L’Abbaye Nouvelle (New Abbey)

February 12, 2015 by · Comments Off on L’Abbaye Nouvelle (New Abbey)
Filed under: Living in Rural France 

L’Abbaye Nouvelle near Mas de Flory

It was such a beautiful sunny afternoon on Tuesday that I decided to get on my bike and visit a local historic monument, the 13th Century L’Abbaye Nouvelle. It’s about 5km from Mas de Flory to the Abbey and most of the trip is made on wooded back roads, with just a short stretch of main road at Pont Carral. There is a footpath to the Abbey, but it’s a bit bumpy for my hybrid!

L'Abbee NouvelleL’Abbaye Nouvelle

The official name of the Abbey is St Mary of Gourdon, but it’s always been known as the New Abbey, because the Cistercian monks who built the Abbey between 1242 and 1272 had already had a failed attempt at building an abbey a few miles away back in 1150!

L’Abbaye Nouvelle








The abbey was abandoned during the Hundred Years War (1337 to 1453). It was used again from the late 15th century up to 1650, when it was secularised after the last monks left. The monastery on the site is in ruins, mostly down to the fact that much of the stonework has been removed (stolen?) for use in other local buildings. The church, though, is still (partially) intact and is used regularly for local parish services held in the 2 bays left out of the original 3.

L’Abbaye Nouvelle








An association to protect and restore the site was formed in 1978 and the site was classified as an ‘historical monument’ in 1991. Since then a lot of work has been carried out to make safe the structure and restore parts of the walls. There is also a ‘lower room’ which is a vault that extends under the length of the church building. The ‘lower room’ is now fully functional and has been used as a theatre, for musical events and even for marriage ceremonies. Gary Brooker, of Procol Harum fame, performed there in 2010.


L’Abbaye Nouvelle near Mas de Flory

Xmas in our region of France

December 20, 2014 by · Comments Off on Xmas in our region of France
Filed under: France, Living in Rural France 

Our region at Xmas time

It’s very quiet at Xmas in our region of France for obvious reasons – we haven’t got any paying guests!

Our season runs from April through to the end of September then it’s our time to relax and prepare for the next year.

Apart from our Xmas lights hung round our house you wouldn’t have a clue it was festive time. Most of the French around us just put a small Father Christmas (Papa Noël) climbing up the side of their house if anything at all. They tend to celebrate new years’ eve (Réveillon de la Saint-Sylvestre). Their main meal is also on Xmas eve (Réveillon de Noël) where loads of fresh oysters are consumed. Xmas cards are not normally sent as they normally post new year cards which can be posted all through January and February.


Xmas in our region

Is a plastic bottle a tree?










Our local town Gourdon, did put up its decorations a bit earlier this year in late November but not to the same extent as the UK. Supermarkets have an aisle of xmas decorations and lights etc but that’s about it. The food is more important to the French which is normally in our region either fish of some type or different versions of duck and yes that does include foie gras! Love it or hate it we are in a predominantly duck area although there is no factory farming and everything appears to be free range.

Xmas in our French region

Oysters anyone?










In the drinks aisle there are more types of whisky than I’ve ever seen in the UK, much more than French brandy. They are one of the biggest whisky drinkers in the world. Of course the wine section is nearly all French unless you make a visit to LIDL where they do have a couple of USA and Spanish wines.

Don’t bother trying to look for xmas crackers, and if seen wearing a xmas hat be prepared to be laughed at!

Bonne fête

Xmas in our region of France

Running in the French countryside

November 8, 2014 by · Comments Off on Running in the French countryside
Filed under: France, Living in Rural France 

Running on the forest trails in the French countryside

We are very lucky in that when we bought Mas de flory (our cycling base) we thought it was good that we backed onto a forest. We didn’t actually realise how lucky we were. The forest has ancient tracks crisscrossing all over and has lots of deer tracks.

There is a proper marked trail that used to be a route leading to the main St Jacques de Compostelle pilgrim trail, but it’s since been rerouted two kilometres further west. It’s now downgraded to a local route.

I’ve been running throughout the forest since we moved here some none years ago and can say I have only just discovered all the trails. Mind you that includes all the overgrown routes from the ancient horse and cart routes from the seventeenth century. The forest is relatively new consisting of mainly oak with some chestnuts but until the late eighteen eighties it was mostly grape vines. Then disease hit and the trees self-generated to what they are now and thus some paths and old trails became overgrown.

Anyway I’m supposed to be running!
I normally run first thing in the morning with our two dogs Flossie and Jessie who get really excited when I have my running gear on. I run between twenty and forty five minutes and only run longer in the summer whilst waiting for biking guests to arrive at the end of their ride. Just once in a while I’ll do a long run of about an hour and a half but I find the dogs get confused and tired out.
I didn’t realise that humans can outrun all other animals, I just thought I was super fit and my dogs weren’t. I’ve since read how hunters used to run down animals until they were exhausted in the book:

The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease by Daniel E. Lieberman.

Running barefoot is natural!

Running barefoot is natural!













I’ve also changed my running style and bought “barefoot” shoes, these have zero drop heels and wide toe to allow your foot to spread and grip naturally and I now run mostly using my toes and not my heels. I also now wear these type of shoes during the day as well as they just seem more comfortable and natural. Why wear shoes with a heel?

Try reading:
Born to Run by Christopher McDougall for a full explanation and also a gripping true story of natural barefoot runners.

Born to run barefoot?

Born to run barefoot?













The French countryside around us is really peaceful and I have only ever once, in the last nine years bumped into anyone else in the forest on my morning runs. Perhaps another run tomorrow?

Running in the French countryside

Salsa in Cahors and the Lot Valley.

May 22, 2014 by · Comments Off on Salsa in Cahors and the Lot Valley.
Filed under: France, Living in Rural France 

Salsa in the Lot

When I came to Mas de Flory (Lot Cycling Holidays Cycling Base) in September last year I knew that I would sorely miss my weekly Latin DJ spot in Exeter and my many salsa dance friends, so it has been a pleasure (and surprise) to discover how active the salsa scene is here in the Lot. Most of this is down to a local association called Siempre Salsa (www.siempre-salsa.com), which is based in Cahors.

The association is dedicated to promoting Cuban Salsa music and dance locally. They organise a monthly event at The Bordeaux, a popular bar and restaurant in the centre of Cahors. Like salsa events in the UK this attracts a wide age range, from teenagers to others closer to my own age. The music is mainly ‘salsa cubaine’, with a touch of bachata and kizomba. I’ve been along to several of the Bordeaux nights now and it’s always been really good fun. The dancefloor might be small, but the dancers (and there are lots of them!) are enthusiastic and knowledgeable.

Salsa in Cahors

Salsa in Cahors

Recently Siempre salsa organised a live music event near Cahors. It was listed as taking place in the sports hall at Labastide-maurat, which is a village about 10 miles outside Cahors. Given the location my expectations weren’t high and when I arrived at the publicised opening time at 9pm they weren’t raised. There were 2 other cars in the car park and the organisers hadn’t a table set up to take the money. However once I got in I was confronted by an excellent sound and lighting rig set up on a large stage for what I was told was an 11 piece band from Toulouse called Cuba Libre.

And what a night it was! Between 9 and 11 the hall filled up with probably 300 people or more. The band were excellent and the sound balance excellent too. There were also a couple of impressive dance displays. When I left after midnight the band had finished, but the party was in full swing.

So full marks to Siempre Salsa for organising a great event. I only wish that my French was much better, so that I could have a conversation with some of the many volunteers in their Siempre Salsa tee-shirts. I would also dearly love to do a short guest DJ spot at a local gig – an aim for the future!

Salsa in Cahors and the Lot Valley.

Everywhere I run there’s another Gariotte

February 4, 2014 by · Comments Off on Everywhere I run there’s another Gariotte
Filed under: France, Living in Rural France 

What is a gariotte or gariote?

These are small dry stone buildings that were quickly and roughly built from approximately the beginning of the 19th century in the Quercy area of the south of France. Other types of these are all over the south of France but the Gariotte is specific to the Quercy region and especially the Lot Department.

The word actually comes from the Occitan language which was the language of most of the south of France (and beyond) right up to the beginning of the 20th century. Gariòta is the Occitan word but in quercynois (a local patois version of Occitan) it is garioto.

Small Gariotte









So I run regularly in the forest backing onto our house across the trails some of which are well marked including the old GR652 (Grand Randonée) which is a feeder for the St James Way to Santiago de Compostela. This passes about twenty old gariottes that are really just ruins. But if you go off the old ancient stone walled cart tracks onto either just footpaths or even better follow the very old stone paths there are numerous gariotttes some of them in quite good condition.

stone wall









Last week I actually discovered one that was totally intact with its entrance and floor in fairly good condition. This was half way down an old overgrown walled cart track with oaks growing around a cluster of perhaps a dozen stone buildings. Unfortunately I was on a quite long run and was travelling light with no phone or camera, but I now know where it is and will take a photo next time I run that way.










I suppose within about 10k of our house there must be at least a 100 of these gariottes.

Well why were they built?

OvergrownStone Walls









It was built as a shelter at first for the labourers tending the vines for their tools and supplies and also as a shelter in inclement weather. But later with the diseases during the late 19th century most of the vines died and grazing sheep became the norm and they were used as shepherd huts.

Where did all the stones come from?

Well with the use of more modern ploughing equipment (still by horse) it was possible to plough deeper, unearthing more stones from the limestone rock beneath most of the Lot. They were so numerous (and still are) they had to move them, so why not build things with the stones. It was normally the women who built the dry stone walls and the men who built the shelters.

I would love to go back in time and see all the stone walls and buildings in their prime.

French Wiki on Gariottes

Long detailed explanation of the Occitan Language

Author: John Despard

Vinyl is back – well not for our bikers!

January 30, 2014 by · Comments Off on Vinyl is back – well not for our bikers!
Filed under: France, Living in Rural France 

Vinyl is back!

Clearing up in our loft and decided to see what all the fuss was about the “comeback” of vinyl LPs.

So hooked up my old Thorens TD160 turntable in our cycling guest’s barn to the hi fi and put on an old 1978 album.
I have to say it sounded fantastic, miles better than the CD version. But had the CD been digitally remastered etc etc?

I still have separate amp and CD player of at the time (some 20 years ago) was quite expensive. We’ve got it hooked up to Bluetooth and with an Ipod dock biker guests can play their music of their Apple phones etc through the hifi. It sounds pretty good in our barn as you can really wack up the volume.

Vinyl is back









Anyway the LP was of old friends of mine who were mildly successful back in the late 70’s early 80’s – The band No Dice  (Facebook FanPage) with their debut album called No Dice.
Still think it’s great….


No Dice











Roger Ferris the vocalist used to play football in my team and then when I got married I lost touch with him. I hadn’t realised him and his band were so good. They released a few singles and another album called 2 Faced on vinyl.

They were also on The Old Grey Whistle Test and even had a track named after them on Eric Clapton’s LP Slowhand. An instrumental called Peaches and Diesel, named after Roger’s nickname Peaches and the lead guitarist Dzal Martin. Dzal has since played with Van Morrison, Tom Robinson and Meatloaf.

They actually had a reuninion gig at Dingwalls in London in 2012 and Roger tells me they plan another one this year. If it doesn’t clash with our biking holidays I’ll be going. Here is a link  on YouTube from their Dingwalls gig.

Here is one of their original songs from Youtube: I keep it to Myself

I’ve kept about 100 of my old LPs, the really well worn I gave away before I moved to France. Looking forward to hearing Dark Side of the Moon again!

Author: John Despard

Running not biking in the winter

January 15, 2014 by · Comments Off on Running not biking in the winter
Filed under: Living in Rural France 

I run in the winter rather than cycle to keep fit.

Here in the Lot in the winter temperatures can drop overnight to -10c (-22 is the record)

It takes quite a while for the temperature to rise to a decent rideable temperature. Sometimes it can be warmer, today it is 9.30 am and about 6c but there is a slight drizzle. I am definitely a warm weather cyclist now!

I used to commute every day on my bike to work when I lived in Exeter (Devon, UK). But of course the roads were treated and there was a lot more traffic around to keep the roads clear.

I now really only bike in the summer, usually with our cycling guests, but I need to keep fit!

I could mountain bike, and I have tried a few times! We back on to a forest with lots of trails that go on for miles but I do find mountain biking challenging. It’s one of the few times I actually wear a cycle helmet – to avoid hitting my head on low level trees and branches.

Of course if I had a decent mountain bike maybe I’d hit the dirt more! My bike is at least fifteen years old and was bought second hand for £100 from a fellow bike club member in Exeter. It’s an old Saracen with no front or rear suspension! So on the trails with all the small rocks it is very jarring on the hands and shoulders. So why don’t I buy a new one? Well I’d rather buy another road bike (I have four). I still don’t think I’d use a new mountain bike.

So I run off road during the winter normally with my two dogs early in the morning. Not every morning, normally every two to three days. I don’t believe running every day is actually good for you. Back in the UK I used to play a lot of indoor football (soccer) and also was very keen on triathlon. So used to swim before work, then bike to work and back followed by a run. Sometimes even running lunchtimes as well.

John Triathlon racing









I used to think I was quite fit. But I actually think I am fitter now, maybe because I’ve lost about ten kilos over the last couple of years. This makes it a lot easier to run up hills and also of course it helps with my biking.

How did I lose that weight? Next blog post?

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