhill whizz.

We stopped at a stylish tourist information and picnic place just outside Aigues-Vives….

TIP

You can see that Mrs Tootlepedal was overcome by its beauty.

It was very warm by now and we had to put on sun cream and drink plenty of water before going any further.

Our next stop was Aigne, which we had passed through on Tuesday.  We had noticed a sign saying that it was a circular town but hadn’t thought anything of it but Val told us that we should look at it so we stopped and acted like tourists.

It is indeed a circular town with an outer an inner circle.  The inner circle consists of a very narrow street…

Aigne

…surrounding a church and a central square.

aigne

It can only be got at through this arch…

arch at Aigne

This used to have a portcullis

The whole thing was amazing.  I have never seen a village built to be its own defence before.

This is a view of the village looking back as we pedalled on.  The original circle or ‘snail’ as it is called, has been surrounded by new buildings.

View of Aigne

And here is a French ant taken at the same place.

ant

Just for ant fans everywhere.

The road we were taking to get back to Pepieux wound across a lovely little ridge and rewarded us with a stunning view across the Aude valley.

view

After that, it was all downhill and we were soon home after 35 highly enjoyable miles.  We were looked after by Sheila and Alan when we got back as Val and Mike were away and enjoyed a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit with them in the garden.

The day was rounded off by a much needed rest and another tasty meal.  I could get to like being on holiday in France.

Those interested can find a map of the route here.

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Today’s picture shows Langholm Church as a counterbalance to all the French churches we have been passing.  This picture won a prize at the recent Langholm show.  Thanks to Sandy for putting it in for me.

Langholm Parish Kirk

The weather was a lot less sunny here in France than it was yesterday and because  the temperature had dropped a lot too, we were well wrapped up when we set out for a morning ride.  We had an appointment for lunch so we undertook a short circular ride round a neighbouring hill.

We had to cross the mighty river Ognon by a ford to leave the town on our chosen route.  Here we see Mrs Tootlepedal bravely crossing it.

L'Ognon ford

Having crossed the river, we set off towards the small hills that lie between Pépieux and the mountains behind them.  We encountered a climb as we passed through yet another lovely village, La Livinère.  Once again the French road engineers had surpassed themselves and we were faced with a very consistent gradient as we climbed 413ft in two miles.  Once again, Mrs Tootlepedal,  Langholm’s answer to Alberto Contador, went up the hill as smooth as butter.  We paused to take a picture of the valley behind us.  Even at 800 ft every nook and corner is filled with little vineyards…

vineyards

…though here and there, the native bush, called the garrigue, does get a look in too.

Our road up the hill

Wikipedia tells me this about garrigue: It is found on limestone soils around the Mediterranean Basin, generally near the sea coast, where the climate is ameliorated, but where annual summer drought conditions obtain.  That’s spot on for here.

The rock is very interesting and the outcrops, such as the hill we were climbing, seem to be topped with a very friable sandstone.

sandy slopes

I had promised Mrs Tootlepedal some nice downhill as a reward for the hill climb but it exceeded our expectations and we were able to cruise downhill for seven miles.  I call seven miles of downhill for two miles of well graded climbing a very good bargain indeed.

We did apply the brakes long enough for me to take a picture of the main reason for the existence of all the small villages round here.

grapes

As we had a little time to spare, we took a diversion into a village a couple of miles from Pépieux called Azille.  On the way we passed what we think is an almond tree growing by the road.

Almond

The sight of stuff growing of its own free will by the roadside in the warmth gives Mrs Tootlepedal a pang of envy as we pass.

At Azille we found an excellent bakery and bought some supplies for our lunch.  We were halfway along the two miles back to Pépieux when we realised that the grocers, where we needed to buy stuff too, closed at 12.30.   It was 12.22.  We pedalled as fast as our little legs would carry us and arrived just as they shut the door.  We cycled back to Azille to see if the grocery there (just opposite the bakery) was still open.  It was shut.  We rang up our visitors and told them it was a bring your own picnic.

We cycled back to Pépieux quite slowly, sadder and wiser.

At the appointed time, our visitors, Mrs Tootlepedal’s sister and her husband arrived.  They run a self catering holiday business fifty miles to the south of where we are staying.  We had hoped to be fit enough to cycle down to see them but as we aren’t, they kindly drove up to see us.  Armed with some plates, beakers and a knife provided by our benevolent hostess Val, we set off in Nicki’s car for Homps where we enjoyed a substantial picnic.  Nicki and Ade had stopped at a supermarket in Carcassonne on their way and in the end we were supplied with everything one could want for a simple canal side picnic in France.

Mrs Tootlepedal, Ade and Nicki at Homps

Mrs Tootlepedal, Ade and Nicki considering the menu at Homps

It was very peaceful beside the canal and we enjoyed catching up with news as we have seen each other for some time.  We were joined by a dog with whom Nicki conversed in dog French.

Dog at Homps

Mrs Tootlepedal and Ade looking well fed and the dog looking well fed up because he didn’t get any scraps.

Nicki and Ade drove us back to Pépieux  and went on their way back to Mirepoix.  It was a long drive for them but a great pleasure for us.

The rest of the day was spent relaxing, helped by some late afternoon rain which gave us a good excuse for doing nothing. We have cycled 180 km in four days and to be honest, a good rest was as much a necessity as a choice.

The rain stopped in the evening and I was able to catch a wonderful rainbow out of our bedroom window.

rainbow in pepieux

We hope it is a good omen for fine weather tomorrow.

.I have been writing this diary for over two years now and I have resisted temptation for all this time but tonight I have cracked…

….

…and so to bed.

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Today’s picture was sent to me by Bruce and enables me to portray the weather we are missing at home while we are here. It shows a tree in our park.

gale damage

Of course I wouldn’t be so mean to my friends at home as to post a picture of the wonderful weather that we enjoyed today  here in the south of France…

Sunny day

Oooops!

The weather was really perfect for elderly cyclists today, sunny but not too hot, nice light winds to provide a cooling breeze and no rain or gales of any sort.

We had decided to leave the flat lands of the canal today and to venture into the foothills to our north.  The fine Cathar city of Minerve was our target. It is tucked into a narrow gorge and to get at it we had to climb our first long hill of the holiday.   Mrs Tootlepedal came up trumps and climbed steadily up to well over 600ft without a moment’s hesitation.  Once at the top, we got a taste of the limestone country we were heading for.

The hills of the Parc Naturel Regional de Haut Languedoc

The hills of the Parc Naturel Regional de Haut Languedoc

Once over the hill we faced a plunge down a steep valley to the ancient cité.  The gorge is very spectacular.

gorge at Minerve

Sadly though, it was too much for my feeble head for heights and I couldn’t mange to cycle down the steep sided road so we beat a retreat and found a gentler approach across the top of the hill.  This was a lovely ride in itself and we stopped for a bite of bread and local paté on our way.  We also stopped at a panoramic view point and looked down .

Minerve

Minerve lying far beneath us at the junction of two deep ravines

The cité of Minerve

The cité of Minerve

The river bed was carved from limestone and made for a wonderful sight comparable to the Cheddar Gorge though Mrs Tootlepedal thought it even more majestic than that.

Limestone cliff

It was not country for someone with vertigo at all.

Bridge

Luckily the road we were on wound its way down to the side of the gorge in gentle curves and we headed back towards Minerve alongside the river bed.  There didn’t seem to be a drop of water in the river but it must be  an impressive sight when the snow is melting.  The cité itself is built on a rocky promontory towering above the river bed.

Minerve

As the only way to approach it was along a cliff top road or over this bridge…

Minerve bridge

…I am unable to tell you what it was like inside.  It certainly looked literally fabulous from where we were.  The gorge behind it looks even better than the gorge in front of it.  Reluctantly we set off back down river and soon found a gentler bridge to cross…

La Caunette

La Caunette

This was a delightful little town cut into the side of the gorge under a limestone cliff…

La Caunette

You can see the cliff at the far end of the street.

…and it had the added benefit of having a café that was open where we enjoyed a morning coffee.  We were serenaded by a little bird at full throttle on a nearby rooftop.

bird in La Caunette

I miss the garden birds of home.

After coffee we pedalled off along wide and well surfaced roads with little traffic on until we came to Aigues-Vives, a pretty but by the standards of the places we had seen already, undistinguished town.  It did have a bench by the roadside under a shady tree though, so we stopped there gratefully to have our picnic lunch of paté, goats cheese and chocolate mousse.

Then the call of the flat lands came to us and we pedalled south across some lovely, gently hilly country until we hit the Canal du Midi again at Paraza, where we found a café open beside the canal.  This was how we had imagined our holiday being –  a little pedal, some lovely views, warm sunshine, a little more pedalling,  a café here, a little more pedalling, another café there.  Today filled the bill precisely.

The canal is irresistibly fascinating and although we were cycling along the road beside it and not using the tow-path, we could admire the fine rows of trees along it.

Plane trees

We couldn’t avoid seeing the dead and dying trees as we passed and noted the executioners rings on condemned trees in many places.

condemned trees

Although we were not on the canal, we still managed to stop at a lock to do a bit of rubbernecking.

Boatmen

Two venerable boatmen handling their craft in front of a backdrop of trees.

There are frequent notices warning of falling branches due to the tree plague.

Chute de branches

The view along the canal shows why.

Dying plane trees

Our hostess Val tells us that they are going to be replaced with disease resistant trees plane trees from London.

We left the canal and headed home to Pepieux by busy main roads for the last few miles to complete a wonderful day out.  Those interested can find the rather wiggly route here.  Mrs Tootlepedal would like to point out that it had about 35 miles of distance and 1300ft of climbing.  She was proud considering how little cycling she has done in the evil weather of the summer at home.  I was jolly pleased too as we have done 150km in three days which is a lot for me.

We rounded off proceedings with another excellent evening meal with conversation.  We are happy.

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Shut

Today’s picture shows the substantial church across the road from our accommodation in Pépieux.

Pepieux church

Followers of my photographs will be reassured to see that they have just as many wires going across the front of every view you want to take in France as they do in Scotland.

We started the day with a walk round the village in the morning sunshine.  As well as a church, Pépieux has a fine bridge over the river Ognon…

Bridge in pepieux

…but it sadly didn’t have a river to match today.

It does have a well preserved tower..

Pepieux tower

..and many very narrow streets.

Narrow streets in pepieux

We stopped at the boulangerie to buy some food for our cycle ride and returned to the Vieux Relais where we are staying.  It was once a coaching inn.

digs

Then, after a moment’s peace to catch our breaths, we set out on the bikes.  We have been impressed by the gleaming silos of the local wine co-operative.

wine vats

I must get hold of the software that straightens up the verticals in pictures like this.

Then we scooted down the hill to Homps and the Canal du Midi again.

Hills of Languedoc

The weather was much better than yesterday’s and we were able to appreciate the view of the hills to the north of Pepieux as we looked back.

Homps

Homps has a boatyard and marina and a snazzy new bridge.

This time, when we reach the tow-path we turned to the south west and cycled along the canal in the direction of Carcassonne.  A visit to this fine town would have been nice but it was too far away for us to get to and back in one go.  There was a very vigorous wind blowing and we were pleased to be tucked between the high banks beside the canal.

Once again there was plenty to keep us entertained as we cycled along.

lock

Mrs Tootlepedal watched three boats go out of one of the locks.

Then we kept our fingers crossed as a very large converted barge approached the same lock.

barge

It could just squeeze through the gates.

It looked so thoroughly at home on the canal that we were surprised to see that it had come from London at some time.  It was driven in with great skill and completely filled the lock on its own.

lock

We enjoyed the sight of the lock keepers along the route operating the gates and sluices remotely with a sort of Playstation keypad.

We passed many locks and small aqueducts and stopped to take a picture of this one.

aqueduct

The displacement of the boat caused water to pour over the edge of the canal after it crossed over.

There was a nice mini viaduct to take the tow-path over another overflow on the far side of the canal.  The sharp eyed will spot Mrs Tootlepedal speeding along the tow-path on our side .

tow-path bridge

We stopped to eat our lunch at this pleasant canal corner.

canal corner

You can see some of the diseased plane trees on the left back of the canal.

Interestingly, as we sat with out feet dangling over the edge of the canal, the water dropped about three inches during the course of our meal.  It can’t have been because of boats going through the locks because the lock keepers were having their lunch too and waiting boats had to queue for an hour until business was started again.

lunch queue

The lunch queue

At Puichéric, we left the canal for a short diversion through the village.  It was very like Pépieux, with narrow streets and an even more massive church.

church

We rejoined the canal and took to the tow-path again.  As well as single locks, we passed several double locks on the two days of our journey and this triple lock.

Triple lock

water entering lock

The water fairly whizzes into the locks. This is the top lock of the three.

Finally we came to our target village, Marseillette, where we hoped to have a cup of coffee. Sadly, in spite of extensive tours round the village, we found only one outlet and it was closed.  A kindly lock keeper pointed us to a hotel along the main road and we were excited when we saw it was ouverte.  At least that was what the sign outside said.  The notice on the door said fermé.

We decided to cycle back along the main road and this was a good idea as the strong wind was now behind us and at one moment on a piece of good road surface, we found ourselves doing 32 kph up a slight hill.  The traffic on the road turned out to be light so we kept on it back through Puichéric (sole café closed) until we came to La Redorte where, after some wandering about we at last found a café that was open and enjoyed a well earned cup of coffee.

A coffee at last

Mrs Tootlepedal would like to point out that her hairstyle is not one of choice but one forced on a helmet wearer.

It really was a lovely afternoon, made all the better by news of gales and rain back home.

La Redorte

Mrs Tootlepedal was studying the map to find a route home across country rather than along the bumpy surface of the tow-path again.  We found a nice road which led us to yet another village on a hill.  This was Azile and it looked so lovely in the sunshine that I stopped to take a photograph.  The village was promptly covered by the only cloud for miles around.

Azile

Sunshine in front, sunshine behind, Azile in the shade.

Needless to say the cloud moved off as soon as we started pedalling.  From Azile it was just a short hop to Pépieux and a rest.  We had covered about 29 miles again on a very windy day and felt that honour was satisfied on the cycling front.  Val, our hostess revived us with chocolate cake and tea and we enjoyed another sociable supper later on with good food (including plum crumble) and conversation.

No flying birds again but we did see a lot of colourful butterflies today.

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