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Sunday, 25 December 2016

Happy Christmas

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and all the best for a happy and healthy New Year 2017 xx

(I'm really hoping to get back to blogging regularly in the new year, but bear with me because I've been feeling like a hibernating slug!)

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

MoHo Trip No. 4: Loire Valley, Part 1

When my brother was staying with us in the early summer we took advantage to get away in the moho together. My bro hasn't seen a lot of France outside of some major cities which he's visited for rugby matches, and of course the Alps/Jura where we used to live. K and I visited the Loire Valley about 20 years ago so we were all happy to get out of Brittany and go somewhere else for a change. It's just about do-able for a short break (we had three nights) but as we soon realised, you really need at least a week, if not more, to see the area properly. It's full of interesting places, quite aside from all the chateaux!

Our first port of call was outside of the Loire Valley or the Touraine as it's known in France, but sort of on the way. My brother had done a bit of research and came up with a Japanese garden that sounded interesting. Well interesting it certainly was and I would never have known of its existence if he hadn't mentioned it. I'm talking about the Parc Oriental de Maulévrier which is just outside of Cholet, between Nantes and Saumur.

I won't go into all its history as that is covered in English on their website (and in more detail in French), but suffice to say it is the usual case of a beautiful garden falling into disrepair after the war, and being brought back to life by careful renovation work in more recent decades, following original plans and photos. The town council own the park now which is separate from the chateau, Chateau Colbert, which is privately owned. The gardens were inspired by the Edo period in Japanese history and this has been recognised by visiting Japanese horticultural professors. It is now apparently the largest Japanese themed garden in Europe.

We spent a really enjoyable afternoon here - whether you are into gardening/gardens or not, just come for a walk - and bring your camera!! Here are some of the many photos that I took.

Chateau Colbert (what a view they have.....)

Cloud pruning, as you will see in the following photos, was everywhere. I absolutely love it, though did wonder how on earth they managed to prune the many trees that jutted out over the lake!

The Pagoda

Khmer Temple

OK so how do they prune these trees then?! They must have scaffolding out over the water once or twice a year.

The bridge must be one of the most photographed parts of the garden, along with the pagoda.

A mallard having a preen of its beautiful feathers for the camera.

The far end of the lake.

From the far end are wonderful views back over the lake and the Chateau.

The planting was special with amazing maples - I fell in love with this tree and its seed pods (I don't know what it is, either maple or sycamore).

Of course there was a building with bonsai trees on display. There's a Salon de Thé and a boutique here too.

I didn't see many butterflies but in the sensory garden at the far end of the lake I came across these Meadow Browns.

The walk back on the other side of the lake - cloud pruning (if that is what it is called here) is still in evidence on these low lying shrubs. I love this style too but it must be oh so labour intensive.

The small purple tree here is 'my' Forest Pansy! I've never seen this tree planted anywhere else other than my garden and another in Rosie's, a fellow blogger's, garden in Scotland. Not very Japanese as I know it comes from N. America! It's Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy' to give it its full name, known to N. Americans as the Eastern Redbud tree.

So that concludes the tour, but as I haven't any pictures of Mary Moho, here's one from home of K taking clothes on board. Well, it is a Moho trip after all....

More to come from the Loire Valley trip! 

Friday, 4 November 2016

October roundup and who's been wallowing in my pond mud?

I am back from a week spent with my Mum in not so sunny Somerset, one of the reasons I've been quiet since my last post. More about that further on because I want to show pics I've taken throughout the month in some vague order. I have only taken photos on my phone as I wasn't really in the mood for shooting anything much in my garden for the gazillionth time, so these are just a few things that I found or that happened along the way. 

Andrea the hen 'helping' after I'd just weeded the tubs. I am down to only two hens now as the one who had scaly leg mite died, poor thing. I'm not replacing them and guess what, we just had to BUY some eggs!!! Both hens are now in full moult so have stopped laying.

And here she is pecking at maggots from the bag of bird peanuts that we found wriggling. It really annoys me when that happens as they are really expensive to buy and aren't always available, hence us usually buying several bags at a time. The hens weren't interested in eating the peanuts though, but luckily (or not) we had a nighttime visitor a few nights ago who came and scoffed them up. K spotted a fox one night just after he'd put the outside light on looking for Harry who hadn't come in. He thought it was Harry for a moment until he realised Harry didn't have such big ears and a pointy face. I'm wary about a fox getting into the garden and fear for the cats as well as the ducks, but as it happened dear Harry was safe as he'd got himself locked in the barn for the night! It was pretty cool seeing the fox though.

I spotted this Small Heath butterfly roosting on the Golden Rod at about 5pm one evening, long before we changed the clocks.

I also found this huge Fox Moth caterpillar. You can see from the photo with my hand just how big it is.

And now, something very interesting - another thing that's both exciting to see but also makes me wary about such a thing getting into the garden. This is up the far end of the pond where the stream comes in and the shallowest area of lake, so it dries up when the pond level is very low (it's down about 4 foot or more right now). Well now, what might have caused this? There was a trail of deep footprints and a big area that had been wallowed in. We conclude it must have been a wild boar, because the footprints are cloven and have sunk in very deeply compared to the other pawprints around it.

It might be best if you click on this photo to view it larger, as you can see coarse hair marks in the mud, just like a wild boar had been lying against it.

Again, if you look closer at the next photo you can see pawprints which at the time I thought either dog or fox, and now that we know that a fox got in, I'm guessing they must be fox tracks. The wild boar's tracks are much deeper. 

We realised that we never repaired a hole in the fence where the fence crosses the stream, so that has now been rectified (although the fox was spotted after that was done, so must be getting in through one of the holes where the cats get out. We can't repair every bit of damaged fence wire under the hedge.)

Our 'tree man' has just been to give a quote for felling more overcrowded trees and thinks he may be able to remove the stand of alders that fell over into the pond earlier in the year. Part of it is still in water, the rest in mud too squidgy to walk on and I have no idea how deep that mud is as I don't want to lose my wellies! I guess planks to stand on is the way to go. 

Piccy of the cats, though no Hallie. The lawn is how we found it when we came back from hols after it had finally rained - very blotchy. We're still awaiting the autumn rains.

Back to England, I had a lovely time, a lot of it spent eating all my favourite things! I love clotted cream and having a cream tea was so good I had to take a photo of it. K stayed at home looking after the menagerie and I flew over and my brother picked me up from Southampton airport. Sadly Flybe only use the Exeter route for a few months in the summer now and in fact there are no flights to Southampton during winter anymore. I came home on the last flight of the year. Both flights were full by the way. Conclude from that what you will.

It was gloomy most days but I did a bit of gardening for Mum and got out for a nice long walk with the husband of a friend of my Mum with his dog, which was great as it was a round trip walk that otherwise I would never have known existed. We saw dozens of pheasants. Here is a pic from the top of Mum's garden with the neighbour's Sumac tree looking really colourful.

On the way home I had a good view and the sun came out as soon as we hit France (of course!) so I took a load of photos as we were coming in to land. Love these old prop planes!

And then it was back to collecting yet more walnuts to add to the pile, and yet more huge windfall apples. I intend to stew up a load of apples and freeze them as apple sauce.

I did take a few photos of the garden with my phone. My Forest Pansy has been looking great all October, but we just had a proper white frost the other day so tons of leaves have dropped off the trees now.

And here's the pond showing how low it is, with the fallen tree just visible at the far end.

I've not been terribly in the mood for blogging - think I'm suffering from blog writer's block. It doesn't help that the depression is lurking now the gloomy weather is back, although it's mostly kept at bay by my medication. So if my posts are sporadic then that will be why. I have recently had a CT scan for my twice annual check up and everything was fine, so that's one year clear of cancer now! And I don't have a hernia which I thought I had. I do have a bulge which is why I thought I had one, but the scan just shows fat..... :-)

Friday, 14 October 2016

The condensed version of our Pyrenees holiday

Hi everyone! We are back and we've had the most amazing time imaginable! Trying to sort through 1,500 photos has taken some time, and it will be a while before I can write more detailed posts, but for now here's a condensed version of our 25 days away.

We started off visiting Le Teich bird reserve near Arcachon, where they have 20 hides and the walk is about 10km. We did it in 36C and by about 2/3rds of the way around I was ready to be carted off in a stretcher! Birding was a little disappointing; autumn is not as good as spring when the birds are singing so you are much more aware of their presence. We did see plenty of water birds though such as this Lapwing which I've never seen so close before.

Once back at the campsite I knew how to cool off and those new swimming cossies got put to good use!

I saw some great butterflies and managed to total 12 lifers! Most of the butterflies were in the mountains where it was not dried out and there were still wild flowers. We also visited a butterfly farm/park in the Ariège department and as well as enjoying the tropical butterflies in the polytunnel, we spent ages in their outside butterfly garden, which to be honest I enjoyed more. There were tons of butterflies in this garden and I could have spent hours there! I really need some Asters in my garden as they were very popular nectar flowers. Below is a Common Blue - I saw lots of them but as they are rare at home I was happy to see them.

As usual you can never get away from Breton 'cuisine'!

We spent three days in an amazing campsite in the mountains of the Pyrénées-Orientales, at Mont Louis. You couldn't imagine a more peaceful idyllic setting, beside a mountain stream and amongst the pines.

A first for me up in the Eyne valley was seeing multiple butterflies puddling! I've only ever seen single butterflies doing this. These are Adonis Blues along with Small Whites (I think, there are other mountain and southern species of white which are similar).

Then it was off to Spain and the Costa Brava where we had a Moho meetup arranged with Monika, a (virtual) friend who I've known for about nine years, first through the Selfsufficientish forum, and latterly on facebook. We both live in France though Monika lives in the middle. She has the most adorable little dog, Olivia, who I would gladly have stolen if I could have! We spent an enjoyable time together before Monika headed back home and we continued our stay, as we had booked a week at the campsite at L'Escala. 

Of course we revisited the wetlands of the Aiguamolls de l'Empordà. This was our third visit and I've already written about our previous visit in 2013 here.

We still found something new in the area and spent an enjoyable afternoon exploring the beautiful botanical gardens of Cap Roig.

The weather wasn't always great though! We had wind and rain too!

The sea wasn't so inviting when the sun wasn't shining and I decided it was too cold to swim in anyway.

After the Costa Brava we headed to the southern part of Catalonia to revisit the Ebro Delta, yet another important wetland area for birds. Here in the photo below is where the first thoughts about motorhomes came into my mind. We were picnicking on the beach in 2013 and there was a solitary van here, and I remember thinking how nice it would be to have your kitchen on board so that you didn't have to secretly steal your lunch from the breakfast buffet, and to have a toilet too! There are very few places to 'go' on the Delta. It's all flat and full of rice paddies or lagoons so no going behind a bush. We had to keep going back to the same cafe to use the facilities! My 2013 post from the Delta is here.

The only downside to having a Moho is the parking - we were unable to find parking space beside the hide where the flamingos were, but a good thing about a Moho is that it is much higher than a car, so you get much better views, and can see over hedges!

Still in the Delta, and very close to our campsite was the organic rice farm of Riet Vell, which has a hide overlooking a lagoon. It was the only place we saw Purple Gallinules in 2013 and lucky for us, we saw a number of them again. You gotta love a Purple Swamphen! They have such huge feet and are so ungainly.

Yet again though, the weather followed us. We got to experience our first thunderstorm inside a tin can. It rained so much that the campsite roads turned into rivers!

Inland from the delta is the mountain range called Els Ports de Tortosa. This was where our car overheated last time and was the start of endless overheating problems which stuffed up our holiday as we had to keep to fairly flat land after that. Mary Moho had no such problems and chugged her way up and down steep zigzag roads effortlessly.

Not all of Spain is scenic - most of where we went was delightful, but these flatlands near to Zaragoza were a bit dull to say the least.

Finally back in the Pyrenees again and we ended doing a couple of trips which we had originally planned for the beginning of the holiday, but it was raining in the mountains then. This next photo was at the Col du Somport which is a border crossing. It was looking quite autumnal up there.

We then headed to the Col du Tourmalet, which is the highest paved road pass in the French Pyrenees at 2,115m altitude, and is often used as a stage in the Tour de France. Consequently it's a good road so we had no problems getting up or down.

Sometimes I manage to get my selfies right!

Just past the Col in the ski village of La Mongie you can take a cable car up to the Pic du Midi observatory perched atop a mountain at 2,877m altitude. Thanks to my bravery riding the Devon Eye I had no problems riding the two cable cars to the top; I loved every minute, including when the car rocked occasionally! The views from the top are superb and in places we were looking down on the clouds. This day was the highlight of my trip. I also have a much better head for heights now when we are driving up and down the mountain roads (or maybe it's because K goes slower than he would in the car), although I still get occasional vertigo.

Our last day in the mountains we did the walk to the Cirque de Gavarnie. There is an amazingly high waterfall at the end (not in this picture). After a much tougher walk than I had imagined, about 5km mostly uphill on a rough track, we made it to the cafe where we ate our picnic lunch. I declined the further walk to the base of the waterfall. I know when I've had enough, and I'm jolly glad we did this walk at the end of our trip when I was considerably fitter than at the beginning. The scenery all around Gavarnie is stunning and we spent our last night in an aire up above the town with mountain views on all four sides - just spectacular.

All too soon it seemed, it was time to say goodbye to the mountains. This though, was the first day that we saw the Pyrenees with no cloud cover somewhere!

And as the Law of Sod would have it, our journey the last but one day was with skies like this all the way, until we neared the coast in Charente Maritime where the clouds from nowhere appeared and enveloped us. Our final day driving home was in pouring rain (and traffic jams), until we got near Rennes, when it stopped. Home was dry - not good for my poor dry garden but great for unloading. Mary Moho is now back in her cupboard and I miss her. We could happily have stayed away longer and that is the plan for next spring.... watch this space!

(Oh and two out of three cats were all over me the moment we got home, Harry, however, took a whole week to forgive me.)