Pyrenees horses

Four horses and a market

ODD start to the day. Driving down the hill to pick up the main D618 road to go to Saint-Girons for the Saturday market, four jet black horses galloped up the hill towards us. Not with riders on, just on their own. Even in rural Ariege, that’s unusual.

We pulled over and let the horses pass, then continued slowly thinking there must be a worried owner running after them. Yes, there were a couple of guys in pick-up trucks round the next bend but they didn’t look in the least perturbed. Just another couple of hunters.

Lots of hunters out this week. The valley is full of visitors because it’s an autumnal French holiday, based around All Saints Day on 1 November. We can hear shots ringing out around the valley, yelps and whoops from hunters and howls from hounds. We’ve no idea whether they’re actually chasing some animal or whether it’s just part of the sport.

But it does remind us that we need to get fluorescent orange hats for ourselves and the same colour jacket for Jack, our dog. It seems to be the universally accepted ‘stand-out” garb to avoid being targeted by a hyped-up hunter.

Saint-Girons is our local “big” town. It’s the county town of the Couserans, one of the regions within the Ariege (itself a region of the Midi-Pyrenees dept). Every Saturday morning there’s a market in the town and it’s popular as a meeting place, for buying sensational veg, fruit, cheeses, bread and all sorts.

Like markets everywhere, it also attracts street performers. As we walked into mid-town where the market takes place, we could hear a flute being played hauntingly. Then we spotted the player – with horns on his head and leggings to give the impression of part-man, part-goat. There’s a strong hippy, back to the earth, contingent in this area and clearly he’d been attracted. Then he spoke to a passerby and we realised he was English!

No-one seems to mind dogs in French markets, despite the crush of people. Lots on short leads, and some on none at all. Neither do the French mind dogs in cafes, either, and we had coffee at the Cafe de l’Union, one of many places to take refreshments in the centre of Saint-Girons.

But we didn’t hang about. After getting the veg and stuff we needed, we zoomed along to Saint-Lizier, next door to St-G, to see what types of wood varnish they had available. We have beams and wood ceilings in the kitchen which need protection. But to no avail. We arrived at 1 minute past 12 noon to find Mr Bricolage shut for two hours! Judging by other potential (French) customers around us, we all thought this was commercial suicide on a busy Saturday. We’re not bothering with them again.

So, back to our rented house for lunch, then up to the barn. So much is going on with the barn conversion at the moment, but there’s still so much to happen in just a month. We’re waiting for windows and doors to be delivered and fitted – due now but, guess what? There’s a delay. Customer service is not a priority for many French companies, still. Once they have your order and deposit, they’re prepared to faff about on their terms, not yours. A to-the-point telephone conversation is on the cards for Monday – assuming they’re working Monday which isn’t always the case. We need the windows and doors in place asap because they’re now holding up the rest of the build.

wood beams in barn conversion
Beams and planks to be oiled.

However, there always jobs to be done and a big one before the builders come back in on Monday, is to oil or varnish the kitchen beams and ceiling. The beams aren’t an issue – a light wood oil works perfectly on them, leaving a great warm colour and protection. But the ceiling boards – the floorboards of the floor above – are problematic. We oiled them at first only to discover that some of them go almost black with oil. Too dark. So I’ve had to sand them off again – big, exhausting, unpleasant job – while we search for a light, clear, matt varnish that will keep their original colour.