The peahen, minus all but one of her tail feathers, returned home in the company of the young males.

The peahen, minus all but one of her tail feathers, returned home in the company of the young males.

Yesterday the peahen had been ‘beating the bounds’ with her chicks, and as they were still not strong enough to flutter up into a tree to roost, she decided to camp out near her old nest at the edge of the woods instead of making the long walk back to the safety of the flower beds surrounding the house.

The predator, we think it must have been a young fox, struck just before midnight as we heard a bird fly on to the roof shrieking in alarm. I went outside to check but could see nothing, however all night long the peahen continued to cry out.

In the morning we found the mother peahen, minus her babies and all but one of her tail feathers, patrolling the area where she had last seen her chicks and calling continuously. Every so often the young male birds would join her, shepherding her towards the house, but minutes later she would slip away to continue her search.

Although we are very sad to have lost the chicks, we are so relieved that the peahen escaped. Next year, hopefully a little wiser, she may breed again.

What do you do with kilos of alpaca fleece?

Once the alpacas were shorn for the first time in May last year we wondered what we were going to do with the fleeces. A little knitting was the obvious answer even though I’m not a proper ‘knitter’.  We were told about a mill in the north of France that could spin the fleeces into yarn and got in contact with them; shortly afterwards photos arrived showing the amount of vegetal matter that was ‘acceptable’ and we realised that the fleeces would have to be ‘weeded’ before they could be dispatched.

During the months that followed, whenever I had a spare moment I would try to work on the fleeces, but I have to say that during the summer there are more interesting things to do. June brought my birthday and Roger said I’d have to wait for my present until we visited my son in the UK in August.

Ashford spinning wheel

Ashford spinning wheel

Finally we arrived in Yorkshire and my surprise present appeared, one Ashford Spinning wheel, loads of bobbins, accessories, and a couple of pillowcases of washed fleeces…. My son is an estate agent and one of his clients was selling an Alpaca farm, so he kindly persuaded my husband to buy all the spinning equipment as a joke!

And joke it would have remained but for the Internet and a huge amount of good fortune. On returning to France I wondered if by any chance there were any spinning groups in the area. To my enormous surprise I discovered that L’Association des Fileuses et Tisserandes du Sud-Ouest de France ( was based 13 kms down the road in our local market town, Caussade.

Having made contact by email, I turned up for the September meeting, full of trepidation, clasping my spinning wheel and a bag of wool. The members couldn’t have been more welcoming, and are drawn from wonderful mixtures of nationalities French, English, Dutch, Danish, Swedish, to name but a few… Their interests are enormously varied and include spinning, weaving, knitting, felting, lace making and embroidery; not only are the members of the association enormously talented but also wonderful teachers, encouraging others to learn their skills.

That Monday in September was a revelation, I was taken in hand by Jill, the retiring president of the group who had previously been a craft tutor at an agricultural college. ‘Forget the alpaca, learn on sheep’s wool’ was the first instruction. Thanks to her patience throughout the day and the encouragement of others, I left the meeting being able to spin something; the result – I hesitate to call it a thread – was horribly irregular and would do wonderfully as a plant tie, but it was a start.

My first yarn

My first yarn

The following month I returned bringing the practice bobbins, and received further instruction and encouragement;  little by little the yarn has got thinner and slightly more even and I learned how to ply the threads together to make a usable yarn.

Christmas arrived, my present was an Ashford carder that arrived by post from New Zealand just in time to go under the tree – having borrowed the one owned by the association, we had decided that it would be best if I had my own…  My daughter received her first homemade Xmas present, a somewhat short scarf made from the neck fleece of our white alpaca, Ash.

From neck to neck - Ash's fleece made Antonia a very short scarf .

From neck to neck – Ash’s fleece made Antonia a very short, but warm, scarf .

The next request came from Roger, “how’s about a jumper, darling”.
“Who’s fleece do you want?” said I.
“Coconut’s” was the reply.

Carding Coconut's fleece

My Christmas present in action carding Coconut’s fleece

As I wasn’t too sure how plying two threads of alpaca would work, and we only had a little of Coconut’s grey baby wool so I decided to spin one thread of alpaca and ply it with one of white wool, made from my original bags of Yorkshire fleece, thus giving a tweedy effect.

Weighing the first batch of wool - the pattern required 550 grams of wool but, as my husband is a big chap, the finished jumper weighed closer to 900 grams.

Weighing the first batch of wool – the pattern required 550 grams of wool but, as my husband is a big chap, the finished jumper weighed closer to 900 grams.

Five months later, it was done and just in time for the summer! It is somewhat ‘rustic’ but should be warm…

The finished article

The finished article

What a clever girl



For the last month one of our peahens has been sitting on a clutch of eggs in the undergrowth somewhere behind the donkey’s paddock.  Once a day the old boy called loudly from the roof of the house as if to say the coast was clear.  Moments later she would fly home for a quick feed replying at the top of her voice, a noise somewhat akin to that of a pheasant.  Fed and watered she would slip back to her nest in silence.

This morning she reappeared proudly leading three chicks.

The next few weeks will be a worrying time for us as the chicks, currently the size of sparrows, aren’t able to fly so the peahen will have nest on the ground until they are strong enough to flutter up into one of the trees to roost out of the reach of the local foxes.

Fingers crossed they all survive….



Fleeces everywhere….


A few of this year’s fleeces

Our alpacas have adapted well to life in Quercy, the only thing they find a trifle challenging is our lovely warm weather, however spring brings the shearer’s visit. Pascal, is one of the few alpaca/llama shearers in France. To book an appointment one needs to contact him during the first week of January and a short while later he calls to give you a date. Then in late April he leaves Britanny, and is on the road touring France until mid July, shearing these delightful Camelids non stop. Our appointment this year was a month later than that of last year and took place last Tuesday.  Last year we had to contend with showers, this year the weather was perfect so the fleeces were beautifully dry and are therefore easy to store. image Unlike sheep, most alpacas are sheared lying on their side with feet restrained, the shearing process is swift, once one side is done, the animals are flipped over to do the second side; their feet are checked and nails clipped, so too are the teeth. Poor Coconut’s teeth always need attention as they protrude slightly, not something he enjoys much… image Once shorn and returned to the paddocks, there is always a degree of ‘humming’ as alpacas don’t always seem recognise each other, especially as their coiffures have changed, and this year there was added excitement as we have introduced the boys to the girls. Cherry and Ash met Chestnut, whilst the lighter Coconut has joined Maple and young Willow. After a few minutes of excitement, peace returned and we now wait whilst nature does or doesn’t take its course. As the ‘pregnancy’ can last anywhere between 11 to 13 months, there will be no swift results! Today the long awaited rains finally arrived and we saw Ash sitting quietly outside her shelter, with just her head under cover, enjoying a shower. We too are indoors and I must start the first post shearing task, that of weeding the fleeces of the debris they’ve collected over the year. Coconut is always a joy, his fleece is always very quick to do but those of Ash and Cherry are a nightmare as they love rolling and accumulate an interesting selection of moss, bark and seed pods over the course of a year.

So what next? Alpacas…


Many years ago when the children were younger we spent some of the summer in New England, a highlight of the trip was visiting a country show with amazing displays of produce, patchwork quilts and of course a livestock section where we, or should one say I, fell in love with the adorably comic looking alpacas, or ‘alpagas’ as they are known to the French.

After a some research we discovered that there were quite a few breeders within a few hours drive so decided to take the plunge and buy a few youngsters, a mix of boys and girls aged between 6/7 months old from various breeders.

As we wanted to keep the alpacas in two orchards previously occupied by a trio of Ouessant sheep which we’d sold as they persisted in barking our fruit trees, an important question was “do they eat trees?”  Oh, no, Alpacas don’t eat trees we were told.  I should have believed my eyes not my ears as one of the breeders had a large Magnolia which appeared to have been pruned back somewhat erratically about meter above the height of the alpacas. Alpacas in previous lives must have been somewhat demented gardeners, no they don’t exactly eat trees, just all the leaves, buds and fruit that they can reach balancing most impressively on their rear legs, quite an impressive if frustrating sight….  Fortunately there are enough fruit trees to ensure that we too have a little fruit.

That being said, since the first arrived in December 2013 we’ve had enormous fun with the Alpacas, as unlike sheep they all have distinct personalities. Our two boys Coconut and Chestnut (yes, the boys will always be ‘nuts’) are extremely inquisitive, they don’t want to be stroked but are only too happy to come and rub noses, akin to what we used to call an ‘Eskimo’ kiss.

Coconut and Chestnut

Coconut and Chestnut

On the the other side of the drive live the girls: Ash a very statuesque in her long white fleece and forever eating; Cherry, bright and bouncy and lastly Maple who always looks distracted and has a cria at heel – we bought her already ‘pregnant’ and she produced her daughter Willow one August morning with no problems and has proved to be a devoted mother.

Maple and Willow just an hour old

Maple and Willow just an hour old

Since their arrival they’ve had many visitors, most of whom think they are llamas. Apparently in SE France llamas predominate, whereas here in SW France there are more alpacas. Once that point has been clarified, the questions that follow are always the same:

Q. Do they spit? Answer: No, but once in a while amongst themselves f someone steps out of line.

Q. Can you eat them? (Typically a French question…) Answer: No, not in France, but where they come from in South America, yes.

Q. Do you keep the wool?  Answer: Yes, but more of that later………..

Another surprise visitor: a fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra)

Martine has  been turning our hay all morning.  When her husband arrived to drive her back to their farm they came in for a quick pre-lunch apero and on leaving they found that this little chap had taken up temporary residence in her shoe to escape the sun…


Love struck Buttercup and Daisy, off to pastures new


Roger and his girls

You may remember that Roger decided to expand our animal base whilst I was in the UK back in spring 2013, and bought two large Dexter calves, Buttercup and Daisy. During the summer they proceeded to grow gently, develop the start of a fine pair of horns and wonderful winter coats, they grazed quietly and were much admired by local farmers who had rarely seen such tiny cows – the local breed being the won named Blondes d’Aquitaine, and are ‘proper’ sized cows rather than short legged miniatures.

Summer passed and December came bringing with it Buttercup’s first heat. Not having any bulls in the vicinity she promptly fell in love with a chainsaw located across the valley and bellowed to it constantly for the next 24 hours, the fact that it only responded during working hours did not deter her… After that peace returned to Molles, and the family arrived for Christmas.

21 days later the heat returned on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, our first inkling that our calm was to be shattered was when our neighbour’s car sped down the drive. We went out expecting to exchange festive greetings only to be asked if we knew where the cows were. “In their field” we replied, “oh no they aren’t ” said he, “we found them half a kilometer up the lane” and have them cornered in a field”.

Action stations! Hurling on boots and coats we headed off to the rescue. Just before the end of the lane where they could have headed into Montpezat or gone north into the Lot we found our neighbour’s daughter, smartly dressed, gracefully brandishing an elegant bright yellow umbrella holding the girls at bay.

With Roger rattling a bucket of cow nuts, our neighbour’s family blocking off gateways we slowly shepherded the two escapees back to Molles, my daughter and athletic cross country runner of a son galloping over ploughed fields to get them back on the road whenever they broke for freedom – we have few hedges in these parts to keep them to the straight and narrow.. Finally, recognising home they put on a burst of speed, overtook my husband who was to lower the electric fencing and headed onwards and downwards to a field we borrow by the river for our donkeys where my son managed to stop them fording the river into the next department, where lived the chainsaw, and shut them in with two rather bemused donkeys.. Several days later two rather subdued cows followed the donkeys back Molles.

Shortly afterwards Daisy too was old enough to come on heat, and she too fell for the chainsaw….. We created our own version of Fort Knox, a paddock heavily electrified into which the cows were shut every 10 days as the heats never coincided!  Finally, I persuaded Roger that it might be better to sell them to someone who could find them a husband, something I was not willing to do as our Gites are often filled with families with small children who love going into the fields to pet and feed the animals. A charming Dutch couple responded to our advert on LeBonCoin, and on a sunny March morning they left for a new life On a smallholding in the Lot, an area they’d been striving to reach on a regular basis.

Ready for their move..

Ready for their move..

So ended out experiment with bovines… Fortunately for my peace of mind, my husband has now de-registered as an ‘eleveur’ with our local Chamber of Agriculture, phew…  Or as he says, until the next time!

Mea culpa

First an apology to any kind people who may have expresed interest in my periodic ramblings for a lack of updates, especially as I see that I last produced a blog in September 2013 – where did time go? Perhaps as the sun, it is currently 35 C outside, has driven us indoors I’ll be able to explain…


Blogging with dyslexia


At times being dyslexic feels somewhat like this…
A very desiccated toad

No matter how often I check my blogs, or how many times I put the spell checkers through (in English or French) the moment I press the PUBLISH button I feel like a school child who’s just about to have her essay returned to her.  “Darling, did you see my latest post?” I ask and my heart sinks as I see his face.

Roger CAN spell, as can my mother.  However,  from my father’s side of the family there came what I can only assume must be a gene labelled ‘dyslexia’.  My grandmother lived with a dictionary always close at hand, my father tried to disguise his with hard to read hand writing; at school my brother’s headmaster admitted defeat, saying he’d given up trying to  ‘beat the bad spelling out of him’, cousins galore on various continents suffer from the same fate and I seem to have passed it on to my sons  –  my apologies now to fiancés and girlfriends who also have to live with it!
For those kind followers of my blog, this is where I apologise for any posts that are published without my long suffering husband’s final check.  It is also the moment that I put to paper my thoughts on Doctor Samuel Johnson, who in 1756 accepted the 1500 guineas offered, by a group of London booksellers, to produce a dictionary which had the effect of ‘stabilising’ the language.  If only he hadn’t. my spelling and that of other dyslexics might not be viewed with such distain….
Perhaps if Dr Johnson hadn't I'd feel more like this.....

Perhaps if Dr Johnson hadn’t I’d feel more like this…..

A Final Repas: Paella at Gandoulès.

During the summer most of the villages around us have to find excuses for a good meal, if not two or three, depending on the enthusiasm of the local associations.  This summer, Roger and I decided that we should try to attend as many of these ‘repas’ as possible.  The season kicked off with a flourish, the Feu de St Jean (traditionally held on 24 June) at Montalzat a charming village set on a hill-top  whose Chateau d’Eau (or water tower) is much-loved, as when we see it at the end of a journey we know that we’ll soon be home.

All the meals we ate this summer follow the same format. You arrive and are offered an apero, giving you a chance to meet up with friends and most important of all, bag places at the tables. Some leave clothing as markers, others lean chairs against the tables whilst the really efficient bring out their pens and block off large swathes with family names – thank goodness for paper table cloths…  Then people start sitting down, the starter – usually some form of salad – arrives, to be followed by the main course, cheese and then a dessert and coffee; wine flows freely and all for an average price of 18 euros, fantastic value!   The evening  at Montalzat ended with the traditional bonfire, everyone linked hands and circled round, somewhat hair-raising at times as there was quite a wind blowing.

A few weeks later, 120 enthusiasts gathered at the Hunt Lodge for a gentle evening ramble of 10 kms up hills and down dales.  We arrived back at the Lodge surprisingly footsore to learn that we had actually covered a good 13 kms (‘we didn’t want to put people off’, said the organizers….)  and to the smell of barbecued sausages.   All were revived by glasses of wine which, due to dehydration,  swiftly went to everyone’s heads leading to an exceptionally convivial atmosphere;   the meal ended with apple tarts that had been cooked in huge quantities that afternoon.  After which we all bid each other farewell and, in our case, fell into bed exhausted but justifiably so.

The walk repas was swiftly followed by the Marché Gourmand in Montpezat.  Local producers of foie gras, duck sausage, duck breasts, etc. set up stalls  selling  food cooked before your eyes – moules frites too.  Bakers bring bread to go with the meal, cheese makers arrive with tasty hard ‘tomes’ and soft cabécou. Whilst ladies, who have spent long hours rolling out meters of filo like pastry that are then deftly wrapped to create  ‘pastis’, the liquor or fruit tarts famous in this part of France, sell their wares.  No meal would be complete without wine and the local Quercy vineyards are naturally well represented.
Choosing one’s meal is fun, first the stalls have to be inspected, offerings discussed with family and passing friends, next comes the buying and securing places on the trestle tables that fill the village’s main avenue. Then comes the pleasure of eating, praying that we’ve remembered to pack our Opinels (the clasp knives that everyone carries) and which are essential replacements for the fragile plastic knives supplied that always snap, whilst music plays and later for the brave the chance to dance off the calories.
A few weeks later we were again booking tickets, this time for the volunteer Fire Brigade’s Sardinade.  The sardines grilled to perfection as you would expect when firemen are in charge of the kitchen, just kept coming and as son of the chums with whom we attended is a fireman, his papa was kept well supplied and must have devoured a small shoal…
Meals just kept happening, La Salvatat had sausage aligot (mashed potato mixed with melted cheese and garlic) as its centre piece – here a group of us forgot to read the small print telling diners to bring knives, forks and spoons but were rescued by a friend who had to go back to her farm to bring in the sheep.  Lamadeleine offered entrecôtes accompanied by music from the charming Sylvie Nauges and her accordion group.  At Belford de Quercy we opted for another Marché Gourmand on 14 August rather than the ‘repas’ the following day.
Last Saturday however was the final ‘repas’ of the season Gandoulès’ paella, Roger was one of the team of 6 strong men who had to manoeuver the huge dish onto the serving stand.  One of the highlights was the ‘Guess the weight of the Pig’ competition.  Igor had starred in the market scene of the Son & Lumière the week before and happily wandered around whilst drinks were being served.  September is now here, sadly the time for eating out-of-doors is over till next year.