Escaped Forever! France 1999 - present day
By April 1999, we had loaded up the Landrover and trailer,
waved goodbye to England forever, and set off for our "new" ruin
in the Limousin in Central France. What followed was four years of backbreaking
work renovating a farmhouse and two cottages which had been empty since 1950.
On the bright side they all still had walls and a roof. I was about to learn
a new occupation, Joyce was about to learn all about cement mixers. Everyone,
including our families, thought we were crazy, they were right! Life was never
going to be the same again.
We were greeted with warm enthusiasm (I think that's what it was - my French wasn't great back then) by the other people in the hamlet. On the first morning Regis tapped gently on the front door, knocking it off its frail hinges, to welcome us to the place and to offer the use of his water supply. He and his extended family have been great friends to us ever since. This was all before the time of the mass emigration from the UK, and at that time we were something of a novelty as the only English people in the area. Margarite would often boast to her friends that they had an English couple in her hamlet - a bit mad maybe, but weren't all the English! Therefore, Le Cros was truly European!
Within two years, we had renovated two cottages, reinstated the gardens and installed a swimming pool. For brief periods, as each cottage was completed, we were able to live with some semblance of normality until 2001 when we opened our gites for the first time. At that point we gritted our teeth, installed some decent windows in the farmhouse to make it look good from the outside, and moved back into squalor.
During this time we only had help on the odd occasion - usually when we needed some excavation work doing. For this we were lucky enough to meet up with Chris - all excavator and Jesus sandals! He and Mark (the agent who sold us the place), set to helping us install the septic tanks, and later the swimming pool. Chris would arrive with the excavator, dumper, and three dogs all on the back of his lorry. During excavation for the swimming pool I was unlucky enough to be driving the dumper. The thing had no brakes so the only way of stopping was to drop the bucket. Unfortunately on one occasion the release handle jammed and I careered down the garden with a full load of soil, stopping only when my neighbours wall got in the way, at which point the bucket released and dumped half a ton of soil into his garden, demolishing his wall in the process. Problem? Not a bit of it. Fortunately Frederick saw the funny side of it. I still haven't got round to repairing the wall.
By 2003 the farmhouse was finished, the gite business doing well, time to relax and enjoy a normal life again. The full story of those five years and the work involved are recounted on our renovation website which you can visit by clicking on the image on the right.
And so we near the end of the story. We are still here in France, probably forever. I doubt we will ever return to the UK to live. Most of us spend a lifetime looking for Nirvana, somehow we've been lucky enough to find it, or at least the closest thing that exists. Life has had its ups and downs, but it's a road that always seemed to hide a surprise around the next corner. It was always a dream to do this. The difference in this case was down to a little bit of luck and a blind determination to take the risk when the opportunity came along. It's taken me all these years to realise that taking risks is what life is all about, I wish I'd learned that earlier.