Tag Archives: photos

Come walk with me in the winter sun

What defines the difference between a British winter and a Pyrenean winter for me is sunshine. Winter here will almost certainly be longer and colder, snow will be more frequent and deeper, but, while Britain can spend weeks under morale-sapping, dank, grey skies, we often enjoy long periods of sunshine. The days are short and the sun is low and weak but the sky is often a deep, vibrant blue that nourishes the spirit.

Of course we still have periods like the last ten days, the snow almost non-stop, the sky so low and so grey that it feels like living in a cave. But today the sky is clear once more and it is time to shake off the potting shed blues.

So, let’s wrap up warmly against the biting northerly wind and take a walk and some photographs. It is still hard going trudging the first 120 metres uphill through the deep snow of the garden, but once on the road it gets easier.

These first two photographs are looking towards the Col de Catchaudégué. I love the shadows in the first picture and the oversailing roof of the hay barn, a typical feature of the barns in our commune.

This field is a favourite of mine, particularly under snow. I like to imagine that I am skiing down from the col, past the first barn, arcing gracefully around the second barn, between the two trees, another turn, a little jump over the stream and a well-executed hockey stop before the wire fence. In my dreams!

Continuing along the road I hear voices from down the bank and see the local agriculteurs tending their sheep and horses. This is the harsh reality of life in the mountains for the locals, trudging across fields in all weathers to bring food to their beasts.

A little further on and another local man is clearing the snow, as he does every day. While the local council snow ploughs clear the main routes our local roads are cleared by a tractor with a snow plough attachment. We are lucky to have this service, we have friends living at a lower altitude than us who still cannot drive their uncleared road.

The driver very kindly slows down and moves over as far as he can to avoid covering me in snow, hitting the far bank in the process and having to reverse out. I forget how the ploughs tend to polish the snow and promptly fall over.

Turning round and heading home I get superb views of la chaîne, the mountain range. The contrast between the soft undulations of the hills and valleys and the angularity of the mountains is so beautiful and a photographer’s dream.

Almost home now. The track across the middle of this picture is our drive and the tree seemingly towering above the mountains is a large ash tree at the bottom of the drive. The ‘clouds’ above the mountains on the right is, in fact, snow being blown off the ridges by the wind.

One final trudge through the deep stuff and it is back home to a warm fire, a cup of green tea and a slice of carrot cake. I hope you enjoyed the walk. And the tree picture? I seem to be seeing bottoms again. This one reminds me of Yogi Bear.

Beating the laurels with a besom.

Birches in the Winter Interest garden

The snow continues to fall and the temperatures do likewise. The road is impassable despite daily scourings by a local farmer with a snow plough attachment on his tractor. His is the only vehicle we have heard in several days. A layer of ice under the snow has turned the road into a skating rink. It is hard to see how that will change until this cold weather lets up, which France Météo predicts will not be for another week. We are cosy in the potting shed, warmed by a wood burning stove and a large stock of wood. We have enough food to see us through, unlike the poor creatures on the bird table who don’t realise that they are tucking into the last of the seed and fat balls.

Top-hatted pot by the greenhouse

The garden looks delightful under its cloak of snow, covering the bits that never got tidied before winter struck. Several parts of the garden are separated by laurel hedging, some planted nearly five years ago, others only last spring. Their large evergreen leaves hold a lot of snow which in dumps like the current one cause the branches to bow down and sometimes to break. One poor plant a couple of years ago lost every branch right down to ground level. I replaced it and shoved the headless root into the nursery ‘just in case’. It is now a very healthy plant, nearly as tall as its replacement. Laurels are true survivors! But these breakages leave gaps in the hedge which take a while to fill and hedges are all about separating spaces. So, to avoid too much damage I knock the snow off before it gets too heavy.

Picture the scene: me in as many layers as I can manage, snow boots on feet, ski gloves on hands, beret pulled down over my ears, giving the laurels a jolly good thrashing with the besom. You could, of course, simply shake the branches, but, since snow is a) very cold and b) very wet, I prefer the ‘besom at arms length’ technique.

Young laurel weighed down with snow

What I have noticed this year is that the mature plants can probably look after themselves now, their branches are thick and strong and an occasional break is not going to compromise the entire plant; it is the younger ones that really need it.

I shall be quite sorry when I don’t have to do it any more, I enjoy watching the snow dropping down from branch to branch, having to jump back when I’ve been a bit too enthusiastic. It’s fun, a bit like a solitary snowball fight for gardeners!

I had to take a few photographs of course while I was out, snow is so photogenic, then it was back to the potting shed for tea and carrot and walnut cake.

Phlomis looking very pretty

Mother nature gives the hammock a snowy duvet