Who are we and how did we get where we are now? Good question! Well, I suppose it all goes back to when I moved to Devon, England, with my parents, and at the age of 18, happened to be living next door to my future husband! And didn’t I pick a good one! Well there really isn’t much he can’t do. (He is lovely as well as useful, of course!)
OUR JOURNEY – THE SHORT VERSION
So, we started off with a starter home in town, which was nice. Boring, but nice. We tweaked it a bit, but it really wasn’t “us”. Eventually we sold it and bought a very run-down Victorian terraced house in a nearby village. We had just got married and there was so much to do. It was awful, but so exciting!
I inherited this love of dereliction from my dear mother. She is also a serial do-er upper. I vividly remember as a child, driving round the countryside with Mum exclaimimg “Oooh, I could do things with that!” whenever we passed some fallen-down wreck, while my father put his foot further down on the accelerator. She’s still at it…I don’t think she’ll ever stop!
THE VICTORIAN TERRACE
So, back to the job in hand. This cottage was such fun to do. We expanded out to the side, the back and upwards. It was on many different levels, interesting and quirky. We made a nasty little back yard into a plant-filled conservatory, an old garage into a sitting room with mezzanine office, and a bedroom and ensuite bathroom in the loft, with a counter-weighted trapdoor. Our daughter came along. The house was cosy and finished. We had a cute little garden with a river running along the bottom, what more could we want? Well…I had a horse!
THE DEVON LONGHOUSE
And I’d always wanted to have my horse at home. So, to cut a long story short, we sold our lovely cottage and bought a rather shoddy farmhouse with a field and a little barn. And off we went again. Everything needed ripping out and redoing, but we learnt so much. We had our son, started two other businesses and carried on renovating. But it just started to get too much. We finished the house, but the businesses were exhausting, and we were missing out on quality family time.
A WHOLE NEW COUNTRY
It crossed our minds to throw in the towel and move abroad. It wasn’t something I had ever even contemplated. However, the idea took hold, we made a couple of house-hunting trips and …boom! Suddenly, we were living in France!
We had originally been searching for a property we could live in, with a paddock for the horse, and possibly something to do up on the side. Then we saw it! An old, tatty farmhouse with …100 acres (!)…but with a ruin at the other end of the property that just “spoke” to us. It was love at first sight. And we sold our Devon farmhouse and bought it with half the money!
Oh, I nearly forgot the pigeonnier!
We’ve arrived in lovely French France, we are sleeping in the horrendous kitchen, and we decide it would be a good idea to convert the pigeonnier first!. A pigeonnier, of which there are many in our region of France, was originally built to breed pigeons for consumption (and other things… well poo for the garden!). We seemed to suddenly have lots of friends who wanted to come and stay in lovely French France! Little did they realise this was no 5 star retreat, although we had tried to warn them. “It will be fine” they said. “We’ll sleep anywhere!”, they said. Really, ok then!
So we dug said poo out of the pigeonnier, repointed inside and out, put in a floor, a bed and a little shower room and friends came and stayed …once! No, actually they said they liked it (apart from the first one who shared with the owl…) And later on we put in a little kitchen and let it as a gîte, and it made us some income, which was very much appreciated.
THE FRENCH FARMHOUSE
Basically, we had moved to another crappy house in a foreign country, with a dog, two horses (whoops!) and two small chldren! Were (are) we mad…yes, clearly! However, one small step at a time gets you a long, long way.
HIGHS AND LOWS
These are the ones I remember the most. Thankfully, and I curse it often, my memory isn’t that good!
Knocking a hole in the kitchen wall to put in an outside door, whilst it was snowing.
Living in the kitchen. (There is wine in the photo, see below, hence I survived!)
Our daughter saying she couldn’t get to sleep because there was a mouse on her pillow.
The day we broke the water pipe and full-pressure, muddy water flowed through the house, whilst all our belongings were on the floor.
How it only rains in SW France, non-stop, for days on end, when you have taken the roof off.
Cooking on a gas burner outside when it’s -8 degreees.
The removal of “the bergerie”. An enormous tin shack, created by the previous owners, and filled with a metre high of sheep doodoo.
My repointing job. We have just calculated that I have done about 2,000 square metres in the last 15 years (I kid you not!), and I still have a very large barn to do. It’s my therapy though, I love it! So, not really a low at all…
WHAT ABOUT THE HIGHS?
Well, “we lived the life”! (Briefly, between projects, like for a month or so!) Then we sold the lovely French farmhouse that we had worked so hard on rather sooner than expected. This resulted in somewhat of a panic, and massively more hard work under quite a lot of pressure timewise. But…voila! We pulled it off, just.
We are now living in the ruin of an old French chateau…yay! No…really…yay! We couldn’t be happier! I must say it’s more old, rather than in any way grand, but it’s coming on in leaps and bounds. We have lovingly restored this sad old wreck, rebuilt it’s walls, constructed a tower, re-roofed and moved in. There is still so much to do. We have scaffolding in the hall, a make-shift kitchen, curtains instead of doors, unbelievable concrete dust that refuses to be swept up, unfinished everything. But, this is the place I think we were always meant to be. It has it’s own atmosphere, and it’s own secrets.
We have discovered an ancient engine, bottle dungeons, a carved out well, a hidden cave and a medieval human skull in a tomb. There are many stories from locals about an underground tunnel, which I am determined to find. But despite all these, some quite macabre, discoveries, the house has such a welcoming vibe and we are loving bringing it back to life.
Moving to France has been the best thing we ever did. Our children have grown up bilingual and we have a lovely home, albeit with a huge amount still to do. But you need things to keep you occupied, don’t you? And we have just invested in an apartment in beautiful Nice. Another little project. Just a bit of updating needed this time. But hopefully, it will earn some money and we can have the odd weekend away into the bargain.
ALL IS GOOD
Looking ahead at what is still to do, it can become quite daunting. However, looking back at what we have already done, just the two of us, without any contractors, everything falls into perspective. If you listed what you had achieved in, say, the last five years, I’m sure you would think, “that is just not possible!” So if you are ever overwhelmed, have faith. Putting one foot (or stone, or brick, or tile) in front of the other, day after day, adds up. Before you know it, amazing things have happened, dreams have been realised and your perfect life is within your grasp. We know, we have done it!