The Spanish Pyrenees – Part 1 Settling in for Christmas

Hello and welcome to the latest blog from The Olivia Rose Diaries on the 21st December 2022.

After two weeks at Le Shack we are on the move once more, heading just over the border into the Spanish Pyrenees. We have taken on a house-sit for a month over Christmas and the New Year in a remote, off-grid property with one dog, four cats and a pair of wild kites that the owners feed each day. It’s situated at an altitude of around 850 metres along the Hecho valley north of Jaca and, at the moment, is below the snow line. Snow could arrive at this altitude any time from mid-December onwards, although some years it might not arrive until January.

‘So how do we feel about a white Christmas?’ asked Michael, as we drove slowly along, looking for the track that would lead up to our new home.

‘Yes and no.’ I replied, gazing out of the window at the forest-clad slopes and thinking how beautiful they would look covered in snow. On the other hand, it would curtail our exploration of the area. The main roads would be kept clear, but it was the smaller roads that tempted us, tortuous and steep as they twisted and turned through gorges and the high mountains.

‘Ah, here it is.’ There was a track, unmarked and leading steeply up into the trees and then curving sharply out of sight. ‘At least I hope this is it.’

As tracks go it was a decent track, but I could see immediately that there was no way we would get either up or down in icy or snowy weather. In fact we had already been warned by the home-owners to keep an eye on the weather forecast and if snow was expected we should take the van down and leave it at the bottom of the track. After a couple of hundred metres we came out of the trees and into a small clearing and there stood the house, made of stone, square and solid, built to withstand the weather.

It’s a bit of a fuzzy picture but Michael took it from quite a distance. You can see the house on its little patch of flat ground.

The setting reminded me of an amphitheatre, with the house centre stage, and the mountains rippling out in tiers from that centre, the lowest levels softly green with conifers, the middle levels turning starkly to rock and scree and then, right up in the gods, I could see the tip of snowy mountains. It had been raining earlier and now the mist was playing hide and seek in the trees around the house. Standing at the top of the drive and turning 360 degrees all I could see was the mountains. It would be easy to believe we were the only people left in the world, although the nearest village was only a mile away.

The dog we were looking after was a large tan and white collie called Alfie, affectionate and easy-going, with a great ruff of deep fur around his neck that reminded me of Lucy, our old collie. Just like her, he loved nothing better than to be given a good scratch and a rub around his neck. He lived outside, by choice, but was nervous of thunderstorms and gunshot from the hunt and would whine to be let in if we didn’t get to him first, but even on sub-zero, frosty nights he was happier outside, curled up in a basket of fleecy rugs.

Alfie.

The four cats were all rescue cats, each sleeping in different beds in the house, with different eating preferences and varying levels of paranoia, presumably as a result of their troubled backgrounds. Occasionally there would be a spat as one of them ventured onto a sleeping spot that was already claimed and, although nervous of us initially, they soon settled down. The same was true of ourselves, not with regard to arguments over who was to sleep where, but more to do with the process of settling in. It always takes a few days to feel comfortable with how a house runs, where everything is and to feel at ease, rather than on our best behaviour.

The kites were called Milana and Milano and were fed a raw chicken wing around 4pm each afternoon. They would arrive each day around lunchtime, circling high over the house and settling at the top of two trees on the right hand side of the field to keep an eye on who was about and when dinner would be served, a ritual which entailed cutting up the raw meat, throwing it out onto a patch of grass at a reasonable distance from the house and then retreating indoors. A pair of crows would also turn up, taking their position in the opposite trees on the left hand side. Then it was a waiting game.

We had been warned that these kites were very cautious and would only come down for the food when they thought no-one was about. All manner of things would be construed as a warning that it wasn’t safe, such as a different car parked in the drive or even a shadow at the window, which was usually us, pressing ourselves into the window reveal in a bid to fool them that we weren’t there. We had visited a kite feeding station in Wales where any instinctive caution was thrown to the winds once the meat hit the ground, but these birds were less trusting. They had an ongoing feud with the crows, who also coveted this free handout. Milana and Milano, who had spent hours waiting for the meat to appear, would spend another hour checking that it was safe to swoop down but this caution was abandoned if a crow took a fly-by. Either one or both of them would suddenly snap to attention, lock on to their target and speed off to do battle, resulting in a tumbling free-for-all, the sleek midnight-black feathers of the crow off-set against the rich red of the kite, until suddenly they would break away and resume their vigil. If we watched and waited for them to come down, nothing ever happened. If we got on with what we were doing and happened to look up at the right moment we might catch a blur of red from the corner of our eye as a bird swooped down and took the food. It was one of those blink and you miss it wildlife experiences, but what is hard-won is always more rewarding.

Michael took this picture by putting the phone up against the lens of our spotting scope, hence the circular frame around the picture.

It’s been a busy week with writing commitments and so we haven’t got out and explored too much yet. Here are a few pictures to keep you going and I hope there will be more next week.

It’s hard to believe that Christmas is almost here. I’ve actually managed to squirrel away a few surprise presents this year and am looking forward to wrapping them up. I also thought I would share with you the details of a lovely French film we have watched recently, with English sub titles, as well as passing on the details of a great website with all manner of goodies to read and watch for the Francophiles amongst you.

The film is called ‘La Famille Bélier’, a French-Belgium coming-of-age-comedy-drama. A young girl called Paula acts as an interpreter for her deaf parents and brother, helping them to run a family business and farm. One day her music teacher discovers she has a gift for singing and encourages her to audition for a prestigious award which could gain her a new career, but this opportunity comes at a price.

This is a gentle, uplifting film and far more absorbing than the plot might originally suggest. It is funny and sad by turns, and if the music doesn’t pull at your heartstrings then I think you might have misplaced your heart somewhere! I cried buckets! We watched it on Amazon Prime at one of our last house-sits but it is also available to buy as a DVD through Amazon. I should clarify that this is not a new release, just new to us, and we are always way behind the times.

The second suggestion for some couch-browsing after a huge turkey lunch is a website called The Good Life France www.thegoodlifefrance.com run by Janine Marsh, who claims to cover ‘Everything you want to know about France and more’ and she doesn’t disappoint. The website has sections on living in France, the culture and language, and things to do on holiday. There is also a regular free on-line magazine with a comprehensive selection of travel articles, a blog and a podcast with interviews which give a more intimate insight into life in France. And finally she has also written a series of three books under the umbrella title of ‘The Good Life France’, where she shares her experience of living in rural France with a menagerie of rescued animals and an eclectic bunch of neighbours. She has a huge readership and a deep love of France and both the website, with all its different links, and the books are well worth a look.

Other than that it only remains for me to wish you all a very good Christmas and I’ll see you next week. Joyeux Noel!

MJ

14 thoughts on “The Spanish Pyrenees – Part 1 Settling in for Christmas

  1. Indeed a charming film, we loved it too. It was taken, almost completely, by Apple and turned into ‘CODA’ a film set in the US. Using deaf actors the film eventually won three Oscars this year including the coveted one for Best Film. We feel the English adaptation is not as good as the original French one, but the English one is still a very good film.

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  2. I am late in reading your blog this time, as ‘her indoors’ has kept me busy outside! As usual, a great read and lovely photographs. You will least have a white Christmas, either in the distance or at your door – either way have a great time.

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