Monday, 5 December 2011

A Victorian Gentleman's Turbine

One of the jobs on Bob's spectacularly long 'to do' list has been to upgrade our water turbine at Fisherman's cabin.  It's shortcoming was, that to turn it on and off, you had to sort of absail down the 12ft bank, avoid the alarmingly large hornets who chose this spot for their ill-placed nest, hack through tangly brambles and undergrowth and then wade into the stream in order to adjust the valve. Going to 'adjust the turbine valve' became to us a major undertaking, like 'finding the longitude' or the source of the Nile.  Bob's long held dream has been to have an open/closing valve operated by a switch in the cabin and this he as now fullfilled. He fitted a 'rack and pinion' device which is powered by a 12v motor, which pushes an arm to open and close the valve. ( I type these words with only the sketchiest of knowledge of how it actually works). He cannibalised these parts from a defunct running machine which was purchased on Ebay for £5.  He has also redesigned the blades and built a new housing - this last, for reasons best known to him, is in the form of a Victorian gentleman's 'davenport' and would not look out of place being carried up river by a bearer on Dr Livingstone's own search for the source of the Nile. And here's our own Victoria Falls.  Not.

Sunday, 6 November 2011


For some time now, I have been hankering after a 'housecoat'.  All my neighbours have one, or at least, the female ones do.  
These items are 'de rigueur' in Piégut and the surrounding area.  Practical and stylish, I'll be equally at home wearing it whilst I tour round my local supermarket (when teamed with tarten slippers) as cleaning the composting loo. 
But where would I go to find such an item in today's world?  Why, Piègut market, of course!!

So, to market then.  Every Wednesday morning people flood in from the surrounding countryside.  There's wonderful local produce on show - I do a quick body swerve though, to avoid this cheesemonger....and his accomplice.

He's not a 'voleur' as such, although I'll admit he does look slightly shifty in this photo, he offers you a sample of his cheese - you take it and yes, it's delicious, so you agree to buy some and then he cuts off a giant slice from his enormous wheel and then gets all arsy if you ask him to cut it in half.  I've seen many a bewildered customer who has just paid €30 euros for a piece of cheese.  You have to like cheese a lot to spend that much. 

On past the freshest fruit and veg displays, past wondrous olives and onions, salamis and sellers of knives, plastic tablecloths (don't distract me now), soap, pottery and jewellry.  I don't stop at the hat stall and try on a beret - because the stallholder has seen 'Frank Spencer' impersonations a million times and will tell me to put that hat down. On past jams and jerusalem artichokes, past unusually large pants and those undergarments that ladies wore before Lycra was invented.  Ah, here's a good selection....

But now I can't decide whether to go for the shorter button through style in drip-dry nylon - or the cotton crossover with a Liberty-ish print!  Oh well, maybe I'll leave it for now and go and get a coffee and a big cake instead. 

Get the look!
Piégut market takes place every Wednesday morning and is 5/6ish km from either cabin. 

Saturday, 15 October 2011

An Inspector Calls...

In the Dordogne there are apparently more than 8800 lakes and the Department have now decided they need to do a census in order that they can be 'regularised'.  This week we received notification that it was our little lake's turn to be inspected and the Inspector duly arrived, complete with clipboard and a sidekick. Firstly, we answered a series of quickfire questions about what we used the lake for, where the overflow pipe was and if there were any buildings and/or people below that might be swamped should the dam give way.  Then the sidekick measured the dam with one of those measuring wheels on a stick, which must have been languishing in some school caretaker's cupboard for years and was in serious need of a drop of oil.  He squeaked his way across before confirming that the length of the dam was 50metres, which was corroborated by the Inspector's swanky up-to-the-minute satelite image of same.  After that, we had a bit of a chat about mushroom availability and le Rugby before they pootled off to their next appointment, Lake no. 8799 or thereabouts. Nice work if you can get it!

Fancy doing your own inspection of the lake at Woodsman's cabin?  It's so lovely here in the early Autumn Splendour.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

It had to happen one day....

It had to happen one day.  Fisherman's cabin has received a bad review....

Dear Di & Bob, Well, what can I say except never again!
Miriam and I were promised a get-away haven with everything we might need but spending several hours hunting about the place I still haven't found a TV, Hi-fi, Wi-fi, dishwasher or even a microwave for heaven's sake! (so that was a waste of £100's worth of pre-packaged 'Taste the Difference' meals) It didn't dawn on me until I was shivering under a blanket that the central heating was never going to come on because there was none and that Miriam and I were going to be reduced to chopping our own wood (well, Miriam was going to be reduced, to be precise, as I have minor back complaints...)
We were also promised that we would be close to 'Mother Nature' who I assumed was some sort of home help who would take care of cleaning, microwaving of meals etc; but needless to say she never materialised and Miriam has had to do everything herself.

To be frank, the amount if wildlife crawling around the place is terrifying. One could hardly move without being growled at by a frog or set upon by gangs of lizards. Listening to the horrific squawks and gurgles of these hideous creatures meant that I hardly got a wink of sleep (and I know Miriam didn't as she bravely volunteered to stay up night after night armed only with a bread knife and keep watch in case anything tried to break in.) I've made a list of some of the 'things' that we spotted circling the cabin. You might want to look out for:

Day five was a real downer. I sent Miriam out on the raft to try and catch a fish so that we could at least eat. Imagine my surprise and displeasure when she was pulled from the raft by a six foot pike! I watched closely for an hour but she failed to surface so I can only assume the worst. I painfully realised that her chores would have to be taken over by yours truly (unless bloody Mother Nature decides to put in an appearance and starts pulling her weight!)

Anyway, am too cold and miserable to write anymore....I have decided to try to make it to the main road on foot in the hope of finding help. Not sure I'll make it as the track is rather long and my back's playing up again...All I can say is thanks Di & Bob, thanks a lot

The pen then just trails off the page.  Oh well, you can't win 'em all!

For more extracts from our Visitors' Book click here

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Chop 'til we Drop

I am in denial.  It's still so wonderfully warm I can't quite believe it's time to bring in the firewood for the coming Winter.  But all the signs are there... for weeks now our neighbours have been trundling around with trailers full of logs and all over the area you can hear the distant thunk of logs being split and stacked, and in the misty, early mornings you can definitely sense a hint of cooler things to come.  With four hungry woodburners to feed (one at each cabin and two at home) it's going to be hard work.  Last year, we left things a bit late and as soon as Bob had sharpened his axe, so to speak, it started raining.  As a consequence our store was not as full as I'd hoped and come Spring the stack had dwindled to the last few sticks and I had started to nervously eye up chair legs and family heirlooms with a view to their potential BTU rating.  This year, we were determined to be ahead of the game and have already chopped, split and stacked some substantial piles in the woods for the cabins.   They say 'A man who chops his own firewood warms himself twice' and that is certainly true - it's thirsty work but oh so satisfying to see the stack building up.  And stacking wood is an art in itself.  The local people's woodpiles usually appear regimentally straight, neat and secure - it's obviously something the French are taught to do from an early age.  Ours are a slightly more freestyle affair, with an element of danger built in.

They are home to lots of wildlife too.  We disturb numerous lizards, mice and bejewelled beetles as we work our way through the pile, and recently uncovered a grumpy little grass snake, who slithered away discontentedly, as we lifted the last log. We've left some piles for the stag beetles so I'm sure he could go and live there. Maybe he'd been feasting on stag beetles! Who knows? Anway, we've now got a big, wobbly woodpile to see us through and I'm even, somewhat foolishly, looking forward to lighting the fire!

Well stacked? I don't think so!

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Ode to Woodsman's Cabin

Oh, little cabin in a wood,
A fine, upstanding force for GOOD,
What draws me back, what makes me stay,
To while day after day, away?

I love your sturdy oakiness,
Your unasham'ed folkiness,
Off beat, off grid but that's all right,
I love the night, by candlelight....

And though you're not considered 'plush'
(a compost loo that has no flush),
Simplicity, is good for me,
I can't think where I'd rather be.

Disclaimer: Your cabin correspondant is not and has never been a poet and any similarity to any poet alive or dead is entirely coincidental and unintentional.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Depths of Ignorance

Our guests staying at Fisherman's cabin have often asked us how deep the lake is, and the answer, until recently, was that we had no clue.  So one misty morning, Bob decided it was time to do a depth sounding.  For this we were going to need high tech kit such as rope and a weight.  First, we had to go and buy the rope because, despite being regular purchasers of this item, we never, ever seem to have any.  It just seems to vanish into a void along with socks and teaspoons.  Bob thought 12 metres ought to be enough, and we tied knots at one metre intervals and then attached a hefty weight.  We were then ready to commence the survey.  

Bob was obviously skippering the raft and it was my job to call out the readings.  I had a scrappy piece of graph paper on which to record them in case things got complicated and we set of on our voyage of discovery.  First reading, 10 metres out was 2 metres.  Next reading 20 metres out was 3 metres. 
Bob: "Ah ha!, it's getting deeper"
Next reading: 3 metres, 
Next reading: 3 metres, 
Me: "It's still reading 3 metres, Sir"  
And so on and so forth until we reached the far shore and it went back to 2 metres.  So no great abyss then. It was hardly the Mariana Trench.  We sheepishly disembarked with our 12 metres of knotted rope (which hung around for a while on account of having knots in it but has since disappeared) and now, at least, we know!

Sunday, 7 August 2011

New Toy

There was great excitement this week as we installed our new trail camera.  It's called the 'Ltl acorn' and the idea is that we can set it up in the hide or in the woods and see what wildlife comes our way.  Bob installed it a few days ago down by the wallow deep in the woods near Woodsman's cabin.  Next day, he set off bright and early to retreive the camera and then we excitedly viewed the footage.  Unfortunately, it's installation has coincided with a fungi frenzy!, the recent drought followed by warm rain seems to have produced a bumper crop of mushrooms, so the first 78 (or so) images were not of deer and boar as we'd hoped, but old men and women wandering through with baskets and sticks. Then, better, but not exactly wild - a lesser spotted Spaniel style dog mucking around, and at  last we got a couple of nice snaps of a little deer...


little deer

what the hell....?
The camera also has a timelapse option so we can use it to film the Autumn leaves as they change colour.  Can't wait for Autumn now.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Gold Fever II - Bob actually finds gold!!!

But, not in the way he expected....  A couple of honeymooners arrived at the cabin on Tuesday and when I pitched up there in the evening with their cabincuisine dinner I found Mr Honeymooner flailing about in the lake with a bucket, seemingly involved in some kind of low-tech dredging operation.  He explained that he'd lost his newly acquired wedding ring whilst dismounting the raft and was searching for it.  He was relieved to hear that Bob has a metal detector (of course) and I arranged that he would look for the ring the next day.
We arrived the next morning, Bob wasn't too hopeful but we waded in anyway, and found a fishing weight....some nails and then....hey presto!...The Ring.   So hooray!, Bob saved the day (and, possibly, their marriage!)  

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Gold Fever!

A few years back, whilst on holiday in New Zealand, Bob suffered his first attack of Gold Fever. We were trundling round the South Island in our hired camper van and came across a road marked on the map with what we eventually deciphered as a gold nugget symbol.  We decided to follow the road, which became a track, which itself then dwindled to a trail and eventually we parked up in a leafy glade, surrounded by beautiful 'Lord of the Rings' type forest.  We set off to discover the old mine workings - there were tunnels, diggings and mysterious sluices - and the ghostly evidence of miners, long gone, and their attempts to find 'The Colour'. 

The fever came on quite quickly. One minute he was fine, the next he was ransacking the camper's kitchenette for frying pans and sieves.  Then he was down in the stream, a-slooshin' and a-swillin' 'til nightfall.  Next day, he was up at sunrise and down there again - I swear he'd still be there now if I hadn't insisted that he return that frying pan. I needed it to cook breakfast.

Fast forward a few years and we are in our own little leafy paradise, where the waterfall tumbles over the rocks to fill the stream and lake at Fisherman's cabin and here the fever struck again.  In the shaily banks can clearly be seen the bright and shiny flecks of Iron Pyrites or 'Fools Gold', which often goes hand in hand with the real stuff. He was spurred on by a book a friend had recently sent him, called 'Gold Panning is Easy' by Roy Nagel.   Well, Bob never found his golden nugget, nor even a flake but he reckons it's down there somewhere, and as Mr Nagel is fond of saying, 'People ask me where to look for gold, the answer is: Gold is where you find it!' You're welcome to try your luck if you come and stay - I'll get a back-up frying pan just in case!!

"Oi! is that my frying pan you've got there?"

Sunday, 10 July 2011

In Tandem

If you choose to spend your honeymoon at covertcabin you get to use our beloved tandem bike.  It's an excellent test of any relationship - teamwork is called for, as are coordination and good communication skills.  The person at the front is called the 'steersman' or 'pilot', the one at the back is called the 'stoker'.  The stoker has no control of brakes or steering so must (pretend to) have faith in the Pilot.  - The word 'stoker' implies that he/she is the powerhouse of the operation which, according to Bob, is clearly not the case when I'm sitting there.  But then, Bob and I have differing views on lots of things and cyling's one of 'em.  I like pootling along, being overtaken by snails, as I look at the hedgerow flowers and the birdies.  Bob sees every hill as a challenge to be conquered as quickly as possible and goes all sergeant majorish - which is bound to create dissention in the ranks!  But wait, I'm putting you off, there are advantages!  For one, we arrive wherever we're going at the same time, and as we wend our way along we bring pleasure to passers by who shout 'Allez! Allez!'  At least, I think that's what they're saying. By the way, the name tandem refers to the configuration of the seats - one behind the other - if they were side by side that would be called a 'sociable'.  They're still to be seen in some of the old fashioned seaside resorts - I'd love one of those! 

Sunday, 3 July 2011


If you follow the trail to the far end of the lake at Fisherman's cabin, to where the steeply sloping forest gives way to the marshy edges of the stream,  you'll find the place where Bob has built our wonderful new hide.  It looks a bit like the entrance to Badger's house in Wind in the Willows, (I imagine). It's got all mod cons in a rustic way, a little seat, space for yer binos, yer thermos and yer Tunnock's Caramel Log.  (You're going to need sustainance) and of course, a splendid view.  We've often seen tracks of deer, boar and other mystery animals in the muddy borders of the stream and now we have the perfect vantage point to observe their coming and goings.  Sit for a while completely hidden admidst the trees, listen to the bird song and see what you can see.....

Note to self: Check out possibility of 'Donate Tunnock's' button for website - we can't get them here.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Top Ten Sounds of Summer at the Cabin

Forget Glastonbury, here's our Countdown to the Best Sounds Around

10. Cry of a buzzard, circling in the warm thermals overhead.
 9. Thrumm of the Kingfisher's wings as he darts across the lake.
 8. Rustling and bustling of lizards in the leaves.
 7. The throaty chorusing frogs
 6. Sploop - a carp jumping out of the water
 5. Drrrrrrrrrr - the woodpecker busy at work
 4. Cuckoo - heard but never seen.
 3. Buzz of the bees, doing bee business
 2. Twitter of the local tit families
 1. The distant hum of some poor soul mowing whilst I'm in the hammock!

Monday, 20 June 2011

Hunters and Gatherers

Sometimes, on a chilly Autumnal Sunday, I will resist the siren call of the Eastenders Omnibus and we'll head off down to the cabin.  We get a fire going and put the kettle on then potter about in the woods, looking for mushrooms or other things of interest.  Sometimes our wanderings are curtailed because the Hunt will be there.  There are no glamourous horses and scarlet clad toffs, just a group of men, and occasionally women, toting shotguns.  They have invested heavily in camouflage gear which they then incongruously top with high vis jackets.  I think the idea is to surround an area, send in their dogs, then shoot at anything that the dogs flush out.  This strategy sometimes leads to them shooting each other.  One day, I was just commenting to Bob that I'd never actually seen them kill anything when out of the woods came two hunters with a dead deer strung on a pole between them.  I should not tempt fate by saying such things. Poor deer.  But that's the way of things round here, usually, they don't stay long and as the sound of the dog's bells tinkles away in the distance it's safe to go back into the forest for a forage.  Ceps (or what the Italians call Porcini) are distinctive and if we're lucky we'll get enough for a mushroom supper.  Our neighbour is often seen emerging from the woods with carrier bags full of these beauties.  We don't seem to find that many,  (probably because the neighbour has already made a sweep of our woods before we've even got out of bed) which makes the ones we do find all the more precious.  Yum.

There are myriads of other, non edible, more sinister looking Fungi,  a fascinating range of shapes and colours.  One, with scarlet tendrils that we call 'devil's fingers' is native to Austrailia.  It's spores were apparently transported over in fleeces under the saddles of Austrailian mounted soldiers during the first world war! I also like to see the classic fairytale style toadstools, red with white spots and the 'purple sickener' not because it's an impressive looking thing but just because I like it's name. 
By this time, the cabin will be toasty warm and so I might scoop up a few chestnuts to roast on the woodburner and head back.  Perfect!

Thursday, 16 June 2011

A Splendid Fellow

One day I had a call from Jo , at the Moulin de Grolhier "Are you having  this duck then, or what?'  she asked.  The duck in question was 'Pekka'.  His featherbrained parents had conceived him at the wrong time of year and so Jo had taken him in as a hatchling as she feared he wouldn't survive the winter.  He had been raised in their home, at times sleeping in Ted's slipper and although still young had already begun to display his characterful personality.  The other ducks at the Moulin had no time for his histrionics and so he was looking to be rehomed.  I had no recollection of agreeing to take the duck, it may have happened after a glass or two of red, but I liked the idea so a date was set for his arrival and I charged Bob with making a duckhouse.  This would be placed on the island at the lake which was to become his new realm.  At this stage, he was still fluffy yellow, his sexuality had not been confirmed, so we took him to see the old crone who sells ducklings at the market.  I wanted to buy him some companions but didn't want to be overrun with new ducks so I was thinking a same sex group would be good.  The Crone confirmed he was a female.  Jo looked sceptical - he already had a huge 'alpha male' attitude but this woman sexed ducks all day for a living so we re-christened him Pekkarina, bought two female ducklings and thought all was well.  Pekka and the ladies were moved into their new home and that, we thought, was that.  You know what's coming.  The muscovy ducks are strange looking beasts, half duck, half pterydactyl with a warty red head.  The males are much larger that the females and it was soon obvious from his behaviour that Pekka was indeed a boy.  Those poor girls!

I wouldn't say he was tame exactly, but he definitely liked being around people. Although he didn't seem to be too keen on men he liked kids and was quite happy to spend time with them out on the raft.  Sometimes his hissing antics would get too much and he'd have to be coralled into the privvy with a paddle to shut him up.  Other times he'd sit quite contentedly and liked to be stroked.  He could fly, but he never really mastered the art of landing and would roar into the shore too fast, make a pig's ear of the touchdown and then waddle about as though he meant to do it that way.  He was a just a crazy, mixed up duck.

Sadly, one winter, the lake froze over and so when foxy came a-calling they had nowhere to run.  Three piles of feathers were all that remained.  I felt so guilty that I'd not protected them, I just didn't think and anyway he seemed so formidable.  We still miss him.  I don't know how many ducks get remembered, but we all remember Pekka.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

What lies beneath?

Shortly after we'd purchased the lake 'Mountain Man' turned up.   He has a most alarming appearance - big bushy black beard, black stumps where his teeth should be....he looks like, well, like he lives rough on a mountain, part man, part grizzly, hence his name.  He swept into the house in a haze of Gauloise and over a pint of Pastis advised us that we should now empty the lake.  At first, I thought this was one of his hilarious 'blagues'. Why would you want to empty a lake?  But it transpired that this was a common occurance round these parts.  People empty their lake, sort out the fish, get rid of any nasty predators and then fill it up again. Our lake had not been emptied for many years, there was much talk of a great catfish lurking in the depths, and I suppose we were curious to see what we'd bought.  MM would make all the necessary arrangements and a date was set.  We were to provide a 'casse croute' for the men and lots of red wine.  Bob and MM were to be in the vanguard and set off early in the morning to commence the emptying.  Most lakes around here are manmade.  There's a big dam with a pipe at the bottom which is covered.  You remover the cover and the water is forced out - simple.  MM heaved the cover away and Bob was on the other side waiting for the gush.  Nothing happened.  There was consternation from above, much banging and cursing, still no water.  After a minute or two Bob heard some gurgling and then, POW! a Coypu shot out at huge velocity, followed by another and then a bolt of water.  The poor things must have been living in the pipe quite happily until their watery world was turned upsidedown! 

More men arrived and the fish were sorted into sizes, there was a high consumption of alcohol.  I'd be lying if I said that alcohol has never passed my lips before noon (but it would have been a long time ago in a desperate, hair of the dog, kind of way) the idea of red wine for breakfast was very unappealing to me.  However, a mixture of nerves, excitement and a 'when in Rome' mentality took over and I did have a glass or two. It was strangely pleasant. Cognac in the coffee, why not?  Several hours later, the fish had been sorted.  Then they were put back in.  Sadly, the mythical monster catfish was not found.  I'm still trying to work out what the point of it all was.  

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Simple is Good

Sometimes things that seem to be, at first, a disadvantage turn out to be the best thing ever.
If the cabin had been near an electricity pilon we might have thought about connecting to the grid and our lives would've taken us down a very different path.  But because this was not an option we started thinking about how we could make a functional little home from home with no mains services.  This led us into the seemingly mysterious world of 'alternative energy'.  We're still learning and experimenting.  The main thing is to keep it simple.  I was surprised to discover how little we actually need, but how difficult it can be to generate it yourself. I wouldn't describe myself as a consumerist but at home I'm surrounded by gadgets and machines, things humming away in the background, led's flashing menacingly.  At the cabin, the most techy thing we have is a whistling kettle - and what a pleasure it is to hear that! Tea anyone?

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Welcome to

Some people dream of having their own little cabin in the woods, a hideaway from modern life. No traffic or other people to ruin things. Somewhere you can be amongst nature and wildlife and enjoy the potential simplicity of life.
Lots of people who visit our cabins all seem to share this dream. Alas, this was not how we saw it at the start. We used to take our cat for walks down the pretty, leafy lane that's near to our house. We loved the tree-lined tunnel that, halfway down, opened out to reveal a tiny lake in the woods, alive with fish, frogs and dragonflies.  Evidence of deer, boars and other mammals was everywhere. The only thing to spoil this idyll was the "bunker".
By chance, we knew the owner & during a conversation it became evident that, due to his age & location, he no longer had any interest in it. A price was agreed & some months later we became the new owners.
The little lake came with just over six acres of woodland, but due to a severe storm a couple of years previously, it had become an inpenetrable mess of fallen trees & brambles, so daunting that we ignored it concentrated instead on the lake and bunker.
The bunker wasn't really that, of course, it was a functional, pent-roofed building, made of concrete blocks, with a heavy steel door and no windows. It was used by old Pierre as somewhere to sit around an old table with a few mates (no women allowed!) after a day's hunting, enjoying bottles of red wine and cognac. It was somewhere to sit out of the rain, that's all. I can't remember who's idea it was to convert it into a cabin but once the idea had taken hold we just couldn't wait to get started.  Luckily, the fallen trees provided us with the raw materials we needed, and some time later the cabin was born.