What animal is this?


Is it an otter, a beaver, a giant rat or something else?

Well done, if you said ‘coypu’ or ‘ragondin’!

Neither of these possibilities were actually on my radar until I saw them swimming in the Canal du Midi. I thought they looked quite cute. However, further research would suggest that for many people this is not the case.

Coypu are native to South America and were originally introduced to France and the UK for their fur. They have webbed rear feet and orange coloured front teeth.

They are  semi aquatic rodents who  feast on vegetation and burrow into river banks. Both these actions can cause serious damage to the environment.  They also carry leptospirosis. These are just some of the reasons they are viewed as pests.

There are a variety of ways in which these animals can be culled but I won’t go into the various methods in this post.

I have never seen it on any menus but my research came across several possible recipes for ragondin. These included pâté and stew… Not sure myself.


This is a photo of a local coypu I took recently. This coypu was alongside the Canal du Midi towpath and very close to the port in Castelnaudary. He – or she – didn’t seem at all perturbed by the passerbys on foot or boat.

Have you seen a ragondin/coypu? What do you think about them: a pest or cute? I’d love to know.


Encore…le Canal du Midi

AllAboutFranceThe inspiration for this post, came to me while walking beside the Wey Navigation Canal, last week. It was a circular walk starting and finishing at Guildford via Farncombe Boat House. It’s a great walk, probably about 10 miles, with an optional stop for tea and homemade cake, at the boathouse. Very delicious cake as well!

Here are some photos I took on the walk:


I was walking with a former teaching colleague and updating her on our French home in Castelnaudary. As I’ve said too so many times, I love the Canal du Midi and one of the reasons we bought our house is because it backs on to the Canal.

Here are a variety of photos of the Canal du Midi I have taken around Castelnaudary:


I am always amazed that the 150 mile (240 km) long canal was actually constructed during the reign of Louis XIV. I find it incredible that such a feat of engineering could have been undertaken at this time.

The construction lasted from 1666 to 1681 and it was Pierre-Paul Riquet who designed and built the canal to transport wheat, wine and textiles. It took 12,000 workers and, apparently, a large part of them were women. It opened on May 15th 1681.

The Canal du Midi became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.

Here is the ‘Justification for Inscription’ by UNESCO.

The Committee decided to inscribe the nominated property on the basis of cultural criteria (i), (ii), (iv) and (vi) considering that the site is of outstanding universal value being one of the greatest engineering achievements of the Modern Age, providing the model for the flowering of technology that led directly to the Industrial Revolution and the modern technological age. Additionally, it combines with its technological innovation a concern for high aesthetic architectural and landscape design that has few parallels. The Committee endorsed the inscription of this property as the Canal du Midi clearly is an exceptional example of a designed landscape.’

I also found this clip about the Canal produced by UNESCO

Have you ever visited the Canal du Midi? Perhaps you’ve rented a boat and travelled down the Canal? Or maybe you’ve cycled beside it? I’d love to know!

I’m sharing this post with #AllAboutFrance. This is the place to find lots of interesting blog posts which all have a French focus.

That was the week that was…

img_0092We returned to Castelnaudary, last week.

We’d gone back to the U.K. to welcome home our youngest son. He has just completed three months, as a volunteer, on a shark conservation project, in Fiji. Communication had been very limited, so it was wonderful to have him back, safe and sound.


The roses were blooming in our French garden, the Canal du Midi was still flowing serenely, my students of English, at the AVF, were just as enthusiastic, the sun was shining most of the time and I continued to feel how lucky and privileged we were to have a home here.

We knew that our roof needed to be cleaned and that we had one or two broken tiles that needed to be fixed. Manu, our local, friendly and helpful ‘artisan’ who had already done some work for us, came with his special roof ladder and off he went.

This was the moment when we learnt a new French phrase: vice caché.  This is a hidden defect. This means that a serious fault has been hidden (allegedly!) which might have led to a reduction in the price or even negated the sale. It turns out that the roof, on top of the tower, is virtually useless.  The tiles are broken and have been covered by strips of bitumen; like putting a plaster over a wound. To replace the roof may cost thousands. For me, it’s not even about the money; I feel sad, disappointed…


It is impossible to see from the ground. It can only been seen when you are actually on the roof. I’m really angry but I remind myself that it is only a roof; no one has died or fallen gravely ill or been injured. However, I am not used to being ‘mugged off’, as son number one, put it. I am naïve enough, to expect other people to have the same moral values as us.

We are now in touch with a lawyer and will have to decide whether it is worth the hassle and expense of going to court. I suspect  not…

On a happier note, for me anyway, I woke up this morning to realise that I was not in a country that had voted for a National Front President. I’m aware that Macron will have a lot of work to do but after Brexit and Trump, I’m relieved that, in my opinion, there is still some sanity in France!

Thank you for reading to the end. Rant over!


Why Castelnaudary ?

I’ve been lucky enough to spend a lot of time in France, over the years, and in lots of different places. My first ever trip was to Paris and I’ve returned countless times since. I spent a year in Tours, as a student and a year in Metz as a teacher. I’ve spent months in Grenoble and Angers, on courses. As a family, we’ve visited Brittany, Limousin. les Landes, Charentes and that’s just for starters!

So, why Castelnaudary to buy our home? Even my husband has asked me this question! It’s quite difficult to put a feeling into words … the Canal du Midi, the location – between Toulouse and Carcassone – a sense of the ‘real’ France and much, much more…

Why did you chose your home in France? Or anywhere else? Was it heart or head that influenced your decision? I’d love to know.


A flying visit…

We returned to the UK in November and hadn’t really intended to visit our house, in France, until March. However, the pull was too strong! We wanted to see how our second home had survived the winter and we’d also  received a message from Manu, who was looking after our house, about a mysterious crack that had appeared in an external wall.

We arrived in Toulouse to beautiful blue skies.


And, once we’d reassured ourselves that the house was still standing, we hot footed it along the canal towpath, into Castelnaudary.


The ‘Grand Bassin’ of the Canal du Midi looked particularly striking, on a cold, crisp, January day.

When we’re in France, food is never far from our minds, and having had a 5.00 a.m. start, we were feeling father peckish, to say the least. Our timing wasn’t great, as we arrived at our favourite café, at one minute to two; with the  lunchtime service usually  finishing at two. However, Madame took pity on us and sent one one of the waiters to the nearest boulangerie for a fresh baguette.


Never had a freshly made cheese and ham sandwich tasted so good! Especially when washed down by two beers.

I have enjoyed watching the Canal du Midi change according to the season. In January it was fascinating to see all the boats that have come into the port at Castelnaudary and moor for the winter.


Including those that are rented out in the summer for holidays on the Canal du Midi.


No trip would be complete without dinner at our local and favourite restaurant: Le Clos Fleurie. It was good to be back! Every course was delicious but I particularly enjoyed the café gourmand… Are you a fan?


The final highlight of our visit was lighting the open fire for the first time. Manu had organised a chimney sweep for us during our absence and it was wonderful to relax in our lounge in front of this:


Although our visit was only brief, it was brilliant to experience another aspect of our home in Castelnaudary. Above all, it was fantastic to bump into people we knew, as we walked around the town. Having a sense of community is so important and we’re already looking forward to a longer stay in March.


Missing France and A Rant

It’s been a little while since I lasted posted; partly because we’ve been back in the UK for Christmas, New Year, and various family birthdays – and dog sitting!

Also, I’ve been totally poleaxed by what has been happening in the world.  First Brexit and now Trump ! I voted to stay in the E.U. which now, apparently, makes me a Remoaner. Fine, I don’t see why should I keep quiet, surely that’s the point of freedom of speech? And don’t get me started on Trump – no, seriously don’t get me started. There are not enough words to say how much I deplore everything he stands for. Rant over…

I’ve been reflecting over the many aspects of France I have been missing and I have decided to share these in photos.


What would you miss the most? I’d love to know.



‘If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs …’

This a quote from the Rudyard Kipling poem: ‘If’.

I think his words express how I am feeling considerably much better than my own. So, let’s have some calm among the chaos. Clips of animals, doing sweet and amusing things, might be appropriate. However, I don’t have any! Although, I must admit that  I have spent far too much time recently looking at such things in an effort to have some relief from world politics.

On the other hand, I do have some pictures that I have taken in my French garden. Despite it being November, they have a very autumnal feel. They also make me think of another of my favourite poems: ‘Chanson d’automne‘ by Paul Verlaine…

img_0022img_0020img_0019We are very fortunate to have such a range of trees. Although the photos are taken with an iPad, I think it has managed to capture the very bright blue sky behind the autumnal colours.


These last two photos, I took from our back gate and hopefully the Canal du Midi can be glimpsed. It will be closed for the winter…