Every time it’s beautiful. Tonight the setting sun has cast a pinkish hue over the distant mountains. Twenty minutes later I return to the top of the hill and discover they are now a blue-grey. It’s not unusual for the sky to be criss-crossed with vapour trails that form unnatural cloud formations but, presumably due to favourable atmospheric conditions, there are just a few scratches in the perfect gradient above.
This morning the silhouette of the Pyrenees was like a huge torn edge of paper stretching into the distance to both left and right, the hilltops below are as islands protruding from a sea of mist. We stroll in tractor tracks along the top of the ridge towards a clump of trees that hide the rusting shell of a Renault 4. It is half submerged into the soil, the engine has been removed and replaced by a small bush.
Every so often Padi dives head-first into the long grass in pursuit of a mouse and begins to dig, her tail – what’s left of it – wags furiously. She spent the first four years of her life in a dogs home in a cage with a concrete floor so loves the freedom and the grass under her feet. Several yards behind comes Babushka (Babs) an elderly boxer with a constant frown – and an even shorter tail! Both dogs have lovely temperaments and are a dream to care for.
We’ve been dog sitting them at their owner Jim’s home in Péguilhan for just over a week. It’s a large plot of land surrounded by farmland. He described it to us as a building site which is spot on. There’s scaffolding around the main building and the roof is only half tiled, none-the-less we’re happy to be here – it’s reasonably comfy and has the bonus of UK TV.
Mainly, the weather has been great. Most days have been sunny with temperatures in the low twenties. We did have one day when the winds were strong – we’re high up and exposed here – and the plastic garden furniture went flying passed the window with the result of one broken chair and damage to the table. A couple of nights have seen a dense fog descend but it burns away as soon as the sun starts to rise.
We’ve made a couple of visits to local markets. First we went to Samatan on a Monday but didn’t arrive until about midday so many of the stalls were starting to pack away. We bought a fruit loaf for 5,30€ (£3.74) per kg, it was a little under weight so the seller threw in a carrot loaf. Both were very tasty. Our second visit was to Boulogne sur Gesse on a Wednesday where we purchased a basket of fruit and veg for 7,50€ (£5.29); great value and excellent quality too. Our visit to the nut seller for some mixed nuts, frosted mandarin and ginger costing 10€ (£7.05) was less of a bargain.
Of course, shopping is a very tiring task, especially when you’re attempting to use a limited French vocabulary. Luckily, we’d already discovered the local patisserie and sat in the sun outside with coffee and hot chocolate then treated ourselves with cake-to-go.
It’s Sunday so the valleys echo with the sound of howling. The hounds are out marauding across the countryside. It’s difficult to pinpoint where they are as their calls seem to come from over one hill then somehow from another side minutes later. Occasionally, you get a glimpse of them in the distance along with their owners, when closer you can hear what sounds like a cow bell that I assume is around the lead dog’s neck. Every so often a bang ricochets up the valley.
Hunting appears to be popular in this region. At the entrance to a nearby wood is a warning sign that informs you of a hide some metres up the track. On one particular morning we saw signs at the roadside advising caution as the local wild boar were top of the hit list for the day.
We’ve been watching the tragic news reports coming from Paris – our hearts go out to the French people and especially to those who’ve lost a loved one. We’re far to the south now but visited Paris back in September and found the Parisiens to be friendly and welcoming.
I wonder how foolish a dead jihadi must feel when he realises he has disappointed his god and gone to hell.