I left late afternoon on 23rd April to head south to the Aude to give my lovely friend Val a hand moving house. I didn’t get anything done on 56NE before I left because it was raining more or less the whole time, so there was no point hanging around any longer. To be honest, I was glad to get away because I needed a change of scenery after what feels like a long winter and I was looking forward to having Val’s company even though I knew we had some hard work ahead of us to get everything done that we needed to, in the time available.
Whenever I’ve been to Val’s place, it always seems to have been raining and as we planned to be moving the furniture out of her house on the Monday, I hoped that things would be different this time. Whenever I’ve been involved in a house move, my own or anyone else’s, it has always rained and I hoped that we’d get away with it this time. However, my hopes were to be dashed (and some!) as I’ll explain later. Here’s a pic I took of Val’s house from in front of the café opposite after we’d been able to sit outside for a drink and a snack during one of the brighter, dry breaks between the showers and the torrential rainstorms 😉
Val had booked a van for Monday 27th and our main job before then was to fill all the cardboard boxes that she’d managed to beg, borrow and steal, with all her things. By working like the clappers, we managed to get that done by the end of Saturday, which allowed us to go out for a leisurely Chinese meal at a new restaurant in Limoux on Saturday night and have Sunday off. After the meal, we decided to head to the square in Limoux for coffee and a couple of drinks and didn’t think too much about the odd flash of lightening that lit up the sky as we drove due to the proximity of the Pyrenées. However, once we were ensconced outside le Brasserie de Commerce, to say that the heavens opened is an understatement.
The rain started coming down in stair rods and bouncing back up off the stones in the square. The noise was incredible and the water poured down off the facade of the cloisters that we were seated under in sheets, although we remained sheltered and dry. However, the air became so chilled that we had to go indoors where, of course, we had to buy another drink (or two) before the rain eventually eased enough for us to make a dash back to the car.
Sunday dawned dry although a little bit overcast, so we decided to go off for a drive into le Pays du Sault, a mountainous area to the south of Limoux in the direction of Perpignan. While heading for les Gorges de Galamus we had a fantastic view of Mont Bugarach with its peak shrouded in cloud and I pulled up to take the next two pics of what was an incredibly impressive scene.
What the shots cannot show is that the cloud was coming in from the right, curling over the peak of the mountain and then swirling on the other side in a full 360 degrees rotation. It occurred to me that anyone in a light aircraft entering such a weather system would find it a nightmare, and probably fatal, scenario, and even more so with what we found a few moments later when we climbed higher into the mist, as I’ll mention in a moment.
After taking the above pics we started up again and made our way through the tiny village of Bugarach, and as we left the village behind us and continued to slowly climb, I stopped the car again and took the next two shots looking back towards the village that we had not long ago left.
We then continued our drive climbing slowly upwards into the mist whereupon I was struck by what appeared to me to be a weird weather phenomenon. Lower down on the flat land around the village of Bugarach the air was fairly calm with little wind to speak of. However, as we climbed higher, the wind became stronger and stronger, bending the tops of the trees and blowing clumps of mist past us at high speed. No wonder the cloud was swirling over the top of Mont Bugarach with winds like these, and pity any poor aviator who entered such a system, whether by poor judgement or accident, because I doubt that they’d ever have come out of it alive! A lesson well learnt 😐
After a few minutes we came to les Gorges de Galamus, one of the most impressive bits of natural scenery in the whole region. The road running through the gorge is about a kilometre in length, hugging the cliff face and passing through the mountain itself where it was impossible to build a road externally. It is for small vehicles only (eg NO camping cars) and almost completely single track but with the occasional passing place or emergency area. Val told me that in the summer when there are lots of tourists around, a man has to stand at each end with a radio and they only allow traffic to flow in one direction at a time, but during our visit, we had to take ‘pot luck’ as there was very little other traffic, mainly on account of the weather I would guess.
After exiting the gorge, we pulled up onto a small area at the side of the road where I was able to take the final two pictures that capture some of the character of the gorge’s wild and rugged scenery.
We then headed for home via the small town if Quillan, a place much favoured for second and holiday homes by British ex-pats. We found our way to Le Palace, a brasserie next to the river which was once an art-deco cinema and is still painted in its original pastel colours, where we enjoyed some liquid refreshment and a large plate of ‘frites’. Delicious 😉
Later on we returned to Quillan for an evening meal at le Café de la Gare, which to say the least, was an enjoyable but bizarre experience. We were greeted on arrival by a Peter Griffin look-alike but without the glasses who led us to our places, which was not difficult as there was only one other couple seated having a meal.
The chairs and tables were a totally disparate mix but didn’t look too bad for all that and the decor was probably best described as ‘eclectic’. Seated in the middle of the counter off to one side of us was a large green frog that was not far short of a metre high and in the rear of the room was a large fish tank that looked as though it hadn’t been cleaned out for many a long month, so much so that from where we were, it was impossible to see if there were actually any fish in it. There were all sorts of artifacts hanging on the walls, ranging from two huge ornate mirrors to ancient photographs of (probably) long deceased family members and weird monochrome prints. And behind us, in front of the main window, there was a table covered with containers and pots containing the most exquisite orchids you could ever wish to see.
And that wasn’t all. While we were waiting, I noticed that there was a ventilation fan high up in the back wall but the only problem was that it couldn’t be used, because it was half covered by the suspended ceiling that had been installed some time later. I said to Val that I imagined that it had happened when the ‘new’ ceiling and modernised lighting had been fitted, probably from the look of it at some time just after WWII 🙂
‘Peter’ arrived to take our order and it was then that we noticed, somewhat disconcertingly, that he had some rather grubby fabric dressings on the index finger and thumb of his left hand, probably as a result of a slight misjudgement with a sharp knife earlier in the day. Val and I looked at each other but decided to risk it. ‘Peter’s’ equally large wife than arrived on the scene and as the kitchen looked hardly big enough to swing a cat in, they did much of the preparation in an open area towards the back of the room and to one side of the fish tank. We decided that it was best not to think about it and to let them get on with it and it was lucky that we did.
‘Peter’ himself delivered the dishes to our table and was by now sweating like a pig, which explained why he had a napkin kind of arrangement around his neck that he occasionally used to mop his face and brow. But what can we say? The food was beautifully cooked and absolutely delicious. But still our experiences were not yet over! We had earlier noticed an ironing board standing over to one side of the room but hadn’t given it much more thought until Madame sat herself behind it and started ironing a pile of table napkins while meantime chatting to us and the few other people who had by now joined us in the restaurant. So truly a ‘restaurant familial’ and an experience not to be missed. It could only be in la belle France!
Monday, the day of the move, arrived with cold, blustery wind and rain. And then it got worse. It may have stopped raining while we were driving but at each end it pelted down while we were either loading or unloading. Unloading was at a beautiful old chateau near Castelnaudray that Val sold a year or so before to John and Chris, a British couple who had taken up permanent residence there. The chateau has several ‘dépendances’ or annexes one of which will eventually be turned into an art gallery. For now Chris is just using a part of it and they kindly offered to allow Val to store her belongings in the other part until such time as she has completed the sale on her new house.
We made three trips there during the day and although it was raining so hard during the first one that we had to put a wooden board over the van’s rear doors to provide us with some protection, Chris was kind enough to be on hand each time to give us a hand to get the stuff off and indoors under cover. This was a real godsend. Eventually the job was done, but not before the van hire company had kindly agreed for us to keep the van overnight at no extra charge as they didn’t have a customer for it the next day. Finally we found ourselves sitting in John and Chris’s nice warm kitchen, chatting and enjoying their hospitality while we downed a glass or two of Blanquette de Limoux, and we couldn’t have asked for a more perfect end to the days’ work.
Val left early the next morning to return the van and I left after a quick breakfast to head back to Plazac. I returned to find a house and garden that had been battered by a thunderstorm which had cut the electricity for about six hours, according to a timer that I had running, but that hadn’t been soaked half as badly as Limoux had. But shortly after I found when I opened a couple of cupboard doors that an unwelcome guest had taken up residence while I’d been gone in the form of a mouse who’d found nothing suitable to eat but had made quite a mess while searching.
So on Wednesday I reluctantly put a trap out while going outside to cut the grass, which had grown pretty long in the meantime. When I returned, or shortly after, the trap did its dastardly work and I found it with a small, lifeless brown body in its jaw. I don’t like taking life, even that of a little mouse who was, after all, just following its instinct and foraging for food, but from my experience the last time, I felt that I didn’t have any choice because of the messy trail it leaves behind while doing so. But then things got worse.
All was quiet and calm yesterday but earlier on today I spotted a little brown form scuttling across the worktop when I entered my kitchen. Then when I opened the cupboards that I’d already cleaned out the day before, I found yet more mess strewn around inside. So there were two of them. After I’d spotted it on my worktop, the second mouse had popped into the gap I’d left between the worktop and wall and disappeared so I then spent several minutes blocking it off with pieces of paper, after which I placed three traps on the floor. But later on I entered the kitchen again and there was the mouse once more on the worktop. This time it couldn’t disappear down the same gap so when it hid behind the washing up liquid, I thought I had it cornered.
But no! This time it managed to squeeze into an even smaller gap and disappear behind the cabinets. So I got busy again with the rolled up paper and blocked off every bit of gap that I thought it might be able to use, and when I went off earlier for a meal with Victor, left the three traps primed on ‘hair trigger’ setting. And when I came back, the poor little creature had met its end in one of them. I’m not happy about that because I don’t think the world is any better for having lost two little mice. I believe in ‘live and let live’ but I just wish the little blighters would do more of their living outside of my house where they can do all the foraging they want to, to their hearts’ content. If they keep a good look-out for the local moggies, that is 😉