We had already seen La Lune, our present house, after a couple of days and following our encounters with Uncle Fester and assorted fauna of southwest France (notably snakes and fleas). However, we were committed to spending a further 2 ½ days with other estate agents. See part 1, part 2 and part 3.
One of them took us to view a house in a tiny hamlet in the Lot. He had to pick up the key from a ‘neighbour’ several kilometres distant. He drove off, leaving us on the covered terrace out of the persistent drizzle. We drank in the rural atmosphere as the cuckoos called. After about 25 minutes, we began to get anxious. Had he had an accident? We hadn’t a clue where we were or how to get back; there wasn’t another soul around.
Just as panic was setting in, his car re-appeared and we greeted him like a long-lost cousin. It turned out that the key-holding neighbour was moving house. The French removal men had lit a bonfire, which was blazing merrily. The woman had put the key in a cardboard box by the front door and the removal men assumed it was for the bonfire. There were lots of Gallic shrugs and a half-hearted attempt to retrieve the key from the inferno, to no avail. The neighbour had hysterics, there were more Gallic shrugs and the estate agent left empty-handed.
Never mind; we didn’t like that property, either. We didn’t need to look inside.
A slap-up lunch at a knock-down price
At the end of our morning’s stint with that estate agent, he dropped us back at the small village where we had left our hire car. By this time, thanks to the incident with the key, it was already 13h20 and our rumbling stomachs told us it was well past lunchtime. Knowing the French attachment to lunch at midi on the dot, we were afraid that we had missed it.
Tentatively, we entered the only small restaurant in the village and asked humbly if it might be possible to get something to eat. ‘Of course, no problem,’ the waitress smilingly said. Gratefully, we sat down. There was no menu; you ate what there was.
Soup was followed by fat local asparagus with ham and hard-boiled eggs. The main course was a veal stew with a mound of potatoes, followed by salad and a tray of cheeses. The serving dishes were plonked on the table and you served yourself. Dessert was a dish of the sweetest strawberries I had ever tasted: my introduction to locally grown Gariguettes.
An unlabelled bottle of wine and a basket of crusty bread were already on the table when we sat down. We drank all the wine. The total, including coffee, was 120FF (about £12 at the time). Not per head: for two.
As we weaved off through the village in the car, we wondered why we felt a bit light-headed. Then it dawned on us: we had drunk a litre of wine, not 75cl. Luckily, the Gendarmes were occupied elsewhere that day.
Home, sweet home
Our five-day visit was not in vain. As we drove up to our present house, a Quercy farmhouse with a covered balcony and an integral pigeonnier, we both felt we were coming home. A cuckoo was calling in the woods to the west. There’s a Swedish saying that roughly translates as, ‘West cuckoo is best cuckoo.’ We felt this was a good omen.
Set in glorious countryside, the house had everything we wanted, even central heating. As it turned out, that has been a boon. The house was not too big, but not too small either; just enough land, but not too much (although we have since bought a neighbouring barn, field and woodland). A bit like Goldilocks and the three bears: it was just right. We went to see it a second time before flying back to London.
As we sat talking it over in the café at Toulouse Airport, we became convinced that this was the one. Then we started to speculate about moving over full time. The Statistics Freak was already self-employed and could work from anywhere provided there was reasonable access to an airport. I was growing tired of a stressful and unrewarding job. Couldn’t I do the same?
The rest, as they say, is history.
The point of no return?
Finally, I thought you might like to see some before and after images of our house. This is how it looked around 1970, not how it was when we bought it, since it had already been restored by that time.
Having been abandoned some time before, the house was approaching the point of no return, when it was bought and restored in 1972. Two successive owners used it as a summer residence, the third lived here full time and we bought it from him.
So this is how our house looked around 1970: sad and unloved. The pigeonnier had mostly collapsed and was in a dangerous state.
This is how it looks now – taken in June several years ago, when the roses were particularly resplendent.
Below is a view of our house in ca. 1970 from the side. It’s scanned from a poor quality black and white Polaroid, but it gives an impression of how it was.
And here is roughly the same view taken in the snow in 2010.
Copyright © 2011 A writer’s lot in France, all rights reserved
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Where are you?
Hi Catherine, I don’t want to give away too much about our location in public. Suffice it to say that we are not that close to you, but France is a big place so it’s all relative.
I bet it involved a lot of paperwork! Glad you’ve spotted such a gem. It looks fab after the renovation.
Ahh, I like the sound of the meal you had. Hearty country fare, just what’s available. You don’t get that in many places anymore. Sadly.
Thanks for sharing your amazing experience.
Everything in France involves a lot of paperwork! The meal was very welcome since we were starving and were afraid we wouldn’t be able to get anything in a tiny village in the back of beyond. However, they were charming: you don’t find that so often, either.
Hurray! Always fascinating to see old photos of how a place used to be. And funny how you just know when a house is right for you.
We were amazed when we saw these old photos that anyone could have the imagination to turn this ruin into a habitable house. We’re very glad they did, but it took a lot of work, I’m sure. When we drove up to our house we both knew, without conferring, that this was the one.
You have a beautiful house and you’ve obviously worked very hard to make it as lovely as it is. Thank goodness you saved it before it became too dilapidated. Many houses round here are crumbling away, and it seems so sad. Lucky you having central heating already in place!
I like that cuckoo saying. Our cuckoos started up on April 1st and haven’t stopped since.
Well, all the hard work of restoration was done in the seventies, so we didn’t have much to do in that line. However, there was a lot to do in other ways, some of it not apparent when we actually bought the place. We are just about getting there now, after 14 years!