Real Life

Tony and Lisa have just opened their house as a chambre d'hôte and offer offer courses in self sufficiency and falconry. Sounds ideal but it's not all been plain sailing...

We started our quest towards self sufficiency in Sept 2006 (after being inspired by Hugh to try to recreate River Cottage in France) when we purchased our derelict house and about 1 hectare of  land in the hamlet of Voulons ,Haute Vienne, Limousin (unfortunately not Dorset or Devon but very close in terms of climate and countryside although hotter in summer)......

Our eventual plan is to have  courses for all aspects of self sufficiency and accommodation we are also hoping that there will be winter hunting available very soon carried out british style as the french pastime of hunting is not very ethical..

November 2006 my then boyfriend moved to France permanently to try to get the ball rolling on renovating the house, leaving me back in England living with the outlaws (as we had sold our tiny 2 bed end of terrace to support our eventual new life in France) and working full time to bring some much needed extra finances.This continued and I visited every 4-6 weeks with little getting done with the house as builders and tradesmen proved very hard to pin down to times and prices etc.

HICCUP No1: On January 9th 2007  (6 days after returning from an Xmas visit) I received a call at work from my boyfriend telling me he had arrived at the house that morning (as he did every morning to carry out minor repairs and general cleaning up of the barns and wait endlessly for another builder who would never arrive): and had noticed that there seemed to be a large pile of rubble outside the front ground floor window, as he looked up the building towards where the roof should be there was nothing but a few large beams pointing upwards (it had totally flat packed itself).But not only this he walked around to look at the rear of the house only to find that the area which had taken months to clear was now full of what used to be the entire rear wall. Then insued the letters from the insurers of the Parisian lady who owned the attached house threatening action if we didn't do something about the state of the building.

It took until March 2007 we found someone who seemed to be the answer to our prayers and could carry out the building work and would be able to start in April 2007.All was going well for a while and the wall  was being built and the roof structure was in place (surprisingly quickly). We were told that the house would be water tight by the end of June.

On this promise I handed my notice in at work and started preparing to move to France to help my now fiancé start on all the internal works which we planned to do ourselves

HICCUP No2: Well, the end of May came and the builder left to go on holiday leaving the roof half done. See you in a week,  ok so we expect a builder back on site in 8 days to finish the roof and render the rear wall....This was not the case. ..Some 3 weeks after expecting him to return we finally managed to get hold of him to be told that he wouldn't be coming back for another 2 weeks from this point on relations between us started to deteriorate when eventually in late august after months of stress and arguments he left the job unfinished and overpaid.By this time we had made lots of new friends and found a builder we could trust to make the best of our bad situation and finish off the roof.

Sept / Oct 2007 we began work on the interior of the building, starting with removing all of the render from the interior walls a lot of which came away fairly easily due to the damp but over the life of the building cement had obviously been invented and patched into where the lime render needed to be repaired. 4 weeks and 4 tennis elbows later we were done.

Removing all of the floors which had proved to be quite perilous to walk on was next, they consisted of rotten oak boarding, about a 30cms of mud ,straw and poo, and tommettes (which are fired clay tiles about 15cm square).The job started on the top floor and the idea was that we salvaged as many tommettes as possible for later use which turned out to be one of the most laborious and fatiguing  parts of the project. Lifting the tommettes was no problem once you had one out the rest followed very easily, the endless trudging down 2 flights of stairs, putting them into a wheelbarrow, wheeling across the front of the building into the yard and stacking them neatly in piles of 10 in the barn,  now that was a killer (still trying to find a use for them 16months later).

The poo, mud, and straw was easier, that just got chucked out of the holes in the rear wall which were waiting for doors and windows  adding to the growing pile of other rubble. Then the oak, what to do with this as it was not in good enough condition to re-use but fine to burn in the open fire place at coffee time. This ensued for weeks and weeks just to give you an idea we would managed about 10 Sq meters a day and had 180 sq meters to clear but after it was finished the view up from the ground floor was really quite impressive.

At this point we thought it would be a really good time to get the sandblasters  in and clean all the beams and stonework,  quotes for sandblasting came back at  stupid amounts of money so we decided to have a go ourselves  and hired a machine along with the safety gear heavy gauge overalls, rubber gauntlets and a helmet which would be better described as the torture suit. (I feel I have to explain that in rural France if a piece of equipment doesn't kill you immediately, then it meets health and safety regs).

We managed about 3 days of the torture of not being able to see, hear or breathe and got most of the beams clean but at this point cleaning the rest by hand with a wire brush seemed like a real treat  (but in hindsight we would have left them till after the plastering).

 HICCUP NO3: Now came the mammoth task of putting the floors back in which in itself would not have been too bad if all the beams were new and level, it was time to call in the expert, an American friend who is a carpenter.

Now the Americans have a different approach to building than we do so everything is overengineereed to avoid being sued especially when laying flooring, if it squeaks when you walk on it , well american floors just DONT squeak, the reason for this is that the beams are made level and then the boarding is GLUED and nailed to the beams and cross bracing... Not a problem!...I hear you say, and we were happy to do this until I realised that no French diy store or builders merchant carries more than about  5 tubes of no more nails type glue and doesn't restock  either (we wiped out the glue stocks of everywhere in a 70km radius of LE DORAT) I cannot stress this point strongly enough DO NOT DO THIS we have found out recently that if your floors squeak sprinkle talcum powder in the joints that squeak. Ours don't squeak but talcum powder is cheap and glue is NOT (I can only assume that glue  is cheaper that talc in America).

Building the bathroom walls and arranging for plumbing and electrics to be installed was next on the list. We found a plumber and electrician in the local newspaper and I can honestly say that after our last experience with tradesmen we could not have chosen nicer and more honest people, everything has been carried out to specification, on time and on budget, just what we needed really to restore our faith.

Meanwhile we carried on with insulating and plaster boarding ceilings working from the top floor down, the house now seemed to be coming to life and looking something like we had imagined.

After 6 weeks all the electrics were finished and we finally had flushing toilets and running hot and cold water, no more running tools and lights on extension cables from the large barn supply and no more sneaking off to the bushes.

We decided to concentrate on one room so that we could move in permanently. Living in a building site didn't really bother us, we were just so excited to get in and start living there. We moved in on 19th December 2007  to one room with an en suite bathroom all finished except for the final flooring. Our own little haven in a cold, dusty house. We managed to cobble together a  makeshift kitchen to get us through Christmas consisting of a 4 ring gas hob mounted on a home made cupboard  and green plastic garden furniture.

Luckily we had bought a couple of wood burning fires so there was one in the kitchen and one in our room but keeping them going all day everyday over the winter proved to be very hard work and rather expensive as this was the first heat the house had seen in approx 35 years.

The new year brought a refreshed push to get the house finished for the last week of June ready for family and friends to stay for our wedding.

Tony and Lisa are now open and ready to receive guests: They offer a wide range of courses and these are tailored to suit your specific needs. Take a look at their website for further information







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