Winter Arrives in Southwest France

We ate lunch outside on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day, basking in warm sunshine. Lulled by this, and an exceptionally mild early January, we were unprepared for what hit us last night. Winter had arrived, with a vengeance.

Okay, it was only about 4-5 cm of snow, a mere bagatelle to those of you who inhabit colder climes. But it was wet, heavy snow, and then it froze on top. The pic above shows our barn and the well (small building on the right) this morning. A quota of snow even balanced on the washing line.

Along with most of our area, our electricity went off at 8 pm. The wet snow probably brought down a high-tension cable somewhere. We have a wood burning stove, but it’s not enough to heat the house when the boiler can’t fire.

For a few hours, we had a taste of how it was to live here in past times. Dark and chilly, and they didn’t have the benefit of back-lit tablets and mobile phones with torches. Then, they kept the fire ablaze day and night, and it supplied warmth and light as well as heat to cook over. By comparison, we are spoiled.

Chapeau, Enedis

I have to take my hat off to Enedis (which runs the electricity network). First, the website supplied information about exactly which addresses were affected and the estimated time of reinstatement. In our case, it said midnight.

Even more important, the Enedis technicians were out there in absolutely atrocious conditions to fix the problem, as they have been all week in the parts of France that were affected first. They braved driving snow and icy winds to get the network back up.

They did it before time at 10 pm. Unfortunately, just as we had reset the boiler and all the electronic clocks, it went off again, and kept doing it until about 1 am. Now, hopefully, it has stabilised.

We took a walk down our lane this morning to check if we could get out (and, above all, get back) in the car, since the SF had an appointment in Montauban. No way. The lane, which is steep with a sharp bend at one point, was like an ice rink. You could hear us coming as our boots crunched on the frozen snow, which spooked the horses in the field around the corner.

Our woodland, framed between the snowy field and the sky.

South of France realities

People think the South of France is always warm and sunny. If you saw us outside on Christmas Day, you could be forgiven for that. People have even asked us in January if we are swimming yet.

What we didn’t realise when we moved here in 1997 is just how cold it can be in the winter, despite the fact that the SF had previously lived in Limoges for four years. We are a long way inland and 1,000 feet above sea level in the foothills of the Massif Central.

Our first autumn and winter were unusually warm, but the weather soon reverted to type. We experienced a series of winters in the 2010s when it snowed repeatedly, sometimes heavily. We haven’t seen snow like last night’s for about 10 years.

Our late neighbour told us that when he was a boy in the 1920s and early 1930s, they had a lot more snow. Despite this, the children had to trudge several km through it to get to school. A minor inconvenience like snow was no excuse for absence.

I always give people who are thinking of moving to France two key pieces of advice. First, make efforts to learn French, because it will pay dividends. It is possible to live here with only a smattering of French, but then you are dependent on other French-speaking Anglophones for help, and you miss out on a lot.

The second piece of advice is to make sure that your house is adequately heated and insulated, if possible, and don’t get rid of your warm clothes! We have seen much colder temperatures here than anywhere I lived in the UK. One particularly freezing morning years ago, our neighbour told us it was minus 18 C.

Upsides

The upsides? It is very pretty here when the snow settles. The snow-laden branches stand out as if etched against the sky. The air takes on a crystal clarity and sharpness. The fallen snow picks out features of the landscape you don’t normally notice.

The view from behind our house. You see the hills more clearly when they are snow-covered.

We also saw many animal tracks in the snow, a reminder of how much wildlife is around. Down the lane, several tracks of hares criss-crossed one another. On our drive, small footprints may have been made by the fox we heard barking just outside the house last night. And, of course, the treads of our hulking great walking boots are now visible along the lane until the snow melts.

This arctic weather is due to last for a few days with temperatures well below zero at night and not far above it during the day.

If you are in this hemisphere, keep warm. If you are in the other one, keep cool!

Self-portraits in snow some years ago – not enough of it this year to make a bonhomme de neige.

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17 comments

  1. Well up here in Rieupeyroux!:) … it was stunning the first morning and I rushed out with the happiest dog and my sketchbook. It was Christmas card beauty!
    Next day was horrible with snow and fog … and yet more snow the following day but it was back to the most perfect ski snow! I measured it on the top of my car at 25cm!!!

    In Tuscany, I remember newcomers being horrified at the cold and snowy winters; just one research on Monte Amiata with its ski runs that there was a possibility of cold winters would have prepared them!

    So a big clap, clap to the amazing people who took care of everything so that we could still move around and have electricity back again!

    Liked by 1 person

    • On Friday, when the sun came out, it was pretty. Then it snowed again and it’s just been grey since then. You’re higher up than we are, and I’ve noticed that there’s a point that you can almost draw on a map above Mémer (on the way from us to Villefranche), where the climate changes noticeably. Your 25 cm makes our paltry 5 or so look weedy!

      We were taken aback by how cold it can be here. If you look at average winter temperatures, they seem quite reasonable, but then one remembers that averages conceal a multitude of sins!

      There’s a walk from Compolibat that we keep meaning to do, les Igues de Py, which you no doubt know. Every time we plan it, it rains hard (not good as I understand it’s rocky and slippery) or it’s too hot! Never satisfied. We will get to it one day.

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  2. We could see a dusting of snow on the higher places in our commune this morning and it was still there this afternoon despite some sunshine. Friends don’t quite believe how cold it gets here, even when we were trying to get our cold weather allowance reinstated…no, it hasn’t been!
    I hope your electricity keeps on working. Our pellet stove is great as we can control the heat but it would die in a power cut. We bought extra gas bottles for our camping stove when the government were warning of power cuts. That and candles would be the order of the day if our power goes out. Bon chance!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think we might have had more snow than you, in that case. It’s always very localised, but this seemed to take everyone by surprise. Unfortunately, the cold weather allowance is calculated on the basis of all French départements, including the DomTom, some of which are hot!

      So far today, the electricity has held up, despite the network being under pressure because of the cold weather. The threat of power cuts seems to have receded, but that depends on whether it stays cold. Restez au chaud !

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Vanessa mentioned the -18. As a matter of fact, the official statistics (not my own ones of only 25 years) gives Caylus temperature range as +42 to -28. And the -28 was not that long ago, in the 80’s sometime.
    The SF

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    • The +42 C was in 2003, which we remember well as being an exceptionally hot summer. That may have been surpassed last year, also blisteringly hot. Thanks for your contribution, SF!

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  4. We have also had our first snow, albeit less than you. The weather has stayed crisp and sunny and the snow still lingers where the sun doesn’t shine (no, not there).
    On the plus side, I’ve been logging branches from an overgrown hedge for the woodburner. As our neighbour commented, these logs warm you twice!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I saw on FB that it had snowed chez vous. We had some sun today, and the snow melted in places, so we were able to get out at last. It will refreeze tonight, though. Yes, we have noted that running a woodburner involves a lot of physical effort!

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    • Hi MJ. We had some fun making those snowmen. It was just the right sort of snow. I only remarked to my OH as we climbed into bed with our hot water bottles last night, that we are much too dependent on the electricity network. I admire people like you who can turn their backs on it. Stay warm!

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      • Hi Vanessa. In fact we often get too hot!! Can’t control a woodburner. But it’s cold in the morning. And now they say we shouldn’t use them as they are toxic….. everything we do is toxic. Leaves you not knowing which way to turn

        Liked by 1 person

          • Here in Cadour near La Bastide l’Eveque, we’ve had about 10cm of snow with drifting around some of the lanes. We know we have a lot of work to do to our old Presbytere including most of the windows needing replacing and we’re now very glad we’ve already ordered two wood burning stoves for the house for next winter!! But it does look very pretty and the poodles are so happy to see snow for the first time in their lives!

            Liked by 1 person

            • Like Liz, who commented and lives not terribly far from you, you are higher up than we are, so you get greater quantities of snow as a result! I hope you’re managing to keep warm. Very good idea to install wood burning stoves. It was one of the best investments we made when we moved in, and of course they are not dependent on electricity to keep going. I haven’t forgotten your kind invitation to look you up next time we are in your neck of the woods. Will certainly do that.

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