All good things come to an end ….. Temporarily – 17/8/16

image

 

Well despite everyone’s comments about poor weather – we are still in the UK, the sun is still shining AND it is school summer holidays….. unheard of when I was younger 🙂

We are back at the farm having disappeared off to Bath for a couple of days to see friends (and the big sunflowers at the bottom of Clare and Jools’ garden).  Obviously someone was looking down on us as we even spent the Saturday in the park with footballs, frisbee so and picnics and there was barely a cloud in sight….the rain held off until the Sunday morning when we were perfectly happy to take it easy.

We have got to know the calves in the neighbouring field a little better, anyone would think they are pets as they are very curious and really like people – although I have a feeling that the first lot were shipped to the abattoir a couple of weeks ago and it can’t be long until these ones go unfortunately.

Obviously as we were starting to twitch after stopping the apricot picking we have fallen on our feet with the early blackberries and have been a bit over zealous with the quantities, although neither of us reckon you can ever have too much Apple and Blackberry crumble 🙂

It is however with regret that this is going to be the last blog for a while. We have decided to temporarily move into an apartment to be close to family for a bit and will hopefully continue our adventures in Spring.

So, watch this space …. We will be back soon 🙂

Back on British Soil… 31/7/16

Despite believing that life would get back to normal following the Apricots, we have hit a hitch and have had to come back to the the UK, but we are slowly coming to terms with the fact that normality in ‘Gail and Keith’ world is actually a bit random which shouldn’t really surprise anyone who knows us!

But back to where we were as it has been a couple of weeks….after a day on the bikes on the Sunday, we set off on Monday to walk through the San Joseph vinyards which are spread across the hills above the West Bank of the Rhone – beautiful.

Tuesday was our last day in Tain L’hermitage and we ended up spending it cleaning and cooking ….. A bit of a chocolate fest with double chocolate chip muffins for the evening and some of the extra special brownies which were a present for Florian and Josette.

The evening was a joint celebration as it was Florian’s 21st birthday the day before in addition to the end of season meal and therefore we got a bit of an insight into how young farmers celebrate their birthday in France …. The first present from his friends was a box with two holes in the top which toppled off of Florian’s lap onto the floor. Once picked up and finally opened inside was a baby lop eared rabbit …very cute. The dogs went mad but things started to calm down after about 15 minutes until the friends went back outside and came back in with a 6 month (fully grown) lamb. The poor things was petrified and not surprisingly didn’t want to stay for the meal and tried to make off in every direction to get away from the dogs howling. All settled down however when Florian and his friends managed to get it down into a field below the house enabling us to tuck into an enormous paella which was washed down with copious amounts of wine.

The evening ended with several people (including the birthday boy) being thrown into the swimming pool … Very glad that we didn’t need to get up at 5am the next day 🙂

image

Rather lazily we got up at 8am-ish, went for a run and packed up the Motorhome to start the route north. We did just over 250km, arriving at Beaune which we thought we hadn’t been to before, but on arrival (and seeing the amazing rooftops), remembered we stopped here for a quick walk after visiting Dijon a couple of years ago. Not a problem though as there is so much walking and cycling to do from here which we didn’t touch on last time, so, we headed for the campsite (Camping Municipal les Cent Vignes GPS n47,03276 e4,83906, 20 euros a night) which was pretty full and very warm. The whole area was heaving with holiday makers but luckily we got one of the last spaces which was home for the next three nights.

On Thursday we set off on the bikes, weaving our way through the vineyards and the surrounding villages which were beautiful.

image

However on Friday the weather broke and from about 10am in the morning the skies opened and we had a huge storm …. It did cool the air a little though.

Unfortunately it was on Friday that we received news that made us quick foot it back to the UK. As many of you know, my father has been fighting that nasty disease that appears to be appearing in many of our lives, successfully getting through lung cancer two years ago and last year fighting off what had transferred itself into brain tumours. Unfortunately, it is back and the tumours are growing again so we are now back in the UK.

It was a quick journey as we covered most of the ground last Saturday, stopping at an Aire in Hondschoote (Free GPS n50,97591 e 2,5876) before a ferry back on Sunday morning.

We are now staying on a farm half way between Windsor and Maidenhead in a very tranquil field with cows as our only neighbours …. Keith is a little apprehensive each time he has to go and empty the toilet and grey water as he has to go into their field and they appear to want to be closer friends than he wants …. Perhaps over time this relationship may blossom, I however am fairly happy that he empties the grey water and the toilet 🙂

RAS…better known as Repetitive Apricot Syndrome -17/7/16

I am not sure whether it is the slight twist of the wrist as we pick the apricot, or the slight twist as I have been parting the lush Apricots in two to de-stone them before quickly disposing of them in my mouth …. but one has definately caused a bit of a strain – probably a good thing therefore, not only for my wrist, but possibly for our teeth, that it has all come to an end.

After eight weeks of mostly 5am starts, ladder climbing, scrapes and bruises on every part of exposed skin (those Apricots are heavy buggers when they fall on you) and aches and pains from bending down, our life may just start to get back to normal this week…. Normal in our world anyway, as I appreciate for most of you we are a little odd anyway 🙂

We have done our best to eat our weight in Apricots and Cherries, have experimented in cake baking for the team – since our last blog teh portfolio has expanded to incorporate enhanced Raspberry and Chocolate Muffins, Apricot Muffins, Fruit Cake (in muffin tins – can you tell that it is a newly acquired piece of kit 🙂 ) and Brownies made with Apricots – and have had our eyes opened to the work involved in maintaining a fruit farm and vineyard as well as the horrifiying price pressure that farmers have nowadays.  A large quantity of the Apricots we picked were sold to the industry at just 15 centimes a kilo – just about about breaking even on their costs, without taking into consideration anything for their time and labour, we just have to hope for their sake that the vine will provide a bumper crop and a good price this year.

It has been good and despite the physical hard work and the early mornings it has definately been worth coming here and we have made some new friends along the way.

The last couple of weeks have been mainly working, with hours increasing to the afternoon as well in the last week and a half, leaving little time for much else other than eating, oh errr…. watching the football and a little sleeping.  However, as many of you will know – for the wrong reasons unfortunately – last Thursday (14th) was Bastille Day, a national holiday in France.  After a morning run (and some long awaited Crepes with some of the delicious Apricot Jam Teresa made last week ) we set off on the bikes along the Rhone to the North, arriving at Sarras after roughly 20km just as the skies opened.  Thankfully as we had battled against the wind on the way there we managed to get ahead of the clouds on the way back with a whole 15 minutes to spare before the rain caught up…. Just about enough time to load up on a Apricot Brownie and a cup of tea 🙂

In the evening, like most of the French population, we went to the local fireworks display which was on the bridge just under a kilometre from here and it was pretty good – it even had a display where the fireworks formed the shape of hearts.  It is just incredibly sad to think about all the people who were killed in Nice following their celebrations as it could have been in any town in France that night – there are some very unfortunate people in this world who believe that inflicting harm on others will make life better for themselves or their families, why – we will never know.  All we can do is hope that sometime soon things will change.

On a brighter note as today is officially our first day of ‘holidays’, after a morning run,  we headed off into the Ardeche hills on the bikes following the Doux river which was beautiful.

image

 

image

As we have a little time to ourselves now, we plan to stay in Tain de L’hermitage for another couple of days to explore the area a bit more before heading north … Hopefully resuming the blog to normal frequency from now 🙂

And finally….. Apricots – 29/6/16

Its hard to believe that my last blog was over two weeks ago (nor that we have now been here for six weeks), I am not sure where time goes and each day feels like two as they are so long.  For the last couple of weeks we have pretty much continued to work from 6am, although with the appalling weather a couple of weeks ago I think we managed to work every combination of hours possible (now also incorporating Saturday’s) except a night shift.  Summer is apparently here however -despite a storm currently brewing outside with some incredible thunder and lightening – not really that surprising when it is between 32 and 35 degrees at 5pm in the shade – 6am is nice though, like an English summer day … Roughly 18 degrees 🙂

My relationship with rain has definately changed since we started working here as each time it rains all I think of are cherries … (To be fair I was dreaming about them at one point) they are vulnerable little things and you can’t pick them, pack them or do anything with them if the are the slightest bit wet …. believe it or not, they use a massive hairdryer to blow the trees to dry them off before picking.

With the weather being quite varied over the last couple of weeks we have done a mixture of work, a lot of time spent on the vine and two Saturday’s ago we started on the Apricots.  Apricots like I have never seen Apricots before, being novices to this farming lark, neither Keith nor I had any idea that there were so many varieties of Apricot,  Florian and Josette have at least nine that they currently grow, the first type being Californian Orange-Red’s which vary in size, but the ones we were picking were the size of tennis balls and full of flavour.  Apparently the reason behind having so many different types of Apricots is so that they don’t all ripen at exactly the same time, making it slightly easier to harvest and for us to get a nice balanced diet.  Apparently two more fields will be ready later this week ….Apricot crumble here we come 🙂

On the food note the last couple of weeks has expanded our efforts to incorporate Apricots as well as the production of the most expensive brownie yet …. Using Valrhona Chocolate, cherries and nuts ….. A success.  Keith has also been trying his hand at Tortillas (although they need to be a bit thinner if we are going to eat them with Fajitas) along with making creamed honey and as it is so hot, randomly we have started to eat cold porridge for breakfast (Oats soaked in milk, water fruit and cinnamon overnight) which is actually a nice alternative on a hot day at 5am 🙂

 

Despite the ridiculously hot weather we have managed to find a bit of time on a hot afternoon to venture up into the surrounding hills to take in some of the vinyards and the beautiful views

image

image

Stopping off briefly on the way home to cool down in another of the local vinyards’ tasting rooms to try their selection of white and reds from the region ….. Always looking to learn and soak up a bit of culture 🙂

On Sunday we set off to a little village on an island in the middle of the Rhone, La Roche de Glun which is roughly 8km from us to watch the French semi-finals of ‘Joute Barque’ or in English ‘Boat Jousting’ …. You have to see it to believe it, but it has been going for over 100 years and there are roughly seven different versions in France and Florian (our boss) used to be the champion.

Flexibility and core strength are key as it starts with two jousters on the back of two seperate boats heading towards each other …. Note the pretty impressive splits position he is holding

image

They then lower the lance and aim at their target…. The boats are powered by an engine in case you wondered so a fair bit of force behind them

image

With the objective being to dismount (if you can say that about a boat) the opponent, whilst remaining on your boat ….

image

Quite a nice tranquil way to spend a Sunday afternoon, a picnic, a few beers (Florian was working in the beer tent) and sunshine – we are now experts in Joute Barque, although it is a bit harsh on the limbs so we will be staying well clear of participating.

We have got a nice group of people who we are working with and as it was my birthday on Monday and Florence’s birthday on Tuesday we decided to do a big Bar B Q last night which as always highlighted everyones’ inability to make small quantities of food.  We can’t complain though as it was all delicious – and just means that several people don’t need to cook for a couple of days 🙂 – all washed down with some lovely local Rose and Red wine, finished off with a bit of a sing song as Florence plays the Guitar and Eukalale and Gill (one of the other girls) sings and raps…. Just a shame we had to get up at 5am this morning ….

It’s Friday, it’s five to five….it’s not crackerjack – 12/6/16

image

I am afraid something that only those of you who watched children’s TV in the UK between the mid 1950’s and the 1980’s would get …. Unfortunately for us, five to five was in the morning, not the evening and it was the sound of the alarm going off and the accompanied bird song rather than a husband and wife team dressed up in school uniform ….. If you didn’t see it have a look here as it really was quite something and brings a smile to most people’s faces when the phrase is mentioned 🙂

So, yes…. 4:55 the alarm goes off, it is still dark, the birds are just waking up – noisily, it is very calming and apart from the birds, quite tranquil (unsurprisingly) and enables us to get to work for a 6am start. The hours have changed as it started to heat up last week, at 5am it is already 16/17 degrees rising to 30+ in the sun during the late afternoon, which when you are pruning the vines in the full sun it’s a bit much so we have switched to 6am – 1pm and it definitely caught up with me by the end of the week.

The last couple of weeks have just disappeared as our days have been full between work and chores. The week before last week gave us a fair bit of rain -although thankfully it was mostly overnight – finishing the week off with an amazing electric storm last Saturday, over the last week the temperature has risen but apparently it is set to change again tomorrow when the rain will start to fall again ….. Because we definitely need more rain down here……Not.

Work-wise we have now got into a routine and the work has been split between working the back breaking and knee creaking vineyards and the neck wrenching cherry trees …. Nothing a good run or a bit of Tabata hasn’t loosened up though.

We have expanded the cherry recipes to include Chocolate Fridge Cake (with fresh cherries rather than glacier) – apparently so good that the owner of the farm has made some this weekend – we have also been roasting the cherries in the oven thus removing some of the juice and find they go very well in porridge…..

Continuing our weirdness, we have now bought a French TV box so that we can watch French TV wherever we go ….. How we are going to decide which we watch when we are not in France or Spain I don’t know, but thankfully for now the French TV is going to show most of the Euro Cup so at least we don’t need to switch between French, Spanish and UK TV….. For now, at least.

It hasn’t all been work and food …. Well possibly mostly food to be fair, we have managed to explore a little further, taking advantage of the surprisingly nice weather last Sunday to walk up to Mercurol and then on a circular walk through the vineyards – beautiful.

image

And today we cycled down the Rhone to Valence which is roughly 20km away before heading back to our favourite little chocolate shop to select some rather special chocolate for the next batch of brownies this week….. Possibly the most expensive batch we will make, but we did buy a kilo so it should last a while 🙂

Cracking the whip – 29/5/16

Who would have thought that after quitting our jobs in IT two and a half years ago we would be starting back at work again on a farm in mid-eastern France ?? Apologies Jeremy and Andy you lost the bet along time ago, but I don’t think either of you would have predicted that this would have been my next stop 🙂

After a night of rain it cleared up and we woke to a fresh, but dry morning, breakfasted and jumped on the bikes to get to the farm for 7:50 to start our days work. As the weather hasn’t been warm enough we were told we wouldn’t be picking cherries, but instead tending to the vine. Josette and Florian have just under 5 hectares of vine all of which is Syrah grape which makes Crozes Hermitage wine and is fed into the local Co-operative ‘Caves Tain d’Hermitage’ – the wine which we tried last Saturday.

As the grapes won’t be ready until September all we were doing was chopping off the surplus branches to ensure that all the goodness is directed into a smaller area, thus enhancing the quality of the grape…. That is the theory at least, I think we will be doing a fair bit of this over the next few weeks 😦

When we finished the ‘pruning’ we turned our hand to a bit of weeding round the newer vine and then a bit of training to coerce the vine into growing in the right direction – all very interesting but back breaking as you are bent over double for the majority.  Not being used to the manual labour, the shower felt pretty good on Monday evening and we both definitely knew that we had put the hours in.

Tuesday morning came round quickly and this time we managed to squeeze in our 5/10 minute warm up before we started work, although we actually ended up only working half the day as although I would like to say that we were super-efficient, the truth is that the crop still wasn’t ready.

We took advantage of having an afternoon free to do the chores and Keith did some Tabata and I went for a rather warm run. We both felt much better afterwards though, despite being tired I think that the exercise helped loosen everything up again 🙂

image

Wednesday morning we arrived and were lead towards the first lot of cherry trees to start harvesting the crop. The trees that we worked on on Wednesday had been badly hit by the hail storm in mid-April and a lot of the Cherries were damaged – great for us (as that meant there were more for us to eat/take home), but not so good for Josette and Florian as they lost about 80% of the crop as they can’t sell damaged produce. Worse still a large number of the trees simply hadn’t produced cherries, or those that they had produced were still green or too small and were written off for this year.

Thursday afternoon moved us to another field where although only 20% of the trees had cherries, the quality was far better as was Friday morning in another field. It is really quite sad to think that there are still all those trees that have cherries on them that you, or I would happily eat/buy, but for the farmers it just isn’t worth their while picking them as they won’t be able to make a sale.

We finished at lunchtime on Friday with a traditional ‘Aperitif’ at the farm, happily rolling back to the Motorhome to eat our lunch and have a nice stroll along the Rhone in the 30 degree sunshine.  The nice weather hung around for most of the day yesterday, enabling us to cook and eat a nice Spanish style (that simply means ‘late lunch’) Bar B Q with Michel and Teresa, sadly disappearing over night and we are now apparently looking at a few more damp days. Hopefully the weather forecast is wrong and we will wake to beautiful sunshine tomorrow to help bring on the next lot of fruit and enable us to explore the region a bit further but it will be what it will be.

I have been trying to be creative with Cherries and we have had no less than three Clafoutis (needless to say not made by us), Stewed Cherries with yogurt and muesli and today I have cooked a Cherry Cake with a hint of cinnamon which has just come out of the oven and smells delicious…

image

We need a few days off of the cherries so I can find some more recipes 🙂

27 degrees, sunshine, chocolate, wine and smelly cheese – 22/5/16

After a trip to the Intermarche car park to do our washing – life in a Motorhome is soooo luxurious – we slowly worked our way up the Ardeche to Villeneuve de Berg.

Taking in the flora and fauna along the way we stopped off at Ruoms, which apart from the main street containing a nice selection of ice-cream parlours and patisseries, it also had a very (very) small walled old town which pretty much consisted of a church.

Another 10km down the road and we stopped again at Vogue – listed as one of France’s ‘Most Picturesque’ villages and to be fair it wasn’t bad although the Chateau isn’t really a ‘Chateau’…. Not a grape in sight!

image

After our slow mooch along the Ardeche we arrived at Villeneuve de Berg mid afternoon where the Aire (GPS n44,56223 e4,50381) gave us beautiful views looking out across the whole valley. It was only an over night stop for us but it was tranquil and it looked like the area had lots of paths for walking and cycling if one was stopping for longer.

As we were on a slightly tighter schedule – we can hear the cherries calling – we moved on in the morning to Montelimar where we had planned to get out on the bikes and explore the Rhone a little.

The Aire at Montelimar (Free, although there is a machine and barrier that weren’t working – GPS n44,56494 e4,75677) is about 1km outside a fairly normal working town which just so happens to have a wall round it. After an afternoon mooching around the town and its castle on Thursday, we headed south on the Rhone along the cycle path until we found that the river had taken possession and it was far too deep to cross. As we were only 15 minutes or so from where we would have stopped for lunch and to turn around, we gave in and had our picnic on the pathway before the return leg … A very pleasant 50km round trip.

image

We had planned to meet Michel and Teresa on Friday to get the latest on the Cherries and Apricots but as we were only 60km away we decided to get to Tournons-sur Rhone a day early to check out the area. The Aire (GPS n45,07366 e4,82111) can only really be described as a car park with facilities but it suited the purpose and despite the sign stating we could stay a maximum of 24 hours, the nice man who collected 5 euros at 8am on Friday morning said we could stay as long as we wanted…. it’s ok, he did give us a ticket in exchange, although I do still wonder how many un-official car park attendants are out there making their millions like the chap who worked near Bristol Zoo :). Needless to say he didn’t turn up on Saturday or Sunday, so he is either earning too much money to worry about it, or is employed by the local council….. Most probably the latter.

After a couple of hours exploring our possible new home for the next few weeks we have decided that we aren’t moving on. We have found our heaven – an excellent array of food and patisserie, an incredible chocolate factory….some may say that it is the gourmet region of France, hills lined with grape vine (which in turn means bottles full of wine) as well as Apricot and Cherry trees and lots of paths along the rivers and into the hills to run and cycle and if that isn’t enough, on a clear day a beautiful backdrop of the snowy Alps.

We only popped into the Chocolate factory to find out the opening hours, but once we were through the doors in the shop we were lured in by all the free samples dotted around to help you decide what you wanted to buy …. No less than 16 types of plain chocolate varying in Cocoa quantity before you even start on truffles, and mixes …. Needless to say I did feel a little queasy after only being in there for ten minutes – I dread to think how much chocolate we each ate.

On Friday we cycled to meet Michel and his cousin who owns the farm where we are planning to pick fruit. Unfortunately for them and many other farmers in the area, the weather has been pretty hard on the crop this year and a heavy hail storm in mid-April has damaged most of the Apricots in the area, destroyed whole vineyards on the East bank of the Rhone and heavily effected the cherry crop. Disasterous for farmers as they still need to do all the work but will only receive a very small part of the income.

After speaking to the owners they still would like us to help with the crop, but it means that the work will most probably be more intermittent to begin with and there will be far less of it, possibly only 20% of the crop they had last year and the quality is inferior which reduces who they can sell too….. apparently consumers don’t like black bits in their Apricot jam – no idea why?

With a weekend free to explore a bit more we found the market on Saturday morning and bought lots of smelly cheese including a Goat Brie which is absolutely delicious although it was running off the plate 🙂 We then met up with Michel and Teresa to go and visit the main Co-operative in Tain L’Hermitage ‘Cave du Tains’ for a little bit of wine education. If in the area it is worth a visit as they have five different varieties of wine, each with at least one red and white, some also containing a rose or additional ‘special red’, all of which can be tasted without any obligation to buy … A bit like the chocolates, although it would be useful if they could put the two places together as it would have been even nicer if we could have eaten the chocolates whilst tasting the wines! ….. Needless to say we did pop into the Chocolate shop on the way back to help Michel and Teresa choose which they wanted to buy 🙂

image

27 degrees, sunshine, chocolate, wine and smelly cheese …. What more do you need to round off a perfect day? Well, Keith was even happier than me as we are now back in the UK Satellite reach and he managed to finish off the day watching the FA Cup final on the BBC.

Today however we have lost the sunshine and we have grey cloudy skies with gusts of wind of 45mph and it is raining heavily 😦 hopefully it is just a temporary blip.

We have moved to a campsite (16 euro 80 until 1/6 then 19 euro 80 -Camping Les Lucs GPS n45,0668351 e4,8504057) a little closer to the farm as they don’t have facilities to empty our necessities and the road is pretty muddy, so with the weather as it is, moving every couple of days would be a bit more complicated.

Anyway, for now, assuming it doesn’t rain in the morning we will start picking Cherries tomorrow and see where we go from there…..